Steve Hays has taken it upon himself to reply on behalf of my recent criticism of James White and his ascription of libertarian free will to God here and here. I promised Steve I would reply to the rest and I think at least one round of replies would help clarify my position. As of today I am still waiting for any of White’s toadies to defend White’s claim that G0d has libertarian free will and that the Bible teaches it. Steve gives a two pronged response. First, White was being ambiguous, and second with respect to the Fall, I face the same problems Calvinists do in explaining how our first parents could sin being created good. As I am sure you’ll see, especially in the case these are just more Jedi mind tricks.
William Lane Craig
Craig may have some quirky and erroneous positions, but I think White does as well so noting that fact about Craig really doesn’t move me. To say that White’s theology is “consistently sound” is to preach to the choir at best. Furthermore, apart from being a serious problem it is actually a sign of genuine scholarship, as odd as it may seem. Professional theologians and philosophers often do hold such views. It’s a sign that White really doesn’t have any professional competence in the philosophical topics he discusses. That was part of the point. White is accusing Craig of gross ignorance regarding Calvinism, when White doesn’t seem to know the terms he is using.
To say that White didn’t use the term in the “elaborate sense” that I gave it concedes the point, that White doesn’t know what the term means. Second, the content I gave to the term has been spread across the literature for the last thirty years. Anyone familiar with any of it would recognize the sketch I gave as representing the concept. Arminians have been employing it in the sense I gave it, and I know White has read some of that literature.
Steve notes that it is a blog post and not an article in a journal. Fair enough. But I think that Steve misses the salient point. Craig’s comments weren’t in a journal either but a Sunday school podcast. If it is fair for White to criticize Craig’s brief comments, then it is so for my criticism of White’s.
Craig may have access to a research library, but one doesn’t have to in order to have access to catalogs from Oxford or any academic publisher. I can’t think of any introductory text on the issue in the last twenty years that doesn’t in the main give the gloss I give. So it is irrelevant that Craig has access to a research library.
Doubting that the philosophical literature on Frankfurt counter-examples was in White’s mind is exactly the point. He doesn’t really know of what he speaks. Secondly, even if he weren’t, any Calvinist worth his salt is familiar with Edward’s work on free will or Luther’s Bondage of the Will. If he thinks that God fulfills the libertarian conditions on free will, then the arguments given by Edwards and others that are quite popular that Libertarianism is incoherent are still out the window. I only need one case where an agent has it that White agrees to, to preclude him from using such arguments. And he gave me that one case. Moreover, White claimed that the teaching is Biblical and given his adherence to Sola Scriptura, he owes us some biblical support. So far none has been forthcoming. Why is that I wonder?
The disagreement is again not over whether Libertarianism is a coherent concept or if it is true. To say that there is a difference between White’s comments and a Calvinist with a doctorate in philosophy who specializes in the finer points of action theory does no work. First, this is not a finer point of action theory but a major term. Second, Steve makes the mistake of thinking that I am engaging Calvinism as a position, but I am not. I am engaging White and so for as White is concerned, Libertarianism is not an incoherent concept. So I am not burning a straw man, unless White is the scare crow. Moreover, White seems to think that he is competent to take on and correct someone with a doctorate in philosophy who does work in action theory and metaphysics. If that is too much for White then he should refrain from doing so and refrain from taking on persons who have expertise and training that he lacks. Otherwise, he is just as responsible for his comments as anyone else is. If White doesn’t wish to be held to the standards of precision of an expert then perhaps he shouldn’t entry the fray.
As for my statement that among Calvinists it is fairly common to find the view that nature determines actions and Steve’s claim that this is ambiguous, I offer a few replies. First, it’s a sketch, not a journal article. Second, it is no more ambiguous than when Calvinists routinely deploy it without any greater degree of specificity. Third, any decent Calvinist should have Edwards along with a whole army of Calvinist writers in mind when they came across my statement and can find a fuller explication in those writings.
Steve claims that the position is not that nature selects for a specific action, but rather circumscribes the possible options. I agree that the Reformed are logically forced to that weaker position, but that is not how it is presented in a good number of representative sources. Edwards for example goes to great pains to argue for a necessary connection between cause and effect, where the cause singles out a specific effect in the sphere of agency. If this weren’t the case, then causation would be indeterministic and then there would be no explanation of why one action occurred rather than any other, or so Edwards, Van Til and a bunch of other Reformed authors argue. If this weren’t so, the internet wouldn’t be full of Calvinists scampering around spouting the mantra that one’s nature determines the action.
Furthermore, for an action to be determined, to endorse compatibilism and soft determinism, the antecedent conditions have to do more than merely circumscribe the range of possible options, they have to single it out. This and only this option is and could be actualized given the antecedent conditions and the causal relation. If Steve wishes to move to the weaker position of mere circumscription, then compatibilism and soft determinism will require further argument. And that will be rather difficult given that we now have an indeterminstic relation between nature and action.
Added to this is the remark by Steve that natures can have a moral character. This seems to be a confusion between natural goodness/corruption and moral goodness/evil. But this is a further point at issue between us. Ascriptions of moral value are appropriately given to persons.
Steve then objects to my counter example of God to the thesis that natures determine actions by arguing that the case of God is sui generis. The case of God is unique and so I can’t reason from it to agents in general. But on the contrary, the fact that God is unique would only be relevant in this case if there was something about the nature of God that altered the nature of freedom that he enjoys. I can’t see that there is and Steve hasn’t given me a reason to think so. Further, since God is the source of all things, including freedom, God is the paramount case and paramount counter-example. If it is not true in the case of the paragon of person-nature relations, then there is substantial reason for thinking that it isn’t true with other agents. Adding sin to the mix won’t help since sin doesn’t alter the nature of humanity or personhood per se. And in rebuttal, even if it were only true in the case of God, it would still not be a metaphysical truth and so my point remains untouched.
Angels and Humans
I also noted that it isn’t true in the case of angels and humans. Steve argues that while this is a legitimate issue it isn’t a problem specific to Calvinism. On the contrary, even if this were so, it is still a problem that Calvinist’s must address nonetheless. Noting that everyone else is sinking in the same boat you are in is no help to you. And I don’t take it to be a problem with every other position. In fact, I don’t think it is a problem for my position since my position can explain how the fall is possible, whereas we are still waiting for an explanation of how a creature with a good nature can have an evil desire and sin since the nature circumscribes the range of options to only good ones.
And as I noted before in the case of pre-fall angels and humans their natures didn’t circumscribe their options to only good ones since they actualized evil options. So even if I were to grant Steve that a Calvinist is only committed to nature circumscribing of options relative to nature, this is still a problem for them. And if its possible that natures do not circumscribe options prior to the fall, it is also possible that it does not after the fall. The Calvinist would need to add some other thesis to get to the conclusion that after the fall good options are precluded.
I gave my standard line that readers here are by now familiar with, that our first parents as contingent agents have not yet had the personal use of their natural faculties fixed in their natural goodness. Steve asks how this succeeds to sever the connection between nature and choice. I wouldn’t say it severs the connection, but rather the connection is something accomplished through personal action. Steve has the cart before the horse. Moreover, the question isn’t so much of the connection between the two, but what the nature of the connection is and is it capable of change?
I do have a different understanding of pre-fall anthroppology which I have noted before. I unlike the Reformed do not take righteousness to be natural. Nor do I think it is added to humans at creation, but is rather acquired through personal activity. Steve is quite right that I have changed the outcome by changing the definition of nature, but it is that change that permits me to get around the kinds of inconsistencies that Calvinists face.
Then Steve claims that on my gloss of pre-fall anthropology I am still left with the problem of Adam’s nature circumscribing his range of options. But this is a mistake. Adam like all agents that have a beginning have a gnomic will. The gnomic will as outlined here numerous times is a specific personal use of the will that is not fixed either in virtue or vice. This is so, so that the agent can be responsible for the kind of character that they end up having. Their personal use of their faculties can be evil or good. Consequently, I am not left with the problem of Adam circumscribing his actions because his hypostatic employment is not yet fixed and hence not yet circumscribed. And this is why Jesus as a divine person does not have a gnomic will because he never has a beginning to his use of his faculties.
So it does explain how a creature created naturally good can do evil whereas the Reformed model does not. The Reformed are left with either ad hoc appeals to “mystery” or tu quo que fallacies at a crucial case. So we don’t have a stalemate. The concept of a gnomic will specific to Orthodox theology gives us an explanatory advantage. If the Reformed were to appropriate the concept, it would not only undermine their view of total depravity but also their monergism. The Orthodox rope pulls tighter.
So it isn’t an equally valid question of why Adam with a good nature sinned since I do not adhere to the premised view that no person is able to choose against their nature. Adam was naturally good, but morally innocent. Given his inexperience and his gnomic mode of willing it is perfectly understandable how he and his wife could be duped and manipulated and yet still bear a good measure of moral responsibility. Simply because I said that Adam’s nature was good as were his faculties, it doesn’t follow that his use of what he has will be good. Persons aren’t natural attributes. (And I don’t believe I wrote that Adam’s nature wasn’t fixed in goodness, rather I wrote that his personal use of his nature wasn’t yet fixed according to the good of his nature.) So Steve’s tu quo que does no work here. And no the Westminster theologians do not make the same claim. If they did, they wouldn’t be monergists and they wouldn’t hold to the Christology that they do either.
Steve rightly notes that if Adam and Eve were predestined to fall, how plausible it is to say that they lost their free will, will turn on how we define freedom. But given that the discussion I was having with someone else where it was claimed that it was possible for Adam to sin and also possible for him not to sin (posse pecare/ posse non pecare), if Adam was predestined to fall, then it was not possible for him to not sin. If Adam was predestined to sin, then it was not possible for him to refrain from sinning. And given that freedom was in that discussion taken to include the ability to refrain from sinning, I still maintain that Adam was not free in such a case. Either predestination to sin must go or posse non pecare must go. It is in part a philosophical debate, but it is also a theological debate.
I perfectly grant to Steve that even with libertarian freedom, the result was the same in so far as the event occurred, but whether that event rises to the level of action under the conditions of soft determinism is not granted. In order for it to be an act and an act for which Adam was blameworthy, he would need to fulfill the conditions on libertarian freedom. It is true that Soft Determinists disagree, but that is where the line is drawn. We simply don’t agree that the result was the same, because by Libertarian lights, if Adam only fulfilled Soft Determinist conditions, it was no act at all, but an event.
So what is at issue is whether ascriptions of agency and moral responsibility are met even if both sides agree with the fact that Adam sinned. To note that the result was the same is to note a fact that everyone already agrees upon so there is no advantage here given to the Calvinistic position.
1 Cor 15:19-22. I was out of state and away from my library when I wrote this, but I don’t think I need to provide an exegesis for a number of reasons. First, the exegesis has already been done in other places. Second, it’s a blog post, not a paper in a journal of biblical exegesis. Third, I simply trying to note for my readers some of the passages I would appeal to and hope that placed within my paradigm they will be illumined in a way that they have not understood before. Fourth, I expect my readers to be intelligent enough to be familiar with the text, but also to be able to construct a plausible looking rudimentary exegetical case for my reading.
If we take “all” to mean only persons relative to a group so that all in Adam die, but some other group in Christ are made alive, then we will have to find some other basis than the person and work of Christ to explain the resurrection and persistence of the wicked in eternity and their apparent sharing in immortality. (It will also imply that it is possible for some men not to have been in Adam.) Christ isn’t their Lord by virtue of his resurrection on such a view. If we make it a legal relationship such that they have to be punished for their sins and so God perpetuates their existence, not only have we made divine justice dependent on the wicked’s existence, since God would cease to be just if they were extinguished, but we make the relation much weaker than that in the hypostatic union.
On my view Christ takes up all of human nature, not any or all human persons, into his divine person at the incarnation, thereby securing the eternal existence of all humans, even the wicked. Consequently, immortality at the level of nature is conveyed to all men and why Christ is Lord over even those who deny him. (2 Pet 2:1) The relation there is inherent, intrinsic and metaphysically robust. But if we make it matter of an extrtinsic relation such as that of law, will and efficient causation then we open up exactly the kind of space that permitted not only Annihilationalism but modern forms of Arianism as well as Universalism. These are how the possibilities fall out.
Christ is related to the redeemed and wicked by an extrinsic act of will. Either the act of will is necessary or contingent.
Christ is related to the redeemed and wicked by an extrinsic act of will so that divine justice is in part constituted by the existence of the wicked such that if they ceased to exist, God would cease to be just. The same holds for divine mercy.
Hence the act of will is necessary.
So that he wills the salvation of all on pain of losing the attribute of mercy. (Universalism)
So that he wills the damnation of some on pain of losing the attribute justice. (Calvinism)
On the other hand, if the act of will is contingent, Christ is related to the wicked by an extrinsic and contingent act of will because Christ himself exists contingently. (Arianism)
If Christ exists contingently then his willing of the wicked is contingent and so their existence in hell is contingent and can come to an end. (Conditional Immortality)
If Christ exists contingently then his willing of salvation for the redeemed is also contingent and so multiple falls are possible. (Origenism)
My view cuts off all these implications at the knees by making the proper distinction between person and nature by having Christ take up all of human nature into his divine person while leaving a hypostatic alignment in part up to the agent. So salvation admits of degrees, but Christ loses nothing of what the Father gives him. This is why I can take Rom 5:18 for example as applicable to all of humanity without implying universalism. The justification of life is in fact given to all men at the level of nature.
Further the question isn’t necessarily of whom the universal quantifier denotes but rather what is Adam and Christ’s relationship to the respective groups. With Adam, he was the font of the race, which is why all suffer from his trespass. He wasn’t the font for just some but possibly not others. Second, Christ is the font of the race which is why all are raised and not just some. If on the other hand Adam were the federal head of the race and his demerit can be imputed to all of a group by divine will, why can’t Christ be a non-divine agent whose merits are imputed to members of a group by an act of divine will? If we follow Calvin for example such that the value of the atonement depends not on the value of the person, as was the case with say Anselm, but on the divine will, then federal theology opens the door to Unitarianism and Arianism. God can will that the merits of a man be imputed to all and be of infinite value. And historically this is how things went.
2 Cor 5:14. Much the same could be said here. But,
If all are dead, Christ dies for all
Christ does not die for all
Therefore not all were dead.
If Christ dies for all, then all are dead
All are not dead
Then Christ does not die for all-he dies for some or none.
Here it is easy to see the connection between Limited Atonement and Pelagianism, that is there are some men who have no need of Christ. I know it is quite ironic and one wouldn’t expect this to be the case and I am certainly not the first to point this out.
Third, an appeal to exegesis isn’t theory neutral. Exegetical principles are part of one’s worldview. And more specifically, exegetical principles are not Christologically neutral. There is no bare fact of interpretation. This does not imply that there is no correct interpretation of a text, but it does imply that there is no theory neutral or presuppositionless method and interpretation of a text. Consequently since Steve and I do not share the same Chistology, we will not share the same exegetical principles and when in some cases we do, their content is model relative so even then it won’t be possible to give an exegetical case that is compatible and hence acceptable to Steve or any other Calvinist for that matter.
Steve then claims that with these passages that if I take the universal quantifier to apply to each and every human being, then you are stuck with universalism, which I reject. So Steve is trying to cut off this line of criticism. But it won’t work for a simple reason. While I reject universalism and affirm that these passages apply to every human being, I deny that this implies universalism since they do not apply to every human person as such. If redemption admits of degrees along the fault lines of the categories of person and nature, then all will be redeemed, but not all will enjoy the fullness of that salvation. That is all will persist forever, but how they persist will depend on how they are personally oriented either to suffering or to bliss.
So I can accept their universal application just so long as I don’t confuse human nature with human persons. It is rather the Reformed who think of Christ as a divine and human person (Calvin, Inst, 2.14.5 & WCF 8.2) who have the serious theological problem.
If Steve wishes to concede that this is a prooftext for universal predestination, I am more than happy to concede. But it is a stock passage that Calvinist’s routinely throw up to prove that view. And that is why I used it to remove one verse from their arsenal.
Israel and Election
Steve alleges that I fail to distinguish between national and soteric election. I don’t think I do. Pharaoh as an individual is an example of election, how God is free to elect whom he wills through which the purpose is accomplished. The point is that election serves the purpose and not the other way around. The argument that Paul is countering is that if Christ is the messiah and messiah brings about the salvation of Israel, but the salvation of Israel has not been brought about then Christ is not the messiah. Paul maintains the election of Israel, but the election was according to a purpose, to bring about messiah. That election doesn’t guarantee the salvation of those elected. Repentance on their part too is required. Further, God is free to elect through whom his purposes are fulfilled and that election does not guarantee their salvation since God can cut off believers as well should they manifest the same pride as the Jewish nation. So I didn’t fail to draw a distinction between national and soteric. Given that God can cut off those elected qua church (11:21-22) even if we were to gloss the distinction the way Steve suggests, it still doesn’t guarantee salvation. Steve fails to take Paul’s argument and usage of election seriously.
Back to Adam
Then Steve picks up part of another discussion I’ve been having elsehwere regarding Adam and the fall. He brings to the discussion the scriptural metaphor of good and bad trees. Steve’s thinking seems to be that the good tree represents those who have a good nature and therefore produce good fruit. Likewise with the bad tree. And that Adam may be an exception to the rule.
Of course there are a couple of problems here. Matt 7:18 makes it clear that a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit. Is Adam not a good tree? Is there some better example excepting Christ? Second, we’d need a reason to think that Adam was an exception other than the ad hoc move to save the Calvinist view from obvious inconsistency. So far I see no reason to think so. And it also seems just a tad too convenient that at just the point that the Reformed principles meet an inconsistency that we should take cases of clear counter examples as exceptions. If it is not true in paradigm cases, why think that it will be true in non-paradigmical cases?
Second, Steve assumes that the tree refers to natures rather than persons. It is ironic that Pelagius took the passage this way and that it was Augustine who took the good trees to refer to good persons. Just as those who set their minds on the things of God can’t fulfill the desires of the flesh as long as they continue to do so, the same is true in this case.
Then Steve refers to a solution that he has recently offered. I haven’t seen it or I don’t recall it. In either case there is nothing to interact with.
Then we are back to the ad hoc appeal to mystery made by the Reformed. Steve argues that Libertarianism is a philosophical position and is only as good as the undergirding intuitions. But revealed theology is a different story. However true that may be, the difference isn’t as hard and fast as Steve makes it out to be. Revealed theology isn’t lacking in philosophical content. And that content doesn’t rise or fall on the strength of the some non-biblical intuitions. (Steve is begging the question since he is assuming that the intuitions that drive Libertarianism aren’t biblical.) And this is especially germane since White claimed that the Bible taught Libertarianism.
Freedom and Necessity
In another locale, I argued that persons as a terminus or a stopping point for causal explanations is not an appeal to mystery. Rather it is a principled stopping point grounded in the recognition that persons aren’t like other objects. And to motivate the thinking of the readers in this regard I appealed to divine persons in the Trinity. God doesn’t require either a causal or a rational deterministic backdrop for his actions. Steve’s reply is that God is a unique case since God is a necessary being and so the two cases are disanalogous.
But there are good reasons for thinking that Steve is wrong. First, I don’t take God to be either a necessary or contingent being since God is beyond being ad intra. Second, it is not our contingency as such that motivates the search for further causes, but rather the mistake of treating persons as natural causes like any other. In so far as we are both persons then there is no disanalogy. Personal action qua personal action resists analyses that seek to reduce personal acts to natural events. So even though created agents are caused to exist this leaves untouched their being persons who are genuine causes themselves for which they are the sufficient terminus for those actions.
This is why I noted that the explanation for why one believes and the other does not is to find its end in the person and nowhere else. The person so chose, full stop. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t contributing causes or reasons for their action. But it does imply that persons are something distinct. To claim that the Bible doesn’t stop there is a claim that needs an argument. I think that is where the Bible does stop. Agents are the source of their actions, even if those actions find a place in a wider intentional grid.
I wrote that we don’t need any further data in reply to a suggestion that we might need more data. There is sufficient data that Adam and Satan were created good. Steve replies that I am in the same boat as he is. But as I noted above, I am not in the same boat.
Then Steve makes the claim that he did what I did, merely apply the theory to a clear test case and it fails. But as I showed above. Steve hasn’t mapped my view so he has only showed that some other view fails. I explained how my view evades this problem. Until Steve shows how the gnomic will and character solidificaition as understood by Maximus fails to solve the problem my position remains on the field.
Then I suggested that we look to Christ’s humanity and its relation to deity for the proper understanding of how the two relate and how person relates to nature. Steve balks at this by noting that Christ did various miracles and so Christ can’t function as the kind of role model I wish to set forth.
But I didn’t set forth Christ as a role model in that way. I set forth the understanding of how person and nature relate in Christ as a grid to understand how they relate in every other case. So this is just a straw man.
I noted that Christ as a divine person does not have a beginning and so unlike other human agents, there is no character solidification between his natural human power of choice and his personal use of it. Further I also explained that Adam unlike Christ is created naturally good, but personally lacking in righteousness and only enjoyed innocence.
Steve seems to wish to construct a problem Was there a time when Christ lacked the property of righteousness? And second if so, before he acquired it, did he acquire it by trial and error?
I thought it would be clear that since Christ is a divine person and hence lacks a beginning, his personal use of those natural faculties does not entail or imply a gnomic use of them. Therefore, Christ never begins to acquire righteousness. This is why the Scriptures say that before Christ knows to refuse the evil and choose the good, he shall choose the good. (Is 7:15-16) Jesus never requires character solidification and so the second question never arises.
Then Steve asks does this mean that there was a time before Jesus was impeccable? And was he able to do good or evil until he acquired impeccability? The answer is clear and obvious. Those conditions of gnomic willing only apply for persons who have a beginning. I don’t think Jesus is a human person and so I don’t think he has a beginning. Steve’s question only makes sense on the Nestorian assumption that Jesus was a human person. So it was impossible for Jesus to sin. But Steve does think that Jesus was a human and divine person so he has to posit a subordinating and predestinating relationship within the divine-human person of Christ in order to stave off the possibility of Christ sinning.
Then he argues that I can’t invoke Christ’s divinity as a differential factor to ground the intrinsic righteousness or impeccability of Christ, without also implying that all humans are also made impeccable. This would follow if I thought Christ was also a human person or if I thought that Christ’s divine nature was his person, but unlike the Reformed, I adhere to a Chalcedonian Christology and so reject both outcomes. Since Christ takes up all human nature but no human persons in the incarnation, a personal property of his won’t translate at the level of nature necessarily to every member of that nature. Steve’s argument turns on a confusion of person and nature in Christ. He has failed to distinguish the divine person of Christ from the divine nature of Christ and that is the only way his objection can go through. But I reject the two possible ways to understand that confusion, either in a Nestorian prosopic union or a Monophysite confusion and I reject that confusion that both views depend on to boot.