Frequently, in debates against Calvinists, Classical Arminians claim that Calvinism cannot be true by the conjunction of a biblical premise with an extra-biblical premise. First, the biblical premise. (1) The Bible clearly teaches that men are morally responsible for their actions (all sides agree to this). Now the extra-biblical premise (Stuart Goetz recently told me via email that you cannot prove a libertarian action theory strictly from the Bible and people who think you can are sophomoric). (2) To be morally responsible for your actions requires the ability to do otherwise, otherwise known as, the principle of alternative possibility (PAP). To get a handle on PAPs I will cite some expressions of this intuition given by prominent libertarians.
The below expressions of PAP are taken from, Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibility: Essays on the Importance of Alternative Possibilities, (eds. Widerker & Mckenna, Ashgate, 2006):
- "PAP: An agent is morally responsible for performing a given action A only if he could have avoided performing it" (Widerker, p.53).
- "PAP: An agent S is morally responsible for its being the case that p only if S could have made it not the case that p." (Ginet, 75).
- "Frankfirt-style cases (FSCs) were introduced to undermine 'the principle of alternative possibilities' or PAP. They were designed to show that a person could be morally responsible even though the person had no alternative possibilities (APs) or could not have done otherwise." [Kane, p. 91, see fn. 4 for an elaboration. Kane agrees that in *particular* cases FSCs show that an agent was morally responsible even though he could not have done otherwise just in case he had some libertarian free choices in his past that shaped his character.]
- "PAP3: A person is (libertarian) free in what he has done (= A) only if there is something he did (= B) which is such that (i) he could have done otherwise than B and (ii) it is (at least in part) in virtue of his doing B that he is (libertarian) free in doing A" (Hunt, p.167). [NOTE: Hunt, though a libertarian nevertheless rejects the PAP constraint on moral responsibility.]
Since PAPs are inconsistent with there being only one future given a past divine decree (determinism), Arminians feel that, based on the intuitive strength PAPs yield, a Calvinism that posits a divine determinism cannot be the case.
Yet, there is a response. Many determinists have claimed that there are equally strong intuitions against PAP brought out by what are called in the literature, Frankfurt Counter Examples. Many libertarian free will theorists have agreed. For example, David Copp, a libertarian, writes, "Frankfurt's argument is troubling and puzzling because it brings intuitively plausible counterexamples against an intuitively plausible principle. It forces us to deal with clashing intuitions" (Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibility: Essays on the Importance of Alternative Possibilities, (eds. Widerker & Mckenna, Ashgate, 2006), p.265).
In a nutshell, Frankfurt Counter Examples propose some kind of controller that will ensure that an agent cannot do otherwise than some action A, if he were to physically try to, or even if he were about to think to try to do otherwise than A. As the story goes, though, the agent proceeds to A, and never even wavers, and so the controller does not need to "push the button" that will ensure he A's. So, the agent is morally responsible while being unable to do otherwise than A. There have been thousands of pages written on Frankfurt Counter Examples, this was intended as just an initial sketch. These counterexamples represent a defeater for PAPs, and thus a defeater to the objection to Calvinism based on the conjunction of the above (1) and (2).
Frankfurt examples seem to have escaped unscathed from almost every response to them, and thus it looks like the critique against Calvinism based on PAP has little merit, indeed, it looks false.
Yet, there are Arminians who still think Frankfurt Counter Examples do not falsify PAP. But, it seems that more and more libertarian philosophers have realized the strength of Franfurt Counter Examples. Things have funneled down to an objection libertarians think is pretty strong: the indeterminist world objection.
Bill Vallicella recently made mention of this objection, he writes:
But if we think about it, we see that these Frankfurt examples give an incompatibilist who believes in free will no reason to abandon PAP. Incompatibilists hold that (libertarian) free will and (causal) determinism are logically incompatible: they cannot both be true. So if free will exists, then determinism is false. And if determinism is false, then indeterminism is true. If indeterminism is true, then free choices are not determined by earlier events and the laws of nature. Jones choice is determined only at the instant at which Jones chooses, and is determined by Jones. How then could Black control Jones' choice? Suppose Black has all the powers of a Laplacean demon: in a deterministic universe he can predict any state from any temporally prior state. These powers won't help him, however, in an indeterministic universe. Before Jones chooses, Black cannot predict what he will choose. He cannot foresee (by observing electrical activity in Jones' brain, say, that Jones will choose A rather than B. Black must wait for Jones to choose before he can know what he chooses. But then it is too late for Black to interfere. Jones will have made a choice, and indeed one that he might not have made. For Black to ensure that Jones will make the choice that Black desires him to make, Black must act prior to the time at which Jones chooses so as to bring it about that Jones chooses as Black desires. But then Jones is not responsible for his choice. Jones cannot be responsible for his choice if Black is part of the cause of the choice. (Emphasis mine)Or, as Robert Kane puts it,
If free choices are undetermined then a Frankfurt controller could not ensure or control them without actually intervening and making the agent choose what the controller wants. In indeterministic worlds, as Widerker has put it, there will not be a reliable "tell" sign which lets the controller know that the agent will do. In other words, since no one can know what a free agent will do in an indeterministic world, the only way a choice (or action) controller could work is by forcing the choice he wants, which takes away responsibility for the agent (Kane, Introduction to Free Will, Oxford, 2005, p. 87-88), emphasis mine.So, the indeterminist world objection, OKA, the Kane-Widerker Objection, states that there can be no Frankfurt controller since it is impossible to know the future free actions of indeterministically free agents.
The problem this has for the Classical Arminian should be obvious: it kicks out traditional views of foreknowledge. Another strong intuitions Calvinists have had (well, not just Calvinists, some libertarians too) is that foreknowledge is just as threatening to libertarian free will (though the argument to that conclusions runs slightly different that the determinism argument, mere foreknowledge of an event is not causation of that event). This is why both Calvinists and many non-classical Arminians have claimed that Open Theism (which, among other things, denies God's knowledge of the future actions of libertarian free agents) is the logical outworking of Arminianism. The recent objection to Frankfurt Counter Examples, the Kane-Widerker Objection, has only served to strengthen that intuition. (I should add, though I will not present the arguments, things are not at a stalemate here. Some, like Mele, have claimed that Frankfurt Counter Examples can work against even this objection. Frankfurt Counter Examples have been resilient, if anything, to various rebutting defeaters.)
Thus, it looks like the noose is tightening and Classical Arminianism will eventually be forced, logically, to the Open Theist position. On the other hand, they can drop the PAP objection to Calvinism (libertarian Dave Hunt does not hold to PAP, so that is another viable option). They would just lose a major weapon they have been wielding in the debate between the two systems. Only time will tell which one they will give.