Answering Calvinism’s Claim That We Are All Determinists

Some Calvinists argue that Extensivists (non-Calvinists) belief in libertarian freedom, and God’s foreknowledge of what such beings will choose still results in determinism, and therefore, we are all determinists;[1] thus, we have the same deterministic problem as Calvinists.[2] Calvinists believe this argument assuages the significant problems that are unique to Calvinism because of its commitment to decretal theology and compatible moral freedom, a commitment that results in Calvinism’s micro-determinism of everything; there are no exceptions.

Calvinism’s view of free choice and moral responsibility is called compatibilism.[3] Compatibilism contends that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible; hence, the name. This compatibility is achieved by defining a free moral choice to exist so long as one chooses according to his greatest desire. But compatibilism entails that the desire from which one freely chooses is determined; thus, humans can only make micro-predetermined free choices. Therefore, given the same past, no one can choose differently in the moral moment of decision. So, is the argument legitimate that Extensivists are all ultimately determinists? Well No!

The Calvinists who make this argument contend that if God knows in eternity that you will choose A and not B, and he still chooses to create the universe, then he is the ultimate cause of your choosing A rather than B. You could not have chosen otherwise. They maintain there is no way around this. Since people can only choose what God knew they would choose when he created the universe, every person is determined, whether you call it libertarian freedom or Calvinists compatibilism.[4]

First, to see the errors and question-begging of their argument (which all favor Calvinism), we must begin and conclude this discussion in its proper place, which is in the eternal mind of God before creation.[5] Calvinists are prone to speak of their perspective in the eternal counsel of God, but subtly make arguments against libertarian freedom in time.[6] Second, we must recognize there are two components in this consideration, which the Calvinist argument unjustifiably conflates. One is the creation of the universe, and the other is the creation of mankind in God’s image. Eternally, God knew he would create both, and he knew what he could and would create each to be and how they would differ. Genesis chapters one and two treat man as a special creation.

According to Calvinism, that God determined to create the universe and man means he created a determined universe and a determined man, compatibilism. That Extensivism has the same problem is begging the question by explaining creation and libertarian freedom determinatively (assuming man is determined before the proof is demonstrated).[7] According to Extensivism, God determined to create the universe and to create man with libertarian moral freedom. That is to say, God chose to create man with the ability to choose differently, in some scenarios, in the moral moment of decision. In those events, man could have chosen differently than he did, even with his same past (unlike compatibilism).

Still thinking within the eternal mind of God, God always knew he would create man with libertarian freedom, and what man would choose to do in various scenarios even though created to be able to have chosen differently. For example, God created Adam and Eve with the ability to choose to eat of the tree or not eat, and whatever they chose to do, they could have chosen differently. God eternally knew he would create man so endowed, therefore, man is the efficient cause of his actions; one need not look beyond the person to know the cause of his actions.[8] While God desired to create man with libertarian freedom, always knowing what man would choose, he also desired man would use his good gift of libertarian freedom to act righteously and not sin, which he could have done. This could have done counterfactual is within the eternal mind of God, which is obviously before the humanly exercised act after creation.

In both perspectives, God eternally knew he would create the universe and man. According to Calvinism, God determined to create man with compatible moral freedom, and God, therefore, knew every choice man would make when created because God predetermined every choice so that it could only be what he determined man could choose. Similarly, according to Extensivism, God also eternally knew he would create the universe. However, in stark contrast to Calvinism, God eternally knew he determined to create man with libertarian moral freedom. He eternally knew every choice of man not because he predetermined it or looked outside himself, but because he is essentially omniscient.

Consequently, God’s knowledge is eternal in both viewpoints, but the two perspectives of how he would create man and how he knew the choices of man are irreconcilably discordant; therefore, when we consider this issue in the eternal mind and knowledge of God, both distinct and essentially different creations of man were available to God. However, it is impossible to create a libertarian free being that is compatibly determined because the two creations are essentially dissimilar.[9] Therefore, Extensivism cannot have the same problem of being strapped with micro-determinism as Calvinism does.

Let me seek to further clarify the essentially dissimilar nature of the two perspectives. Extensivism says God eternally knew he would create beings who could actually choose A or B, which entails that he eternally knew they would choose A when the time arrives because he is essentially omniscient; they were created so that they could have, given the same past, chosen B. B would actually exist as a humanly accessible option to choose. Remember we are speaking of being able to exercise otherwise choice as transpiring first in the eternal mind and knowledge of God. That is where the actual opportunity to choose differently existed; the human experience of choosing comes after he creates the universe. This ability includes the freedom to choose God’s best or worst (Adam and Eve, for example). The created human experience of choosing in time comes after God creates the universe.

That perspective is essentially dissimilar to God knowing they will choose A because he predetermined them so they could only choose A. Specifically, in compatibilism, B never existed as an accessible option in the eternal mind of God; to wit, B would never exist in time in a way that a compatible free being could actually choose. It is not that compatibly determined beings merely would not choose B; it is that they could not choose B since God did not choose to create an actually accessible B, which is the very opposite of the libertarian perspective; they are, thereby mutually exclusive. Accordingly, in the eternal mind of God, he always knew the libertarian free being would choose A over B even though he could choose B because B was an actually accessible option, whereas, according to Calvinism, in the eternal mind of God, he always knew the compatibly free being could only choose A because he did not create B as an actually accessible option.

Therefore in Extensivism and libertarian freedom, God is the proximate and ultimate cause of man possessing libertarian free will, while man is both the proximate and ultimate cause of his choice and, therefore, the efficient cause. Whereas, according to the Calvinist perspective, God is the ultimate cause of every choice of man and man is only the compatibly determined proximate cause of his determined free choice. No reliance upon secondary, tertiary, quaternary, or quinary causes changes these essential differences.

In the Calvinist compatible world, God populated the world he made with only one kind of event. That is determined events; these happen necessarily because even in the eternal mind of God, they were by nature unalterably determined. In the Extensivist libertarian world, God populated the world he made with two kinds of events; those that result from the choice of humans (undetermined outcomes, also known as contingencies) and those that are unaffected by human choice (determined outcomes).[10] He knows the first type of events certainly and the latter necessarily. He determined to create man so that his choices actually make some outcomes different than they would have been had he chosen differently, which he could have done in a host of scenarios; God sovereignly determined to create the universe so constituted.

Man will, in time (after the actual creation of the universe), act only as God has always known he would because God’s knowledge is perfect, and he cannot be wrong; however, in the eternal mind of God (the only true place for this discussion), wherein he knew he would endow man with libertarian freedom, he always knew the outcome of giving a person libertarian freedom. He eternally knew every decision that every person would make. He did not look outside himself to know this or learn this, but rather, he eternally knew it because he is essentially omniscient.[11]

Consequently, in time, a person cannot choose differently than God eternally knew he would. But that is not because man’s decision was predetermined. But you say what if I did choose differently in the last millisecond of my deliberation? The answer is, God would have always known that. He would not have always known that final change of direction because he eternally determined that you would so choose, but because he is essentially omniscient.

Therefore, unlike the Calvinists, in the eternal mind of God, a person could have chosen differently than he chose; for example, he could have chosen to go to the store yesterday rather than choose to stay home, and God would have always known that. That is not true of Calvinism. Therefore, we do not have the same problem because, at the origin of the decision, which is in the eternal mind of God, man could have actually chosen differently wherein according to Calvinism’s belief in compatibilism, he could not have.

[1] I use Biblical Extensivism as a direct parallel non-pejorative term to Calvinism’s Exclusivism.
[2] This is one form of the same problem argument. Another would be where Calvinists argue that since not all get to hear the gospel, Extensivists have our own form of limited salvational opportunity. I address the same problem argument, including this particular form, more thoroughly in my book, Does God Love All or Some? Comparing Biblical Extensivism with Calvinism’s Exclusivism. See chapter 30 specifically.
[3] I seek to deal with mainstream consistent Calvinism.
[4] William Lang Craig demonstrates a common fallacious syllogism used by Calvinists. He writes, letting x stand for any event, the basic form of the argument is as follows:

  1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
  2. God foreknows x.
  3. Therefore, x will necessarily happen.
  4. Since x happens necessarily, it is not a contingent event. In virtue of God’s foreknowledge, everything is fated to occur.
  5. The problem with the above form of the argument is that it is just logically fallacious. What is validly implied by (1) and (2) is not (3) but (3); Therefore, x will happen.
  6. But the conclusion itself need not be necessary. The fatalist illicitly transfers the necessity of the inference to the conclusion itself . . . The correct conclusion, (3), is in no way incompatible with human freedom. From God’s foreknowledge that I shall do x, it does not follow that I must do x but only that I shall do x. That is in no way incompatible with my doing x freely.

William Lane Craig, “The Middle-Knowledge Way” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, 126-127. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001.
[5] The Calvinist argument often makes a subtle shift from the eternal mind of God to the time of creation when seeking to make Extensivists appear to have the same problem as determinists; it conflates the creation of the universe, matter, and energy with the creation of man who is in the image of God, and therefore begs the question; it often limits God to only being able to know a determined future since, as some argue, he cannot know the choices of libertarian free beings contingencies. It conflates knowledge (epistemology) and causation (etiology) which is a confusion of categories.
[6] I am not dealing with motives but only with the fact that this is a common occurrence that can result in Calvinism’s perspective unjustifiably appearing to be the correct perspective.
[7] Or by making no distinction between God predetermining a world, which is in part composed of the outcomes of people’s free otherwise choice wherein they could have chosen otherwise, and the Calvinist world, which is in totality one in which people could only choose according to their determined greatest desire. His view leaves man as the proximate cause and God as the ultimate cause of everything including sin and evil. The similarity further breaks down when one realizes that it seems impossible to create a world with libertarian free beings and guarantee they will not sin, which is in contrast to a compatibly decreed world where it was equally possible for God to create man so that he would never choose sin. See Paul Helm’s response to William Lang Craig’s Molinism regarding the presence of evil. Paul Helm, “An Augustinian-Calvinist Response” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, 158-159. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001.
[8] Calvinists often wrongly assume determinism in their understanding of libertarian free will. For example, they sometimes ask what caused the libertarian free being to choose A over B? The answer is nothing other than the person who is the efficient cause of his choice.
[9] Two things can have dissimilarities and be the same, whereas essential dissimilarities between them mean they can only be similar; they cannot be the same. For example, you and I can both be humans (same beings), even though we may be dissimilar in various ways; we still have humanness, created in the image of God. In contrast, a chimpanzee can be similar to a human (some abilities and physical characteristics), but a chimpanzee cannot be a human being because we are essentially dissimilar; they are not created in the image of God.
[10] Contingencies are results or outcomes that arise from the otherwise choice of libertarian free beings.
[11] As an essentially omniscient being, God cannot have incomplete knowledge of humans; because he is essentially omniscient that knowledge does not require determinism as its source other than his determination to create libertarian free beings. To suggest a separation between God’s exhaustive knowledge of what he created as a human being, and what humans would freely choose to do given an opportunity is a fallacy of artificially separating the after-effect of God’s creation from what he created. For such to be true would require the unbiblical proposition that God is not essentially omniscient because he lacks exhaustive knowledge of himself, his intentions, and his creation.

Ronnie W. Rogers