Friday, June 4, 2010

Antinomy of Human Reason

"God decreed the free acts of man, but also that man is nonetheless free and responsible for his acts." -westminster confession of faith

I am taking a presbyterian theology course this summer. I anticipated that I would have problems with Calvinist doctrine before the class began, but I didn't realize I would have an issue this early. I cannot sleep because my mind is racing. So I provide my thoughts.

At first glance, it would appear that the above statement from the westminster confession of faith was a contradiction. If God decreed the free acts of man from before time, then how are man's actions free? By definition, God's eternal decree implies no deviation or mistakes. Also, to say that all man's acts are free without determination would undermine the eternal power of God's decree and make Him more of a spectator rather than an active influence; this is something I am not willing to commit to. If only it could be so easy as a contradiction. But no, the statement is actually something much worse: it is an antinomy.

I can hear your gasping. It is an antimony because neither option can be fully proven or disproven with satisfaction. Either way you run into problems but it is also true to a certain extent. What is to be done? Let us examine each statement.

How can free will exist if God has decreed the 'free acts of man'? We may begin by first examining the definition of what we call 'freedom'. If we follow the existentialist view of freedom held by guys like Sartre, we quickly find that it cannot work. Freedom as Sartre defines it is a free power of choice with no restraints whatsoever. A kind of ultimate free will. This completely rules out the possibility of a decree or plan from God. In this sense we would say that God would be uncertain or unaware of future events because the kind of spontaneous free action that is evoked by this existentialism could not be calculated, by the mere definition of spontaneity. I thought through some other conceptions of free will that I have studied and one that comes to mind that seems likely is Hume's definition. He defines ('liberty' as he calls it) freedom as essentially a freedom from constraint. The fact that I have the ability to type on my computer or rise from my chair are examples of this kind of freedom. But can we really call this free will? I say not. Even Hume rejected that this is free will as other conceive it. He argued that we are in fact determined through causality. All of our actions are determined by factors such as past actions, habits, and patterns of thought. So, even my typing or rising from my chair is even less of a free will decision than I thought. Maybe those examples were picked because I've either used them before or Hume used them. In that case, I did not really pick those examples from a free decision, but rather due to habit or a pattern of thought. I digress. As you can see, not only did we not prove anything at all but things may have been made even more confusing. This is starting to sound like an antinomy to me.

How can man be responsible for his acts if God decreed them before his birth? This takes us back to the Fall. Adam fell from grace when he ate of the fruit in the garden, as we surely all know. The question is whether he acted freely in his decision or not. If God decreed that Adam was going to sin, then doesn't that mean God played a role in sin entering the world? I don't accept this. If God were the 'author' of sin, then how can we be justly punished? But, to say that Adam fell because of his own free choice without God's knowledge calls into question the omniscience and all-knowing-ness of God. I don't want to admit this either. So now what? Yet again we cannot prove or disprove either statement. And again we are back to square one with only more confusion and no conclusions.

This was basically the lesson that Kant taught us when discussing free will. This is where reason gets us. Two pretty good answers that cannot coexist nor be disproven. The best answer I can come up with is that God has not chosen to reveal to us a clear answer. This would explain the odd nature of the confusion, but unfortunately does not appease my philosophical mind.

I have no answer. I have consulted people and various literature and I cannot reach a conclusion. If you have thoughts or solutions for me, I would love to hear them. I have SO many more issues, but that will be saved for later. Now it is bedtime. 12:08am. My BFF is graduating tomorrow morning so I must get to sleep soon. I go to bed in confusion and frustration.


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