Category Archives: Philosophy

Some Challenges for Libertarian Calvinism

Since we’re talking Calvinism and compatibilism, let me mention that Paul Manata and I just had an article on those issues published in the Journal of Reformed Theology: “Determined to Come Most Freely: Some Challenges for Libertarian Calvinism” (details here).

Here’s the abstract:

It is commonly held that Calvinism is committed to theological determinism, and therefore also to compatibilism insofar as Calvinism affirms human freedom and moral responsibility. Recent scholarship has challenged this view, opening up space for a form of Calvinism that allows for libertarian free will. In this article we critically assess two versions of ‘libertarian Calvinism’ recently proposed by Oliver Crisp. We contend that Calvinism (defined along the confessional lines adopted by Crisp) is implicitly committed to theological determinism, and even if it were not so committed, it would still rule out libertarian free will on other grounds.

Libertarian Calvinism (LC) is an attempt to reconcile a Calvinistic (monergistic) view of salvation with a libertarian (incompatibilist) view of human freedom. We summarize and compare two versions of LC proposed (although not personally endorsed) by Oliver Crisp. Following Crisp’s lead, we take the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as representative of historic confessional Calvinism. We develop three objections that apply to both versions of LC:

  1. WCF’s statements about God’s attributes and God’s eternal decree imply theological determinism and thus rule out libertarian free will (since libertarianism, on standard definitions, entails that determinism is false).
  2. Libertarianism is motivated by the ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ (OIC) principle, but WCF implicitly rejects OIC, thus undercutting a major motivation for libertarianism (and thus for LC).
  3. WCF 10.1 straightforwardly affirms compatibilism by asserting that God determines that the elect freely come to Christ. Since libertarianism entails that compatibilism is false, LC is internally inconsistent.

We conclude the paper with a brief assessment of the prospects for libertarian Calvinism more generally.

Excusing Sinners and Blaming God

What are the most common philosophical objections to Calvinism? Arguably these:

  1. Calvinism makes the problem of evil even more intractable.
  2. Calvinism implies that God is culpable for the sins of his creatures (the “author of sin” objection).
  3. Calvinism undermines human moral responsibility by denying free will.

They aren’t completely independent objections, because the first is typically predicated on the second and third, which means that the latter two objections are the linchpins of the philosophical case against Calvinism.

Excusing Sinners and Blaming GodSo are these objections decisive? Far from it. They’ve been rebutted in various places over the years, but nowhere more directly and rigorously than in Guillaume Bignon’s new book, Excusing Sinners and Blaming God.

Dr. Bignon is a French analytic philosopher and computer scientist, a former atheist who ended up embracing the Christian faith through a remarkable series of providential events. The book is essentially Bignon’s doctoral thesis at Middlesex University and the London School of Theology under the supervision of Paul Helm (who also contributed a foreword to the book). Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a doctoral thesis, though; it’s quite readable and accessible, despite its technicality. (I have to say that Bignon writes in clearer English than many scholars who claim English as a first language.)

Here’s the publisher’s summary of the book:

Calvinist determinism destroys moral responsibility and makes God the author of sin. These two accusations are not new, and were arguably anticipated by Paul in Romans 9, but they remain today the most important objections offered against Calvinist/determinist views of human free will. This book is a philosophically rigorous and comprehensive defense of Calvinism against these two families of arguments. With respect to human moral responsibility, it discusses whether determinism destroys “free will,” turns humans into pets or puppets, and involves or is analogous to coercion and manipulation. It responds to the consequence argument and direct argument for incompatibilism, the principle of alternate possibilities, the “ought implies can” maxim, and related claims. With respect to the authorship of sin, it discusses whether Calvinist determinism improperly involves God in evil. Does it mean that “God sins,” or “causes sin,” or “wills sin” in problematic ways? “Does God intend our sin, or (merely) permit sin?” In each case the coherence of the Calvinist view is defended against its most potent objections, to reject the claim that Calvinism is “excusing sinners and blaming God.”

Guillaume shared a draft version of his thesis with me, and I was very impressed with his work, so I was happy to provide the following endorsement for his book:

If God determines all things, including the evil actions of his creatures, doesn’t it follow by irrefutable logic that God must be culpable for those evil actions rather than the creatures? Au contraire, argues Calvinist philosopher Guillaume Bignon in this engaging yet rigorous work. Conversant with state-of-the-art literature on free will, this is one of the best defenses of theological compatibilism available today.

In short: highly recommended.

It’s not too late to get it as an extra stocking-filler for your Arminian brother-in-law! In fact, for a powerful one-two punch, couple it with a copy of Calvinism and the Problem of Evil. (Since they’re both published by Wipf & Stock, you might even save some money on shipping charges.)

Why One?

Earlier this year I received the following thoughtful question from DG (as I will refer to him) about the argument for God from logic, which I quote in full:

In his essay [in Beyond the Control of God?] Professor Welty points out that in TCR [Theistic Conceptual Realism] “objectivity is secured by there being just one omniscient and necessarily existent person whose thoughts are uniquely identified as AOs.” But how do we get to this one from within the confines of a TCR approach alone? And in “The Lord of Non-Contradiction” you and Professor Welty state: “If the laws of logic are necessarily existent thoughts, they can only be the thoughts of a necessarily existent mind.” Here we go from plural thoughts to a singular mind as we do in the conclusion: “But if there are necessarily existent thoughts, there must be a necessarily existent mind; and if there is a necessarily existent mind, there must be a necessarily existent person.” But why not minds or persons? In note 31, you partially address my concern: “It might be objected that the necessary existence of certain thoughts entails only that, necessarily, some minds exist. Presumably the objector envisages a scenario in which every possible world contains one or more contingent minds, and those minds necessarily produce certain thoughts (among which are the laws of logic). Since those thoughts are produced in every possible world, they enjoy necessary existence.” You then show how this option fails and I agree. But what excludes many necessary beings each of which sustain some necessary truths? This is certainly ontologically extravagant and, as Adams notes in his book on Leibniz (p. 181), perhaps we can simply appeal to Ockham’s Razor to deduce one mind. But he adds, and I agree, that “a more rigorous argument would be desirable”.

At first I thought we could, as Quentin Smith suggests in his essay “The Conceptualist Argument for God’s Existence”, claim that the actual world is an infinite conjunction of all true propositions and that such a proposition, following conceptualism, could only be an accusative of one omniscient mind. But to claim there is such an infinite conjunctive proposition that needs a mind to account for it, given the view that propositions are mental effects, seems to assume there is an infinite mind who is thinking the infinite conjunction. Thus the addition of the actual world in the argument appears to beg the question.

I also considered Leibniz’s argument that without one divine mind we can’t account for how necessary truths “can be combined, any one to any one, because any two propositions can be connected to prove a new one”. But here we also seem to presuppose one mind sustaining the infinite conjunction of necessary truths that we discover in our finite combinations. Pruss, in his discussion of Leibniz’s approach, brings in a possible worlds option by pointing out that “the idea of a possible world will contain the ideas of all other possible worlds since at that world it will be true that they are possible” (Actuality, Possibility, and Worlds, 207). But wouldn’t we need one omniscient mind intending the world ensemble that is supposed to help us infer there is one omniscient mind thinking the ensemble?

I suppose we could appeal to a premise that states it is impossible for there to be a necessarily existing mind different from God. But this doesn’t seem persuasive to me at the moment.

As I understand it, the objection can be boiled down to this. Even granting that we’ve shown that necessary truths (such the laws of logic) presuppose a necessarily existent mind, it doesn’t follow that these truths are grounded in only one such mind. As DG puts it:

But what excludes many necessary beings each of which sustain some necessary truths?

An obvious first move would be to appeal to the principle of parsimony. We should not multiply entities beyond necessity. If necessary truths need to be grounded in a necessarily existent mind, then one such mind will suffice. There’s no explanatory need for further minds. But I also agree that “a more rigorous argument would be desirable,” so what follows is a preliminary sketch of one.

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Warfield Lectures: Anthropology & Transgenderism

Last October I had the great privilege of delivering the Fifth Annual B. B. Warfield Lectures at the invitation of Erskine Seminary and First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC. Edited versions of those two lectures have now been published in RTS’s online journal, Reformed Faith & Practice:

  1. What Are We? Three Views on Human Nature
  2. Transgenderism: A Christian Perspective

The first lecture is to some degree setup for the second, but each one is self-standing.

A Quick Argument Against Libertarian Calvinism

One of the current debates among Reformed scholars concerns whether Reformed theology commits one to a compatibilist view of free will. Is there room in the Reformed tradition for a ‘libertarian Calvinism’ which affirms Calvinist distinctives (such as a strong view of divine providence and a monergistic view of salvation) while also allowing for libertarian free choices (at least in some areas of human action)? I’ve already argued in several places (e.g., here and here) that Reformed theology is committed to divine determinism and thus excludes libertarian free will. In this post, I offer another brief argument against ‘libertarian Calvinism’.

In chapter 7 his recent book Divine Will and Human Choice, Richard Muller observes that early Reformed thinkers typically located the foundation of possibility in God himself — specifically, in divine omnipotence (Muller, pp. 263-67). On this view, God knows what is possible by way of divine self-knowledge: his knowledge of his own power. For any state of affairs S, S is possible reduces to God has the power to produce or bring about S.

This position cannot be reconciled with a libertarian view of free will, because libertarian free choices are contingent and cannot be produced or brought about by God (either directly or indirectly). Consider these two states of affairs:

S1: Albert’s freely choosing at time t to finish the pizza.

S2: Albert’s freely choosing at time t not to finish the pizza.

On the standard libertarian view, both of these are possible, yet it’s not within God’s power to bring about both of them (by which I mean to actualize whichever one he wants, not to actualize both of them at once, which would be a logical contradiction).

A Molinist committed to libertarian free will might observe that God has the power to weakly actualize S1 or S2, based on his middle knowledge, even though he cannot strongly actualize them. True enough, but on the Molinist view God is constrained by the counterfactuals of freedom such that he can only weakly actualize either S1 or S2 (given the same world history up to time t). So the Molinist still has to concede that there are some possibilities beyond God’s power to actualize (weakly or strongly).

In fact, it’s trivially true that Molinism is incompatible with the claim that possibilities are grounded in divine powers, for two reasons: (1) on the Molinist view, not all possible worlds are within God’s power to actualize; (2) the counterfactuals of freedom (i.e., the objects of God’s middle knowledge) are contingent brute facts beyond the control of God.

So here’s the argument summarized:

  1. The Reformed tradition holds that possibilities are grounded in divine omnipotence.
  2. Libertarian free will implies that there are some possibilities which are beyond God’s power to actualize, and thus that some possibilities are not grounded in divine omnipotence.
  3. Therefore, the Reformed tradition rules out libertarian free will.

Furthermore, if the Reformed tradition affirms that some human choices are free (which it does) then the Reformed tradition is committed to a compatibilist view of free will. Q.E.D.

Why Did God Allow the Fall?

Who would be so foolhardy as to accept an invitation to answer that question in only 1400 words?

Find out here.

Tuggy’s Triad and the Death of God

God's Not DeadDale Tuggy has recently been discussing at some length what he takes to be an inconsistent triad of claims:

1. Jesus died.

2. Jesus was fully divine.

3. No fully divine being has ever died.

He thinks that 1 is beyond dispute for Bible-believing Christians, and that 3 also finds strong support from the biblical affirmations of God’s immortality (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:16). He therefore concludes that 2 should be rejected for the sake of logical consistency. That would, of course, require one to reject one of the essential tenets of the doctrine of the Trinity.

I’ve listened to several of Dale’s podcasts on the issue, but not all of them, so I may well be overlooking something here. Still, it seems to me that there’s a fairly straightforward way for a Trinitarian to affirm all three claims without inconsistency. I agree with Tuggy that there’s solid biblical support for 1 and 3, but as I see it there’s an equivocation on the term ‘died’. (I know that Dale has denied any such equivocation, but hear me out.)

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Yes, Molina, There Could Have Been a Santa Claus

Consider this post a sidebar to the ongoing series on Molinism. It draws on some recent comments by William Lane Craig, arguably the leading evangelical defender of Molinism, in response to a reader’s question (bold added):

First, I don’t claim that “universal salvation is impossible because of free will.” The point here is subtle and easily misunderstood. I think that there certainly are logically possible worlds in which everyone freely places his faith in Christ and so is saved. What I’ve said is that, for all we know, such worlds may not be feasible for God to actualize (or, if some are, they may have overriding deficiencies that make them less preferable). The point here is that God’s being omnipotent does not entail that He can actualize just any logically possible world. For the persons in those worlds, were God to try to actualize them, might freely choose to reject God. We can grasp this point by realizing that which world is actual isn’t up to God alone; free creatures are co-actualizers of the world along with God by means of their free choices, which God does not determine. So it may not be feasible for God to actualize a world of free, universal salvation (without overriding deficiencies).

Craig is exactly right that on the Molinist view, “which [possible] world is actual isn’t up to God alone.” God determines some contingent truths, while his creatures determine other contingent truths by their (libertarian) free choices. God only ‘weakly’ actualizes this world. He ‘strongly’ actualizes many aspects of the world, e.g., causally determining the circumstances in which free creatures will make their choices, but God doesn’t causally determine those choices. Rather, by way of his middle knowledge, God knows infallibly what free choices his creatures would make in those circumstances, and thus by ‘strongly’ actualizing those circumstances God ‘weakly’ actualizes the world in its entirety. Even so, as Craig puts it, we are “co-actualizers” of the world, because the actuality of this world depends both on God’s free choices and on ours.

This model of divine providence has proven attractive to many Christian thinkers, partly because of its prospects for theodicy. If the actualities of this world aren’t entirely “up to God” then perhaps God can’t be held morally responsible for the fact that some aspects of this world are less than ideal (e.g., not all creatures are saved).

However, I think the way Craig puts matters in the quotation above conceals some of the oddities of the Molinist’s position. Craig makes it sound as though which possible world is actualized is “up to” both God and us, based on the actual free choices that we all make. But this is misleading for two closely related reasons.

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The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit

The following article was published in the Christian Research Journal 39:5 (2016). Thanks to CRI for permission to post it here.


How Do You Know That the Bible Is God’s Word?

If you’re a regular reader of the Christian Research Journal, I suspect that question immediately prompts you to think of arguments and evidences for the divine inspiration of the Bible. Take, for example, the fulfilled biblical prophecies, the astonishing consistency and unity of the Bible’s message despite having many human authors over hundreds of years, and the testimony of Jesus, who confirmed His claim to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.

Those would be good thoughts, but there’s a problem with answering the question in that way. If a Christian’s knowledge that the Bible is God’s Word depends on being able to marshal various arguments and evidences, then surely only a small minority of Christians actually know that the Bible is God’s Word. The majority of Christians may believe it, but they don’t know it, simply because they’re not familiar with these apologetic evidences. They’ve never been asked to justify their beliefs in that way, and they wouldn’t know how to do it if they were asked.

Obviously it would be very unfortunate if it turned out that most Christians don’t actually know that Christianity is true. It also seems quite implausible. Take my late grandmother, for example. Her Christian faith towered over mine. Should I conclude that I knew something she didn’t — namely, that the Bible she built her life on is indeed God’s Word — because she wasn’t able to marshal arguments and evidences in the way that I can?

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Can We Trust the Bible Over Evolutionary Science?

An epistemological exploration for RTS’s journal Reformed Faith & Practice.