Monday, February 24, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 4 of 5

Part 3B

4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency. Since our choices are not up to us but are caused by God, human beings cannot be said to be real agents. They are mere instruments by means of which God acts to produce some effect, much like a man using a stick to move a stone. Of course, secondary causes retain all their properties and powers as intermediate causes, as the Reformed divines remind us, just as a stick retains its properties and powers which make it suitable for the purposes of the one who uses it. Reformed thinkers need not be occasionalists like Nicholas Malebranche, who held that God is the only cause there is. But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action. Hence, it’s dubious that on divine determinism there really is more than one agent in the world, namely, God. This conclusion not only flies in the face of our knowledge of ourselves as agents but makes it inexplicable why God then treats us as agents, holding us responsible for what He caused us and used us to do.

Craig already raised this issue in part #3. He claimed there that if God determines our actions, then we are not responsible for them.

Craig apparently thinks you can be an agent, or you can be an instrument, but you cannot be both. The prophets disagree.

In Isaiah 10, it says that Assyria is the rod of God’s anger (v. 5) and that he sends it against a godless nation to capture booty, seize plunder, and trample them down (v. 6). So Assyria was God’s instrument, but does that mean Assyria was not an agent? No, because Isaiah goes on to say that although God sent Assyria to punish a godless nation, that was not Assyria’s intention. Rather, Assyria’s intention was to destroy and cut off many nations (v. 7). In spite of the fact that God sent Assyria to trample and plunder, he nevertheless treats them like moral agents. He goes on to say in verse 12 than when he is finished with all he sent Assyria to do, he is going to punish them.

We see the same thing in Jeremiah about Babylon. God calls Nebuchadnezzar “my servant,” and says he will bring him against Jerusalem and the surrounding nations and destroy them (Jeremiah 25:9). Then he says he will punish them (v.12). God sent the Babylonians to punish the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to destroy the Temple, but then he says he is going to arouse the spirit of the kings of the Medes to destroy Babylon for the sake of vengeance for the Temple (Jeremiah 51:7) and vengeance for the people of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 51:35-36).

So both Assyria and Babylon are used as instruments of God to punish Israel and other nations, and God still treats them as agents by punishing them for what they did. So Craig has made a false dichotomy between being an instrument in the hands of God and being an agent, responsible for their actions.

The difference between a stick used in the hand of an agent to move a stone and a human used in the hand of God to punish another nation is that the stick does not act out of any motive, intention, or desire. It is passive in the whole affair. Humans, however, are active, even when being used by God. We act out of desires and inclinations. We do things on purpose. God was able to use Nebuchadnezzar to do his will because “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). When Babylon and Assyria acted, they acted out of their own motives. While God had his intentions for arousing Assyria against Israel, Assyria acted out of its own intentions (Isaiah 10:7), which is what makes Assyria an agent and distinguishes Assyria from a stick.

Craig is quite right in saying we know we are agents. When we act, we do so on purpose. When we do something on purpose, we know that we are doing it because we want to. We are acting out of our own inclinations. That is quite different than having a muscle spasm or an involuntary reflex. Acting out of our own inclinations is perfectly consistent with God determining our actions since God has influence over the heart.

God also has influence over all the numerous factors that go into us having the desires and inclinations that we have. To some degree, we even have some power over each other. I can cause somebody to choose to look at me just by saying, “Look at me.” That creates a motive in them to act, and they act on that motive.

Craig says, “But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action.” By the “power to initiate action,” Craig is referring to a libertarian free will act, which is an act that arises spontaneously without any cause, reason, or condition whatsoever being sufficient to determine that act. “Agents,” in Craig’s view are capable of being first causes, i.e. of initiating causal chains without themselves being caused to do so.

But it seems to me that it is on Craig’s view that people are not agents. To be an agent, one must be in control of one’s own actions and do them on purpose. But we have no more control over a spontaneous event than we do over an event that is causally determined by blind mechanistic causes. That is the problem with libertarian freedom. It is hard to distinguish a libertarian act from a random blip or an accident.

Suppose, for example, that your every desire is to turn to the right, and you have no desire whatsoever to turn to the left. But you turn to the left anyway because on libertarianism, no desire is sufficient to determine what you do, and in spite of your desires, you can still do otherwise. Would it make sense to ask why you turned to the left on libertarianism if you had no desire or reason to? No. The answer would be that there is no reason you turned to the left.

In fact, on libertarianism, even if you are influenced by some desire to act, the desire is never a sufficient reason for why you acted as you did. If somebody asks you why you did what you did, the correct answer isn’t, “Because I wanted to,” or “Because I was motivated by a sense of duty,” or anything like that. Rather, the correct answer would be, “Partly because I wanted to, and partly for no reason at all.”

Some libertarians have tried to get past the random blip problem with libertarianism by saying, “the agent is the cause of the free action.” This is what they call “agent causation.” But this just creates more problems.

Since it's the action that we say is free, that must be where the will is located since that is the volition. But the whole notion of free will (at least as Craig defines it) is that the will is not caused. If an action is caused, then it’s not free.

The strange thing about saying "the agent is the cause of the free action," is that it seems to imply that there is a distinction between the agent and the action such that one causes the other.

If the volition or act of will is the same thing as the free action, then what does it mean to say that the agent causes it? Is the agent causation itself an act of the will, or is it a "random blip"?

If it's an act of the will, then to say "the agent causes the free action" seems equivalent to saying, "The choice causes the choice," which doesn't solve any problems with random blips vs. control.

But if it's a random blip, then we're saying, "A random blip causes the choice," which doesn't solve any problems about control either.

It seems like, to be consistent, "free" should modify "the agent causing" instead of "action.” In that case, "The agent freely causes the action." That would be more consistent with libertarian freedom because that way you don't have anything that's free being causally determined.

But then you're still stuck with the random blip problem since there is no reason for why the agent freely causes the action.

I really think compatibilism is the only coherent way out of this quagmire. An action is ones own to the degree that a person's own desires and motives play a hand in bringing about that action. The less hand one's own desires and motives have in bringing about the action, the less those actions are one's own. The more hand our desires and motives have in bringing about our actions, the more those actions are our own. It follows that our actions are completely our own when our desires and motives have everything to do with our actions, i.e. when they determine our actions. That is possible under divine determinism, so divine determinism does not nullify human agency.

Part 5


At 2/25/2014 5:30 AM , Blogger Steve Finnell said...



Acts 2:41 So then, those who received his word were baptized; and there were added about three thousand souls. Acts 2:47....And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

All three thousand believed the apostle Peter's message and were baptized in water. Then they were added to the Lord's church by the Lord Himself. The Lord did not add the unsaved to His church. They had to believe and be baptized in water prior to being added to the body of Christ.

1. Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know---

All three thousand believed Jesus was a miracle worker.

2. Acts 2:31-32 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

All three thousand believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

3. Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ---this Jesus whom you crucified."

All three thousand believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ.

4. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

All three thousand repented in order to have sins forgiven. (repentance meant that they made the commitment to turn from their unbelief and sinful lifestyle and turn toward God).

All three thousand were baptized in water in order to have their sins forgiven.

All three thousand received the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit after they believed, repented, and were baptized in water.

5. Acts 2:40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"

All three thousand were saved after they believed Peter's message: They believed, repented, confessed, and were baptized in water. (Mark 16:16, John 3:16, Acts 3:19, Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:35-38) THEN THEY WERE ADDED TO THE LORD'S CHURCH! (Acts 2:47)


1.Peter did not preach that men were saved by grace alone.

2.Peter did not preach that men were saved by faith only

3.Peter did not preach that God had selected a few to be saved and that all others would go to hell.

4. Peter did not preach that water baptism was not essential to salvation.

5. Peter did not preach that Jesus was just one of many Saviors.

6. Peter did not preach that once you were saved, that you could continue in a sinful lifestyle and still be saved.

7. Peter did not preach that God did not have the power to give us an inerrant translation of the Scriptures.

8. Peter did not preach that God would provide hundreds or thousands of different Christian denominations, and that they would teach different ways of being saved.

9. Peter did NOT preach that you had to speak in tongues as evidence that you were saved.

AS BELIEVERS IN CHRIST, MEN SHOULD USE THE BIBLE AS THEIR GUIDE FOR SALVATION. Looking to man-made creed books, Bible commentaries, denominational statements of faith, and church catechisms, is looking in all the wrong places for the absolute truth!


At 2/25/2014 6:43 AM , Blogger Sam said...

But Peter did not preach that we should follow blogs.

At 1/01/2015 8:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don´t have a google account, so I will leave a comment as anonymous. Thank you very much for your answers to Dr Craig´s critics. I found your explanations very didactic and clear and I hope you keep sharing your thoughts on this blog. God bless.


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