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Libertarian Calvinism – 4 Wrapping Up

This will complete my series on Libertarian Calvinism. Part one is here part two is here, and part 3 is here. I tried to argue that the case for libertarian Calvinism has not yet been made, and that it’s not clear that it can be made. Now, that’s not to say that one couldn’t severely limit one’s scope, and by ‘Calvinism’ mean, say, “the five points.” Then, supposing the some suitable, libertarian friendly, definition of ‘irresistible’ could be given, one could say that LC is the conjunction of LFW and TULIP. Yet, I do think that LC is incompatible with a sufficiently robust Calvinism, where this is defined as confessional (which can be understood broadly as including various dogmatic/systematic theologies). In this post I simply want to make some brief closing remarks.

1. It has come to my attention that some didn’t understand the objection from sourcehood I raised in the third installment. The thought is that our regenerate nature that God gives or implants in us may determine a range of regenerate friendly actions yet not determine which of those within the range are chosen. So, we can choose otherwise, thus determinism isn’t true.

One problem here is that I didn’t argue for the truth of determinism. I argued that the ostensibly free actions that are sourced in or flow from our regenerate nature couldn’t be libertarian free. To response that we can choose between alternatives consistent with our nature isn’t sufficient for libertarian free will. Indeterminism doesn’t get you libertarian free will.

Second, this answer doesn’t respond to my objection. What do alternatives have to do with ultimate sourcehood? Suppose, for example, that neuroscientists kidnap me and removes the nature or character that I had libertarian freely formed over the years. They then implant a new nature (a new set of desires, dispositions, etc.), and these ensure that I will act in neighbor-loving ways. However, they don’t ensure which neighbor-loving actions I do. Most libertarians won’t think that I’m responsible for the neighbor-loving actions I do that flow from my downloaded character. Ish Haji expresses the idea when he writes,

Elf performs an action that causally derives from various beliefs, desires, and values that have been surreptitiously implanted in Elf as a result of his brain’s being directly stimulated. The mere fact, if it is one, that these implanted elements nondeterministically cause his action should not sway us to believe that Elf is the ultimate originator of his action.

To flesh out (iii), an advocate of the negative conception can make headway by capitalizing on Alfred Mele’s suggestion that if action-generating elements are acquired via a process that totally bypasses the agent’s normal capacities of deliberative or reflective control, then the agent is not responsible for actions that issue from such elements.11 Though prior reason states of his nondeterministically cause Elf’s action, Elf acquired his reason states—his relevant desires and beliefs—by means that bypassed his capacities of reflective control. These desires and beliefs do not qualify as authentic. (“On the Ultimate Responsibility of Collectives,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, XXX (2006), p.296.)

Let’s consider the point from another perspective, the longstanding problem of God’s alleged freedom given his perfect goodness. Some philosophers have argued that since God can only choose good, he can’t be libertarian free. A response that fails is this: “But there can be may good things that God can choose between.” A reply to this is that this doesn’t mean God is libertarian free, or has significant moral freedom. Since God’s nature determines the moral kinds of things God can choose, then his actions are sourced in a nature (character, will, etc.) that God isn’t the ultimate source of. He’s not ultimately responsible for having the nature he has. He didn’t “form” it. A plausible reply to this is that ultimate sourcehood is consistent with acting from a nature that you’re not responsible for having only if that nature didn’t causally originate from an external source. In God’s case, he has the nature he has necessarily, it wasn’t ‘implanted’ in him from an external source. But note that this reply won’t work for the libertarian Calvinist. Per libertarian Calvinism, our regenerate nature originates from an outside source and we aren’t ultimately responsible for it originating in this way.

There are other problems with this response, but I’ll have to ignore them for now.

2. Libertarian Calvinism seems to be unstable. The libertarian thinks that various morally salient choices deeply matter. And since we can be subject to various harms for failing to do what we ought to do, we must have libertarian freedom to justify such treatment. But then it seems strange that arguably the most morally weighty choice humans could make is not one that we are able to libertarian freely make. Moreover, not making this choice subjects us to perhaps some of the weightiest consequences. If we don’t need libertarian free will here, then why do we need it anywhere?

3. One psychological motivation for accepting libertarian Calvinism may be this: it gets tiring defending God for each case of evil that pops up. “Do you mean God determined the school shooting?” “Do you mean God determined the genocide?” On top of that, constantly dealing with the “Calvinism makes man a robot” objections, and “Explain to me how man is responsible? Ever heard of the consequence argument?” gets old. Moreover, holding to theological determinism gets one sneers and snickers. You’re stared at incredulously by fellow academics, and are constantly told you worship a moral monster. Not only that, but academics often won’t give you the time of day. “Your view is obviously wrong,” we’re told. If we try to show biblical support, we’re often met with, “But that would entail that humans aren’t responsible. So whatever that text means, it can’t mean what you say it means!” Who wants to run on this continuously turning treadmill? It gets tiring; and, sadly, there’s few Steve Prefontaine’s in Calvinism’s ranks. So the thought is that if you hold to something like libertarian Calvinism, people will get off your back. You’ll be invited to dinner parties again, and can now join in ridiculing Calvinistst, who have now become “hyper-Calvinists.”

But here’s the rub. This is an illusion. Since on libertarian Calvinism, God chooses some to go to heaven and not others, you still worship a moral monster. You may want to develop of a defense of God here, but if you succeed, you’ll simultaneously knock off the biggest problem the “traditional” Calvinist has to deal with. Moreover, you’ll still be constantly defending God. “Didn’t God know that evil would happen?” “Why would God permit that evil. Would you? A good man would have stopped it. So I don’t even know what it means to apply ‘good’ to ‘God’.” The moves you’ll need to make are just as metaphysically costly or suspect (I say) as the moves you need to defend theological determinism.

Sure, you may have the comfort that your response resonates with the majority of scholars. But what happens if (when?) the majority decides that it is more consistent with the ‘love’ of God that he lacks exhaustive foreknowledge? That God is not simple or impassible, because then relationships wouldn’t be “authentic.” And he is not timeless, because real relationships demand change, and answering prayers demand that God is in time. You’ll be back on that treadmill. And you’ve already shown that your legs tire quickly. You then drop any pretense of Calvinism. Not just Calvinism though, classical theism too. Now you’re back in the club, and you can ridicule classical theists, only now they’re …. “hyper-classical theists.”

Sure, this story is fanciful; and it’s a bit of a slippery slope, but I think there’s an element of truth to it. There is no easy Christian theism. You may be tempted to agree but respond that some versions of Christian theism are easier than others. My response is that, either they’re all on a par, or “traditional” Calvinism is the easiest. However, as time has providentially run out, I won’t stick around to defend this final outlandish claim!

1 Comment

  1. Matthias says:

    I find it beneficial sometimes to ask an “un”calvinist for an example, either in nature or in Scripture, where the divine, immutable ordination of a man’s sins was condemned as evil or else nullified the man’s culpability for having committed them – this seems to be the assumption. He might respond, “Well, there’s no example, because that doesn’t happen.” Obviously this begs the question, but it seems to me that since there aren’t any examples of God’s actions elsewhere attested to, the reason he essentially holds to it comes down to something like intuition. And this, I think, comes down to a confusion of the Creator/creature distinction. Not that humans are capable of divine foreordination, but the closest we could come is, perhaps, coercion. Do you think a question like that would be helpful? I’m not sure how persuasive it might be, but I guess I’m trying to pare the issue down to its most basic components.

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October 2014


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