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.

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