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Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought (Baker: 2017), is Richard Muller’s latest, and most comprehensive, addition to the literature on Reformed thought on freedom. Dr. Muller (Calvin Seminary) is a highly regarded historical theologian, and his influence is strong, especially among younger Reformed academics. Muller is a prolific author and there is no doubt that he has provided the Church in general, and the Reformed church in particular, a great service with his detailed historical work on early Reformed thought on all dogmatic loci. Despite this, his involvement in the debate on early Modern Reformed thought on freedom has always perplexed me. In this area, at least, and in my estimation, his work suffers from several defects, many of which I have discussed on this blog (use the search feature). Unfortunately, his latest book appears to be more of the same. This post will catalog some of my first impressions. These are gleaned from his introductory chapter, and so these criticisms must not be taken to necessarily reflect the overall quality of Divine Will and Human Choice.
(This is part two of a series that began here. In this series I am interacting with Tom McCall’s section on theological determinism and compatibilism in his book, An Introduction to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP 2015).)
Key: I will let FW&MR stand for Free Will and Moral Responsibility. I will let TD stand for the Theological Determinism, where God is said to, in some sense, determine all human actions.
In my last post, I made the point that the standard approach to dealing with the claim that FW&MR is compatible with TD is to cite some standard arguments against compatibilism. As I understood it, the standard arguments refer to those arguments that employ the standard definition of determinism as a premise. As I understood it, and as I demonstrated from the definitions McCall enlisted, the standard definition of determinism includes, as an essential component, among other things, the claim that the determining conditions lie in the “remote past.” Call this determinism, D+P. I then argued that many theological determinists—Calvinists, say—would not count as determinists at all on this understanding, since God’s determinative decree is timeless. However, once we allow this feature of classical TD to enter into the picture, the standard arguments are otiose for the purpose of showing that FW&MR is incompatible with TD. One upshot here is that those who argue against Calvinists (of the sort envisioned above) need to restate their argument for it to be relevant.
In the light of this, one might get the impression that I think the standard arguments for the incompatibility of FW&MR with D+P are good (sound and persuasive), while allowing TD to escape out the back door. However, this is false. Even here, I don’t think incompatibilists have made their case. So in this post and the next, I would like to comment on some of the arguments that McCall employed for the incompatibility of FW&MR with D+P. (more…)
(This is the first entry in a series of posts on Tom McCall’s discussion of theological determinism and compatibilism in his book, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. I am not sure how many parts it will be, but I assume less than five.)
I had the pleasure of picking up Tom McCall’s recent book, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP 2015). It appears to be a fine work, and it seems to accomplish its goal of being an introduction to analytic theology for nonspecialists. Though what follows in this post is largely critical of one small section of McCall’s book, I hope that it won’t detract readers from its overall quality. I encourage you to get a copy, if you haven’t already. We need more (lay) analytic theologians (read the book to find out the content of that term!). (more…)
This is the third installment of a series on Oliver Crisp’s “Libertarian Calvinism,” a chapter in his new book, Deviant Calvinism. Part one is here and part two is here. In this post I’ll engage directly with libertarian Calvinism. I hope to show that even if the issues I raised in the first two posts could be addressed—which, I think, is by no means an easy task—libertarian Calvinism faces problems that not even Hal Jordan (a.k.a the Green Lantern) could overcome.1 (more…)
This is part 2 of a series I’m doing on chapter 3 of Oliver Crisp’s new book, Deviant Calvinism (part one here). First, to summarize the main point of the previous post: Crisp wants to argue that libertarian freedom is consistent with Reformed Theology, specifically as elucidated in the Westminster Confession of Faith. I argued that Crisp’s argument is incomplete, choosing to focus only on chapters 3 and 9 of the Confession. However, there are other chapters that confess propositions that arguably don’t support libertarian free will. Specifically, I cited the Confession’s teaching about the nature of God and his knowledge, and made the case that these claims are prima facie inconsistent with libertarian free will. I then argued that several standard ways of resolving these troubles may not be open to the libertarian Calvinist, since the Confession plausibly rules them out. There are other portions of the Confession that will be shown to spell trouble for Crisp’s case, and they will make an appearance in the next post. In that post (part 3 of the series), I will interact directly with Crisp’s case for libertarian Calvinism. But before I do that, I want to discuss two terms Crisp employs in the chapter but doesn’t elaborate on. These terms show up in debates over free will and the kind of necessity theological determinists have wanted to say attaches to free human actions. (more…)
I’ll make this quick. I won’t document my claims, though I can document them with ease. Consider:
1 Corinthians 10:13
13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Some Christians have suggested that this text teaches that we have libertarian free will. Given a certain flat-footedness, this is plausible. The idea is that, for every temptation you may face, God provides a way of escape such that you do not have to give into the temptation. You can endure it or not. This is supposed to suggest that the principle of alternate possibilities is true. It is then argued that this would be false given theological determinism. Then, on the assumption we either resist or succumb to the temptation freely, and the text entails the falsity of determinism, then the text implies the freedom we have is libertarian. (more…)
Sometimes it is said that God has libertarian freedom. The argument for this often goes like this:
- God freely chose to create the world.
- The world is not necessary.
- Therefore, God’s free act of creating of the world was not determined.
- Therefore, God has libertarian freedom.
This argument is actually quite popular, but it is invalid. For the sake of the argument, I’ll grant we can validly get to (3). However, the jump to (4) assumes a suppressed premise, something like:
- 3a. If a free act A is not determined, then A is libertarian free.
But that is false. It assumes that indeterminism is sufficient for libertarianism, when it’s actually only necessary for libertarianism. What is needed instead is something like this:
- 3a′. Freedom is incompatible with determinism.
But with this addition, the argument would then assume incompatibilism. (1)–(2) at best get you indeterminism, but what is needed to secure the conclusion that God’s freedom is libertarian is an argument for incompatibilism, not an argument that assumes incompatibilism.
Here’s a worry. The claim that “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3) is something on which virtually all Christians agree. Many think this claim is at the heart of the Christian faith. Suppose you think that Jesus died for your particular sins, which seems to be a fairly popular pre-theoretical view. Then, we might wonder how we can avoid (in a strong, libertarian sense) doing those specific sins. If we cannot, then it would seem that (one aspect of) the atonement rules out our having libertarian free will. Of course, this wouldn’t deal a knockout blow to the conjunction of Christianity and libertarian free will. It would mean, however, that Christians who affirm libertarian free will could not affirm that Jesus died for our particular sins. But, not only does it seem possible that Jesus did indeed die for our particular sins (and holding to libertarian free will would commit you to its necessary falsehood (in saying this I am assuming some modal moves that I don’t spell out here)), rejecting such a notion means rejecting what I take to be a fairly common and wide-spread belief, one which many Christians who hold to libertarian free will have also held. This would be, if not ad hoc, at least a previously unnoticed cost of “free will theism.” Let me flesh this out a bit. (more…)