As an Arminian and Molinist, I specifically oppose all forms of causal determinism. If there’s one aspect of Calvinism I object to, it’s causal determinism. Yet some Calvinists are hesitant to say they are causal determinists. This post is to lay out the various forms of causal determinism; Naturalism, Occationalism, Concurrence and Mainline Calvinist Causal Determinism; all of which I oppose.
Based on knowledge derived from the physical and social sciences, the world view that is naturalism holds that human beings are fully included in nature. Science tells us that we are connected and united, in each and every aspect of our being, to the natural world. There is, under naturalism, nothing supernatural about us which places us above or beyond nature, but this is something to be celebrated, not feared. Practically speaking, naturalism holds that an individual’s development and behavior are entirely the result of prior and surrounding conditions, both genetic and environmental. Naturalism, therefore, denies that persons have contra-causal free will - that something within them is capable of acting as a first cause. But this isn't a problem, it's just how things are. (link)
Naturalism is form of causal determinism, but its not an option for Calvinists. The Westimister Confession states “God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.” (link) Likewise the WCF states “The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them” So the WCF rules out natural determinism and asserts that man has an immortal soul, which in turn rules out naturalism. (link)
Occasionalism is a philosophical theory about causation which says that created substances cannot be efficient causes of events. Instead, all events are taken to be caused directly by God himself. (A related theory, which has been called 'occasional causation', also denies a link of efficient causation between mundane events, but may differ as to the identity of the true cause that replaces them). (link)
Occationally, Calvinists are occasionalists, but this view has not gained widespread support among Calvinists.
Concurrence is similar to occationalism but rather than denying the efficiency of secondary causes, Molinia’s Catholic opponents (the Dominicans) said God's concurrence with secondary causes determines the effects.
Suarez describes concurrence as: the concurrence is a certain entity that emanates from the First Cause and is received in the secondary cause, bringing the secondary cause to final completion [as an agent] and determining it to produce a given effect. The reason why this concurrence is said to be something "in the manner of principle" is that it is the secondary cause's power to act or, at least, it formally brings that power to completion.
The First Cause's concurrence is something in the manner of a principle and infused power ...... The concurrence begins, as it were, with the conferral of this power and yet does not consist in this conferral [alone], but rather proceeds further right to the creature's very own action, with the result that what influences the action immediately is not only the power communicated to the secondary cause but also the divine and uncreated power itself. (link)
Very few Calvinists today hold to this opinion, but it is a form of causal determinism.
Mainline Calvinistic Causal Determinism
Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge articulated the view that man’s actions are determined by his motives, reasoning, state of mind, emotions and feelings. Unlike naturalism, man has an immaterial soul, which includes man’s intellect and will. Man does has some agency and efficiency; man does act, but he doesn’t have contra-causal powers (the ability to do otherwise than he does). Edwards states that the will is determined by "the strongest motive" and states that "the will always is, as the greatest apparent good is" and that "the will follows the last dictate of understanding".
Turretin, Edwards and Hodge relied on Luther and Calvin’s groundwork by developed the system somewhat. While they disagreed with each other on semantics (for example Edwards used the terms ‘metaphisical, philosophical or moral necessity, Hodge preferred the term certain of things and avoided using the world ‘necessity’ so as to avoid confusion with naturalism), they agreed with each other on the major substantive issues. Today there view is popularized by authors like RC Sproul using the catch phrase that “we choose according to our strongest desire”.
Turretinfan also seems to fall into this general category, although he provides further explanation. He says “that reason demonstrates that the laws of cause and effect apply not only to the physical world but also to the spiritual world.” (link) He seems to allow not only for man to have an immaterial soul, but also, there can be spiritual (verses physical) causation. In a world were some people underarticulate their views out of fear of criticism, I admire Turretinfan’s courage, even thought I disagree with his views.
Beyond these four views, many Calvinists simply reject libertarian free will, which seems to imply causal determinism without specifying how our acts are determined. Still others seem to hold to libertarian free will in antinomy with their other views. Finally, some people have attempted to reconcile the 5 points of Calvinism with libertarian free will via a special type of Molinism.