Libertarian free will (LFW) can simply be defined as the ability to choose contrary to how one will. My position on the matter is straightforward. LFW is a philosophical surd. If it is true that one can choose contrary to how he will, then the future God believes will come to pass might not come to pass; and even if the future does come to pass as God believes, he will not have been justified in his belief. He would have just been lucky.
John Frame once noted: “I don't know how many times I have asked candidates for licensure and ordination whether we are free from God's decree, and they have replied ‘No, because we are fallen.’ That is to confuse libertarianism (freedom from God's decree, ability to act without cause) with freedom from sin. In the former case, the fall is entirely irrelevant. Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense. But freedom from sin is something different. Adam had that before the fall, but lost it as a result of the fall.”
I resonated with John’s observation the very first time I read his lament. This is a very serious matter. These men to whom John refers may have very well been ordained and licensed in Reformed denominations (or gone to teach at seminary), yet without any appreciation for the implications of their religious philosophy.
It’s one thing not to appreciate that Adam was not able to choose contrary to how he chose. It’s quite another thing to accuse as being in opposition to the Reformed confessions one who does appreciate the folly of the philosophical notion of “the power of contrary choice”.
Recently, on a well known Reformed website, I was accused by an ordained servant in a Reformed denomination that I was “outright denying that Adam was created righteous and innocent, contrary to all the Reformed confessions.” If this were indeed true, then I trust by God’s grace I'd give up my office as an elder in my denomination.
In a discussion having to do with the freedom of the will in general and Adam's first sin in particular, my "opponent" asserted that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did, which of course I deny (and in this instance challenged the notion).
I was told by this ordained servant (who I will simply refer to as OS) that:
“The pre-Fall and post-Fall distinction is what is completely escaping you.”
I responded: “Did the metaphysics surrounding LFW change with the fall?” (John Frame's point I believe.)
Given OS’s assertion regarding the distinction he thinks I am missing, it would seem to follow that he thinks the metaphysics surrounding LFW has been altered since the time sin entered into the human race. Yet OS (somewhat happily) responded with: “The mechanics of how man chooses something are the same before and after: he can always choose what his nature determines that he can choose.”
Now OS was close to correct with his answer. I did offer him a minor correction though: “The nature determines no action of choice. The nature simply determines the moral quality of the choice that will necessarily occur according to the inclination at the moment of choice. So then, an unregenerate man will sin; his nature determines that he must. His nature, however, does not determine what sin he will choose.”
Although OS indexed the determination of the actual choice to the nature (as opposed to correctly indexing it to the inclination that is consistent with the nature), he was indeed correct when he stated that the “mechanics of how man chooses something are the same before and after.” So given that OS affirms this with me that the mechanics of choosing have not changed since the fall, I am confused as to what he thinks is escaping me with respect to the “pre-Fall and post-Fall distinction”. (Could it be that he is thinking inconsistently, like those to whom John Frame was referring?)
I reject the notion of the power of contrary choice, just as OS says he does. I reject the notion that the metaphysics of choosing has changed since the fall, just as OS says he does. The only disagreement we had communicated, and it is a big one, is that OS affirms that “Adam could have willed to do the right thing” and in saying so, OS also affirmed that “[the impetus] would have come immediately from Adam, even though such ability to choose the good had been given him by God.” It would seem that he attributes this to the “power” Adam had (see below) and the “pre-Fall and post-Fall” distinction (noted above). For now we might just note that OS affirms two mutually exclusive propositions.
OS: “Let me state that again: Adam could NOT have thwarted God’s will in the garden.” “What I am saying is that Adam could have willed to do the right thing.” “Are you denying that Adam could have chosen to obey?”
Mustn’t it be true that if Adam truly could have acted contrary to how he did, then Adam truly could have acted contrary to God’s decree? After all, had Adam acted as OS says he could, then the decree would have been thwarted - hence OS's contradiction.
OS also stated: “You are outright denying that Adam was created righteous and innocent, contrary to all the Reformed confessions.
This is false. What I stated (and argued) was that Adam was not able to choose contrary to how he did, yet this is does not imply that Adam was not created righteous or innocent.
The ability to choose contrary to how one will is libertarian freedom, a philosophical surd that being created innocent and righteous cannot legitimize. I deny LFW and, therefore, affirm that Adam could not choose contrary to how he did. OS claims to deny LFW yet asserts that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did. What OS has done is the deny the literal label LFW, while affirming its meaning! So we have two things going on here – my alleged apostasy from the Reformed confessions and OS's internal contradictions. (Something tells me that the allegations are being driven by the contradictions.) With respect to what I have been accused of, does my denial of Adam’s supposed ability to choose contrary to how he did lead one to rationally conclude that consistency on my part would require me to deny that Adam was created in righteousness and innocence? A premise would seem to be missing in that line of reasoning.
OS also said: “You deny that Adam was created with the power to obey.”
This is false. As I clearly noted: “YES Adam prior to falling had the ‘power’ to perform spiritual good. Just as Tom’s quote from Calvin notes, Adam had the power to choose good over evil, but as Calvin also noted in that same excerpt, this power could be exercised ‘if he so willed; so now we have power and what Calvin called ‘the will’ to contend with. The ‘power’ is akin to the nature and liberty – liberty being the ability to act as one wants – the nature in that case being un-fallen, yet mutable. Accordingly, Adam could have stood and not fallen – ‘if he [so] wished’ – which is to say – had he been so inclined..."
I was most clear in my affirmation that Adam had the power to obey. Nonetheless, the power to obey does not imply that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did anymore than a car’s power to run can direct the car in a direction contrary to the way in which it ends up moving. What OS did seems rather apparent. OS equivocated over the use of the word "power". He apparently confused the "power" the Confession speaks about with the "power of contrary choice"! He assumes that Adam had the power to choose contrary to how he did, which is LFW.
Toward the end, OS stated just prior to locking the thread: “you are using the term “molinist” as if it was all about Adam’s will before the Fall, and wasn’t about middle knowledge and man’s ability after the fall. You cannot project the one onto the other, like you are so obviously doing. I am very tired of this thread, and am therefore closing it.”
I’m hesitant to even try to address this remark because it lacks any discernable progression of thought. It’s more of an emotional outburst than anything else I’m afraid. What I will note, however, is that OS has seemed to miss the relevance of my reference to his Molinistic type assertions. OS is under the impression that since he affirms that God’s plan could not be thwarted, he is somehow Reformed in his thoughts about the will of Adam. I merely pointed out to him: “OS, no Molinist thinks that God’s decree won’t come to pass (or be thwarted). Molinism affirms two essential points: 1) Man will act in accordance to God’s decree; and 2) man could act contrary to how he will. Both of these sentiments you have affirmed in this thread. Accordingly, you do not distance yourself from the Molinist when you say that man will act in accordance with God’s decree. This is precisely what Alvin Plantinga and W.L. Craig affirm. You affirm the tenets of Molinism when you say that Adam *could* have acted differently than he did. The Molinist says, as do you, that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did, yet that Adam would choose according to God’s decree (i.e. not thwart God’s decree).”
In the final analyses, if OS truly denied LFW, wouldn't he deny that Adam could have chosen contrary to how he chose? Yet he’s not willing to do this. In fact, he bolstered his argument by attributing Adam’s alleged freedom to choose contrary to how he did to the “pre-Fall distinction”, affirming my suspicion that he falls into the category of those examined by John Frame.
God’s plan according to Molinists who affirm LFW will not be thwarted. Accordingly, the affirmation that God’s plan will come to pass is not evidence to convict one of the repudiation of LFW. So, OS’s appeal to God’s immutable decree is of no help to him since all good Arminians affirm this. (I am not suggesting for a moment that OS is Arminian; I have little doubt he affirms the "Five Points.") I seriously do wonder whether OS believes that fallen men can choose different sins than they do and whether men in glory will be able to choose different righteous deeds than they will. If he does believe this, then he is quite consistent with his libertarian freedom philosophy. If he should answer NO, then he is happily inconsistent and simply consigns LFW to the prelapsarian paradigm.
I’m not saddened so much that men don’t appreciate the distinctions that I have tried to make on this subject. Nor am I terribly surprised that ordained servants are sometimes confused in their thinking when it comes to the metaphysics of choice. I am saddened, however, how easily people – especially when they are ordained servants – are willing to say that X-and-so does not affirm the Reformed standards. That is a far-reaching problem in our day.
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