Beware the Hyper-Calvinist Atheists!

In order to understand our culture and ourselves there are some subjects that it is vital to grasp.  In terms of answering the question ‘who am I?’ or ‘who are we?’ we need to consider the question of moral responsibility and free will.   It is important to understand that many of our elites are moving (despite the culture making an idol of choice) into a world where human beings are just perceived as glorified robots, with no free will and ultimately no responsibility (and no real value).  I wrote this article in Christian Today to try and highlight this.  Please do share and pass on if you think it is as important as I do.  I went with the title above – they chose the one underneath….

Forget the atheist view of life: it’s Jesus who truly sets us free

Beware the hyper-Calvinist atheists! That seems a somewhat strange oxymoronic warning. After all Calvinists are those who believe in a sovereign and all powerful God and atheists are those who don’t even accept there is such a God. How can the two go together? It’s not the fact that 5 per cent of Dutch Reformed ministers are supposed to be atheists – its rather that 95 per cent of atheists are actually Calvinists in that they believe in predestination without God – which to my mind is the worst of all worlds.

Beside a cross on hill at sunset

Atheist Determinism

So what is this atheist doctrine of predestination and why is it so harmful? Recently I was involved with one of those pointless Twitter debates when my opponent came out with the astonishing statement that I had no freedom to choose. Any more than the Texas shooter had the ability to choose to shoot his victims. In a culture that has choice as an absolute idol, this may come as a shock, but there are a growing number of our intellectuals – philosophers, politicians and indeed priests – who think that the idea that human beings have conscious free choice (free will) is illusory. Some believe in what is called biological or genetic determinism. Others in cultural determinism. Whether it’s nature or nurture or a combination of the two, they just simply do not believe that we have any choice in what we do. It’s all pre-determined by our genes and our circumstances.

We may think we live in a Burger King world (‘have it your way’) but the reality is that these ways are already pre-determined. Why does this matter?

The Importance of Free Will

Because without free will we cannot have moral responsibility. And without moral responsibility we cannot have justice, law and indeed society. Human beings cease to be human and instead become just a collection of chemicals living out the pre-determined paths of our meaningless existence. Just as the young child from a Christian background might claim ‘it wasn’t me – the devil made me do it’, so the atheist predestinarian can claim that they are not responsible. They did not choose to rape/kill/drink drive because they could not choose anything. ‘It was the genes M’Lud’. Or it’s all society’s fault.

In Love He Predestined Us.

What is the Christian answer to this? Christians who follow the teaching of Christ do believe in predestination. They may explain it in different ways (and its not my intention to get into that particular theological controversy here) but they cannot deny that Christ taught ‘you did not choose me, but I chose you’, or that Paul taught ‘In love Christ predestined us’. However, unlike the biological determinists we do not believe that such predestination takes away human responsibility or human free will, but rather establishes it. The only reason God can judge us justly and fairly is because there is something to judge. God is so great he is able to predestine ‘free will’ and to use our choices in his wider and greater plan.

The atheist cannot go beyond the limits of their faith – a faith that declares that only naturalistic materialism can exist. And so they are limited to the findings of neuro-science and the belief that everything is pre-determined and human free will is an illusion. As their prophet Richard Dawkins has observed:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.’ 

Ultimately for the atheist, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, truth and justice have no real meaning. We are at the mercy of this blind, pitiless indifference. It’s a grim vision that would make even the gloomiest Calvinist of legend seem cheerful!

The Importance of Free Will

The practical consequences of this are phenomenal. The atheist hyper-Calvinist will think that ‘society’ (government) can control everything. We just need chemicals, force, psychological indoctrination and whatever other tools are required for programming the human machine. The Christian view sees humans, not as robots, but as those made in the image of God, with ‘knowledge, righteousness and holiness’. That image is flawed, but it is not erased. Rather than re-programming we believe in re-creation. It is not in blind, pitiless indifference that God has predestined us – but in love. And in love we are set free – not bound by our chemistry or our circumstances. It is not for nothing that historically societies which have placed the greatest emphasis on human freedom and responsibility have been those undergirded with a strong Christian philosophy.

Atheist predestination binds us. Christ’s sovereignty sets us free. Which one will you choose?

David Robertson is Associate Director of Solas CPC in Dundee and minister at St Peter’s Free Church. Follow him on Twitter @TheWeeFlea.

11 thoughts on “Beware the Hyper-Calvinist Atheists!

  1. David

    I am becoming a bit paranoid about copyright law. I sometimes make a personal copy of your blog. It seems, however, I should ask permission to do so. Is it okay with you if I do so? And if I have a copy of a post and wish to pass it to others (unlikely, as I normally just point to your post) do I have your permission.


  2. Why?
    Why deny free will?

    Because the atheist Calvinist has no salvation! No solution! No redemption! Just determination!

    “It’s something else’s fault, because if it’s my fault, there is no hope!”

    Like the gospel being the source of bringing freedom and liberty, (to allow defiance, rebellion, free speech, freedom of thought and religion and non.) so the gospel is the source of our resolving our subsequent guilt and shame.

    The atheist Calvinist will not have us know guilt and shame, because they have no solution for it. Rather, denial of the values that bring guilt and shame, including free will.

    To pardon or forgive is beyond the secular vocabulary. It only exists among the Christian worldview. Yet it is to pardon and forgive, that spawns the revolution of righteousness. Christians are transformed, to live in righteousness and holiness, because despite their free will, Christ died for the ungodly. Pardoned, forgiven.

    The secular narrative has no such hope for any who fall short of the “glory of our values”.

    But the Christian message is grace and forgiveness for those who fall short of a much higher standard.

  3. David

    As we approach the festive period, I thought you would be saving your remaining straw for Luke’s manger, rather than wasting it on making men as you do for the rest of the year.

    There are as many theories of determinism as there are branches of the Protestant church. However, they should not be confused with pre-determinism, intentionally or otherwise.

    I recently giggled my way through a debate on Open Theism with both sides making completely cogent arguments as to why the other was wrong without either coming to the rather obvious conclusion that they both were (a painfully common outcome of much theological discourse).

    I shall just have to continue my pitiful, objectively pointless existence simply making free choice decisions to assign entirely subjective meaning to my interactions with a naturalistic universe that I cannot justify.

  4. There seems to be a split here. Gender social justice warriors, chose to jettison any, or most tenets of evolution. Didn’t Dawkin wryly comment on those who watched a recent eclipse: had they come to watch a social construct?

  5. If good scientific and empirical evidence exists to suggest that we should have no reason to need or expect a surface, conscious layer of free decision making, one would have to ask, why do people such as Reverend Robertson crave it?

    The answer would seem to lie in four directions.

    Firstly he sees free will as necessary to justify his Christian faith. Christianity as a realistic theory is fatally wounded if one of its main precepts, the ability to freely choose Christ as saviour, is totally attributable to kismet.

    Secondly, how can he attribute agency or conscious choice to his ‘decision’ to follow Jesus? If we have no freedom to choose beyond the narrowest of parameters formed by passively acquired influences and experiences, how can anyone claim any ownership of their current worldview? The Reverend Robertson can claim nothing more than luck (good, bad or indifferent) for his current position as minister at St Peter’s and avid follower of Jesus. In another twist of fate, he could as easily have been a-theist like me, or worse still, one of the young killers of Jamie Bulger, or indeed the Texas church murderer. On no free will, the choice is not his.

    Thirdly, how do we maintain moral responsibility, justice and the value of law? How will society survive if people can claim no responsibility for their actions?

    Fourthly – and much more generally, it just feels like we should have free will. We are individuals who have all taken different paths in life. Surely that must be because we can choose those paths, and because we take responsibility for our own paths. On a separate level, it allows us to praise ourselves, or be praised for our good choices, while feeling justifiable outrage at the bad/criminal/evil choices made by others.

    What should be very obvious from the above is that none of it argues scientific or empirical justification in support of free conscious choice. The best Rev Robertson and others can do is to suggest that it ‘feels’ like we have free will and if we envisaged its absence we would have a vision of a desperately gloomy worldview.

    I believe I am the subject of Rev Robertson’s astonishment in his blog. I possess a simplistic a-theistic worldview based on the evolutionary model as best understood by science, and Occam’s razor philosophy. If anyone should make a claim for the existence of a more complex explanation than is necessary, they should be able to justify their reasons for adding complexity. Otherwise the simple model should be the accepted one unless it fails any scientific test.

    For free will to make any practical sense, it has to incorporate our ability to make conscious (aware) free choices at will. Therefore we have to be able to consciously look at the options and make a free choice between those options at our disposal. One glaring problem with this concept is that no-one seems to be able to reveal or describe how this actually feels, precisely how they corral all of the options within their consciousness, then take time to consciously pick them apart in respect of the relative probability of their suitability for personal flourishing.
    Another problem is that no-one I’ve spoken to knows, at any one moment in time, what their next thought is going to be. Thoughts develop from below our consciousness and our consciousness simply seems to become aware of them, sooner or later. To consciously manage unknown future thoughts in such a controlled fashion as to fashion a conscious, freely considered, good choice seems too much of an unnecessary step into the unknown; especially given that we cannot explain the mechanisms of these processes which should be exceptionally easy if we constantly invoked them consciously.
    Thirdly, we have a perfectly serviceable method of choice that doesn’t involve our consciousness (other than as an information receptor). Almost all of the physical actions and choices that we could be aware of don’t require conscious thought, such as the moment I stopped to pick up my cup of tea just after the last comma. Most choices we make completely bypass consciousness and importantly, even vitally, choose that which is our best, or least worst interest. If we were to require conscious processes to micromanage every action that we become aware of having made, our ability to survive would be threatened almost instantaneously, because we would be incapable of doing anything quickly enough to survive without a huge degree of support. It’s very obvious some of the biggest decisions we make are completely taken away from conscious control. If we’re driving along a road, and an HGV pulls into our path, we know we’re going to have to do something quickly, but our feet are on the brake and our steering pulls the car away from danger before we’ve resorted to consciousness to explore the options.

    I have spent much of my professional life trying to understand the ‘criminal’ mind. And what I have found is that criminals do not consider themselves infused with evil, nor have they chosen to take a path to evil. They don’t do what they do because they are evil, they do it because under the circumstances peculiar to them at that moment, they had no ability to choose differently. Yes, they know what they have done is wrong, but a combination of influences such as ineffective punishment, low chances of being caught, being nurtured in a family that doesn’t respect law, bad personal experiences, desperate need, etc etc, all combine to make their choice for them.

    I think we need to take a moment to honestly scrutinise our methods of choice, the way we think, the way our consciousness becomes aware of thoughts and choices, and we will soon see that we owe nothing to the notion of free will.

    1. Ian – firstly please don’t attribute to me arguments that are just made up out of your own head. Secondly there is not good scientific and empirical evidence that we do not have some measure of free will. Thirdly I too have known many people who work with criminals who include psychiatrists and your notion that they only do it because they had no choice would in most cases be considered absurd. Fourthly you are not the person referred to. Lastly why do you keep talking about choice when you clearly believe we have no choices – everything is pre-determined. Given that I like to have discussions with rational beings who think about what they say and are not pre-programmed robots – I don’t really see much point in your responding to this – do you? After all you have no choice about what you are going to say! ANd please if you are going to respond then only do so if you are making a conscious choice to do so (you seem to delight in confusing instinct with choice). The trouble is that if you do then you are contradicting yourself.

  6. Thanks David for the opportunity to air my thoughts on your blog. Our recent twitter debate did seem to mirror that which you described, right down to the examples you spoke of, but who am I to argue?

    Your reply doesn’t offer any reason or explanation for your position on free will, so I’ll leave it more or less at that, save to clarify that we all obviously make choices. It would be facile to suggest we don’t. They are our choices. We own them. But to what extent could we possibly have made a different choice at any fixed point in time? I argue we can’t, therefore no free will?

    I’d be interested to know to what extent you believe we rely on our library of past and present influences and experience to make choices? Why would we choose to consciously counter what those experiences and influences tell us is good for us? Can we do that? I’d argue that If not, and there is no reason why we should, we have no free will.

    Instinctive decisions are part of the overall picture, perhaps the example I gave wasn’t the best; but driving, playing piano, striking a golf-ball or manoeuvring a football past the Dundee defence can often require complex, non instinctive actions far too quick for the conscious mind to assimilate, never mind choose the best option in each minuscule circumstance. You might wish to assign another name or extra layer of choice to this type of decision making; non instinctive, subconscious or similar, but I wonder how many levels you need to manufacture before you conclude that it might all be one simpler method of choosing.

    In any case, take care, get well, and don’t raise your heart rate too much on issues such as these. As my gran used to say, “whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye”, but I trust the road ahead is bright.


  7. Ian,
    I have studied jurisprudence and criminal law, as part of a first degree, LL.B, and have practiced, both as a defence solicitor and prosecutor, in the English criminal law system. I do not recognise, neither does the criminal law and justice system, what you describe. At the risk of being somewhat simplistic, you must know that for non-strict liability cases, the law requires, mens rea (a criminal intent) as well as actus reus (criminal act) unless there is a mental health, or automatic response ( eg bee sting instinctively causing a serve while driving) defence.
    Self knowledge of the criminal has little to do with free will or criminal intent. Have you ever known criminals to lie? Ever known any to be dishonest? You seem to be conflating evil with criminal intent. What you describe as, “factors that made me do it”, could not be described as coercion.
    I once represented a criminal who described stealing, burglary as “grafting”, going out to work. It was a conscious way of life. Was he compelled to do it? Certainly not.
    And what of those who become thoroughly rehabilitated, lives turned around?

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