In my series on Molinism I’ve talked a lot about the power of contrary choice, as exemplified in the principle of alternate possibility. I’m going to quote a comment from Arminian theologian Roger Olson on this point:
I explain “compatiblism” as a view of “free will” to students all the time—with a straight face and telling them that is what many philosophers and theologians mean by “free will”—that one is “free” whenever one does what he or she wants to do and is not being coerced to do something he or she does not want to do—even if the person could not do otherwise. Invariably the students object that this is not what “free will” means. Invariably they think free will is power of contrary choice. I suspect compatibilists ought to come up with some other phrase than “free will.”
Now, leaving aside Olson’s obliviously 18th century characterization of compatibilism,* let’s imagine that counterexamples to this don’t exist; that everyone naturally assumes that free will just is the power of contrary choice.
What does Olson think this would prove?
To illustrate, imagine that everyone automatically assumed that guilt and innocence could not be “inherited” or “transferred”. That if you were guilty, someone else couldn’t take punishment for you and thereby free you of that guilt. That’s a highly plausible intuition, at least in the West—but that is, after all, the context of Olson’s discussion; if he taught in the majority world I highly doubt he would get the same reaction about free will from many of his students.
Olson firmly repudiates the notion that determinism can be compatible with moral responsibility. He thinks that the term “free will” in a deterministic system like Calvinism is a misnomer. And to illustrate his point he uses the pre-reflective assumptions of his students.
Does Olson also think that terms like “counted righteous before God” and “justified” and “innocent” under Christianity are misnomers—given the highly plausible pre-reflective intuition that guilt and innocence cannot be transferred between people?
If not, why should we take such jejune argumentum ad populum seriously when applied to free will?
* Philosophers who believe that determinism is compatible with responsibility have advanced their position significantly since Jonathan Edwards’ time; they usually describe freedom not in terms of ability to choose what one desires, but rather in terms of control over oneself, and responsiveness to reasons for acting. Either Olson is simply unaware of this—in which case why is he teaching for crying out loud—or he is simply misrepresenting compatibilism. Neither option throws him in a very good light.