Dangerous Assumptions: An Evaluation of the Free Will Defence to the Problem of Evil – Part 2b: Objections: Philosophical Objections to Free Will

Objections: Philosophical Objections to Free Will


Objection 1: Incompatibilism Results in Arbitrary Human Actions


Probably the most frequent argument made against Incompatibilism, and its greatest challenge, is the charge that it makes human actions arbitrary.[95]  Incompatibilists deny this, but compatibilist attempt to argue that it is a necessary consequence of their model of freedom.[96] Taylor asks how a choice that has no cause can be attributed to the agent who made it, how can he be said to be in control?[97]

The libertarian response is that in fact there is a cause for the choice, the free agent himself. To defend this view incompatibilists have introduced the idea of self-determination.[98] The problem with this view is that there is not a clear picture of how this works, philosophers ask, how can something be the cause of its own changes?[99] Here is how it would work; when Free Agent A is faced with two choices, let us say to eat or not eat pizza, his will acts to choose to eat pizza. His choice to eat the pizza was not caused by anything else but his own act of will.[100]

Nash brings out nicely the problem this introduces; “Try to form a mental picture of a human will, whatever it is, that has the power to act totally uninfluenced or uncaused by any prior condition, state, thought, feeling, emotion, or whatever. Then ask yourself, how does this kind of uncaused action differ from pure chance?”[101] The problem is that for this idea of self-determination to work, there cannot be a sufficient condition[102] for our free agent A to make his choice; no inclination in him has caused him to choose to eat when he could have not eaten. Some may suggest that he was not indifferent towards the two options but was pre-disposed towards eating the pizza.[103] This only pushes the problem back. If his inclinations dispose him towards one choice over the other, how is it not a sufficient condition to render his choice certain? The only answer the incompatibilist can give is to say that when considering whether to eat or not eat the pizza, he made a choice to resist or follow the influences laid before him. We then must ask, was this an arbitrary choice? Or was there a sufficient cause for this choice?

The Incompatibilist in this situation must either affirm an infinite regress of undetermined choices, or concede that a person’s actions and choices are truly arbitrary, that is: free from any cause or reason for which a person might choose one way and not another.


Objection 2: Incompatibilism Cannot Explain How an Action Takes Place without a Sufficient Cause


This brings us to our next objection; is it even possible for a person to make an arbitrary[104] choice? Can someone really exercise his or her will apart from a sufficient cause for doing so?[105] If a will is at some point neutral (what we have seen to be needed for a choice to be uncaused), how does it then begin to act? Will it not stay in unmoving position until acted upon by some influence?[106] The problem for the libertarian is something like expecting a car in neutral, parked on a perfectly flat surface, to start moving in a direction without anything changing. Either pushing the car or popping it into drive and pressing the gas will start it moving, but if no influence is introduced, the car will remain stationary. Some incompatibilists have suggested, “a person just chooses”![107] This is not really an answer at all, the incompatibilist is merely throwing up his or her arms and saying in the face of difficulties; it is true anyways! At best, this leaves them back with objection 1; human choices are purely arbitrary.


Objection 3: Incompatibilism Undermines Human Responsibility


If human choices are arbitrary, then where is any ground for human responsibility? Culpability in our culture is often judged to some extent on the basis of intention. The fact that we differentiate between “manslaughter” and “murder 1” shows this. Though there are still consequences for reckless behavior leading to someone’s death, to intentionally execute a murder receives a greater punishment, most would agree this is rightly so. If someone’s choices are completely arbitrary, if he does not have in any true sense control over his actions, then how can he be held responsible for his actions? The difference between a murder and a philanthropist will be either blind chance in choices or in circumstances.[108]


Objection 4: Edward’s Argument against the Possibility of an Indeterminate Will


Can Incompatibilism even hide in the shade of randomness; can a will’s choices even be arbitrary? Edward’s, in his Freedom of the Will, argues against the liberal Arminians of his day to the point we have reached so far.[109] He recounts their objection that though effects, actions, in physical realm require a sufficient reason, it is not so in the spiritual realm. Physical objects are passive and act when acted upon, but it is suggested that spirit beings are active; they are able to propel themselves into action, they are self-actuating.[110] Edwards reply to this is that it really misses the point; it answers the question of what causes our choices with “ourselves,” but it fails to give an answer to the question that needs answering; how can something be uncaused?[111] If we contain this power of action, then we must ask, what caused (even in the light sense of allowed me to make choice and not rendered my choice certain) me to act in this moment? It must have been a previous actualization of my intrinsic power of action. What one is left with is a chain of causes in infinitum; these actions must descend back and back![112] If there is able to be an influence on our self-actualization, then our acting is not wholly of ourselves, we in fact find that our choices are determined by something outside of oneself, which is completely unacceptable to the Incompatibilist.[113]

These 4 objections, acting together, show that it is completely unreasonable to hold to Incompatibilism; contingent free choice is a myth. To hold to this means that you have to resort to arbitrary human choices, if humans can make choices at all. To suggest without evidence that humans just can choose leads to a chain in infinitum of uncaused causes. If billions of humans are responsible for millions of uncaused causes, how can we be sure that anything else will follow the laws of causality?[114]


Objection 5: Incompatibilism Undermines God’s Moral Goodness


To put Incompatibilism to its final rest, we must ask; what does this doctrine do to God’s moral responsibility? According to Incompatibilism, to be morally praiseworthy or morally damnable, one must be able to choose otherwise than one did. According to this view, if you cannot act otherwise than you do, you cannot be blamed or praised. The unfortunate side effect of this view is that it removes any ground for praising God as morally good or upright. “Wait a second!,” some may protest; “you are applying our understanding of man’s will to God, that is a categorical error, we can’t understand God’s will, let alone assume that it is the same as ours!” This may well be true, though often philosophers argue that God’s will is similar to ours, but, even assuming that God’s will works completely differently, the problem remains. The position of Incompatibilism does not comment on the nature of the human will (though this naturally overflows from the question it does ask), instead, it comments on the nature of reality. It says that moral responsibility at every level is assigned on the basis of the ability of alternate choice. To suggest that God can be praised on the grounds of moral determinism begs us to ask, why can’t man? It is completely arbitrary and unfounded to suggest that determinism is true of God but not of man. Because God is perfectly good and righteous, it is impossible for Him to do otherwise than act in a good or righteous way. For God to act contrary to His character is to undermine His very nature; to do so would make Him less than God, which is impossible. When given the option of doing good or evil, God infallibly must do good, if He does not, then He is not God. If God can only do good and not evil in every circumstance, then His nature is the sufficient condition for His choices. This conclusion means that according to Libertarianism, God is not morally praiseworthy. Because this conclusion is absurd and blasphemous, we must object that Incompatibilism cannot be the nature of reality.


The 9 objections to Incompatibilism that we have examined from Scripture and reason conclusively show that this position is neither Scriptural nor reasonable. To hold to this position is to reject key truths about God, Scripture, humankind, and reality. Incompatibilism is the lynchpin of the FWD, without it the first and second premises[115] fall apart and the argument is left without any ground to stand on.

The first premise assumes that a world with significantly free creatures[116] is a greater good than one without them, unfortunately without Incompatibilism, “significantly” free creatures cannot exist. The second premise suggests the possibility that God could not create a world with “significantly” free creatures where they do not fall into sin. This premise is built on the assumptions that God has knowledge of future contingent choices through His middle knowledge and that humans possess Libertarian free will. If Incompatibilism is wrong, then God could have created free creatures in the Compatibilist sense and could have determined that they would not fall. Does this follow? Because Compatibilism allows for causal determination, a free creature is able to choose differently in the same circumstances on the basis of different causes preceding his choice. This means that for every choice there is a possible world where he chose differently.[117]

Alongside of Incompatibilism, the other key assumption of the FWD is that God has middle knowledge. As we saw, middle knowledge is not just used to support the FWD but is also said to help Incompatibilism out of some of the problems it runs into with Scripture. For our evaluation of the FWD, we must ask if this assumption is valid or as unfounded as Incompatibilism.


[95]Taylor, “Determinism,” 369. Arbitrary here is not synonymous with incompatibilism, that is; an effect/action without sufficient cause. Arbitrary here refers to the tension between an action which the actor has control over versus a random/chance/completely uninfluenced action. Incompatibilism wants to deny arbitrariness in the sense that they maintain that there is no sufficient cause for our actions, yet actions are not random and in our control. The tension here, seeming contradiction, emerges because the incompatibilist is trying to hold together a mutually contradictory positions under one head.

[96]Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 20; Wellum, “Divine Sovereignty-Omniscience,” 259.

[97]Taylor, “Determinism,” 369.


[99]Ibid., 370.

[100] The will in this conversation would be the human facility for making a choice.

[101]Ronald H Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions : An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 330.

[102] cf. ft. 24 for a definition of “sufficient condition.”

[103] Nash and Feinberg point out that incompatibilists do not claim that the will has to be completely indifferent. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 329; Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 20.

[104] Arbitrary as used here encompasses both the definition of “without sufficient condition” and “random/chance happening/uninfluenced.” As we say before, without sufficient condition results in arbitrariness in this later sense, and now we are asking if choices like this are even possible.

[105]Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 35–36.

[106]Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 331; Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 36.

[107] Recounted in Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 36.

[108] Cf. Ibid., 36–37; Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 331; Travis James Campbell, Middle Knowledge: A Reformed Critique, n.d., 9–10, accessed April 18, 2014, http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/Middle_Knowledge.pdf.

[109]Edwards, Freedom of the Will, 21.

[110]Ibid., 42–43.

[111]Ibid., 43.

[112]Ibid., 49.

[113]Ibid., 37.

[114]Ibid., 41.

[115] (1) All else being equal, a world containing significantly free beings is a greater good than a world without significantly free beings. (2) God, even though He is omniscient and omnipotent, is unable to create a world containing significantly free creatures in which they do not choose to do evil.

[116] According to our earlier discussion, “A creature is significantly free when he is free in a circumstance, according to the incompatibilist presupposition, to perform a morally significant action. An action is morally significant when to do it is objectively wrong and to refrain is objectively right, or vice versa.”

[117] Here we are still using the language of middle knowledge. See Sproul for a different argument that displays this same truth without using the language of middle knowledge. R.C. Sproul, Classic Teachings on the Nature of God (Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 174–175.



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