Is Libertarian Free Will a Myth?

I recently debated the relationship between libertarian freedom and God’s sovereignty with a dean of a reformed seminary in Colorado Springs. During our discussion He told me that libertarian freedom is a myth. Here’s my response:

To claim that libertarian free will is a myth is to introduce a logical paradox in that we disagree, where do our disagreements and confusion come from if not from our own free wills/minds? Either we (and everything) is causally controlled (not just determined from eternity past) or we aren’t. If we are, and if you maintain that God is the puppeteer1, then God becomes the one who essentially disagrees with himself.

You also seem to be confused (as evidenced by the host of straw men you’ve managed to manufacture) as to the motives behind the desire of people like myself to uphold the doctrine of libertarian freedom2. You seem to think, along lines common to many Calvinists I’ve noticed, that my motives are to lower God or exalt man. Nothing could be farther from the truth which is quite the opposite. If we slaughter libertarian freedom (which includes the power to act against God’s wishes/will) then you end up pinning all sin, destruction, evil, etc. on God which, as Job’s friends quickly found out, brings God no glory.

The bottom line is that while not verse in Scripture trumps another3, it is our sacred duty to uphold all of the tenets of Scripture (including libertarian freedom and God’s predestining) with equal tenacity. If we uphold one aspect of God’s character above others we bring God no glory and do not do justice to a faithful and honest search for truth. God’s love or creative choice to allow conscious beings other than himself to exist is in no conflict with his sovereignty, omnipotence, or omniscience.

  1. Calvinists whine about this comparison all the time claiming it is an unfair characterization. Unfortunately, the shoe fits and I haven’t heard a reformed person (who doesn’t hold to Molinism, which excludes them from being classically reformed) offer any reason why such a characterization is not warranted yet. I’m always open to rebuttals, though, so if you can offer a reason as to why this characterization doesn’t fit, feel free to comment below! []
  2. Unfortunately many people who hold to reformed doctrine assume that opponents to the notion of causal determinism (like me) hold their positions out of willful defiance or stubborn pride. Sadly, this shows how poorly educated even many proponents of reformed theology are. Sadder still is the fact that the existence of credentials (like a Phd.) makes little difference when it comes to willful ignorance of the honest philosophical difficulties detractors may have to their position. []
  3. For the life of me I don’t understand why reformed proponents can’t accept that our differences lie not in the text, but in our interpretation of the text which includes our philosophical presuppositions. For this reason I loathe the challenge of “Oh yeah? Show me that in scripture!” []
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32 Responses to Is Libertarian Free Will a Myth?

  1. Wow, so in your mind, God caused both my authoring this post and your denial of it? Fascinating!

    Your logic above simply doesn't hold because you seem to presuppose what you are arguing for, namely that the only form of determinism that is valid is causal determinism in that all choices are not only predetermined beforehand (which is true) but that those choices are made by God (which is rather absurd).

    1. Choices are not caused or uncaused, they are not events in themselves but a state of affairs. One can't even argue that all states of affairs are causally determined by God since many states of affairs are predicated upon preceding sinful choices.

    2. This seems to completely steamroll over the entire argument that God gave us the ability to make choices which, by definition, means such choices are made from a mind akin to God's. The trap you fall into from this point on is a misunderstanding (either willfully or not) of what it means to be an independent (but limited) causal agent, able to make choices contrary to the original agent (God).

    3. Where did you get this leap? My choice of sauteed Korean beef instead of Japaneese sushi for lunch today was hardly a moral decision.

    4. Choices are not events, see 1.

    5. Doesn't make sense how you've worded it here, but it sounds like a problem stemming from a misunderstanding of point 1.

    6. What? See point 1 again.

    7. Very true, but a straw man stemming from *gasp* a misunderstanding of point 1.

    8. Choices are made by free creatures which were created by an uncreated being (who, himself, has the power to choose).

    9. LFW does not contradict your 8th point simply because it is incoherent.

    I suggest you do some more reading on the subject as it doesn't appear your arguments are very clearly refined. Then again, i suppose in your view God caused you to write what amounts to jibberish on my post and I suppose he also caused you to think your jibberish made sense.

    • Wes says: "Wow, so in your mind, God caused both my authoring this post and your denial of it? Fascinating!"

      Joel says: "What's fascinating is your use of interjections and adjectives ("Wow", "Fascinating!") in place of arguments."

      Wes says: "Your logic above simply doesn't hold because you seem to presuppose what you are arguing for…"

      Joel says: "You're making the same mistake that you've made in the past. You think logic doesn't 'hold' if the conclusion is presupposed in the premises of an argument. But, in fact, those who understand logic acknowledge that that's the only reason why logic does, in fact, 'hold.' A valid argument requires the conclusion to contain that which is found in the premises. But, of course, you're still stuck on the idea that the Kalaam Cosmological Argument proves the existence of God even though God is nowhere to be found in the premises."

      Wes says: "1. Choices are not caused or uncaused, they are not events in themselves but a state of affairs."

      Joel says: "Then what, praytell, is this Third Way to which you allude?"

      Wes says: "2. This seems to completely steamroll over the entire argument that God gave us the ability to make choices…"

      Joel says: "Irrelevant."

      Wes says: "3. Where did you get this leap?"

      Joel says: "It's not a leap at all. It's a presupposition, but since you don't understand how arguments work, I can see why you would think this is a leap."

      Wes says: "4. Choices are not events, see 1."

      Joel says: "Wes can't follow an argument, see 1."

      Wes says: "5. Doesn't make sense how you've worded it here, but it sounds like a problem stemming from a misunderstanding of point 1."

      Joel says: "What it sounds like is your inability to follow an argument. What specifically doesn't make sense here?"

      Wes says, "6. What?"

      Joel says, "It's not difficult to follow, Wes, especially for someone of your philosophical prowess."

      Wes says, "7. Very true, but a straw man stemming from *gasp* a misunderstanding of point 1."

      Joel says, "A straw man of what?"

      Wes says: "8. Choices are made by free creatures which were created by an uncreated being (who, himself, has the power to choose)."

      Joel says: "Irrelevant. If you knew how to follow and interact with an argument, you would comment on something like whether 8 follows from 4-7."

      Wes says: "LFW does not contradict your 8th point simply because it is incoherent."

      Joel says: "Perhaps you would like to offer your understanding of LFW and show how it is compatible with 8."

      Wes says: "I suggest you do some more reading on the subject as it doesn't appear your arguments are very clearly refined."

      Joel says: "Wes, you're not in a position to being play the role of teacher. You have no clue what's going on in this argument that I've put forward, and this is demonstrated by your inability to interact with the argument at all."

  2. As muddled as the last time I stopped by, Wes.

    1. Choices are either caused or uncaused.

    2. If a choice is uncaused, then it springs from nothing and is, therefore, morally irrelevant.

    3. Choices are morally relevant.

    4. Therefore, choices are caused (and therefore necessary).

    5. The causes of choices are either chosen or not chosen.

    6. If the causes of choices are chosen, then an infinite regress of choices and causes must precede any choice.

    7. An infinite regress of causes and choices is impossible, therefore, the causes of choices are not chosen.

    8. From 4 and 7 –> Choices are causally necessitated by something not chosen.

    9. LFW contradicts 8, therefore, LFW is false.

  3. I'm certainly humbled to know that God predetermined and caused you to write all that you wrote above.

    Perhaps He will further cause you to ignore the irony of your disagreement with me over whether we posses libertarian freedom (which includes the ability to think and disagree independent of God).

    Tell me, in our conversation and disagreement, where does the conflict lie? Between two beings with creaturely freedom (aka limited freedom) or is this a puppet-show God is putting on (for no purpose whatsoever)?

  4. The underlying point is that I am the causal agent behind my comments, not God. What you fail to grasp in my preceeding comments is how a causally deterministic view of God degenerates into an untenable logical paradox.

    It can really be boiled down to this: Who is making my comments here? Me or God? Am I using my libertarian freedom to comment which causes you, in turn, to use your libertarian freedom to become annoyed with me or is this whole scene causally predetermined by God?

    You see, either we have libertarian freedom or we are scripted puppets, and if we are scripted puppets, why so serious?

    • I'm glad you're calling it an "underlying point" because it isn't an argument, nor is it an interaction with the argument I have offered.

      I'm on the argument and debate channel.

      You're on the preaching channel.

      As I've noted in the past, you're a preacher, not an apologist.

      • There's a difference? From my studies of church history, all preachers such as Stephen, Paul, and the early church fathers were all concerned with presenting a clear case for the faith they held. I'm not sure how, simply because you disagree with my style and/or conclusions, you have the authority to denounce someone such as myself as "not being an apologist".

        I think the issue with you does not lie primarily in your head but in your heart. Are you concerned with an honest debate whose chief aim is ascertaining the truth or are you more concerned with putting me down, scoring points, and being a general nuisance?

        When I have conversations with people that continually end up in ad-hominim attacks while completely misrepresenting, ignoring, and outright butchering the argument at hand I tend to think that the answer to my question above is the former rather than the latter.

        However, once again, I have to ask whether you think God is orchestrating all of this in a causal fashion (as if we were robots or puppets) or whether the present conversation is reallying taking place between two causal agents possessing limited free will.

        • Yes, there's a difference between an apologist and a preacher. The two are not mutually exclusive categories. For you, however, the latter is bereft of the former. And, no, that's not a denouncement; it's an observation.

          I present you with an argument against LFW. You don't interact with the argument and don't even understand the argument by your own admission. I address your response to my argument point by point and do not even receive the courtesy of a response to the concerns I've raised. You change the channel and start talking about something else.

          You're not debating, Wes. You're changing the channel and running away. If you think it’s an “attack” to point out your MO, then this is more hopeless than I’ve realized. It’s more than a little ironic for you to implicitly charge anyone with misrepresentation. You are, after all, the one who thinks it’s logically consistent for a determinist to keep from locking his car doors. This is akin to amateur night at the improv.

          As I said from the outset, you're muddled in your thinking. Best to stay away from the messy business of interacting with arguments, Wes.

          • I fail to understand your argument because it is incoherent, not because I am not familiar with the subject matter. I've asked you to clarify your position and eagerly await your thoughtful response on the matter.

            You seem to think that that pointing out to you the illogical paradoxes inherent in your position, multiple times, in multiple ways is somehow changing the subject. It's not.

            It is merely an attempt to shed light on the fact that merely by arguing the existence of limited free will you are left with only one of two alternatives.

            Either God is arguing with himself, or we are truly free to think and believe as we wish within a limited scope. I choose to believe that it is out of our own wills (what you seem to think is "out of nothing") that we are having this discussion and not that God is merely playing with robots or puppets. I daresay you will find very little Biblical or philosophical evidence to back up the former position. Ironically, the evidence of your unrest and agitation of my upholding the belief in libertarian freedom points to your implicit acceptance of LFW also.

            You see, the funny thing is that the more you rail against LFW, the more you actually prove the point because you fail to understand that if LFW is indeed a myth then we are merely puppets and what we do here matters not.

            So I'll ask one more time, is God arguing with himself or are you arguing with me?

            BTW: If LFW is, indeed, a myth, then your entire argument above actually implicated God, not me. So, if you truly believe me to be an imbecile, then you must logically hold to the notion that God is playing the part since, as you want to claim, my will (or yours for that matter) plays no part in this exchange.

          • Wes: I fail to understand your argument because it is incoherent…

            Joel: No one denies that you fail to understand. To address your bald assertion, at what point is my argument incoherent? Some day, the light bulb will turn on and you'll realize that saying so doesn't make it so.

            Wes: You seem to think that that pointing out to you the illogical paradoxes…

            Joel: What is this thing called an "illogical paradox"?

            Wes: You see, the funny thing is that the more you rail against LFW, the more you actually prove the point because you fail to understand that if LFW is indeed a myth then we are merely puppets and what we do here matters not.

            Joel: I don't think I'm not railing against LFW. Save that cheesy metanarrative for another sermon. What I've actually done is provide you with an argument against LFW, an argument with which you've haven't interacted. Instead, you've run away and regurgitated the bald assertion of someone else who thinks that freedom by a name other than LFW reduces man to puppetry. At some point, you need to get down and dirty and actually interact with my argument instead of repeated LFW talking points as if they were a magical mantra. You seem to think that if you make enough bald assertions, they will eventually reach critical mass and constitute either an argument or rebuttal. In reality, they are neither and continue to be irrelevant to the argument at hand.

          • lol, I guess "illogical paradox" is a bit of a double negative. A better phrasing would be "it is illogical, a logical paradox".

            When I say your statement is incoherent, it is not up to me to correct your presentation, that would put me (the person who finds your argument incoherent) in charge of making your ideas coherent. Rather, I encourage you to love me enough to take it upon yourself to find another phrasing if your argument so that I may be enlightened as to your thoughts on the matter.

            Until such time, I'll continue to use my limited freedom to "regurgitate LFW talking points" since they seem to do a mighty fine job of proving the validity of LFW.

            Take heart, though, because if LFW is a myth afterall then I was fated from eternity past like a puppet to regurgitate and actually believe in LFW.

            I find it interesting how God can be against lies and deception and yet, according to those who deny LFW and hold to causal determinism, God MUST be the source of lies and deception since they are found in the world thanks to what we would otherwise call limited free causal agents like man and angels.

          • Wes: When I say your statement is incoherent, it is not up to me to correct your presentation.

            Joel: But it is up to you to support your statement and *show* the argument to be incoherent. Saying so doesn't make it so. A statement needs to be supported.

            Wes: Rather, I encourage you to love me enough to take it upon yourself to find another phrasing if your argument so that I may be enlightened as to your thoughts on the matter.

            Joel: Wes, I love you enough to call you on your MO of making bald assertions, changing the subject, failing to interact with arguments, etc. You have to explain what you don't understand about the argument for me to clarify. And to do this, you need to get out of preacher mode and into apologist mode.

            Wes: I find it interesting how God can be against lies and deception…

            Joel: I find it interesting how you haven't interacted with my argument that proves that choices are causally necessitated by something not chosen.

          • "choices are causally necessitated by something not chosen"

            This statement in particular is incoherent. If you can't find another way of explaining your position I am left with the assumption that you are merely throwing out big words in order to sound like you know what you are talking about rather than honestly trying to engage with me in a search for truth.

            So please, restate your position for those of us who don't have the privilege of living in your world.

          • Wes: If you can't find another way of explaining your position I am left with the assumption that you are merely throwing out big words in order to sound like you know what you are talking about rather than honestly trying to engage with me in a search for truth.

            Joel: What an arrogant little man you are. If you can't understand what someone is saying, you're default option is to assume someone doesn't know what they're talking about? Arrogance, Wes.

            Wes: So please, restate your position for those of us who don't have the privilege of living in your world.

            Joel: If you can follow an argument, you're already living in my world. The statement "choices are causally necessitated by something not chosen" refers back to 4-7 in the argument and means that choices are caused and necessary by something not chosen (e.g., intentions, desires). If this is unclear in your mind, than indicate specifically what is unclear.

          • Arrogance has nothing to do with it. I told you I found your argument to be incoherent and asked you to rephrase your argument so that I may understand it. My request wasn't meant as an attack or anything, however I'm happy you did eventually decide to expand on your initial argument in your last post.

            How are choices "caused" or made "necessary" by desires and intentions? I fail to see how desires make choices necessary, they may influence and color decisions set before us but they hardly create choices. Rather, choices are states of affairs where a causal agent is at liberty to choose among two or more outcomes.

            I may desire an apple right now, however my desire or intention to eat an apple does not necessitate the choice to eat an apple or not since an apple may not be available for me to eat.

            Additionally, even a desire and intention are choices themselves which would pose a circular paradox (which might be what you were referring to above).

            The question here is not whether man is completely free to choose whatever state of affairs he finds himself in, but rather whether he can, in his limited capacity, choose the outcome of a particular state of affairs.

          • RESPONSE #1

            Wes: Arrogance has nothing to do with it.

            Joel: Because you say so? Just one more bald assertion in place of an argument. I know many intelligent people – far more so than either you or me. They do not assume that if they are unable to understand what person X is talking about, that person X doesn't know what s/he is talking about. Arrogance, Wes. Plain and simple.

            Wes: I told you I found your argument to be incoherent…

            Joel: I get that you like to tell people what's wrong as do most preachers. But as an apologist, you have to *show* what's wrong. Get it?

            Wes: I'm happy you did eventually decide to expand on your initial argument in your last post.

            Joel: Wes, I didn't expand on anything. I merely took you back to the argument. I took what was demonstrated in #4 of the argument and put it into #8. In all sincereity, do you know how to follow an argument, Wes? There's something awry here.

            Continued…

          • RESPONSE #2:

            Wes: How are choices "caused" or made "necessary" by desires and intentions? I fail to see how desires make choices necessary, they may influence and color decisions set before us but they hardly create choices.

            Joel: Well, you've just answered your own question. And then you've tried to mitigate the force of the self-evident answer by using the words "influence" and "color".

            Wes: I may desire an apple right now, however my desire or intention to eat an apple does not necessitate the choice to eat an apple or not since an apple may not be available for me to eat.

            Joel: Is this supposed to prove something, Wes? If you look back at the argument – which I've been trying to get you to do for several days now – you'll notice that it's not arguing for the proposition that "Every time Wes has a desire to eat an apple, Wes will eat an apple." Amateur night at the improv, my friend.

            Continued…

          • RESPONSE #3

            Wes: even a desire and intention are choices themselves which would pose a circular paradox (which might be what you were referring to above).

            Joel: Now you're repeating a part of my argument (#6-7) as if you've added something to the discussion. Yes, wes, I quite agree that if desires are caused, then there's the problem of an infinite regress. And that's why LFW is logically absurd, which you'll realize if you follow – and interact with – my argument.

          • Desires aren't caused, thats the point. Neither are choices. Limited free will or "creaturely freedom" is simply the power we have, as causal agents, to choose contrary to what God or any other causal agent desires. Influences such as desires are not determinative, for that you need a personal mind such as God.

            I know you would rather bash me and try to claim that I am an amateur or a hack of some, but the fact is that the alternative to limited free will is causal determinism which offers far more absurdities than your "proof" ever though of laying at the feet of LFW.

            Sorry Joel, I am now firmly convinced that you don't know what you are talking about in this debate and are, instead, using big words in hopes of appearing more intelligent than you really are.

            The bottom line is that if you are unwilling to engage the issue rather than the individual you don't really have anything of any real value to add to this conversation.

            You talk about my MO, but I don't think you realize that your clear MO in most of our engagements has been to attack the person while offering up some incoherent mess you think is a sufficient argument against whatever topic is at hand. When asked to simply rephrase your incoherent mess you start bitching and moaning and throwing a fit like a small child and you expect people like me to put up with it.

            I thought you said you were done commenting on my blog. What? Did someone pull your chain? Were you causally determined to come back and spew your incoherent nonsense again?

            I still want to know, something you have absolutely refused to do in this entire exchange, who are the participants in our argument here, you and I or merely God arguing with himself?

            You see, without LFW, all you are left with is a schizophrenic God acting out parts through his puppets.

          • RESPONSE #1

            Wes: Desires aren't caused, thats the point.

            Joel: …that's one of the points of my argument.

            Wes: Neither are choices.

            Joel: A non sequitur. To show that choices aren't caused, you would have to interact with #1-3 of my argument.

            Wes: I know you would rather bash me.

            Joel: Since when was pointing out someone's MO tantamount to bashing them?

            Wes: Sorry Joel, I am now firmly convinced that you don't know what you are talking about in this debate.

            Joel: …thus demonstrating the subjective nature of persuasion and the reality of self-deception.

            Wes: using big words in hopes of appearing more intelligent than you really are.

            Joel: What "big words" have I used?

            Wes: The bottom line is that if you are unwilling to engage the issue rather than the individual you don't really have anything of any real value to add to this conversation.

            Joel: I've given you an argument against LFW with which you haven't interacted. Is the argument invalid, Wes? Is it unreliable, Wes? To answer these questions, you would have to work your way through the argument, wouldn't you?

            Continued…

          • RESPONSE #2

            Wes: When asked to simply rephrase your incoherent mess you start bitching and moaning and throwing a fit like a small child and you expect people like me to put up with it.

            Joel: As I've been doing for quite some time, I've been appealing to you to go back and interact with the argument. I don't know if you're familiar with philosophy, but the argument I've given you is just about as straightforward as you'll ever find on this particular topic. And yet you complain about big words and incoherence without identifying where the big words are and where the incoherence is.

            Wes: I thought you said you were done commenting on my blog. What? Did someone pull your chain?

            Joel: I had this hope that by presenting you with a straightforward, valid argument, you would interact with the argument – my mistake.

            Wes: You see, without LFW, all you are left with is a schizophrenic God acting out parts through his puppets.

            Joel: This is as good as you get. You confuse demagoguery with apologetics. You confuse talking points with arguments.

          • I find it amusing how you claim I haven't interacted with your argument. Saying it over and over again doesn't make it so.

            I have dealt with your argument and I will leave it up to you to decide whether God has caused me to believe in LFW or not.

            It also amuses me how you are trying to dismiss my defense of LFW as "talking points" without appreciating the philosophical shackles you place on yourself by denying LFW.

            Again, while you try with all your might to deny LFW, the very act of your defiance belies your belief in what you are struggling against. It's almost as if I were to have written a post in support of logic and reason and you decided to argue against it.

            You have to use the very things you are denying to even begin to argue against it rendering any opposing argument self-refuting.

            The best and only acceptable answer in response to a case for limited freedom is silence since, if LFW exists the proposition is true and if it doesn't, then no amount of arguments will change our causally predestined minds.

          • I've spent considerable time today – and, indeed, throughout this entire exchange – focusing on your very own words, Wes, and addressing them.

            As one small example from today, you said: "I may desire an apple right now, however my desire or intention to eat an apple does not necessitate the choice to eat an apple or not since an apple may not be available for me to eat."

            I address these very words and indicate that they do nothing to invalidate my proof. And I explain *why* they do not.

            Do I get the same in return? Does Wes focus on Joel's very words and address them?

            Nope.

            Things like words and arguments get messy and reveal problems. Why get involved in the messy business of thinking when you can meet your psychological needs of triumphalism through demagoguery?

  5. Just because you don't understand the logical paradox inherent in the position you are arguing for doesn't mean I am "changing the channel". Then again, one must ask, in your world view, whether I am changing the channel of my own libertarian freedom to choose to do so or whether God is causing me to.

    But alas, I see that God has caused you to become angry so I'll decide of my own libertarian freedom not to rattle your cage much more here.

  6. "I present you with an argument against LFW. You don't interact with the argument and don't even understand the argument by your own admission. I address your response to my argument point by point and do not even receive the courtesy of a response to the concerns I've raised."

    - Amen to that Joel.

  7. God determining things means that God Himself is doing those same things?

    We are "puppets"? ::Looks around for his strings.::

    Yikes. I think I will pass.

  8. FREEDOM IS A MYTH!

    WE ARE PRISONERS OF SOCIETY!

    A constant battle between 6 and 2 that never ends!

    NEVER have I ever been FREE! To do what I want or how I want to live! I have always had to do what my parents, teachers, employers, local governments and police tell me to, or ELSE!

    If I were FREE, I would not want to work everyday, I would just like to live in my own house and own property in which I did not have to PAY every month, else have my home taken away from me!

    We are SLAVES, NO ONE IS FREE!!

    Anyone that thinks otherwise is an ignorant gullible FOOL!!

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