Friday, November 04, 2022

Does God have libertarian free will?

(3) Issue: Is the Son free in his willing to obey the will of the Father? Some might think if the Son must embrace the Father's will, then he cannot truly be free in accepting to do the Father's will. ... Response: This objection stands only if the kind of freedom one is considering is libertarian freedom, the so-called power of contrary choice. That is, Butner's criticism works only if the freedom by which the Son is said to "freely obey" the Father is one in which he can equally obey or disobey the Father (i.e., The Son has libertarian freedom which requires the power of contrary choice). I have argued elsewhere that libertarian freedom is a failed concept that neither explains why moral agents choose precisely what they do nor accords with the strong sovereignty of God we see throughout the Scriptures. If we adopt instead the concept of freedom in which our freedom consists in our unconstrained ability to do what we most want or to act according to our highest inclination— sometimes referred to as a "freedom of inclination"—then this problem is resolved. The Son's willing submission is his free and unconstrained expression of what he most wants to do when he receives the authoritative will of the Fahter, which is always, without exception, to embrace and carry out precisely what the Father gives him to do. (Bruce A. Ware, "Unity and Discintion of the Trinitarian Persons," in Keith S. Whitefield, Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application, pp. 49-50)

Does God have libertarian free will? Professor Bruce Ware would certainly reject the notion, as he uses his rejection of divine libertarian free will to respond to Glen Butner's objection to EFS based on the issue of the divine will. But in order to truly answer the question, we must ask what the idea of divine libertarian free will actually mean.

When it comes to God, who is omnipotent and sovereign, the "power of contrary choice" seems to be a vacuous concept, since by definition, God being sovereign means He can choose to do whatever He wants to do, and His omnipotence means He will most certainly have the ability to do whatever He chooses to do. What does "contrary choice" mean to an infinite and all-powerful being? Perhaps we might consider the issue from another angle. We could therefore focus not so much on God considered absolutely (Dei potentia absoluta), but rather the relation between God considered absolutely and God as He has revealed Himself, in the ordination of all things (Dei potentia ordinata). Is God free to do anything whatsoever even if it goes against His plan or His nature, and is there anything that constrains what God would do, not by force but by principle? Now, if God is the only true God who is a se, then nothing can constrain God at all from the outside, because God is before all things. Therefore, any constraint if present must be within God. Most people might think that God's nature would "constrain" God, and, speaking anthropomorphically, it does. In a certain sense, it is impossible for God to go against His own nature, because God is God, a simple being.

With two dead ends, is there a way we can talk sensibly about a "divine libertarian free will"? In order for that category to make sense, we must construe freedom differently. Freedom cannot refer to choice or nature in the case of God, but rather we must turn to the issue of modality. In other words, we must ask ourselves whether God is free to bring to pass any possible world that can be conceived, with any permutation He so chooses. In other words, it is not about God's choices, or His power, or His nature, but wholly on the circumstances that befit each possible world. God has "libertarian free will" only if He can make any possible world actual, and He does not have "libertarian free will" if there are certain constraints that restrict the existence of any possible world. The issue here is one of modality, not of actuality. Put mathematically, is the probabiity that God can make a possible conceivable world X not zero, or are there some mentally conceivable possible world of which its probability of existence is zero?

Phrased in this manner, we can see that God does not truly have libertarian free will, but not because He does not have the "power of contrary choice." Rather, God's plan and decree acts as further constraints on which conceivable world is a possibly actual world, above that exercised by the divine nature. In Butner's example here, the Son voluntarily and freely obeys the will of the Father. Being free, there is no compulsion for the Son to actually obey the Father. In Classical Theism, the unity of the singular divine will ensures that the Son and the Father are not at loggerheads with each other. In Ware's system on the other hand, the Son must obey the Father because the Son does not have libertarian free will, but His freedom of inclination ensures He always obeys the Father. In a certain sense, both explanations are correct. Yet, if we are to consider the issue of free will in a way that makes sense for a sovereign and omnipotent being, then the answer for why the Son always obeys the Father is this: That is the way God's plan will work in any possible existent world. The freedom of the Son means that it is mentally (hypothetically) conceivable for the Son not to always obey the Father, but that world can never exist. The Son always obey the Father because God's plan and decree acts as constraints upon what worlds are available to actualize.

Therefore, does God have libertarian free will? If we define it as the "power of contrary choice," then yes. If we define that as being able to act contrary to the divine nature, then no. These two definitions however are not helpful because it tells us nothing about the nature of divine freedom. But if we define it in terms of modality, then we can say profitably that no, God does not have libertarian free will, because God is not free to actualize all mentally conceivable worlds. Using the language of the divine energies, we can say that the divine energies act to restrict the exercise of the divine will. Thus, in conclusion, God does not have libertarian free will, but rather energetic free will.

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