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Is Libertarian Free Will Cogent? Preliminaries
One of the arguments that Calvinists argue is that the very notion of Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is incoherent. “It simply doesn’t make sense,” they say. However, I think that the notion of LFW is important for any theist to hold, and Calvinists shoot their theology in the foot by denying its cogency.
Now for a definition. Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is usually defined as the ability to do other than what one actually does. So if I chose to have pizza for supper, I actually could have chosen burgers. It was a real option. This is to contrasted to Compatibalist Free Will, which says the will is free if a person does what a person wants. So if I chose to have pizza for super, that is considered free as long as I truly wanted pizza. However, we can also look at LFW as agent contingency. By agent contingency I mean that certain events and ends are contingent upon whether an agent makes a certain choice. Another way of saying this is that agents have a real effect on the outcomes of their lives and historical events. Agent contingency exists if and only if those agents have LFW. Otherwise, those events and ends will actually be contingent on those things which caused the person to choose what they do.
One final point before we move on. Since Calvinists are determinists, it would seem evident that they would reject LFW. However, this is why I used agent contingency as opposed to human contingency. I am not going to be arguing here whether or not humans have LFW. I am merely interested, in this post anyway, whether or not LFW exists. It could be that humans have CFW and God has LFW and Calvinism could till be true. Furthermore, the argument here is just in regards to God’s will, not human
So before I can give the argument itself, I must explain the teological argument for the existence of God and the Calvinist argument against the cogency of LFW.
The Teleological Argument
The teleological argument means the argument from purpose. The fundamental argument is that when we look around us at the world, it appears to have a purpose for its existence. However, this endued purpose implies a designer of some sort. Finally, the best designer one can propose is God. The most popular version of the argument right now is the argument from fine tuning. It is typically argued as follows:
- The fine-tuning of the universe can be explained by necessity, chance, or design.
- It cannot be explained by necessity.
- It cannot be explained by chance.
- Therefore it must be explained by design.
The Calvinist Argument Against Libertarian Free Will
Before we can look at the argument, we need to say something about compatibilism (CFW). According to compatibilism, our decisions are the results of internal calculations. With Atheism, it is usually understood as the processes of the brain. For the Calvinist it, can be understood in this sense, but it is more typically understood in terms of various wants and desires that exist within the person’s soul, and the strongest desire wins out.1
Now in my mind, this doesn’t really solve the problem since there is still the issue of how these desires become weighted the way that they do. Most Calvinists would probably argue that God weighs them, or a combination of this and the atheist understanding. Anyway that’s besides the point. What is the point is that Calvinists define free will in this sense, and they feel that this offers more of an explanation of how the will works than LFW. They present what I am calling here the argument against randomness. This argument seeks to set up as a dilemma either compatibilism or the idea that our choices are random. The argument seems to go like this:
- Our decisions must either come from strongest desire or are random
- Our decisions are not random
- Therefore, our decisions must come from strongest desire
Now LFW clearly rejects the first premise, since we do not hold to either compatibilism or that our choices are random.
Putting the Two Together
Now my argument in this post is to simply intended to show that if you accept one of the two above arguments (the teleological and randomness), you must reject the other. One can reject the teleological argument of course, but I think that many Calvinists would be disinclined to do so.
In essence, my argument is simply a recognition that the two arguments are referring to the same concepts in different terms. The most obvious is chance and randomness. These are clearly synonyms. What’s less clear is that ‘strongest desire’ is the same as necessity. However, I don’t think it can be seriously denied. By strongest desire, it is meant that our wills are mechanical. It is the stance that we make our decisions because it is the necessary result of the conditions leading up to that decision.
Thus the Calvinist argument becomes:
- Our decisions are a result of necessity or chance
- Our decisions are not from chance
- Therefore, our decisions are a result of necessity
Therefore, what Calvinists have actually done is simply ruled out design as a distinct kind of causation from necessity or chance. Therefore, if the two arguments are incompatible, they are either both plausible or neither of them are.
And if you think about this, it makes sense. If there is no libertarian free will, then God does not have libertarian free will. If God does not have libertarian free will, then every decision He makes is a manifestation of His nature. Since His nature is what it is necessarily, than everything that God does happens out of necessity. Therefore, without LFW, design is simply a form of necessity, even if we consider them true and free choices.
This leaves the compatibilists with three options.2 First, the boring choice is simply to drop the argument against libertarian free will. And this is perfectly fair! After all, just because an argument is bad, it doesn’t mean that the position is wrong.3 This does leave us with a possible aseity problem, but I’ll get to that later.
The second is to reject the teleological argument. Now again, one may do so. There is nothing that says that a Christian needs to agree to the teleological argument. However, I think there is an even more serious problem here when it comes to aseity. So what is aseity?
Aseity is an attribute of God which means that He exists as Himself (or “a se” in the Latin). This means that God needs nothing else to explain His existence and (and this is the important part here) He can exist by Himself. However, when you consider cause and effect, if there is a sufficient cause for something, then the effect will also exist. This would mean that if everything that God does is an expression of His nature, and everything that God does then happens by necessity, then creation exists necessarily. It means that God could not have not created. It means that God didn’t simply want to create us, but He needed to. In my mind, that’s a problem.
Now if you go with the first option, the problem doesn’t magically go away either. You still have the basic issue of how is it possible that God’s decisions come from His nature and yet aren’t necessary. How do you explain compatibilism in such a way that distinguishes it from necessity? This is why I say that it is a possible problem, since, at this point, the ball would be in the Calvinists’ court.
But I think the best solution for the Calvinist to deal with this problem is to simply let go of the compatibilist claim. Rather they can simply claim that God has LFW and we don’t. After all, I don’t think that dogs or cats or birds have LFW. There is nothing that says that if God has free will we must.
“Now hold on”, one might say, “A Calvinist may claim that just because the argument fails, that doesn’t mean their position that LFW is impossible fails. So you are missing the option that they can drop this particular argument but still say that LFW fails for other reasons.” Well, yes, technically that claim is correct3. However, the argument doesn’t merely fail. It doesn’t merely suffer from this aseity problem. What it does is expose the aseity problem that is already there. Indeed, I think you can conclude that God must have LFW from the cosmological argument. To be frank, I can make this aseity point without any reference to either the cosmological argument or the teleological argument.
So no, I go with my original assessment. The best solution for the Calvinist is to say that God possesses LFW and we don’t. This wouldn’t actually affect their theology in any way. And if they say refuse the option only because it would give Arminianism an in, then they need to ask themselves, “are you more interested in winning a debate or are you more interested in truth?
1 It is worth pointing out that libertarians don’t really reject the notion that we choose our greatest desire. This seems obvious. The question is, as I somewhat imply above, what makes that desire the greatest desire. However, due to brevity, I don’t really try to reword the Calvinist claim here too much and use their language. But I do find the language unhelpful if not downright objectionable.
2 Well three reasonable options. One can always choose to be irrational.
3See Fallacy Fallacy.