Archive for the ‘Compatibilism’ Category

An Additional Evidence Regarding the "Dictionary Definition" and Compatibilism

March 24, 2012

During my recent debate on Compatible Free Will as opposed to Libertarian Free Will, which was supposed to be about whether the Bible teaches Libertarian Free Will and ended up being about whether the word “choose” requires Libertarian Free Will, I omitted to provide an illustration that I think would be helpful.

My esteemed disputant has argued that “possibilities” in order to be “possible” must be possible in a libertarian sense.  This is certainly not the case, but I failed to provide one of the easiest and best illustrations of this point in the heat of the debate.

The illustration is simple: in common speech we use “possibilities” to refer to things that we know full well are mechanically deterministic.  Thus, for example, we speak about the possibility of drawing a “face card” as the next card in the deck, even though we know that it is already mechanically determined what card will be drawn next.

From our perspective, there are up to 52 possible next cards.  In reality, only the actual card sitting on top of the deck will be drawn.  The other 51 possibilities are not an illusion, they just reflect our ignorance.

The same kind of linguistic convention applies to our discussion about choice.  Even if our choices are determined, we don’t know what has been determined.  Accordingly, from our perspective, there are alternative futures, although in reality God has already determined which of the two possibilities we will select.

This meshes well with my point in the debate that God takes as much credit for the outcome of “lots” (think dice, not real estate) and the choices of animals as God takes for human choices.  In fact, God emphasizes his sovereignty in the last category even more than the other two areas.

Ultimately, as I established in the debate, the question is resolved by the fact that God states both that we choose and that God determines what we choose.


Negative Constructive

March 22, 2012


If you try to put a square peg in a round hole, you’re asking for trouble.  Those two are not compatible shapes.  Their incompatibility can be seen just by looking at their shapes.  The incompatibility of things we can’t see is often more difficult to determine.  For example, if we have a square peg and a hole that is “bread box” shaped, we don’t know whether they are compatible, because we don’t know what a “bread box” shape is.  How could we determine that they are compatible?  Well, if the assembly instructions say to put the square peg in the “bread box” shaped hole, that suggests that they are compatible.  There might be other ways to tell as well, such as if the instructions elsewhere say that a “bread box” shape is round.  We certainly could not just go through the assembly instructions and find all the places where it says the peg is square and stop there.

This is a debate about whether the Bible teaches libertarian free will.  My esteemed disputant alleges that the Bible does teach libertarian free will, and I maintain that the Bible teaches compatible free will.  In other words, I’m arguing that the Bible teaches compatible, not so-called “libertarian,” free will.  That means that men choose what God has foreordained or determined that they will choose.  It’s the kind of free will that Calvinists speak about, and it is the kind of free will that is referred to when the Scriptures speak about “Freewill offerings.” (See, for example, Ezra 3:5 “And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD.”)

While technically the burden is on the affirmative to demonstrate that the Bible teaches libertarian free will, because of the way that the debate is framed, yet I will still provide good reasons and Biblical evidence for my own position, namely that the Bible teaches that men have wills that can be free, and that the exercise of their wills is foreordained by God.  Since the Bible teaches both, the two are compatible.

There will be seven parts of this speech, three main points for my own positive presentation and four soft spots in the affirmative case.

Since this is a negative speech, I will try to sharpen the focus of the debate by identifying the major areas of weakness in the affirmative case.  Unfortunately, the affirmative case has at least four serious deficiencies.

Main Argument
I. The first area of deficiency is the reliance on contemporary English dictionaries.
A. The first deficiency within this area is that not one of the dictionary definitions actually defines “choose” in such a way as to limit the term “choose” to libertarian freedom.
B. The second deficiency in this area is that if one has only the 20 definitions and nothing more, one should identify the semantic range of the term as encompassing the broadest range of the term, not the narrowest range.
C. The third deficiency in this area is that ultimately what matters when dealing with the usage of a word in an ancient writing is not the contemporary state of the English language but authorial intent of the original writing.
D. A fourth deficiency is that the wrong word has been looked up: instead of looking up just “choose,” my esteemed disputant should have looked up “libertarian free will.”  The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, edited by Robert Kane, explains that “libertarian theories of free will” are “those which affirm a free will that is incompatible with determinism.”  This leads us to the second area of deficiency.

II. The second area of deficiency is that my esteemed disputant has not properly characterized libertarian free will.  He claims “The essence of Libertarian Free Will is the ability to choose something or not.  Imagine you’re in an ice cream shop.  The idea that you can choose chocolate or not is the core notion of  Libertarian Free Will.”  The essence of Libertarian Free Will goes beyond merely the ability to choose (which compatibilists affirm as well) to the declaration of incompatibility with determinism.

III. The third area of deficiency is in the area of exegesis.  While the bulk of the verses cited are non-controversial verses that simply say that men deliberate and/or choose (which compatibilists affirm), there is the famous “what more could have been done” question.  One way of looking at this question is that God literally did everything that he could, but he could not have done more, and they still did not choose God.

But is that a credible interpretation?  No, for several reasons.
A. First, it is patently obvious that more could have been done.  Jesus could have personally come to them and raised the dead.  God could have sent even more dramatic signs and wonders.  God could have prolonged their lives like that of Methuselah. 
B. Second, it’s not surprising that an inexact way of speaking is being employed, because of the genre.  This verse is found in a song. Songs can speak precisely, of course, but they are also places where poetic license can be more freely granted.
C. Third, it’s a double whammy, because the song is recounting a parable.
D. Fourth, there is a far more plain sense of the expression.  The far more plain sense of the expression is that God had done a lot for them, more than they deserved, enough that they cannot complain that God was not generous with them.  That means interpreting the comment as hyperbole, but in this context, that is a reasonable conclusion to draw.

IV. The final area of deficiency is in the treatment of compatibility.  My esteemed disputant seems to refer to the Calvinist position as “compatibilist” up front but then puzzles in his conclusion over whether I will say that choosing is compatible with God’s decree of providence, with literally no effort to establish the key point that distinguishes compatibilism from incompatibilism, namely whether choice is compatible with divine fore-ordination.

V. But (turning to my own positive points) choice is compatible with divine fore-ordination.  And here are some Scriptures that prove it.

Specifically the Scriptures show that God refers to himself as the cause of some human action, yet the action is still ascribed to humans.  Moreover in seven cases, the humans are blamed with the action, to wit:

  1. Pharaoh (Exodus 7:4 and 11:9); 
  2. Sihon, King of Heshbon (Deuteronomy 2:30); 
  3. Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:25); 
  4. Absolom (2 Samuel 17:14); 
  5. Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:15); 
  6. Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:16 & 20); and
  7. The Third King (Daniel 11:36)

Perhaps the seventh item is the most illustrative:
Daniel 11:36 And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.

On the one hand the king’s actions are ascribed to his will, on the other it is alleged that these things are determined.  What would the Bible have to say more than that to establish that free will and determination are compatible?

VI. The fact of compatibility is confirmed from the teachings of exhaustive determination.

A. God takes credit even for random events.
Proverbs 16:33
The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.

B. God takes credit for the acts of animals, such as the ostrich.
Job 39:16-17
She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not her’s: her labour is in vain without fear; because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.

C. God takes credit for the decisions of kings.
Proverbs 21:1
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

D. God takes credit for the decisions of armies/nations.
Amos 3:6
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?

VII. The fact of compatibility is further shown from God’s taking credit for free acts and ascribing divine purpose to them

A. God Said that He Intended the Selling of Joseph into Slavery
Genesis 50:20
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

B. Job Ascribes Satan’s Temptation to God, and the Spirit Endorses Job’s Description
Job 1:20-22
Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,and said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

Job 42:11
Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.

C. The Actions of the Sanhedrin are Ascribed to God’s “Determinate Counsel”
Acts 2:23
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

We have seen that the Scriptures teach that God refers to himself as the cause of even bad and morally blameworthy acts of men, that God’s determination of events is exhaustive, and that God takes credit for free acts and ascribes divine intent to them.  We have also seen that my esteemed disputant’s reliance on contemporary English dictionaries is misplaced, that his characterization of libertarian free will is incomplete, that his exegesis is inaccurate, and that his treatment of compatibility vs. incompatibility is virtually non-existent.  He has provided a lot of evidence that the square peg is square, but not that the “bread box” shaped hole is round.  We, on the other hand, have identified several places in the instructions where they are put together.  So, we can conclude that free will as described by the Bible is compatible, not incompatible.


Some Verses Regarding Compatible Free Will

March 22, 2012

The Bible teaches compatible, not so-called “libertarian,” free will.  That means that men choose what God has foreordained or determined that they will choose.  It’s the kind of free will that Calvinists speak about, and it is the kind of free will that is referred to when the Scriptures speak about “Freewill offerings.” (See, for example, Ezra 3:5 “And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD.”)

The verses that describe Calvinistic or compatible free will are almost too numerous to recite.  Here are some examples:

1 Samuel 2:25
If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.

2 Samuel 17:14
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For the LORD had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring evil upon Absalom.

1 Kings 12:15
Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD, that he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

Exodus 7:4
But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.

Exodus 11:9
And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 2:30
But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day.

2 Chronicles 25:20
But Amaziah would not hear; for it came of God, that he might deliver them into the hand of their enemies, because they sought after the gods of Edom.

Romans 11:32
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

2 Chronicles 25:16
And it came to pass, as he talked with him, that the king said unto him, Art thou made of the king’s counsel? forbear; why shouldest thou be smitten? Then the prophet forbare, and said, I know that God hath determined to destroy thee, because thou hast done this, and hast not hearkened unto my counsel.

Daniel 11:36
And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.

See also the book of Job.

I could go on and on, but these should do for now.

Determined Choices

March 22, 2009

Paul Manata at Triablogue has a fascinating post on Determined Choices (link). He provides a reasonably concise explanation of how God’s declaration that he decides when we die (John 14:5) and the fact that people sometimes choose to kill themselves are compatible, not contradictory. Thus, he reasonably concludes that the nature of free will is at it is described in Calvinism.


Trying out Godismyjudge’s Clarification

July 6, 2008

Godismyjudge (Dan) has provided some clarification (link) to an earlier question to which I had responded here (link). Earlier posts in the series (first)(second).

Dan had asked: “Given whatever existed before the first act, was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain on May 31, 2008[,] in the afternoon?”

I had asked for clarification regarding what Dan meant by “absolutely impossible.” He apparently took this as a broad request for clarification about each of the terms of the question.

His bullet-point explanations follow:

* Where the “first act” is either creation or whatever else you might consider God’s first act.
* Where “first” probably means temporal order but if you believe in atemporal, but logically sequenced, actions, then logical order.
* Where “act” means you would no longer just say “God is XYZ”, but “God does (or did) XYZ”.
* Where “act” includes not only physical motion but also spiritual action or anything else you consider action.
* Where “whatever existed” includes God’s nature and council and whatever else you think existed inactively before God’s first act.
* Where “absolutely impossible” means that not only did God create the world as He did, but He had to. And not only did God not create anything different than He did, but He could not have created the world any differently.
* Where “absolutely impossible” is not a sense which excludes some things from consideration, but rather on that includes all things which existed before the first act.
* And “rain on May 31, 2008 in the afternoon” means drops of water coming from the clouds yesterday after 12PM or rap artists with so much cash that they tossed it in the air and watched it fall all around themselves and their crew.

Those are his clarifications. Actually, several of them muddy the water, particularly those related to God’s “first act.” Given that we are Trinitarians, there is no reason to hold to a view that God has ever been inactive, such that there was a “first act” of God.

That would seem to torpedo all of Dan’s question. Rather than stop there, though let’s treat Creation as though it were God’s first act.

Another clarification that would seem to sink the question is Dan’s comment that he wants to speak of possibility (or more properly “absolutely impossible”) with respect to all preceding things to the act in question. But if we include the cause of the act, we are out of the realm of possibility into the realm of actuality. Thus, it does not make any sense to speak of a possibility of the act occurring, since the cause of the act is a given.

With particular respect to Creation, the idea of possibility is also nonsensical. Acts 15:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Even if that verse were not there, our belief in the omniscience and immutability of the divine mind would prohibit the idea of possibility in a sense that includes the knowledge of the future. That is to say, since Dan has insisted that we consider all preceding things, and one of those preceding things is that God knows the future, there is no possibility assignable to a world in which God’s action does not match his knowledge of the future, or in which God’s knowledge of the future changes in order to accommodate a different action.

The explanation, “Where “absolutely impossible” means that not only did God create the world as He did, but He had to. And not only did God not create anything different than He did, but He could not have created the world any differently,” is a bit confusing too. The “had to” vs. “did” is falsely dichotomous at least in connotation. We would not say that God “had to,” because that would seem to suggest something external to God forcing God to do the thing. Likewise “could have” vs. “did” is similarly a false dichotomy. We would not deny that God “could have” created the world with – say – one additional grain of sand on the beaches. But that “could have” is inherently a sense of speaking that does not take into account the full purposes and decrees of God. It would be a trivial exercise of God’s creative powers to create a single additional atom, just as it would be a trivial exercise of a weaver’s skill to substitute black thread for white for a few passes of the shuttlecock. On the other hand such a substitution would be contrary to the sensibilities of a weaver, and perhaps a single additional atom would be contrary to God’s wisdom.

So, perhaps we are still at an impasse in terms of Dan’s sense meaning what he wants it to mean. I’m not sure how to interpret it in a way that provides an answer that would be helpful to him. Again, though, if he can provide further clarification about what he means by “absolutely impossible,” I’d be happy to try to answer.

Dan continued to a second question: “Let allow me to ask a second question, which I think is similar to the first (although you might disagree with me that it’s similar). You speak of God having determined things. Was God’s determination an action or an inactive part of His nature preceding His first act?”

God’s determination is described as though it were an action anthropomorphically. They are nothing an action, nor an inactive part of His nature. They are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby He has foreordained for his own glory whatsoever comes to pass.

We can view God’s decrees as coming to be within a logical analysis, but not within a temporal analysis. It’s one of many differences between God and man.

Dan continued to a third question: “Kindly permit me to ask a third question which again I think has an equivalent foundation to the first and second. John the Baptist claimed God could raise up children of Abraham out of stones. Was John right?”


Dan continued: “With great presumption on my part I will press my luck and ask a fourth and impertinent question. If I ask does God have LFW, is your response “LFW doesn’t exist” or “don’t know, don’t care”?”

Hopefully my response is a bit more nuanced, with an inclination toward the former option. The response is that LFW is a philosophical construct founded on a denial of God’s sovereignty in the decree of Providence. That is to say, it is a philosophical invention, designed to deny divine predetermination. There’s no positive reason for it to be accepted as true. There is no reason at all to think it exists. Furthermore, there are good reasons to deny its existence. Thus, while we’d want to provide more detail, the former choice would be preferred to the latter one … though ultimately, the “don’t know, don’t care” answer would be sufficient to stop the use of an argument that springs from claiming that God has LFW.


With Man it is Impossible – A Further Response to GodIsMyJudge

June 1, 2008

This is a response to a post (link) from Godismyjudge (Dan) responding to my earlier post here (link).

Dan’s response doesn’t seem to consist of much.

1) Dan seems to think that God self-determining is significant. In fact he says, “Please just let me enjoy the moment.” As demonstrated previously, though, self-determining does not equate to LFW, so this is not as significant as Dan seems to think.

2) Dan commits a dichotomy fallacy by asserting, “This is nothing short of an affirmation of agent causation and denial of event causation on Tfan’s part.” In fact, it is simply an affirmation of the fact that God is the first cause.

3) Dan continues by compounding this dichotomy fallacy with a straw man by asserting: “Normally, determinists wouldn’t say call something inactive a cause.” (a) God was not inactive in Creation; (b) God was not necessarily inactive before Creation – we simply have no information about any activity of his before Creation; (c) the activity/inactivity distinction (whether employed by “determinists” or not) seems intrinsically false, if activity means movement – since we recognize that a keystone is a cause of stability in an arch without motion; and (d) we call the state of man’s heart, and more generally man’s nature causes of man’s choices – why that being the case for God would be significant is elusive.

4) Dan then oddly comments, “But if TF is willing to call agents causes, then the answer to TF’s 2nd question is the agent.” My second question was, “Can we meaningfully speak of reasons for choices, reasons that explain the choices?” How “the agent” is an answer to that question is hard to follow. Dan seems to be engage in a combined form of composition and equivocation. Namely, that if man’s sinful nature is an explanation, than “man” in general is the explanation. While man certainly is part of the explanation for man’s actions, but it is not the entirety of the explanation.

5) Dan’s jump from Divine causality to “agent” causality is also an example of a generalization fallacy. Dan’s own title partial reference, (i.e. to the phrase “with God all things are possible”) is part of a larger whole, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Ironically, it’s quite a Calvinist verse, because it is explaining the possibility of man obtaining salvation – thereby laying the foundation for salvation by grace alone. But that is an aside. Man and God are not automatically convertable. Just because something is possible for God does not make it categorically possible.

6) Dan then poses, in the most interesting part of his post the following puzzle. Dan insists that “There doesn’t seem like much of a point in getting into the rest of Tfan’s post without resolving this.” Here goes:

Now then, let’s get to the controversial part. It rained this afternoon. Was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain this afternoon? Seems to me that unless Tfan says yes, God has LFW. Again, unless God was unable to have the slightest detail in the universe be any different that it was, is or will be, God had LFW.

I answer:

Let’s leave aside the obvious out of the inconsistency of this statement with Dan’s futile “in the beginning” argument in his previous post and turn to the substance.

Dan asks: “Was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain this afternoon?”

1) What Dan means by “absolutely impossible” needs to be clarified. For example, it is absolutely impossible for God to change his mind. Scripture explains that to us. On the other hand, it is very easy for God to withhold rain. Thus, we need Dan to explain to us what he means by absolutely impossible. Furthermore, let us consider God in the logical order before free knowledge.

2) Ultimately, I think I can guess why Dan is asking the question. We know that God is going to do what is best. Dan seems to want to know whether God’s actual decree of Providence is the absolutely best plan for history, or whether one of at least two equally good best plans could have been made. I don’t think Scripture speaks clearly to that question. The bottom line is that God himself determined what the plan would be. It’s really not important to the compatibilist how God did so – either by picking the best possible plan or by picking one plan among several alternative equally best possible plans. Or intuition suggests the former, since precise equality is so hard to find. I can throw up my shoulders here and say, I think the former, but I don’t particularly care – it doesn’t change anything else. If Dan could somehow prove the latter, it might be significant, but I don’t see how he could hope to do so (which is perhaps why he asked the question rather than responding).

3) Saying that God had LFW with respect to some detail of the universe, per Dan’s proposed fork, seems equivalent to saying that God acted arbitrarily in selecting this universe as opposed to that one. Yet God does not act arbitrarily, but wisely. Perhaps that is the solution to Dan’s dilemma – if indeed it means that God would have had to have chosen arbitrarily, then we can reject that theory on the grounds that God is not an arbitrary God.

In any event, I await Dan’s clarification of his puzzle as well as any answer’s Dan may have to the remainder of the refutations already presented.


God Determines All – A Response to Godismyjudge

May 30, 2008

In response to my recent post (link) on some fundamental problems with LFW, Godismyjudge (Dan) has provided a response (link). This is my rebuttal to his response.

Ultimately, the problem I have with Dan’s response is this: our position is that God sovereignly determines all of history. We don’t have any problem asserting that God also sovereignly determines His own actions in history. We don’t have any problem with the idea of God being locked into his own plan, since His plan is perfectly wise, and it would be unwise for Him to deviate from His own plan.

Now, Dan asserts: “One of the many problems with the Calvinist arguments that LFW doesn’t exist is that if LFW doesn’t exist, God doesn’t have LFW.”

a) One of the many? What are the others?

b) How is it a problem for God not to have something that doesn’t exist?

Dan continues: “But scripture grants no quarter to those who claim that God doesn’t have LFW.”

I understand that perhaps this is intended as a rhetorical flourish, but Scripture does not teach LFW, much less condemn its deniers.

Dan continues: “The first verse in scripture claims that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) We either understand this by faith, or we do not. (Hebrews 11:3)”

a) The reference to understanding this by faith or not doesn’t seem at all germane to the discussion. No one from the Calvinist side would deny that we understand Creation by faith.

b) The reference to Creation is also not particularly germane to the issue. It doesn’t demonstrate God having LFW.

Dan continues: “Consider God’s first action. By definition, no act of God preceded that first act. So no causes preceded that action. Rather, God self-determined that action, by performing it. Thus, contrary to Calvinism, self-determining power exists.”

This argument is logically fallacious. Here’s why. The form of the argument is this:

1. God had a first action.

2. First action means no previous actions.

3. Therefore, no cause before the first action.

This argument is obviously fallacious, because it conflates “cause” with “action.” Although there was no action before Creation, nevertheless God’s nature and counsel, being eternal, preceded the first action. Scripture explicitly speaks of God’s counsel existing “before the foundation of the Earth.” (Ephesians 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:)

Thus, elsewhere we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) Thus, there is a cause and explanation for Creation: the Triune God.

The remainder of Dan’s argument is likewise illogical: “Rather, God self-determined that action, by performing it. Thus, contrary to Calvinism, self-determining power exists.”

God determining to do an action is God determining to do something himself. That does not mean that there is no reason or cause why God determined to do that himself. In fact, there is a reason and explanation for God’s creation of the world:

Revelation 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

And likewise, God grants no quarter to those who deny that there was a purpose and explanation for his decision to create:

Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

And likewise God explains that he created for his own glory:

Isaiah 43:7 Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

The other part of Dan’s objection that no such thing as self-determining power exists is a vain objection, because it conflates LFW with self-determination. These are distinct concepts. LFW requires, as Dan admits, that the sum of the preceding causes not produce the effect of the choice. However, self-determination simply requires that all the preceding causes be internal to the actor making the choice. God falls into the category of being self-determined (since he is too great to be caused by His creation, and there is nothing else but God and what God has made), but since His own nature etc. are the basis for his most wise choices, therefore, he cannot be said to have LFW, since there is a reason for his decisions.

Dan continues, by posing some hypothetical objections: “Now the Calvinist might object – how is this to be explained? Does it even make sense? But wait. The scripture says in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Atheists might doubt the existence of a first cause, but it is contrary to the faith to doubt that God created the world in the beginning.”

a) This is a red herring. No Calvinist (well – none I’ve ever heard of) doubts that God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. I certainly don’t doubt that, and I’m confident that Dan, having followed my blog for a while, is aware of that.

b) The request for explanation is not moot, because Dan is asserting more than that God created the earth in the beginning: he’s asserting that God did so using LFW. Thus, more explanation is required.

c) If, instead, Dan means that we are asking for an explanation of the Creation itself:
– (i) If Dan’s answer is that no explanation can be provided, than LFW has not been demonstrated, since the explanation of LFW would be necessary to demonstrate LFW from Creation; and
– (ii) Scripture provides explanations, but they are not LFW.

Dan next provides another hypothetical objection: “Perhaps the Calvinist might backpedal and say, yes God has self-determining power, but man does not. That’s worth discussing, but that statement grants that self-determination can and does exist. Self-determination is logical and all arguments that claim self-determination is illogical are false.”

a) This continues to conflate self-determination and LFW; and
b) Even if self-determination were converted (or convertable) to LFW, the fact that some extraordinary power is logical in God, does not make necessarily make it logical in His creation. To provide an obvious example: it is logical to say God created all things, but it would not be logical also to claim that man created all things. Likewise, it is logical to say that God is the first cause, but that does not mean that it is also logical to say that man is the first cause. In fact, in both cases, the two descriptions conflict with one another.
c) Dan seems implicitly to be adopting part of the atheist objection to the first-cause argument for God’s existence, and turning it on its head. Thus, the atheist objects that if there is an explanation for everything, and that explanation is God, there must also be an explanation for God. Thus, there is no reason to stop the chain of regressive causes at God. Dan, acknowledging that the chain of regressive causes must terminate at God, argues that if the chain can terminate there, it can also terminate other places. The problem with Dan’s inference is that it doesn’t follow: God can terminate the chain of causes, because God himself is uncaused – he’s self-existent. We, however, are not self-existent. We have parents. There is a cause why we are, and there are causes for what we do. We are part of the creation, we are not – like God – the Creator.

Dan next turns to the questions I had raised.

My first question was:

1) Is it the LFW position that the sum (or product) of all preceding causes(including the state of man’s heart) does not determine the choice, but that
given that same exact set of preceding causes (both external and internal) man
could have chosen otherwise? This question is important, because otherwise the
argument is just so much straw-man-defeating, in which we shouldn’t be investing
any time.

Dan answers: “Yes.”

Great. We can move on to the other questions.

Dan, however, decided to additionally provide some further comments: “Again – look at God’s creation. If causal forces preceded and necessitated His creative act, then creation wasn’t in the beginning, was it?”

a) This answer abuses the word “beginning.” There, “beginning” refers to the beginning of Creation. God is timelessly eternal. He has no beginning. There is no absolute beginning, only a beginning of Creation. Furthermore, Scripture speaks of God “before the foundation” and of the existence of the Triune God who existed before Creation, before the beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1:

Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

b) This answer is ambiguous with respect to “causal forces.” God – the Trinity – are the cause for Creation. God’s wisdom is properly assigned the role of cause in this regard. There were no external causal forces, for such would be impossible, nothing besides God being in existence.

Next, Dan turned to my second question, which is:

2) Can we meaningfully speak of reasons for choices, reasons that explain the choices?

Dan responded: “Yes.”

Great. We can move on to the other questions.

Dan, however, decided to additionally provide some further comments: “Let’s look at the choosing process as Paul describes it in Philippians 1. (21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.)”

Ok … we looked. It should be noted, however, that this is a discourse about a particular choice, not about choices in general. It’s not actually a discussion of the choosing process, which can be discerned from the fact that (in fact) no choice is actually made.

Dan continued: “Paul 1) considered both alternatives, 2) projected the consequences of the alternatives, 3) saw the good aspects of both alternatives and 4) was pressed by both alternatives. Paul identified good reasons to choose either alternative, and both alternatives were influencing him to choose them.”

Ok … no big objection so far.

Dan: “So after the choice, we can identify one as the indeterminate cause or more commonly: “the reason”.”

a) This is certainly not from the text.

b) This doesn’t follow from the text. Dan just made it up.

Dan: “Our self-determining ability required the indeterminate cause and acted in favor of it. “

a) Again, this certainly isn’t from the text.

b) Calling it a cause and calling it indeterminate are at odds. So are calling the ability self-determined and assigning external causes to it. Finally, suggesting that the “self-determining ability” “acted in favor of” an external cause, suggests that was being called a “cause” is actually simply an object to be chosen, and that it is required only in a logical and not a causal sense. In other words, it seems Dan’s argument is that its bare existence is necessary, because non-existent things cannot be chosen (we’ll leave aside Creation for the moment). But that doesn’t seem to correspond at all to what Paul’s talking about. Paul’s talking about two compelling powerful motivations: Christ (to live) and Gain (to die). Dan’s argument would reduce those powerful motivations to utterly powerless motivations, whose bare existence is all that is required.

c) Such an analysis of motivations is adds with our experience and intuition. We know that the motivation of love for one’s wife is stronger than one’s motivation to have a single penny more of wealth, such that if a person’s wife were held hostage for a penny (no other motivations coming into play) everyone who truly loved his wife would pay the penny for her ransom. If someone did not, we’d say that his love was not very strong, or that his avarice was very great. There’s no reason from the passage Dan provided to suppose that this intuition is wrong.

Indeed, to the contrary, our intuition is confirmed by the Scriptures, which provide examples of stronger and weaker loves:

Psalm 52:3 Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah.

Dan continued: “Looking for the reason we choose something is looking for the indeterminate cause our self-determining ability required and acted upon.”

a) That’s an expected statement with the foregoing discussion of Dan’s – but it does not make sense.

b) Specifically, it falls into the problems set forth in my original article (link). It is not the reason for the decision at all, because it has no causal connection with the decision, and it has only a bare existential logical connection with the decision (assuming that such a connection is even required).

c) How can an indeterminate cause entice at all if man is truly self-determined? That makes no sense. Yet we do know that man can be enticed:

Proverbs 1:10 My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.

d) Dan seems to be confusing a partial explanation with no explanation at all. In other words, in the case of a Proverbs 1:10 son, if he sins, we would properly assign the reason not only to the enticement of sinners but also to weakness on the son’s part. We would assign both internal and external reasons. Neither is sufficient. Yet neither should be ignored. If someone tried to entice the Queen of England to prostitute herself for a penny, we’d all laugh, because we know (even those of us who hold to LFW inconsistently know this) that such an enticement would not work. On the other hand, credibly offering a penniless teenage runaway (raised in a secular orphanage) $1 Billion for the same thing would be expected to actually corrupt her morals. Why? Because the full set of causes that spur one to act are different in the two cases. We would not hold to the illusion of LFW under those circumstances, and assert that it is truly indeterminate in any meaningful sense. In fact, if we were gamblers, we’d be willing to bet enormous amounts on the QoE declining the penny, and the runaway accepting the billion. Those are both practically sure bets – which we know, because we know the generalities of human nature, and how it is caused to act.

Dan next turned to my third question:

3) If we can, how can we do so consistently with the concept of libertarian free will?

Dan answered: “By admitting that something doesn’t have to determine a choice to be a reason for the choice.”

This is worded a bit oddly. It’s not a question of admission or not. It’s a question of demonstration. It seems that reasons for most things are the things that determine it. For example, if we ask our child for the reason he lit the dog on fire, we’d be scandalized if he responded that the dog was there and so were the matches. Such an explanation really doesn’t provide the reason at all, but rather suggests that the child is unwilling to state the reason. Why is that? Because neither the dog nor the matches provide a motivation for the child to do what he did. They simply provide the opportunity.

In the discussion above, however, Dan has confused motive and opportunity. Opportunity is not the reason, it’s just occasion. Motivation is the reason.

We can see this demonstrated in elemental criminology. Occasion (and its negative counterpart Alibi) address the issue of logical possibility. Means (i.e. weapon) address the issue of physical possibility. Motivation addresses the issue of moral possibility. Now, granted that motivations are sometimes complex – and detective thrillers make much of such complex motivations. Everyone stands to inherit the rich uncle’s fortune, or the butler has been given miserable salary for 40 years, etc. etc. The point, however, is that we recognize the existence of not only logical and physical possibility, but also the existence of moral possibility, and influences on that possibility.

Indeed, that is why there is advertising. Everyone with sense realizes that advertising actually has an effect on people’s choices. It influences, causes, and determines them. It does not fully determine them, because there are other factors (such as the state of the man’s heart). Nevertheless, it does influence them. There is a reason why people go to McDonald’s – and part of that reason is advertising. This seems incontrovertible, yet – it appears – Dan denies it.

Next, Dan addresses the fourth question:

4) So why not just define Free Will as Calvinists typically do, as man choosing in accordance with his desires?

Dan answers: “We do not object to the idea that we choose according to our desire – when that notion is properly understood.”

It seems Dan has missed the point. The point is captured by the word “just.” Why not just stop where Calvinists stop – where Scriptures stop – and say that man does what seems good to him.

Dan: “What we object to is the idea of determinism.”

a) Actually, from the preceding discussion, it sounds like Dan actually simply wants “self-determinism” over “divine determinism.” That’s not an objection to determinism, per se.

b) On the other hand, if Dan really means that he is opposed to any determinism (and I’m willing to take him at his word on that), the previous objections stand, for it is plain to all that our choices are determined – that there are reasons of a causal nature for our choices. That’s why the penny bribe to the Queen would never work. That’s why thieves throw a steak to the family dog rather than a house salad. That’s why Coca-Cola spends millions on advertising their beverages. Choices, whether human or non-human, have reasons.

Everything that comes to be has a reason why it comes to be, whether that thing that comes to be is something physical – like a statue, or intangible – like a statute. Ultimately, God is the explanation. He is the one thing that exists that did not come to be. He is eternally self-existent – we are not.

Dan finally provided a tangential discussion on what he views as the relation between desire and choice: “Let’s look briefly at the relation between desire and choice.”


Dan: “The Greek term thelo is used for both desire and choice in the New Testament.”

The word choice in the KJV appears in the NT only in Acts 15:7. No form of thelo is used there.

The word choose in the KJV appears in the NT only in Philippians 1:22, but no form of thelo is used there either.

The word choosing in the KJV appears in the NT only in Hebrews 11:25, but likewise no form of thelo can be found there.

The word chose in the KJV appears in the NT in Luke 6:13 & 14:7, and Acts 13:17 & 15:40, and – as the pattern seems to be emerging – none of them use any form of thelo.

The word chosen in the KJV appears in the NT 28 times – not a single one uses any form of thelo.

I couldn’t find any other forms of “choice” used in the KJV version in the NT. In fact, my concordance suggests that all 200 or so times that the word thelo is used, it is not once translated by choose or any form thereof.

I’m sure that Dan’s mistake was an honest one, but it doesn’t seem to have any factual basis.

Dan: “They seem scarcely distinct, but it’s easiest to see the difference between them when you want something but don’t choose it.”

It seems that here Dan acknowledges a difference between choice and desire.

Dan: “Jonathan Edwards saw them both as “willingness”, but desire is “indirect willingness” and has a remote goal and choice is just “willingness” and has a proximate goal. Desire is indirect in that a drunk doesn’t want to avoid drinking, he wants to avoid the bad consequences of drinking. Desire is remote, in that the drunk’s desire is with respect to a future time. “Some day I will stop drinking.””

There’s rather a lot of irony in Dan quoting Edwards in his defense. Edwards, of course, is a notable opponent of LFW and has recently a masterful rebuttal of it in his work, The Freedom of the Will.

Dan: “Understood in this way, saying we choose according to our desire, is really just saying we choose what we choose.”

Now Dan seems to conflate desire and choice again. It’s unclear why, particular since he just provided some distinction between them. Perhaps he was tired and left some portion of the argument out of his blog post.

Dan concludes: “The expression really isn’t helpful, as it doesn’t add anything to our understanding.”

The expression “we choose what we choose” is not helpful. It’s a tautology. This, however, undermines Dan’s earlier position where he was assigning a reason based on an outcome. There, the tautology is: “We choose because we choose,” which is not helpful and is not an explanation at all.

Dan: “But it’s true, so we don’t object to the expression, even if it’s impractical to use it.”

The expression “we choose what we choose” is not helpful, but the expression that we choose what we desire is helpful and practical. It’s helpful and practical a variety of ways. By influencing man’s desires you can influences his choices. Likewise, by associating an object with one or more of man’s desires, you can influence his choice of that object. That’s why some young women weark make-up: to influence the desire of young men. That’s why some young men pump iron, as well – to influence the desire of young women. Ultimately, both such people are making practical use of true, compatible free will.

What’s utterly impractical is a will that cannot be externally influenced – for which all causes are indeterminate. There’s no use that such a theory can be put too – except – I suppose to stop wasting money on advertising and effort on keeping up one’s appearance. But we all laugh at such an application, because we know that such things matter to men and influence their decisions.

Dan finally repeats his earlier statement: “What we object to is determinism.”

The response to that is already presented above. What is being objected to by Dan is not determinism per se but Divine Determinism (or so it seems from his initial objections). Ultimately, that’s the issue: does God determine all things that happen or not.

Do we accept by faith not only Creation, but Providence.


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