An Argument for Libertarian Free Will

by Max Andrews

Humans possess a certain level of libertarian freedom, prima facie.  The arguments supporting the free will are the evidence of human volition, moral accountability, and moral duty.  In the end, there are no good reasons to believe the contrary.  By libertarian freedom I mean that our freedom is a derived freedom, humans are not completely independent or completely autonomous.  In Molinism, unlike Calvinism, God is completely sovereign over the eternal destinies of a world of libertarian free creatures who have, in Augustinian terminology, “free choice” and not merely “free will.”  MacGregor explains that for Augustine, “free choice” (i.e. libertarian free will) entailed the freedom to choose between opposites in both the physical and spiritual realms.  Thus fallen humanity, by virtue of the imago Dei, can freely choose whether or not to respond to God’s prevenient grace.  By contrast, Augustine defined “free will” (i.e. compatibilist free will) as the ability to choose without any external constraint between the options compatible with one’s nature. [1] On this view, unregenerate humans, due to original sin, lack the ability to choose between spiritual good and evil.  Just as a bad tree can bear bad fruit or no fruit at all, unregenerate humanity can either perform spiritual wickedness by actively rebelling against God or do nothing spiritual at all by displaying passivity toward God.  The Scriptures breathe libertarian human freedom, even if the Bible makes no explicit mention of it. Take, for example, 1 Cor. 10.13, which promises that God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” It follows that any Christian who does not in some circumstance endure but succumbs to temptation had it within his power to take the way of escape instead, i.e., he had the liberty of opposites in those circumstances. Again, we can at least agree that if the Scriptures do presuppose or affirm libertarian freedom, then there is no basis for denying that sentences like 1 Cor. 2.8 are true counterfactuals of freedom. In any set of circumstances humans have the ability to choose alternates and opposites.

All actions humans are not causally determined by the physical order.  All states of affairs are not a continuation of physically determined causes since the beginning.  Humans possess the ability and mental faculty to create a new series of causes out of their own volition, also known as agent causation.  As evidenced by the actual world, God cannot causally control everything because what follows from that is God being a causal agent of evil. God being a causal agent of evil is theologically and philosophically untenable.  It would completely contradict the very ontology of a perfect being.

If there is no faculty of the will, which is determined by that individual agent, then how can that person be obligated to choose, between morally good and bad, right and wrong?  If humans possess no such faculty then we are not obligated to any adherence of morality.  Morality then becomes arbitrary and optional.  Without any agent having freedom to choose between spiritual good and spiritual bad (or moral good or moral bad) then that person cannot and should not be held accountable for their actions.  If all actions are determined by the physical order then the physical order is to blame and should be held morally accountable for its causes. Moral accountability for the physical order is absurd.  This notion removes the personhood behind obligation.  If we can hold the physical order morally accountable for wrongs, then I am certainly within the bounds of reason to blame gravity for falling down a flight of stairs, which would be causally related to my physical pain. If God determines all actions then God is to be held accountable for His causes.  However, if a rational agent possesses the mental faculty of the will then he is morally obligated to adhere to an objective standard of morality and should be held accountable for it.[2]

[1] See William Lane Craig, “Ducking Friendly Fire: Davison on the Grounding Objection.” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 166. Augustine, On Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887; rep. ed., Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 1994), 5:57-59, 74-76.  MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 84-85.
[2] This point is made a posteriori based on the objectivity of morality (i.e. it is objectively true that justice is morally good).  We also find this to be true from the biblical witness of divine judgment.

4 Responses to “An Argument for Libertarian Free Will”

  1. Could you define “prevenient grace” more precisely?

    In your last paragraph you use the example of the physical order and not having the natural ability to resist it. Of course, we shouldn’t be blameworthy for something we are not *naturally* able to do. The question on my mind is are we still not blameworthy for something we are not able to do because of a *moral* inability. That’s less clear to me.

  2. I have been a convinced Calvinist for many years, but I try to keep an open mind. After all, though Scripture is inerrant, our interpretations of it are not. If I were to be convinced that the Bible did not teach Calvinism, I would have to change my views, however unlikely that seems to me at this time. Could you recommend some titles on Molinism that I might read? I would like to at least be more familiar with that viewpoint.

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