Roger Olson asked a very interesting and difficult question the other day: Does God have libertarian freedom? He was specifically addressing Calvinists (he is an Arminian) due to our characteristic denial of what is called “libertarian freedom.” I, as a Calvinist, will attempt to answer his question here.

Let me begin by explaining libertarian freedom, and the reason why most Calvinists deny the concept. (Just scroll to the end if you already know what libertarian freedom is.)

Libertarian Freedom

Libertarian Freedom is often described as “the power of contrary choice.” In other words, the one who believes in libertarian freedom believes that in any given circumstance, when a choice is made, the chooser had the “power” or ability to choose differently. For example, even though this blog is already written, I could have chosen not to write it.

That seems self-evident and rather intuitive as our days are made up of the sum total of all our choices. We make thousands of conscious and unconscious decisions every day in which there are multiple options present. As well, we hold people accountable for their choices because we assume that they could have done otherwise. We tell our children to clean up their room. If they disobey, we discipline them, believing that they had the power of contrary choice (i.e. they could have obeyed!).

As easy as this concept is to accept from a very practical standpoint, from both a philosophical and theological point of view, it is hardly so cut and dry. If you ask me whether a person has the power of contrary choice, I would answer “no.”

Hang with me. The basic argument would be this. Any given choice that a person makes is not made in a vacuum. In other words, none of our choices are birthed out of neutrality. It is a person who makes the choice, not some innocent bystander called “free will.” By the time any given choice is made, the person making the choice will already be, by nature, predisposed to make that choice. This does not mean that the outcome is determined by an outside agency (determinism) nor does it mean that the choice in inevitable (fatalism), but that it is self-determined. Simply put, a person’s nature makes up who they are. Who they are determines their choice. Therefore, people always choose according to who they are at the moment. There is no “power” of contrary choice, for we cannot identify what or who this “power” might be.

Arminians such as Roger Olson believe that when we reject God, we do so out of a neutralized will (total depravity + previenient grace).

Calvinists such as myself believe that when we reject God, we do so out of a fallen will (total depravity).

Think about all that goes into making who you are. We are born in the fallen line of Adam. Spiritually speaking, we have an inborn inclination toward sin. All of our being is infected with sin. This is called “total depravity.” Every aspect of our being is infected with sin, even if we don’t act it out to a maximal degree.

But even if this were not the case—even if total depravity were a false doctrine—libertarian freedom would still be untenable for humans. Not only are you who you are because of your identification with a fallen human race, but notice all these factors that you did not choose that go into the setup for any given “free will” decision made:

  • You did not choose when you were to be born.
  • You did not choose where you were to be born.
  • You did not choose your parents.
  • You did not choose your influences early in your life.
  • You did not choose whether you were to be male or female.
  • You did not choose your genetics.
  • You did not choose your temperament.
  • You did not choose your looks.
  • You did not choose your body type.
  • You did not choose your physical abilities.

All of these factors play an influential role in who you are at the time of any given decision. Yes, your choice is free, but it has you behind it. Therefore, you are free to choose according to you from whom you are not able to free yourself!

Now, I must reveal something here once again that might surprise many of you. This view is held by both Calvinists and Arminians alike. Neither position believes that a person can choose against their nature. However, Arminians (such as Olson) differ from Calvinists in that they believe in the doctrine of “prevenient grace,” which essentially neutralizes the will so that the inclination toward sin—the antagonism toward God—is relieved and the person can make a neutral decision.

However, we still have some massive difficulties. Here are a few:

A neutralized will amounts to your absence from the choice itself.

Changing the nature of a person so that their predispositions are neutral does not really help. We are back to the question What does a neutralized will look like? Does it erase all of the you behind the choice? If you are neutralized and liberated from you, then who is making the choice? How can you be held responsible for a choice that you did not really make, whether good or bad?

A neutralized will amounts to perpetual indecision.

Think about this, if a person had true libertarian freedom, where there were no coercive forces, personal or divine, that influenced the decision, would a choice ever be made? If you have no reason to choose A or B, then neither would ever be chosen. Ronald Nash illustrates this by presenting a dog who has true libertarian freedom trying to decide between two bowls of dog food. He says that the dog would end up dying of starvation. Why? Because he would never have any reason to choose one over the other. It is like a balanced scale, it will never tilt to the right or the left unless the weight (influence) on one side is greater than the other. Then, no matter how little weight (influence) is added to a balanced scale, it will always choose accordingly.

A neutralized will amounts to arbitrary decisions, for which one cannot be held responsible.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that libertarian choice could be made. Let’s say that the dog did choose one food bowl over the other. In a truly libertarian sense, this decision cannot have influences of any kind. Any decision without influences is arbitrary. It would be like flipping a coin. I chose A rather than B, not because of who I am, but for no reason at all. It just turned out that way. But this option is clearly outside a biblical worldview of responsibility and judgment. Therefore, in my opinion, the outcome for the fight for true libertarian free will comes at the expense of true responsibility!

Bottom line:  while I believe people have free will, I don’t believe people have libertarian free will. We make the choices we make because of who we are. We are responsible for these choices. God will judge each person accordingly with a righteous judgment.

Is there tension? Absolutely. We hold in tension our belief in God’s sovereignty, determining who we are, when we live, where we will live, who our parents will be, our DNA, etc. and human responsibility. While this might seem uncomfortable, I believe that it is not only the best biblical option, but the only philosophical option outside of fatalism, and we don’t want to go there.

Acts 17:26-28
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.”

Does God have libertarian freedom?

Now we come to the question of the hour. Roger Olson asks, in essence, Does God have libertarian freedom?

You see, pantheism believes that God (an impersonal being) created the world out of necessity. He did not make a choice, much less a libertarian free choice. But Christians are not pantheists. We do not believe that God was compelled to create the universe, but did so out of his own freedom. In other words, he could have chosen not to make the universe. Therefore if you are a Christian, no matter what tradition you are from, I think you must believe that God has the power of contrary choice. God has true freedom in a way that we don’t.

However, this does not mean we believe that God has the ability to choose against his nature. Roger Olson asks, “Is God the prisoner of his own wisdom (or of anything)?” “Prisoner” is loaded term. I could load it another way: “Is God faithful to his own wisdom (or to anything)?” The answer must be qualified.

God’s wisdom cannot be separated from who he is. We call this the doctrine of simplicity. God is a simple being. No, this does not mean that he is easy to figure out. It means that God is not composed of parts. It means that God is one. It means that God is indivisible. We cannot separate God’s wisdom from his nature. Though we often distinguish between God’s attributes in ways that imply separation, we need to be careful. God is righteous. God is love. God is holy. God is wise. But these are not separate attributes, as if the sum total of them define his being or essence. They are all who he is. He is wise-loving-holy-righteous. They are the same in essence.

Therefore, when we ask if God is a “prisoner” to his wisdom (or any one of his attributes), it is like asking “Is God a prisoner to who he is?” The answer is an unqualified “yes.” If he is not, then all of Christianity is in jeopardy and our salvation is contingent upon God’s submission to outside principles such as wisdom and faithfulness. But God is wisdom. God is faithful. His very nature defines these concepts. God could no more act unwise or unfaithful then he could cease to be God. God is who he is, eternally and immutably (unchangeably).

So when we talk about libertarian freedom with regard to God, we must distinguish between two aspects of it:

1. Could God have chosen differently than he chose (say in making the universe)? Yes. God, being transcendent to cause and effect relationships—being beyond time—does not have any prior causes to his actions. He has no parents, events, or culture which influences any decision. All his actions are birthed out of the “eternal now” and are, therefore, truly free. We are not pantheists. We are theists. God’s transcendent nature necessitates a freedom that we don’t experience.

2. Can God act against his own nature? No. God always acts according to who he is. By definition, God will always remain faithful to himself. Second Timothy 2:13 puts it this way: “He cannot deny himself.” He is righteous and will always act accordingly when justice is on the table. God is love and will always act in accordance with his love. God is wise and cannot ever make an unwise choice. Therefore, when the choice involves God choosing or not choosing in accordance with his character, he will always choose according to who he is.

Was the creation of the universe necessitated out of his character? No. God did not have to create this universe. He did not have to create me. He did not have to choose you for salvation. He did not have to send his Son to die for us. These are true free will decisions.

So, I am willing to say that God has a qualified libertarian freedom: God has the power of contrary choice so long as it is not contrary to his nature.

While I don’t think that this is a “soft-ball” question, I do think it is something that Calvinists can answer with some degree of confidence. Understanding God’s decisions in relation to his eternality is inscrutable. We can only explain what must be. Now, if I were asked where Satan’s decision to rebel came from, I would have no satisfying answer as a Calvinist.

That is the best I’ve got, Dr. Olson. Love your stuff.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    67 replies to "Does God Have Libertarian Freedom? A Response to Roger Olson"

    • Daniel Eaton

      William Lane Craig did an interview that I recently came across where he gets into God’s attributes in great detail. He gets into God’s knowledge, limitations, and predestination and all kinds of things. You should check it out at http://bit.ly/jDiD7Q

    • Michael T.

      CMP,

      There could be a very interesting discussion to be had between what you present here and William Lane Craig on the proper understanding of time.

    • C Michael Patton

      Maybe. But actually time is not the issue as much as succession of events.

    • Dave

      “In other words, he could have chosen not to make the universe.”

      I agree with you but I’d love to know: How do you support this statement?

    • C Michael Patton

      Dave. The blog post is the best I got. Lol

    • Thrica

      Great post. I wonder though, why stop short at the end and split God’s actions into “necessary” and “free” categories? Was the creation of the universe necessitated out of his character? Well, why not?

      Separating them plays right into the freedom-necessity dichotomy, which is the first thing a Calvinist has to refute when talking to a free-willer (with exactly the same nature argument you used). Every act of God has to be both necessary and free. Could God have not created the universe? Like Rogers suggests, It’s a nonsensical question. There’s no conditionality. His “nature” is Goodness, hence the “choice” to work everything for good – and not just after the fact.

      So does God have libertarian free will? I would follow your logic exactly, except to add that no act of God or man does not stem from nature. So I’d have to say no – not because God is constrained, but because conditionality, and thus libertarian freedom, cannot logically exist in a universe where God is sovereign.

    • C Michael Patton

      Thrice,

      The difference is in opportunity which comes upon us or is created. Opportunities for us are always contingent. Opportunities for God are only contingent on his being. Therefore his choices are free in the truest sence.

    • Steve Martin

      God is free to do as He wills.

    • phantom

      Great post 🙂

      A few random thoughts:

      “a dog who has true libertarian freedom…would end up dying of starvation.”

      It seems to me that the dog would simply choose a bowl randomly. The absence of physical determinism doesn’t prevent action; it just makes it random (think of quantum physics).

      “I chose A rather than B, not because of who I am, but for no reason at all. …Therefore, in my opinion, the outcome for the fight for true libertarian free-will comes at the expense of true responsibility!”

      Is it possible that a sufficiently complex, but imperfect, machine could weigh all of the same influences but come to a different choice different times? Say it comes to decision A most of the time, decision B some of the time, and never decision C or D, under exactly identical circumstances. Is it responsible for its decision or not?

      “God has the power of contrary choice so long as it is not contrary to his nature.”

      Could God’s nature be self-determined?

    • John

      The trouble is, you make a whole lot of philosophical assumptions about the nature of will and the nature of personhood, and who knows if they are correct? If you claim your arguments hold as a matter of strict logic, then you end up refuting God’s libertarian will, and therefore refute yourself. Since an argument that refutes yourself cannot stand, I think we have to say this article has refuted itself.

    • C Michael Patton

      John, those are some fine assertions. But can you give me some details. I certainly am willing to admit the difficulties and I am willing to change. But, unless I am missing something, your comments lack any arguments against what I have said.

    • John

      Again…. if your logic and understanding of the nature of will is so great, how can God have libertarian free will? You just argued it into non-existence.

    • C Michael Patton

      Sorry. I don’t get it.

    • John

      Why does your argument apply to humans but not to God?

    • C Michael Patton

      It applies to both. But part of a denial of libertarian freedom recognizes
      Causal relationships. God, being a non-contingent being is uncaused. There is nothing outside of God that makes him who he is. This is called the “aseity” of God. We are not a se. He is. Therefore hints will be much different.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      On “human will,” I think you said “free” doesn’t mean free. Right? If we are ‘free’ to redefine the meaning of words we must truly be free. 8>) But if we are so free to redefine words, perhaps we have transcended our nature as sentient and communicant beings and are in one strange “new creation.” Since I’m not a libertarian “by nature,” perhaps I just can’t comprehend the definitions of “libertarian free will” adequately to comment further.(dumb joke(s)) Most of this kind of discussion is so arbitrarily determined (providentially, of [email protected]!) by the history of theological discourse that it makes no sense at all outside the walls of in-group-think. Seriously.
      I tend to think that our answers, as you suggest, must be qualified, but in the end seemingly too qualified to make a significant difference in how we present the Gospel of God’s work in and through Christ. And perhaps ultimately, too qualified to make a difference in how we live, or rationalistically blog.

    • John

      Then you’ve admitted that there can exist beings that can make decisions without blaming it all on some other ultimate cause. The dog who goes hungry is not the necessary outcome of a being with libertarian will.

      God could have brought any number of universes into being. He chose freely to bring this one. He does have libertarian will. He doesn’t blame any external source for this choice. Then your argument is refuted.

    • C Michael Patton

      Lost again. But that is okay.

    • C Michael Patton

      Only one being. Not beings. There can be only one non-contingent being—God. The dog does not have the attribute of a se. He is totally dependent on other outside forces, most of which are outside his control. He did not even choose to be hungry!

    • C Michael Patton

      Richard, freedom speaks of cohesion, not ability. I am free to fly. But I lack the ability. That is why theologians distinguish between freedom and ability.

    • John

      Ok, I’ll make it simple. Does a libertarian creature without external influence find it impossible to decide? The existence of God says no. Your hungry dog argument says yes. Thus you deny God, or else your dog argument fails.

    • C Michael Patton

      “Does a libertarian creature without external influence find it impossible to decide?” The existence of God says no.”

      Exactly. God is who he is necessarily. Therefore he decides according to who he is. That is the basic arguement against libertarianism. No choice is made out of nutrality. We all choose according to who we are at the moment of choice. That is why I said God cannot choose against his nature. He cannot deny himself. His power of contrary choice does not mean he can chose against who he is. If it does, we are all in trouble and we don’t have a Gospel.

    • John

      Of course we all agree human beings are influenced by external forces. The question at hand is whether if you could hypothetically strip away the external there remains something in the soul that has libertarian freedom. So you then posited the hypothetical dog who exists in this condition. The trouble is, the hypothetical dog actually exists and he is called God. (dog spelt backwards – Ha!!). And this dog does not behave in the way you posit. Therefore, your argument fails, and th fact that only God is completely uncaused does not mean hypothetically stripping away our causes would leave us unable to decide. If God has this ability, is he unable to give us this spark of the divine, this glimpse of the image of God?

    • C Michael Patton

      Are you saying this hypothetical dog posesses aseity and is non-contingent? If not, your refutation does not work. If so, we got bigger problems 🙂

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Michael, you say “freedom speaks of cohesion, not ability,” and want (or need) to qualify what you say about those terms too. You do actually have the ability to fly but the results might not be too pretty; or, you have the ability to fly given the ability to construct things to enable you cohesively (whatever that means) to do so. The distinction between “freedom” and “the ability to be free” is a qualification intended to deny the existence of freedom in its common meaning. This seems to me to result in almost meaningless talk about things we don’t adequately understand, in words that only others can ultimately see as self-contradictory statements. The endless construction of ever new and yet redundant sentences inclines me toward the wisdom of Solomon, thinking “this is surely nothing more than vexation and emptiness.”

    • C Michael Patton

      Richard,

      The way I am using these terms may seem foreign to the context you are attempting to make them work in, but they are not at all foreign to the context of this issue.

      Let’s make it more definite. I have the freedom to become a dog, but I don’t have the ability. Augustine was the first to popularize this in theological terms.

      Another way to distinguish is between natural ability and moral ability. We have the natural ability to trust Christ without Gods grace, but we lack the moral ability to do so. Therefore we are free and bound at the same time. We sometimes refrer to this as the “bondage of the will.” Our will is bound to our nature.

      All of our choices are free, they just lack the liberty to choose against who we are. Therefore, we all believe in free will, just not libertarian free will. Even Roger Olson has admitted the problem with libertarian freedom. He said that the biggest problem with his belief is that he does not know why people choose the way…

    • John

      Michael, you just defined lack of libertarian will as inability to act against your nature. But you also have just said that God can’t act against his nature. Ergo, you just defined God as lacking libertarian will.

    • C Michael Patton

      As I said in the op there are two aspects to libertarian freedom that come into play. 1. The ability to choose against youR nature. 2. The power of contrary choice. These two are related but different. God haS the power of contrary choice so long as he does not act against his nature. So God has one aspect of libertarian freedom, but not the other. Simply put God is not free to lie, act unwise, cease to be God, or any other thing that causes him to deny himself.

    • John

      Errr if you only have power of contrary choice if it doesn’t contradict nature, then don’t have (2) nor (1), so you’re saying god has neither.

    • John

      I thought YOU said the dog was non-contigent. Isn’t that the point of the example?

    • Ransom

      Did Adam have libertarian free will?
      He didn’t have a depraved nature, so how did he choose?

    • Rocky Lewis

      Much of the current debate in comments is beyond my arm-chair apologetic capabilities, but I was reminded of something when you mentioned neutralized will and perpetual indecision . . .

      Are you familiar with Antonio Damasio’s work on emotion and cognition? The neuroscience of rational decision making when emotional capabilities are disabled via brain damage, resembles a complete desintegration of supposed libertarian freedom.

      Have NO idea what that would mean for your argument except to say there is some science out there to back up your dog example. 🙂

    • tornadojr.

      Michael, I admire your patience. It is a difficult topic and not one easily understood. Rather than looking for the apparent holes and ways to break down the argument, John, what ways would you suggest answer what we know about God, His nature, and how they interact? It is apparent that you have a different opinion, but I haven’t heard you offer any solution to counter. (Hopefully something brief – less than the obvious 1000 character limit and on topic so as to obey the rules of the blog)

    • C Michael Patton

      No. The dog is not non-contingent. He is not God. He does not have his being and existence of himself. His nature is, like outs, completely dependent on other factors.

    • C Michael Patton

      Adam and Eve are interesting. But there was outside influences, namely Satan. At least that is how the barranca explains it. Influence with responsibility. That is why I said I don’t have an answer for Satans fall.

    • Jason

      Great discussion!

      If I had the freedom & ability to be a dog, and became a dog, and had to choose between two bowls of food, I would not be paralyzed by indecision if I had to choose between identical choices.

      I, as a dog w/ human reasoning, would analyze the food’s nutrition facts, brand, serving size, and possibly the cleanliness of the bowl, before coming to an accurate understanding of the pros and cons of the two choices.

      If both bowls r identical, and it would make no difference what choice I make, & would have no trouble choosing a bowl, because I know the effects of choosing that bowl over the other are no different.

      Since my reasoning in choosing a bowl was free from bias, then I have libertarian free will? Then, reason itself would be my nature, and I’d be acting according to my nature, which would surpass all other biases [upbringing, etc]. Then, since both me & God are led by Love and reason, independent of but in conjnction w/ our nature, we have libertarian…

    • John

      Michael, you say the dog’s nature is completely dependent on external factors, but I thought the whole point of this hypothetical dog is that it has had it’s external factors surgically removed. Otherwise it’s just an ordinary everyday dog, which we all accept will happily eat food no matter how many bowls it is in. So what’s special about your hypothetical dog?

    • C Michael Patton

      No The dog is notGod in the illustration. He just has a neutralized will. gods will is not neutral.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Michael @ 26: appreciate your efforts. My main point, not well or clearly stated, is that our human language and logic are not able to define or contain the things of which we hope to speak. When you say “I have the freedom to become a dog” I still think you make nonsense of the meaning of “freedom.” The only sense in which you are free to become a dog is metaphorically. The more abstract the concepts of which we speak the more likely it is they are only metaphorically. Augustine “popularized” the theological conversation in which we are wanting to participate. That we are “free and bound at the same time” aptly illuminates the metaphorically paradoxical and spiritual realities in which we exist. You can speak of “natural ability,, moral ability,” “bondage of the will,” of “our nature,” endlessly without being able to clearly define them. Without dependence on clearly revealed concepts, to speak authoritatively regarding all such things would require being a prophet of God. Are we?

    • C Michael Patton

      Richard,

      Fair enough my friend. But the difficulty in defining concepts does not nullify the conversation nor it’s practicality, does it?

      Let me give you a stab at it. Can you define free will? And do you think we have it according to your definition?

    • bethyada

      Libertarian free will is the power to make contrary choices that are feasible. A person can choose to have a banana or an apple if he has both in the house. He cannot choose to fly by flapping his arms and willing it. The fact we cannot choose where we are born says nothing to the libertarian will argument.

      The fact that some things influence us beyond our ability to change does not mean that we lose the power of contrary choice.

      And of course God has libertarian free will. He could have made humans green, or an inch higher on average, or the earth 10 km wider.

    • John

      Your argument seems to come down to claiming that a being who is free of external influences will have a neutral will, resulting in the starving dog.

      However when we find such a being (God), he doesn’t have a neutral will.

      Essentially, you’ve had to assume the very thing that you need to prove, namely that there is no part of our will that can transcend fate.

    • C Michael Patton

      No. External influences are only half the ingredients. Who we are at the time of the decision is who causes the choice. This is made up of internal and external influences. Nature and nurture. god has a nature to which he is bound (we call this realism). But he does not have a cause and effect relationship of external forces influencing decisions such as his decision to create the universe. He lives in an “eternal now” which necessarily makes his choice and will completely non-contingent.

      Again, God has the power of contrary choice in all things that do not violate his character. He is truly free in a way that we are not.

      The hardest thing to define in these discussions is “will”. There is no separate fslculty or constitution called “will”. The will is simply the ability (freedom) to make choices according to who we are at the moment the choice is made.

      But let me make clear: no Calvinist believes that we are forced to make certain decisions. We make all freely.

    • C Michael Patton

      Btw: John and others. I appreciate the kind tone you are keeping here. This is a very difficult issue. Good people on both sides here. Smart people on both sides. This is not as cut and dry as I would like it to be. So I hope I am not coming across as if I got this thing figured out. I don’t.

    • John

      But your essential argument is that internal influences are really external in having been caused by God.

      It boils down to an assumption on your part that God cannot transmit to us the spark of the divine that allows some measure of the power of contrary choice.

    • C Michael Patton

      Some level of contrary choice? What does that look like? Does God grant us a neutralized will (self) at the time of the decision? If so in what sense can we say that we are actually the ones making the choice? And how coins one have different levels of contrary choice?

    • C Michael Patton

      Also, as you guys may know I rarely get involved in the comments much. I normally don’t have time. But I have had some the last couple of days. And I knew this would need some qualification. However after tonight I won’t be able to engage anymore (or at least not as much). Been very thought provoking though. Tanks again.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Thanks so much for interacting so intently and sincerely here Michael. @39, the ball seems to be in my court. 8>) Well, it appears to me to be the case, in simplest terms possible, and acc. to scripture, that we have been created in God’s image, and granted ruling powers over the rest of creation under God. There is much more that may be said about things said in scripture, but this at least implies creative, conscious free will and responsibility for our decisions and actions. Since we will be held accountable for our thoughts, decisions, and actions according to Jesus directly as well, we must implicitly and consequentially have freedom to decide what is best, worst, and everthing in between; and God will judge us accordingly. Any qualifications, equivocations, extrapolations beyond, etc., will, I believe, be judged as to whether they are simply dependent on the revealed Words of God or more dependent on the traditions of men, or what mixture of the two they may be. Nuf said?

    • John

      Levels of contrary choice means we are not uninfluenced by external factors, we just have the ability to overcome. Even when you say God has power of contrary choice, you still say he is bound by his nature. You don’t even grant God true neutrality.

    • C Michael Patton

      Richard,

      Thanks much. Your comments are good in fact I would not disagree with them at all. However I don’t seena definition on what free will is. Is it the ability to choose equally among viable options without any sense of self-determinism or external persuasive influences? Or is it the ability to choose according to the greatest desire of the moment.

      We all agree that whatever option we opt for that people are held responsible by God for their decisions and will be judged righteously.

      The biggest problem with my position is that it seems to leave little room for true responsibility or accountability. And it is hard to distinguish from determinism.

    • C Michael Patton

      John, God is bound to himself. Even Roger Olson believes this. God could not decide to neglect himself and lie. So, yes, his freedom is limited to his nature. If it were not, then 1) he is not really immutable 2) our salvation along with all of his promises he has made to us is contingent and, therefore, not secure. At least that is the way the “realist” argument goes.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Michael, @50,
      Requiring a “definition” of free will seems to me to be the kind of intellectual move that almost inevitably leads to what the Apostle Paul refers to as “disputes about words.” God surely considers more in his judgments on our actions than whether they are derived from “self-determinism or external persuasive influences,” whatever those seemingly mutually exclusive expressions may mean. Can’t the ability to choose just mean the ability to choose? I’m inclined to conclude: too many of us seem to sound like little gods, pronouncing our self-defined truths. Thanks be to God that you often acknowledge the limits of your understanding, and the weaknesses of your (often traditionally conceived) arguments. Love you man. In Christ.

    • Robert Warren

      “spark of the divine”

      Is that what they used to call the “island of righteousness”?

    • Dallas

      Good article. It seems apparent that the definition of libertarian free will is rather ambiguous, which is the cause of a lot of the debate. If libertarian free will is freedom from EXTERNAL restraints, then God has libertarian free will in a way we don’t, as we make decisions in a larger context and God is the Creator of context.

      If libertarian free will is freedom from inward restraint, then God’s will is also bound. However, such a free will would be no freedom at all. If one’s will is not bound to himself/herself, that person has no control over their decisions.

      I define libertarian free will as freedom from outward restraint, and by that definition, God has complete libertarian free will. We have some elements of this due to our status as creatures in the image of God, but we are not free to the degree that God is.

    • […] our free-will isn’t very free at all. cf. http://andynaselli.com/do-we-have-a-free-will http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/05/does-god-have-libertarian-freedom-a-response-to-roger-… . 5. What is the difference between having a pelagian soteriological (the study of salvation) […]

    • Perry Robinson

      Michael,

      Libertarians have widely discussed Buridan’s Ass cases (equal bails of hay)-see Kane’s The Significance of Free Will, and Clarke, Libertarian Accounts of Free Will. Both are from Oxford. They pretty much handle all the other stock objections you pose.

      As for incluences on agents-Influences aren’t necessarily causes or at least sufficient causes, which is what your argument needs but doesn’t supply. As for volitional neutrality, the notion of a neutral will isn’t essential to libertarianism so there seems to be some shadow boxing going on.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Perry’s comment about “shadow boxing” reminds me that even the best, most complex, most careful and precise thinker around will be found by some other equally able thinker to have missed some apparent inconsistency or contradiction, or to have based his whole argument on some non-necessary presupposition, hence undermining if not invalidating his perspective completely. These all too common disputes about words (ideas, arguments, transient conclusions) don’t seem to produce spiritual or practical fruit. JMO

    • Dane

      Wesleyan’s do not believe prevenient grace makes our sinful nature “Neutral”. The way this word “neutral” is being used I would agree, and we Wesleyan/Arminians do not believe our nature is “neutral”, so at this point we agree.

      The defined concept of Neutral is (A + Neutral – B). Our nature is not a pendulum, and not linear. We are not in 1 of the 3 modes, A, Neutral, or B. We are in “Tandem”, both A&B by God’s grace. More like a magnet that has both -/+ charges, with the + enabled by God’s grace. Dog illustration: The Dog is hungry and loves to chase balls. There is a bowl of food, and a ball that is thrown, the dog is fully charged to do both, but needs to choose.

      The question is… Why does an A&B charged person “irresistibly” choose A by God’s grace every single time with a B charge also fully at work? I do not find Total Depravity taking a hiatus at the time of choice/faith. It appears that the Calvinists believe that total depravity is nullified and neutralized.

    • Prathab

      I once heard a calvinist say this about God: “God can sin, but he won’t.” I was really taken aback. Is this biblical? If God can sin, can we trust Him at all?

    • C Michael Patton

      I have no problem with a theoretical ability being distinguished from a moral one.

    • Dane

      Does Common Grace neutralize the will so that a Mother can love her child? A Mother can’t naturally love her child given the condition of her nature.

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    • llflowers

      I didn’t take the time to read all the comments so please forgive me if I’m repeating something, but if God is all powerful why couldn’t he create a creature with the same ability of freedom as He has in regard to the morally accountable choices that he makes?

      A few other points:

      1. You say you support the concept of ‘self-determination” as if that is apposed to libertarian free will, but libertarian freedom is not some separate entity as you appear to suggest. LFW is just what we call the part of one’s SELF that makes determinations.

      2. Isn’t your quest to define what determines or causes a free will choice just a game of question begging since it assumes a deterministic response is necessary? Ciocchi, who debated Feinberg, put it this way: “the choice between available options is what free will is all about . . ., and it is finally mysterious, beyond full explanation, for full explanations presuppose the very determinism the libertarian rejects” (Ciocchi, p. 94).

      3. How does your understanding of human free will differ from the instinctive choice of animals? They too chose according to their desire in response to given outward stimuli, right?

      Thanks for the discussion. Very insightful.

    • TMD

      You argue: “God has the power of contrary choice so long as it is not contrary to his nature.”

      Does this apply to humanity as well?

      Also, would proponents of libertarian free will accept your definition of it? I know I do not. Do you think Roger Olsen or William Lane Craig would?

    • Doug Gibson

      The author said as proof against man having the ability to will:
      “Simply put, a person’s nature makes up who they are. Who they are determines their choice. Therefore, people always choose according to who they are at the moment. ”
      This begs the question as it assumes determinism, but it is an assertion that lacks proof. It is saying ‘people’s choices are not determined by their ability to will, but by factors external to the will itself and we know this because people’s choices are determined not by the person, but by their nature or factors external to the will.” Also, the inability to grow a second head is not an inability to will, but an inability to DO. The ability to DO anything depends on the ability to will. If a person cannot will, then the person cannot DO anything.

    • John Hutchinson

      QUOTE:
      “Roger Olson asks, “Is God the prisoner of his own wisdom (or of anything)?” “Prisoner” is loaded term. I could load it another way: “Is God faithful to his own wisdom (or to anything)?” The answer must be qualified.”

      With all due respect, this is a dissembling sophistry, whether intended or not. Olson asks whether God can do no other. Is His will an algorithmic product of His nature. What you are changing it to is ‘Does God will, drawing upon the content found in His Being’ and declaring that that is the same as Olson’s question. For that is the crux of the question. Does God draw upon His content or does the content within push His will.

      I am not an Arminian, but a full 5+ point monergist. And when I see this, both the answer and the dissembling manner by which it is answered, I just want to grieve.

    • Drew1200

      Great post, you really explained it well. Although I don’t know that I agree with (or understand) your conclusion, based on your post.

      You stated that God is a “prisoner” of His own wisdom. Based on His omnipotence, all knowing wisdom, and His ultimate goal to bring Himself glory, He will always make the most wise, beneficial, and glorifying choice. It’s against His nature to make an unwise decision. So could God have really chosen not to create the universe? He hypothetically could have, but technically, He would not have received as much glory as He has through creation, especially through Jesus’ death. Using that reasoning, I’d be willing to say that it would have been contrary to His nature to not create the universe.

      Unless you believe that there are decisions God has made that do not have any different effect, then I don’t see how there’s any possible situation where God could use libertarian free will. If all of His decisions have different effects, He will never choose the one of lesser wisdom.

      Really, I’m just curious as to how you came to your conclusion. Do you believe that there are situations where God must make a decision where each choice has an equivalent effect, in which case He could employ contrary choice? Or do you believe that God is capable of making the less wise decision?

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