With all the talk of robots and puppets, I wanted to take a moment to ask a basic question. Is it even possible for God to actually create a being that can make a non-determined choice, or does the brute fact of creation render that impossible?
Let’s consider an example of some choices I made today on my way home from work. I decided today that I would shave my head. The reasons I made this decision are plentiful, but just a few of them include the fact that I don’t like combing my hair when it gets too long, I am a warm-blooded person so having less hair keeps me cooler, and I like the way I look with a shaved head. Unfortunately for me, in order to shave my head, I needed to buy some new clippers. Why? Because my old clippers are worn out and now tend to try to rip clumps of hair off my scalp rather than cut hair. But why buy clippers in the first place? Because shaving one’s head requires no skill (thus I can do it) and it is about the same price to buy your own clippers, which have multiple uses, as it is to pay for a hair stylist to shave your head for you once. Therefore, it’s practical to buy my own clippers and shave my own head.
But this meant that I needed to stop somewhere to pick up these clippers. Thankfully, there is a Target store near my house, and its convenience made me decide to stop there on the way home. But today was payday and I was also a bit hungry after work, and next to the Target is an Arbys. So right now, between moments of typing, I am enjoying some Arbys dinner.
Now this is just one small set of choices I’ve made. Let’s examine them further. What did I decide to eat at Arbys? I picked a couple of sandwiches off their value menu. Today was payday and I had money that I could have splurged with, but I also know my rent check is going to hit soon and I already spend plenty of money on such things as my morning coffee and lunches, etc. But there were several options on the value menu which fit my budget.
I chose the junior roast beef. Why? Because I wanted beef. I could have picked chicken—in the past, I have picked their chicken. But today I wanted beef. Why?
Well, that was the mood I was in. But why should that be the case? I know in the past I’ve enjoyed both roast beef and chicken, and I could remember roughly my level of enjoyment with either option, and right now I preferred the roast beef. But why did I like roast beef in the first place?
A large portion of that has to do with body chemistry. People are omnivores and we get our nutrients from eating various types of food. This is why no one sells a gravel sandwich.
Additionally, various types of animals can also be quite tasty. This depends a great deal on individual tastes. But how does one develop one’s tastes? Given the abundance of ethnic food, it seems that people like to eat what they grew up eating. Different cultures prepare different foods, and people tend to like their own culture’s foods more than other cultures (this is by no means a 100% across the board thing though). So part of why I like roast beef is because I grew up in America and we consume a lot of beef here.
But in addition to cultural issues there are also such things as the way your specific parents prepared food. This can be either good or bad. As a kid, every Wednesday we would get spaghetti. And while my dad (who cooked it) is an excellent chef, having that every Wednesday eventually made it so that I don’t really care to eat much spaghetti. The same thing happened with Ramen soup when I was in college: it was really good until I had it every day for a semester.
But beyond even that, tastes are also determined by such things as what your mother ate while she was pregnant with you. That’s because, as you develop in the womb, you are adapting to your environment. And all your nutrients are coming, at that point, from what your mother eats. This helps to shape what your body will “crave” and what it won’t.
There’s a reason I’ve gone on this long explanation (and indeed, I could carry it even further—but the point, I believe, is already made). Our decisions are based on a long and complicated chain of seemingly unrelated events. Why should what my mother ate in the womb have any impact of the fact that I now decided to eat a roast beef sandwich? And yet it did have some influence.
Furthermore, very little of these events are under my control. I didn’t choose what my mother ate, I didn’t choose what my parents cooked as I grew up, I didn’t choose the country I was born in, I didn’t choose what agriculture would be happening here, etc. For that matter, I didn’t choose for my hair to grow requiring me to constantly have to shave my head!
Yet I doubt anyone would disagree that the choice was mine, despite all these things that combined to determine what that choice would be. So with all that complexity in mind, let us reexamine my opening question: Is it even possible for God to actually create a being that can make a non-determined choice, or does the brute fact of creation render that impossible?
Let’s think about this for a moment. If you tried to create a being that could make a non-determined choice, what would that entail? Well, if a choice is to pick between two or more available options, then you must first have a being that is capable of picking between two or more available options. So let us make a machine that can pick either an apple or an orange. How would we write the programming so that it could do so?
Well, we could hardwire it so that it prefers apples, or we can hardwire it so that it prefers oranges, or we can make it so it randomly picks between the two.
The problem is that none of those options allow us to have a non-determined choice. If we hardwire the machine, it’s obviously determined. If we have it pick randomly, then it cannot be considered a choice as the selection is done apart from the one who was supposed to do the selecting. The only way that we can avoid this is if we can somehow manage to make the machine hardwire itself to a specific preference.
But this only kicks us back one level into the same problem. It would once again require us to either hardwire the machine to pick a specific hardwiring scheme, or leave it up to chance. And thus the problem remains.
This is impossible to avoid. And it does no good to argue “God just can overcome this limitation.” This limitation is a logical limitation, and just as God cannot make a round square, so God cannot give us the ability to make a non-determined choice. Either the choice is determined or it is not a choice because it is random and arbitrary.
And this is at the very root of decision making. This is the primary choice, the one that kicks off everything else. And it must be determined or else arbitrary.
So let's think once again about my dinner. Why did I pick roast beef? Ultimately, we can trace back all the competing desires and past experiences and strip them down to say that I decided what to eat based on my evaluation of those options. But what made me evaluate those specific options in the way I did? Either it was because my "evaluation making" equipment (my reasoning ability) was determined in some manner such that the result occurred the way it did, or else it was a completely arbitrary choice, which means it wasn't a choice at all.
There is no escaping this. And therefore, since Arminians believe choices are real, they have to deal with robots and puppets just as much as they say Calvinists do. Determinism is a fact of creation.