A Short Answer to a Quick Question for Calvinists

Arminian theologian Roger Olson has posted a quick question for his Calvinist interlocutors (whoever they may be):

To my Calvinist interlocutors I ask: If free will as uncaused choice is logically incoherent, what about God’s decision to create the world?

Dr. Olson apparently thinks this raises a problem for Calvinists, but I’m really not sure why. The idea, presumably, is that God’s decision to create was uncaused and therefore the idea of an uncaused choice must be logically coherent. But the question has several problematic assumptions lying behind it.

In the first place, few contemporary defenders of libertarian free will (LFW) would concede that it entails uncaused choices. I suspect most Christian philosophers today who hold to LFW accept some version of agent causation. But on that view, free choices aren’t uncaused; they’re caused by the agent (with no prior sufficient cause or explanation). If Dr. Olson thinks that LFW entails uncaused choices (as he seems to do, given the way he poses his question) then I’d say he’s in a minority even among his fellow libertarians.

But leave that quibble aside. The main problem here is that Calvinists needn’t be committed to the idea that LFW is logically incoherent. Yes, there are some Calvinists who take that view. But it isn’t implied by Calvinism as such. A Calvinist can consistently hold that LFW is a coherent idea but that it isn’t actually instantiated (i.e., creatures could have had libertarian free will but don’t in fact have it).

In fact, a Calvinist can go further and say that while LFW may be coherent as such (i.e., there is nothing incoherent about the idea of LFW) it is necessarily false that any creatures have LFW. He may hold (as many Calvinists do) that creaturely LFW is incompatible with divine omniscience or meticulous divine providence. And if God possesses his attributes of omniscience and sovereignty essentially (i.e., he could not fail to possess those attributes) then creaturely LFW must be impossible in the broadly logical sense: there is no possible world in which creatures have LFW. (This is not to say, of course, that creatures couldn’t have free will in some other significant sense.) But it doesn’t follow from the claim that creaturely LFW is broadly logically impossible that LFW as such is logically incoherent. The Calvinist could consistently hold either of the following views:

(1) LFW is logically coherent, and God has LFW, and necessarily no creature has LFW.

(2) LFW is logically coherent, but God does not have LFW, and necessarily no creature has LFW.

So it’s hard to see why Calvinists qua Calvinists should be unsettled by Dr. Olson’s question. He relates an email exchange with John Frame in which (as he recalls) he extracted a concession from Dr. Frame to the effect that LFW must be coherent if we grant that God makes free choices. But why should we consider any such concession significant? It doesn’t raise any special problem for Calvinism.

One final observation. Dr. Olson’s question is also premised on the assumption that we ought to grant that God has LFW if we claim that God freely chose to create. But that assumption isn’t beyond question either. Steve Cowan, for example, has argued that there are problems with construing divine freedom in standard libertarian terms. So this assumption can’t simply be taken for granted. But even if it turns out that God must have LFW, this shouldn’t cause any Calvinist to blush. Calvinists have plenty of other good reasons to deny that creatures have LFW without having to argue that LFW as such is logically incoherent.

31 Responses to A Short Answer to a Quick Question for Calvinists

  1. What could God’s will be like, anyway? Even if we construe in a broadly libertarian way (not necessitated by his nature or any mental states he is in essentially, say), it’s still nothing like the sort of free will creatures would have. Maybe a Calvinist can hold that presently offered libertarian models are incoherent (perhaps because free action is incompatible with indeterminacy, which may end up being just randomness) while at the same time holding God has something like “libertarian” (with the scare quotes and all) free will, but barely.

    • Steven,

      I tend to agree. I think God must have something like libertarian freedom, since his choices are not determined or influenced by anything ‘beyond’ him; but at the same time I think all current theories of libertarian freedom are problematic in one or more respects. One problem all of them face at some level is that they appear to violate very plausible formulations of the principle of sufficient reason.

      All things considered, the idea of divine volition is very mysterious — which shouldn’t surprise us! But the relevant point here is that such concessions don’t favor an Arminian view of human freedom.

      • arminianchronicles

        Dr. Anderson,

        How can you advocate the principle of sufficient reason while at the same time saying LFW is logically consistent? The principle of sufficient reason, if true, would rule out the possibility of LFW. I think that’s part of Dr. Olsen’s point; unless a person is willing to deny that God has LFW, they need to put down the “infinite regression of causes” objection or the “luck” objection. I agree with you that Calvinism can affirm God has LFW, but if they do, they can’t also use such objections.

        God be with you,
        Dan

      • Dan,

        Actually, I haven’t claimed that LFW is coherent. What I’ve argued is that Calvinists aren’t committed to claiming that it isn’t coherent. So a Calvinist could take any of the following views:

        (1) LFW is logically coherent.

        (2) LFW is not logically coherent.

        (3) LFW may or may not be logically coherent; the arguments pro and con are inconclusive; the jury is out.

        Add to this the fact that there are multiple theories of LFW (as detailed in the SEP article Welty referred to). So the options are even more complex than the above. A Calvinist could take the view that some theories of LFW are clearly incoherent while others are not.

        By the way, it’s refreshing to come across an Arminian who freely admits that the PSR is incompatible with LFW. I’d say that’s one strike against LFW, given the intuitive appeal of the PSR. At any rate, it certainly blunts the force of an appeal to intuition in defense of LFW.

      • arminianchronicles

        Dr. Anderson,

        “By the way, it’s refreshing to come across an Arminian who freely admits that the PSR is incompatible with LFW. I’d say that’s one strike against LFW, given the intuitive appeal of the PSR”

        I could equivocate about PSR if that would be more familiar to you. :-) But if denying PSR is a strike against LFW, it’s also a strike against #2 and your response to Dr. Olson.

        But I would rather try to recruit you as an ally against PSR… William Rowe (an atheist, I think) uses PSR to attack God’s freedom. How would you respond to his argument that either it doesn’t matter which world God creates or God necessarily created the world he did?

        God be with you,
        Dan

      • Dan,

        “But if denying PSR is a strike against LFW, it’s also a strike against #2 and your response to Dr. Olson.”

        Not really, because Calvinism as such isn’t committed for or against the PSR. And my point there was simply that a Calvinist could consistently hold that LFW is coherent. If the PSR presents a challenge to LFW, that’s independent of the issue raised by Dr. Olson.

        “William Rowe (an atheist, I think) uses PSR to attack God’s freedom. How would you respond to his argument that either it doesn’t matter which world God creates or God necessarily created the world he did?”

        The fact that both theists (e.g., Leibniz, Craig, Pruss) and atheists (e.g., Rowe) appeal to the PSR to defend their position only confirms that the PSR has solid intuitive support across the board.

        Personally, I find the PSR to be a very intuitive principle that is regularly (and invariably) confirmed in our intramundane experience, so it certainly presents a prima facie problem for creaturely LFW. But given that God’s free will is the ultimate source of contingency in the universe, I’m far less confident that the PSR can be applied without qualification to divine choices.

  2. What could “uncaused choice” possibly mean?

    I think anyone committed to the biblical doctrine of creation has reason to reject so-called LFW.

    It seems that the question of ‘dependence’ is relevant here. And since it is the teaching of Scripture that everything that exists other than God Himself depends on God for its existence, then there can be no human choice or act that is not dependent on God.

    Were it asked if God’s choices and actions depend on Himself, the answer is ‘yes’. And this in no way presents a problem.

    Is Steve Cowan’s essay (or an abstract) online anywhere?

  3. Adam Parker

    While I think you are correct, James, that rejection of LFW does not entail belief that it is incoherent, my immediate thought is to respond that Calvinists tend to believe in compatiblistic free will. Just as human beings are free in the compatiblistic sense, so too is God free in the compatiblistic sense. Just as humans always act according to their strongest desires, so does God.

    • Adam,

      Most would agree that Calvinists are committed to a compatibilist view of human freedom (and the same goes for any other volitional creatures). But I see nothing in Calvinism per se that commits one to the view that God’s freedom is compatibilistic. It certainly makes some sense to say that God acts according to his strongest desires. But what if two or more options are equally desirous to God (e.g., two different possible creations)?

  4. Good reply, James. Carefully crafted, nuanced, balanced :-)

    As for Cowan, what you’re looking for is:

    Steven B. Cowan, “God, Libertarian Agency, and Scientific Explanations: Problems for J. P. Moreland’s Strategy for Avoiding the God of the Gaps” Philosophia Christi 4:1 (2002), 125-37.

    There is also the response:

    J. P. Moreland, “Miracles, Agency, and Theistic Science: A Reply to Steven B. Cowan,” Philosophia Christi 4:1 (2002), 139-60.

    • Thanks, Greg.

      If memory serves, Cowan presented a paper at EPS in 2003 or 2004 focused specifically on the claim that God must have libertarian free will. But I don’t think the paper ever made its way to publication.

  5. “What could ‘uncaused choice’ possibly mean?”

    Randolph Clarke, himself a significant contributor to the debate, divides up indeterminist theories of free will into three categories: noncausal theories, event-causal theories, and agent-causal theories (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-theories/). Clarke is in the third camp. Hugh McCann (Texas A&M) has a whole book defending a noncausal theory: _The Works of Agency: On Human Action, Will, and Freedom_ (Cornell Univ. Press, 1998).

  6. Greg,

    Thanks for the light reading suggestions. ;)

  7. James,

    Well, the article I mentioned above has a section entitled, “Should We Believe that *God* is a Libertarian Agent?”

    Kretzmann’s book on the metaphysics of theism argues that Aquinas held a view that splits the difference: God *must* have created due to his goodness being necessarily diffusive, but for any world he created, he was free to refrain from creating that world, and could have created another one. And in both cases — creating or not creating, and which particular world gets created — these choices were ‘up to God’ in an ultimate sense, and not due to anything external to him.

    • Greg,

      That’s interesting. I guess the Angelic Doctor was sipping the Neoplatonist Kool-Aid that day. :)

    • arminianchronicles

      Interesting. I take Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1 Chaper 81 as Aquinas saying God didn’t have to create. At least it would seem to pose some hard questions for those who say Aquinas said some creation was necessary.

      http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles1.htm

      God be with you,
      Dan

      • Dan,

        Sorry, I messed up there, misremembering a bit of William Rowe’s very good discussion of this matter in his book, _Is God Free?_. I should not have implied that Kretzmann says this is definitely Aquinas’s view. Rather, Kretzmann says (i) this is the view that Aquinas should have explicitly taken, and (ii) it is a view Aquinas does end up expressing on occasion, in spite of himself.

        Kretzmann argues this at length from Aquinas’s views on a number of topics. Let me cite the last paragraph of Kretzmann’s discussion:

        “The libertarian explanation I’ve been presenting and criticizing is the one Aquinas explicitly endorses: ‘one must hold, without any doubt, that God produced creatures in existence by a free choice of his will, without any natural necessity’ (QDP 3.15c). But I believe that his conceptions of God, goodness, creation, and choice entail a necessitarian explanation to which he was clearly drawn and which gets expressed, perhaps inadvertently, even in the context of a thoroughgoing presentation of his official libertarian line, as in this passage from the chapters of SCG I on which I’ve been mainly drawing in this chapter: God’s goodness ‘is the cause of God’s willing; and *it is also the very willing itself*’ (87.724) [emphasis Kretzmann's]“. (p. 225, end of section entitled “8. Freedom of choice and motives for choosing”)

        Section 8 is a very useful discussion of these matters. Many regard Kretzmann’s book as something of a ‘gold standard’ in Aquinas exegesis.

      • arminianchronicles

        Greg,

        Thanks for the quote and reference. Yes, if I recall correctly, Rowe did say Aquinas thought some creation was necessary, but his support seemed to be only places were Aquinas said God necessarily wills His own goodness. Seems to me that Kretzmann is basing his possition on the same thing, but I am not 100% sure on that.

        God be with you,
        Dan

  8. If God’s decretive will is eternally and immutably fixed, as Scripture plainly teaches, then it necessarily follows that He does not possess the power to “freely” turn in any direction willy-nilly, as LBF posits. Of course He’s “free” in the sense that “Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places” (Psalm 135:6). But that is precisely why He is not “free” in the libertarian sense. What “the Lord pleases” is eternally and immutably fixed (and wholly self-caused), and therefore cannot be other than it is. The notion of LBF is indeed logically incoherent in light of established Biblical premises/teaching.

    • Several confusions here, I think. Certainly God can’t be free to act contrary to his decree subsequent to that decree. Not even Arminians would dispute that, I take it. But that leaves open the question of the kind of free will by which God decrees in the first place.

      It doesn’t follow from the fact that God’s decree is eternally and immutably fixed once decreed that it is therefore logically necessary (i.e., that God could not possibly have decreed otherwise than, in fact, he did decree).

      Furthermore, even if creaturely LFW is incompatible with biblical teaching (as I hold) it doesn’t thereby follow that the very idea of LFW is logically incoherent. The idea that humans are not fallen in sin is also incompatible with biblical teaching, but it doesn’t follow that that very idea of an unfallen humanity is logically incoherent. Right?

  9. O’Connor has some good insights here:

    http://www.indiana.edu/~scotus/files/Freedom_Hum_Face.pdf

    and it is helpful in undermining the “if God has LFW, then so do we” argument by highlighting some significant differences.

    Also, Keven Timpe is researching the topic of freedom: human and divine at Oxford

    http://people.nnu.edu/ktimpe/research/templeton.pdf

    it should be interesting to see his thoughts on divine freedom.

    Speaking for myself, I think God has at least one prominent element of LFW: ultimate sourcehood. But, it seems to me that this is problematic to carry over to human freedom given our created and dependent nature. Could it be that God has UR because of some non-communicable attributes?

  10. Though I think God has UR, I meant ‘US’ above.

  11. Do any Calvinists argue that God must (or “had to”) create?
    One would hope not.

  12. “Several confusions here, I think. Certainly God can’t be free to act contrary to his decree subsequent to that decree.… But that leaves open the question of the kind of free will by which God decrees in the first place.” It doesn’t follow from the fact that God’s decree is eternally and immutably fixed once decreed that it is therefore logically necessary (i.e., that God could not possibly have decreed otherwise than, in fact, he did decree).”

    I believe the confusion is on your part. What do you mean by “subsequent to” and “once decreed?” If God’s being, will, and decree are eternal, as Scripture plainly teaches, then there is no “point of time” in which God decreed anything. God is not a temporal being. He eternally wills what He desires, and decrees what He wills. For example, God has always desired to destroy the “vessels of wrath” and glorify the “vessels of mercy” (Romans 9:22-23). There was never a moment when God was undecided on this matter. Moreover, since God is also immutable, it is impossible that He could have desired or willed anything different than He did, even if one were to irrationally imagine a temporal aspect to God’s eternal decree. God doesn’t have changing desires such as man. Therefore “whatever the Lord pleases He does” (Psalm 135:6). Thus the false notion of LFW is clearly incoherent in reference to God.

    “Furthermore, even if creaturely LFW is incompatible with biblical teaching (as I hold) it doesn’t thereby follow that the very idea of LFW is logically incoherent. The idea that humans are not fallen in sin is also incompatible with biblical teaching, but it doesn’t follow that that very idea of an unfallen humanity is logically incoherent. Right?”

    Well, it’s also not logically incoherent to assert that if pigs fly out of my butt, then my butt will be awfully sore. But what relevance does that statement have to reality? It has no more relevance than LFW has to a discussion of the divine or human will. If we are talking about reality, then Scripture alone must be our starting and ending point. Otherwise we are merely speculating about fantasies created in our mind.

    Nevertheless, if LFW means the freedom to choose apart from or contrary to one’s greatest desire (which is the commonly held view), then I don’t agree that it is logically coherent at all. If choices are not made in accordance with one’s greatest desire, then on what rational basis are they made at all? There’s no intelligible reason or cause for choosing one thing over another under such a view. But if a so-called version of LFW means the freedom to act in accordance with one’s greatest desire, then we are no longer referring to genuine LFW but rather to a version of determinism. The Scriptural truth is that our immutable and self-determining God eternally wills in accordance with His greatest desire, while divinely-determined human beings always will in accordance with their greatest desire. LFW is merely an irrational figment of depraved men’s minds.

    You also asked another poster,

    “But what if two or more options are equally desirous to God”

    If such a scenario were possible, then God would be “stuck in neutral” so to speak, being unable to choose one option over another (since His desires would be “equally” opposed to one another). But that is hardly the case. Indeed, such a case isn’t even possible in relation to man. We may experience conflicting desires at times. But we can no more make a choice if our desires are “equally” opposed to one another than God can. One desire must always outweigh the other desire if a choice is to be made.

    • jamesagibson

      Concerning the first two points in paragraph 1:

      Take the claim that God *always* desired p to be true just in case there is (tenseless) never a time in which God did not desire p. From this claim, it does not follow that God could not have not desired p. All that follows is that there never was, nor will be, nor is now, a time in which God does not will p. This is consistent with it could have been the case, though it is not, for all times, that God did not desired p.

      From the claim that God is immutable, you must do more than cite that God has the property of immutability to derive that it is impossible for God to have desired something different than what he in fact desires. There are other ways of construing immutability, some of which get you consequences you may not like. For instance, some people have argued that God could not create because God would have to change in some way to bring the universe into being. For God undergoes at least an extrinsic change, and thus is not immutable. But the problem with such arguments, I think, is that they have implausible accounts of immutability. So you cannot just cite the fact of immutability to show God does not have libertarian freedom. You must also show why immutability has that consequence, which you did not do.

      Finally, on the issue of acting contrary to one’s greatest desire:

      One should not take acting in accordance with one’s greatest desire as the paradigm of free action. Sometimes, we act against what seems to be our greatest desires. But what are our greatest desires? Well, if you say that it is those desires one acts on, then your account of free action is a triviality. For whatever desires one had, you will say that it was those desires that won out which are the greatest. And here, your account is purged from the phenomenon of having some desires having a greater pull than others. An unfalsifiable view, it seems. Sometimes one greatest desire may be to sin, that is, the pull to sin may be incredible, and yet for reasons of a different sort, one chooses to not sin. Sure, one may require the desire to not sin to choose to not sin, but it is not in the relevant sense a stronger desire.

      • Take the claim that God *always* desired p to be true just in case there is (tenseless) never a time in which God did not desire p. From this claim, it does not follow that God could not have not desired p. All that follows is that there never was, nor will be, nor is now, a time in which God does not will p. This is consistent with it could have been the case, though it is not, for all times, that God did not desired p.

        If God’s desire and will are both eternal and immutable, then it necessarily follows that His desire for p to be true could not be otherwise in actuality. For “he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth” (Job 23:13). And that is what I thought this discussion was about — whether God actually has the power of contrary choice or not. If we merely want to speculate about hypothetical “what if” scenarios, then I suppose almost anything would have been possible for God to have willed. He “could have” (hypothetically), for example, decided not to create mankind at all, to redeem Satan himself, and populate the moon with creatures resembling Jabba the Hut and Klingons. But, again, what relevance does any of that have to reality? I thought I made it quite clear that I wasn’t interested in speculating about imaginative fantasies created in our mind. Moreover, even in such a hypothetical scenario, God wouldn’t possess the power of “contrary” choice in actuality. He would eternally and immutably be willing the things that I just listed (because that is what He desired to do), but He wouldn’t actually possess the ability to “change” His mind and will something different. The “immutability of His counsel” (Hebrews 6:17) prevents that as a possibility.

        From the claim that God is immutable, you must do more than cite that God has the property of immutability to derive that it is impossible for God to have desired something different than what he in fact desires. There are other ways of construing immutability, some of which get you consequences you may not like. For instance, some people have argued that God could not create because God would have to change in some way to bring the universe into being. For God undergoes at least an extrinsic change, and thus is not immutable. But the problem with such arguments, I think, is that they have implausible accounts of immutability. So you cannot just cite the fact of immutability to show God does not have libertarian freedom. You must also show why immutability has that consequence, which you did not do.

        By “immutability,” I’m referring to the fact that God is perpetually the same intrinsically — subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations (which, of course, includes desire and will). The act of creation, along with every other extrinsic act, changes God in no way. The change is wholly outside of God’s being, and therefore doesn’t even touch the doctrine of immutability. But an actual change of mind would be an intrinsic change within the very being of God, and would destroy His attribute of immutability. Thankfully that is not the case. Scripture plainly declares that it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). He does not have the power of contrary choice (LFW). He cannot choose to lie. He eternally and immutably desires and wills to tell the truth. As Scripture plainly declares, His counsel is “immutable” (Hebrews 6:17), and the Lord “does not change” (Malachi 3:6). What else needs to be said? The doctrine of LFW is false and undermines the very nature of God. He is certainly “free” from any external power that determines His will and actions (He is self-determining). But He is not “free” to choose contrary to His own immutable desire. (Unlike God we are not “free” from an external power that determines our will and actions, as our absolutely sovereign God determines our thoughts, desires, will, and actions — “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13; cf. Acts 17:28)

        One should not take acting in accordance with one’s greatest desire as the paradigm of free action. Sometimes, we act against what seems to be our greatest desires. But what are our greatest desires? Well, if you say that it is those desires one acts on, then your account of free action is a triviality. For whatever desires one had, you will say that it was those desires that won out which are the greatest. And here, your account is purged from the phenomenon of having some desires having a greater pull than others. An unfalsifiable view, it seems. Sometimes one greatest desire may be to sin, that is, the pull to sin may be incredible, and yet for reasons of a different sort, one chooses to not sin. Sure, one may require the desire to not sin to choose to not sin, but it is not in the relevant sense a stronger desire.

        Nonsense. If I refrain from sinning in a particular situation, it is because my desire to obey God is greater at that moment than my lesser desire to sin is. Vice versa. If I give in to temptation, it is because my desire to sin is greater at that moment than my lesser desire to obey God is. A greater power always wins out over a lesser power — unless we’re now living in Alice’s Wonderland. The view you are espousing is completely irrational.

      • jamesagibson

        I am baffled by a number of things you said, rgmann. Take this claim: God could have chosen to not create. Call this claim p. Now the truth of p is not in any sense a “hypothetical” possibility, as you envision it. P has a truth-value, T, unlike statements that may said to be true within a fiction. You seem to think that the use of the expression, “could have phi-ed”, requires us to think of only fictions, imaginations, things somehow not connected to reality. As you say, ‘He “could have” (hypothetically), for example, decided not to create mankind at all, to redeem Satan himself, and populate the moon with creatures resembling Jabba the Hut and Klingons. But, again, what relevance does any of that have to reality? I thought I made it quite clear that I wasn’t interested in speculating about imaginative fantasies created in our mind.’ And here you are using subjunctives idiosyncratically, disconnected from the way lots of Christians have taken p to be a truth about reality. The fact is that subjunctive counterfactuals are about reality: they are about they way things could have really been, if they are true. Of course, some of false, e.g., I could have been a bottle of water, is a false proposition. In any case, I don’t see any reason to think your view of subjunctives is right. So I move on to your argument.

        Your argument is that since God is both eternal and immutable, then his desire for some state of affairs to obtain could not be otherwise in actuality. And since you argue the antecedent is true, so is the consequent. I will grant the first conjunct holds. How about the second? All that you’ve got going for your account of immutability is that God does not undergo intrinsic changes. No changes at all. Then you cited a bunch of passages, none of which supported your view. That God cannot lie does not get you this: it is false that God could have chosen to not create. That his counsel is immutable in the context of Hebrews doesn’t get you that it is false that God could have chosen to not create. All you’ve done, essentially, is taken passages in support of immutability, and read your theory of immutability onto those passages. I’m unimpressed. So here’s an argument:

        1. God undergoes no intrinsic changes whatsoever. (Assume)
        2. God could not have willed anything different from what he willed in actuality. (Assume)
        3. God willed to create the universe. (Assume)
        4. God could not have willed to not create. (2,3)

        I take it that you accept 1-4. Now here’s the problem:

        5. If there is a universe, then either the universe is necessary or contingent.
        6. If it is necessary, then … (I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter, since I doubt you take this line.)
        7. If it is contingent, then God had to act to bring the universe into existence.
        7.2. If there was no act, but only an eternal willing that the universe come into existence, then the universe would exist necessarily, contrary to the antecedent.
        8. But actions require an intrinsic change in the actor, at least if the actor is to be responsible for the act.
        9. The universe is contingent.
        10. So God had to act to bring about the universe.
        11. So God required at least some intrinsic change.
        12. 1 & 11. Reductio ad absurdem.

        Line 5 is a necessary truth. 6 is irrelevant. 7 is obvious, given the metaphysical commitments in play on this blog. 8 also seems obvious, given 7.2. 9 has a long tradition in its favor, plus good scientific evidence, unless you buy the multiverse view. You can take that ontological commitment if you like. 10-12 follow.

        Lastly: on your account of free action, I anticipated your response and you said nothing to counter the worry. Instead, you just said my view was nonsense and irrational. Well, when met with no argument, no objection is necessary!

      • And here you are using subjunctives idiosyncratically, disconnected from the way lots of Christians have taken p to be a truth about reality. The fact is that subjunctive counterfactuals are about reality: they are about the way things could have really been, if they are true.

        According to the dictionary, a subjunctive counterfactual is “a conditional statement in which the first clause is a past tense subjunctive statement expressing something contrary to fact.” That is how I am using it. Since God’s decretive will is eternal (not subject to time or temporal succession), and since God “does not lie or change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29; cf. Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; etc.), it necessarily follows that He could not in fact or reality have “changed His mind” and chosen not to create. It is as “impossible” for God to have “changed His mind” and chosen not to create as it is for Him to “lie” (Hebrews 6:17-18).

        Your argument is that since God is both eternal and immutable, then his desire for some state of affairs to obtain could not be otherwise in actuality. And since you argue the antecedent is true, so is the consequent. I will grant the first conjunct holds. How about the second?

        If the antecedent is true, then it necessarily follows that the consequent is true, unless you want to argue in direct opposition to Scripture that God can “change His mind.” If that is your position, then fine and dandy. But you are no longer talking about the God of Scripture — “the only true God” (John 17:3).

        All that you’ve got going for your account of immutability is that God does not undergo intrinsic changes. No changes at all. Then you cited a bunch of passages, none of which supported your view. That God cannot lie does not get you this: it is false that God could have chosen to not create. That his counsel is immutable in the context of Hebrews doesn’t get you that it is false that God could have chosen to not create. All you’ve done, essentially, is taken passages in support of immutability, and read your theory of immutability onto those passages. I’m unimpressed.

        I am even more unimpressed by your response. The “immutability of His counsel” (Hebrews 6:17) refers to God’s unalterable determination to carry out His will and fulfill His promise “to the heirs of promise.” So you can assert that God’s will is mutable all you want (e.g., He “could have” chosen not to create), but you are flatly contradicting Scripture which explicitly states that God’s will is “immutable.” Moreover, that God “cannot not lie” directly relates to the issue of immutability, for Scripture plainly states that God “does not lie or change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29; cf. Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; etc.). Therefore it is as “impossible” for God to have “changed His mind” and chosen not to create as it is for Him to “lie” (Hebrews 6:17-18). He does have LFW or the power of “contrary choice.” The “immutability of His counsel” precludes such a fanciful notion.

        8. But actions require an intrinsic change in the actor, at least if the actor is to be responsible for the act.
        9. The universe is contingent.
        10. So God had to act to bring about the universe.
        11. So God required at least some intrinsic change.

        Since the creation of the physical universe was wholly extrinsic to God, the only “change” that took place was outside His being. Moreover, while it may be true that the effects of God’s actions are located successively in time, His intrinsic acting is not. There are no distinct events or successive moments within the life of a God who is metaphysically simple. Thus God is unchangingly performing His divine action or actions, but the effects come and go. For example, in one eternal act He wills the speaking to Moses at one time and the parting of the sea at another. So Moses hears God speaking from the bush at one time and much later Moses sees God part the sea. But in God’s life and consciousness, these actions are not sequential. He wills timelessly both the speaking and the parting. The sequence of the effects of God’s timeless will does not imply that God’s acts themselves are temporal. Moreover, as I’ve already pointed out, if the counsel of God’s will is “immutable” (Hebrews 6:17), then it necessarily follows that He cannot change his mind (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29) and cannot change period (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).

        Lastly: on your account of free action, I anticipated your response and you said nothing to counter the worry. Instead, you just said my view was nonsense and irrational. Well, when met with no argument, no objection is necessary!

        My argument is quite simply that a “greater power always wins out over a lesser power — unless we’re now living in Alice’s Wonderland.” That is not only a self-evident truth, but it is in full accord with revealed truth: God is all-powerful; therefore no one is able to “resist His will” (Romans 9:19). Unless you can demonstrate how a weaker desire can prevail over a stronger desire, you are the one who in fact has no argument. You are merely spouting nonsense. Perhaps you are living in Alice’s Wonderland after all.

      • Correction. In the third paragraph of my last response it should have read:

        He does not have LFW or the power of “contrary choice.” The “immutability of His counsel” precludes such a fanciful notion.

  13. James,

    Nice post! Makes me wish I was a better logician.

    It seems to me that the discussion of free will is often clouded by certain assumptions regarding God’s deterministic sovereignty, as if any measure of human freedom is eliminated by it. I think compatibilism tries to answer this aspect of the discussion.

    But beyond that, there is the issue of human sinfulness which undeniably limits our freedom. Biblically, whether we are determinists, compatibilists, or libertarian-free-will-sts, we all agree that Adam was as free as a human being can possibly be. He was certainly more free than his children are in their unregenerate state. His choice set the direction of the entire race (putting it softly), and even Arminians believe we are less free than Adam (contra Pelagius, who denied the ongoing effects of Adam’s fall).

    It seems strange for Arminians to hold that we, being less free than Adam, can make a better choice than he did. I know their idea of prevenient grace tries to answer this, but from the simple standpoint of historical human freedom we can’t possibly be more free than Adam – who was untainted by sin and didn’t even need prevenient grace.

    Thus, as I see it, the Arminian position reduces to the proposition that the believer has made a better use of his limited freedom than Adam made of his comparatively unlimited and unhindered freedom. Calvinists, on the other hand, look at Adam and see themselves falling under sinful bondage, needing a grace strong enough to overcome their stubborn, God-hating wills. Some Calvinists come across as arrogant (and we can all fall short in this regard), but our most humble representatives start and end each day with the twin realities of their own depravity and God’s amazing, persevering, effectual grace.

    … lest any man should boast.

    Blessings,
    Derek

  14. Pingback: In Light of Recent Discussions… « Whitewashed Tombs