Archive for the ‘LFW’ 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.

Common Man Argument for Libertarian Free Will (rebutted)

June 26, 2009

Paul Manata has an interesting, if somewhat philosophical, post that seems to sum up most of the major arguments responsive to the “Common Man” Libertarian Free Will (LFW) argument (link). It’s a good article, and I encourage folks who think that there is some merit to the “common man” argument for LFW to read it and be disabused of such an idea. I have a couple minor nitpicks.

1) Manata mentions, but I would more heavily emphasize, that the common man’s definition of “choose” is better represented by essentially the Least Common Denominator of dictionary definitions than by simply the first entry of the most popular dictionary. As such, the common man’s definition does not have as a core aspect the “possible” element that is so key to the Libertarian (in the philosophical sense) argument.

Thus, for example, if one goes to Princeton’s Wordnet and punches in “choose” one gets:

# S: (v) choose, take, select, pick out (pick out, select, or choose from a number of alternatives) “Take any one of these cards”; “Choose a good husband for your daughter”; “She selected a pair of shoes from among the dozen the salesgirl had shown her”
# S: (v) choose, prefer, opt (select as an alternative over another) “I always choose the fish over the meat courses in this restaurant”; “She opted for the job on the East coast”
# S: (v) choose (see fit or proper to act in a certain way; decide to act in a certain way) “She chose not to attend classes and now she failed the exam”

Notice that none of these definitions included the word “possible” or an equivalent concept.

Likewise, Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary provides:

transitive verb chose, chosen cho′·sen, choosing choos′·ing

1. to pick out by preference from what is available; take as a choice; select to choose a book at the library
2. to decide or prefer: with an infinitive object to choose to remain

Etymology: ME chesen, cheosen < OE ceosan L gustare, Goth kausjan

intransitive verb

1. to make one’s selection
2. to have the desire or wish; please do as you choose

Same thing. “possible” is not part of the definition, although in one case the word “available” is there, which might arguably be an equivalent concept.

One certainly can find dictionaries that include “possible” in the definition of choose (The first – and only the first – definition in the American Heritage dictionary, for example, has this feature: “To select from a number of possible alternatives; decide on and pick out” – I’ve added the emphasis), but such a feature that is not found in most dictionary definitions of a word can hardly be viewed as the actual “common man” meaning of the term. A better way to assess the “common man” meaning is to look for the commonalities and overlap of the many dictionary definitions.

2) What’s up with the gratuitous reference to Michael Sudduth? :)


Divine Determination – More in Discussion with Godismyjudge

July 14, 2008
Some Clarification and Discussion of the Topic at Hand

God, in decreeing all that would come to pass, was acting freely: he was not necessitated and he was uncaused. That is to say, there is no preceding cause for the effect of God’s decree of Providence, including the special instance of Creation. One can view the eternal decrees of God as God’s nature acting on itself (wisdom meeting power, for example), but nevertheless we do not properly say that the nature caused the decree, although we say that the decree flows from the nature of God.

There is no time prior to the decree, because the decree is eternal. The decree, being eternal, is necessarily uncaused: that is to say, it is not something that came to be. Consequently, the label “cause” is not properly applied to the divine decree.

The Divine decree is not compatible with divine foreordination if “fore-” is taken with reference to the decree itself. Instead, the Divine decree is compatible with the divine knowledge by way of logical precedence. God knows what he has decreed will occur, but divine foreknowledge is logically subsequent to the decree. Thus, we might say that God knows what he will do, because He decided to do that. Thus, though God’s knowledge is simple and eternal, we divide it according to its object: as to himself God’s knowledge is natural and necessary. As to other things, God’s knowledge is free, since God was under no necessity (properly speaking) to create. If it had not pleased God to create, God would be in no way less – nor does Creation fill any deficiency in God.

Nevertheless, the will of God (which is free and sovereign) is not arbitrary, but is exercised consistently with the attributes of God.

Thus, as Edwards puts it:

And it may be noted particularly, that though we are obliged to conceive of some things in God as consequent and dependent on others, and of some things pertaining to the Divine nature and will as the foundation of others, and so before others in the order of nature; as, we must conceive of the knowledge and holiness of God as prior, in the order of nature, to his happiness; the perfection of his understanding, as the foundation of his wise purposes and decrees; the holiness of his nature, as the cause and reason of his holy determinations. And yet, when we speak of cause and effect, antecedent and consequent, fundamental and dependent, determining aud determined, in the first Being, who is self-existent, independent, of perfect and absolute simplicity and immutability, and the first cause of all things; doubtless there must be less propriety in such representations, than when we speak of derived dependent beings, who are compounded, and liable to perpetual mutation and succession.

Relation to Discussion with Godismyjudge (Dan)

Dan has provided a new “Gabcast” (link) in which he continues to the discuss the issues we are considering. I find it interesting in a way that Dan chooses to push the idea that by asking for clarification I’m changing or shifting his question, while simultaneously changing my own questions to him. I see no problem with either of us answering only questions that make sense with respect to our respective positions.

Dan’s latest clarification suggests that he wants to label as act only those things that are part of a “cause and effect” pair. Dan suggests that God’s love of himself is not an act within the sense of his definition. I would respond that if the Father’s love of Christ is not an act within Dan’s sense, then there can arguably be no first act that is uncaused, by Dan’s definition.

How’s that? Well, God’s love of Christ is itself uncaused, but is a cause for his acceptance of us in Christ. Thus, God’s love of Christ is a cause, even though it is not an effect. If failure to be an effect disqualifies something from being an “act” within Dan’s definition, then the first act must be an effect that produces another effect … i.e. a caused cause.

I suppose Dan could seek to evade the force of this argument by simply stating that the only kind of act he’s interested in is one that has a direct impact in time/space in the material world. With such a clarification, the first “act” is the act of actually creating the world from nothing.

God said (cause), “Let there be light,” and (effect) there was light.

Considering God logically just prior to his actualization of the creation, God had decreed to do what he did. The decree to create, thus, is logically prior to the actual act of creating. Thus, the act of creating was necessary in view of the divine decree, though the divine decree was itself free.

The act of Creation was a temporal act: an act that instantiated time. Thus, as I previously noted, it can be viewed as the first act from that perspective. The heavens and earth were the first created things – the first things that were caused. God brought them forth out of nothing, as he had from all eternity decreed to do.

But this discussion is evidently not what Dan wants. Dan appears to be interested in the question of whether God could have decreed (prior to the decree) to have created a world in which on May 31, 2008, it did not rain.

God could have, if he had desired, so decreed. God is omnipotent. God freely decreed according to his good pleasure. No one constrained him. He did what he wanted to do. There is no “cause” assignable to his act of decreeing, instead we view the sovereign decree of God as itself uncaused but the cause of all things that come to be. On the other hand, if such a decree would not be the wisest and best, God – by his nature – would be constrained from doing so.

One may here object by claiming that such a limitation is some form of necessity, but the objection is fruitless. As Edwards explained:

That all the seeming force of such objections and exclamations must arise from an imagination that there is some sort of privilege or dignity in being without such a moral necessity as will make it impossible to do any other than always choose what is wisest and best; as though there were some disadvantage, meanness, and subjection, in such a necessity; a thing by which the will was confined, kept under, and held in servitude by something, which, as it were, maintained a strong and invincible power and dominion over it, by bonds that held him fast, and that he could, by no means, deliver himself from. Whereas, this must be all mere imagination and delusion. It is no disadvantage or dishonour to a being, necessarily to act in the most excellent and happy manner, from the necessary perfection of his own nature. This argues no imperfection, inferiority, or dependence, nor any avant of dignity, privilege, or ascendancy. It is not inconsistent with the absolute and most perfect sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is his ability and authority to do whatever pleases him; whereby “he doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and amongst the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What dost thou?”

Thus, the answer to Dan’s question, as best understood, is simply that we don’t know whether it was possible or impossible (in the sense Dan wants to use the term) for God to do what Dan has hypothesized, because to answer that question, we would need to plumb the depths of God to determine whether such a decree would be consistent with the attributes of God.

Everything happens for a reason. I don’t know the reason God ordained rain on May 31, 2008, but I know that the rain had a purpose as part of his most wise and excellent plan. To use Edwards distinctions, God had the natural ability to do whatever he wanted, and God exercised that natural ability consistent with his moral perfections.

At the end of the day, let’s return to Dan’s original question, which was:

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?

What we have seen is as follows:

1) By first act, Dan means God’s decree to create.
2) By “absolutely impossible” Dan apparently does not want to include possibility based on God’s power, but only the compossibility of God’s power in connection with everything else that God is (for example, the compossibility that God would be wise and that God would decree according to Dan’s counterproposal for May 31).
3) By “before” Dan is only interested in logical (not temporal) priority.

With all those clarifications, we have discovered that the answer would require us to know whether Dan’s alternative is consistent with the rest of what God is. While we can freely acknowledge with Dan that God is all powerful, God freely acts only in a way that is most wise and holy. While we cannot see anything unwise in Dan’s counterproposal, we simply cannot find any clear evidence that makes us definitively say that God could have adopted Dan’s counter-proposal for the day.

On the other hand, we know that God’s plan for the day was wise, which makes us suspect that Dan’s alternative may have been less wise. Since it would be inconsistent with the moral perfection of God to freely do that which is less wise, we would not say (using Dan’s definitions) that it was “possible” for him to do that, though of course it was within God’s natural power to do so, and consequently was possible.

Hopefully this definitively answers Dan’s question.

I don’t think this answer will be particularly helpful, though, to the average reader because of the unnatural sense in which Dan is using the terms “before,” “act,” and “impossible.” Nevertheless, I await Dan’s response, if any.


More (or More Complete) Answers for Godismyjudge

July 10, 2008

Godismyjudge (Dan) has provided an audio response (link) to my post here (link) (see post for prior chronology).

Dan seems to complain that I haven’t given a “yes or no” answer to the question that he posed. I think it would be foolish to answer a confusing (at best) or perhaps unexplainable question with a “yes or no”-type answer.

Dan argues that he could answer the question by saying “Yes God could have created a world in which it didn’t rain on May 31st – God is allpowerful.” In the sense of it being a trivial thing for God’s power, I’ve already answered the question in the affirmative – but Dan did not ask (at least not clearly) a question about whether God had sufficient power to do so. If Dan’s just asking about God’s power, clearly God has the power to make it rain or not, according to the good pleasure of his will. God’s power, however, is subservient to God’s will.

Dan’s argument that the question is easy for him to answer but “going to stretch [TurretinFan] a bit to answer,” is a bit silly, because Dan doesn’t actually answer the question as stated, but answers a question about God’s power (as noted above). Furthermore, Dan has the inherent advantage of knowing (let’s hope!) what he means by his question, whereas when he asks ambiguous and/or equivocal questions, I have to seek clarification from him. That’s not so much me stretching, as me stretching him – trying to pull out the meaning of the question from him, so that it can be answered.

Dan seems still to misunderstand my comment about God’s actions in eternity: confusing atemporal actions of that sort (within the council of the trinity) for something having to do with “logical order” (which is really irrelevant).

Dan argues, based on his seeming misunderstanding that the idea of an infinite series of causes and a first cause are contradictory. Since “series” is essentially temporal terminology, calling God’s actions (whatever those may be) prior to time “an infinite series of causes” makes little or no sense.

God is the first cause of everything that comes to be. There is not an infinite series of causes with no starting point. God himself is the starting point. Let’s be clear about that.

Given Dan’s confusion, he wages war against the idea of a combination first and infinite regression of causes. I’m mostly in agreement with his critique – it’s just inapplicable to my position, because of the flawed starting point to the analysis.

Dan is correct in several points, however, so let me identify those, as perhaps they will be helpful to the dialog, assuming Dan is willing to clarify his question (and assuming he wants an answer … the audio suggests he did not ask the question to get an answer but in essence to challenge me to consider the consequences of my system of thought).

Dan is correct that from a temporal standpoint Creation is the first event. Creation is not the first cause, Creation is the first effect. God is the first cause.

Dan is also correct in that, when considering what within God caused God to create what he did, logical priority is given to God’s nature/attributes. Thus, we can view the actions/decisions of God as flowing out of the nature of God, although there is no sequence within God (though yet, as part of the Trinitarian marvel, there is communion within the Godhead).

Dan is right that there is no room for infinite regression on either a temporal or logical order. That’s why I didn’t mean to suggest that there was such a regression.

Dan seems to be confused about the following flow:

1. God’s nature
2. Flowing from God’s nature, God’s actions.
3A) God’s actions in eternity.
3B) God’s actions in time.

That is to say, as a logical consequent of self-love, the Only-Begotten Son was loved by the Father from all eternity, and so also the Spirit proceeded from the Father from all eternity. God is a living God. His life is not something that came to be. It existed before time, and it does not change (though yet it may properly be described as active). I realize that this may be a lofty subject, but I hope this explanation clears it up for Dan, so that he can move past whatever “infinite regression of causes” barrier he has created for himself.

I’m concerned that perhaps Dan wants to suggest that there was a time when God was inactive, and then afterwards a time when God became active. I’m not sure that Dan really needs to get to “first cause” versus infinite regression here. There was a time before God was saying “This is my beloved Son,” but that does not mean God was inactive before then. Also, it does not mean that something external to God moved God to say that.

Nothing external to God ever moves God to do anything. That’s part of the impassivity of God, a logical consequence of omnipotence.

Dan then goes on to say that his answer is that “the agent is the source of the action” is the answer to the question of explanation of the actions of man. Dan apparently wants to suggest that each man is an uncaused first cause.

Dan actually goes so far as to claim, “There is no way to explain the source of actions.” This is simply unbiblical. The Bible gives explanations for the sources of actions frequently.

Genesis 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

Revelation 16:21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Dan’s statement, in fact, is contradicted not only by special revelation, but by general revelation as well. In nature, we may be able to track down the source of an action so far, but we can track it down somewhat. We understand that an apple moves down, as opposed to up, because of the attractive force of the Earth’s mass. We can explain action, and we can assign causes to actions in the physical world.

Thus, on its face, Dan’s claim that “There is no way to explain the source of actions,” is both unbiblical and absurd. There is a way to explain the source of actions, it just would require Dan to give up his view of Libertarian Free Will (LFW).

Ultimately, Dan’s description of so-called “agent causation” is problematic not only because it is special pleading, but more particularly because it ascribes to man what is only properly to be ascribed to God. That is to say, by suggesting that God is not the first cause of all things, Dan’s view of agent causation removes some of that from God and gives it to man.

Eventually, in the audio segment, Dan goes back to the issue of Creation and the cause of Creation.

Dan seems to recognize (or if he doesn’t, he should recognize) that the logical order I have presented is as follow:

1. God exists;
2. God has a nature/attributes;
3. God acts based on his nature/attributes;
4. Among God’s timeless acts, God decrees to create;
5. God, logically subsequent to the decree to act, knows that (and what) he will create; and
6. Among God’s acts, and as the first temporal act, and logically subsequent to the decree and knowledge, God creates.

That’s the general flow. Dan seems to have tried to ask whether between 5 and 6 (or between 4 and 6), God “could have” created something different than what he did. If the question is as to God’s power alone, the answer – of course – is yes. If the question takes into consideration God’s decree, the answer is “no,” because God cannot act contrary to his own decree – he cannot contradict himself. Likewise, if the question takes into consider God’s knowledge of what God will do, the answer is “no,” because God cannot render his knowledge invalid.

I suppose Dan may have wanted to ask whether God could have decreed differently. Again, the question comes down to whether we include everything that went into God’s decision to decree as he did, or not.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Working backwards, it is impossible for God not to exist. It is impossible for God to have a different nature or different attributes from what he has. Since God’s actions flow from his nature/attributes (and not from any external source), God himself determines his own decisions.

God’s decisions don’t pop, without reason, from nowhere – they are wise decisions, as Scripture teaches. Wise decisions have a reason, they are not arbitrary. Furthermore, it is in God’s nature to glorify himself. This nature guides and shapes the way that God exercises His power. None of this should really be surprising to Dan, so I’m not sure why there is a impasse of understanding.

Toward the end of the audio segment, Dan gets to the topic of “absolute impossibility,” the ambiguous and potentially equivocal problem with Dan’s original question (bypassed by Dan, in his own answer, by addressing God’s power alone).

I had criticized the alternative question in which a “yes” would have said “God had to do it that way,” by pointing out that the term “had” suggests to our mind external constraint. Dan agrees with me that there was no external restraint before Creation, but seems to want to insist that he can use such a word, despite its connotations, of God before creation. I don’t agree. I think it is misleading to use words in a way that is so contrary to their ordinary meaning. Indeed, that’s been one of my criticisms of the LFW movement, from the start: namely that it applies unnatural meanings to words to arrive at a superficially satisfactory result, that erodes once we realize what the words are intended to mean. I’m not the first person to note this. Hundreds of years ago, Jonathan Edwards noted the same thing.

Dan states that the question really is, “What were God’s intrinsic abilities? Was it possible for God to create a world that didn’t include rain [on May 31, 2008, at Dan’s location]?” The answer to that question, as noted above, if one is speaking of God’s power in isolation from the other attributes of God (the remainder of his nature), is yes. That would seem like the most natural way to answer the question, but I don’t think it would be a satisfying way (to Dan’s liking to answer the question).

In order for their to be “possibility” as contrasted from “actuality,” we have to take something out of the picture. That’s just the nature of the “possible” as opposed to the “actual.” If we include the entirety of God, from whom the decrees come, we haven’t taken anything out, and it makes no sense to speak of possibility, but only of actuality.

In fact, we can dig a bit deeper. The usual way to phrase the question would be: “If God had wanted to, could God have (would it have been possible for God to) make it stay from raining on May 31, 2008, at Dan’s location?” The answer, of course, is a simple yes.

I guess Dan could then try to ask, “Could God have wanted something different from what God wanted?” The answer to that question is, if God were different from who he is, he could. In other words, since the source of God’s wants/desires/etc. are purely internal, their content depends on who God is. If God were different, they would be different. If God were an arbitrary and foolish being, on May 31, 2008, water could simply have disappeared from the planet for a few hours, then popped back, then turned to gold, without any particular reason.

Now, I hope that the above will serve to answer thoroughly every variant of Dan’s question that Dan may or may not have intended to ask. Let me provide a brief preemptive critique of the direction Dan seems to be headed.

Dan’s seeming argument is this:

1. God’s act of Creation is an example of “agent causation.”
2. If an explanation for God’s act is adequate, then the same explanation for man’s act is adequate.
3. Therefore, “agent causation” is an adequate explanation of man’s act.

There are several obvious problems with this seeming argument. Even granting the idea that “agent causation” is an “explanation” for God’s Creation, because man is fundamentally different from God (and, in particular, man is neither omnipotent nor impassive), there is no good reason to suggest that an explanation that works for God would also be adequate for man.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that “agent causation” (if that is even a proper label for the idea that God’s nature – who God is – fully determines his actions and that consequently God himself is the cause) makes sense (with all those qualifications) for God, but is plainly contradicted for man, who is not impassive and who is not eternal or immutable. Man came to be: God did not. Thus, even Man’s nature: who man is, itself has a cause. God’s nature, who God is, is simply self-existent. To assert that man is similarly self-existent is to describe a divine attribute to man, and to deny the plain teaching of Scripture. Furthermore, such a claim is simply absurd: children come from their parents – they are obviously not self-existent.

Likewise, not only special revelation but general revelation informs us of the fact that children are (at least to a very significant extent) the product of nature and nurture. In short, the idea that children’s acts (or adults’ acts for that matter) are simply uncaused causes, is contradicted by both special and general revelation.

Anyhow, Dan indicates that he wants to get to the core of “What are God’s abilities?” The answer is: God is perfectly free: God can do whatever God wants to do, and what God wants to do is not externally influenced at all.


P.S. Dan graciously provides a postscript of thanks in his audio clip for the style of the discussion. I too am thankful to Dan for his kind treatment, which is not necessarily a given in Internet discussions.

Further Response to Godismyjudge

July 9, 2008

Chronology of directly related posts on Libertarian Free Will (LFW)

(TF), (Dan), (TF), (Dan), (TF), (Dan), (TF), and (Dan).

I had written recently:

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. (link)

Previously I had written:

Although there was no action before Creation, nevertheless God’s nature and counsel, being eternal, preceded the first action. (link)

This apparently (and understandably) confused Dan. Dan wrote:

Before you seemed to be denying action regressed infinitely, and affirming a first act. Now you seem to be asserting an infinite regression of actions, and denying a first act. This is an important point to clarify as your comments above shaped my question. How do you reconcile these two statements?

I answer:

Creation is the first action of which there is any record: it is the first action in time, as opposed to eternity. It can be viewed as a first action, and yet the Trinitarian council can reasonably be viewed as eternally active – in other words there is no reason to suppose that the Trinity was eternally inactive – that there was no eternal divine communion of the persons of God. There was no physical activity, and no activity that involved any sort of change. I hope that is enough reconciliation, but if not … I’d be happy to elaborate where anything is unclear.

Dan wrote:

The idea that God’s nature causes His action (an idea that I previously understood you to assert) seems inconsistent with the idea of an infinite regression of actions. This seems circular. Since we are talking about a logical order (I assume that’s what you mean) an infinite regression seems like a denial of a logical foundation. For my part, since God is one and simple, His nature logically precedes His actions. The persons in the Trinity and their actions are logically subsequent to God’s essence. The opposite opinion seems in opposition to God’s aseity and simplicity.

Any action before the creation of time, i.e. in eternity past, would not have been temporally sequentially. Whether or not there was a “first action,” however, God’s nature is logically prior to his actions, on that much we have agreement. Thus, presumably this issue of a first action verses continual eternal action is a non-issue.

Dan continues:

This answer effects how I should respond to what you said about a cause of the first act and foreknowledge.

Hopefully the above sufficiently clarifies.

Dan continues: “Perhaps I can clarify one point. You said: 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.”


Dan again:

Within the context of “before God’s first act” no one else exists to force God’s actions. “Had to” in the context of before God’s first act is a question of God’s intrinsic abilities. Either God was unable to do anything else (i.e. He had to what He did), or He was able to do other things. But again, this point may be moot, if God doesn’t have a first act.

Before Creation no one else exists to force God’s actions, whether or not Creation is the “first act” or God has been eternally active. So, no … I don’t think the “first act” issue renders anything moot.

Again, as noted above, if there is no one else to force God’s action, using “had to” is at least a little misleading – even if God’s nature could be said to render him unable to do something else.

Dan again:

Sure is hard for Calvinists and Arminians to find some common ground to hold a discussion on, so I appreciate your effort. If you wish, we can go back to proof texting out of context at each other. I’ll start. Christ says “ye do error, not knowing the scriptures or the power of God”. With statements this obvious, how then to you stick to Calvinism?

I suppose that this was intended to be humorous. I can’t think of a witty comeback, though, so I’ll have to leave it at that. Eventually I hope that you’ll be sufficiently satisfied with the answers to the questions that you get to get back to some of those more interesting issues we were discussing before.


LFW vs. Scripture

July 8, 2008

One of my readers, Magnus, wrote in a previous combox here (link):

This whole idea that we make choices independent of our nature is foreign to Scripture.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. Luke 6:45

Yet if one holds to LFW you must deny this truth, even though it is revealed throughout the pages of Scripture. So if I have to choose between a philosophical construct [LFW] or what the Bible clearly teaches, I will stick with the Bible.

I mostly agree with what Magnus has to say, but I want to offer a few additional comments.

1) The fact that there is a causal explanation for human actions (including decisions) negates the idea that human actions (including decisions) are uncaused.

2) One attempted evasion of the conclusion that causal explanations negate Libertarian Free Will (LFW) (as opposed to simple, compatible free will) is to claim that causal explanations are ex post only. That is to say, if we pick up the donut, the cause is our hunger, but if we leave it on the table, the cause is our vanity: we could have gone either way, and we call the desire the cause, if it prevailed in that instance. Such an evasion, though, doesn’t jive with the “fruit of the tree” analogy in Scripture. No one would say that the tree becomes a pear tree by bearing pears. Instead, we all know that the tree bears pears because it is a pear tree – the nature of the tree is the causal explanation for the species of its fruit – an ex ante explanation.

3) Another attempted evasion of the conclusion that such causal explanations negate LFW is to provide a counter-analogy in which the nature serves as some sort of guardrails, limiting choices but not actually determining specific choices (the precise choices being the expanse of road between the guardrails). Thus, in the counter-analogy, we can choose to drive in the right or left lane, even if we cannot drive over the cliff.

The primary problem with the counter-analogy is that one of the usual accompanying principles and intuitive grounds for accepting LFW is the claim that “free will” is connected with moral responsibility. The “fruit of the tree” analogy from Scripture indicates that “good” vs. “bad” is a function of nature. Even if there is “free will” (of some libertarian kind) among different good options or different bad options, if there is no libertarian free will (LFW) between good and bad, then LFW is clearly not relevant to the issue of moral responsibility – a conclusion that practically eviscerates LFW, even if it theoretically permits the continued existence of some form of partial libertarian free will.

A secondary problem with the counter-analogy is that it seems to be simply a new example of special pleading. If the “choice” between good and bad is a nature-determined choice, why would we expect that the morally less significant choice between “greater good and lesser good” or between two indifferently good options is not also somehow determined? If the answer, is “but they could be” or “but you haven’t proved they aren’t,” so be it. The burden of proof of the existence of supposed LFW is on its advocates, not the other way ’round.


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.


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