This study is centered on a debate that has been ongoing for millennia. Namely, the free or chosen debate. Centered on whether or not God is completely sovereign, the contention arises between two schools of belief; Calvinism (of John Calvin) and Arminianism (of Jacob Arminius). Ironically, the majority of the Christian world believes that these are the only two options. And, if you are privy to these views, you know that it is impossible to hold to both of them logically; they contradict one another.
And if you know anything about me, you know that I reject Arminianism, and vehemently reject Calvinism, because Calvinism leads to the heretical conclusion that God authored evil, forced persons to commit acts of evil, and then held them accountable for something He did, which goes against His own character. This study will be centered not on that, but on Calvinism as an insufficient view of God’s Sovereignty and of the character of God Himself.
Here is a syllogistic, logical, argument that will frame this discussion:
- If everything God desires must be willed into existence (divine-causal determinism; God controlling all things), then God does not have free-will
- If God does not have free-will, then God is not God at all (perfect being theology; Maximally Great Being)
- If God is not God at all, then God does not exist
- Everything God desires must be willed into existence (divine causal determinism; God controlling all things)
- Therefore, God does not have free-will
- Therefore, God is not God at all (perfect being theology; MGB)
- Therefore, God does not exist
- But God does exist as the MGB
- Therefore, Divine Causal Determinism is false
Let’s think about this argument for a moment here. We will go through each of the premises in a moment, but I want us to get a general idea of what this argument is saying about God Himself. In order to do that, we have to first (to the best of our ability) define God (as it were). Who, or what, is God? What makes up the being known as God? The field of study that I currently subscribe to is called Perfect Being Theology (PBT).
This theological system defines God as the one, and only, Maximally Great Being (MGB). To be the MGB, God must possess every attribute of “being” to its logically perfect extent. We can understand some of these attributes by taking into account human attributes. For example, if human beings know some things, to be the MGB would mean that God knows all things. Furthermore, if human beings have some power, then God, as the MGB, must necessarily have all power. Similarly, and more to the point of our study here, if human beings are in control of some things, then it follows that God, the MGB, must be in control of all things. To be the MGB, God must possess all attributes of Being in an “omni” way; all attributes of Being perfectly. God is, therefore, the only Greatest Conceivable Being, the only Maximally Great Being, and the only Being that can hold the title “Perfect.”
Of crucial importance to perfect being theology is the fact that God is an agent. And, by definition, an agent must necessarily possess genuine free-will. That means that God must possess the ability to make free decisions based on nothing outside of Himself, and solely due to the decision of His own Will. God must be able to choose to do something, or not do something, even if His desires say otherwise than He will actually do. A simply way to understand that God does not always choose what He desires can be found here and here.
It is important to recognize the distinction between will and active character attributes. You are probably thinking at this point, “dude, you just argued that God must possess the ability to choose, but if that is true, can God possess the ability to choose whether or not he has any of the omnis?” And that is where we need to pause, think, and make distinction. First and foremost, we are talking about genuine free-will – the ability to genuinely choose to do anything logically possible – in this study. The omnis are character attributes that have nothing to do with genuine free-will. A simply way to prove this is by understanding that while human beings do not possess any of the omni character attributes of God, they do possess the same genuine free-will that we are talking about. Possessing omni attributes – while essential to possessing the title MGB – are not essential to possessing genuine free-will. God’s omnis are simply active (some would say passive) character attributes while free-will is particularly relegated to God’s ability to actually make decisions based on those character attributes.
CONTROLLING VS. IN-CONTROL
Much of the discussion concerning the sovereignty/free-will debate is centered divine sovereignty and human freedom. There is not much time given, or writing, focused on Divine Sovereignty and Divine Free-Will. Similarly, in these discussions, the word “control” often gets conflated with a range of meanings. In fact, many often commit the fallacy of equivocation when talking about control in relation to God’s Sovereignty. Let’s look at these two words more in depth and see if we cannot understand why.
First and foremost, the word control denotes that everything under something (you; metaphysically) is happening perfectly according to the plan that is set. Notice here that defining control in this way does nothing to say that one is forcing something to happen according to the plan set. Nor does it say that the one who set the plan proverbially moves all the pieces exactly how they should be moved, why they should be moved, when they should be moved, and where they should be moved to accomplish this plan. No, it simply says that the plan set by you is accomplished perfectly. This is where many theologians (often those who believe in Divine Causal Determinism; the logical conclusion of a soteriological system called “Calvinism”) conflate the word control. These persons believe that for God to possess ultimate control, He therefore must be controlling all things; how they happen, when, where, and why, they happen. These would say that genuine free-will diminishes God’s Sovereignty because if God does not control all things, then God is not in control of all things. But this is simply the fallacy of equivocation. For we can think of a scenario whereby God does not forcibly control anything yet the exact plan He set out still gets accomplished. This is not only plausible; we experience it regularly. This is where we must distinguish between controlling and in-control.
When we talk about God controlling all things, we are placing limitations on the Will of God (ie. God’s ability to genuinely choose things; not God’s Ultimate Plan for the world). When we talk about God being in-control of all things, we are talking about an active character attribute that God possesses. Namely, God possesses the attribute of being in-control of all things. The six-step argument above flows forth from this understanding of God. Why?
If everything God desires must be willed into existence (divine-causal determinism; God controlling all things), then God does not have free-will
This may sound untrue at first, but once you think about it for more than a fraction of a second, you realize that it is logically conclusive, especially based on what we just talked about above. Since Divine Causal Determinism is necessarily a theory related to God’s Will, if it is true, then God has no choice about whether or not it is true. This is not like the character attributes of God. Since we have already discussed that one can possess genuine free-will without possessing the omnis, we will not talk about that any further. This is much different. For God to not have a choice in any matter means that something else outside of God has chosen that God does not have a choice. And this is simply incompatible with any definition of God. If divine causal determinism is true, then it is necessarily true, and God could not have chosen it to be any other way. One could say, in a sense, that divine causal determinism exerts itself over God’s ability to do anything. And this is, obviously, problematic. To say that anyone, or anything, directs God – or causes God – to do anything is just to say that that thing is more plausibly God than God is; since it possesses a quality which is greater than the quality God, the MGB, possess (hence making God necessarily not the MGB). Remember, this is will we are talking about, not active character attributes. Yes, God must possess the active character attributes in order to be God, the MGB, but no, these attributes do not exert themselves over God, since they are not procedurally related to the Will.
Therefore it stands: if divine causal determinism is true, then God Himself could not have chosen otherwise; and therefore God absolutely could not, and cannot, choose other than anything that has happened, is happening, or will happen. It simply must be.
If God does not have free-will, then God is not God at all (perfect being theology; MGB)
By this point in our study, I assume that you already see how this premise is both valid and sound, and fits in with premise 1. On PBT, the MGB must be a being that possesses all attributes of character perfectly. Premise 1 above tries to demonstrate that if God possesses divine-causal determinism as an essential active character attribute, then God falls short of being the MGB because he does not genuinely possess the ability to freely choose anything other than what was, is, or will be; they are simply written in stone (as it were). There are many such scenarios we can imagine that, had God the ability to choose, would be morally, objectively, better. For example, it is objectively better that God not be the author of evil than be the author of evil. However, if divine causal determinism is true, then God is the author of evil. If divine causal determinism is false, and God possesses free-will, then God is not the author of evil. Not being the author of evil fits the MGB; being the author of evil does not.
If God is not God at all, then God does not exist
If God is defined as the MGB, then it is if divine causal determinism is true, then any “God” must possess such, and therefore is no MGB at all, and is therefore no God at all, which is just another way to say “does not exist.”
Everything God desires must be willed into existence (divine causal determinism; God controlling all things)
This is the common, popular, view of God today, and it is called Calvinism. Before you go on to say that “not all Calvinists believe in divine causal determinism,” I would encourage you to check your definitions. If X person claims to be a Calvinist but does not hold to divine causal determinism then, whatever they are, they are not a Calvinist. It’s that simple. The logical conclusion of Sovereignty and Soteriology on Calvinism is divine causal determinism.
Premise 4 here is simply an affirmation of Calvinism, speaking from the point of a Calvinist, and concluding logically.
Therefore, God does not have free-will
Therefore, God is not God at all (perfect being theology; MGB)
Therefore, God does not exist
These are simply the logical conclusions that follow from Premises 1-4.
But God does exist as the MGB
This is a refutation of the conclusion in premise 7 that follows from premises 2-3. I do not have the space in this study to discuss the multitude of evidences pointing to the fact that God does exist and that He is the MGB. Furthermore, that is not the purpose of this premise, really. The purpose is to simply agree with the Calvinist on something we already agree on (namely, premise 8 here), and then to show that the Calvinistic system leads, logically, to a God that is not maximally great and does not exist.
Therefore, Divine Causal Determinism (Calvinism) is false
This conclusive premise flows from the rejection of the logical conclusions in premises 1-7 and the affirmative premise in 8. Furthermore, because 8 is affirmed by every single person this article is written to, the conclusion in 9 is to show that the God of Calvinism falls short of God as the Maximally Great Being. Secondarily, this conclusion is for the purpose of showing that God must possess free-will and, if He does, then Calvinism is false, and we need not argue for the free-will of human beings since it would logically follow from God Himself possessing free-will.
Now it’s up to you to decide. Which view of God’s Sovereignty is greater:
That God has no choice but to enact Divine Causal Determinism and control all things
That God can freely, and genuinely, chose not to control all things?
Truly, the Maximally Great God is one that is Completely Sovereign, in control of all things, and choosing not to control all things by force of His Will.
Controlling all things is not Sovereignty, it is Will, a choice; being in control of all things is Sovereignty, and God, by virtue of his genuine free-will, is Ultimately, Completely, Sovereignly, in control of all things.
God is Completely Sovereign and Completely Free
Soteriology and Divine Omniscience, a Better Way Forward: