In this series, I consider the competing doctrines of libertarian and compatibilist free will, arguing that the former is unbiblical and incoherent, and that the latter is necessary for upholding God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
This is the introduction to the series, in which I define the distinctives of libertarianism and compatibilism, and summarize the issues I’ll discuss.
Ever since I was converted, my polemical activities have been characterized by occasional sorties into the territory of free will. This is basically because the nature of man’s will and the relationship between human and divine actions lies at the heart of many critical disagreements in theology. Specifically, commitment to a libertarian view of free will is often the driving presupposition behind the rejection of Reformed theology. For this reason, the question of free will is at the heart of many doctrinal errors; and, because it bears directly on the questions of God’s sovereignty and man’s ability, these errors are often quite serious.
In case I haven’t already made myself clear, let me state from the outset that I believe libertarian free will is an irrational doctrine which, far from upholding man’s responsibility, completely undermines it. I believe that all of the biblical and philosophical evidence is against it, and that the only tenable position for a Christian is the doctrine of divine determinism—namely, that God exhaustively decrees and causes every event in creation. In this series, I’ll explain why I take this very strong view.
Indeterminism: the doctrine opposed
As with all my work, I’m going to try to keep this series at a popular level. Subsequently, I’m just going to describe what the doctrine I’m opposing basically entails, without explaining any philosophical minutiae. There may be a very few libertarians who disagree with these entailments; but this is certainly the majority view—and the view which I’m opposing.
When a person chooses freely, under libertarianism, he must:
- choose without coercion, such that the choice is really his; and
- have been able to choose differently, such that his choice was not brought about necessarily or inevitably.
This second requirement is called the principle of alternate possibility—PAP. It argues that a person’s choices cannot be absolutely determined if they are to be free—they must be indeterministic. This is what pits the libertarian view against the deterministic one.
Determinism: the doctrine affirmed
In distinction to the indeterministic, libertarian view of the will, determinism denies the principle of alternate possibility. It asserts instead that a person’s choice is free simply if he actually makes it willingly. This is typically known as the compatibilist view of free will. Thus, both views entail (i) above; libertarianism further requires (ii), while compatibilism denies it. Coerced choices, or choices where a person is forced against his will, obviously aren’t free. But compatibilists such as myself deny that a choice cannot be determined if it is to be free. In fact, I’ll argue in this series that if our choices are not inexorably determined, God’s aseity and omniscience, and our moral responsibility, are all undermined. I’ll explain this in more detail as the series progresses, so if you’re unsure of the distinction between coercion and determination, or if you’re finding what I’m saying “just obviously wrong”, be assured that I’ll address this clearly.
The layout of the study
As I’ve planned it, this series will take five parts:
- A simple argument for divine determinism
- A comparison of determinism with indeterminism
- The grounds for moral responsibility
- The free love objection considered
- Libertarianism, compatibilism, and God’s aseity
- There are no libertarians in foxholes