Did Willy the Whale Shark Choose to Swallow Jonah?

Willy: “… well, so rather than deal with indigestion the whole trip, I made myself yak over by Nineveh.”

Bob: “Woah, that’s quite a story, Willy. I guess that’s why us whale sharks ought to just stick to plankton, huh?”

Willy: “Yeah, Bob, obviously I know we aren’t supposed to eat bearded Middle Eastern men, but as it turns out, the whole thing was part of God’s plan to save a bunch of Gentiles and also point to some greater savior of the world who’s yet to come or something.”

Bob: “wait just a hot second there, Willy. You’re telling me that God made you swallow some guy against your will, which gave you indigestion to the point of vomiting?”

Willy: “Well, not really, Bob. I mean I freely chose to eat that dude, and when I was feeling sick, I freely chose to puke him back up.”

Bob: “But Willy, you said it was all part of God’s plan, as if He orchestrated the whole thing.”

Willy: “Yeah, that’s right.”

Bob: “Okay, but don’t you see that those two ideas are incompatible with one another? If God caused you to swallow that guy and give him a free ride to Nineveh-”

Willy: “-It wasn’t quite all the way, I think the dude probably had a good three days walk ahead of him.”

Bob: “Okay, so if God caused you to swallow that guy and give him a free ride to some destination three days walk from Nineveh, exactly when and where God wanted you to, then your will must have been violated and you couldn’t have freely done it yourself. Your choice and God’s sovereign determination are incompatible with each other.”

Willy: “Oh, on the contrary, Bob, the two are perfectly compatible with each other.”

Bob: “If God predetermined you to do such and such actions- if He preordained, or predestinated, or what ever else you wanna call it- if God did that to you then you didn’t have any choice; you couldn’t have freely chose those actions.”

Willy: “But I already told you that I did choose to eat him and to spit him out- exactly when and where I wanted to.”

Bob: “Okay, if that’s the case then God didn’t foreordain that it’d happen, it was a result of your free will.”

Willy: “God sure did plan for me to do what I did annnnnd I did use my will to do what I did.”

Bob: “What’d ya got seaweed in your gills or something?! They both can’t be true!”

Willy: “They sure can be, and they sure are.”

Bob: Okay, Mr. Smarty-Fish, you tell me how God could have preordained your choices and how those choices could still be freely chosen by you.”

Willy: It’s not that difficult, Bob, God had planned for me to freely choose those actions. What’s so hard for you to understand?”

Bob: “Alright, I’ll try and break this down for you real easy since you apparently have the brain capacity of a guppie. If God planned events that have to happen, then you have no ability to act contrary to His plans. Buuuut, if you have free will then you have to have the ability to act contrary to God’s plans. Do you see how any idea of God’s divine determination is incompatible with your free will? Therefore, either you chose to swallow that dude or you were forced to, but not both.”

Willy: “Ahhhhhhhh. Now I see the problem, Bob. We’re working with two separate notions of free will. You insist that in order for me to have free will I have to have the power to choose freely between competing alternatives. Whereas, I believe that I’m most free when I’m able to choose that which I most desire at the moment.

Fishlosophers call your view “liberty of indifference” or “libertarian free will”, and they call my view “liberty of spontaneity” or “compatibilist free will”. The major difference between us is that you think freedom requires a free agent to be able to choose contrary to their desires. I don’t believe a free agent could ever choose contrary to their desires- ‘choice’ itself is acting out of ones desires.”

Bob: “WHAT!? There are all sorts of times when we have to choose and act contrary to our desires!”

Willy: “Like when?”

Bob: “Like if I were to put a freaking harpoon to your head right now and demand you give me all the kelp in your wallet or I pull the trigger. You’d probably fork over your kelp-fold contrary to your desires to not fork it over.”

Willy: “That’s true, Bob. But if I forked over all the kelp in my wallet I’d be acting out of a deeper desire to not be harpooned in the head. So while I’m not in a desirable position as I stare down the point of your spear, I still choose out of a hierarchy of desires, and stronger, more fundamental desires take precedence over weaker, more superficial desires- but I always act out of my desires.”

Bob: “Alright, let’s grant your notion of free will, for the sake of argument, “liberty of spondelitis’”

Willy: “Spontaneity.”

Bob: “Right, liberty of spontaneity. What does that have to do with God’s plan to save the Ninevites and you trying to eat some waterlogged Jewish guy?”

Willy: “Well, Bob, I’ll tell ya. As you know, we whale sharks are filter feeders. We suck plankton out of the water and digest it, and you know what happens after that.”

Bob: “yes, obviously I know all this, Willy.”

Willy: “We don’t normally desire to eat anything but plankton, right?”

Bob: “right, right! What’s your point?”

Willy: “My point is that God had a plan to save the Ninevites from before the foundation of the earth. He planned to send that Jewish dude (that I ate) to them so that he could preach repentance. God also planned for me to eat that dude and for me to give him a three day cruise to get him close to Nineveh. And none of that means that God violated my will.”

Bob: “explain!”

Willy: “Well, as I was swimming around looking for a nice juicy pile of plankton last week after that big storm, I saw a guy floating around up near the surface and I suddenly had a desire to swallow him whole without chewing a single bit. I now know that God gave me that desire in order to fulfill His divine plan. So He gave me a new desire and I freely acted on that desire with one big gulp. After a couple days of wicked indigestion, I realized that the guy wasn’t quite going down like I had imagined so I decided to up chuck this dude at my earliest convenience. So I freely chose to yak when and where I wanted to but It was God who orchestrated the events and He did so without making me do something I didn’t want to do. Thus, my actions were both free and totally determined by God. God’s sovereignty is compatible with my free choices. My purpose was to fill my belly and then cure my belly pain; God’s purpose was to admonish his messenger (whom I ate), to save the Ninevites, and to point to a greater Savior who is yet to come.”

Bob: “Alright, ‘Free Willy’, I can see your powers of rationalization are strong. But if God’s been tampering with your desires then He’s been violating your will.”

Willy: “Bob, I’m most free when I can choose that which I most desire. If God gives me new desires and I’m able to act on them, then my choices are made freely. On my view God’s sovereignty is compatible with our free choices. On your view, God’s plans are subject to our free will, which is only free if we’re able to make a choice contrary to God’s plan. Could God ever accomplish any of His plans if His creatures had the ability to choose and act completely contrary to His will? Your view, liberty of indifference, makes free will all willy nilly.”

Bob: “So, you’re just an automaton then?”

Willy: “What? How did you get that from anything I’ve said?”

Bob: “Your view is just irrational, Willy.”

Willy: “Bob, you’re the one who thinks you can act completely free of any of your desires.”

Bob: “Okay, well, I desire for this silly convo to be over so I’m going to act on that desire by giving you a flipper upside the head and swimming away now.”

Willy: “Very well, Bob, but you’re proving my point.”


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