Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Our Role in Faith

Another question. At one point Dr. Marcus made a comment that went something like this: "You cannot convince yourself to believe. It is a gift." Here's the question: how much of faith is a gift and how much is it something we are responsible for? Do we recieve faith or do we choose faith?


Blogger Pensgard said...

If faith ultimately comes from within us, then we have true free will. Yet, no one has been able to supply a rational or logical mechanism that can account for freedom. As a result, if we do have freedom beyond superficial appearances, then it must be ineffable and a true mystery. Freedom has been compared to being one's own little prime mover in the Aristotelian sense. In contrast, the strong sense of divine sovereignty leaves no room for absolute human freedom but it does leave room for apparent freedom, or "first degree" freedom. In other words, we can experience being free, but still be under God's complete control.
So, the conclusion I cannot escape is that faith either comes from within us by some incomprehensible feature of our makeup, or faith is the result of the regenerated spirit. I think that this is the picture Paul gives in Romans chapter 9. According to Paul Feinberg, this is the place where all phenomenological and experiential language is put aside and a clear metaphysical reality is revealed.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Socratic King said...

Pensgard, I'll try to respond...

I actually think you're statment about no one "supplying a rational or logial mechanism that can account for freedom" is wrong. John Wesley provided just such a rational: prevenient grace. He believed that the scriptures taught that God empowers our freedom before we even respond. This empowerment is a gift of freedom by God's grace. Without it no one would respond to God, we'd be stuck in the guilt and power of original sin. Prevenient grace helps overcome the power, though not the guilt. We are then able to respond with true freedom. In such a way, faith is both a gift and a "sure trust and confidence" in Jesus Christ. Or as Randy Maddox has said, a "responsible grace."

7:50 PM  
Blogger David Pensgard said...

Thanks for your comment, Socratic King. I agree that we at least have the experience of freely choosing to believe or to reject the invitation extended by God.

However, this is not what I meant when I said that no one has been able to supply a rational or logical mechanism that can account for freedom. I was speaking metaphysically. That is, I was talking about the nuts and bolts behind freedom.

Your response explained what freedom would be like, how it would become a human capacity, and some implications within theology. However, it did not explain what freedom is in itself and how it would work.

So, to clarify, no one has been able to show how freedom works metaphysically. All attempts to do so have failed. This leaves us with the conclusion that, if we really do have it, then it is either unexplainable (a mystery, a miracle, "grace," etc.) or it is simply how we experience life.

Assuming that the above does not satisfy the die-hard libertarian, I'll illustrate some problems with freedom.

Test 1: Repeatability
I believe it was J.L. Mackie who posed this test. First imagine a decision that is made by a person for either A or B. He makes his choice for A. We then "rewind" time to the point just before the decision is made (so that the circumstances are exactly the same) and play it forward a second time. We repeat our test a thousand times and record the results. If the results are always the same, then his choice is determined (It doesn't matter what the cause is for this test). If the results are mixed, then it appears random. Either way, the person is not free.

Test 2: Subtraction
If we think of all the influences that are placed upon a person each time he makes a decision we come up with this list:
- God
- external circumstances
- memories (past experiences)
- internal circumstances (states of mind)

Note that none of these is under the subject's control. Though you might debate about the last one, most people would admit that their moods, state of alertness, intelligence, and even their creativity can vary not only from person to person, but from moment to moment for each individual. I suppose that past activity can result in greater or lesser mental acuity, but this just removes the problem back one level to free decisions made in the past, so it is moot.
So, if we subtract all the things over which a person does not have control, we are left with an empty list.

Test 3: Freedom in Heaven
In heaven, presumably, no one will ever sin. But how will this be accomplished if we are genuinely free? Either God will remove freedom at this point or he will make it so that we don't want to sin (very very strongly). This second option, however, is a reduction from libertarian freedom to compatibilistic freedom (aka, first order freedom as described in #4).

Test 4: Degrees/Types of Freedom
Jonathan Edwars, I believe, developed a test in which a locked room contains a man who is deciding to leave or to stay. He is ignorant of the fact that the door is locked. If he chooses to stay, he does so freely, but he never really had the choice to leave.
Based on this test, the distinction between first and second order freedom was developed. First order freedom is being able to do what you want. Second order freedom is being able to control what you want. The man in the locked room had first order freedom. He was allowed to do what he wanted even though only one choice was possible. It was his ignorance that lead to this situation.

We are ignorant of our future, but if this future is already determined or known by another, it is only first order freedom. Libertarians like yourself seem to consider only second order freedom to be legitimate or "real" freedom. However, this concept runs into difficulties.

On what basis can a person choose what he wants? If you say, "based on what he wants," this is circular. It seems that all other criteria eventually collapse into some form of "based on what he wants."

For all of these reasons, at least, I conclude that freedom has not yet been explained.

Theological Implications:
The problem, as I'm sure you know, is that strong divine sovereignty and ultimate human freedom tend to threaten one another. To be sure, systems have been proposed to reconcile the two. Libertarians seem to either subscribe to one or to be ignorant of the issue (or are comfortable to leave the matter a mystery). Some have even proposed that God has made man into mini-prime movers so that they are able to generate decisions out of nothing in much the same way that God creates. This results in a "hands-off" zone within each person.

On the other side, determinism seems to necessitate a problem with responsibility and punishment. In addition, it makes God the ultimate creator of evil. Personally, I think these are non-issues that are quite easily explained, but many libertarians take them quite seriously. If there is any interest in these, I can elaborate.

I hope people are still reading this blog! I'd hate to have done all this writing for nothing.

Also, please note, I did not actually do any research to write this comment. I am working from memory of my readings over the years. If I have made a mistake in referencing or using exact terms, please be merciful!

12:54 PM  

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