Tag Archives: libertarian freedom

Libertarian free will vs. compatabalism

Here is a great question I received recently via Facebook

I’ve been thinking about libertarian freedom lately. What exactly does “nature” mean? 1. The compatibilist says we can only act according to our nature, while the libertarian says we can act against it. If our nature is to sin, then couldn’t we come to Christ without His drawing since we can act against our nature? 2. Libertarians believe in causeless actions. There is no sufficient cause for us to make decisions, only “external influences”. But, if our actions were causeless, then doesn’t that undermine the cosmological argument? What are your thoughts on this? Thank you.

Additionally

The principle of causality holds that every event has an adequate cause. If this is so, then it would seem that even the act of free choice has a cause and so on back to God (or infinity). In any case, if the act of free choice is caused by another, then it cannot be caused by one’s self.” Things don’t just happen. We need causes. Likewise, our actions need a cause and they cannot originate from ourselves because then something would cause itself. Again, libertarian freedom would seem to undermine the kalam cosmological argument.

My response:

The compatabilist seeks to redefine the word “will” to mean something that, in the end, is not a “will” anymore. The compatabilist likes to equivocate on the word because they know the word MUST be used and rather than admit their system is flawed to the core, they would rather do violence to the fabric of language itself.

Once you pin them on their butchering of the English language there are really two options. 1. Get them to use words in their proper sense or 2. cease the conversation since a productive communication is impossible if your opponent is going to be so intellectually dishonest as to twist words to the degree that language itself stands in peril.

To answer further, advocates of libertarian free will (LFW) simply do not see the heart turning itself (an Augustinian statement) as an action. The will wills what the will wills. There are influences and limits that do come into play, but at some point, if we are to call the will a will, there needs to be a free and un-compelled choice between at least two possible alternatives. Otherwise we cannot be said to be free or to have willed in any meaningful sense.

As for undermining the KCA. If we are going to claim the will is necessarily part of a causal system, then we run into issues with God and His will. Is the compatabalist willing to take on the challenge of explaining the causal chain God’s will is subject to and how such a causal chain fits in with God’s aseity?

Our souls, the seats of our will, is what is made in the image of God. If our souls are causal puppets on external strings. What does that say for God?

I would therefore be weary of any man who wishes to place God’s will under causal arrest.

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On the “secret will of God”

The common view of the multiplicity of wills of God (revealed and secret) has several flaws. Namely it seeks to resolve the apparent paradox posed by the view of God’s sovereignty wherein God MUST get his way without fail (and his way is the only way any situation or event may come about) and the view that man possesses responsibility and therefore the power of limited free choice.

So when we read about events such as God repenting for creating man or for saving Israel we are forced to call into question the initial presupposed definition of sovereignty (as stated above and affirmed throughout Calvinistic literature). However, rather than reject this view of sovereignty God’s will is seen as divided and hierarchical such that God MUST (by necessity) have a “hidden” will that can somehow freely subvert and even contradict his revealed will.

We can see this further when Jesus tells us to love our enemies. This seems to stand in stark contrast to the late Calvinistic notion that God gleefully damns sinners to hell “for his glory” even though he (limited atonement) never died for them in the first place. This can only be resolved by positing a hidden or secret will that freely contradicts the revealed will (Scripture).

After many long hours of studying this whole view of God’s will as being multiplied beyond a single unified will that is revealed in part, I am forced to wonder whether this whole “secret will of God” is not, in the end, much different than the hidden knowledge the Gnostic were so infatuated with.

In summation; I find the attempt to resolve the apparent conflict between the Calvinistic understanding of sovereignty (as God being the sole causal agent in the universe) and man’s responsibility before him (which, itself, requires a limited view of freedom that causal determinism explicitly prohibits) by way of hidden or secret wills to be insufficient at best and downright subversive (intentional or not) at worst.

For more information about the problems posed by dividing God’s will up, see:

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A brief exposition of John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16

World is not merely nations in this text. Such a distinction, while required in order to prop up the doctrine of limited atonement, is simply not found in the text. What the text does say, however, is that God loves the whole world (without distinction so that we understand God to love all men, as is his revealed character throughout Scripture) in such a way as to give his only begotten son for the same (that is, all men without distinction, elect and non-elect, chosen and non-chosen) and that whosoever will may believe in Jesus and be saved (indicating how one may go from being one of the not-saved to one of the saved or non-elect to elect “in Christ”).

The glory of God here is that God is both willing (so loved) and able (that he sent) to save all men without distinction so that there is hope (whosoever will) for all men.

Curiously this verse does not say that God only loved the elect, only died for the elect, and that only the elect will (through irresistible and forceful changing of a person’s will against their desires/wishes/choice) be saved.

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Wordy Wednesday: Counterfactual

Counterfactuals are statements about “what might have been” regarding an event in time had circumstances been different.1

Counterfactual statements are characterized by the conditional keywords “if-then”, as in “if Obama had not raised the national debt to record levels, unemployment would have been much higher.”

The “counter” part of a “counterfactual” statement is that such a statement may be true even through the event described never happened (or “obtained”). The value of such statements is only apparent if one assumes a non-causally deterministic view of the universe where different circumstances (or decisions by causal agents) could have caused events to turn out differently.

Counterfactuals are intergal to the Molinistic view of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the limited causal agency of man (in other words, limited free will). Specifically, counterfactuals are what give us reason to believe in the existence of logically possible worlds and the notion that while God certainly does predestine all that happens2 there exist truly free, albeit limited, causal agents such as humans and angels.

Verses that point to the existence of counterfactual (statements that can only be valid if there were a logically possible world where the events described would have obtained if circumstances were different) are Jeremiah 38:17-181 Samuel 23:6-10, Matthew 11:23, 1 Corinthians 2:8, John 15:22-24, John 18:36, Luke 4:24-46 and Matthew 26:24

Note that each of the above statements would be rendered incoherent if they were not true in their counter (not obtained) factual (proposition of truth).

  1. For more information, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry. []
  2. Since, out of all logically possible worlds, or potential worlds, He chose to actualize the one we are currently in. []
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Can all freely choose, or are we totally depraved?

Earlier I posted a portion of a conversation I recently had with a friend (Mike) regarding salvation’s availability. Here is the continuation of that conversation (reposted with premission) where our conversation logically turns to whether everyone has the ability to accept the offer of salvation if it were freely offered.

Mike:

I see your questions1, and wanted to ask a few others for my clarification before progressing any further.

You stated, “the question rather is whether everyone has within their power (given, obviously by God) the ability to choose Christ in the first place”, then cited 2 Peter 3:9 in order to answer yes to your question.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but you most likely would assert that God grants a special grace to everyone that would enable them to choose salvation in Christ?  My questions back would be: What does this special grace (that everyone has) help man with?  What causes one to choose Christ and not the other, especially if they were both made by God and were placed in their times and circumstances by Him?

You also mentioned, “I simply question, however, the notion that God’s foreknowledge is logically tied to a causal decree. In other words, I don’t see how God’s foreknowledge is inextricably tied to the causally deterministic notion that God also causes those he foreknew to accept the grace he has offered.”  Based on thisquestion, and highlighting what I mentioned above, do you then believe that God’s sovereign election is a reaction to one’s decision to follow Christ?

Me:

No, I don’t think that special grace is given in order for anyone to accept the gift of salvation. I do think that special grace is given once that gift has been accepted in the form of salvation. What causes one man to choose Christ while another rejects while both have been through the same circumstances is the men themselves.
This is another mischaractarization of Molinism that James White propagated in his presentation where he mistakenly asserts that in Molinism it is presumed that people will act in a given way depending wholly on the circumstances.
People are unique and while we may not know who will and who won’t accept Christ given any circumstances, Jesus’s comments in Luke 10:3 assure us that God knows.
As to your second question I’ll simply say “no” because the decision of which logically possible world to actualize was made far before any of God’s creatures existed in order to be said that God reacted to them. This is another variation on the grounding objection which assumes that there are only two options to the question of who elected whom unto salvation.
God, in knowing (through his middle-knowledge of possible worlds rooted/grounded in His omniscience) who would choose given any possible set of circumstances chose to actualize a world (the one we find ourselves in currently) which necessarily closed the door to some people in terms of salvation because they, like Tyre and Sidon, were not given the signs and wonders that would have caused (or persuaded them rather) to repent in sackcloth and ashes and believe. Conversely, Chorazin and Bethsaida were given, by God’s good pleasure and soverign descision and decree, more evidence and Jesus condemned them all the same because any evidence of God is enough to convict us for failing to take Him at his word. This is, coincidentally, the same argument Paul uses in the first chapter of Romans to convict the pagans who did not have the specific revelation of the law or Jesus but who only had the natural revelation that comes from the world God created which points to himself.
A good question in relation to causal determinism would be: If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose? Specifically, in light of the overriding principle of Scripture that God loves all of his creation and is willing that none should perish (something also affirmed by Jonah and the other prophets as they called people to repentance for multiple years in some cases); How can we  claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?
It seems that we have far more philosophical and theological reason to reject the notion of a God who causally determines every single thing that happens (including sin and subsequent repentance) than we do to question a system which attempts to answer the entire body of evidence (including God’s holiness and man’s responsibility for his own actions).

No, I don’t think that special grace is given in order for anyone to accept the gift of salvation. I do think that special grace is given once that gift has been accepted in the form of salvation. What causes one man to choose Christ while another rejects while both have been through the same circumstances is the men themselves.

This is another mischaracterization of Molinism that James White propagated in his presentation where he mistakenly asserts that in Molinism it is presumed that people will act in a given way depending wholly on the circumstances.

People are unique and while we may not know who will and who won’t accept Christ given any circumstances, Jesus’s comments in Luke 10:3 assure us that God knows.

As to your second question I’ll simply say “no” because the decision of which logically possible world to actualize was made far before any of God’s creatures existed in order to be said that God reacted to them. This is another variation on the grounding objection which assumes that there are only two options to the question of who elected whom unto salvation.

God, in knowing (through his middle-knowledge of possible worlds rooted/grounded in His omniscience) who would choose given any possible set of circumstances chose to actualize a world (the one we find ourselves in currently) which necessarily closed the door to some people in terms of salvation because they, like Tyre and Sidon, were not given the signs and wonders that would have caused (or persuaded them rather) to repent in sackcloth and ashes and believe. Conversely, Chorazin and Bethsaida were given, by God’s good pleasure and sovereign decision and decree, more evidence and Jesus condemned them all the same because any evidence of God is enough to convict us for failing to take Him at his word. This is, coincidentally, the same argument Paul uses in the first chapter of Romans to convict the pagans who did not have the specific revelation of the law or Jesus but who only had the natural revelation that comes from the world God created which points to himself.

A good question in relation to causal determinism would be: If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose? Specifically, in light of the overriding principle of Scripture that God loves all of his creation and is willing that none should perish (something also affirmed by Jonah and the other prophets as they called people to repentance for multiple years in some cases); How can we  claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?

It seems that we have far more philosophical and theological reason to reject the notion of a God who causally determines every single thing that happens (including sin and subsequent repentance) than we do to question a system which attempts to answer the entire body of evidence (including God’s holiness and man’s responsibility for his own actions).

Mike:

While I’d like to address your response point-by-point, I think for the sake of limited time and for focus I will hone in on your specific questions.  I think they do a good job at hitting the heart of the issue, and they are ones I wrestled with for a long time myself.

You asked, “If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose?

I would answer that in a couple of ways.  First, the reason why He chooses one person over another is not specifically explained in Scripture.  We don’t fully understand the mind of God (Deut 29:29), but we know that He is trustworthy and He always does what is right, and that all that comes to pass will be for the sake of bringing glory to Himself.  This is where our ideas of justice and righteousness must be in submission to God’s revealed word.

We do see, however, that God chooses who are saved in such a way that none can boast (1 Cor 1:25-31), not even in their “decision for Christ”, since this too is a gift extended to the elect (Eph 2:8,9).  It is also not because of anything special about any of us (John 1:13, Rom 9:16), especially we are by nature children of the devil and objects of His wrath (Eph 2:3).  If God were to choose someone based on foreseen faith or some virtuous decision, then He would be contradicting His character since this is showing partiality (Rom 2:11).

You also asked, “How can we claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?

To say that “God loves the world and desires all to be saved, but He doesn’t save everyone” is in no way a contradiction.  Here’s a meager example: a judge shouldn’t want to send anyone to jail because he wants to see people obey the law, yet he is charged with upholding justice so he must punish criminals.  One thing we haven’t touched on yet in our conversation is the difference between God’s “revealed will” (that which reflects His character and desires) and God’s “decretive will” (what He decrees will come to pass, either as a direct cause or not).  God obviously does desire all men to obey Him and not to sin.  Does this mean everyone obeys and nobody sins?  Well, of course not, as evidenced by the fall.  God’s desire for all to obey is his “revealed will” for all mankind.  I would argue His desire for all to be saved (2 Pet 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4) is part of His “revealed will” as well.

As far as God loving the world, He does love the world in a general sense by extending common grace to all (e.g., breath in everyone’s lungs, the restraint of people from being as evil as they can potentially be, the rain falling on the just and the unjust, patience with the wicked).

Additionally, I think it’s important to note that what we “should do” does not necessarily imply what we “can do” in and of ourselves.  Even though He desires for us to obey perfectly, we don’t have the moral ability to do so, since we are by nature dead in trespasses and sins (Ps 51:5-6, 58:3, Col 2:13)—morally in bondage to sin as a result of the fall.  Because it is a moral inability, this is why we’re still culpable for our disobedience and rejection of Christ.  And, like you mentioned, we can’t claim ignorance of the law (Rom 1:20, 2:12-16).  Because we absolutely won’t accept Christ because our wills are in such bondage to sin, this is why scripture says in Romans 8:7 that we’re unable.  For example, think of a bad marriage where a wife may scream: “I can’t forgive my husband because I hate him so much!!!”

So, the call goes out for everyone to obey perfectly, though nobody can or will.  Similarly, the call to salvation goes out to all, though nobody can or will (Rom 3:10-18).  That is, except, unless God graciously and mercifully intervenes, regenerates the sinner’s heart, and grants them repentance and faith (Acts 11:18, 2 Tim 2:25).

These evidences from Scripture are why, I argue, that God must be the causal agent for salvation.  Mankind is utterly at His total mercy, and He doesn’t owe salvation to anyone.  All the more reason for all credit to go to His Name alone for the salvation of men.

I hope my answers—though far from exhaustive—were helpful to at least some degree.

Me:

I think one of the problems we are having is that we define “faith” in fundamentally different ways. I read Eph 2:8,9 to mean that the gift of salvation is what is not of ourselves and that we merely obtain it via faith. In other words, you seem to view faith as a work whereas I do not since faith by itself saves no one but rather the object thereof.

The reason I ask how God chooses is to expose the rather curious loophole left intentionally by Calvin and modern proponents of reformed doctrine (like James White) where, after claiming that God grants us even the faith required to fulfill the command to repent and believe we are told “God grants to them the gifts of faith and repentance, which they then exercise by believing in Christ and turning from their sins in love for God.” This begs the obvious question of: If these people were foreordained unto salvation from eternity past, and if God has to grant the even the ability to accept him, why mention their exercising that gift? Why doesn’t God just do it for them?

The point is that while we both agree that God is the author and originator of faith, I maintain that humans have the ability to exercise that faith in positive (though not wholly salvific in itself) ways or not. I also don’t see where such a claim about faith makes it any more meritorious than, say, choosing to believe in the giver of a gift somehow merits the gift unto myself.

This leads to the other reformed doctrine you bring up above (which I also maintain is logically linked to the others once you take a causally deterministic view of sovereignty) which is the doctrine of total depravity.

While the Bible does clearly teach that we are, by nature, on death-row heading for an eternity separated from God I don’t think it’s fair or proper to compare our spiritual and, baring salvation, inevitable state with that of a dead man. Several issues arise if we take the analogy laid forth in certain passages about our being spiritually dead too far.

Primarily we are faced with the fact that while dead things can do no good, they can do no evil either. I like to use the analogy that if my son or daughter were to drop dead right before bedtime I wouldn’t beat them for refusing to put on their pajamas before bedtime. That would be far from just (or rational!). Similarly I don’t see how we can claim that God issues decrees we are unable to uphold, whether it be in our power or power we are to co-opt from some other source (but that is still in our power to go ask for and receive said power per Luke 19:21).

Another issue with taking the “we are dead in our trespasses” too far out of the limited scope of spiritual deadness intended in the original use is that death releases the dead person from obligation to the law. If our death is a complete inability to choose anything other than death at all, then why do you suppose we are still “under the law” and not released by it per Romans 7:2?

I think the major problem with the doctrine of total depravity lies in how low of a view it puts forth of man and the inherent damage such a view does to the imago dei or image of God we bear. I think this doctrine also fails to account for the fact that if we were all sinners and enemies of God (and, by nature children of wrath) then how were we saved at all if, according to reformed theology, the elect are predestined unto salvation apart from anything they do or decide?

In closing, I apologize for not addressing each of the verses you mentioned individually but suffice to say that I believe that it is far easier to harmonize them with a view of man’s libertarian freedom than it is to harmonize the rest of scripture with the competing notion of complete bondage that was set forth by Luther and Calvin (though not to the degree that Beza took it).

If you’ve read this far I hope you find this conversation as fruitful as Mike and I did. Feel free to join in below!

  1. He is referring to the questions I raised towards the end of my previous correspondence which can be found here. []
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Resources for more information on Molinism/Middle Knowledge

Since my post on Molinism/Middle Knowledge garnered some interest I figured it would be helpful to provide some more resources on the subject for anyone who is interested in exploring, as William Lane Craig puts it, such a fruitful doctrine further:

Audio

William Lane Craig‘s multi-part series “Doctrine of God” taught in his Sunday School class (Defenders) at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church

Articles

Philosophia Christi is a scholarly periodical published by the Evangelical Philosophical Society which regularly has articles both for and against Middle Knowledge, recently Vol 11 Num 1 2009 featured Steven B. Cowan (Editor of Five Views on Apologetics) against and Scott A Davison (Professor of Philosophy at Morehead State University) for with some good interaction between them both.

Books

Other notable proponents of Middle Knowledge1 include:

I would be remiss if I were to claim this as an exhaustive list of proponents or resources pertaining to Middle Knowledge/Molinism so if you know of any other resources, by all means, let me know!

  1. These include both active and passive proponents of Middle Knowledge/Molinism. Not all of these people actively promote Middle Knowledge by itself but all, as far as I know, hold to this doctrine and deem it useful or “fruitful” in answering other theological/philosophical issues. The most significant being the question of evil. []
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