Unable or unwilling?

A¬†Calvinist¬†friend of mine recently asked me the difference between “unwilling” and “unable” and why I consider the two to be mutually exclusive when talking about mankind’s ability to sin or not. Here’s my reply

If I am unable I cannot be unwilling because my inability precludes my willingness either way. I know you tire of hearing it, but it’s an apt description. If I am unable then I am no better off than a robot preprogrammed to run a certain course and as such I cannot rightly be held accountable for that which I have no control over.

On the other hand, if I am unwilling then I logically have the ability to act in a manner other than that which I choose. That my actions are foreknown is not the same as saying that my actions or choices are less free. In fact, you could even say that my actions are predetermined so long as you account for my freedom to choose at some point (aka, in eternity past as part of God’s omniscience as a brute fact per Molinism).

You see, either I am truly free to choose to sin or not to sin (as the Bible teaches) or else I am unable to choose not to sin (a concept foreign to Scripture).

If I am unable to not sin then I cannot logically be held accountable or responsible for choices that are, by definition, beyond my control.

If I am unwilling to not sin then I am not only responsible for my choice but, in light of the holy standard of God, I am unable to bridge the gap I freely created.

I realize that inability and unwillingness have been tossed around the Reformed world as if they were somehow comparable but the truth is that they aren’t.

The bottom line is that we are either free and responsible or else we are not free and therefore not responsible.

Only one leaves God unstained by the sin and evil that exists in the universe since only one allows for other causal agents who had the ability to freely create and choose to sin against the will of God.

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29 responses to “Unable or unwilling?

  1. Fantastic begging the question, Wes.

  2. You choose the answer "unwilling" because as your final paragraph states: "Only one leaves God unstained by the sin and evil that exists in the universe since only one allows for other causal agents who had the ability to freely create and choose to sin against the will of God."

    So, you assume your conclusion that Scripture is accurate and God is unstained by sin, and therefore, argue that humans are unwilling to not sin. Your argument is a classic case of begging the question.

    • Ah, I think the source of your confusion and charge is because you missed the opening line of my post which mentioned that this was part of a conversation I had with a fellow Christian where those assumptions were already held by both parties.

      We can discuss those premises here, though. Which premise would you like to challenge first?

      • I would challenge the premise that the bible is perfectly accurate. I do not believe it to be so. An argument that starts with a disputed premise is not viable.

        Molinism also fails. If your god has rendered non-existent all possible worlds in which there are people that do not "sin," then "sinning" is a pre-programmed constraint on all people. Even though your direct declaration is "unwilling," "unable" is a necessary conclusion of the postulation. It is not up to me whether I commit a certain act if some super-being denied existence to possible worlds on the basis of my not committing that act in them. You have, perhaps unwittingly, rendered free will an illusion.

        • You could argue the veracity of the Bible I suppose, but the original participant and I accepted it as fact so our discussion would constitute something somewhat separate and out of scope of the conversation here.

          As far as sin; It is a known contingent inexolerable condition (which one could say is pre-written), but I fail to see how it is a causal necessity since the choice of whether and which world to actualize is still dependent on God's free choice. I also fail to see how God's foreknowledge of future free decisions logically excludes their being truly free in making those decisions.

          Perhaps you could provide a logical argument which shows how you've arrived at your conclusion.

          • I stated that people being unable (rather than unwilling) to avoid "sin" is a necessary conclusion of Monilism (as presented in the other post.) My "sinning" is not dependent on my free choice under the postulated condition, but is only dependent on the assumed god's free choice. According to your depiction of Monilism, your god chose not to actualize any world in which I did not "sin." In so doing, he made my "sinning" a pre-programmed constraint on my existence. I cannot choose to exist in a world in which I do not "sin." And, by extension, I cannot choose not to "sin." The presumed god has (under the assumption) voided my choice not to "sin" by deciding not to actualize any world that represents the choice.

          • Let me use an analogy here, suppose I say that you have a "free choice" but I keep hitting reset until you make the "choice" that I want you to make. In essence I have already decided the outcome because I am voiding (refusing to allow the actualization of) any choice that conflicts with my desires. (This analogy assumes a power that I do not have, but which is attributed to your god in his decision which world he allows to exist.) In what sense is your choice then free? In what sense did you really make the choice?

          • You are analogy is flawed because it is based on actualized worlds being "reset" rather than logically possible worlds where one is chosen to be actualized. However, in both cases there's no real reason to believe that the choices of the contingent agents are not freely made.

            Just because God does not choose to actualize a world wherein his desires are not met (along, I would argue, with a certain amount of undesirable outcomes) hardly causes the conclusion that we are not free to make the choices we do make to logically follow.

          • An analogy is never an exact representation. But I would say that the key components are there. And there is a real reason to believe that the choices of the contingent agents are not freely made. Your super-being is voiding any decistion not to "sin." Absent the interference, the choice could be considered free. With interference the freedom is only an illusion. The "choice" is forced by the being that deliberately denied existence to any contrary decision. His interference imposes a constraint on my choice. And, if he completely disallows the "no sin" choice, it is a total constraint. You are trying to argue for the incoherent position that your god uses his selection power to ensure that everyone "sins" and yet is entirely innocent. It doesn't work. For him to be innocent, my choices must be effectively beyond his control.

            Under your scenario, I am nothing more than a pre-programmed robot that is also pre-programmed to believe that my actions are voluntary.

  3. I also fail to see how God's foreknowledge of future free decisions logically excludes their being truly free in making those decisions.

    When he goes ahead and creates the beings anyway armed with this knowledge, he's culpable. Same if I let my 2 year old walk into the pool area. And as a loving (albeit stupid for my actions up to this point) father, I'd send more than a murky 2000 year old text to save him from drowning when he falls into the deep end.

    • I still fail to see how God's not providing what you deem to be an appropriate amount of evidence or providing what you deem to be an appropriate amount of intervention causes the conclusion that God is culpable for the decisions of free contingent beings to logically follow.

      • Of course you don't, no surprise there. But the fact that you can call a God "all-loving" who damns people to eternal torture for sincere and good faith "mistakes" in judging what is true or not, is baffling and troubling.

        • There you go again imposing your requirements upon God and hen judging him by what amounts to an arbitrary standard. I suppose we should all differ to you when it comes to running the universe since you have so much experience and apparently posses the all-knowing and all-powerful traits required for such a task.

          Shall we start praying to you as well?

          No, what is baffling and troubling is the hubris you display in your comments.

          Do you even know the definition of blasphemy? I'll give you a hint, its something along the lines of you thinking you can be a better god than God.

  4. Pingback: Is God the cause of human evil in Calvinism? « Wintery Knight

  5. You haven't proven your God exists. I don't think he does. So your entire post is meaningless.

    You're good at begging the question.

    • Then why comment on what you believe to be a meaningless post?

      It seems to me that if you think the concept of God is incoherent at the outset that you would forgo any other contingent arguments such as miracles and concepts like good and evil (which all require God).

    • Then why comment on what you believe to be a meaningless post? It seems to me that if you think the concept of God is incoherent at the outset that you would forgo any other contingent arguments such as miracles and concepts like good and evil (which all require God).

      The entirety of the thread isn't meaningless, just your last comment to me. How can I be blasphemous and exhibit hubris towards a being I don't think exists? You're arguing in your own thesitic box, not hearing what I am saying.

      • Step back and think about. I don't believe in your god. I don't "reject" him in the sense I know he's true but turn my back on him. I just don't believe he is true. I arrived at this conclusion through a sincere analysis of the world around me and the evidence of his existence.

        Of course, I could have reached the wrong conclusion. Your god deems that people like me deserve to be eternally tortured for this error in judgement. This in no way, shape or form is consistent with a being that is all-loving and just. This incohernecy is one of the many reasons I don't believe he is true.

        If you can actually take a step out of your box and analyze this and respond without presupposing the existence of your god then I welcome your response. If you're going to call me names and label me with bad words to make yourself feel better about how righteous you are to be on the right side, then don't bother.

        • You do reject God, there is really not an epestemic neutral ground here. Unless you smuggle in the unwarranted and hidden premise that disbelief in God is somehow a "natural" state. Even then you are making a positive claim and a negative claim simultaneously about two opposing beliefs.

          If you continue on your present course of unbelief (and I pray you don't), God will not judge and condemn you based on a mere error in judgement but on a willful refusal to accept what the evidence overwhelmingly points to.

          Additionally, your last statement really shows your epistemic bias here:
          "If you can actually take a step out of your box and analyze this and respond without presupposing the existence of your god then I welcome your response."

          Do you mean that the only way I can understand you is if I accept your presuppositions and reason according to YOUR atheistic/naturalistic biases?

          Also, righteousness has nothing to do with this conversation. Further more, righteousness can mean nothing in your system so why even bring it up?

      • Just because you do not think such a being exists does not make it so.

        Yes, I am arguing from my "own theistic box" just like you are arguing from your own atheistic box. The fact that we are biased to the conclusions we believe are right says nothing about whether we are actually right or not. In other words, the strength of our beliefs or the bias of our dispositions does not have any bearing on the facts.

  6. You did better to leave the name-calling behind this time, but you still avoid the argument altogether. And you create a nice little strawman by refusing to accept how I came to my current position on your god, and it replace it with your "rejection" nonsense, which is just plain untrue.

    I may be wrong about the facts, which I have stipulated on numerous occasions. Because you cannot logically assert that I deserve eternal torture for that makes you need to change my position to argue against and still hold that your god is just. And you support this by inserting your opinion on how overwhelming the evidence is.

    I feel sorry for you for needing twisted logic and presuppositional apologetics to be able to sleep at night believing people that are unlike you deserve eternal torture.

    • "And you create a nice little strawman by refusing to accept how I came to my current position on your god, and it replace it with your "rejection" nonsense, which is just plain untrue."

      Of course I reject your assertion that boils down to the claim that "if you carefully study this, you'll come to the same conclusion I did". I think you have allowed your bias override your epistemic faculties such that you do not believe in God not because you lack the epistemic warrant needed but because you lack the desire to accept the necessary conclusions that would result from accepting the belief that God exists and that you are not He.

      In short, I do believe you are wrong about not only the facts but also about the process by which those facts are obtained and how those facts relate to the subject (specifically the existence of God).

      I also find this phrase to be very strange "you cannot logically assert that I deserve eternal torture". Logic does not provide us information about good/evil nor does it inform us about the existence of not of eternal torture. These are all categories of thought you have no basis for and so attacking me on them is intellectually dishonest at best (and a shameless ploy to ride this conversation even further off the rails at worst).

      "I feel sorry for you for needing twisted logic and presuppositional apologetics to be able to sleep at night believing people that are unlike you deserve eternal torture."

      Is that an appeal to emotion or what? That whole phrase makes absolutely no sense. I would love to see you try and parse that out but I am afraid that the very attempt would just be too painful to watch.

  7. You think I'm going to hell. You can't bring yourself to believe it's because I made a misjudgement. So YOU tell ME how I arrived at my conclusion, that it's a willful rejection of the truth. This allows you to believe your God is just in sending me to hell. It's quite simple, yet your blinders are so dark you can't see it. Maybe someday you will.

    You told me above that I was playing God but you tell me you know better than I how I arrived at my own conclusions based on a few posts on a message board. You're a piece of work, Wes.

    • I'm not going to take the bait in telling you how you've come to accept or reject what you believe and disbelieve. However based on the laws of logic I can safely say what I have said and that is that your acceptance of one truth-claim is an explicit rejection of competing truth-claims.

  8. You're unbelievable. You ALREADY took the bait and told me how I arrived at my current position posts ago. Now you're apparently backing off those claims, which is is good because it was arrogant and absurd.

    I've read the several other threads on your blog that went long and every one was with someone who ultimately arrived at the conclusion that you are an intellectually dishonest and mean-spirited debater. Add me to the list.

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