Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What is Libertarian Free Will?

Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is the idea that man is able to choose otherwise than he will choose. It’s contrasted with Compatiblism Free Will (CFW), the idea that free will and determinism are compatible. These are alternative views of the will; both can’t be true about a persons’ will at the same time.

The descriptions “libertarian” and “free” distinguish LFW from CFW, but are otherwise redundant. For those holding to LFW, the will is always at liberty, and is always free, else it’s not a will. Arminius put it: “the will cannot be forced”.

The bible says people we have wills and make choices. Since LFW and CFW are alternative views and LFW is reducible to biblical phrase, “the will”, the question is which is right: LFW or CFW? If LFW is coherent and CFW is incoherent, LFW is biblical and CFW isn’t. Jonathan Edwards realized that the converse is true as well, and that’s why the bulk of “the Freedom of the Will” attempts to demonstrate the incoherence of LFW. I argued that Edwards’ view is inconsistent here, and plan on addressing Edwards’ arguments latter. But since LFW is about to undergo a detailed inspection by Edwards, I thought it might be helpful if we first described LFW. Contrast is helpful, so let’s start with what LFW is not.

What LFW is Not

LFW is not:

1) The ability to choose between good and evil – the fall disabled man from doing good, but fallen man is able to choose among evil options
2) The ability to avoid the consequences of our choices
3) The ability of our body to accomplish anything we choose – choices are mental resolutions which start the bodies action, whether or not the action is completed. If someone pulls a gun on you and says your money or your life and you attempt to escape, you made a choice to escape whether you get away or not.
4) The ability to choose both alternatives simultaneously – you can’t have your cake and eat it too
5) The ability to change the past – causation works forward in time - there’s no going back
6) The ability to create ex nihilo – We require God’s providential concurrence with every phase of choice
7) The ability to falsify God’s foreknowledge – We can, but will not do the opposite of what God foreknows. Foreknowledge and the future event are logically related, so if we suppose we will do the opposite, we must also suppose God foreknew that event.

What LFW Is

Choice is the action of the will selecting one alternative over another. The will is the faculty within man’s soul that’s able to choose either alternative. Being able to choose either option implies both options are possible, which implies neither option is necessary. When we say the will is free, it’s free from necessity, and it’s free to choose either alternative. With respect to time, the ability of the will precedes the will’s choosing. At one moment we have a choice, the next moment we actually choose.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Inconsistency of Calvinists saying Christ’s death is sufficient for all - response to Turretinfan

This post is a follow on to Turretinfan’s comments here and here.

Calvinists, in the Synod of Dordt, said that Christ’s death is sufficient for all. But they also say Christ’s death paid for this many, no more. But this is inconsistent. If Christ’s death didn’t pay for someone, in what sense is it sufficient for them?

TF states: God has shown favor on some of mankind. He has provided for them His Son's blood - blood of infinite intrinsic efficacy. Yes, the blood WILL not do the reprobate any eternal good, but it WOULD do the reprobate good if the reprobate turned from his sin and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, it WOULD do the reprobate good if Christ had offered it for the reprobate, in short it WOULD work for the purpose of expiating the sins of the reprobate if it were applied to that use.

Let’s look at this first portion: Christ’s blood would do the reprobate good if the reprobate turned from his sins and believed. That sounds good to me. If the Calvinist could consistently hold this position, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But I don’t think a consistent Calvinist can hold this position. Since Christ didn’t pay for their sins, His death wouldn’t do the reprobate any good even if they believed. The reprobate would still have to pay for their own sins, because Christ didn’t pay for them.

Now let’s look at the second part: Christ’s blood would do the reprobate good if Christ had offered it for the reprobate. I already pointed this out to TF once, but it has come up again. Christ’s death was in the past, the reprobates’ conversion (or lack thereof) is in the future. Talking about what Christ could have done through His death before He died, and what He can do based on His death after He died, are two different topics. Based on what Christ could have done though His death before He died, a Calvinist can consistently say Christ’s death is of infinite value. That’s not the concern. But a Calvinist can’t say that “Christ’s death is sufficient for all” or “able to save everyone” based on what Christ could have done through His death. Today, for someone to say that Christ can save everyone, it has to be based on what Christ actually did on the cross, not what He could have done on the cross.

For a Calvinist, the counterfactual conversion of the reprobate must be joined with a counterfactual payment of their sins through Christ’s death to suppose they end up saved. In other words, if a Calvinist’s supposes a different future (i.e. the reprobates’ conversion) they also have to suppose a different past (i.e. Christ died for them). If they just suppose a different future, Christ’s death does them no good.

That’s why I used the analogy: A Calvinist saying Christ is able to save the reprobate (or that Christ’s death was sufficient for them) is kinda like me saying I am able to speak French, because I could have taken French in college (even though I didn’t).

TF dismissed the analogy, but for the wrong reason: This is also not a fair analogy, because we conventionally take "able to speak French" to mean something other than intrinsic ability to learn French.

I didn’t say because I could learn French in the future, but rather because I could have learned French in the past… In the same way, the Calvinist needs to suppose Christ acted differently than He did, in order to say He can save the reprobate. A Calvinist saying Christ's death was sufficient for all appears to make their view more palatable, but in fact it just makes it inconsistent.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Critique of Edwards’ View of the Will

In this section I will be critiquing Edwards' views on the will and freedom. I won't be presenting the alternative view, LFW, nor will I attempt to demonstrate the logical outcomes of Edwards view (i.e. God is the author of sin, God's offer is insincere…). Instead I will just be looking at the internal consistency of Edwards' view. I really think that the more people understand Edwards, the less they will agree with him.

Brief Outline of Edwards' view of Freedom

Except where specifically cited, all quotes taken from Part 1.
The Will

Edwards defines the will as "that by which the mind chooses any thing" and describes it as "for in every act of will whatsoever, the mind chooses one thing rather than another; it chooses something rather than the contrary or rather than the want or non-existence of that thing."

What Determines the Will?

Edwards goes on to ask the question "What determines the will?" Edwards responds that the will is determined by "the strongest motive" and states that "the will always is, as the greatest apparent good is" and that "the will follows the last dictate of understanding". To Edwards, the understanding perceives the alternatives, weighs them, projects the consequences of acting on them, finds one most agreeable and dictates which is best. Then the will follows suit.

Why does the understanding dictate this, not that option is best? The understanding operates deterministically; given certain inputs, you get certain outputs. For Edwards the mix of 1) a man's state of mind, 2) the mind's view of the objects and 3) the perceived qualities of objects under consideration cause the understanding to dictate to the will that an option is best. The state of mind is a product of a person's nature and experiences. The mind's view is a question of how certain a person is of an outcome and how clearly he understands the object. Given a person's present state of mind and the mind's view of the object, the object "causes it to appear most agreeable". So under the right circumstances, if you look at an ice cream cone, it will cause your understanding to declare it best, which causes your will to choose it, which causes your body to eat it.

Necessity and Freedom

Edwards carefully classifies freedom and necessity into two buckets: common necessity and philosophical necessity. People talk about "common necessity" in day to day discussions; "philosophical necessity" is used in the Calvinism/Arminianism controversy. For Edwards, something is necessary, in the common sense, if the opposition to hinder it is insufficient. He defines philosophical necessity as the certainty of the thing itself. Philosophical necessity may or may not have something opposing it, but common necessity always supposes insufficient opposition. This is a bit abstract. An example of philosophical necessity is God's existence. No one's opposing God's existence, but it must be. An example of common necessity would be: I couldn't stop the running back from getting a touchdown.

Edwards defines freedom, in the common meaning, as "the power anyone has to do as he pleases". This type of freedom is opposed to compulsion (i.e. someone's got a knife to your throat) and inability (i.e. you wish to fly, but can't). Edwards denies there is such a thing as freedom, in the philosophical sense - everything is necessary in that sense.


For Edwards, common necessity is incompatible with common freedom and philosophical necessity is incompatible with philosophical freedom (there is no such thing as philosophical freedom). Supposing that something is necessary and free, in the same sense, is a contradiction.

But Edwards does state that philosophical necessity is compatible with common freedom. Since Edwards established two alternative definitions for necessity, common and philosophical, something can be necessary in one sense and not necessary in another without contradiction. An example that Edwards gives is a drunk whose nature necessitates (in the philosophical sense) that he drink, but since no one is preventing his executing his choice to drink, he's free (in the common sense).

Freedom of the Will

Does Edwards believe in freewill? The answer isn't as clean cut as you might think, given the title of his book: "the Freedom of the Will". But what you have to realize is this title is abridged from the one Edwards gave: "A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of the Will, Which Is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Vertue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame". Approximately, 85% of the book is dedicated to critiquing libertarian freewill, which Edwards admits is a modern prevailing notion, but denies is either true or essential for moral agency. So perhaps the abridged title misleads people into thinking Edwards believes in freewill.

In fact, Edwards distinguishes between freedom of persons and freedom of the will and claims "to talk of liberty, or the contrary, as belonging to the very will itself, is not to speak good sense; if we judge of sense, and nonsense, by the original and proper signification of the word". (Part I.V) A close reading of Edwards reveals that when he speaks of liberty, he isn't talking about an ability of the will, but rather he's typically speaking of the ability of the person to physically execute what they choose. For Edwards, the adjective free describes the person, not the will.

Edwards doesn't use the term freewill to describe his view throughout his book, but he does use the term "free choice" approvingly once. (Part II.V) So perhaps he does believe in freewill? But in this section Dr. Whitby (an Arminian) cited several church fathers claiming we have freewill. Edwards responds by saying the fathers' position is the same as the Calvinist one and quotes back the fathers' words in an approving way saying: "The soul acting by its own choice, men doing good or evil according to their own free choice, their being in that exercise which proceeds from their own free choice, having it in their choice to turn to good or evil, and doing what they will." But Edwards goes on to say "if men exercise this liberty in the acts of the will themselves [then the term "free choice" is reducible to an absurdity]. [brackets my summary of what Edwards said] But if freedom doesn't apply to choice, why use the term free choice? Edwards explains what he means by free choice by saying: "if any say [that liberty consists in the acts of the will themselves], one of these two things must be meant, either, 1. That a man has power to will, as he does will; because what he wills, he wills; and therefore power to will what he has power to will...[or 2 an absurd option]." So for Edwards' free choice either means a person wills what he wills, or it's absurd. But this sense is a very rare one through Edwards' book, and what he commonly means by freedom is a person's ability to do what they have chosen.

My thoughts on Edwards' Views

Inconsistency Related to Choice and Alternatives

Edwards' definition of choice does involve alternatives, but there's a problem. The understanding, which precedes and determines the choice, does all the heavy lifting when it comes to the alternatives. The understanding perceives the alternatives, weighs them, projects the consequences of acting on them, finds one most agreeable and dictates which is best. So what exactly does the will have to do with the alternative not acted upon? The understanding already eliminated the alternatives before the will comes into the picture. Edwards' view of the will is so far from the will being able to choose between the alternatives that it actually seems as if he's inconsistent to say choice has anything to do with alternatives at all.

Two Different Meanings for Necessity
Edwards splits two different senses for necessity ("common necessity" with insufficient opposition and "philosophical necessity" without opposition). I disagree these are two alternative senses- it's one sense in two different contexts. Why this matters will be much more apparent when we get into Edwards arguments against libertarian freewill.

Edwards on Compatibilism

I will just point out that Edwards has to mix "common freedom" and "philosophical necessity" to get compatibilism to work and that this sense of compatibilism seem different that the one advocated by Calvinists today.

The Freedom of the Will vs. Freedom of the Body

Edwards' avocation of "common freedom" is about freedom of the body to execute choices. Although this sense of freedom is intuitive and compatible with "philosophical necessity", it's just not relevant to discussions about freewill. Interestingly, Edwards admits that this sense of freedom isn't the one debated between Calvinists and Arminians and is not what he's talking about when he says man is unable to obey God, grace is irresistible or God's commands apply directly to the will, not the body. But he still pushes this sense of freedom into the discussion, creating confusion.

As for the other sense of freedom of choice Edwards uses (i.e. a person wills what he wills), first off, it's tautological, second it's not what people generally mean by freewill, third, it's not a freedom regarding future possibilities, but rather present actualities, fourth, it's not a freedom of the will from something (i.e. necessity) or to something (i.e. to choose either alternative). So for these reasons I would say this sense of free choice isn't relevant to the Calvinists/Arminian debate and I am glad Edwards only used it once.

So in short, Edwards doesn't use the term freedom in any sense relevant to discussions of freewill, except to deny it. I personally would find Calvinists far more consistent if they would just go ahead and deny freewill.

Review of the Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards’ book, the Freedom of the Will, is often cited by Calvinists as the definitive work on the topic. I enjoyed reading it. Edwards demonstrates in depth knowledge of scripture, church fathers, scholastics, and Arminian theologians on the topics of freewill, putting him in an ideal position to address the subject. Although I disagree with Edwards’ conclusions, I have no hesitation in recommending the book as an excellent primary source for understanding the Calvinist position on the will.

Edwards’ book on the Will and Owen’s book on Christ’s death are considered key pillars within Calvinist systematic theology. Unlike Owen, Edwards’ style is quite readable. Sure, at times he’s long winded and repetitive, but he’s not as tough a read as Owen. For the most part he’s articulate and engaging. Additionally, unlike Owen, Edwards is not hostile towards Arminians, just Arminianism.

Edwards broke his book down into 4 parts, with multiple sections each. The first part defines some key terms and lays out Edward’s views on the will. In the second and third parts, which comprises the lion’s share of the work, Edwards critiques libertarian freewill (LFW). In the second part, Edwards attempts to demonstrate that LFW is incoherent and in the third part Edwards endeavors to show that LFW isn’t necessary for responsibility. In the fourth and final part, Edwards provides what he sees are the reasons people mistakenly adopt LFW and he also further defends his views on the will.

I plan on critiquing Edwards’ view of the will first and then responding to Edwards’ arguments. For more on Edwards, here’s a good site. (link) For his book, the Freedom of the Will, here’s a site. (link)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Introducing a new Arminian website

I am pleased to announce that the Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA) just launched a new website (link) with the intention of growing it into a comprehensive resource on Arminianism, which includes but is not limited to the Calvinist/Arminian debate. The site will, D. V., provide a bit of balance to the vast sea of Calvinistic resources on the web, such as monergism.com, apuritansmind.com and reformed.org. This site is a central aspect of SEA’s overall purpose of offsetting the recent resurgence of Calvinism, by defining and defending Arminianism. Many non-Arminians have a mistaken notion of Arminianism, as do many Arminians. We are here to change that! Even though the site is just getting started, there will be plenty of goodies you’ll want to check out.

Not to us, not to us… …but to You oh Lord be the glory.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What's going on with the Cowboys?

It's the offseason, but there's still a lot brewing... We have the draft coming up, free agency, and the possibility of picking up Packman Jones.

Free Agency

In free agency we protected our tackle Flozel Adams and put a franchise tag on safety Ken Hamlin, but that used up most of the salary cap. We lost 3 non-starting defensive backs, Keith Davis a safety, Reeves and Jones two backup cornerbacks. We traded Jason Fergason for a late round pick - he was injured last year and we have too many Defensive Tackles now that we picked up Tank. The big loss this year was Julius Jones our starting running back. I'll miss Julius, I never thought he quite got a fair shake, although I have to admit he didn't live up to his potential over the past two years.

So long Julius!!!

Interestingly, we picked up Zach Thomas from Miami. Zach's an experienced inside linebacker and tough run stopper. Unless we are going to keep 8 linebackers on the team this year, I think this is bad news for Bobby Carpenter. Bobby was our 1st pick two years ago, but hasn't done much yet. He was kinda just buried in the depth chart and now there will be another layer between him and the field. Maybe they will just keep 8 linebackers as it would be a shame not to give Carpenter a shot out on the field.

Free agency leaves us with depth concerns at cornerback and running back. Add the fact that Owens and Glenn are getting up their in age and I would say those three positions round out the primary needs. In the latter rounds we could use interior offensive linemen, a safety and possibly a backup quarterback.

The one thing we don't need is a front 7 defensive players. All of our recent first round picks have gone to either defensive linemen and linebackers, so we should be set. Now they just need to get the most out of the talent they have.

We have two first round picks this year:#22 from Cleavland and 28. This of course opens up all kinds of trade talks, including trading one of them for a veteran wide receiver or possibly trading both of them and moving up in the draft to get a top running back like McFadden or Mendenhall. If they stick with their picks, there unlikely to take a running back in the first round. Instead they will probably hope one of those good cornerbacks like Talib falls to that that spot. If not they could grab a receiver. Given Jerry's history, I do think a trade is likely.

Packman Jones
Packman sat out last year for fighting in strip clubs, so naturally the cowboys are interested in picking him up.

The risks our obvious, he's not cleared to play yet by the commissioner and even if he was he may not have learned his lesson yet. Further, there's no telling if the guy can take hits after sitting out for a year. The upsides are clear too, he's cheap (guys on their last shot in the NFL usually don't have bargaining power) and he's talented. He's a good cornerback and punt returner.

The cowboys do have somewhat of a track record for "reforming troubled players", given Owens improvements and Tank Johnsons recent anonymity. They also have Calvin Hill and crew who provide good mentorship and solid lockeroom guys that anchor the team. But it's still a risk. I would give it a try, but I also wouldn't let that stop me from taking a cornerback in the draft.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Plantinga - Advice to Christian Philosophers

Odeliya had asked for a link to Plantinga’s article “Advice to Christian Philosophers”. It contains some great stuff on determinism, but its value goes far beyond that. Enjoy!!!