What to do when skeptics attack libertarian free will—become a Calvinist

By way of backstory…

This is a continuation of the discussion started with Stuart in his article ‘Openness Theology (Part 2)’. I realize it’ll go over the heads of some, and I apologize for that—but I think these issues are interesting and important enough to warrant bringing them to the front page. Interesting because, for more philosophically-inclined Christians, they raise questions about our own natures and our relationship to God; important because the answers to these questions have a lot of ramifications for not just our theology, but also our apologetics.

For example, a fairly standard line of attack for skeptics is to draw out the inconsistencies between holding to both God’s definite foreknowledge (DFK) and libertarian free will—which many Christians do. As a skeptic of LFW, though a believer in DFK, I took this line of attack in the comments thread of Stuart’s article:

P = “God knows that an agent S will choose A rather than ¬A”
Q = “S will choose A rather than ¬A”
[A] = the principle of accidental necessity (PAN)
[L] = the principle of logical necessity

  1. [A]P
  2. [L](P → Q)
  3. [A]Q

This precludes the possibility of S’s choosing ¬A. Since LFW typically relies on the principle of alternative possibility (PAP), this argument suffices to disprove the standard libertarian view.

Stuart, however, resolves the difficulty by rejecting the principle of alternate possibility while still holding to libertarian freedom: namely, that our choices are causally unrestrained. To justify rejecting PAP, he cites a hypothetical scenario where it seems that PAP is false, but agent S still has free will. This kind of scenario was first proposed by a philosopher named Harry Frankfurt, and is so called a Frankfurt Counterexample.

At this point, I’m gonna start talking to Stuart directly:

Continuing the discussion…

Stu: I think it’s interesting that you object to PAP using a Frankfurt Counterexample. Frankfurt being a compatibilist and all (: But I take it you’re adopting the Molinist position, ala William Lane Craig.

I think that’s problematic, because ultimately it collapses into a pure Reformed theology. PAP is necessary to liberterian free will (LFW), because without it there’s no obvious distinction between incompatibilism and compatibilism; and without that, there’s no reason to believe in LFW and be a Molinist!

For example, imagine a choice between A and ¬A, where God foreknows the outcome A. Compatibilists, who hold to theological determinism, believe something like the following:

  1. Principle of Volition (PV): Agent S can consciously contemplate A or ¬A and choose one
  2. Principle of Accidental Necessity (PAN): S cannot choose ¬A because his choice of A is accidentally necessary
  3. Principle of Compatibilistic Free Will (CFW): S freely chooses A

But what’s the difference between these beliefs, taken together, and what a libertarian would believe sans PAP? Perhaps you’d say (2) is incomplete, and that completing it creates the relevant distinction:

2C: S cannot choose ¬A because his choice of A is accidentally necessary AND causally restrained
2L: S cannot choose ¬A because his choice of A is accidentally necessary though NOT causally restrained

But the difference being suggested here only gains its force by trading on an equivocation in the concept of causality. (2L) cannot be true as a blanket statement under traditional Christianity. And (2C) need not be true, depending on what kind of causation you have in view.

If any kind of causation is in view, then presumably the libertarian and the compatibilist would both agree that (2C) must be true, and together reject (2L)—because the mechanics of God’s creative act necessitate at least three causal restraints on contingent choices:

CR1. Prior to creation, God surveyed all possible worlds and chose to create this one (call it W1)
CR2. God initially instantiated W1 in reality by speaking it into being
CR3. God continually upholds the instantiation of W1 in reality moment to moment

Any Christian must believe all three of these propositions, and all three of them constitute causal restraints on our choices.

A bit of explanation re these three causal restraints Christianity implies

Statement (CR1) entails a causal restraint on our choices, because God’s ability to know true facts about choices in worlds which have not been instantiated logically entails that his knowledge is not grounded on any choices’ actually obtaining. But if his knowledge is not grounded on the choices’ obtaining, yet he still has definite foreknowledge of their outcomes, it follows they must be causally determined. Were they not—were they indeterminate—then by definition he could not know their outcomes.

Statement (CR2) entails a causal restraint on human choices, since S’s choice of A is conditioned on God’s instantiation of W1. Indeed, every choice made in W1 occurs inevitably as God determined when he chose to instantiate W1.

Statement (CR3) entails a causal restraint on human choices, because we know that God alone instantiates things in reality. This instantiative power is a kind of causation, though not a natural causation (aka secondary causation). It’s an existential or primary causation. By definition, only God has this power; it’s sui generis, and a non-communicable attribute. Were God not exercising this power continually, the universe would simply fail to exist. Thus we know that whenever something is real, God alone instantiates it in reality; and since S’s choice to A is real, God alone therefore instantiates it in reality. It’s arguable whether this is merely a restatement of (CR2) or not; I don’t have a considered opinion on that.

The upshot (which is threefold):

Firstly, we must be careful when, in (2C) and (2L) above, we talk about S’s choice being “causally restrained”. Do we mean that it’s restrained in a natural sense, in an existential sense, or both? Any Christian must, of necessity, acknowledge that our choices are existentially causally restrained. But then there is no disagreement between the libertarian and the compatibilist, and their views appear to be the same. On the other hand, if we’re only talking about natural causal restraint, the compatibilist need not (to my knowledge) affirm that our choices are restrained at all; ie, he may agree with the libertarian that the only causally relevant factor in S’s choice is the action of S’s own will.

Secondly, because libertarianism without PAP implies a closed future, and acknowledges God’s definite foreknowledge even of non-instantiated worlds, it therefore necessarily entails theistic determinism:

TD. Theistic determinism is true if, and only if, for an agent (S) choosing whether A, the outcome A or ¬A is actualized inevitably because of a prior action on the part of God.

Thirdly, libertarianism with PAP necessarily entails the opposite: ie, it implies an open future, which in turn requires a denial of God’s definite foreknowledge, since there is literally nothing for him to know about human choices logically prior to their obtaining.

Make a choice: Calvinism or Open Theism

This is why an Arminian theology will either collapse into a Reformed theology or an Open theology when you push its premises to be consistent with one another. Once you’ve discarded PAP you’re most of the way there, since you’re essentially adopting a compatibilist view already—making theological determinism a lot easier to swallow.

On the other hand, if your intuitions were to refuse to let you discard PAP—as I’ve seen be the case for many Arminians, despite the PAP counterexample God conveniently provided for us right in the Bible itself (Exodus 7ff)—then if you want to align all your beliefs to be consistent you have to let go of God’s definite foreknowledge.

I look forward to your thoughts (:

Hitler and the Atheistic detractor of Hell


How unfortunate that such nonsense has already made its way as far as New Zealand. America is losing its edge in Christian zealotry.


Attack the man; ignore the issue. Great debating tactic!

BarryLeder (3 months ago) Show Hide

Rob, I was not debating. By your own admission, there would be nothing restraining you from taking my life were I to succeed in convincing you that the Christian ‘worldview’ is an epic failure on the logic and morality front. My post was merely an observation.


Your “observation” however is loaded with morality. “Unfortunate” according to whom? “Nonsense” according to whose viewpoint? “Zealotry”? I think you are confusing me with Richard Dawkins and his mates. 

I am just stating what seems to me to be obvious: “In a world without God, all things are permissible”. If this is not true, then show me why it isn’t.


It was ABSOLUTELY loaded with morality. But lets not start with the assumption that God as a given is moral. While I don’t believe there is sin, transgression against God; I do believe there are moral wrongs.

Those moral wrongs arise out of the nature of our existence where life is fragile and resources are scarce. While there may not be a supreme emforcer, that lack of an enforcer is not what establishes or prevents a moral right or wrong.

Now my question back to you is why is your concept of God more moral than Hitler? Unless you are Jehovah Witness or Mormon, your conceptual God probably would send Anne Frank to hell for eternity. Hitler only did it once. Seems the Christian worldview is in a very weak position to criticize the actions of Hitler.



These are really good questions BarryLeder. Also really emotionally charged ones. Because I think good questions deserve good answers, let us deal with your question with clear logic.  

If I were to argue minimally for theism (not the internal consistency of the Christian world-view, not the Biblical doctrine of inerrancy, not the doctrine of hell) then you would still have the problem of dealing with apologeticsNZ’s original question. How do you get morality on atheism? 

So based on the premises that – (1) if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist, and (2) objective morals do exist, the logically inescapable and necessary conclusion is that God exists. 

Since you take pains to ABSOLUTELY agree that moral values do exist, then it must be the first premise you disagree with. But you have given no reason why you think that objective moral values can exist apart from God. If your reason is they arise from the nature of existence then your ethics must be rather flowery. What is it about the nature of our existence that makes things right or wrong? I can’t think of any moral value fertiliser can teach me? Without a transcendent ground to pin your assertions of the existence of right and wrong, you end up with moral values being amoral. Ethics is reduced to subjectivism, which is unliveable.

Now if I were to argue for more than just theism, then your question comes into play. That makes it clear that your really not arguing against the existence of God, and not even the morality of God (since if the above moral argument is successful then it gives us good grounds to believe in a personal and morally perfect being), but only the doctrine of hell. 

In effect your argument is that God’s omni-benevolence and all-compassionate love is incompatible with his sending people to hell. As I said before, this is an emotionally charged question, and I think not so very difficult an intellectual objection to dismiss. This is evident when you consider that as a purely intellectual problem it is just as problematic that a just and holy God can send people to heaven, but who rejects Christ for that difficulty?

You rightly discern that one could adopt the doctrine of annihilationism as a strategy. I could also adopt the idea that hell is not eternal but a type of temporary pergatory. This would take all the power out of your objection to your belief in a moral God. But in fact I do not accept the particular doctrines, and consider the Bible to be faithfully reporting the truth when it says there is a literal hell. I also think that most descriptions given are figuratively describing a place of eternal conscious torment from being separated from God. What a horrible belief! How is one to make sense of these two seemingly contradictory tenets of Christian belief, namely God’s love and that he sends people to hell? 

Well look closely at the objection. These aren’t explicitly contradictory. Therefore there must be some implicit assumptions smuggled in to make it contradictory. What are these assumptions? I’ll be generous and supply what I think they are. (A) That God is able to create a world in which all people will be freely saved. (B) That God is willing that all people be freely saved. 

But because you want to say that it is impossible that a loving God can send people to hell, you must prove assumptions (A) and (B) necessarily. I’m really glad I don’t have to bare that burden of proof!

As for (A) It is at least possible that a world in which all people are freely saved is unfeasible for God. As for (B) It is impossible for God to make people freely choose him. Just because God is omnipotent doesn’t mean he can do the logically impossible. Also it is possible that the only possible world in which all people are freely saved, is a world in which only one person exists, and I don’t see why those who reject God’s salvation should have a sort of veto power over God and his plan to create a world in which, on balance, more people are saved than lost. What if one man’s atheism was the cause of one man’s salvation? That world would be balanced. So its clear that it is far beyond the detractor of hell’s scope of knowledge to declare with any certainty that there exists a contradiction between God’s love and his sending people to hell. 

But does God send people to hell? A better understanding of what the Bible teaches is that God does not send people to hell, but it is we who send ourselves to hell for not accepting the provision made for us through Jesus Christ. God’s mercy and justice are reconciled at the cross. There we see how Christ’s blood was poured out for us as an atoning sacrifice, allowing sinful man to have relationship with a holy and just God. There we see the wrath of God for our sin, poured out on Jesus, who willing gave his life showing his love, and the extreme lengths he will go to rescue you. 

In a very real sense, God is not to blame for the free actions of those who choose not accept his Son. He had made every effort to show himself to man, and it is now up to man to see how he will respond. 

Given the universality of sin, and the uniquness of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, it stands to reason that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. It is this exclusivity that is so repugnant to our modern sensibilities. Nevertheless, it is the clear testimony of scripture. 

The first thing to remember that this view was just as controversial in first century polytheistic Rome, if not more so, than it is today. The second thing is we must distinguish between truth and taste. What is repugnant to our ears is not a measure to test what is true. The third thing to remember is that it is not only Christianity that makes exclusive claims, but every religion, from Muslim to Hindu to Taoist to Mormon – everyone – even the inclusivist excludes the exclusivist. Truth presupposes exclusivity.

This exclusive claim of the Christian uncovers another problem. For if Christ’s death is the only way for salvation of everyone who believes, then the multitudes that have not heard the gospel are not even given the opportunity to respond. They cannot believe in faith and be saved for no one told them they must. The inhabitants of heaven are people who were saved as a result of historical and geographical accident of birth. How can we make sense of this? 

There are two solutions that spring to mind. 

The first is that God has a way of spreading the gospel and the good news of his Son that is not dependant on people. This idea, in fact carries scriptural data to back it up. 

According to Romans 2 people who never hear the gospel are not judged according to the same standard as those who did hear the gospel. Rather they are judged on the basis of their response to the revelation they are given, in nature and in conscience. It is clear that Job and Methuselah were saved even though they were without the gospel, were not a part of Israel and were without the law. 

There are also plentiful stories, particularly coming from Islamic nations, of people seeing dreams and visions of Jesus preaching to them the Christian gospel though they have never heard had any contact with it before. Sometimes whole villages have the same dream simultaneously and as a community convert before any missionary arrives.

Paul, while on his way to persecute and kill more Christians, became a convert of Jesus himself. One doesn’t need a missionary to receive the gospel, but God is powerful enough to send a missionary to you if he knows you will respond to the message. If there are no missionaries that will go, he is capable of stepping off the throne himself as he did with Paul.

The second solution is that God knew before the foundation of the world, who would accept and would reject him and his marvellous message. Thus he providentially arranged the world so that the gospel would reach all who would freely accept it, if it was heard, and place those who in every possible set of circumstances would reject his salvation in a time and place where hey would not hear the gospel. If God has middle-knowledge this a very plausible explanation, especially given Paul’s message to the people of Athens in the Areopagus (see Acts 17:26). But this solution doesn’t have to be true or even probable – it just needs to be possible and it breaks the force of the objection completely.