C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, and the Free-Will Defense

1igavethemfreewillCOLCP.jpg~original.jpegWhy did God create a world filled with evil and horrific violence? In the midst of World War II, C. S. Lewis offered what has become a classic Christian response:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.1

Lewis’s presentation does not explain hurricanes, earthquakes, and other forms of natural evil; but it does provide a relatively satisfying resolution to the problem of moral evil. The freedom of human beings is a great good that makes possible the greatest good—eternal union with God. God, of course, knew the risks in creating genuinely free rational beings, but clearly he thought it was well worth taking—and, suggests Lewis, so should we.

Decades later philosopher Alvin Plantinga would elaborate upon the free-will defense in his book God, Freedom, and Evil. He summarizes his argument thusly:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world contain­ing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.2

We might dispute whether the horrific costs of freedom in fact justify God’s creational wager, but it seems commonsensically obvious that human freedom and divine deter­mi­na­tion are mutually exclusive, compatibilist arguments notwithstanding. Many philosophers and theologians agree. But what kind of freedom is Plantinga presupposing? He offers this definition: “If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine that he will per­form the action, or that he won’t.”3 Nowadays this is called libertarian freedom.

The strength—and weakness—of the free-will defense is its asserted relinquishment by God of his sovereignty over the actions of created rational beings. Humanity enjoys genuine freedom, outside, so the libertarian believes, the control and determination of its Creator. As Hugh J. McCann puts it: “Some of what goes on in the world is not under God’s control but under that of his creatures—who are created neither willing nor failing to will the things they do, and have to fill in the blank themselves.”4 We alone are responsible for our actions.

  • We freely turn our wills against God’s commandments and good ways.
  • We freely choose disobedience and sin.
  • We freely inflict violence upon our fellow creatures.
  • We feely exploit the natural resources of our planet.
  • We freely oppress our neighbors.

“The price of freedom,” explains McCann, “is moral evil. But moral evil is to be laid first at our doorstep, for it is we who choose it; God merely permits our choices and, as far as he sees fit, enables them to be efficacious.”5

The free-will defense, however, comes at significant cost—the possible failure of God’s creative project. He has given humanity libertarian freedom for the purpose of friendship and communion; but the fulfillment of this goal is beyond his determination. Our freedom effectively obliterates divine providence. All God can do is sit back and hope.

God’s “fate” lies almost completely in the hands of his creatures. No matter how concerned and loving he may be, no matter how powerfully he may attempt to win us over, we are on this view out of God’s control. Thus there is always the chance, however remote, that his plans for us will be utterly dashed, that his overtures to us will be rejected—even to the point, one supposes, of our all being lost—that as technology advances we will use our freedom to wreak ever greater horror, and that when it comes to finding friends, creation will for God turn out to be a complete disaster. Willingness to take chances may be laudable in some cases, but to entrust an enterprise of this importance to the beneficence of our tribe must surely be deemed irresponsible.6

Orthodox Christians know that the divine project has in fact not failed, at least not com­pletely. Every day we venerate the blessed Theotokos; every day we invoke the saints and ask for their intercessions. At least some of our fellow human beings have made it to heaven. But if the libertarian is correct, matters might have turned out very differently and still might not turn out very well. Just ask the damned.

5237d321eff227a3a269b4fa8c3312fa.jpg~original.jpegHuman beings may have libertarian freedom, but apparently God does not. Like the gambler anx­iously waiting to hear which horse won the race at Pimlico, he is condemned to await the results of his creatio ex nihilo wager. Nor does the appeal to divine fore­knowl­edge help the situation. The attri­bute of eter­nity gets in the way. Boethius, for exam­ple, resolved the problem of divine omniscience and creaturely freedom by positing God’s timeless observation of past, present, and future. All that has happened and will happen is available to his gaze in an eternal now. His knowledge of temporal reality is given to him in direct experience. He does not see events before they happen; he sees them as they are happening in simultaneous appre­hension. In this way the freedom of human beings is secured. If the divine fore­knowl­edge were quite literally foreknowledge, then we would be fated to do whatever God foresaw us doing. Our destinies would then be as predetermined as the destinies of the ancient pagans living under the dominion of the Moirai. Prevision implies necessity and fate. But because God’s vantage point is outside of time, he sees our doings at the moment they are accomplished, and thus our freedom is preserved. Whatever we have done, whatever we are doing, what­ever we will do, we might have done otherwise.

The Boethian construal of divine omniscience, however, does nothing to secure God’s prov­idential direction of history. As a passive observer, the Creator remains helpless before the freedom he has granted human beings. He stands on the mountain top and watches us live out our murder and treachery, but his location in eternity does not give him any advantage in effecting his providential ends. Consider the case of the nefarious Professor Smith. While visiting his disabled mother, he notices her handicapped parking hangtag lying on her dresser table. While she’s not looking, he slips it into his pocket. God sees this happen as it happens, but constrained both by his timeless perspective and the creaturely freedom he is self-sworn to preserve, he is unable to incorporate his knowledge of Smith’s misdeed into his plans.

In order to wield effective control over the course of history, God has to know as creator how the decisions and actions of creatures with libertarian free­dom will go. Only then can he arrange the progression of events in such a way to take full account of our behavior in achieving his ends. God may intend, for example, that Smith’s mother not be greatly inconvenienced by her disability, and so may be disposed to do something to compensate for Smith’s misdeed. If he is timeless, however, he cannot wait to see what Smith does and then react. Only a temporal God can do that. A timeless one must provide for this contingency “from eternity”: he must undo the damage as part of the one act in which he creates the entire universe—or perhaps we should say, as much of the universe as Smith’s freedom allows him to create. And it is hard to see how God can do this effectively if, as creator, he is in the dark as to what Smith will do. He could, of course, set up some insurance—say, by arranging for Mrs. Smith to have a spare parking permit. But he cannot, at least with any semblance of economy, insure against any and every rotten trick her son might come up with, not to mention the potential misdeeds of the thousands of other villains who could do her harm. Indeed, the countless opportunities free creatures have to exercise their freedom, the complexities of their possible interaction, and the immensely varied conse­quences of their actions might have would seem to offer next to no hope of successful prediction, thus leaving the Boethian God in a hopeless position from which to exercise meaningful providence over the world. Still less can we see how such a God would be able to do things like answer prayer, or empower his spokespersons to make accurate prophecies of any future event on which human agency might impinge. While the Boethian position does well with the problem of omniscience, then, its implications concerning God’s power and sovereignty are completely disappointing.7

But is God as impotent before the freedom of humanity as the free-will defense requires?

(26 December 2016; rev.)


[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, chap. 3; also see “The Problem of Evil.”

[2] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, p. 30; cf. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[3] Ibid., p. 29.

[4] Hugh McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God, p. 79.

[5] Ibid., pp. 77-78.

[6] Ibid., p. 83.

[7] Ibid., pp. 81-82.

(Go to “The Impossible Worlds of Molinism”)

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43 Responses to C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, and the Free-Will Defense

  1. Counter-Rebel says:

    On a broad account of libertarian free will, an act can be deemed free even if it couldn’t have happened otherwise, so long as what led up to it involved a free act that could have gone otherwise. This is how God can determine that all go to heaven while preserving LFW: memory. The freely acquired(!) memory of the bad consequences of being sinful enables self-correction. You freely stick your hand in the fire. Then, you inevitably-and-freely(!) refrain from sticking it there again.

    In simplest terms, you freely choose A-path or B-path, and both paths lead to God. We are transcendentally determined to be happy, but we may non-deterministically leap into misery first. I think that and this is what DBH was getting at when he said God can determine the results of creatively free choices. He sustains their memory, and memory is the tool for editing. I have a quote from Bulgakov that I’ll post when I get off work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Counter-Rebel says:

      Sergius Bulgakov on memory:

      “[T]he memory of God is a *memory eternal* that preserves and does not forget his friends, and we witness to this ‘eternal memory’ of God in the prayer for those departing to the other world.” -The Sophiology of Death p.70

      “…a touch by the right hand of God … [T]hereby is creatively being given its ontological foundation, which it can never lose. The creature always retains in itself the ontological memory of this foundation, it bears it within itself and it knows it as a sort of holy *anamnesis* and simultaneously as a pledge of salvation through the power of God’s predestination–it knows it as a divine promise concerning itself.” -Ibid p. 89-90

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Yes, the transcendental grounding of creaturely freedom comports with Fr. Bulgakov’s notion of sophianic determination.


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      I don’t think that counts as libertarian however. You have stretched the meaning of the term to vacuity.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Matthew Kirby says:

    Another alternative is to accept LFW, accept that it allows a multiverse of potential histories, and then posit that God’s sovereignty does not consist in him determining choices by “premotion” but in choosing to grant actuality to one of those worlds/histories trans-temporally. I think Aquinas called this (fore)knowledge of approbation. Thus he is not making the choices for finite free agents by which they constitute/complete themselves, he is choosing which version of them, as formed by their exercises of libertarian freedom, to instantiate. If LFW is real, the field of disparate possible worlds is real too, in some sense, but not necessarily actual. God sees the field, which is grounded in the Divine Ideas of his omniscient & omnipotent creativity, and chooses to give being to one point in it.

    So, each creaturely choice is undetermined within itself and free of interference. God doesn’t make the choice for them, he freely chooses which finite free-choosers to allow existence to. This preserves complete sovereignty and finite freedom. However, it does require giving possible worlds a level of trans-temporal ontic “weight” (just short of actuality) that may disturb classical theists.

    But I believe the Thomistic conception of the Divine Ideas needs that extra weight anyway, and that this would help close the gap between it and both Scotism and Palamism. As long as the Thomist limitation to analogical language for the Essence is respected, I believe a synthesis of all 3 is possible. But that’s another story.


    • Counter-Rebel says:

      Though I consider myself a classical theist, I can’t get on board with free will being compatible with foreknowledge, even with the Boethian solution in mind. (I believe W. Norris Clarke was a neo-Thomist who was an open theist.)

      “Indeed, the whole concept of a timeless eternity, the whole of which is simultaneous with every part of time, seems to be radically incoherent. For simultaneity as ordinarily understood is a transitive relation. If A happens at the same time as B, and B happens at the same time as C, then A happens at the same time as C. If the BBC programme and the lTV programme both start when Big Ben strikes ten, then they both start at the same time. But, on St. Thomas’ view, my typing of this paper is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Again, on his view, the great fire of Rome is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Therefore, while I type these very words, Nero fiddles heartlessly on.”


      The only way to reconcile foreknowledge with free will is to say God knows all possible worlds eternally (his intrinsic knowledge) and knows the actual world-fragment (as of now, no possible world is (fully) actualized; only a world-fragment is, and with a world-slice added each moment) and what-time-it-is-now extrinsically. So He foreknows how to deal with any future and isn’t surprised by anything. Nothing intrinsic to God changes. W. Matthews Grant has paper(s) explicating what extrinsic knowledge means for God.
      That said, I’m open to being persuaded that it’s improper to call myself a classical theist. But over one disagreement? What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Matthew Kirby says:

        Relativity does not leave room for objective, singular world-slices being added progressively. Time-slices have no unique “orientation” in space-time.

        As for the supposed transitivity problem with the traditional definition of eternity, it relies on interpreting “simultaneous” univocally rather than analogically, which is obviously invalid, thus constituting a straw-man argument. Nevertheless, if I did not favour a more Thomist solution, I would agree with your solution (which I used to share). And if, in fact, the traditional solution is found to be incoherent or impossible then that would simply mean that God’s omniscience is still knowledge of all that is intrinsically knowable, but that many were mistaken previously about what that included. Then his foreknowing Providence could operate as you indicate, with fixed “destinations” guaranteed by a system that has enough openness outside free will, e.g., QM, to allow for multiple pathways to the same goal.


        • Counter-Rebel says:

          I’m a presentist. I confess that no argument would ever convince me of static or tenseless or B-theory time, given my direct experience of time passing by. Flow is as real as the pain of my headaches. If the B-theory were true, I’d have a lake of consciousness rather than a stream.

          “it relies on interpreting “simultaneous” univocally rather than analogically, which is obviously invalid”

          I have no idea what “simultaneous” could possibly mean in such a case.

          I thought of another way to reconcile foreknowledge with free will. You remember how folks experience time dilation after smoking DMT or salvia. What if we made all our decisions all at once upon creation? We chose what “trip” to go on, and our life is the unfolding of what we chose pre-temporally. (or supra-temporally?)

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Jordan says:

    In your article you state, Boethius, for example, resolved the problem of divine omniscience and creaturely freedom by positing God’s timeless observation of past, present, and future. All that has happened and will happen is available to his gaze in an eternal now. His knowledge of temporal reality is given to him in direct experience. He does not see events before they happen; he sees them as they are happening in simultaneous appre¬hension.

    What Boethius says is that God is outside of time, in eternity, thus, every moment, past, present, and future is always present to Him. When you say that God “does not see events before they happen”, that is incorrect, and contradicts what you said earlier in the same paragraph, that God has a timeless observation of the future.

    In addition, when you say “that If the divine fore¬knowl¬edge were quite literally foreknowledge, then we would be fated to do whatever God foresaw us doing. Our destinies would then be as predetermined as the destinies of the ancient pagans living under the dominion of the Moirai. Prevision implies necessity and fate”, this is also incorrect, according to Boethius, Aquinas, and Lewis: to quote Boethius, God’s “knowledge surveys past and future in the timelessness of an eternal present. His foreseeing is seeing. Yet this foreseeing does not in itself impose necessity”. Boethius states that God does foresee what we do, and this does not impose necessity, while you state that, “prevision implies necessity and fate”.

    Aquinas agrees with Boethius, that God knows future contingent singulars, and that God’s foreknowledge does not remove contingency or impose necessity. . In Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Aquinas discusses how “God understands all things together” (Ch 55). We understand events “in time” successively, while God sees all things simultaneously “from eternity”. In Chapters 66 and 67, Aquinas discusses how God knows things that are not, as well as God knows future contingent singulars. I like to use 1 Samuel 23 to show from scripture what Aquinas means: David asks God if the citizens of Keilah will hand him over to Saul. God, who cannot lie, tells David that if David stays in town, they will hand him over to Saul. David leaves town, so the citizens do not hand David over to Saul. God knew multiple contingent singulars in this passage of Scripture. God knew what would happen if David stayed, and God knew what would happen if David left. Both events did not take place, because God’s Omniscient knowledge of a future contingent singular choice “does not entirely exclude contingency from things” (SCG 3.72) and also “does not exclude freedom of choice” (3.72). God infallibly told David what would happen if he stayed in Keilah, but God did not tell David that David would stay in Keilah: God’s future knowledge of David’s free, contingent, choice did not make David’s choice or action necessary.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dear Jordan,

      Welcome to Eclectic Orthodoxy and thank you for your comment. I am uncertain if we substantively disagree. It’s certainly possible, though, that I have misunderstood Boethius’s presentation of divine foreknowledge.

      I have quickly scanned Book V of his Consolation. Here is my take away:

      1) “Eternity is the whole, simultaneous, perfect possession of limitless life.”

      To clarify what the above means, he contrasts eternal life with temporal life:

      “One who lives in time progresses in the present from the past and into the future. There is nothing in time that can embrace the entirety of his existence. He has no idea about tomorrow and has already lost his hold on the past. In this day-to-day life, he lives only in the transitory moment. Whatever is in time—even though, as Aristotle says, time had no beginning and has no ending and extends into infinity—is still not what may correctly be called ‘eternal.’ Its life may be infinitely long, but still it does not comprehend its entire extent simultaneously. It is still waiting for the future to reveal itself and it has let go of much of the past. What may properly be called eternal is quite different, in that it has knowledge of the whole of life, can see the future, and has lost nothing of the past. It is in an eternal present and has an understanding of the entire flow of time.”

      Whereas for temporal creatures like ourselves, the future is truly “future” in that it hasn’t happened yet and so we exist in a mode of anticipation, i.e., we wait upon the future to reveal itself, at which point, of course, it ceases to be future for us. With God, however, the matter is radically different in that he apprehends history as a whole in an eternal present. Am I right so far?

      Boethius continues:

      “Now, since every judgment is able to comprehend things only according to the nature of the mind making that judgment, and since God has an eternal and omnipresent nature, his knowledge surpasses time’s movements and is made in the simplicity of a continual present, which embraces all the vistas of the future and the past, and he considers all this in the act of knowing as though all things were going on at once. This means that what you think of as his foreknowledge is really a knowledge of the instant, which is never-passing and never-coming-to-be. It is not pre-vision (praevidentia) but providence (providentia), because, from that high vantage point, he sees at once all things that were and are and are to come.

      I have bolded the last two sentences because I deem them crucial. God’s knowledge of the future is not a knowing of things that are going to happen but haven’t yet–or put differently, seeing things “before” they occur. If that were the case, either God or creatures would be trapped in necessity. Rather, God comprehends the timeline simultaneously as a whole. For him, it is “a knowledge of the instant.” He certainly knows which events, from our perspective, come first and which come next in the timeline–i.e., he knows their chronological order–but he doesn’t know them as we know them: he does not experience these events temporally, i.e., as past (that which occurred but is now gone), present (that which is occurring right now), and future (that which hasn’t happened yet and therefore does not properly exist). For this reason, our temporal distinctions do not apply to his apprehension of history. He does not fore-see the future; he simply sees the whole: “he sees them in his present time just as they will come to be in what we think of as the future.”

      In your opinion, have I now accurately presented Boethius’ view? If not, where have I gone wrong?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jordan says:

        Fr Kimel,
        Thanks for taking the time to write a substantive and well thought out reply.
        We are in agreement on the basics: God exists in eternity, thus all past, present, and future events are always simultaneously present to his knowledge – thus God is all knowing. His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways, because God grasps the whole at once, and, as God is immutable, God cannot learn, because to learn something would mean that God changed, thus, God knows. As you pointed out, we are trapped in time, and we learn as we travel through time.
        What I think varies in our understanding is that what I understand Boethius to be saying is that God is also “trapped by time”, so to speak, in that God cannot change the events that took place yesterday, for example, He could not turn back time so Adam could change his decision to eat the forbidden fruit. God knows the future; however, God knows all possible futures. This is the difference between “contingent and necessary”.
        Look at the quote you supplied in your article:
        But what kind of freedom is Plantinga presupposing? He offers this definition: “If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine that he will per­form the action, or that he won’t.”3 Nowadays this is called libertarian freedom.
        For the sake of brevity, let me be blunt. No one cares if a person is “free to perform that action” or is “free to refrain from performing it”. That statement is idiotic because it does nothing to answer the issue that needs to be addressed.
        What we want to know is if the decision that Adam made, and if at least some of the decisions that people make post-lapse are contingent or necessary. If Adam’s, (and at least some of our), decision(s) are contingent, then we don’t care if I could have chosen to eat an apple or refrain from eating an apple, what we want to know is if Adam could do what was contrary to the will of God, and if you and I can do what is contrary to the will of God. What makes a decision contingent, is that Adam’s choice was contingent on his response to God’s command. Adam’s choice was contrary to the will of God, and as Lewis so aptly pointed out, after Genesis 2:16,17, God could not stop Adam from making that choice, once God gave Adam the freedom to make that choice.
        What matters to what Boethius is saying in chapter 5, is not if God knows the future infallibly, because we know from Scripture that He does. What matters is if God knows all possible futures. God cannot reverse time, God can interact with us in the present time, and God can take actions in the present time that will influence choices that are contingent upon the decisions of His creatures, that can change what choices is made, which will change which future takes place.
        For example. Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It is up to Peter to decide what is bound and what is loosed. At Pentecost, Peter chooses to use the keys to the kingdom to open the kingdom for the Jews. Peter travels to Samaria and opens the kingdom to the Samaritans. God knows that Cornelius has sent messengers to Peter and that Peter, because of his Jewish background and understanding of the Law, will “bind” the Gentiles from receiving the Holy Spirit, and Peter will not open the kingdom for the Gentiles. Knowing what Peter will contingently choose in the future, God interacts with Peter to bring about His purpose, to bless the whole world, so God sends Peter a vision – as many times as it took – so when Peter went to see Cornelius – the decision that was contingent on Peter’s response to the command that he was given to loose or bind with the keys was changed from rejecting the Gentiles as he had been taught his entire life, to opening the kingdom to the Gentiles so that the Holy Spirit would come on the Gentiles as well.
        What Peter has opened, no person or Pope can shut. Peter opened the kingdom to all.

        Boethius rejects all decisions being made necessarily, and it doesn’t take much thought to understand why. If everything takes place as God determines it (which is what most folks appear to mean when they say the God is sovereign), then everything takes place as God wills it. Evil takes place, thus, God wills the evil to take place. If Adam was doing what God willed him to do when he ate the forbidden fruit, then it was a sin for Adam to do the will of God. It was evil for Adam to do the will of God. If all events are taking place necessarily, as God wills them — we are not free to make choices contingent on our decision — then, again, everything is happening as God determined it, as God wills it, and we are sinning when we do what God determined us to do, and we are sinning when we do the will of God.

        Let me know if that explanation is helpful, or if I have misunderstood Boethius.


        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I need to give the matter more thought and reread Boethius more slowly to confirm that I am undertanding him rightly. I am largely relying upon Hugh McCann’s reading of Boethius. McCann was a very sharp phiosopher, so for the monent I’m going to trust his reading. Here’s another passage from McCann on Boethius:

          A prime motive, in traditional theology, for claiming God is timelessly eternal was precisely to reconcile divine “foreknowledge” with human freedom, and thereby to defuse the problem of theological fatalism. It was this problem that concerned Boethius. If we assume that God is a temporal being, and also that he is omniscient, our freedom appears jeopardized. Not that God’s knowledge as such should be understood to affect the operations of creaturely wills; but the simple fact that he would know in advance what those operations are to be—that he might always have known, for example, that Smith would decide to steal his mother’s hangtag—seems to set up a kind of fait accompli in the face of which the agent’s options disappear. After all, even if God were not omniscient, and in fact had guessed wrongly about what Smith would do, nothing about Smith’s present decision could reach back, say, a thousand years and change God’s unlucky belief. How, then, could anything about the decision have caused that belief to begin with? Clearly, it could not. But then that belief, together with whatever justification made it infallible, must have been fixed from eternity, independent of Smith’s decision. And if that is so, how are we to believe Smith could today have decided differently? That was Boethius’ problem, and the free-will defender faces the same problem, taken from the opposite direction: instead of assuming divine omniscience and trying to secure creaturely freedom, he must assume our freedom and try to secure God’s omniscience. Perhaps, then, the free-will defender should adopt Boethius’ solution, and proclaim what we have already seen plenty of reason for asserting anyway: that God is timelessly eternal.

          This conception of God’s nature permits an account of omniscience that is readily seen to be compatible with libertarian freedom. For if God is not a temporal being he does not have temporal foreknowledge of events. Rather, as we saw in the last chapter, his vantage point is outside of time, so that all of history, including what goes on in the hearts of men, is immediately available to his gaze. His knowledge of Smith’s decision is therefore a matter of direct experience, and any beliefs founded in that experience are fully justified. We must not, therefore, think of God’s beliefs about Smith as constituting a temporally prior fait accompli; nor, it appears, need we suppose those beliefs have any evidential basis apart from Smith’s very act of deciding. If this is right, then Smith’s freedom is untouched, for on this model God’s position is simply that of a passive observer, whose knowledge is determined by Smith’s act of deciding, rather than the other way around. Accordingly, Smith may fairly be accorded the power to decide differently.

          A related question is whether Aquinas adopts Boethius’ position. I question that, so stay tuned. Future articles in this series will give us an opportunity to discuss that question. 🙂


          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Jordan, my next article in the series will appear on Monday, so I hope you’ll check in and give it a read.


          • calvinandclive says:

            Fr Kimel,
            Thanks for another gracious reply.
            I am going to assume that McCann is Roman Catholic, and takes an Augustinian view of the issue that we are discussing.
            Quoting McCann from your excerpt: “And if that is so, how are we to believe Smith could today have decided differently?”
            The obvious question, as I tried to explain in my previous, (quickly written and rambling) explanation is that what we need to know is “How are we to believe Smith could today have decided differently” *than what*?
            Is McCann saying, how are we to believe that Smith could have decided to *not* steal his mother’s hangtag?
            Because that is what it appears the McCann is saying. And to this, both I, and Boethius reply, who cares?
            What we want to know is, “could Smith have decided to do otherwise than what God willed him to do?”, and, “could God have stopped Smith from stealing the hang tag?”.
            What Boethius is saying, (as I understand it), is that God is outside of time, in eternity, God knows, infallibly, that Smith is going to steal the hangtag. God’s knowledge of what Smith will do in the future does not make the action necessary, because it is contingent on Smith’s decision, not God’s determination. Thus LFW is partially correct, at least some of our actions are not determined by God.
            Smith can do otherwise than what God commanded him to do: do not steal.
            This explanation seems to be consistent with what McCann says in the second paragraph that you posted.
            However, McCann says that this view means that “God’s position is simply that of a passive observer, whose knowledge is determined by Smith’s act of deciding, rather than the other way around”.
            First, “the other way around” means that Smith’s act of deciding to steal was determined by God, which means that God determined Smith to sin, and God determines people to do the opposite of what He commands them to do: not steal, and not to sin. As I pointed out in my last post, this is absurd.
            Just because God knows, infallibly, that Smith will steal the hangtag in a time still future, does not mean that God is powerless to stop it and reduced to being a passive observer. If God has not told Smith that Smith is free to steal the hangtag, then there may be ways that God can intervene to stop Smith from stealing the hangtag. God knows all possible future contingents. The decision to steal, or not steal, is contingent on Smith’s decision. God knowing that Smith is going to steal the hangtag, and then God intervening to stop Smith from stealing the hangtag, does not change God’s Omniscience: rather, God being outside of time, as Boethius explains, gives a good explanation of how we see God work in Scripture, and it matches how we live our lives: why would you pray for God to keep your child safe as they drive across the country if God has already determined that your child will cause an accident and be killed? We pray, and God, who knows infallibly that your child is going to cause an accident and be killed, intervenes, and the car accident is avoided. Seem simple to me.
            If you write a post on Aquinas and Boethius you will need to email me the link for me to see it.
            I have read where Aquinas references Boethius, and I know that Aquinas was handcuffed by the Churches endorsement of Augustine, so Aquinas had to be very careful in refuting Augustine, so I would be interested in reading your thoughts on it.


      • Tom says:

        Seems to me also, Fr Al, Jordan’s and your views (of Boethius) are the same.

        The rub comes in how to conceive of divine providence relating to what God eternally (timelessly, unchangeably) knows. Gregory of Nyssa seems to suppose (just looking at his ‘On the Early Deaths of Infants’) God’s knowledge of creation’s timeline (which I assume is eternal and unchanging knowledge) can also *inform* God’s providential actions in the world to bring about or prevent what is known. But as Jordan (if I follow him) suggests, this is not possible. What is ‘known’ (eternally and unchangeably) by definition already expresses/contains whatever God does to bring about or prevent (whatever ‘prevention’ might mean on a timeless view) what is known. Hence Jordan points out the only (?) other way to relate divine providence to what is known is to ground all that God knows in God’s will; i.e., God wills it all – evil, good, everything. I’m guessing this isn’t your view (or the view of many – any? – Orthodox). I’m not sure.



        • calvinandclive says:

          Thanks for chiming in.
          You say that “Gregory of Nyssa seems to suppose that God’s knowledge of creation’s timeline can also inform God’s providential actions in the world to bring about or prevent what is known.
          Then you say that I disagree with that.

          My response would be that I agree with Gregory, that God’s providential actions in the world can bring about or prevent what is known, However, as C.S. Lewis points out in The Problem of Pain, which is what the OP is about, is talking about a specific event: the fall of Adam. What Lewis is saying, is that God could not give Adam the freedom to eat, or not eat, from the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and at the same time, and in the same sense, prevent Adam from eating from the tree.

          Augustine and Calvin both assumed that God could have stopped Adam from eating from the tree, which is why they both believed that everything happens as God wills it. I think that is what you are saying at the end of your post: either Boethius, Aquinas, and Lewis are correct, that there are at least some actions taken by people that God does not determine, or Augustine and Calvin are correct, and everything happens as God determines it, therefore, everything happens as God wills it, and God wills people to do the opposite of what He commands them to do, it is a sin to do the will of God, etc.

          I hope that clarification helps, it appears to me that you were reading to understand, which I really appreciate.



  4. God is not capable of evil – does this mean He is not perfectly free? But if not free, how can He be perfect Love? The Son is not free not to love the Father, or the Father the Son, and the Spirit to love both Father and Son and to receive their love in return. Therefore ‘freedom’ to do evil , to turn from the Good, to shun Love, is not the same as freedom per se – but is rather at odds with true freedom. The Son incarnate is True man, yet He was not and is not ‘free’ to choose evil. We do not therefore conclude that He is not perfectly free – on the contrary, He is true freedom. Our capacity for evil is not an essential part of our human nature (and is not the ‘flip side of the coin’ of our capacity to love) since it was not and is not essential to Christ’s human nature. Rather the capacity for evil must be corrosive of a truly human nature and therefore perfect freedom. The movement of Love must and can only be in the direction of bringing all human beings to the perfection of Christ’s human nature, where – paradoxically – we are truly free because, like and with the Son Himself, we can do nothing but gaze in adoration of the Father, through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Spirit, whence we become what we always were and will be, sons and daughters of God.


  5. Tom says:

    Like Counter-Rebel, I’m a presentist, so that narrows my options.

    I agree, Fr Al, that Boethius’s view of timeless knowledge of the entirety of creation’s history is providentially useless. There’s nothing a God who possesses such knowledge can do that a God who does not possess such knowledge cannot also do, since whatever is known in such a mode of apprehension cannot be the basis for providential actions undertaken to prevent or bring about what is (fore)known in this sense.

    But Gregory of Nyssa seems to think there is a providential advantage to (fore)knowledge, as he understands it. Just a couple of examples from his ‘On Infants’ Early Death’. Considering why infants die, he writes:

    “It is a sign of the perfection of God’s providence, that he not only heals maladies that have come into existence, but also provides that some should be never mixed up at all in the things which he has forbidden; it is reasonable to expect that he who knows the future equally with the past should check the advance of an infant to complete maturity, in order that the evil may not be developed which his foreknowledge has detected in his future life, and in order that a lifetime granted to one whose evil dispositions will be lifelong may not become the actual material for his vice.”


    “Therefore, to prevent one who has indulged in the carousals to an improper extent from lingering over so profusely furnished a table, he is early taken from the number of the banqueters, and thereby secures an escape out of those evils which unmeasured indulgence procures for gluttons. This is that achievement of a perfect Providence which I spoke of; namely, not only to heal evils that have been committed, but also to forestall them before they have been committed; and this, we suspect, is the cause of the deaths of new-born infants.”

    I find this so curious. If one imagines ‘possible’ evils, then (fore)knowledge is providentially useful. But (fore)knowledge of creation’s actualities (in the traditional sense) cannot be the basis of acting so as to prevent or alter what is (fore)known, obviously, since what God (fore)knows is, by definition, already the result of whatever God does (timelessly or however we express it) to prevent or bring something about.

    I don’t find Plantinga’s definition (libertarian free will, minimally speaking, obtains where we are free both to perform an action and free to refrain from performing it) especially problematic, though. As far as it goes, it’s not the objectionable Enlightenment notion of voluntarism (agency that is entirely unconditioned and free from all constraints – something no sane libertarian believes about human agency).

    But I have to disagree a bit, however. I don’t think this notion of libertarian agency means God “relinquishes his sovereignty over the actions of rational beings” provided sovereignty is understood as God securing his final end and not his always in every respect getting the specific ‘en route’ outcomes he wants. It’s a bit like chess. Were I to play Kasparov (or you!), I’m free to move in ways Kasparov may not wish me to, and he is certainly not able always to secure the particular outcomes he wants during the match. But there’s no doubt who is ‘in control’ of the match and what the ‘final’ outcome will be.

    One last small point of disagreement. Libertarian agency needn’t imply “the possible failure of God’s creative project” either. Yes, such agency is the mode in which creatures must surrender themselves to God, but that doesn’t imply the power to irrevocably foreclose upon oneself all possibility of saying ‘yes’ to God. Our ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ are constrained within a wider (transcendental) horizon. So while we may be able to say ‘no’ to God on occasion, within limited circumstances (even postmortem circumstances), we cannot utter a ‘no’ that seals out fate, for however libertarianly free we may be, that doesn’t imply we define the very mode of the essential openness of our being to God. No rejection of ours could bring it about that God does not love us, or offer us life, or open himself to us, or constitute our being as an essential openness to him. So libertarian choice poses no final threat to God’s creative project. We may or may not surrender ourselves to him, and we may or may not do so until we do so; then we’re truly free.


    Liked by 1 person

    • David says:

      This is all really interesting.

      Tom and Counter-Rebel, I sympathise with the problems that presentism can create in our doctrine of God, but I’m not so sure that it means we must be open theists.

      We’re all aware of the concept of time dilation and contraction. The same objective, clock-measure 10 seconds may pass for two agents, but one may have the subjective awareness of 20 seconds passing while the other only has the sense of 5 seconds passing.

      Similarly, couldn’t one person’s subjective awareness of ‘now’ – a kind of minimum unit of experience, the gathering together of the before and after of motion into a single present, as when we experience the swing of the hammer hitting the nail as ‘now’ – well, couldn’t one person’s ‘now’ feeling spread over, say, 100 milliseconds while another’s was spread over 500 milliseconds?

      And couldn’t we imagine some alien form of life that operated on totally different scales to ours – say, where what they would subjectively experience as a second or as a single ‘now’ could be spread out over a thousand earth years.

      My point is that we can hold to all those things while still remaining presentists. So couldn’t we imagine God as knowing all things in an analagous way? There really is an objective moving ‘now’, but the actual subjective reality of what is gathered into each individual’s personal ‘now’ is unique to the agent – some have long nows, some have short nows – and God has the longest now of all, such that all of time is gathered up into his single eternal Divine Now.


      As to the issue of divine reactivity and the apparent uselessness of mere foreknowledge… well, firstly I’d question whether there is a need for God’s omniscience to be useful God knows what God does, therefore….. God knows what God does. Do we need to use foreknowledge to justify God’s acts? Basically, I don’t think it would be a problem if omniscience weren’t the ‘mechanism’ by which God brings about desired results or interacts with the world.

      Secondly, it seems true that, in making the world God, also knows exactly how God would act with respect to every possible human action. Likewise, a videogame maker can design a video game and incorporate various AI opponents into that game – such that, at the same logical moment as making the game, the designer already knows exactly how ‘he’ – via his AI in-game creations – will act in response to every possible action that the human player will bring into the game. My point is that the videogame designer doesn’t need to wait and consciously experience what human players do inside his game before he can ‘react’ via the game’s AIs – this kind of knowledge (whether foreknowledge, present knowledge, or knowledge-after-the-fact) just isn’t necessary because he has already decided every possible action he will make and programmed all those actions into the same system. Couldn’t we see God’s eternal act of creation in an analogous way – God acts to create the videogame that is the world, and in the very same act he decides how he will ‘respond’ to the various possible choices free creatures will make, and therefore that act is the act by which he actually does interact with the world – and, because of the peculiarities of God’s relationship with time, his act of knowing what in fact occurs also takes place at the same ‘moment’ as him choosing to create in the first place, because for God the only moment that exists is eternity.

      On Gregory of Nyssa, I agree that his account isn’t particularly helpful – I find it hard to see how, as it is expressed in the quotes above at all, it can be distinguished from Molinism.


      • Tom says:

        Real quick David, I didn’t mean to imply anything about open theism per se. Just thinking through things. More later hopefully!


  6. Iain Lovejoy says:

    I am not sure that the fact that God is nor subject to time the way we are leaves only the option of a timeless, simultaneous now. We now know time (as we experience it) is subjective and a function of and dependent on location and speed within the universe. There is no universal, objective “now” applicable everywhere and, as I understand it, even whether event A happens before or after event B can depend on one’s vantage point in viewing them. God, simply by virtue of not being a created thing located within the universe, cannot be located as in a particular point in time either.
    Not being located at a subjective point in time isn’t the necessarily the same as being in an eternal, unchanging now, however. God’s creative act (if not God himself) can, and I would say, has to take place in something analogous to time. Creation requires that formally something was not, and now it is. This obective, creation-spanning time doesn’t have to work the same as our subjective, individually-experienced time. We (and the universe) are as we are a work in progress. We are part formed and become more fully so, in our individual subjective timelines. God “knows” the outcome because he is creating it, but creates it with us through our freedom. There need be no point in the joint creative act between us and God where God is looking back as already happened something that we are looking forward to as not having happened yet, even if, for God, he may react in our timeline to events which, for us, when we perceive them, will seem to have been in the future when God reacted to them in our lives. God’s timeline can be creative and dynamic but not in our particular subjective chronological order.


  7. Curdie says:

    I just can’t bring myself to accept LFW as a concept. We can talk philosophically about our wills all we want (and I think DBH’s chapter on “free”will in TASBS is an irrefutable philosophical argument against LFW), but just empirically, it doesn’t hold water for me. I once heard a preacher say something to the effect of “If there is any statement in the Bible which everyone can agree is just obviously, empirically true, it is ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’” (Romans 7).

    Just by the act of existing as a human being for a few decades, I can say without a doubt that my will is at best compromised, and at worst in utter disrepair. Anyone who has gone to a therapist has been awakened to ways their actions were out of their own “free” will and were directed by forces they couldn’t have even recognized. Anyone who has dealt with addiction knows this. This conveniently fits right in line with a Biblical worldview of the human will in bondage to sin, and also conveniently fits very well with what we know about our free will based on modern science. I just don’t know why anyone would bother trying to defend LFW except that they felt they had to, either because their theology required it, or because their self-image as an autonomous person required it.

    I know this isn’t strictly what the point of this article was, but I guess all I’m getting at is that dealing with God’s foreknowledge, or his omnipotence, or heaven and hell, or whatever else within the framework of human libertarian free will is just a non-starter. If we are going to deal with those concepts, we have to deal with them understanding that our wills are, at absolute best, only partially libertarian.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Yes this last is the catch – libertarian by definition means free of determination of any kind. Which is a non-starter. But some folks like to hold on to the term, for some odd reason. 😉


      • Tom says:

        LFW (libertarian free will) means “free of determination of any kind”? I don’t know any libertarian who advances that sort of independent exercise of the will. That would mean the person doing the choosing is, as well, not the determiner of his/her own choice in any sense, which is the determinist’s and not the libertarian’s position. And it suggests that all ‘determination’ is exhaustive, i.e., extends to every aspect or scope of choice, which isn’t definitionally part of LFW, which no libertarian holds.

        The reason the term libertarian is still useful may be that (a) plenty of libertarians do not advance the definition you describe, and (b) plenty of libertarians also are *not* voluntarists in the (Enlightenment) sense that the will is absolutely, without any qualification, free of all constraints and influences. I don’t know of any libertarians who advocate such a view to begin with, but I’m fine with dismissing such a view out of hand. It just doesn’t have anything really to do with advocating for the minimal claim that libertarians do make.

        But – it doesn’t matter what terms we use, since we all end up having to qualify what we mean anyhow. So we can dispense with quarrels over terminology and actually engage the substance of what another person is saying. ;o)


        • Tom says:

          Typo alert: I said “…which isn’t definitionally part of LFW, which no libertarian holds.” I doubled that qualification, which doesn’t make sense. Just “…which isn’t definitionally part of LFW” will do.


        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Ok Tom let’s deconstruct it. I am of the understanding that the two main features of libertarianism/LFW are that 1.) free will is categorically incompatible with determinism; and 2.) consequently the future is undetermined. I suggest that without either of these we cannot coherently speak of libertarian free will. I am not making the claim Tom that the will is completely unrestricted and unconstrained, but rather that the ability to freely choose A over B means the future is undetermined.

          I don’t see how Counter-Rebel’s earlier comment can possibly, even in the remotest sense, be understood as “libertarian”

          “On a broad account of libertarian free will, an act can be deemed free even if it couldn’t have happened otherwise, so long as what led up to it involved a free act that could have gone otherwise. This is how God can determine that all go to heaven…”

          This is non-sense. An act that couldn’t have been otherwise is a determined act, regardless of what act, free or otherwise, preceded it. I don’t see it possible that a preceding free act can make the act which follows, an act which could not be otherwise, a free act.

          I see the flourishing of the human being, her one true determined actualization in freedom, as constituted in her orientation towards her origin which is also her end; in a beauty for which she eternally desires. She is oriented so that finally at last she will freely choose God over all else. She could freely choose to remain in herself, isolated, cut off, but she no longer desires to do so. In the vision of the true, the beautiful, the good, the one – it is now clear to her that at the last the only free and rational choice is that which she was determined for.

          I believe we are determined to be free and we will freely determine it.


          • Tom says:

            Hi Robert,

            Thanks for the clarification. It sounded to me like you were suggesting libertarians held to a ‘completely unrestricted’ exercise of the will (which sounds more like Enlightenment ‘voluntarism’). So if you’re not saying that, we’re OK. Sorry if I misread ya.

            Yes to your (1) (an exercise of the will is ‘libertarian’ to the extend it is not determined by factors antecedent to the agent) and (2) (the future is undetermined with respect to that exercise of the will). (2) follows from (1) since that particular future in question (that particular exercise of will) is itself determined by the agent as, let us say, final arbiter of whatever antecedent factors converge to define the scope of the choice in question.

            So our disagreement is: I’m a libertarian (I believe we are sometimes free in this libertarian sense) and you are not. (Forget about open theism since that’s an entirely different debate about what LFW implies about the knowledge of an indeterminate future. Most libertarians are not open theists, so we don’t need to get into the latter.)

            I agree with you regarding CounterR’s comment. It is not ‘libertarian’. If I suggested it was, my bad. Sorry again. Libertarians do make similar statements, but they usually mean to describe situations of addiction or habituation. I may be libertarianly free early on in struggling with, say, alcohol. But over time I become addicted so that if you put $50 in my pock and drop me off at my favorite bar on a Friday night, I will definitely *not* be free (in the libertarian sense) with respect to whether or not I go in and have a drink. But even in this case I *am* ‘responsible’ for going into the bar to drink since the habituated sort of drinker I became over time was my own ‘libertarian’ doing. You know the line: We determine our choices, then eventually our choices determine us.

            I don’t know if Counter-R has this in mind. But on second glance, I agree with you that the statement you quote from him doesn’t offer us a libertarian to understand how it is “God can determine all who go to heaven….” I mean sure, I believe final union with God must involve a minimal (who can quantify it?) deliberative (libertarian) movement of the will, but it sound like Counter-R is describing something else.

            So I agree we’re determined to be (finally) free (flourishing in God having become free of the risk entailed in libertarian agency), and we freely (in the libertarian sense) determine ourselves, that is, we deliberatively habituate with respect to God as our end. I’m not sure you’d agree to my qualifications since I think you still find LFW as such to be incompatible with final salvation, while I do not. (On the contrary, I see it as absolutely essential.) But it’s no threat to the final salvation of all since LFW as such does *not* entail the possibility of a *final* end other than God. We may misrelate (libertarianly) to God on occasion (with the broader ‘determined’ scope of possibilities all of which have God as their final horizon), but we cannot misrelate outside the possibility of God as our final end. Hence – libertarian agency per se is, for me, a red herring in the debate over final, universal reconciliation, and libertarians who think LFW provides the means by which someone can finally and irrevocably foreclose upon themselves all possibility of Godward movement simply misunderstand LFW.

            As for whether ‘libertarian’ should be employed to name what I’m describing (your 1 and 2 above), I know of no other term. It’s not determinism. It’s not compatibilism. It affirms the (ontologically) real status of alternative possibilities and the relative agency we possess in determining which possibility becomes actuality. It’s libertarianism. But it’s not ‘voluntarism’ since it does not assume the will is absolutely unconstrained or unconditioned by factors that shape and define the scope of possibilities. I’m happy to use any term at all, but a rose by any other name…


            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Thanks Tom. I suggest that “free will” is more accurate and less confusing without the added “libertarian” qualifier. The adjective carries the unmistaken (and false) notion that to do “otherwise” is not only free but also always rational. But you see the terms of rationality are constituted in and determined by its end, whereas the libertarian situates it in the act of the will. This leads to madness.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Tom says:

            Ah, apparently we are still not so close!

            A few thoughts:

            1) ‘Free will’ is more an empty banner. Compatibilists claim to accurately describe ‘free will’, as do libertarians. And besides, the stripped down ‘free will’ doesn’t represent in public (let us say, published) conversations what I’ve described over what compatibilists describe. So ‘free will’ won’t do.

            2) And if ‘libertarian’ is an objectionable term on account of the fact that libertarians argue that to do ‘otherwise’ is ‘free’, then how does it help dissociate such power to the contrary from any notion of ‘freedom’ by calling it “free” will (as you suggest) instead of ‘libertarian’ agency?

            3) ‘Libertarian’ doesn’t include non-rational choices among options. If there are folks out there calling material indeterminacies ‘libertarian’, they’re confused. Libertarian choice is, among other things, minimally deliberative and rational.

            Just to clarify, I’m asking what you’re prefer to call the belief that we are sometimes the final arbiters in realizing one of several real possibilities; i.e., power to the contrary, to do ‘otherwise’ than we do. And in addition we want the exercise of this power to be at least minimally rational and deliberative. You and others may not believe such agency even exists, but to call it “free will” instead of “libertarian agency” (or “libertarian free will”)?

            4) You write: “You see the terms of rationality are constituted in and determined by its end, whereas the libertarian situates it in the act of the will.” This helps. I don’t at all see that libertarians are committed to a (let’s call it Enlightenment) notion of rationality and intentionality as absolutely grounded in the self as a free-floating entity unconstrained by forces (finite or transcendent). Lots of libertarians recognize that the choosing self cannot be cut lose this way, i.e., cannot be its own independent source and ground of all orientation and valuation.

            But this comment (in 4) finally helps me see the problem that you and others have with the term ‘libertarian’. You take it to be the ‘exclusive property’ of an Enlightenment abandonment of transcendence. Even though you grant the defining characteristics of what libertarians insist upon regarding much of our choosing (the reality of alternative possibilities, the self-determining agent as a kind of final arbiter among those possibilities, etc.), you don’t want to call it ‘libertarian’ since it’s also called that by others who don’t share a belief in divine transcendence with respect to the ‘will’.

            I can appreciate that complaint. I just find it far more helpful to stick with the term ‘libertarian’, if only because its ‘defining characteristics’, which I do embrace. It seems easier (as a theist who eschews Enlightenment assumptions) to qualify the use of the term should I need to than to abandon it while continuing to share core beliefs about choice which only libertarians are known for. I mean, as your last note suggests, if someone asks you where you stand in the debate over the exercise of the will, you say “I espouse ‘free will’.” But this is meaningless on its own. You end up having to admit that, well, you do agree (with the libertarian) that alternative possibilities are real and that we are at least sometimes capable of being the final arbiters in transitioning those possibilities into actualities, though you don’t buy the Enlightenment abandonment of transcendence. Why not just say: “I’m a libertarian, though with a few important qualifications”? We all end up having to add qualification after qualification anyhow I suppose.


            Liked by 1 person

          • David says:

            My two cents…

            For me, libertarianism is only the minimal belief that, for actions to be genuinely autonomous, they must not be exhaustively determined – either by ‘horizontal’ determination (temporally prior physical causes) OR by ‘vertical determination (the logically prior atemporal divine will). It certainly doesn’t mean voluntarism or the belief that *only* choices that involve indeterminism. And it doesn’t mean God doesn’t cause everything. It just means that God doesn’t determine everything, whether through horizontal or vertical determination.

            Literally every single self-professed libertarian I’ve spoken to (including atheists, theist analystical philosophers, and classical theists) has been clear that:

            1) We cannot just will anything we like, totally free from any kind of causal determination of constraints on possible choices! This includes the obvious point that we cannot will to fly and other impossible activities – and that this constitutes no restriction of our freedom – but also…

            2) Libertarianism does not mean that every single choice must be made in a libertarian way! Thus we cannot will to forget our own name, to not love our mother, etc. as these are grounded either in previous libertarian choice or our nature as rational beings. Even ‘Mr Libertarian’ Robert Kane is super clear on these points, so it’s not some niche position.

            3) Some ‘transcendental determination’ of the will is compatible with libertarianism SO LONG AS this ‘transcendental determinism’ means only that the will is naturally orientated towards the Good / the Rational as such and is therefore determined to only choose between different variations of this – and is thus compatible with a Universalist determinism in which a final ‘end state’ in which all souls recognise and bind themselves to the Good is guaranteed. The only form of ‘transcendental determinism’ that libertarianism is incompatible with is the idea that the divine will determine every single one of our actions.

            So for these folk I’d say they interpret things like this: if you believe all our actions are pre-determined by prior causal factors – whether temporal/physical or logical/theological – you’re a compatibilist, but that if you believe literally anything else you’re a libertarian. Yes, a libertarian could be a misguided voluntarist, but they can also hold that our present moral autonomy is highly limited and, on account of our transcendental orientation, is metaphysically constituted by its orientation towards the Good and is thereby determined to end up there one way or another

            Not seeking to argue for which presentation of free will is correct, or whether libertarian/compatibilist are the most appropriate terms, but personally, I’m a great believer in letting common usage guide our understanding of words, and it does seem to me that most folks use the words in this way.

            So sorry Robert – given that I know you firmly hold that the fall and our individual sins are genuine contingents, foreknown but not fore-determined – I think that makes you a libertarian 😉 I hear what you’re saying about ‘free will’ being in some way simpler and less confusing, but I think the issue there is that the simple claim that ‘free will’ exists is pretty meaningless given some believe the will is exhaustively determined whereas others believe that the will is not so exhaustively determined.

            Liked by 2 people

    • myshkin says:

      Curdie, thanks, your comment perfectly captures my own experience as well.

      I hear the Shepherd’s voice, and because of the good work here on this blog and all the other means He has used to show me that He is, i believe, but so many parts of my fractured persona are bound tight by the chains of personal history and i’m bereft of the freedom to do anything more than weekly call out to the Shepherd.
      Your last paragraph i think captures reality as it actually is. LFW is a square circle; you can say the words and dress it up with a bunch of well crafted arguments, but in the end it is the reality of our own powerlessness, the constant impact of Romans 7, and the insatiable longing that i can not satisfy on my own that illuminates lfw as an abstraction that finds no actual manifestation in a person’s lived reality.


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Enter into your rest, for the All shall be in all.

        “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


        • myshkin says:

          perfect words, Mr. Fortuin.
          who could have imagined that saying yes to this invitation from Jesus constitutes the narrow path. i’m still a touch astonished that the narrow path conforms so perfectly to my heart’s desire.

          You have, perfectly i think, clarified, with your choice of that particular Gospel reading, this truth: the irrefutable arguments contained in TASB or found in Gregory or Isaac etc . . are not just delightful in and of themselves; once accepted as trustworthy purveyors of reality they give us the confidence, dare i say hope, to take Him up on His offer and to never waste another second worrying that He didn’t really mean what He said when He made the offer in the first place.

          it’s a serendipitous thing, that you would use that passage from the Gospel; i read the following recently by Hafiz:
          Has known God,
          Not the God of names,
          Not the God of dont’s
          Not the God who ever does
          Anything weird

          But the God who only knows four words
          And keeps repeating them, saying:

          “come dance with Me”


          Liked by 1 person

  8. Geoffrey McKinney says:

    Only one version of non-universalist Christianity does not strike me as obviously self-refuting. Suppose a Christian who holds to the following three positions:

    1. open theism
    2. libertarian free will
    3. annihilationism

    (I think it is fair to say that this fairly describes Orthodox philosopher Richard Swinburne.)

    I can imagine an argument from such a Christian as follows:

    If God did not create men, then there would be zero chance of any men enjoying everlasting bliss.

    If God did create men, then there would be a non-zero chance of one or more men enjoying everlasting bliss.

    God can give a man libertarian free choice only by first creating him. By such a creation, God would effectively say to each man, “Here is your free sample of life. If you would like everlasting life, simply return this postage-free card. If you do not desire everlasting life, do nothing and keep your free sample.”

    If even a single man chose everlasting life, God’s wager would be successful. Where before there were zero men enjoying everlasting bliss, now there would be one or more.

    If every single man declined everlasting life, God’s wager would not be successful, but neither would there be loss. God started out with zero men enjoying everlasting life, and He would end up with zero men enjoying everlasting life. It’s a wager in which God can win, but He can’t lose.

    As it transpires, God has won His wager, as witness the Theotokos and the other glorified saints (at least).

    In any event, God’s wager was not irresponsible or otherwise immoral, for no one is left worse off than he began, even in the event of the everlasting annihilation of every single man. A lost man simply chooses to return to nonentity.

    I’m not saying that I would make the above argument, but I do not see that the argument is impossible (as contrasted with every other version of final loss, which versions I recognize as definitely impossible).


  9. Henry says:

    We know that humans retain free will after the resurrection, because free will is part of human nature/essence, which will not be changed. We also know that humans in heaven will not sin. We know that there will be no second fall. Therefore, “free will” cannot be defined as C.S. Lewis defines it, as the ability to arbitrarily choose ones own telos, otherwise there would always be the possibility of subsequent falls.


  10. mercifullayman says:

    I think many of the Russians/Theistic Existentalists have an interesting take. Drawing from Augustine and Kant, Freedom has two functions as it plays out in the scope of life. There is Freedom in “Essentia” and Freedom in “Existentia.” In essentia, it is only ever going to be freedom if it is motivated by the attainment of the good. Kant, for those that will detract, I think, is quite good on freedom. The essence of freedom is wrapped up in the duty to abide by the morally transcendent act of duty to others, love, etc. I don’t think most here would quibble with this. Yet, the essence of freedom means it has to be able to come up against something to recognize itself as being truly free. St. Paul makes this same point about the law. If there was no law, then how would one know what sin really was? In existence, we have to be able to choose the rationally oriented good or the irrational other. As persons, and I define a person as the dynamic force that acts upon reality, not merely a hypostatic individuation, existence has to allow us the room to be able to move unbridled, to become and to realize the tension of freedom itself. That doesn’t mean, however, that I am “free” in the essence as a thing in itself. I very much may be choosing to stay enslaved in the act of existence in the world as immanent act, but in the end, when all is said and done, freedom as the ground of the divine and ourselves, will show me that essentially I never was free, even if in existence, I was able to derive some “sense” of what freedom could entail and to become aware of it.

    The mystery of freedom is one that presupposes that the lesson of transcendent freedom is always experienced here and yet it cannot be known as anything concrete without the immanent ability to choose against it. In the end, it will be realized as fully free when both worlds become one…when all is revealed. The lesson of coming to know freedom, true freedom, as we all kind of surmise, can only be found in the deification of ourselves. True freedom is found in the God-Man, and to steal from St. Maximus, and JDW, to the degree we become free, is the degree we become more like Christ. Yet, that is also a synergistic act. It does require the ability to choose to unearth that which has been given to us in the depths of our personhood as essential parts of our being, to solely rely on the existence (aka libertarian choice) we have as sheer reality, would be the exact fact of the Fall (also stealing from JDW/Maximus here).

    I would suggest, that Freedom is an extension of Grace. Nature, while bound by necessity, hasn’t fully had grace imparted to it…..yet. We exercise that creaturely gift in a thousand ways, both accepting the gift to be as we are meant to be, and yet also to not accept it. Origen says that grace is the “universal rain that falls on us all,” and we know from the Gospels that “He makes it rain on the just and the unjust.” Freedom is the gift that allows all to become whether in the real or the phantasms we build for ourselves. Whether it stands the test is up to us. To deny that, pushes against the very notion of what it means to be human. And to be human, to be truly free as a human, is to become like the one who originates us from Himself, and who does so freely.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Tom says:

    I can’t respond to David cause his comment is too inset and it’s not directed to me, but he writes above:

    “3) Some ‘transcendental determination’ of the will is compatible with libertarianism so long as this ‘transcendental determinism’ means only that the will is naturally orientated towards the Good / the Rational as such and is therefore determined to only choose between different variations of this – and is thus compatible with a Universalist determinism in which a final ‘end state’ in which all souls recognise and bind themselves to the Good is guaranteed. The only form of ‘transcendental determinism’ that libertarianism is incompatible with is the idea that the divine will determine every single one of our actions.”

    If I’m following ya, this is how I understand it as well. Any libertarian exercise of the will we have occurs within the horizon of a more fundamental orientation toward God/the Good as our final end. We can variously misrelate to this, for many reasons, but we misrelate ‘within’ it, within God. It’s like a compass that cannot but respond in all its movements toward magnetic north even if under certain circumstances its attraction can be led astray or misdirected.

    But I appreciate Robert’s point (and I’m guessing DBH’s point as well) that the term ‘libertarian’ is so contaminated by association with Enlightenment presuppositions about humanity’s absolute autonomy, there’s no value to be had in employing the term to express other benign convictions about the reality of alternative possibilities, the self-determining nature of choice, etc. Like you said, David, I don’t find libertarians espousing that kind of absolute autonomy today. But even if there are, others don’t promote that. So I’m not sure what the point is.

    It’s a bit like supposing the terms ‘existentialist’ or ‘freedom’ shouldn’t be used by a fan of Kierkegaard to talk about choice and self-realization (in Kierkegaardian terms, which are theistic and very grounded in divine transcendence) since later atheist existentialists took these terms over to describe an understanding of ‘freedom’ that Kierkegaard explicitly disagreed with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      I’ll say this, Robert. If I stand outside this particular conversation about the use of ‘libertarian’ and consider something else, like the use of the word ‘evangelical’, then I’m closer to you, for I find the word ‘Evangelical’ (I’ve been and served in the Evangelical tradition my whole life) useless in self-identifying, even if much of the extreme viewpoints of many Evangelicals today can’t be traced to Evangelicalism’s origins. I doubt the development of the two terms is that similar, but I can appreciate how ‘libertarian’ (agency) can be so associated with assumptions and beliefs that make employing it with qualification as hopeless as I’ve come to see use of ‘evangelical’ to describe me.


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Dear Tom & David

        I must continue to lean adamantly against the term because the standard, late modern usage of “libertarian freedom” is by and large wrapped up in the notion of an ever remaining ability to do otherwise in its take on what constitutes free volition and agency. I continue to insist that the inability to do otherwise, non posse pecare, is what makes a man truly human and truly free. Jesus fully free was unable to, he could not, sin. To put it in Eastern Christian parlance – libertarianism conflates the gnomic with the natural. In the words of David Hart, “we are free not because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well.”

        I do grant that merely utilizing “free will” and “freedom” is wholly insufficient.
        I suggest “rational freedom” serves us better for the above reasons.

        Liked by 2 people

      • David says:

        Thanks Robert and Tom

        Robert, I fully agree that human nature is ultimately orientated towards permanent union with the divine, and that the ‘non posse peccare’ state provides a more settled, ultimate ‘freer’ type of freedom.

        Nevertheless, I reckon that ‘libertarianism’ is taken by most to mean merely that *some* decisions taken by humanity in its *current* state are taken in a way that is determined neither at the horizontal-historical or vertical-divine level. And after all, God didn’t predetermine humanity to fall, nor did he predetermine any of our individual sins – so it clearly *is* constitutive of human nature that the *possibility* of sinning is there, at least in the early stages of our development.

        Still, I do greatly sympathise with worries about the voluntarist (and other) associations with the term ‘libertarianism’, which can indeed be deeply misleading. But I happen to think that – given how many people actually understand the term libertarianism today – denying that one is a libertarian can be just as, if not more, misleading. For instance, I know more than a few people who had assumed DBH subscribed to a fully compatibilist determinist view of every kind of decision taken by humans on account of his opposition to the term – while, as I say, in my experience, every self-professed libertarian that I’ve actually asked has clearly denied the sort of propositions you’re worried about Robert. Maybe I’ve just been lucky in my conversation partners though 🙂

        Going back to the word ‘freedom’, I again take your point – and personally I prefer the terminology of ‘deliberate liberty’ so beloved of DBH – but I’m still comfortable with referring to our current brand of creaturely autonomy as a kind of freedom, albeit a limited and provisional one. I think most people use the word ‘freedom’ in the more basic sense of simply ‘not exhaustively determined’ – without implying any theories that this state is true of all decisions, or a necessary condition of human nature forever, or that no ‘higher’ kind of freedom could exist. Indeterminism can be a kind of freedom, even if it is not the only or best kind of freedom. I certainly don’t get how one could object to calling this ‘freedom’ but not have a problem with saying we have ‘free will’ – i.e. if freedom is misleading, surely free will is misleading too: they both come from the word free.

        So I completely that ‘rational freedom’ is the best term to describe the final and ultimate form of freedom that will be enjoyed at the eschaton – I guess the implication is not that we are totally unfree, but rather that we possess a kind of ‘irrational freedom’ – real and important, though destined to be replaced by true rational freedom

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Tom says:

    You know I love ya! (https://media.giphy.com/media/3otPotnGlA5FSF2fKw/giphy.gif) Brian too!

    Of course our truest, highest flourishing in God is our final freedom from all libertarian indeterminacy and risk. No Xan libertarian suggests anything else. None think that LFW is our ‘end’ in God, a permanent power to do otherwise. That would be hell.

    Nobody uses “rational freedom.” And when you go into describing what we think our present deliberative powers include (rational deliberation, the reality of alternative possibilities, and the ability to do otherwise, among other attributes) folks will simply say, “Oh, you’re describing libertarian agency” to which you’ll reply, “No, I’m not a libertarian.” Why not? “Because the ‘will’ has its natural source/ground and end in God and is destined to become ‘non posse peccare’.” But this is confusing because Xan libertarians will wonder why in the world believing in divine teleology and our final end in God should mean you can’t use the word ‘libertarian’ to describe where we’re at now. Libertarianism was never (let me tentatively claim) universally patented as the exclusive property of Enlightenment deists and atheists to denote the never-ending power of contrary choice ensconced in an absolute Self. (Perhaps we need a thread to just name libertarians one by one and see what’s what.) That some viewed the Self in absolute terms is certain. That they should have a patent on the use of ‘libertarian’ (which many who did not adopt so absolute a view of the Self also used) is at least debatable.

    But besides this, you’re insisting upon using the word “freedom” only with respect to humanity’s final end in God. You just defined ‘freedom’ as having become ‘non posse peccare’. I agree that’s our end, and I’m happy to reserve a use of the word “free” to describe it, but there’s no call for so exclusive a use of the words ‘free’ and ‘freedom’, especially since we’re ‘free’ (!) to explain and qualify ourselves in conversation, which is what people do. And on your view (one that relegates ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ exclusively to its final, consummate form) the words can no longer admit the comparative ‘freer’ or the superlative ‘freest’ (most free), since ‘free’ now just always means consummately fulfilled in one’s final end as ‘non posse peccare’, to which state there’s no comparative or superlative as such.

    I appreciate and respect where you’re coming from, but I can’t see it as remotely employable. But – I will move forward knowing how you use the terms! ;o)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      By saying “Nobody uses ‘rational freedom'” I only mean that phrase hasn’t entered the literature as denoting a specific theory of choice as such.

      Liked by 1 person

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