Monday, March 19, 2012

LFW is Biblical

Here's my opening speech from my upcoming debate with Turretinfan on if the bible teaches libertarian free will.
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Over 3,000 years ago after giving Israel the law, God challenged Israel by saying: 
14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
 15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:14-19) 
Our debate today is the continuation of the traditional struggle to understand these words.
My two basic contentions are there are good reasons to think the bible teaches Libertarian Free Will and there are not comparably good reasons to think the compatiblist reading of the bible is true.  I will leave it up to Turretinfan to present reasons to believe the compatiblist view, before I respond to them.
The passage lays out the alternatives for us – blessings and curses, life and death
It talks about our ability – verse 14 says so that you can do it
And then we have the exhortation to choose life
What does choose mean?
We could let determinist philosophers define choose for us and sometimes their voices are louder than ours, but they do not speak for the majority.  If you want to know what a word normally means, you look it up in a dictionary. I looked up choose in 20 different dictionaries.
6 of the 20 dictionaries defined choose as - to select from a number of possibilities. That’s it.  That's libertarian free will right there.    The bible says we choose, choose means select from a number of possibilities, selecting from an number of possibilities is the essence of  libertarian free will, so the bible teaches  libertarian free will.
Now 17 times the dictionaries defined choose as to prefer or decide or select. Those are synonyms rather than a definition.  If you look up choose and it defines it as select and you look up select and it defines it as choose, what you really have is choose = choose.  That doesn't really help.  It's a totology not a definition.  You need a more robust way of defining words, rather than just synonyms. 
3 times the dictionaries defined choose as to want or desire.  That is a little different because wanting and desiring typically precede choice  but choose can mean want in somewhat of an improper sense.  But that definition, wanting, is not going to satisfy the context in Deuteronomy 30 because Moses is talking about action; he is NOT talking about wanting to do something but not doing it.  We will revisit this shortly.
13 of the 20 dictionaries defined choose as to select from a number of alternatives. This is conceptually equivalent to select from a number of possibilities.  I know that because I looked up the word alternatives in the same 20 dictionaries.
12 times the dictionaries defined alternatives as one of the things, propositions, or courses of action that can be chosen  - can be chosen means it's possible. 
11 times the dictionaries defined alternatives as a choice limited to one of two or more possibilities, as of things, propositions, or courses of action, the selection of which precludes any other possibility.
So alternatives are possibilities or things that can be chosen and saying you can select between a number of alternatives and that you can select from a number of possibilities is basically the same thing.  So the clearest and most frequent dictionary definitions of choose flow strongly libertarian. 
The essence of Libertarian Free Will is the ability to choose something or not.  Imagine you’re in an ice cream shop.  The idea that you can choose chocolate or not is the core notion of  Libertarian Free Will.
Having established that the primary definition of choose is libertarian, let’s look at biblical usage in various passages to see this from multiple angles.  First we will look at passages about deliberation, which is the moment just before a choice.  Then we will look at passages where we choose and then we will look a passages about after the choice.
So let’s look at Deliberation
In the chocolate example, deliberation means thinking you can choose chocolate or not and also thinking about what it would be like if you do choose chocolate and what it might be like if you don't and so weighing your alternatives.     
Let’s look at 2Samuel 24:13 - So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 
In this passage deliberation is before the choice and David was to consider his 3 different alternatives. 
Let’s get a deeper understanding of what alternatives are, and what we are considering. 
Matthew 27:24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather [that] a tumult was rising, he took water and washed [his] hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see [to it]."
Pilate looked at his situation and saw he wasn't going to get what he wanted.  This is a negative case, by deliberation, Pilate judge what we wanted was not possible and he closed it off as an alternative.
Now let’s look at Luke 14:31 - Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?
This is a positive case. The king is deliberating about what is possible and asking himself how likely he is to win. Can he win or not with the forces he has on hand? 
And that's what deliberation is.  Your asking yourself what's possible and what things would be like if that's what you choose.   
My point in bringing up deliberation is to provide biblical support for defining choose as selecting between possibilities.  We deliberate about what we are able to do; our possibilities, our alternatives; so when the bible says we choose, it means selection between possibilities.
Next let’s look at passages that say we Choose between alternatives
In the chocolate example after you have deliberated and thought choosing chocolate or not is possible, you select one. 
Let’s weigh the two different definitions of choose.  On the one hand, you have choose meaning to select from a number of possibilities (and that's the definition I am advocating) and on the other hand you have choose meaning simply desire.
Let’s look at Rom 7:15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 

Paul wasn't doing what he wanted.  Wanting is an important part of choice but it's not the whole thing.  The whole definition of choose must include the ideas of selection between alternatives.  Only in an imprecise sense, does choose mean only want.

Let’s look at some passages that say we choose one thing rather than another, to make it rather obvious that choose means to select one alternative rather than others.

Proverbs 16:16 How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
Here the alternatives are wisdom and gold and we should choose wisdom rather than gold.
Proverbs 21:1 A [good] name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold.
Here the alternatives are a good name and riches and we should choose a good name rather than riches.
Jer 8:3 "Then death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of those who remain of this evil family, who remain in all the places where I have driven them," says the LORD of hosts.
Here the alternatives are death and life and death will be chosen rather than life.
Job 36:21 Take care; do not turn to iniquity, for this you have chosen rather than affliction.
Here the alternatives were iniquity and affliction and affiction was chosen rather than iniquity.
Heb 11:24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

Notice Moses dealt with both alternatives, by refusing one and choosing the other.  Moses could have stayed in Egypt and enjoyed the pleasures of sin, or he could suffer with God’s people and he chose to suffer with God’s people. He saw two possibilities and picked one and refused the other.  
So you can see in these passages choose means more than just want; it means selecting between possibilities or alternatives.  We established that the primary dictionary definition of choose is selection between possibilities, and now we have seen that the bible uses this definition.   
Here are a few passages coming at this from a different angle. 
Ex 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.
Judges 2:22 so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.”
Ps 81:13 Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, [and] Israel had walked in my ways!
The test is if we will keep God's laws or not, so God treats us as if we can choose either option.   
Next let’s look at passages that are Post Choice - after we choose we still believe that something else was possible.  Going back to the ice cream example, after choosing chocolate, you believe you could have not chosen chocolate.
Let’s look at Philemon 1:8-9  Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, [yet] for love's sake I rather appeal [to you]--being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ
Paul could have commanded Onessumus but he didn’t.
Matthew 26:9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.
Judas thought the ointment poured on Christ's feet  by Mary could have been sold for a large sum. That's not what actually happened, but he still thought it was possible.
Jonah 2:8 "Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy.
Here the NIV works as a good commentary on the text: "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  Idolaters could have had grace, but they forfeit it.  


Is 5:1-4 Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:
My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
God owns the vineyard, which is Israel. Justice and righteousness are good grapes and oppression is bad grapes. God had provided for Israel (dug it up, cleared out stones, planted it with the choicest vine, built a tower in its midst, and made a winepress) with the expectation that it would bring forth good grapes, but it didn't. God calls the Israelites to judge themselves and presents His evidence against Israel by asking what more He could have done and says He looked for good grapes but got bad ones.  
God expected the opposite to happen.  Not only was it possible, God asks what more He could have done.  
1 Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Paul's statement on God's faithfulness is in light of what some Jews did, such as grumble in the dessert.  Not all the Isrealites fell into sin, but many did, even though God always provides His people with an exit path. That God does not allow unbearable temptations is a reflection on His faithfulness.   The implication for Paul's audience and for you, dear Christian, is that every time you go through a temptation, God gives you the ability not to succumb.  Sadly we sometimes do give in to temptation, even though we are able to do otherwise.
Ez 12:2 "Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house.
The Jews had eyes but don’t see and ears but don’t hear meaning they have abilities they don’t use and God holds us accountable when we don't use the abilities He gave us for Him!
So summarizing the Biblical Evidence
We deliberate to figure out what we are able to do.  Those are our alternatives.  We then select one possibility rather than the others.  After choosing, we believe we could have chosen otherwise.  God gave us the wonderful gift of being able to choose.  He treats us as if we can choose either alternative.  As Christians, He sustains this gift  through temptations.  When we don't use the ability He gave us for Him, He ask what more He could have done, but holds us accountable for not using the abilities He gave us for Him.  
You have probably heard the expression there are no atheists in foxholes.  Well, I am saying there are no determinists at Coldstone.  They go there, forget their determinism and revel in all that they can choose.  I can choose Oreo overload, I can choose Cookie Minster, I can choose Strawberry Banana Rendezvous, I can choose Cheesecake Fantasy.  It's impractical to live believing in determinism.  
I look forward to hearing how Turretinfan will respond.  In particular, I am interested in hearing if he will challenge the way I defined choose, or he will grant my definition but claim his views on creation, providence and predestination are compatible with the ability to select from a number of possibilities.  Most Calvinists I present this to initially accept it but when I point out how it contradicts their theology, they backpedal and reject it.  So Turretinfan will either face the contradiction of being able to and not being able to choose chocolate or he will be in the teeth of scripture that says people do choose.

4 comments:

natamllc said...

Dan,

I have read both yours and TFan's portion of this debate.

I asked him over at his blog if this debate was recorded and if so, when will it be made available to listen to it?

Secondly, I find it ironic your argument in light of the quotation at the top of your blog by James Arminius, which, in my view, argues against your position.

I have been pondering your portion of this debate now over night and woke up this morning praying about some things from Scripture I would like to ask you to address regarding your position.

I see you included Isaiah. Would you explain where I am going wrong and not seeing LFW in chapter 6. Clearly there God is in changing Isaiah.

Also, Jesus, in the garden, though He was sinless and no one can claim His Will was otherwise, why did He have to set His Will aside for another's?

And finally, Peter. Can you explain what was transpiring between him and the Lord in the book of Acts when he is protesting being told to rise and eat unclean foods prohibited by the Law that is righteous, good and holy? Clearly he is being asked to do something against his will for a greater good, the salvation message coming to the rest of the world so that repentance can be preached and forgiveness for sins received!

David D said...

Hi Dan;

I took a look over at TF's response to what you wrote here. I could be wrong, but he seems to have missed your point about choice and the dictionaries. You your point was to establish what the majority of us understand 'choice' to mean, and I think you did a good job of it. TF thought you should be defining LFW, but it seems to me that understanding what choice means is essential to eventually understanding the differences between LFW and CFW.

I also noticed that TF seemd to restate something you wrote in a small but signifanctly different way. In his article TF quoted you properly at first saying,

"The essence of Libertarian Free Will is the ability to choose something or not."

Shortly after that quote though he appears to not quite quote you properly when he writes,

"The essence of Libertarian Free Will goes beyond merely the ability to choose (which compatibilists affirm as well..."

I noticed he didn't include the 'or not' part of your quote. I'm newer to the whole CFW/LFW debate, but isn't saying "the ability to choose" quite a bit different from saying "the ability to choose or not"? If our choices are foreordained/determined, then would I be right in thinking that the "or not" couldn't really exist in CFW?

I also thought TF's idea of the Isaiah 5 passage being hyperbole was a bit of a stretch. God was poetic in the judgment portion of that same song, but I wouldn't say He was using hyperbole then. I also got to wondering if, when God used the vineyard owner/vineyard parable, the parallel was His covenant responsibilities to Israel? If that's the context, its a serious question that packs a punch: God had fulfilled every part of His covenant to the Israelites. What more could God have done?

Anyway, just some thoughts. Thanks to both you and TF for engaging in this debate - its great for a guy on the sidelines to learn from. I'm looking forward to the discussion ahead.

Grace and peace,
David

Godismyjudge said...

David,

Thanks for the note. It's encouraging to hear someone agree; especially since I have been sound editing the live debate file to produce an MP3. Overall the debate went well, but there are lots of places where I am kicking myself for not saying this or that, to it's really nice to hear someone agree with my overall point. I should have the MP3 ready sometime next week.

Your comments are dead on; the "or not" is key. Probably the "or not" is implied in the word choose, but it's a key clarification.

Deteminists have affirmed the "or not" in the sense that we think we can but we really can't or in the sense that hypothetically, under some different conditions other than the ones we are under, we would have been able to not choose what we did. But they don't believe it's a real ability we actually have.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

Hey Nat,

Regarding Jesus, clearly the Son obeys the Father but in another sense, what happen in garden stays in the garden. We just don't know everything about it.

Regarding Peter, we can use our LFW to praise God for allowing us to eat bacon!

God be with you,
Dan