John Davenant, Another Enticement For The “Reformed” (in name only)

“If it be denied that Christ died for some persons, it will immediately follow, that such could not be saved, even if they should believe.”

I can understand Arminians saying such a thing but when those who profess to be Reformed say things like that, more than bad theology is at play. (And by the way, why do latent Arminians insist upon being considered Reformed?)

At the risk of addressing the obvious, such a sentiment assumes what must be proven, that those for whom Christ did not die can believe. From a Reformed perspective, how does this not deny irresistible grace and inseparable operations of the Trinity?*

“if nothing else is judged possible to be done, except those things which God hath decreed to be done, it would follow that the Divine power is not infinite.”.

John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, n.d., 439


God having already decreed that the boulder would fall from the cliff entails that God could not prevent the boulder from falling from the cliff. The “could not” is due not to a lack of divine power but a want of divine will. Because God cannot deny himself (or act contrary to how he has determined he will act), God’s inability to act upon the boulder either directly, or through secondary causes, is ascribable not to finite power in the Godhead but the outworking of God’s internal consistency, from decree to providence.

That God’s omnipotence and decree are not mutually exclusive entailments implies that the latter does not diminish the former, though it will certainly curtail and redirect its decretive unleashing in ordinary providence. Davenant and his recent followers not only miss this. Is there any indication they’ve even considered it?

“The death of Christ is applicable to any man living, because the condition of faith and repentance is possible to any living person, the secret decree of predestination or preterition in no wise hindering or confining this power either on the part of God, or on the part of men. They act, therefore, with little consideration who endeavour, by the decrees of secret election and preterition, to overthrow the universality of the death of Christ, which pertains to any persons whatsoever according to the tenor of the evangelical covenant.”

Davenant, Loc. Cit.

In other words, for Davenant, it is possible for those not elected unto salvation to be saved. Indeed, it is possible for those not chosen in Christ to be baptized into the work of the cross.

Pelagian connotations aside as they relate to faith and repentance, if Davenant is correct, then it is possible that God’s decree not come to pass. It is possible that more are saved than predestined unto salvation. It is possible that God can be wrong! Or does God not believe his decree will come to pass?

Possibility with zero probability of occurring:

Simply try to imagine a possible world in which Esau is not elect but enters into everlasting life contrary to God’s will of decree. In other words, is there a possible world in which some are redeemed yet the elect are less in number than they? If not, then so much for this already rejected view of the atonement that posits incoherence by implicitly denying exhaustive omniscience, penal substitution, and the inseparable operations of the Trinity.** That’s what Davenant “possibility” gets you. (Enter now the sophistry of Molinism with its might-counterfactuals and possible-feasible worlds distinction.)

Confessional?

Regarding confessional status, any extra-confessional teaching that leads to confessional doctrinal contradiction may be confidently rejected for being un-confessional even if not explicitly refuted by the church’s standards, (regardless if a delegate to the assembly held the view in question). Otherwise, we unnecessarily introduce incoherence and confusion into our system(s) of doctrine.

A “consensus” document does not preclude certain doctrines from having won the day. So, for instance, any view of free will that by necessary implication entails that God is contingently infallible must be rejected as non-confessional. So it is with all forms of hypothetical universalism that lead to intra-confessional doctrinal incoherence.

I find it a stretch to call a doctrine “within the Reformed tradition” merely because a delegate held to it. When a confession is not already internally contradictory, let’s not allow it to be! For a doctrine to be considered confessional it must be explicitly taught or necessary implied by the confession and cannot introduce contradictions to other confessional doctrines. Again, we may not introduce teachings that are not inferable or would undermine other confessional doctrines, even though our confession is a consensus document of sorts. After all, what does it mean for a teaching to be “within the bounds of a Reformed confession” if it entails an implicit denial of another doctrine of the same confession? Roman Catholics are often constrained to speak that way (vis-à-vis Trent and Vatican ii) but why should the Reformed make such concessions? Can a doctrine be incoherent and Reformed? How about contra-confessional? We’re discussing what it is for a doctrine to be confessional or Reformed. That should be an objective consideration, unlike whether one wants subjectively to label someone else as Reformed. Is John MaCArthur “Reformed”? He’s certainly not confessional!

Clichés that obfuscate:

It’s inescapable, the atonement is a matter of divine intent, which is equivocally obscure within Davenant’s hypothetical universalism.

Little clichés like Christ’s death is “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” have no place in rigorous systematic theology. A sufficient condition entails a state of affairs that if met ensures another state of affairs. In that sense, the cliché implies actual universalism. Sufficient and efficient become functionally indistinguishable and the cliché, tautological. Yet if “sufficient for all” is intended to convey that Christ’s death would save you if you believe, then redemption becomes necessary for saving faith, which isn’t very interesting. That one cannot have saving faith without the work of the cross, although true, doesn’t advance the discussion. Accordingly, we are back to election and irresistible grace, which are anything but sufficient for all! The historia salutis and ordo salutis must coincide.

In closing:

It would be helpful if those with positions of influence (I’m only referring to them), who claim to be Reformed while showing sympathy to Davenant’s view of possibility, would acquire a contemporary philosophical taxonomy and better grasp of modal concepts. If these historical types who promote not just aberrant but incoherent views would improve upon their equivocal notions, and gain a bit more philosophical understanding, consistency and theological trajectory, they might develop some semblance of appreciation for their modal claims; they might begin to see that they neatly align with Molinism and not confessional Calvinism given (at best) a Davenant underdeveloped version of the “logical-possible chasm” of Molinism.

Upon the Reformed (in name only) becoming better informed on necessity, possibility, metaphysical contingency, compatibilism etc., and thereby becoming self-consciously (or at least more consistently) Molinists, non-libertarian Calvinists might then refer these historical types (who too often show insufficient interest in understanding theological compatibilism) to the preponderance of refutations of the most sophisticated form(s) of Arminianism, if not also to some of the better Molinism arguments out there. Until then, we weep and pray, perhaps most of all for the relatively few Reformed institutions that are towing the line, as well as for those institutions that are not equipping the capable while simultaneously enabling the philosophically disinterested to gain a seat at the Reformed table.***

Footnotes that might surprise:

* A similar informal fallacy is committed here by perhaps the most notable popularizer of Davenant’s Hypothetical Universalism: 

“The logic goes something like this: ‘The gospel offer, which ministers are called to proclaim, must indiscriminately include this proposition: God is, according to his divine justice and on account of the person and work of Jesus Christ, able to forgive any person of their sins.’ For this proposition to be true, it then must be the case that God in Christ made a remedy for every person such that God is able to fulfill the antecedent condition proclaimed in the gospel—viz., God is able to forgive the sins of any person. In order to claim that God in Christ made a remedy sufficient for every person, we must affirm that God intended that Christ make a remedy for every person.” (Confessional Orthodoxy and Hypothetical Universalism: Another Look at the Westminster Confession of Faith, pp. 134-5).

This is another example of assuming what needs to be proven. Consider the author’s proposition:

“God is, according to his divine justice and on account of the person and work of Jesus Christ, able to forgive any person of their sins.”

If the doctrine of limited atonement is true, then it is false that God is “able to forgive *any* person of their sins.” Accordingly, the author has begged the question and traded in ambiguity by not recognizing that God’s “ability” to forgive any particular person is predicated upon full satisfaction having been made for any particular person who would be forgiven. Consequently, the proposition doesn’t establish a doctrine of unlimited atonement. Rather, it assumes it!
** Of course no Davenant disciple will acknowledge her denial of orthodox Theology Proper. But I suppose that’s due to a failure to recognize the implications of one’s own position.

Regarding exhaustive omniscience, penal substitution and inseparable operations of the Trinity in light of the alleged possibility:

If God had known non elect persons would convert, they would have been elect. They were not elect (yet would convert), therefore, God did not know they would convert (though they would). 

If Christ dies for some whose sins will be paid for in hell, then Christ’s sacrifice is not vicariously propitiatory for at least some. 

If the Spirit converts (or aids in converting) contrary to the Father’s choosing, it is unreasonable that the Father acts with the Spirit in conversion. In fact, the Covenant of Redemption is undermined. 

(Molinist might-counterfactuals can’t save this.)
*** I won’t name seminaries or professors but Modern Reformation, Reformation 21 and Greystone Institute are examples of giving credence to Davenant’s hypothetical universalism and consequently a seat at the Reformed table. Why is that not deemed outrageous by NAPARC churches and Reformed seminaries? (Shortly after publishing article, Greystone Institute removed linked article by Mark Garcia that looked favorably upon the incoherence of Davenant’s hypothetical universalism.)


Moreover, many seasoned pastors in the Reformed tradition will say things like “God knows the future because he transcends time and the future is all before him.” That’s a direct denial of the determinative nature of divine decree and an implicit affirmation of God being eternally informed by the self-existing wills of uninstantiated essences. Why that is not deemed as outrageous is telling.

Even a relatively recent commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith looks favorably upon Middle Knowledge, which is another example of giving non-confessional views a seat at the Reformed table.

Accordingly, it’s not surprising that rarely have I read a theological exam of a seminarian seeking licensure or ordination (and rarely have I had a discussion on theological compatibilism with such a person) that demonstrates a minimally thoughtful rejection of libertarian freedom or an understanding of combatibilist freedom and the determinative nature of the Divine Decree. After all, it’s rare for students to be acquainted with, let alone internalize, concepts they haven’t yet been exposed to.

John Frame had similar experiences: “I don’t know how many times I have asked candidates for licensure and ordination whether we are free from God’s decree, and they have replied ‘No, because we are fallen.’ That is to confuse libertarianism (freedom from God’s decree, ability to act without cause) with freedom from sin. In the former case, the fall is entirely irrelevant. Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense. But freedom from sin is something different. Adam had that before the fall, but lost it as a result of the fall.”

Calvinist Paul Manata has noted, “One often finds misunderstandings disseminated by laymen on the Internet. This should not be surprising, for a cursory look at what Reformed teachers have said on the subject gives evidence of at least a surface tension among Reformed thinkers.”

I appreciate my article might come across as contentious to some. My concern that constrains me to write as I have is that I desire not to eclipse the problem I hope to further unearth, which extends beyond this particular stripe of hypothetical universalism. The doctrinal infidelity in “confessional” churches is, I believe, at an all time low. That Reformed folk are entertaining hypothetical universalism is just an indicator of a much larger problem. For more on that, read on.

Dr. James Anderson Dismantles Opposition to Presuppositional Apologetics, Theological Determinism and Christ’s Kingly Reign Over All

It’s never pleasurable to read (i) caricatures, (ii) misunderstandings, (iii) reckless treatment of opposing views and (iv) badly formulated arguments – especially by other Christians. It is pleasurable, however, given such grave misfortune, to read precise interaction with such positions.

One wonderful thing about James’s work is his points of disagreement are always precisely articulated. (My prayer is that people will engage and if warranted change their views. I’ve never known James to bite or gloat.)

James interacts here with Davenant Institute’s attempt to interact with Pesuppositional Aplogetics.

James interacts here with J.V. Fesko’s attempt at Reforming Apologetics.

James interacts here with Richard Muller’s attempt to unhitch the Reformed tradition from theological determinism and its compatibilism implications.

James interacts here with David VanDrunen’s attempt to make sense of a 2K paradigm.


The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17

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. Sproul appears to have held to:

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

Sproul denied any form of determinism and unhappily posited self-determination, which suggests a break in the causal chain entailed by divine causal determinism. Consequently, its hard to conclude Sproul was a compatibilist. He never seemed to put his finger on, let alone defend, the heart of the free will debate.

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

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.

What drives libertarian freedom, moral responsibility or determinism?

What seems to drive Libertarians to their view of freedom is not the reasonableness of pure contingency. It’s seems intuitive that compatibilist freedom provides the sufficient conditions for moral responsibility. I don’t think many libertarians would have looked any further than to those conditions if determinism wasn’t part of the discussion.

In other words, if we merely summarize the essence of freedom as the possession of certain cognitive capacities that produce different willed acts given different states of affairs, who’d object? Such freedom would seem to entail moral responsibility. Now introduce determinism, and then people feel the need to scramble for something additional to save moral responsibility, but it’s not because compatibilist freedom is intuitively lacking. The idea of libertarian freedom is merely an attempt to break the chain of determinism for reasons that don’t impinge upon personal responsibility! After all, isn’t an ultimate cause compatible with a proximate cause? Who killed Saul? (1 Chronicles 10:4,6,14)

Libertarian freedom does nothing to advance the cause of moral responsibility. In fact, such detached freedom would seem to abolish moral responsibility.

From whence come intentions, and how is compatibilism any better in this regard?

This post aims to address how unchosen intentions can be rational and person-relevant from a compatibilist perspective but not from a libertarian perspective. Even though morally significant intentions are formed within the agent, they are not formed by the agent, being caused from without the agent. Secondly, libertarian freedom would undermine moral accountability.

An unhappy choice for libertarians, infinite regress or ex nihilo:

The will is the faculty of choice, or that by which the mind chooses. If the will itself forms intentions to act, then intentions are a result of the mind choosing. We may add that if an intention to act is produced by the will (rather than formed in but not by the will), then it would have to be a result of a previous intention because definitionally the will cannot produce an unintended act. Yet if the mind chooses intentions intentionally (according to a preceding intention), then intentions would be a product of the will ad infinitum, as argued here. There would be what I’ll call a regress conundrum.

How can libertarian philosophy avoid regress, other than by agent causation? In agent causation the willing agent becomes the first cause. Pure spontaneity of intention saves freedom and moral responsibility, or so it’s said. Yet such autonomous independence would detach influence, reason, and relevant history from intentions and willed actions. We’re asked to believe by implication that the agent rises above all influences, wherefrom a posture of equilibrium forms intentions from a functionally blank past. In other words, given the liberty of indifference that agent causation contemplates, choices would be unmapped to personal history, entailing a radical break from the person doing the choosing, as argued here.

Libertarianism’s dead end:

So, libertarianism is a project that entails acts of the will that bring into existence intentions – while simultaneously denying chosen intentions because of the regress conundrum. The libertarian commitment to the causal contingency of agent causation leaves libertarianism with unintended intentions mysteriously formed by the will, an internally inconsistent notion for libertarianism that would render unintelligible a libertarian claim on moral responsibility based upon ultimate sourcehood and regulative control.

A challenge to Christian compatibilists:

Augustinians should acknowledge that intentions are not chosen. Contingent beings neither choose nor cause the intentions of the will. However, with that acknowledgment comes significant challenge. What makes intentions any more rational and morally relevant from an Augustinian perspective? In other words, what’s the relevant difference between a conception of an intention that springs from nothing and an Augustinian conception that posits that intentions are caused by unwilled states of affairs that are the consequence of causal influences that don’t originate with us and are outside our regulative control? As the title of this post asks, “From whence come intentions, and how is compatibilism any better in this regard?” After all, neither philosophy adequately accounts for agent willed intentions, though only libertarians try to do so. (*Libertarians need it for moral responsibility. Compatibilists do not(!), as explained here.)

What makes unintended intentions sensible?

If you’re Augustinian I would suggest you not read on until you feel the weight of the philosophical problem from the previous paragraph.

Nobody rationally determines intentions in a libertarian construct. There’d be no reason to guard the heart for we’d be able to kick bad habits spontaneously, according to a will that’s impervious to causal influences. Such radical spontaneity would result in pure randomness of choice, destroying moral relevance by detaching choice from person. In a split moment we should expect to see saints behaving like devils, and devils like saints. The implications of pure contingency of choice demand it! And any libertarian appeal to will formation doesn’t comport with the metaphysical or causal contingency of libertarianism. Libertarians may not have their cake and eat it too.

The Augustinian solution:

The problem restated: If we don’t sovereignly instantiate our intentions but rather they are formed in us, then how can intentions be morally relevant to the person?

Although intentions are formed in us, they are not formed by us. Notwithstanding, our intentions are rationally relevant because when God maps the cause of our intentions to providential states of affairs, he determines that our resultant intentions remain consistent with our person. They fall out naturally and by design, even with our approval! This uniformity is not a guarantee for libertarianism since it would not be normative that intentions have any relevance to the person given the contingency entailed by libertarian freedom. Whereas in the real world, one who experiences anger flare ups likely will be given over to outbreaks of anger given similar states of affairs, or trigger points. God is not mocked. There is a sowing and reaping principle by design. So, if the life practicing thief finds a billfold loaded with cash, from an Augustinian perspective the formed intention will likely result in a free act of ditching the wallet and pocketing the cash. However, God could also trigger a childhood memory resulting in an intention to freely do right given identical circumstances. Unlike with the implications of libertarian spontaneity, from an Augustinian standpoint either intention would be causally relevant to the person’s past. Also, both outcomes could be actualized by God, which is not the case with Molinism, and profoundly undermines the contingency of CCFs that Molinism seeks on the basis of indeterminism, in turn exposing Molinism for the brute fact necessity of all CCFs, as argued here. Given compatibilism, there’s hope for repentance and change, whereas with libertarian free choices there’s no hope for the will whatsoever. Free will becomes an illusion

*For Augustinianism, moral responsibility is sufficiently obtained by other factors whereby agent-willed intentions are unnecessary (not to mention, philosophically inexplicable). As long as intentions are formed within the agent, even though they are are not formed by the agent, they can be morally relevant. They are morally relevant when they are the agent’s intentions of which she even approves.

Natural Knowledge or Free Knowledge of CCFs?

Natural Knowledge: God’s knowledge of all necessary truths, including all possibilities logically prior to his creative decree.

Definition from Divine Foreknowledge Four Views, Edited by Beilby & Eddy, page 211.

God knows all possible worlds according to his natural knowledge. Yet many Reformed thinkers tend to extend natural knowledge to the objects of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) within possible worlds. I believe John Frame and Paul Helm are representative:

When God knows possible worlds, does he not also, by virtue of that knowledge, also know all possible creatures and their possible actions? So, from a Reformed point of view, there is no reason why we shouldn’t regard God’s knowledge of contingencies under the category of necessary knowledge.

John Frame, The Doctrine of God, page 503. (By “necessary knowledge” Frame means natural knowledge. He equates them along with knowledge of intellect, page 500.)

Paul Helm is perhaps more precise:

But if God knows what Jones, if placed in circumstances C, would do, then this is surely part of God’s natural knowledge, his knowledge of all necessities and possibilities.

Paul Helm, Shunning Middle knowledge.

It would seem that Frame presupposes the premise that Helm asserts. Frame infers God’s necessary knowledge of CCFs from God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds. The problem is, CCFs are would-counterfactuals and as such do not merely pertain to all possibilities that God would necessarily know. A contingent (decretive) aspect is being overlooked. To know what is generally possible is not to know what would be specifically true. That God necessarily knows all possible worlds does not imply that he knows counterfactual particulars within possible worlds other than freely and as contingently true.

By cataloguing CCFs under God’s natural knowledge as have Frame and Helm, such counterfactuals are relegated either to necessary truths or possibilities. CCFs are either like laws of logic that actually exist in every possible world and could not have been false, or they are akin to potentially actualized realities that necessarily exist as possible, though might never actually exist (other than as abstract possibilities.)

Although my actual existence is not a necessary truth, it’s true that P, <I would, in this possible / actual world (Wp/a) freely type this post if placed under circumstance C> is true. Given that God believes all truth, God eternally knows P. This particular bit of counterfactual knowledge of my typing this post, X, should be considered transworld by such Augustinians as Frame and Helm. The transworld object of knowledge can be dropped into any relevant states of affairs, C, in any possible world, Wpn, so that in Wp1, Wp2, Wp3… God would know X would occur under equally similar Cs in any Wpn given the implied intrinsically causal power of C, which in the thinking of some is relegated to an object of Natural Knowledge. (We will table the question of whether X in C could be contingently related to which Wpn is in view, which I hope will become obvious later.)

This sort of intrinsically causal necessity is understandable among Causal (Nomological) Determinists, but it is an unnecessary and improper concession among Causal Divine Determinists. Has Christian determinism been so influenced by secular philosophy? (See James Anderson site for the various stripes of Determinism.)

When Augustinians catalogue such would-counterfactuals under God’s natural knowledge, what is implied is some sort of necessity for CCFs without which counterfactual knowledge could not obtain. What is implied is that CCFs are logically, metaphysically or in some other sense still indeterminately caused. After all, if some sort of necessity for there to be natural knowledge is not maintained, then C need not result in X, my freely typing this post, under C. In which case, the fixity of the result of C (i.e., the free choice of X) would defy truth value and, therefore, could not be an object of natural knowledge. Hence the need for some sort of necessity within the confines of natural knowledge. Yet, if the grounding of the counterfactual is God’s will, which it is(!), then the counterfactual would be a contingent truth, an object of God’s free knowledge! (NOTE: This is not to posit the metaphysical contingency of libertarianism, which might be confusing some. True CCFs are not necessary truths, otherwise they’d exist necessarily. Notwithstanding, they don’t fall out purely contingently in a metaphysical sense, but rather they become causally necessary by decree, which is not to be confused with something being a necessary truth.)

Like with Molinism, such Augustinians as these, if consistent, are consigned to a view that would entail that any actualizable (truly possible!) world that includes equally similar Cs (i.e., similar relevant states of affairs), always results in X , my freely typing this post. (In passing we might note, even Middle Knowledge entails causality that Molinism cannot avoid. Molinists engage in a type of special pleading when they introduce might-counterfactuals and insist the set of all possible worlds include infeasible worlds!)

Scott Christensen has this to say:

Determinism refers to the idea that all things that occur in our world are necessarily and causally determined by prior conditions. Thus, given specific prior conditions, only one outcome could possibly take place.

Scott Christensen, What About Free Will page 12. (Scott makes a similar error on page 170 and perhaps elsewhere: “God could ordain any variety of outcomes that transpire in the natural world and the human plane of that world. But if he ordained something different to occur, then the preceding conditions would be different as well.” Page 170 (emphasis mine).

What these Augustinians are suggesting is that it’s the relevant states of affairs, circumstances or prior conditions that necessitate free choice. By cataloguing CCFs under natural knowledge, it is (unwittingly?) implied that the effect is ultimately caused by something intrinsic to the nature of C, otherwise God would not know X like he naturally knows all necessary truths and possibilities. Unlike Dabney who wrongly, I argue, attributed this knowledge to “Middle Knowledge” (yet of non-libertarian choices, gratefully!), these Augustinians would like to attribute God’s knowledge of CCFs to his natural knowledge, which would reduce the object of such natural knowledge either to (i) a brute fact or (ii) a reflection of the divine essence (if they’re not freely determined).

Christensen goes on to liken the causality of choice to our living in a “cause-effect universe…” Even offering as an analogy, “When the temperature cools to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it causes water to freeze.” (Page 13.)

Now clearly Christensen is not a physical determinist when it comes to the mechanics of choosing. He’s a soft-determinist. One of the good guys(!), along with Helm and Frame. Notwithstanding, what is implicitly denied by more than a few is that God pre-interprets the particulars that comprise any C, and in doing so freely determines the causal relationship and truth values of counterfactuals. Therefore, with respect to CCFs, these too are a matter of God’s free knowledge, whereas possible counterfactuals are part of God’s natural knowledge. What must be remembered is that from a consistent Augustinian perspective CCFs are would-counterfactuals, not might-counterfactuals. They have definite truth values (albeit they are contingencies), which presuppose a truth maker. As contingencies, these eternal truths cannot be grounded in God’s ontology or natural omniscience, nor in anything outside of God, which only leaves his will of determination, making Divine Knowledge of CCFs a species of free knowledge.

Take liquid water freezing at 0 degrees C. (No need to get into pressure, additives, purity and nucleation centers etc.) Does God know this according to his natural knowledge? Consider that water at 4 degrees C is at its highest density, which means it will expand whether it is heated or cooled. Must that causal relationship necessarily hold true given all relevantly identical circumstances? Could not God have determined that water continue to become increasingly dense as it is cooled below 4 degrees C? (We could just as easily consider the direct relationship of temperature to gas viscosity and the inverse relationship it has to liquid viscosity.)

Now, of course, there are physical “explanations” for these sorts of phenomenon in this world, but the point should be obvious. “Laws of nature” merely map God’s will, which is to say his pre-interpretation of how new facts introduced into relevant states of affairs, fixed circumstances, or existing conditions would effect outcome. If this is true in the material world, how much more should we expect it to hold true when considering what must be considered pre-interpreted facts that are introduced into fixed circumstances…, which result in free choices? The resultant or subsequent abstract thoughts, motives, desires, intentions etc. are not randomly triggered but rather “caused” – yet according to God’s pre-interpretation of the variable(s). God gives causal facts their interpretive meaning. There are no brute facts. As I’ve noted elsewhere, can’t God determine that the same song introduced into equally similar states of affairs, within different possible worlds, result in different formed intentions, ending in, say, freely writing a letter, making a phone call or something else?

By cataloging CCFs under God’s Free Knowledge we rid ourselves of unnecessary, improper or unintended nods toward brute particulars, while being able to maintain that God is the only eternal propositional truth maker. To maintain what I’ve argued against is to imply that God must know that I would type this post under identical circumstances in any possible world! It would imply that necessarily, ice cubes float under identical circumstances in all possible worlds, and fish must necessarily have a place to live under frozen ponds.

In sum:

I argued that the knowability of CCFs are matter of God’s free knowledge, not God’s natural knowledge. Accordingly, given the exact same state of affairs, it is false that antecedent influences for any intention of the will necessitates the same choice in all possible worlds. The contingency of the outcome would not be due to libertarian freedom or a brute fact but rather a matter of God’s preinterpretation of antecedent particulars, which can vary from possible world to possible world according to God’s will. A non-theistic determinist obviously cannot make that claim. She is consigned to the objects of influence as being brute facts. I find many Christian compatibilists have followed that lead by mapping effects to metaphysical causal influences, overlooking God’s free determination of those relationships. Accordingly, they catalog knowledge of CCFs under natural knowledge. *I am inclined to think this misstep would readily be conceded by those who’ve made it. I tend to think their goal is to remove CCFs from Middle Knowledge. The reason CCFs might have been unwittingly parked in Natural Knowledge is because Free Knowledge is often associated merely with God’s eternal decree, not counterfactuals per se. Yet what tends to be missed is counterfactuals are decretive truths that pertain to possible worlds whether actualized or not.

(*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 will grasp the error and its implications immediately.)

I alluded to in this post and have developed elsewhere that molinists have no claim on contingent CCFs, whereas compatibilists do in that qualified sense I mention above having to do with God’s giving states of affairs their causal interpretation. There’s somewhat a delicious irony here given the fixity of CCFs in all feasible worlds for the molinist position. Their use of Middle Knowledge requires a fixity of causal influences that compatibilism does not. In other words, Molinism entails an impossibility of contrary choice under identical circumstances once we establish that infeasible worlds (ie, unactualizeable worlds) are statistically irrelevant when considering the possibility of choosing otherwise. Jones freely chooses X 100% of the time in an “infinite number” of actualizeable worlds in which Jones freely chooses between X and ~X given C. That’s a necessity quite foreign to Augustinianism.