the best critique against libertarian free will

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Aco, May 8, 2019.

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  1. Aco

    Aco Puritan Board Freshman

    I wanted to ask if somebody here knows the most devastating critique of libertarian free will in philosophy yet brought forward?
  2. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Jonathan Edwards "Freedom of The Will". It's a little dated. But I would attack the metaphysics of it and why they want it so bad. I'll think about and post later.
  3. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    Scripture and the logic of the Spirit is the most devastating. Outside of Scripture, I do not know which is most potent but can list a few:

    Against the Pelagians by Augustine
    On the Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
    The Bondage and Liberation of the Will by John Calvin
    A Display of Arminianism by John Owen
    An Antidote Against Arminianism by Christopher Ness
    Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards (as noted above)
    The Doctrine of the Will by William Cunningham
    Free Grace Versus Free Will by W. E. Best
    God Sovereign and Man Free by N. L. Rice
    The Sovereignty of God by A. W. Pink
    Willing to Believe by R. C. Sproul

    Here's a helpful link: Monergism: Topic: Free Will

    Theopedia articles on compatiblism and libertarian free will are helpful too, and also online philosophy encyclopedias like the Stanford on the subject.

    For me, this topic always goes back to Scripture, to the sovereignty of God, the will of God, predestination and election, monergistic regeneration, the nature of man in his fallen state, etc.
  4. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I have not finished this book yet but what I have read so far is excellent. It is a modern defense of Calvinistic theology, and a Biblical response to free will, including a discussion on Augustines argument. "Chosen in Christ: Revisiting the Contours of Predestination" by Dr Venema.

    The Refomed Doctrine of Predestination (Boettner) remains a classic. Still one of my favourite books on this subject.
  5. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Does Dr. Venema deal with necessitarianism ala Edwards? I've been looking for a solid modern treatment of the subject to recommend to interested parties but the only ones I've come across that don't follow Edwards down that rabbit hole are the academic historical works like Muller or Van Asselt.
  6. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    First thoughts. I don't know what a "libertarian free will" is supposed to mean? I get the argument that without we must accept determinism but why? How much of our behavior "seems" pretty automatic? Our reaction to something beautiful or repulsive?

    Our brains are designed this way with physical actions we get in the scheme of things and act without thinking.

    My attack would be multiprong in nature. First philosophical. Have them define what they mean? Then attack the metaphysics and logic underlying it (like is it motivated by substance or Cartesian ideas, both are pretty refuted). Than linguistically, like how are they using the words or definitions? Than logically analyze their position.

    Than theologically. Can we truly reconcile God's sovereignty and man's freedom? We can analogically and biblically. It is a mystery though. Sorry it took so long, i was working.
  7. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Not to the best of my knowledge. He primarily focuses on exegesis and theology which I believe is the best foundation for the subject.

    He has a very good discussion of modern issues/theologians - Karl Barth, John Sanders, Open Theism, Middle Knowledge, etc and shows all these views are incoherent. He discusses 'free will' as part of this and shows it is an incoherent theology. All in all I am sure you will find it very helpful. As I previously said I think it goes nicely with Boettner's work.
  8. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    Below is a simple proof against LFW.

    Establish the necessity of God’s belief about Tom’s choice:

    100 years ago God believed that Tom will do x tomorrow
    2. If x is believed in the past, it is now necessary that x was believed then
    3. It is now necessary that 100 years ago God believed that Tom will do x tomorrow

    Establish the necessity of Tom’s choice, given the necessity of God’s belief:

    Necessarily, if 100 years ago God believed Tom will do x tomorrow, then Tom will do x tomorrow
    5. If p {i.e. God's historical belief about Tom's choice} is now necessary (3), and necessarily if p, then q; then q {i.e. Tom's choice of x tomorrow: (consequent from 4)} is now necessary [transfer of necessity principle]
    6. Therefore, it is now necessary that Tom will do x tomorrow [3, 4 and 5]

    Establish that Tom does not act freely, given the necessity of Tom’s choice:

    If it is now necessary that Tom will do x tomorrow, then Tom cannot do otherwise
    8. Therefore, Tom cannot do otherwise than x tomorrow
    9. If one cannot do otherwise, then one does not act freely
    10. Therefore, when Tom does x tomorrow, he will not do it freely

    Taken from here:

    I also review (favorably) Paul Manata’s primer on free will here:
    Last edited: May 24, 2019
  9. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    I clicked on the link but received this message: "Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist." Somewhere I have Paul's work on free will saved. What happened with Paul? Does he post on Triablogue? Btw, I have your blog linked on the front page of my blog: Presuppositionalism 101 Please pray about the work I am doing on permissions to post Van Til's articles from past issues of the Torch and Trumpet journal, the request will be heard by the board of Reformed Fellowship Inc. on June 12th. I think it could also bring more awareness to their ministry, as each article would include a link to their site. I just want to bring as much of Van Til's writings as possible to the masses, his work more than influenced me, my testimony is like Eric Sigward's, Van Til made me a Calvinist, and quite honestly, God used Dr. Van Til to keep me from falling into agnosticism. This happened to me back in 03' or 04'. Thinking back, it's really quite a story considering where I came from, truly a grace awakening. Praise God for saving me from conditional election, from preconceived autonomy, from myself.
  10. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I think he took a step back from mainstream internet presence and focused on more scholarly pursuits (he got his Master's under Plantinga). He published in an Oxford journal, for instance.

    He still maintains his attack on LFW, though he would also reject Muller's thesis (and I think Muller has a veiled reference to him in his book on Free Choice).

    I haven't seen him post on Triablogue in a long time. I am friends with him on facebook but I don't know what he is actually doing.
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  11. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    Edwards is a good read on this topic, and should be read by everyone. But it should also be soberly noted that many major, major Reformed theologians have rejected his premise—namely, the so-called distinction between “natural” and “moral” ability. Many—like Bavinck, for example—have not been satisfied with such a distinction within human nature. In fact, Bavinck even said, if I remember correctly, that Edwards unwittingly “aided the cause of the Pelagians” by conceding that man has the “natural” ability to keep God’s law perfectly.
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  12. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    It’s been about a year since I’ve corresponded with Paul. It had to do with Greg Boyd. Paul’s post is linked to my post. I’ve put another link at the bottom.

    I’ll check out your blog. Thanks for linking my blog. Your testimony and endeavors are an encouragement to me. Keep up the good work!

    Try top link in google
    Last edited: May 24, 2019
  13. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Yeah. I'm he can be improved upon, we have nearly 200 years of theology/philosophy to draw upon. But it's a good place to start.
  14. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The problem with Edwards is that even if he didn't reject what the earlier Reformers said, he did reject, or at least abandoned, faculty psychology. This makes it really hard to understand what Edwards means when he comes to things like necessity. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't break with the Reformed tradition in substance, but he certainly did with terminology and clarity.
  15. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I'm not a big fan of faculty psychology myself.
  16. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I understand some hang ups with it, but it was *the* grammar of Western man, Protestant or Catholic) for over 2,000 years. To suddenly drop it while discussing the same issues is only to invite confusion.
  17. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    Can someone give an example of Edwards using necessity in a confusing manner?
  18. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    It's more of how he uses "contingency." Earlier divines used it to mean something like freedom of contrariety (not including final salvation). Edwards used it more along the lines of those events which have no connection between the subject and the predicate of a proposition, which of course he rejects.

    In the opening pages of Freedom he notes But the word contingent is abundantly used in a very different sense; not for that whose connection with the series of things we cannot discern, so as to foresee the event, but for something which has absolutely no previous ground or reason, with which its existence has any fixed and certain connection.”

    Surprinsingly, at the very beginning though, he says this “If any think it is a more perfect definition of the will, to say, that it is that by which the soul either chooses or refuses, I am content with it”.
  19. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Reformed theologians generally differentiated fallen man's freedom with respect to things moral and things indifferent. With respect to the latter, man would be free indeed to the extent that many Calvinists today might accuse them of holding to libertarian free will in that they argued that man's actions are not necessary, but rather contingent. This contingency, of course, depended on God's providence, however. This distinction seems to have no place in Edwards even while he does acknowledge it off-handedly a few times.

    Now it's been awhile since I've read Edwards extensively, but his approach to freedom and necessity struggled to maintain coherent distinctions relative to human nature in its fourfold state. If divine foreknowledge in itself (and human psychology) implies a necessity of the consequent (rather than of the consequence), then pre-fall Adam, fallen sinners, and redeemed sinners all are subject to the same necessity and have the same lack of free will. The consideration of the fourfold state of man was central to discussions of free will going back to Augustine, but Edwards more or less left them behind for a focus on philosophy and psychology.
    Last edited: May 31, 2019
  20. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    This discussion brings to mind review I gave of Paul Manata’s primer on free will, which is below. I was one of the readers footed at the end, so I’m no stranger to the subject in general and the confusion in particular. (I offered no dissenting remarks and as I recall, no assistance of any value, though I was privileged to read an earliest draft.)

    Here’s a link to Paul’s piece. He gives some useful fence posts. https://analytictheologye4c5.files....ree-will-and-moral-responsibility-intro11.pdf

    I placed some text in bold because of this discussion.


    “I don't know how many times I have asked candidates for licensure and ordination whether we are free from God's decree, and they have replied ‘No, because we are fallen.’ That is to confuse libertarianism (freedom from God's decree, ability to act without cause) with freedom from sin. In the former case, the fall is entirely irrelevant. Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense. But freedom from sin is something different. Adam had that before the fall, but lost it as a result of the fall.” John Frame

    Plain and simple, Reformed folk, especially pastors and professors, need to wrap their minds around a Reformed understanding of the workings of the human will and how it relates to God’s decree and moral responsibility. Confusion abounds, or as Paul Manata puts it, there is no “unified message” among Reformed thinkers and many prominent ones are “apparently at odds with each other.” I agree, which is why I am exceedingly well pleased to see that Paul has put his mind and skill to this important matter and provide the Reformed community with a timely primer on free will and moral responsibility.

    If one is looking for a polemical defense of Reformed Theology (RT) as it relates to determinism, freedom and moral culpability, Paul’s paper is probably not for you. Paul aims at a different target and hits it in the bullseye. He aims to lay the groundwork for fruitful reflection and discussion while showing that RT is inherently a kind of determinism, and that RT entails harmonious compatibility between determinism, man’s freedom and moral accountability. Paul defends his general thesis by concise appeals to the Westminster Confession of Faith, with reference to its teachings on God’s eternal decree, divine providence and exhaustive omniscience, which includes foreknowledge. Again, Paul is not setting out to defend RT per se as it relates to these matters, but rather define RT as it relates to them, as well as establish some suitable boundaries or fence posts from within intramural discussions can take place. That is not to say that his paper is void of any defense of RT in this regard, but that is not his primary focus. In fact, Paul spends considerable time walking his readers through the thought process of non-Reformed positions.

    Paul, playing off John Feinberg’s classifications of necessity, draws a distinction between what he calls “nature determinism” and “act determinism." That man acts according to his nature is not an argument against libertarian freedom, nor is it an adequate defense of a Reformed stripe of determinism. Although Reformed thinkers confuse the two and often strictly argue in accordance with nature determinism, in doing so they beg most crucial questions and in the process look foolish in front of skilled Molinists.This distinction also plays into the erroneous idea that by establishing irresistible grace, libertarian freedom is refuted.

    After setting the stage by showing that Reformed theology is clearly a type of determinism, Paul takes up the task of showing that if RT is consistent, then determinism must be compatible with man’s moral accountability and freedom, because RT, following Scripture, affirms both. Paul then waltzes his readers through classical compatiblism and the main objection against it (the "consequence argument", which is that there is no possibility of freedom given determinism). It is alleged that if we are not in control of all determining factors, then we cannot be free – a premise that has been affirmed (and denied) from within opposing camps. The lack of agreement is mostly due to ambiguity within the complaint.

    Paul then moves to a discussion on semi-compatiblism, which strongly denies the freedom to do otherwise; it doesn’t posit hypothetical freedom, as do classical compatiblists. The position focuses on necessary conditions for moral accountability, which do not include an ability to choose between alternative possibilities, but do require “control,” which Paul later refines in light of man’s ability to be responsive to reason and innate understanding of moral responsibility.

    Paul then takes on libertarian free will and its associated axiom that “ought” implies “can.” Within a deterministic framework we cannot do otherwise, but if “ought” implies “can," then determinism must undermine moral responsibility. He then addresses those libertarians who posit that what is required for moral responsibility is not libertarian freedom but rather that man himself is the ultimate source of his actions. A supporting argument would be that if an agent could be physically prevented from acting in any other way but one (such as with a Frankfurt counter example, or FCE) so as to ensure that no other choice is made, then no other choice could be made. If one can be kept from a contrary choice, then he could not act except but one way - yet he’d be responsible for acting when left to his own deliberation, which suggests that one need not have alternate possibilities in order to be morally responsible. FCEs help show that moral responsibility is not conditioned upon alternate possibilities. This illustrative theory is often used to support the premise that when man is the ultimate source of his action he has met the sufficient condition for moral accountability. Accordingly, it is maintained by "narrow source" incompatibilists that one can be responsible apart from alternate possibilities, if he is the ultimate source of his actions. (FCEs are useful for the determinist too.)Then Paul segues into agent-causality, a position which reduces to man being sovereign not just over his actions but his will too.

    (Digression: I can see how a Calvinist can make fair use of Frankfurt counterexamples but not libertarians. For within Molinism, for instance, "will choose x" does not imply "must choose x", a non-issue for determinists (for will implies must for a determinist). Naturally, a Calvinist would not be establishing ultimate sourcehood by the employment of FCEs, but he could defeat an objection against the ability to choose otherwise as being necessary for moral accountability, but such a defeater presupposes a deterministic metaphysic, which of course would not be persuasive to a Molinist; yet the argument would be valid (even sound) just the same. In other words, given a Molinist's metaphysic, a physical constraint to choose otherwise does not imply a metaphysical constraint to choose otherwise. So, for the Molinist, although the agent would be prevented from choosing other than x, he would still be metaphysically free to choose other than x. FCE's are a powerful tool in the right hands but not in the hands of libertarians, and I've digressed enough.)

    Eventually Paul's paper gets into synchronic tendencies in the Reformed tradition, where Paul is constrained to underscore that although there is liberty within the Reformed tradition to work out models of determinism (as long as they don’t get outside certain Reformed fence posts) there is no place to eradicate determinism from RT, as some seem to want to do. Paul interacts with quotes by contemporary Reformed professors, which demonstrate that confusion does abound over the matter of pure contingency and necessity. Paul interacts with Duns Scotus' view that is apparently being appropriated by some Reformed thinkers. Paul then gets a bit more polemical and employs a foreknowledge argument that incorporates an accidental necessity argument, which simply states that in the past are future tense truth propositions regarding creaturely choices. If it was true yesterday that Alice would choose x, then Alice's future choice of x is as necessary as the past.

    Finally, Paul distinguishes between overcoming libertarian objections in the realm of conversion and overcoming them in the realm of most choices, "mundane" ones. That is a distinction that must be maintained, for there has been an argument floated out there at a renowned Reformed seminary that libertarian freedom is refuted by the doctrine of irresistible grace.

    Paul’s desire in producing this work is to provoke thoughtful reflection and discussion within the Reformed community. I don't know of a better topic for him to have selected for the main objection to RT is its inherently deterministic doctrine. The confusion that abounds must first be cleared up within the camp if we’re to attract outsiders to RT. If more professors dumb down determinism, or exchange it for something else, then those attracted to the name RT will not be attracted to actual RT.

    May God be pleased to grant increase to Paul Manata's most excellent work.
    Last edited: May 31, 2019
  21. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I think it is quite easy to reconcile divine sovereignty with man's freedom. The problem arises when we treat the two concepts univocally, if treated that way than yes the two cannot both true. But analogically they can both be true. I don't know sovereignty exactly means applied to God, how it works.

    The book "Beyond The Bounds: Open Theism and The Undermining of Chritianity" edited by John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Helseth is a wonderful book on this subject. It has a great essay by Mark R. Talbot on this very subject. The whole book is great, I recommend Michael Horton's essay as well.
  22. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    In fact Dr. Talbot says it is a category mistake to try to understand what relation, he doesn't say but implies, God's sovereignty and man's will have in a univocal sense. That's what LFW people are trying to do. Attack them there.
  23. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    Frankly, I think those who get hung up on reconciling the two don’t yet grasp that the two are in no sense contradictory. They don’t even have to appear contradictory. (What would appear contradictory is if God were not sovereign over our choices.)

    Even on a creaturely level, mere humans can orchestrate circumstances that can ensure the future choices of men. How much more the case with God? If a women intentionally yet discretely drops her glove in front of a gentleman, he’ll likely choose to pick it up. Does the woman’s action in any way violate the freedom of the gentleman when he chooses to reach for her glove?

    The analogy isn’t perfect, obviously. But in essentials it works. Sure, the woman would not know with certainty the gentleman’s choice. She cannot ensure the outcome. Notwithstanding, when her charade succeeds in triggering gentlemanly behavior, we’re seeing causality. We’re also seeing creaturely freedom in the gentleman’s action.

    Indeed, God is better at ensuring outcomes than the woman. But just because God ensures creaturely choices without fail, that should not cause us to ponder man’s freedom. Men are free when they can choose as they please. Freedom has nothing to do with the eternal truth of the future outcome. Apples and oranges.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2019
  24. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Amen. And we need more gentlemanly behavior out of boys and womanly behavior out of girls. But you raise an interesting point, the women knows what a man will do in such a situation, is that determined in some sense? Who knows, but it happened.
    Also how would insanity play into this discussion? Is a person who has either no comprehension of right and wrong at the time of the crime and/or they have an irresistible compulsion to commit said crime not responsible for said act?
    We still hold them responsible in that we lock them up in an asylum. They don't go free. Ed gain was Cleary insane and spent his last days in an asylum. I say this to point out how mysterious this whole thing is, and complex.
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