Assuming Determinism to Disprove Free Will

, posted by JC_Thibodaux

Phil Johnson of John MacArthur’s Grace to You has authored a post entitled “The Problem for Arminians”. Quoting Phil:


If God knows every detail of the future with infallible certainty, then (by definition) the outcome of all things is already determined. And if things are predetermined but God did not ordain whatsoever comes to pass, then you have two choices:

1. A higher sovereignty belongs to some being (or beings) other than God. That is idolatry.
2. Some impersonal force did the determining. That is fatalism.

One problem that’s immediately observable is that Johnson is employing the old “what is foreknown is [externally] predetermined” canard. In other words, his premise, “the outcome of all things is already determined,” carries with it the hidden assumption that what is foreknown must be exhaustively determined by someone/something other than the one making the choices. As I pointed out to Dan Phillips in their combox:


Phil’s commentary betrays his fundamental misunderstanding of what free will is. His argument consists of the fallacy of false dichotomy (someone higher than God or an impersonal, fatalistic force), when in fact libertarians explicitly deny both of these. A viable libertarian view is that our actions are, to some extent, self-determined, but we’re made by God such that the results of our self-determination are known to Him chronologically prior to their being manifest as temporal choices. Hence one who holds to Arminian theology can consistently believe in both libertarian agency and divine omniscience.

The underlying assumption Phil uses to construct his dichotomy is that something besides the agent himself completely determines his choices, which is a determinist paradigm that assigns external necessity to an agent’s choices. In doing so, he’s apparently confusing certainty with necessity, and is essentially assuming necessitarianism to disprove libertarianism (also known as begging the question).

Strangely, both “options” Johnson offers in his dichotomy assume that our choices must be completely determined by something other than us -which idea is completely contradictory to the definition of libertarian free will! It must also be noted that trying to redefine free will so that it fits option 1 doesn’t follow: the freedom God grants men to make choices obviously can’t be higher than His own, since it was God who gave us free will in the first place.

All in all, Johnson is really adding nothing to the discussion except for more confusion and fallacy among an already very confused Reformed crowd that regularly employs such fallacies. He’s simply offering two bad options, both of which flow from his assuming his conclusion: that free choices can’t really exist.