Moving beyond Sproulian Compatibilism

Below are excerpts from R.C. Sproul’s, What Is Free Will?

We have seen Edwards’ [1700s] view and Calvin’s view [1500s], so now we’ll go into the Sproulian view of free will by appealing to irony, or to a form of paradox… I would like to make this statement: in my opinion, every choice that we make is free, and every choice that we make is determined. Again, every choice that we make is free, and every choice that we make is determined.

Sproulian or just a version of (Classical) Compatibilism? Or did Sproul distance himself too much from Edwards, ending in a position not unlike agent causation?

Now that sounds flatly contradictory because we normally see the categories of “determined” and “free” as mutually exclusive categories. To say that something is determined by something else, which is to say that it’s caused by something else, would seem to indicate that it couldn’t possibly be free.

But what I’m speaking about is not determinism. Determinism means that things happen to me strictly by virtue of external forces. But, in addition to external forces that are determining factors in what happens to us, there are also internal forces that are determining factors.

Though apparently unaware, Sproul certainly is advocating a kind of Determinism. (See James Anderson for various species of Determinism. See my former blog, Reformed Apologist, for review and link to Paul Manata’s case for Reformed Theology as a kind of Determinism.)

What I’m saying, along with Edwards and Calvin, is that if my choices flow out of my disposition and out of my desires, and if my actions are effects that have causes and reasons behind them, then my personal desire in a very real sense determines my personal choice.

For Sproul, choices cannot be separated from desires, though the two must be distinguished. By choices Sproul is not identifying desires as choices, for he plainly states that choices flow out of desires. Furthermore, given the determinative causal place he assigns to desires, Sproul is identifying choice not as the determinative desire itself, which will (and “must”) be acted upon, but as effects that proceed from externally caused desires. In other words, the determinative desire is not the choice, but it’s the proximate cause of the choice.

For Sproul, the following chain holds true:

Internal Desire —> Choice

If my desires determine my choice, how then can I be free? Remember I said that, in every choice, our choice is both free and determined. But what determines it is me, and this we call self-determination. Self-determination is not the denial of freedom, but the essence of freedom. For the self to be able to determine its own choices is what free will is all about.

For Sproul choice is the action itself – that which is caused by internal desire or “according to the strongest inclination at the moment.”

Back to something Sproul said earlier:

But, in addition to external forces that are determining factors in what happens to us, there are also internal forces that are determining factors.

The “internal forces that are determining factors” are not chosen, nor do they cause intentions that effect “choice.” Rather, the internal forces that have determinative power are the intentions themselves, or what we might call the desires. For the Compatibilst it’s intention that brings causal force upon an action of choice.

Let’s go deeper:

At the heart of the free will debate is the cause of the intention to act.

The question is not whether free moral agents make choices or whether they flow from the agent or her intentions. The pertinent questions have to do with how intentions, if they cause volitional actions, can be morally relevant if they don’t originate with the agent as their ultimate source. Similarly, what is it for an agent to possess sufficient control over those causal influences that precede the proximate cause of any free choice? Need an agent regulate or merely guide causal influences? Must she ultimately or merely proximately cause her choices? Must there be a mesh of desires, whereby moral agents approve of their intentions?

Putting this together from outside-in, Compatibilism entails that external determining factors can cause internal intentions. In turn, internal intentions, that are externally effectuated, cause at least some “free choices” (i.e. actions that proceed from them.)

A common Incompatibilist complaint might be phrased thusly. If an internal intention triggers a volitional act, and the intention is imposed upon the agent from without, then how can the agent act but only one possible way given the preceding causal circumstances that are outside the agent’s control? Where is freedom of choice under such constraints? Fair questions.

The simple point I’m trying to make is that not only may we choose according to our own desires but, in fact, we always choose according to our desires. I’ll take it even to the superlative degree and say that we must always choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. That is the essence of free choice—to be able to choose what you want.

Allowing for lack of attention to John Locke (1680s) and Harry Frankfurt (1980s) with respect to Sproul’s last statement, Sproul is correct that if actions causally proceed from inclinations, and if we define such actions as choices, then surely such choices are according to inclinations. As for how helpful that is, I’m not quite sure. Add external causal-forces to the mix and we soft-determinists might have some ‘splaining to do!

More to consider:

Sproul provides accessible talking points. How they might advance discussion with a thoughtful Incompatibilist or provide an adequate defense for one with a Reformed leaning against Arminianism at it relates to Divine Decree and Free Will is, I think, another consideration. Perhaps further reflection is appropriate to develop a robust defense of how free will is compatible with causal divine determinism, and how one might perform an internal critique of free will Incompatibilism. The free will debate has advanced in the last 300 years beyond Sproul’s use of Edwards, especially with respect to the most sophisticated stripe of theological Incompatibilism called Molinism. (Philosophical-Theology Molinism tag here.)

Now that Sproul has at least spade some soil, we might want to unearth some deeper questions like, does any prominent free will view lead to heresy? Can any side of the debate make sense of intentions? What, if anything, is lacking with compatibilist freedom as it relates to responsibility that supposedly makes libertarian freedom desirable or necessary? Is libertarian agent-causation ill defined or even defensible?

My hope is this post and the links I’ve provided might cause one to desire and actually go beyond Sproul – to choose to think harder about these things. (Pun intended).

In closing, it’s not apparent that Sproul ever worked out an adequate version of Classical Compatibilism (or an Edwardsian view of free agency). Again, Sproul:

If my desires determine my choice, how then can I be free? Remember I said that, in every choice, our choice is both free and determined. But what determines it is me, and this we call self-determination. Self-determination is not the denial of freedom, but the essence of freedom. For the self to be able to determine its own choices is what free will is all about.

Self-determination sounds a bit like agent-causation, which is a feature of libertarian freedom, not compatibilist freedom. (Most contemporary compatibilists recognize the inadequacy of self-determination as a feature of compatibilist freedom.) After all, the determinative nature of compatibilist freedom doesn’t make room for regulative control or ultimate source-hood. It gladly concedes that intentions that trigger choices are formed in us but not by us. (That’s what libertarians find so objectionable!)

Since intentions aren’t chosen, then for Sproul, in what sense are their effects (i.e. their caused choices) self-determined in a way that denies libertarian agent causation? Indeed, Sproul is saying that the agent determines the choice, which for Sproul springs necessarily from the agent’s intention: Internal Desire —> Choice.

But the question Sproul doesn’t address is whether a new causal nexus begins at the point of self-determination. By denying determinism and not denying ultimate source-hood, how does Sproul distance himself from libertarians who affirm agent causation? Remember, agent causation entails a new causal chain that is not determined by past states of affairs and laws of nature. We can’t ascertain whether Sproul affirms:

External Influences —>Internal Desire —> Choice

Or

External Influences / Break in Causal Chain / Internal Desire & Self-Determination —> Choice

Although Sproul wrongly denied any form of determinism and unhappily posited self-determination, which can be taken to suggest a break in the causal chain entailed by divine causal determinism, he might have been a compatibilist, though he never seemed to put his finger on, let alone defend, the heart of the free will debate.

Evidentialism, Testimony & Inferior Witnesses

This post by Steve, formally at Triablogue, resurfaced recently. I’ll interact with three excerpts that were in the spirit of Steve’s eclectic approach to apologetics, which included at least mild affinity to Evidentialism.

One thing that’s often lost sight of in debates over the Bible is that testimony is prima facie evidential in its own right unless we have reason to doubt it. You don’t need corroborative evidence before testimony can have evidential value.

It is true that one needn’t always have direct corroborating evidence in order to be justified in believing the testimony of a witness. For instance, if a man claims he saw three children board a yellow bus at 8:00 am on a Monday morning in October, I’d be perfectly justified in believing the witness without any direct evidence regarding his trustworthiness. That’s because, as a general rule, people don’t typically lie about common occurrences. So, although I might not know anything about the witness (directly), I do know something about what is normative, and it’s that which indirectly informs me of whether I may rationally believe a stranger’s testimony. The normativity in view pertains not merely to occurrences (school buses picking up children), but also about human nature as it relates to the reliability of innocuous claims.

To take things one step further, it would be irrational to disregard evidential value in such cases. It’s not merely that I shouldn’t disbelieve and try to remain agnostic about such claims. Rather, I should positively believe those sorts of claims. (I’m not giving a nod toward doxastic voluntarism.)

So, there is indirect evidence that pertains not to what is directly perceived about witnesses but rather to what is normative, which in turn informs us (along with other presuppositions) of whether a testimony is credible. That should become more plain once we consider an extraordinary claim.

Unless we have evidence that the witness is a chronic liar, or unless we have evidence that the witness was motivated to lie in this particular case, it’s irrational to discount testimonial evidence.

Really? Let’s continue with our first witness example. If the witness later claimed that the bus turned into a magic dragon and transported the children to a school made of clouds in the sky as they sang a familiar song by a less familiar trio, would it be “irrational to discount [that] testimonial evidence”? In other words, need I have “evidence that the witness is a chronic liar, or…was motivated to lie” in order to reject such testimony for its incredibility? Of course not. I have indirect evidence as it relates to life experiences. I have a worldview that filters out bogus testimony.

Peter, Paul and Mary sing Puff.

In that misogynistic culture, women were regarded as second-rate eyewitnesses. If the Gospels are pious fiction, why would the narrators invent inferior witnesses rather than more culturally credible witnesses?

That argument gets a bit of traction around Easter. One rejoinder is the narrators weren’t clever enough to recognize that they were inventing inferior witnesses. Another is that the narrators were extremely clever and did recognize that they were inventing inferior witnesses! After calculating the risk of using seemingly inferior witnesses, the narrators concluded that there is significant persuasive force in using such witnesses. The logic being that since inferior witnesses would not likely be invented intentionally, people would naturally conclude the witnesses were not invented and, therefore, are all the more credible. (I’m sure I must have seen such a tactic on a Columbo episode.)

In closing

Claims about flying school buses and raising the dead will always be sifted through one’s network of presuppositions (i.e. one’s worldview).

Our confidence in the Resurrection is not based in part upon directly knowing the eye-witnesses were not liars or there being no reason to doubt their testimony. Nor is it based in part upon a notion that makes inferior witnesses superior witnesses. Our confidence is tied to presuppositions that pertain to what we deem authoritative and possible, which in the case of Scripture relates to being awakened by grace to certain things we know by nature yet otherwise would continue to suppress in unrighteousness. Read on…

When well-meaning Christians remove the extraordinary claim of the resurrection from its soteriological context, the evidence for the resurrection is anything but credible. Yet, the resurrection is perfectly sensible within the context of things we know by nature and are awakened to by the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with Scripture. Namely, God’s wrath abides upon all men and God is merciful and loving. In the context of man’s plight and God’s character, the preaching of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ can be apprehended as not just credible, but the very wisdom of God. Our full persuasion of the resurrection unto knowledge of the truth is gospel-centric. The good news of John 3:16 is reasonable only in the context of the bad news of Romans 1:18-20 and Romans 3:10-20. The former presupposes the latter.

Lastly, the usefulness of evidence is a matter of inductive inference. As isolated observations and testimonies are synthesized, we arrive at general principles. Since inferences consist of making generalizations based upon specific observations, the principle of induction isn’t terribly useful in trying to draw rational inferences about the miraculous. In other words, induction presupposes uniformity but at the heart of the Resurrection is suspended uniformity.

Of course, there is an apologetic that is aimed to unearth the preconditions for the possibility of induction, but that’s not the point of this blog entry. 😉

R.C. Sproul vs The Westminster Divines on the Christian Sabbath

R,C. Sproul cites three so-called “controversies” in church history surrounding the Christian Sabbath. Is the Sabbath obligatory for the New Testament Church? If it is, should the Sabbath continue to be the seventh day of the week, the first day of the week, or is the day of the week up for grabs. Thirdly, Sproul raises a difference of opinion within the church regarding Sabbath recreation and acts of mercy. So, Sproul cites two defeated views, then fastens his wagon to a third. I’ll address them one-by-one.

Obligatory nature of the Sabbath

Augustine, for example, believed that nine of the Ten Commandments (the so-called “moral law” of the Old Testament) were still intact and imposed obligations upon the Christian church… Augustine was persuaded that the Old Testament Sabbath law had been abrogated. Others have argued that because the Sabbath was instituted originally not in the Mosaic economy but in creation, it maintains its status of moral law as long as the creation is intact.

There’s no doubt, Augustine was the theological giant of his day. However, he lived 1600 years ago, and anyone holding to his theology today could not be ordained in a Reformed Presbyterian church. That speaks to how far God has brought his church.

Many giants have stood on Augustine’s shoulders. Yet today’s Reformed church, with its elevated line to truth on the horizon, repudiates several of Augustine’s theological positions such as paedocommunion, the classification of non-elect regenerate persons, the abrogation of the Sabbath principle, and more.

Of course, there are always theological “controversies” in the church, but controversy alone does not give credence to a defeated view held by an otherwise notable theologian of his day. That Augustine reduced the Ten Commandants to nine merely corroborates the Reformed understanding of the progressive doctrinal illumination of the church. We should expect that doctrine has been refined from Augustine’s day, through the time of the Protestant Reformation, to this very day within the Reformed tradition.

Accordingly, any reference to Augustine in an attempt to give credence to a non-confessional Sabbath view gives equal historical credence to paedocommunion and losing one’s salvation, which resurfaced without warm ecclesiastical welcome in the fleeting phase of Federal Vision.

Saturday, Sunday or any day?

The second major controversy is the question about the day of the week on which the Sabbath is to be observed. Some insist that… since the Old Testament Israelites celebrated the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, which would be Saturday, we should follow that pattern.

Sproul gives no details of who was embroiled in the controversy, so it’s hard to comment. As for today it’s safe to say that the Millerite movement that culminated in the Seventh-day Adventist sect and the teachings of its former prophetess, Ellen White, have no seat at the Reformed table. Nor do Saturday Sabbath cults like those that embrace Armstrongism and House of Yahwey heresies, or views held within the Hebrews Roots movement.

But back to basics. What is the relevance of citing the defeated side of a settled “controversy” by an appeal to a particular theologian? Would we lend credence to slavery because an otherwise notable statesman owned slaves? That a particular theologian (past or present) disagrees with the church might be interesting but it is neither surprising nor seemingly relevant.

Indeed, if it is one’s intention to lend credence to doctrines that lost the debate by citing notable theologians who were on the wrong side of the church, then how far might we take this approach? Should we revisit the credibility of the “Transubstantiation of the Mass” because Thomas Aquinas was sound on other doctrine? Where is Sproul hoping to lead us? Controversial debate might create doubt in the minds of the less theologically grounded, but can it lend credence to either side of an issue, especially to the losing side in a progressively illuminated church?

John Calvin argued that it would be legitimate to have the Sabbath day on any day if all of the churches would agree, because the principle in view was the regular assembling of the saints for corporate worship and for the observation of rest.

Well, Calvin didn’t have the benefit of the Westminster Divines as it relates to their mature thought on the Regulative Principle of Worship, Christian Liberty of Conscience and Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day, which through synthetic application overturns the view that the church may determine which day in seven can be constituted as the Lord’s Day. The Divines with good reason rejected Articles XX and XXXIV of the church of England. Again, what’s the point of the history lesson?

How does historical controversy lend credence to settled error, and in this particular case on the church’s alleged right to dictate religious rites and holy days?

Recreation and Acts of Mercy

Within the Reformed tradition, the most significant controversy that has appeared through the ages is the question of how the Sabbath is to be observed. There are two major positions within the Reformed tradition on this question. To make matters simple, we will refer to them as the Continental view of the Sabbath and the Puritan view of the Sabbath.

Tagging with an impressive label a non-confessional view might give people a subjective sense of theological backing, but it cannot provide objective confessional or ecclesiastical backing. Moreover, as church historian and professor R. Scott Clark has demonstrated, this rejected view, commonly referred to as “the Continental view” of the Sabbath, simply entails spurious revisionism. There was no Continental view, or as Dr. Clark puts it:

There was no consciousness in the classical period of a distinctly “British” or “Continental” view of anything. There was simply an international Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

The Puritan view argues against the acceptability of recreation on the Sabbath day. The text most often cited to support this view is Isaiah 58:13-14…The crux of the matter in this passage is the prophetic critique of people doing their own pleasure on the Sabbath day. The assumption that many make with respect to this text is that doing one’s own pleasure must refer to recreation. If this is the case, the prophet Isaiah was adding new dimensions to the Old Testament law with respect to Sabbath-keeping.

On what basis does Sproul object to the word of God “adding new dimensions” to the Old Testament law, (allowing for a moment that the supposed new dimension wasn’t already implicit in the law)? It was Jesus who brought fresh dimensions to the Decalogue. Moreover, doesn’t the New Testament bring further development to the Doctrine of God, from Shema to Trinity?

How does Sproul make use of such a hermeneutical principle that would forbid new dimensions to former teachings, at least with any consistency, without undermining the heart of the Christian faith? Lest Sproul undermines the nature of God’s employment of progressive revelation, he may not dismiss an exegetical interpretation of newer revelation purely on its expansive import – unless, of course, it were to positively contradict what precedes it, which a prima facie Puritan interpretation of Isaiah 58:13-14 does not do! (Sproul implicitly commits an informal fallacy of arguing by false disjunction since forbidding recreation and forbidding work are not mutually exclusive propositions. The Westminster affirmation of the former does not undermine or imply a rejection of the latter. The codified interpretation of the Divines rejects both without contradiction.)

Sproul overlooks that progressive revelation is an elaborative complement; it does not contradict merely by virtue of its expansive nature. Surely, a recreational import of Isaiah 58:-3-14 would not contradict the 4th Commandment any more than Jesus’ Decalogue application of anger and lust can undermine the 6th and 7th Commandments. So, at best, Sproul has merely begged the question of whether a Puritan view of Isaiah 58:13-14 undermines the law. Sproul has proven nothing.

There is another way to understand Isaiah 58:13-14 however, following the thinking of those who hold the Continental view of the Sabbath… Presumably, what is in view in the prophetic critique is God’s judgment against the Israelites for violating the Mosaic law with respect to the Sabbath day, particularly regarding involvement in commerce… According to this view, the text has nothing to say directly or indirectly about recreation on the Sabbath day.

We might observe in passing that Sproul’s interpretation of the passage seems a bit strained as it would seem to make ancient commerce out to be essentially pleasurable and not laborious. Moreover, if the verse is limited to commerce, then are other sorts of labor not forbidden on the Lord’s Day, or would that entail an abrogation of the Continental view Sproul seeks to defend!

Sproul raises a point. There are non-confessional ways of looking at many things. Obviously that demonstrates nothing, other than perhaps paper doesn’t resist ink. At the end of the day, all Sproul has done is arbitrarily inserted a narrow scope of what he deems as lawful pleasures into what Isaiah 58:13-14 forbids. In doing so, Sproul undermines God’s use of progressive revelation and the exegetical basis for a Christian conception of God (Trinity), and sins of the heart as revealed in the New Testament (Sermon On The Mount). In the final analysis, Sproul hasn’t successfully spoken on the Sabbath. He has merely engaged in the informal fallacy of special pleading, which if followed consistently would undermine creedal Christianity and the spirit of the law.

But let’s run with Sproul’s view of recreation and see where it leads. Are we to infer that God commanded us not to work on the Sabbath in order that we might enjoy 21st century entertainment on that day? Are all non-work lawful pleasures that are suitable for Saturdays somehow appropriate for Sunday? Did God command rest for one day in seven so that 21st century Moms and Dads would be free on Sundays to take their children to their soccer games? It should be apparent, the Divines did not base their view of Sabbath recreation solely on Isaiah 58:13-14. With the advent of the five day work week, is Isaiah 58:13-14 needed to demonstrate God’s disapproval of two consecutive Saturdays with a worship service inconveniently dropped into the second Saturday for religious discipline?

Sadly, modern day detractors seek their own pleasures and in doing so have rejected the covenantal promise that is tied to the Sabbath, which extends to their offspring. If not, then we should be quick to believe that the principle of the salvific promise of Isaiah 58:13-14 to our offspring is released to us if we’d only turn in faith from the pleasures of commerce toward the pleasures of recreation! Such a view is refuted simply by stating it.

Did God protect us from work on the Sabbath in order for us to indulge ourselves in recreation and to be entertained after Sunday worship? Is that how we are to appropriate the promised blessings of Isaiah 58:13-14?

One must wonder what is off limits for a so-called Continental sabbatarian. Take golf. Are starters at the club and servers at the pub exempt from the creation ordinance of Sabbath rest? Of course not. So, when it comes to the so-called Continental view, is it acceptable for one to be served at a restaurant, or entertained by athletes as they desecrate the Sabbath, just as long as we ourselves keep the Sabbath holy per “The Continental view”? (Who’s the pharisaical legalist in this picture?) Even working-animals and servants were to rest on the Sabbath. Some have gone so far as to defend their being waited on by asserting that the sabbath commandment doesn’t apply to unbelievers!

The point should be plain enough. Even if we allow for spurious historical claims about a Continental view in order to lend credence to non-confessional Sabbath keeping, the license taken by most who reject the Reformed view today is typically unsupportable and would be opposed even by most supposed seventeenth century detractors. Let’s be honest, what falls under “recreation” often entails others working on behalf of our personal pleasure (e.g. baristas as Starbucks) and a form of commerce to boot. Rarely does an allowance for recreational pleasure uphold the creation ordinance for all people not to work on the Christian sabbath. (Christians won’t even forgo a latte macchiato on Sundays so not to be an occasion for another person’s violation of the 4th Commandment.)

One other point of debate remains between the two sides on this issue. It has to do with works of mercy performed on the Sabbath… Some have drawn the conclusion that since Jesus performed works of mercy on the Sabbath, the Christian is obligated to do the same. However, the fact that Jesus did works of mercy on the Sabbath, though it clearly reveals that it is lawful to do so on the Sabbath, does not obligate us to do such works on the Sabbath.

I have no idea who Sproul is referring to with respect to the “some” who find it obligatory to do works of mercy on the Sabbath, but does his rightly rejecting an esoteric position on the Sabbath – one that is denied by the Westminster standards(!) – somehow add force to a non-confessional view of the Sabbath? No, though it might raise doubt in the minds of the less theologically grounded.

Closing remarks

R.C. Sproul was a popularizer in a favorable sense. I owe him much. He was the first living Calvinst I knew, and as a baby Calvinist I devoured his VHS and audio cassettes. I just couldn’t get enough. Sproul’s usefulness is vast and his gifts many. He brought generic Calvinism to the masses. Few, if any, were his equal in that respect. Notwithstanding, one must read Sproul with a discerning mind.

I’m a bit leery when one cites historical disagreement in the church while appealing to select theologians in the context of trying to justify the wrong side of the church’s confessional position. It bears mentioning that in this same vein Sproul’s view of the Impeccability of Christ implicitly denies Chalcedon and the Westminster Standards as it relates to the hypostatic union. That strikes me as reckless and cavalier. What’s most striking, however, is not just that Sproul’s position implicitly denies Chalcedon, but that his rhetorical claim that favored implicit heresy is identical in-kind to his Sabbath claim that invokes alleged division while citing backing of theologians for an aberrant view.

The best theologians, past and present, have been divided on the question of whether Jesus could have sinned.

I find something subtly misleading about such appeals when used to defend any position, let alone a position that would undermine orthodox Christology. (I also find it misleading to refer to historical disagreement as controversy as Sproul has.)

Leaving aside such a dubious claim about the best theologians, the point I’ll zero in on is that claiming select theologians who affirm doctrine that’s contrary to the church’s creeds and confessions is never difficult. However, what is difficult is developing persuasive arguments that refute the theology of the theologians that have stood with a confessional Reformed tradition for 400 years. (I address Sproul’s rejection of Christ’s inability to sin here, beginning @21 minutes and here on this blog.)

All of these issues continue to be examined and debated as the church seeks to understand how God is best honored on this day.

There will always be gainsayers within the fold of God, but we can be grateful for confessional Presbyterianism, which got the Sabbath right with no serious attempt or movement within the tradition to overturn this teaching of 400 years. All we have are non-subscribers and subscribers in the fold, but the confessional Reformed church has indeed spoken. Any complaints are with her and ultimately, I believe, with God Himself.

 

Natural Theology, what’s all the rage all about? (Inherent problems with Classical Apologetics)

Matthew Barrett and Steven Duby set out to defend Natural Theology, but in the final analysis they discuss Natural Revelation as it relates to Natural Knowledge. As early as @5:55 Steven Duby slides into a discussion on the Natural Knowledge of God gained through Natural Revelation (even as it relates to the “pressure” that restrains men in conscience). There is a bit of sliding back and forth between terms (Natural Revelation and Natural Theology) that carries throughout the episode; yet it is merely maintained that all men know God through revelation of himself in nature. Surprisingly, the discussion never touches upon the question of whether man in his fallen and unaided reasoning can construct a Natural Theology of God, let alone a true one, and how such a theology might be defended.

Notwithstanding, it’s a fine introductory presentation of the realty, usefulness and limits of Natural Revelation and Natural Knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed it! (Seemed like swell guys too!) I dare say Cornelius Van Til, even in his most sanguine moments, would have been delighted by this brief presentation. That said, I’m not prepared to jump on the Natural Theology bandwagon quite yet based upon those delights. Moreover, I’m not quite sure who the target audience was as it relates to persuading people to embrace such an expression of Natural Theology. Certainly not the Reformed, for what was offered was plain vanilla and uncontroversial in the Augustinian tradition with respect to Natural Knowledge through Natural Revelation. Perhaps they targeted some extreme fundamentalists who are opposed to learning anything from unbelieving thinkers? Not sure. Anyway, the discussion was most enjoyable, though Thomists and Arminians might be a bit disappointed because Natural Theology was never explored!

Some possibly related reservations as they relate to apologetics:

Natural Revelation (or General Revelation) indeed teaches us much about God. Without Scripture unregenerate man knows God is all powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent (and other perfections too).

Romans 1 teaches that natural man actually knows God. And not just that all men know God, but that they know the one true and living God, which is why it can be said that all are without excuse. Indeed, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is the truth they suppress (and not false conceptions of God). In moral and epistemic rebellion, natural man turns the truth he knows into a lie. Without exception, that is universally man’s response to what he knows by nature as he lives in God’s ordered universe. Accordingly, any treatment of the viability of Natural Theology should be placed in that context – man’s twisting and suppression of the truth.

In a defense of Natural Theology it might’ve been interesting to have heard what sort of catholic creed might be formulated by an unconverted fallen race, and how naturally devised theological distinctives, even if it were possible not to fashion them according to minds at enmity with God, could be epistemically justified. After all, even the converted need special revelation to justify the possibility of acquiring knowledge through general revelation. So, aside from the natural distortion of natural revelation, there’s also the justification of knowledge that warrants consideration.

Some further context before addressing some apologetic considerations:

There is knowledge of God that is properly basic. It is apprehended directly (as opposed to discursively), yet not in a vacuum but always through the mediation of created things in the context of providence. Without reasoning from more fundamental or basic beliefs, the unbeliever actually apprehends God in conscience through the things that are made. Man’s knowledge of God is mediated through the external world, but it is apprehended immediately by God’s image bearers apart from argumentation or modest reflection. (It’s not discursive.) This is why Paul can say that all men have this knowledge of the truth. Not all men can follow the argumentation of someone else’s Natural Theology, let alone are capable of formulating their own, but all men directly apprehend God’s Natural Revelation of himself.

Moral considerations regarding Natural Theology as it relates to Classical Apologetics (CA).

To try to prove God exists in order to get someone to believe God exists is to go along with the charade of the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. Engaging the folly of unbelief in this way is to become like the fool (as opposed to properly answering the fool). In short, by not affirming this one foundational apologetic truth that all men know God and are, therefore, without excuse, the employment of CA easily can imply several distinct yet related untruths (by what it omits, if not assumes) in methodological practice.

Before reading on, it’s important to understand that it is only the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. So, naturally, let’s not become like her.

Seven concerns:

1. It’s seemingly implicit in the employment of CA that God has not plainly revealed himself in creation and conscience through which man knows God exists. After all, why use CA to prove God’s existence unless all aren’t certain God exists?

Many additional untruths are seemingly made implicit by those who don’t recognize and submit to this one truth, that man already knows God.

2. CA would seem to imply that such unbelief is an intellectual matter, not an ethical one. It too easily suggests one needs better arguments in order to become intellectually persuaded of what is already known yet suppressed. The apologetic emphasis is on proof and persuasion, and not the need to gently expose one’s willful, sinful rebellion that manifests itself in a denial of the truth. It focuses on a supposed need for intellectual enlightenment and not an actual need for moral repentance (from denying the God who has made himself known).

3. CA too easily implies that all men are not culpable for denying that God has plainly made himself known. After all, the implicit need of the unbeliever would seem to be intellectual persuasion, not a need to avoid wrath due to rebellion against God who is known a priori.

4. If CA implies man is not culpable, then CA implies God’s injustice, for God would be unjust for punishing those who aren’t culpable.

5. By trying to overcome the unbeliever’s alleged agnosticism or atheism, CA seems to deny that no one seeks after God. Accordingly, CA easily implies that an alleged seeker is not in ethical rebellion while she masquerades in an intellectual pursuit of the answer to whether God exists.

6. CA would seem to imply that God is not a necessary precondition for the possibility of seeking God (and denying God). In other words, CA grants the requisite tools of investigation (common notions) are implicitly neutral ground and not merely common ground that can only be justified if it is first true that God exists.

7. If it’s implied that common ground is neutral ground, then CA implies that there are brute facts that can be interpreted without worldview bias. In other words, it grants that the facts of nature can exegete themselves without any reference to God as sovereign interpreter.

There is an apologetic that is true to the context of man’s true knowledge of God, but it looks quite different from CA. It’s my experience that an appreciation for the sheer profundity of a distinctly presuppositional approach to apologetics is directly correlative to a diminishing view of CA.

An insignificant Reformed Apologist

Simplicity, Attributes and Divine Wrath

God is a simple being or he is not. If God is not a simple being, then he is a composite of parts, in which case God’s attributes would be what he has rather than is, making his attributes abstract properties that self-exist without ultimate reference to God. God would be subject to change and evaluation against platonistic forms without origin. Yet if God alone self-exists, then God is a simple being. As such, God is identical to what is in God.

There are at least four traps or ditches we must avoid when considering divine simplicity:

  • One is to say that each attribute is identical to each other because God is his attributes.
  • Another trap to avoid is the denial of divine simplicity on the basis that “God is love” obviously means something different than “God is holy.”
  • A third trap to avoid is trying to resolve the conundrum presented by the first two ditches by positing a kind of penetration or infusion of attributes using propositions like, God’s holiness is loving holiness. (Although helpful and in a sense unavoidable to a point, the infusion of attributes eventually breaks down when we consider, for instance, omniscience and spirituality, or more strikingly love and wrath. Attempts to qualify attributes with other attributes do not save divine simplicity but instead, if taken too far, end in its denial.)
  • And finally, a fourth trap to avoid, which is an advancement of the first, is saying that x-attribute is identical to y-attribute in God’s mind even though the transitivity of attributes is unintelligible to human minds. That particular mystery card reduces each attribute to meaningless predicates when played. Attributes become vacuous terms. The law of identity was never intended for such use.

Like creation ex nihilo divine simplicity is derived negatively, not positively. (Creation ex nihilo is deduced by the negation of eternal matter and pantheism.) Given that divine simplicity is entailed by God’s sole eternality, God is not comprised of parts. Accordingly, God’s revelation of his particular attributes is an accommodation to our creatureliness. It’s ectypal and analogical, not archetypal and univocal.

Theology and the creator-creature distinction:

When we consider God’s attributes we must be mindful that we are limited to drawing theological distinctions that pertain to the one undivided and divine essence that eternally exists in three modes of subsistence or persons. Given our finitude we cannot help but draw such theological distinctions, but we should be mindful that such doctrinal nuance, although proper in its place, does not belong to any division in God.

God is unequivocally knowable yet incomprehensible. Notwithstanding, the God who is simple we only know analogically, discretely and in part. Because our understanding of God is analogically theological and not original or intuitive, we shouldn’t expect our compartmentalized creaturely understanding of God is love and God is holy to imply that at the univocal or analogical level love = holy.

As a simple being, God is one divine, undivided and incomprehensible essence – yet revealed to us through created things (e.g., language) because God’s simplicity is too complex to take in all at once due to the creator-creature distinction. Accordingly, God’s self-disclosure comes to us as particular attributes, as an accommodation to our creatureliness. Notwithstanding, God isn’t particular attributes, nor is the divine revelation of God’s particular attributes, which are revealed in a manner to accommodate our creatureliness, identical with each other (lest omniscience means love). Moreover, we mustn’t confuse God’s revelation of himself with himself. Indeed, we would have to share in the divine essence to know God originally or intuitively as a simple being. It may be said that we can apprehend God, but we can never comprehend God. To comprehend God is to know God exhaustively, as God knows God. God is his essence in three persons, yet the essence is revealed to creation in discrete and sometimes interpenetrating attributes.

Theologizing of special revelation:

With that as a backdrop, we may consider that many of God’s revealed attributes are further distinguished by their relation to creation, which are sometimes called relative attributes (or secondary attributes, which is not the happiest of terms). Although all God’s attributes are eternal and ultimately one, at least some of God’s revealed perfections are inconceivable to us apart from considering them in relation to something other than God. For instance, God is long-suffering, but what is it to be pure patience in timeless eternity without objects of pity? That an attribute such as long-suffering is revealed in the context of created-time and patience toward pitiful creatures does not imply that God is not eternally long-suffering in his being. The same can be said of God’s holiness, for what is holiness without created things? God cannot be separate from himself; yet God is eternally holy. That is to say, God does not become holy through creation, or long-suffering through the occasion of sin and redemption. Is omnipresence a spatial consideration dependent upon creation or is it an eternal reality that is expressed or not expressed apart from creation?

We are limited in our creaturely understanding, but we can be certain God’s Trinitarian self-love includes love of his relative attributes, such as his patience towards sinners he’d instantiate, and his creativity apart from having yet created. God loves himself for who he is, not what he does (or what we might imagine he “was” eternally “doing”).

(We understand this in a limited sense by analogy. One reason I love my wife is because she is a self-sacrificing servant of God, family and neighbor. My love for her isn’t released by her acts or temporal acts of serving. I love Lisa as the servant she is even when she is not serving or even being served. I love her for who she is, not what she does.)

Wrath is an attribute no less than long-suffering and holiness. It’s a perfection of God without which God would not exist. If it is not, then what is it?

I’ll now try to address some common rejoinders to wrath as an attribute:

1. To say wrath is not a divine perfection because there are no objects of wrath toward which wrath may be expressed within the self-existing ontological Trinity proves too much. It presupposes a criterion that would undermine other divine perfections such as holiness, mercy, creativity, patience etc.

It also confuses God as timeless pure act with a notion of God’s timeless doing. That there’s no potential with God does not mean God’s existence entails an eternal expression of his divine attributes – for our only conception of expression entails time-sequence, which in turn entails creation! So, that God does not “express” wrath in the ontological Trinity in a way that we can understand does not undermine wrath as a divine perfection, for neither can we begin to conceive how love is expressed in a timeless eternity! So, just as relative attributes are only understood in relation to things outside of God, what are classified as absolute attributes (e.g., Love) cannot be conceived other than analogically and relatively.

Since time is created, and eternal expressions of love in the ontological Trinity are human contemplations of the eternal in temporal terms, it’s special pleading to dismiss wrath as an eternal perfection while simultaneously affirming love as an eternal perfection. To do so on the basis of analogical contemplations of time-function intra-Trinitarian expressions of non-temporal Trinitarian existence is philosophically arbitrary and inconsistent. It also ends in Social Trinitarianism by introducing time into the eternal life of God.

2. Others have pointed to the the impassibility of God as a reason to reject wrath as a divine attribute. That also proves too much. If wrath is akin to human passion, then God cannot release wrath (or take on a mode of wrath) whether it’s an attribute or not. Therefore, since it is possible for God to exhibit wrath it must be passionless wrath, which leaves no place for an orthodox-evangelical to deny wrath as a divine attribute strictly on the basis of God being without passions. The line of reasoning that dismisses wrath as an attribute this way confuses the spontaneous reactions of humans with the determinately measured responses of God. It implies God can be acted upon.

3. Others have suggested wrath is merely an outworking of God’s holiness and justice. The problem with such a construct is that if God exercises wrath, he must exercise wrath (lest he deny himself). Where there’s occasion for wrath, there’s an eventuality to it. In other words, wrath is not purely a free act of the will but has a necessary aspect to it, in that it must be freely discharged against transgressors (or in vicarious substitution). Furthermore, if the dispensing of wrath has this necessary quality to it, then given a freely divinely-determined state of affairs that contemplates sin, how is wrath itself not a necessary property of God? To suggest God necessarily expresses wrath because of his holiness and justice is ambiguous. It’s either to divide the one essence of a necessary being, or else rightly affirm the one essence while distinguishing how particular revealed attributes relate theologically.

Given that it is necessary that God respond to sin in his wrath, we either have to reduce wrath to a covenant property that God necessarily takes on or becomes, which is heresy, or else we we should conclude that wrath naturally flows from himself in relation to other attributes such as holiness and justice. So, either we end up denying God’s immutability by implying God necessarily becomes the consuming fire he actually is, or else we must infer wrath to be no less an attribute than those attributes from which wrath would naturally arise alongside in full expression in the ultimately one attribute of God, which is himself. To say that God necessarily becomes wrathful, or merely has wrath (because he is holy and just) leads to mutability and parts in God. Whereas to say that God doesn’t become wrathful but rather is wrathful and, also, takes aim with his eternal wrath in the context of sin because he is holy and just is to affirm, under good regulation, logical (not temporal) relations with respect to three analogically understood attributes. In sum, God either has, becomes or is.

(In anticipation of those still pointing to wrath not being eternally expressed in the ontological Trinity, see rejoinder #1 above, which addresses the arbitrariness and inconsistency of the special pleading for the eternal perfection of love while dismissing wrath as an eternal perfection.)

4. Some have wanted to label particular attributes essential, and others non-essential. That’s a philosophical howler because divine attributes are properties without which God doesn’t exist. Accordingly, non-essential divine attributes is an oxymoron. (God has no accidental perfections.) So-called non-essential attributes are either attributes or they are not. If they are attributes, then they are not only essential but necessary.

(Maleness is an essential property I possess. In all possible worlds in which I exist, I am male. It’s not a necessary property because I do not exist in every possible world. What can be contemplated as God’s essential properties, if they are divine properties at all, are necessary properties because God is a necessary being.)

The employment of “contingent attributes” functions similarly. God being a necessary being has no contingent properties.

5. Although rare, some have denied wrath is an attribute while wanting to affirm wrath as a divine perfection. Attributes and perfections are terms that pertain to God’s nature, his very essence. Accordingly, we mustn’t try to parse divine attributes from divine perfections or properties, for there is no relevant difference between these terms:

God reveals Himself not only in His names, but also in His attributes, that is, in the perfections of the divine Being.

Louis Berkhof

The perfections of God are called his attributes, because they are ascribed to him as the essential properties of his nature.

Robert Shaw

To the divine essence, which in itself is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, belong certain perfections revealed to us in the constitution of our nature and in the word of God. These divine perfections are called attributes as essential to the nature of a divine Being, and necessarily involved in our idea of God.

Charles Hodge

There are indeed precise theological distinctions we can make regarding divine attributes – like communicable and incommunicable, absolute and relative – but we may not invent a taxonomy that undermines sound philosophical theology.

Wrapping up:

Scripture is clear that God can only swear by himself because there is none greater by whom he might swear (Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6:13). Added to this we can know that for God to swear by his holiness and in his wrath, God is swearing by himself since what is in God is God (Psalm 89:35; 95:11).

Lastly, if God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29), then wrath is indeed a divine attribute. (Apply modus ponens.)

Let’s hear from some others:

Some [relative] attributes are related purely to sin: wrath is the prime example…However, the relative attributes, as well as the absolute ones, are characteristics without which God would not be God.

Robert Letham

A third element in the idea of holiness is the element of wrath. [The biblical writers] spoke of God’s wrath, obviously considering it one of God’s perfections.

James M. Boice

Though divine wrath presupposes the existence of sin, it expresses what is always true of God’s will: he abhors evil. Divine wrath is indeed a divine perfection.

Scott R. Swain

D.A. Carson calls wrath an secondary attribute, but then walks it back when denying that God is wrath, which of course denies that wrath is an attribute at all. Carson then tries to draw a distinction between God is love and God is not wrath. Carson is initially correct, then contradicts himself per rejoinder #4 above.

Kevin DeYoung recognizes such inconsistency, noting such attempts as “distinctions without a difference.” DeYoung draws attention to the folly of saying God is love but that God only has wrath.

Ligon Duncan quoting J.I. Packer favorably could not be more clear that he believes wrath is a divine attribute.

This SS class addresses: Attributes; Impassibility; Simplicity; Univocal; Analogical.

5 Point Molinists & Pervasive Confusion

I have been convinced for well over a decade not only that many professing Calvinists are latent Molinists but that most are.

Here we find what I believe to be a representative sample of how Calvinists relate free will to the decree of God. The author of the piece earned a Masters in Divinity (minor in Systematic Theology) and his Doctorate at a renowned Baptist theological seminary.

I’ll interact below with pertinent excerpts from the piece, though it brings me no pleasure to do so. It’s actually rather discouraging for me, which might explain why I’ve procrastinated for nearly a month on offering this brief interaction after having recently read the five year old piece.

Sadly, the post can be found on the Founders Ministries website, an organization “committed to encouraging the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches.”

With respect to the human will, the confession states, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (2LCF 3.1). To understand what this means, it is critical to understand the meaning of the word “contingency.” J.V. Fesko explains:

Contingency does not mean that something does not have a cause, as Jonathan Edwards argued. Rather, it means that something could be otherwise. God’s decree, for example, is contingent in the sense that he was under no external or internal necessity to decree anything – He was free to decree and free not to decree

When Edwards spoke of contingency in this respect, he was correct. Contra-Edwards the metaphysical contingency of Arminian freedom implies a pure spontaneity that renders choices causeless (thereby morally irrelevant). Yet this Arminian notion of human freedom is now pervasive among Calvinists, that a choice might / could be otherwise than what it would be.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I do maintain that a choice could possibly be different, but that pertains to contingent truths and possible worlds, not causal necessity within any possible world. What is rejected is necessitarianism. In other words, there are possible worlds in which identical states of affairs result in different volitional dispositions, but in any particular world how things are secures how things will be by virtue of God’s pre-interpretation of the particulars, whereby God decrees the intelligible mapping of cause (how things are) to effect (how things will be).

(A common error among Calvinists is the failure to grasp the compatibility of contingent truths with decretive causal necessity.)

In the immediate context of God having been free to decree and free not to decree, the author claims that the same is true of free human choices.

The same is true of free human choices. When human beings choose freely, the confession says they have the ability to choose other than what they chose.

The Confession says no such thing; nor does it imply the Arminian notion of “the ability to choose other than what they chose.” That’s libertarian freedom of the non-Frankfurt variety!^

In the chapter on divine providence, the confession says that God orders all things “to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently” (2LCF 5.2). God decrees contingent things without imposing any necessity upon them. His decree renders contingent things certain but not necessary.

(I ache in the depths of my soul.) God doesn’t impose any necessity? Then how does God ensure certainty? Reformed scholastics and contemporary compatibilists appreciate that certainty presupposes a particular kind of necessity, causal necessity.#.

In the case of sin, human beings can always choose otherwise, but God’s decree makes their choice certain.

That sentiment is straight out of the Molinist play book. Molinism affirms both the certainty of the fruition of the divine decree and the ultimate sourcehood essential to choosing otherwise.+ (Given the Edward’s remark, I doubt we can salvage the “can always choose otherwise” with the conditional analysis of (Edwardsian) classical compatibilism. Surely there’s no basis to read into the statement an Edwardsian use of hypothetical ability. It’s nowhere in view. No, we must take the author at face value, that given the same state of affairs a free moral agent might choose contrary to divine foreknowledge, though he never would.)

Surely something must ensure the certainty of choices if they’re to be certain at all. What ensures their certainty is not some vague notion of “God’s decree” but rather the causal necessity that God’s decree contemplates; yet that is precisely what the author denies by denying causal necessity and positing ability to choose contrary to how one would. Certainty presupposes not ability but inability to choose otherwise. Certainty presupposes causality.

Whatever the Confession is looking to teach by “necessarily, freely or contingently”* we may not separate those concepts from the explicit statement that immediately precedes those adverbs. Those things that fall out in such a way that make them certain do so according to the nature of “second causes”. Now surely where there is cause, there is effect. And where there is cause and effect, there is causal necessity!

With respect to human freedom, the Reformed tradition on the matter of volition entails a metaphysic of causal necessity. Accordingly, to say that God’s “decree renders contingent things certain but not necessary” is not only confused – it bespeaks incompatibilism. What is being offered as a Reformed understanding of the mechanics of choosing is that freedom is incompatible with causal necessity, which is an outright denial of a Reformed view of compatibilism – a view that human freedom is compatible with the causal necessity of Causal Divine Determinism.

This means that “certainty” and “contingency” are not mutually exclusive.

Not so. In the sense that contingency is being employed by the author – as the ability to choose contrary to how one would – it most surely is incompatible with certainty and consequently exhaustive omniscience. (Enter Open Theism)


After private interaction with one Augustinian thinker, it has become clear to me that it is believed by some that by virtue of God decreeing a counterfactual true it, therefore, becomes a necessary truth, which in turn makes it an object of natural knowledge. That is simply wrong by definition and entails dualistic implications, not unlike Molinism. Perhaps the renown Reformed philosopher doesn’t recognize that non-necessary contingent truths can be decreed as causally necessary. Other Augustinian thinkers more steeped in contemporary taxonomy, analytic philosophy and philosophical theology grasp the error and its implications immediately.

^ The ability to do otherwise is not a necessary condition for libertarian freedom as long as the agent performing the choice is not caused to do it other than by herself. There are Frankfurt libertarians who subscribe to agent causation.

# What’s commonly missed is that contingent truths can be causally necessary. In other words, a counterfactual can be causally necessary without being necessarily true. That distinction is surprisingly missed by many Reformed compatibilists who have a seat at the Free Will discussion table.

+ God can, by decreeing to place just those persons in just those circumstances, bring about His ultimate purposes through free creaturely decisions. William Lane Craig, Molinist

* In passing we might note that a consistently Reformed rendering of caused effects falling out “necessarily, freely or contingently” is to apply those descriptors to (a) physical laws of nature, (b) human intentions and (c) apparent chance, respectively: Genesis 8:22; Proverbs 4:23; Deuteronomy 19:5

Untangling God’s 3 Wills (audio)

God often wills that we do not seek his will and in turn we break his will according to his will. RWD

That statement is true, properly understood.

This class discusses meaty concepts such as:

* God’s necessary will

* God’s free will

* God’s antecedent will

* God’s consequent will

* God’s will of precept

* God’s will of decree

* God’s will for our lives (wisdom)

* God’s valuations or appraisals pertain to God’s preceptive will

* Abstracting particulars from the whole lends aid to understanding “God’s will be done.”

* What is God’s will for my life? Whatever happens, obedience or something else?

* How does God’s decretive and preceptive wills relate to God’s will for our lives?

* Analogy: God’s will of precept will be identical to his decretive will when the visible church is identical to the invisible church.

* What about such spiritual jargon as, “God showed me…”?

The Logical-Possible Chasm of Molinism

Consider counterfactual of creaturely freedom (CCF) p: If person S were in state of affairs C, S would freely A.

C represents the relevant history of the world prior to S freely doing A. Within Molinism, given C, S always As. Therefore, if God wills S would freely A, God need only actualize S in C since S in C never results in ~A. This necessity is not true of Augustinianism given that within divine causal determinism p is an object of God’s free knowledge, which is grounded in God’s creative decree and not his Middle Knowledge of fixed brute facts. Of course, Molinism does offer a way around such sufficient-condition necessity, which requires indexing the set of all might-counterfactuals that do not intersect would-counterfactuals to un-actualizeable infeasible worlds. The aim of this post is to explain why Molinism needs such possible-infeasible worlds and seal up such an escape hatch.

The two-fold ambition of Molinism:

For Molinism to lay claim on the doctrine of God’s exhaustive omniscience, there must be a fixity to future contingencies. This requires that some might-counterfactuals of creaturely freedom also identify as would-counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Simultaneously, Molinism also seeks to maintain indeterminism, which requires that some might-counterfactuals of creaturely freedom not identify as would-counterfactuals. After all, if all such counterfactuals are true in every possible world, they would be necessary truths. So, Molinism requires within the set of all possible worlds a subset of infeasible worlds that God is incapable of actualizing. That’s where un-actualizeable contingencies that would never occur can be parked.

Entailments of Molinism:

Given S in C, Molinism entails that ~A might happen but never would happen. Moreover, Molinism entails that if p is true, then p exists in all feasible worlds – all worlds God is capable of actualizing. Conversely, p is false in some infeasible worlds (i.e., possible worlds God is incapable of actualizing). {Note: p needn’t be false in all infeasible worlds given that what makes some possible worlds infeasible worlds are future contingents other than p. In other words, ~p is sufficient for an infeasible world, but it is not necessary.}

Molinism entails that CCFs like p are contingent truths, which is to say, the freely chosen A that p contemplates is a future contingent. Given C, S would not necessarily freely A; though necessarily, S would always A in C if p is true.

Molinism has no claim on future contingents of creaturely freedom:

How is p not necessarily true given that God believes ~p is universally false within all possible worlds God is capable of actualizing? What is a true possibility that God cannot make truly actual, after all?

If a CCF like p is contingently true, then it follows that there is a possible world in which p is positively false or at least does not exist as true (depending on one’s take on the principle of bivalence). Given that Molinism allows for infeasible worlds within the set of all possible worlds, Molinists believe they have made room for the actual possibility of p being false (even if it is true that God is incapable of weakly actualizing ~A by strongly actualizing S in C). In other words, Molinism entails the actual possibility of future contingents that God cannot possibly actualize, (e.g, ~p). This invites the question, if God is incapable of actualizing a possible world because of an uncooperative future contingent such as ~p, then in what sense is such a future contingent a meaningful possibility? (Or, if God believes p is false only in infeasible worlds, then in what sense is p possibly false?)

Molinist semantics and the logical-ontological or possible-actual chasm:

These creaturely dependent possibilities exist in the semantic land of possible-infeasible worlds. Therefore, Molinism entails some logical possibilities that are purely theoretical – so much so they are impossible for God to know as actualized realities, unless uninstantiated essences – the ultimate source of such true possibilities – would make them so. So, Molinism entails true possibilities that could be actualized a whopping zero number of times, even though there are an “infinite number” of these possibilities. This is all the more striking when we consider the spontaneity of the pure contingency (randomness) of libertarian freedom.

No matter how any world can be arranged, if it contains the actuality of the potential of what p abstractly contemplates, then <S freely As> always obtains as a concrete reality given the actualization of S in C. Accordingly, p as an abstract entity exists in all feasible worlds whether the concrete reality that p contemplates is actualized or not.

The irony of the quest for divine foreknowledge apart from determinism:

Now regarding logical necessity, if a particular truth exists in all possible worlds, it exists necessarily. Added to this, if something is logically necessary, then there is no possibility of it being other than what it is. This has little impact upon the Molinist position but only because within Molinism possibility is not necessarily God dependent. Molinism includes the claim that CCFs such as p are contingent truths because of a supposed logical possibility of p being false even though an instantiation of ~p is a sufficient condition for an infeasible world, i.e., a world which cannot become actual along with ~p! Therefore, for the Molinist some logical possibilities are admittedly impossible for God to actualize, yet those possible impossibilities are supposedly what prevents CCFs from becoming necessary truths. The potential for actualization of might-counterfactuals that are not also would-counterfactuals are supposedly real and creature dependent although God is incapable of actualizing the worlds in which they are true counterfactuals. They are abstract truths about possible realities that God cannot bring into actual existence, which would seem to undermine their actual possibility, which in turn would make their negation (e.g., ~~p —> p) necessary truths. Therefore, the contingency of CCFs and exhaustive divine omniscience Molinism seeks on the basis of indeterminism ends in the brute fact necessity of all CCFs.

As intimidated here, a necessary truth is one that exists in every possible world. And although Molinism upholds a theory of possible worlds that affords room for contingent CCFs, if we maintain that necessary truths are truths that exist in every possible world that can possibly be actualized, then the truth values of CCFs in infeasible worlds are irrelevant in evaluating whether a counterfactual is a necessary truth. At the very least, could God believe such counterfactuals are possible?

Divine Causal Determinism saves future contingencies:

From an Augustinian perspective God freely determines what a person would freely do in any state of affairs. God is capable of actualizing a world in which I freely do not type this post under the same state of affairs in which I freely do type this post. Therefore, from an Augustinian perspective p is a contingent truth. Yet such future contingents are inconsistent with Molinism. The trajectory of Molinism leads to the untenable position that some logical possibilities are impossible for God to know as concrete, actualized realties. Accordingly, Molinism cannot bridge the logical-ontological / possible-actual chasm. (This discussion is akin to the peccability of Christ, which is a narrowly logical “truth” that is a metaphysically false, broadly illogical and, therefore, false in any meaningful way.)

Libertarian Freedom and Properly Basic Beliefs, an analogy of unlikely bedfellows

It’s interesting that many incompatibilist libertarians subscribe to properly basic beliefs that are formed in us but not strictly by us, which they’d say we are nonetheless morally responsible to live by. But how can such incompatibilists consistently maintain that we can justly be held responsible for such unwilled beliefs if we may not be held responsible for unchosen intentions? After all, wouldn’t unchosen beliefs be causally formed in us beyond our ultimate control no less than any externally caused intention to choose? From an evangelical libertarian perspective, why would an infidel be responsible for a causally formed belief in God but not a causally formed intention to reject God? In fact, she heartily approves of the latter whereas the former is an inconvenience, which she suppresses because it doesn’t meet with her approval!

Plain and simple, we are responsible for what we believe and what we intend because they are our beliefs and our intentions. I maintain that it’s not the freedom of compatibilist freedom that’s so objectionable to libertarians, but rather it’s more likely to be God’s determination of the intentions of such freedom that they find so distasteful.

Libertarian free will, regress or crickets?

Libertarians and Compatibilists can agree that there are two distinct components when choices come to fruition, (a) an intention to act and (b) a specific act that proceeds from an intention. An actual act of the will comes from an intention to make a willed act.

Intention to act —> act of the will

Without an intention to act there is no act of the will. When an act of the will occurs, the choice is consummated. Both components of the choice obtain. An intention to act gives way to the actual act the intention contemplates. We may safely say the intention of the moral agent causes the act. The act is effected by the agent’s intention.

Examples:

Choice: I choose to eat ice cream.

My intention to eat ice cream —causes—> my actual eating ice cream.

Choice: I choose to dwell on the past.

My intention to dwell on the past —causes—> my actual dwelling on the past.

Both acts – eating ice cream and dwelling on the past – are caused by an intention to do. Therefore, we may say the acts of eating and dwelling are the effects of intention, lest we have un-willed and uncaused acts, which would not be subject to responsibility or moral evaluation.

It is not difficult to grasp what causes the acts we choose. Surely our intentions do. When we freely eat ice cream it’s because we choose to eat ice cream according to an intention to eat ice cream. Simple enough.

This invites the question, if our intentions cause our willed actions, then what causes our intentions? That question gets to the heart of the free will debate.

Infinite regress?

Assume for a moment that the intentions that trigger our acts of the will are themselves chosen acts of the will (just like eating ice cream and dwelling on the past are chosen acts of the will). As chosen acts of the will, intentions would be chosen effects of the will. Accordingly, intentions to act would be the effect of a preceding cause (just like the acts of eating ice cream and dwelling on the past are effects of a preceding intention). So, if an intention to eat ice cream is itself an act of the will, it too must be an effect of some intention. Some intention would have to cause that intention!

Recall that there are two components for a completed choice: an intention to act and the actual act that follows the intention. Now consider again my choice to eat ice cream. My act of eating of ice cream would be caused by my intention to eat ice cream:

My intention to eat ice cream —causes—> my act of eating ice cream.

So, if I not only choose to eat ice cream, but also choose my intention to eat ice cream, then my choosing of the intention to eat ice cream must be the effect of a preceding intention in order that I might have the intention to eat ice cream! (By now you see where this is going.)

An intention to have the intention to eat ice cream would cause the intention to eat ice cream, which in turn would give way to my actually eating ice cream. 😳

Intention to have the intention to eat ice cream —causes—> my intention to eat ice cream —causes—> my actual eating of ice cream.

Now then, what causes the intention to have the intention to eat ice cream? Well, if we choose our intentions, then another intention ad infinitum. We’d have a backward regress for any choice.

Agent causation?

Here’s a libertarian solution to the infinite regress conundrum. It’s called agent causation. Rather than choosing our intentions, the agent simply causes it.

Agent —causes—> intention —causes—> actual eating ice cream.

But what about the agent that is within the agent would cause the intention? We’ve already ruled out chosen intentions for that would lead to a regress conundrum. Well, what then causes intention from a libertarian perspective? What do we hear from the libertarian camp regarding what within the agent causes the intention to eat ice cream, and how is that agent property, whatever it is, an uncaused first mover? If it’s the agent’s will, then what inclines it? Crickets

Anticipated questions addressed:

For a simple explanation of (a) how unchosen intentions can be rational from a compatibilist perspective but not from a libertarian perspective, (even though morally significant intentions are formed within the agent yet not by the agent, being caused from without the agent), and (b) how libertarian freedom would destroy moral accountability, try here.

For a simple explanation of how compatibilist freedom can account for moral responsibility, try here.

For a simple explanation of why incompatibilist-libertarians might subscribe to the philosophical surd of libertarian freedom rather than to intuitive sufficient conditions for moral responsibility that compatibilism has to offer, try here.

For a more advanced treatment dealing with the truth-making of causal relationships as they relate to God’s (non-necessary) free knowledge of contingent truths that God determines to make causally necessary, try here.

For a more advanced treatment of how libertarian freedom when coupled with exhaustive omniscience results in necessary counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, try here.