Is Libertarian Free Will Eternal? Part VI

This is the sixth and last part of a series of responses by Calvinists to my article on SBCToday (September 2013). (([1] The full title of the article is “Can Man Endowed with Libertarian Free Will Live Righteously Forever in Heaven?” You may also search this site for the article. The blogger’s comments are emboldened, followed by my response.

You said, “This brings us to the anthropomorphic use of the word “choice” when speaking of God’s knowledge of the elect. Any choice is either the result of a conditioning process where we quickly respond to something without going through a thought process or it is the result of a thought process where we call pieces of information to our conscious consideration to arrive at a conclusion (decision, choice) that we did not previously know to be our choice. Both of these involve change, and cannot be attributed to the eternal God.”

I do not attribute such (the idea involving a change in the divine) to God; consequently, I am perplexed by your addressing such. It appears that you continue to read my statements through the grid of Calvinism. I seek to read your statements through the grid of Calvinism and compatibilism and a strict causality, but it is that which I reject; therefore, it would, I believe, help the discussion if you could read my statements without the lenses of compatibilism since you know that I reject such.

First, regarding humans, I do not think the two options you mentioned are all that are available. Libertarianism would argue that we consider the available information, which at times is sufficient to provide two or more accessible options, and the self-efficient cause-actualizes one of the two real options; the efficient cause could have really chosen to do otherwise. Additionally, it does not entail that we arrive at a conclusion that, as you stated, “we did not previously know to be our choice”. A libertarian free being may in fact choose to reject an option today, and continue to be aware of the option that he chose not to employ, and later choose it from among other options he previously knew were available and did not choose at the time.

Again, although you do not accept the libertarian view, as I do not accept the compatible view, it would be helpful to refrain from, what appears to me, to define a situation based upon compatibilism and then reject the libertarian free will response because it does not fit the compatible view or definition of things.

Libertarian free will believes in origination and voluntariness whereas compatibilism accepts only voluntariness. Libertarian free will believes in agent causation; “A direct causal relation between agents and actions that is irreducible to causation by events and states” (The Oxford Guide to Philosophy, Ted Honderich, ed.) whereas compatibilism rejects such. Libertarian free will believes that man is endowed with agent causation, which means that an act or idea can originate in the person and includes (as a part of nature not every circumstance) that man can choose to act or refrain within the available range of choices, whereas compatibilism does not. Libertarianism believes that decisions can be affected by influential antecedents, whereas compatibilism believes decisions are determined by determinative antecedents. Consequently, it does not seem to serve a purpose in defining everything according to a compatibilist view and evaluating my words as though I am a Calvinist or compatibilist anymore than it would be for me to call your statements illogical or misunderstandings based upon libertarianism. We simply disagree.

You said, “In addition to this, the claim that God considers pieces of information to arrive at a conclusion that He did not previously know is to say that God did not know His conclusion before the thought process that led to it. That is a flat denial of omniscience and requires at least some lesser form of open theism. I am not calling you an open theist, only pointing out the logical inconsistency between some of the things you have claimed and your affirmation of God’s omniscience.”

??? I never have believed that there is any “information,” knowledge, state of affairs, etc., etc., that “He did not previously know”. I believe that God eternally knows everything (information, possibilities, actualities, state of affairs), and He has always known what He wills to move from possible to actual. This does not involve a process of sifting through information, although there is more information known by God than will ever be known by man. Creation is the omnipotent act of bringing God’s knowledge or the conceptual that had existed eternally in the mind of God into experiential knowledge or time reality.

You said, “As I pointed out above, every decision is an effect, and every effect has a cause. In responding to the gospel, if the decision is to follow Christ then there must be a cause that determined that specific effect. If the decision is to reject Him there would have to be a cause behind that effect also. The claim that a person can actually do otherwise than what they chose to do under conditions (internal and external determining factors) that are exactly identical is to say that the cause of that specific effect is not the cause of that specific effect.”

First, I am not trying to be unduly redundant; you presuppose compatibilism in your example when you define conditions as “internal and external determining factors.” That is what libertarians deny. Consequently, you are evaluating libertarians by compatible definitions. Here is what I am saying. The individual, by the grace and creation of God, is a being who is endowed with otherwise choice-agent causation, origination. Therefore, the cause of the choice whether to accept the gospel or not is not “exactly identical” between those who accept and those who reject (thereby necessitating the same effect) because the person is the efficient cause of the effect-believing or rejecting the gospel-via the use of his otherwise choice-libertarian free will. Thus, your reasoning errs because it inaccurately assumes that the only cause is the same cause for everyone-determinative antecedents. But, everyone is a different and unique free moral agent, with libertarian choice, and each person is the efficient cause of the action. By efficient cause, we mean that one need not go back further than that to determine why one state of affairs exists rather than another (while still maintaining that God is the ultimate efficient cause of beings having such ability); to do so is only to find influences but not compatible causality.

By the way, you referred earlier to my use of “incompatibilism” at times. Yes, and that is appropriate since the libertarian position is under the term incompatible-determinism and free will are incompatible–and the term also incorporates determinism since it falls under incompatibilism as well. Consequently, it is not synonymous with libertarian or determinism, but is used at times interchangeably.

You said, “If enabling grace is given unequally in amounts known to God in eternity to be either sufficient or insufficient to effectuate salvation, then God determines through the direct supernatural giving of grace who is and isn’t saved. If enabling grace is given equally, yet people respond differently, then the cause of the different specific effects, unless someone claimed a foreign force not under the rule of the persons thought and desires, must be found in the factors of nature and nurture that you deny have determining influence. These factors are causally traced back to God’s eternal, unchanging knowledge.”

Again, you have argued the compatibilist position, something I clearly neither accept nor try to make my position congruent with. I am saying that the grace of God is sufficient to afford the creation of beings with otherwise choice as Adam had in the Garden, and to afford the ability by the working of the Holy Spirit, power of the gospel, etc., to be able to accept or reject the gospel. The efficient cause is not as you suggest a “foreign force”, which is to read compatibilism into my answer. It is a force that is very natural to a libertarian free being who is the efficient cause of his/her decision.

You said, “The causal determination of a person’s specific choice to follow or reject Christ is ultimately traced back to God’s omniscience. God could not be omniscient and not intentionally determine these choices.”

You have clearly articulated the essence of Calvinism. Matt, although we disagree, I want you to know how much I appreciate your ability and willingness to say this so unambiguously. While I no longer don the label Calvinist, I do appreciate many of the people who embrace it and the serious approach that it is to the perplexities of God and Scripture. Therefore, on one level, I am seeking to bring the entailments (what I call disquieting realities) into everyday conversing about Calvinism so that if one dons the label they do so knowledgeably and consistently. Your clarity helps in this.

Having said that, I find this understanding, as you articulated above, to be a fatal flaw in Calvinism, which results in defaulting to compatibilism. God can be omniscient and intentionally determine the range of choices, the ability to choose otherwise, without determinatively prescribing them through a long causal chain of determinative antecedents that give the sensation of making choices between options when that is actually a delusion; more importantly, compatibilism means that the Scripture portrays God, Christ, commanding people to do what He has determined that they cannot do, or to not do what they cannot avoid doing. Actually, I think that God being omniscient and sovereign over beings with otherwise choice is a more exalted view of God than that of Calvinism wherein God knows only because he causes, and only can control what He narrowly determines. My original article, Man Both Righteous and Free, that spawned our conversation, suggests some thoughts on this.

You said, “The Calvinist’s Compatibilism claims that God directly and supernaturally caused the decision of the elect to follow Him, while the rejection of the non-elect is determined indirectly through secondary causes.”

To the first part I answer yes, that is Calvinism’s position. Concerning the second, the rejection of the non-elect was wrought by God’s direct predetermining that the vast majority of His creation would spend eternity in hell and torment, suffering His eternal wrath, when He could have in fact elected them to salvation–according to Calvinism. This is true regardless of the order of decrees, active or passive retribution, secondary causes, etc. There is nothing that the Calvinist can offer that ameliorates this disquieting reality. That is to say, the future of the elect is no more determined by His choice than the future of the non-elect. For which, all attempts to reconcile this with explicit clear Scriptures regarding God’s perfect love for the world and omnibenevolence, or arguing that God loves the non-elect differently, seem to me to be woefully and degradingly inadequate.

Simply put, to think that Calvinism is an approach to the perplexities of Scripture, or the better of the two options we are discussing, or even the best of all approaches is fine. However, to think that the strict causality that you have laid out is the only and therefore most assuredly the right position seems to be overly ambitious, and I believe problematic to even honestly evaluating your position.

You said, “This may not be the story most appealing to sinful man-centered creatures, but it is the testimony of both Scripture and reason. God bless.”

As a Calvinist, I used this same phrase often. However, it is an assumption. It appears to me to be a rather dismissive summary, one which does not allow the possibility that your brothers and sisters in Christ have substantial reasons for disagreeing with Calvinism, and may even be right. I do not reject your story because it is not appealing to me, a sinful creature, but rather I do not believe it is the best way of handling the warp and woof of Scripture. I do not believe it is the most accurate portrayal of who God is as reflected in the Scripture.

Thank you Matt, for dialoguing with me, and I do apologize for the extraordinary untimeliness of my response. I do not know if you would like to respond–probably not–but I will not be able to. This is not a lack of desire but time. Thanks again.

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Ronnie W. Rogers