1. For many people, the freedom to do otherwise is a precondition of personal responsibility. The Calvinist understands the appeal of this intuition just as well as the libertarian.
For the Calvinist, however, theology is based on revelation rather than intuition. Even if we couldn’t put our finger on what’s wrong with this intuitive assumption, human beings are creatures of quite limited intelligence, and since God is smarter than we are, it is wiser to trust his wisdom over our own.
2. That said, suppose we take a closer look at the libertarian intuition. What makes it so appealing to suppose the freedom to do otherwise is a precondition of personal responsibility?
After all, we can only make one choice at a time. So why should our incumbency depend on having more than one choice at any given time?
Likewise, suppose I’m dealt a royal flush in a poker game. Now, there are two different ways I could be dealt a royal flush.
It could be due to a random shuffle of the deck. Although the odds against getting a royal flush are astronomical, it’s inevitable that sooner or later a poker player will be dealt a royal flush. This outcome would be analogous to the libertarian position.
The other way would be if the deck was stacked. In this case I was bound to be dealt a royal flush. That outcome would be analogous to the Reformed position.
Now, would I play my hand or place my bets any differently depending on how I was dealt a royal flush?
Suppose I don’t know if the result was random or predetermined.
Does the process affect my choice? No, it doesn’t. I simply play the hand I’ve been dealt.
Since it’s the same hand in either case, regardless of the underlying cause, it makes no practical difference. I wasn’t forced to play my hand one way if it’s due to a stacked deck, but another way if the deck was randomly shuffled.
3. So why do so many people feel that it does make a difference?
The unspoken assumption is that, given a chance, I might have done otherwise.
But unless I would have done otherwise, then what’s the point of my having several choices to choose from even though I’m only going to choose one in particular?
You see, what makes the freedom to do otherwise an attractive proposal is not that principle alone, but the additional assumption that if I had the freedom to do otherwise, then I would do otherwise.
So if the libertarian is going to make a case against Calvinism, he needs to do a lot more than invoke the generic freedom to do otherwise as a precondition of personal responsibility.
For even if we were grant the general principle, the libertarian needs to go beyond this principle in order to establish that, in any particular case, the agent would have done otherwise had he been given the opportunity to do so.
4. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the agent would have done otherwise. Even that concession carries another unspoken assumption.
To say the agent would have done otherwise does not imply that the agent, if given the chance, would have chosen good over evil.
Suppose, absent the freedom to do otherwise, he chose evil. This does not, of itself, imply that he was compelled to do evil. Remember our example of the poker play.
Given the chance to do otherwise, he could just as well choose the very same evil as he did absent the freedom to do otherwise.
5. But, what is more, even if he were to choose otherwise, this doesn’t imply that he’d choose good over evil. He could just as well choose an alternative course of evil.
Suppose you gave a guy like Robert Tilton a range of good choices and evil choices. If Tilton had the freedom to do otherwise, and if Tilton were, in fact, to exercise that freedom, he would ignore all of the good choices and make one evil choice after another. After having his fill of one evil choice, he’d move on to the next in line.
So the libertarian would also need to establish that even if the agent would have done otherwise, what he would have done otherwise would be to choose good over evil.
Since, as I said at the outset, an agent can only make one choice at a time, we can only judge an agent by the choice he did, in fact, make; for we can never know what other choice he might have made even assuming the freedom to do otherwise.
So it’s hard to see how the libertarian can establish, either certainly or probably, that the agent would have done good instead of evil if given the chance.