Friday, May 09, 2008

Christianity & Libertarianism

I propose three brief arguments against the conjunction of some fairly basic, historic, and (mainly) uncontroversial Christian doctrines with libertarian free will. Some of the cash value of these arguments can be applied to the current debate both Hays and I have been engaged in with Victor Reppert. Given his statements on freedom and moral responsibility, some highly problematic propositions follow. Propositions Reppert wouldn’t, apparently, want to jettison.

I’ll quote some claims Reppert has advanced or agreed with in the context of our debate.

“By libertarian freedom is meant freedom such that the agent who makes a choice is really able, under exactly the same circumstances, to chose something different from the thing that is in fact chosen [...,] this means that there is nothing whatever that predetermines which choice will be made, until the creature is actually placed in the situation and makes that decision” (Hasker, Debates in Philosophy of Religion, ibid, 219, emphasis original).

“Determinism: For every event which happens, there are previous events and circumstances which are its sufficient conditions or causes, so that, given those previous events and circumstances, it is impossible that the event should not occur” (Reppert quoting Hasker).

“if determinism is true everyone's actions are the inevitable result of causes outside the agent's control, and that if this is so, it is unjust to treat agents as if they were responsible for those actions in the final analysis” (Reppert).

“In the cases given [cases whether someone is morally responsible], isn't it the case that you could have chosen otherwise” (Reppert)
I also assume that because of his endorsement of Hasker’s definition of “determinism” Reppert would endorse Plantinga’s definition of “significant freedom.” Significant freedom involves the agent being free to perform or refrain from an action because no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine what the agent will do.”

I will also assume that Reppert’s claims about moral responsibility do not just attach to blameworthy actions but praiseworthy actions as well. Just like someone cannot be blamed for doing what they were determined to do, they could not be praised, either. So, “moral responsibility” should be read in this wide sense.

Pretty clearly, then, Reppert holds to libertarian freedom such that “nothing whatever that predetermines which choice will be made,” and this kind of freedom is required “to treat agents as if they were responsible for those actions,” because to be held morally responsible for your actions it is “the case that you could have chosen otherwise.”

With these reasonable assumptions in mind, I’ll now offer three critiques.

I. God’s Freedom

Almost all Christians have agreed that God is perfectly good. When the question is posed to Christians as to if God could command that, say, rape is good, the response is that he could not because that would be contrary to his nature. When asked if God could sin, the answer is that he could not because he is necessarily good. The Bible even indicates that it is “impossible” for God to lie (Heb. 618). The Bible tells us that God is love (I John 4:8, 16). Universalists have stressed this so much (even minimizing other attributes) that God cannot not love anyone.

Christians have agreed with premises that have been used to make up an Ontological Argument (even if they disagree with the argument as a whole). For example, many Christians agree that:

[1] A being has maximal greatness in a given world only if it has maximal excellence in every world.

[2] A being has maximal excellence in a given world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfections in that world.

(Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, p. 108).

Victor has objected to the Calvinist’s God on “moral grounds.” Such that a being who did the things we say God did (and does), could not be good. And, since God is necessarily good, he could not do those things. If he did, he would not be God but he would be an “Omnipotent Fiend.”

Reppert has written,

“God, by definition, is a being who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good. A being who predestines people for everlasting punishment doesn't meet the third requirement, and therefore isn't God.”
Pretty clearly, a long standing and accepted view of traditional theism is that “it is impossible for God, in virtue of his nature, to sin. But this means that his nature determines that in moral matters he has only one option; he must always choose the good” (Feinberg, No One Like Him, p.730).

The problem that arises should be self-evident by now. How does God bear moral responsibility? That is, how is he a subject of ascribing blame or praise? Indeed, since God cannot do otherwise that good in moral matters, then he cannot be morally responsible in the broad sense where praise can be given to him for his actions. Furthermore, since his nature determines his actions, then he does not have libertarian freedom (at the very least when it comes to matters of morality). If we knew what the good choice was in any given situation, we could, without fail, predict what God was going to do, every time. Would Victor call a human who did what he could not but help to do, good? Can we predict, without fail, the choices of an agent who had libertarian freedom? If something determined that I helped old ladies cross the street, Victor would not call me good. Would not see me as a subject worthy of praise (or blame if I did something wrong).

Thus Victor’s infatuation with libertarian freedom has severe implications for holding to a God who is essentially good, who’s nature makes it impossible for him to sin or be the actor who commits evil.

But all of this is absurd. Christians, like Victor, all agree that God is worthy of praise. That we can praise his good acts. Call him morally good. That when he doesn’t lie he’s not like a robot, but a free agent. That when he sends his son to die for people, he’s not acting as a robot, or a puppet. He is acting good, and can be praised for that action. This implies that a human can be held morally responsible, a subject of ascriptions of praise or blame, even if he could not do otherwise. If not, why the ad hoc move when it comes to God?

Victor has claimed that if a belief interfered with his strong belief that God is good, or that God deserves praise from the heavenly choir, he would drop that belief. He would be ready to drop the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, even. Therefore, he should, to be internally consistent, drop his belief in the necessity of libertarian freedom for free will or for moral responsibility.

II. Jesus’ Morally Exemplarily Life

This argument is fairly simple. Much of the leg work was done above. It is the predominate view that Jesus was impeccable. This means that Jesus was unable to sin. Jesus deserves all praise and honor (Rev. 5:13). He is to be commended for withstanding Satan’s temptation (Matt. 4:1-11; Heb, 2:18, 4:15). Jesus was truly human. As human as you or I (but without the taint of, or ability to, sin). Clearly, then, given the above constraints on morally responsibility and freedom, Jesus was not a morally responsible agent (or free, at least with respect to moral actions). He is not a fitting subject for praise or blame. But this is absurd. So if Jesus, a true human, can be held morally responsible for his actions (his perfect righteousness, law-keeping, role as the second Adam), even though he couldn’t do otherwise, then so can we. Thus there is not a problem of accepting moral responsibility and denying PAP within the Christian worldview. Indeed, it looks as if that constraint may be false given the truth of some basic and fairly uncontroversial historic Christian teaching.

III. The Perfection of the Saints in Heaven

It is standard fair to say that Christians will be unable to sin in heaven. That there is not a possibility of a second fall, as it were. We will never choose evil. This is certain. Out of two options, a good one A and an evil one B, choosing B will be impossible. There is no alternative possibility. No chance a sinful choice can be instantiated in the new heavens and earth.

Given the above, it is fairly obvious what follows. Since we are morally responsible subjects in heaven, and we may properly be commended for our righteous behavior, and we will not be able to sin, and we will be free, Reppert’s necessary and sufficient conditions for what counts as freedom and moral responsibility do not fit within the Christian worldview.

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