William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, part 1 of 5
A while back, William Lane Craig at Reasonable Faith got a question about Calvinism vs. Molinism. In his response, he listed “Five difficulties with the reformed view.” I’ve been wanting to respond to them for a long time but just haven’t gotten around to it until now.
With the exception of #2, Jonathan Edwards dealt with all of these issues 260 years ago in his book, An Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of That Freedom of the Will Which Is Supposed to Be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame. Or, more commonly, The Freedom of the Will. So I highly recommend this book for anybody who wonders how Edwards might’ve responded to Craig.
I’m going to respond to each of these in a separate blog post. Here’s the first difficulty Craig raises.
1. Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture. The classical Reformed divines recognized this. They acknowledge that the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable. D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people’s sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22). These passages rule out a deterministic understanding of divine providence, which would preclude human freedom. Determinists reconcile universal, divine, causal determinism with human freedom by re-interpreting freedom in compatibilist terms. Compatibilism entails determinism, so there’s no mystery here. The problem is that adopting compatibilism achieves reconciliation only at the expense of denying what various Scriptural texts seem clearly to affirm: genuine indeterminacy and contingency.
While it is true that some reformed people have said the reconciliation of God’s divine sovereignty and human responsibility is inscrutable, there are some who have given philosophically sophisticated reconciliations without resorting to Molinism. Jonathan Edwards dealt with this issue in some detail in his book on The Freedom of the Will. A lot of my responses will be inspired by Edwards but may not be exactly what Edwards said.
Craig is right that some reformed people have reconciled God’s sovereignty with human freedom by defining freedom in compatibilist terms. That is how Edwards reconciled them. That’s the option I take as well.
Where Craig goes wrong is in saying that “compatibilism achieves reconciliation only at the expense of denying what various Scriptural texts seem clearly to affirm: genuine indeterminacy and contingency.” Craig is wrong for a couple of reasons.
First, because the scriptures do not affirm libertarian freedom (which is what Craig means by “genuine indeterminancy and contingency”). Rather, Craig infers, through philosophical reasoning, that the Bible must presuppose libertarianism since it affirms the nine points that Craig spells out above. Craig thinks those nine point only make sense if we have libertarian freedom. But that is a philosophical presupposition of Craig’s, not anything the Bible actually says.
Second, if you look at what the Bible actually does say about the nature of the will, it supports compatibilism, not libertarianism. According to compatibilism, all of our choices are determined by our strongest desires and motivations. According to the Bible, our actions are determined by the condition of our hearts.
Matthew 7:16-18 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.”
Matthew 12:33-35 “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.”
Luke 6:43 “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
From Jesus’ statements in Matthew and Luke, it’s evident that all of our actions, whether good or bad, are determined by the condition of our hearts. Jesus could hardly have endorsed compatibilism more clearly without actually using the word “compatibilism.”
Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
This directly addresses Craig’s second point above which he thinks implies human freedom. It says, “people are said to obey, believe, and choose God.” Craig thinks that obeying is inconsistent with determinism and implies libertarianism, but according to Ezekiel 36:26-27, obedience is caused.
Jeremiah 13:23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”
A person who is accustomed to doing evil cannot do good because they can only act consistently with the condition of their hearts.
Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Cf. Ezra 6:22)
God’s sovereignty over the hearts of people is why he can be sovereign over all of our actions. That entails that our actions are determined by the condition of our hearts. This view of sovereignty is quite different than the Molinist view. Under Molinism, God doesn’t exercise sovereignty over human decision by influencing the human heart, but by actualizing possible states of affairs in which he knows ahead of time what people will freely choose.
Many more examples could be cited. Check out Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will. The scriptures clearly affirm compatibilism, not libertarianism. Craig does not get libertarianism from the Bible. Rather, he gets it from his philosophical presupposition that libertarianism is necessary for moral accountability combined with the Bible’s affirmation that we are morally accountable.
I’ll address the subject of whether libertarianism is necessary for moral accountability in part 3 of this series.