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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Free Will - Confusion Abounds

The nature of man, whether pre-fall, post-fall and unconverted, post fall and converted, or glorified, does not affect the discussion of whether any moral being can act contrary to how he does. No moral being can have libertarian free will (LFW).

LFW is simply the power of contrary choice. Put another way, it is the ability to choose with equal ease between alternatives out of pure contingency and no necessity. Consequently, if one is endowed with LFW, he can choose contrary to what God knows he will choose. (In fact, if God has LFW, then he too can choose contrary to what he knows he will choose!) My position on the matter is straightforward. LFW is a philosophical surd. If it is true that one can choose something different than he will choose, 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 thoroughly justified in his belief. He would have just been lucky, or at best very insightful.

A brief word about the relationship between the truth of a future choice, God’s knowledge and the grounding of that truth is in order. God’s knowledge of a future choice does not ensure its fruition. Rather, it presupposes the deterministic nature of its fruition. Knowledge is receptive not causative. Accordingly, that a choice cannot be contrary to what it ends up being is not a matter of God’s foreknowledge but rather it is a matter that it is true that the choice will come to pass. God knows it because it is true, for God knows all truth. The grounding of that truth is of course God’s determination. In sum, God determines that it will be true that X chooses Y in circumstance Z, therefore, God knows it as true.

Confusion abounds, even in Reformed circles:

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 have gone on to teach other men at seminary; or if they've really arrived, have their own Blog!) - yet without any appreciation for the implications of their religious philosophy as it pertains to free will. So many Reformed people (including Reformed ministers as John rightly observes) are willing to assert that Adam prior to the fall could have chosen contrary to how he did. They index this radical freedom to the pre-fall nature, which is thought to have afforded a kind of freedom that was eventually lost. What is not appreciated by those who affirm such a metaphysic is that man’s nature determines no specific action of choice. The nature simply determines the moral quality of the particular 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. Consequently, the philosophy of LFW is not concerned with the general category of choice (whether it is sinful or not), which is dictated by one’s nature, but rather it is concerned with the specific action of choice. If Adam could have just as easily not sinned when he did sin, then there is no reason why we should think that today we do not have the freedom to choose contrary to how we do choose. It is indubitable that Adam was created without a sin nature. He was created upright, in innocence and without any inclination toward sin. Yet he was mutable, so God could have decreed that Adam fall from innocence, which in God’s wisdom is the decree we live under. We may also note that it would have been consistent with Adam’s nature for God to have decreed (had He wanted) that Adam remain upright and innocent longer, or even indefinitely. Notwithstanding, in neither scenario could Adam operate contrary to the decree, just like we cannot act contrary to the decree today.

Prelapsarian considerations:

Consistent with Adam’s mutable pre-fall nature was his innocence; yet being mutable, he could fall from that innocence with utter consistency toward his mutable soul. Whereas after the fall, all we do must be tainted with sin and that cannot change outside of glorification. Therefore, it was available for God (had he wanted) to decree that Adam not sin, but given the fall it was not available to God to decree that we not sin since all our actions must be tainted with sin this side of glory. Notwithstanding, those are distinctions without a relevant difference that pertains to the question of whether Adam had a freedom to act contrary to how he would and in turn did. Let someone bring forth an argument rather than a mere assertion that concludes that the pre-fall / post-fall ontology of man is a relevant distinction with respect to Adam being more free than we to act contrary to God’s decree. Again, with respect to acting contrary to the truth of how we will act, not even God can do that, lest God can fool himself. Consequently, introducing the pre-fall state of Adam only clouds the issue of whether Adam could have chosen contrary to the decree. There is simply no additional freedom that Adam had relevant to us with respect to operating outside God’s decree. If Adam in his pre-fall nature could not act contrary to the decree that he would fall, then how can it be logically maintained (without equivocation) that Adam could have not sinned? It’s really as simple as 1, 2, 3.

1. Adam could not act contrary to God’s decree
2. God decreed that Adam sin
3. Adam could not act contrary to God’s decree that Adam sin

Or better yet:

1. If it is true that Adam could have acted contrary to God's decree, then it is true that God's decree could have been thwarted
2. It is false that God's decree could have been thwarted
3. Therefore, it is false that Adam could have acted contrary to God's decree

What inconsistent "Calvinists" do not appreciate is that they are really arguing like this: Adam would not act contrary to God's decree, but he could (in a metaphysical sense) have acted contrary to how he would. That combination of LFW and God's omniscience is not Calvinism but Molinism. Molinists assert that x will occur, not necessarily but contingently. Of course a contingent x, by definition, truly might not occur. Accordingly, Molinists are left with God knowing that x might not occur while knowing it will occur – but these are contradictory truths and, therefore, impossible for God to know. Accordingly, God’s foreknowledge of x presupposes the necessity of x for the simple reason that might and will are semantically antithetical and it is true that x will occur. Consequently, if x will occur, then it is false that it might occur.

Where these Christians also get tripped up is over this issue of Adam's "power to obey', which the Confession maintains. It is true that Adam, properly understood, 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! The power the Confession speaks of is merely a potential. Indeed, it was possible that Adam could obey, but that only means that it would have been consistent with his nature to obey. In the like manner, it was also possible that he not obey. Yet since when does possibility inform us of actuality?

God is not a legalist:

If Adam intended to act sinfully and was tackled prior to acting upon his intention, wouldn't he have sinned just the same? Moreover, had Eve abstained from eating the forbidden fruit solely because she was concerned for her figure, would she not have sinned just the same in the eyes of God? Certainly God is not a legalist who overlooks the intentions of the heart! Consequently, the sin of eating came from a sinful intention that had occurred prior to the visible act that followed from that intention.

Mystery, mystery when there is no mystery:

The reason people call the first sin a mystery is because they begin their reasoning with the false premise that the act of taking and eating the forbidden fruit was the first sin. If we get back to first principles and focus on what precedes any volitional act, whether sinful or not, we can begin to recognize that the first sin was the desire to be like God and not the act that proceeded from that desire. Accordingly, the first sin was Adam’s nature upon becoming fallen, which correlates with his desire to be like God. Adam, in other words, had concupiscence prior to acting sinfully. To deny that Adam's first sinful act came from a nature that had already fallen is to affirm that a sinful act came from a non-sinful nature, a monstrosity indeed.The question that we should be concerned with is not how did an unrighteous act spring from an upright being (which is a question that proceeds from a false premise), but rather how did an upright being acquire a sinful intention to act sinfully? The answer is no different than the answer to the question of how does any intention and subsequent act come into existence. Doesn’t God providentially orchestrate circumstances that come before the souls of men thereby moving them by secondary causes to act in accordance with new inclinations that are brought into existence according to God’s providence that He decrees? By God's pre-interpretation of the otherwise brute particulars of providence, the intentions of men and their subsequent acts fall out as God so determines. For Calvinists to argue that an act of sin proceeded from an upright nature is to assert a contradiction – and no amount of mystery can save a contradiction! The only thing I find mysterious is that so many Calvinists find the entrance of sin into humanity so mysterious. Note well that I am not pretending to know how God pre-interprets particulars or how the mind of man relates to the movement of the body. That’s not in view at all. My simple point is that Calvinists do not generally find it mysterious that volitional acts necessarily follow from intentions and that God’s orchestrating of circumstances are an ordained means by which intentions that never existed before come into being. Why, therefore, should we not apply the same theological reasoning to the first sin as we do to God’s sovereignty over the intentions of fallen men? The mystery is the same. We don't know the details of how God brings to pass the intentions of the heart, but that is not peculiar to the first sin. It pertains to all intentions. Again, had Adam been tackled prior to eating the fruit, wouldn't his intention to eat have been sin? And wouldn't that intention have come from a fallen nature? Now did his intention to eat somehow not become sin because he was not tackled and actually did act according to his intention? Of course not! His sin was the intention of his heart (which could have only come from a nature that could produce such an intention), and he also sinned by acting on that intention. So the first sin was the fallen nature and the desire to be like God, then the intention to act and then the subsequent actions. Now is any good Calvinist going to say that we choose our intentions or our nature? No, but we are certainly responsible for them, for they are ours!

It's hard to know whether these professing Calvinists are just happily inconsistent with respect to the prelapsarian state, or do they carry their Arminian tendencies over into the postlapsarian era? I can't imagine that they carry it over into their theology of the converting work of the Spirit.

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Anonymous said...

Ron, this is a very helpful post. Thank you brother. - Joel (from the DW board)

polymathis said...

“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.'"

I find this answer astounding. I thank God for my seminary training and especially for my mentor, Dr. Coppes (Th.D)!

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

It's been years, Joel, since I've been to DWebb. Thanks for stopping by.

I hope all is well.



Semper Reformada said...


This is an excellent post (as is the one after it). Can you please expand a little more on what it means for God to "pre-interpret the particulars?" thanks!


Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Thanks for the post. I must say that everytime I see that there is a new comment, I cringe! :)

Given any state of affairs, God could have determined (had he wanted) that a man do x or not-x in accordance with that state of affairs. So, God pre-interprets what will result from the state of affairs. God determines how the state of affairs will effect the human will. (God pre-interprets the particulars, which is to say that He and not man determines what will result from the particulars that precede the choice.)

Whereas in Molinism, given a state of affairs the outcome is dependent upon what the man would do under the circumstances. For the Molinist, if Anthony would not freely go along with accepting Christ given a certain state of affairs in which Christ is offered, then although it is "possible" that he accept Christ (according to his alleged libertarian free will), it is not "feasible" for God to bring to pass this "possibility" because Anthony won't cooperate. Calvinism upholds that it is feasible for God to determine and bring to pass that Anthony do x and not-x. Make sense?



Semper Reformada said...

Ron, wow now this makes sense. I had to read your answer about 4-5 times to understand it, but then it clicked! Wow, I like these down and dirty discussions.

We have had a lot of discussions/debate at my church over God's providence and I have been looking for support for my Calvinist position. Robert Reymond, in his "Systematic Theology", has 11 pages of Biblical references for the Reformed doctrine of Providence. How much more proof do you need?! It is throughout the entire Bible! Why do so many intelligent people resort to a philosophically absurd and unBiblical concept as LFW? This puzzles me.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I'm so grateful that this discussion has been useful. What type of church to you go to? And can you say where (in approximate terms) you live? As for why intelligent people embrace the unintelligible, I believe this issue is moral not intellectual.



Semper Reformada said...

Hi Ron,

I go to a "non-denominational" church in Western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh. We went to an OPC church in Colorado, but became somewhat disillusioned by its inward focus. We thought we would try a church that was "reformed" yet more focused on outreach. Unfortunately, I am realizing that it is not really reformed. And I often wonder how much of an actual effect we are having on unbelievers.

The whole church situation in this area has become quite discouraging to us, to be honest. How does one find a church that is not separatist, yet not syncretistic either? True to God, yet not inbred? Not trying to sound mean; just being honest. This has truly proven to be a struggle for us. Somedays, I think about just going back to an old-fashioned church where they don't act embarrassed of the gospel . . ..

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Probably too much to discuss here. I'd be happy to discuss off-line if you would like. I believe Mark Garcia is with an OPC church in the greater Pitts. area...


Anonymous said...

What's your opinion on 4 point Calvinism?

Reformed Apologist said...

I find it hazardous. If one is true to 4-point theology then beleiving "Jesus died for me" is of little use since such a person would also think that Jesus died for those who perish. Consequently, such a theology would require tha one take his eyes off Jesus' work and put them on his own faith, the supposed distinguishing factor betweeen the lost and the saved.

Anonymous said...

Well I think that limited atonement is accepted by both Calvinist and Arminian . Of course they still are different, but still both are limited. The Universalist is who i think you're more aiming at. I think the Arminian believes that everyone can be saved , but salvation is enacted.( They usually use an example . Kinda something like God is throwing a party. He sends out invitations but only some people answer them.) Which as you know the Calvinist Will say " only the elect are saved". Which truthfully i have no problem with that. But my church kinda holds closer towards the Arminians view on this. Which I'm wondering how would you respond to there counterarguments .Argument 1: Limited Atonement Is Hermeneutically Insupportable. They point to verses Timothy 2:5-6,John 6:51, John 3:16 , John 1: 29, 1 John 2:2 , Romans 11:32.Argument 2: Christian Tradition Opposes Limited Atonement. Argument 3: Limited Atonement Would Make It Impossible to Genuinely Offer Salvation to All. Argument 4:They see a God-limiting atonement as a denial of the omnibenevolence of God.

Reformed Apologist said...

I'll discuss over the phone. Exceedingly more efficient use of our time.