Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Moral Responsiblity: A Philosophical Introduction to Available Models. Part 2

Note: This set of posts attempts to take our readers to the next level in their understanding of compatibilist human freedom and divine sovereignty. It, therefore, assumes that the reader has read the two earlier posts on ‘Compatibilism and Evil’ as well as the introduction to divine sovereignty and human freedom or it assumes that they are already to some degree philosophically and theologically adept–which is, I think, a fair assumption to make of our readers.


Part Two: Varieties of Libertarianism


The Metaphysics of Fee Will: Three Kinds of Incompatibilism


Timothy O’Connor, in his book Persons and Causes, distinguishes three kinds of incompatibilism: simple incompatibilism, causal incompatibilism, and agent-causation[1] Simple incompatibilism, according to O’Connor, is a version of libertarianism which sees a simple mental act—one which lacks internal causal structure—at the core of each causally complex action.[2] At the center of our free actions are uncaused volitions. Alternatively, causal incompatibilists recognize the role of rational causal factors in the deliberative process of the libertarian agent. “The agent controls her actions through her prior reasons. The agent’s having such reasons might cause, yet not necessitate, the action.”[3] O’Connor concludes that both of these accounts of incompatibilist freedom are inadequate and proposes in their place a third, agent-causal theory in the tradition of Thomas Reid,[4] Roderick Chisholm,[5] and Richard Taylor. [6] “According to the Agency Theory, at the core of every free action is an ontologically irreducible causal relation between a person and some appropriate internal event that triggers later elements [7] Central to the agent-causation thesis is the idea that humans are fundamentally causal agents, unmoved movers whose agency is (sometimes, i.e. when they act freely) the primary (or first) actualizer of potentialities in the world. The person himself is a substance and as an agent (sometimes) occupies a first term relation to causal sequences in the world (i.e. he is the agent-cause) while his acts (i.e. the effects) occupy the second term relation. In what follows I offer a brief outline of each position. First, I deal with the major metaphysical underpinnings of each account. Then I indicate the line of reasoning used by that account to respond to a famous objection—the reasons as explanations objection. [8] This will afford me the opportunity to sketch out how each form of incompatibilism interacts with the role of reasons in the actual deliberative process.


4.1 Simple Incompatibilism


Before we explore the simple incompatibilist model, I think a distinction made by Mark Bernstein, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Double [9] will be helpful in clarifying the exact point at issue. They distinguish between Valerian and Nonvalerian libertarian theories—so-called after Dennett’s citing of Paul Valery’s statement that invention is the selection of choices that occur to one randomly. Valerian theories locate the indeterminacy in the psychological states prior to the deliberation so that (say) the thought is indeterministically conceived but then becomes part of a deterministic deliberating process and is eventually translated into the equation that issues in the decision. Nonvalerian theories, on the other hand, locate the indeterminacy at the moment of deliberation so that the decision is thoroughly indeterministic. So while Valerian theories posit no causal history whatsoever for a free action, Nonvalerian theories allow for a partial causal history in so far as an indeterministic mechanism is said to contribute to an otherwise deterministic deliberative process.Peter van Inwagen is perhaps the most significant advocate of simple (Nonvalerian) incompatibilism.[10]


In his often-sited “thief” example, van Inwagen imagines a scenario in which a thief, confronted with a decision whether or whether not to rob the poor-box, has two sets of desire-belief complexes (DB). On the one set, the thief has a desire (D) to keep a promise he made to his dieing grandmother to live an honest life coupled with the belief (B) that refraining from robbing the poor-box (R) is the best way to keep that promise. On the other set, he has a desire (D) for money coupled with the belief (B) that robbing the poor-box is the best way to obtain money.[11] According to van Inwagen, in the thief’s decision to R, DB has an indeterministic influence upon the thief’s decision only at the moment of deliberation so that the actual decision is roughly 50% predictable. He writes:


We may suppose that God has thousands of times caused the world to revert to precisely its state at the moment just before the thief decided not to steal, and has each time allowed things to proceed without interference for a few minutes, and that DB caused R on about half of these occasions. On the other occasions, we may suppose, DB did not cause R; instead the thief’s desire for money coupled with his belief that the best way to get money was to rob the poor-box, caused him to rob the poor-box.[12]


So although the decision to R or not R is caused (though not sufficiently) by DB, the mechanism (e.g. the volition) that chooses which DB to act on at the moment of deliberation is wholly indeterminate. Van Inwagen, therefore, responds to the extremely significant rationality objection against libertarianism by suggesting that though, for example, the thief’s decision to R or not R did not have a sufficient cause, it none the less had a reason—namely, DB.


4.2 Causal Incompatibilism


Causal incompatibilism, which represents a Valerian type of libertarianism, is held by a number of free will theorists, not the least of which is Robert Kane. [13] Many philosophers, in fact, consider his newest work The Significance of Free Will [14] to be the most detailed and provocative account of the libertarian motivation in print. [15] In a more recent article, Kane sums up his position as follows:


When we act from a will already formed (as we frequently do), it is “our own free will” by virtue of the fact that we formed it (at least in part) by earlier choices or actions which were not determined and for which we could have done otherwise voluntarily, not merely as a fluke or accident. I call these undetermined actions self-forming actions or SFAs. Undetermined SFAs are a subset of all of the actions done of our own free wills (many of which may be determined by our earlier formed character and motives). But if there were no such undetermined SFAs in our lifetimes, there would have been nothing we could have ever voluntarily done to make ourselves different than we are—a condition that I think is inconsistent with our having the kind of responsibility for being what we are which genuine free will requires.[16]


Clearly Kane locates the indeterminacy at some moment prior to the deliberation (at least, it seems, in most cases) where the indeterministic mechanism is a shaping factor of “our own free will.” Kane does not dismiss the idea that some of the actions performed by our own free wills are “determined by our earlier formed character and motives.” Instead, he insists that indeterminism occurs “at times in life when we are torn between competing visions of what we should do or become. Perhaps we are torn between doing the moral thing or acting from self-interest, or between present desires and long-term goals, or we are faced with difficult tasks for which we have aversions.”[17] He suggests that these “tensions” act as indeterministic “distractions” or “hindrances” to our otherwise deterministic psychological states “diminishing rather than enhancing the agents’ voluntary control.”[18]To illustrate this Kane asks us to imagine a businesswoman who experiences a conflict of interests which on the one hand involves a decision to stop her car on the way to an important business meeting in order to get help for a woman who is being assaulted in an alley; and on the other, an ambition for success in her career which she believes will be benefited by her being on time to this important meeting.[19] “The indeterminism,” Kane claims, “that is admittedly diminishing her ability to overcome selfish temptation, and is indeed a hindrance to her doing so, is coming from her own will—from her desire and effort to do the opposite—since she also simultaneously wants and is trying to realize two conflicting purposes at once. Similarly, her ability to overcome moral qualms is diminished by the fact that she also simultaneously wants and is trying to act on moral reasons.” Kane argues that though the businesswoman has diminished control over both options considered separately, due to her conflict of interests, she nevertheless does have what he calls plural voluntary control over the options when considered as a set. [21] “Having plural voluntary control over a set of options means being able to bring about whichever of the options you will or most want, when you will to do so, for the reasons you will to do so, without being coerced or compelled in doing so.”[22] In this principle we see the deterministic element in Kane’s theory at work. In particular, we see the internal (i.e. uncoerced) desire-determined deliberative process informed by indeterministic conflicts of interest. Kane contends that this account of libertarianism can answer the rationality objection (see note 20) because “you can chose responsibly for prior reasons that were not conclusive or decisive prior to your choosing for them.”[23]


4.3 Agent-Causation


Agent causal theories are extremely prominent in the contemporary literature on free will. Such noted philosophers as Randolph Clarke, [24] Richard Swinburne, [25] William Rowe, [26] Roderick Chisholm, [27] Richard Taylor, [28] and Timothy O’Connor [29] endorse some version of agency theory. I will focus my attention here on O’Connor’s version—which in my estimation is the most cogent account of agent-causation currently available. O’Connor’s agency theory depends heavily upon a wide array of ontological assumptions which are both critical to his theory and highly contestable [30] none of which need enumeration here.The central thesis of O’Connor’s agent-causation theory is that “The decision I make is no mere vector sum of internal and external forces acting upon me during the process of deliberation (if, indeed, I deliberate at all). Rather, I bring it about—directly, you might say—in response to the various considerations: I am the source of my own activity, not merely in a relative sense as the most proximate and salient locus of an unbroken chain of causal transactions leading up to this event, but fundamentally, in a way not prefigured by what has gone before.” [31] To ground this leading intuition in reality O’Connor assumes a certain view of agency where it is required that “they [agents] include things that endure through time, wholly existing at each moment of an extended temporal interval, as opposed to things that ‘perdure’ by having temporal parts that exist at each moment of the thing’s existence.” [32] Roderick Chisholm has suggested along these lines that agents should be conceived of as an “unmoved moverers” who affect causes in the world while remaining themselves unaffected. O’Connor, however, prefers to describe this impassible feature of the agent by the phrase ‘not-wholly-moved-mover;’[33] the central idea being that some aspect of the agent must remain constant through change. Perhaps this notion can be clarified as a metaphysical problem. If the agent is a medium through which causal sequences flow, how is it that personhood can be persevered? It seems as though the answer to this quandary, according to agent-causalists, is that there must be an aspect of the agent which remains constant through change. The agency theorist proposes that the agent himself is what is constant and that he acts in the world, therefore, as (in some respects) an unchanging actualizer of potentialities (very similar to scholastic/Thomistic conception of God). This assumes a more traditional view of causation locating the causal powers of agents in their properties rather than by virtue of simple “functions moving from circumstances to effects.” [34] To answer the rationality objection, O’Connor draws on his notion of agent as cause. According to O’Connor, the agent freely exercises his causal capacities on reasons in the act of deliberation. Thus, reasons count as explanations for actions but are not causally sufficient for their production. Agent causation “allows us to claim that reason had an influence on the production of the decision, while not causing it.” [35] On the agent-causation model, then, the agent, who is himself the causal nexus of his own decisions, examines the conditions before him (reasons, etc.) and freely responds, acting on them as the direct initiator, you might say, of causal sequences in the world.


[1] Timothy O’Connor, Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 24-30.

[2] Ibid., 24.

[3] Ibid., 25

[4] For a good development of his account see William Rowe, Thomas Reid on Freedom and Morality (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).

[5] e.g. Roderick Chisholm, “Human Freedom and the Self,” in Free Will, 1st ed. edited by Gary Watson, ORP (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 25-35; cf. his “Agents, Causes, and Events: The Problem of Free Will,” in ACE, 95-100.

[6] Richard Taylor, Action and Purpose (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1966).

[7] O’Connor, Persons and Causes, 43.

[8] The main thrust of the argument is that we give ordinarily give reasons as explanations of our actions. Galen Strawson frames a version of this argument as follows:

(1) Interested in free action, we are particularly interested in rational actions (i.e. action performed for reason as opposed to reflex actions or mindless habitual states), and wish to show that such actions can be free.

(2) How one acts when one acts rationally (i.e. for a reason) is, necessarily, a function of, or determined by, how one is, mentally speaking…

(3) If, therefore, one is to be truly responsible for how one acts, one must be truly responsible for how one is, mentally speaking—in certain respects, at least.

(4) But to be truly responsible for how one is, mentally speaking, in certain respects, one must have chosen to be the way one is, mentally speaking, in certain respects…

(5) But one cannot really be said to choose in a conscious, reasoned, fashion, to be the way one is, mentally speaking, in ay respect at all, unless one already exists, mentally speaking, already equipped with some principles of choice ‘P1’—with preferences, values, pro-attitudes, ideals, whatever—in light of which one chooses how to be.

(6) But then to be truly responsible on account of having chosen to be the way one is, mentally speaking, in certain resects, one must be truly responsible for one’s having these principles of choice P1. (7) But for this to be so one must have chosen them, in a reasoned, conscious fashion.

(8) But for this—i.e. (7)—to be so, one must already have had some principles of choice, P2, in the light of which one chose P1.

(9) And so on. True self-determination is logically impossible because it requires the actual completion of infinite regress of choices of principles of choice. Galen Strawson, Freedom and Belief (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986); reprinted as “Libertarianism, Action, and Self-Determination,” in ACE, 15-16.

[9] See for example, Richard Double, The Non-Reality of Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 193.

[10] Carl Ginet would be another example of this kind of incompatibilism. See his On Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

[11] Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 140-45.

[12] Ibid., 141.

[13] Another significant example of this kind of incompatibilism is Robert Nozick. See his Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981), 291-397.

[14] Robert Kane, The Significance of Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[15] See for example, John Martin Fischer, “Frankfurt-style Compatibilism,” in Contours of Agency: Themes from Harry Frankfurt, edited by Sarah Buss and Lee Overton (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002), 1-26. Reprinted in Free Will, 2nd ed. edited by Gary Watson, ORP (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 199 (Henceforth FW).

[16] Robert Kane, “Responsibility, Luke, and Chance: Reflections on Free Will and Indeterminism,” JP 96/5 (1999); Reprinted in FW, 305-06.

[17] FW, 306.

[18] FW, 316.

[19] FW, 307

[20] FW, 318.

[21] FW, 319.

[22] Ibid.

[23] FW, 321.

[24] Randolph Clarke, “Toward a Credible Agent-Causal Account of Free Will,” Nous 27 (1993): 43-64. Reprinted in ACE, 201-15.

[25] Swinburne, Responsibility and Atonement.

[26] Rowe, Thomas Reid on Freedom and Morality.

[27] Chisholm, “Agents, Causes, and Events;” cf. also his “Human Freedom and the Self,” in FW, 25-37.

[28] Taylor, Action and Purpose.

[29] Timothy O’Connor, “Agent Causation,” in ACE, 173-200; Reprinted in FW, 257-84; O’Connor, Persons and Causes. These are the two works I lean on for my understanding of O’Connor’s agency theory as outlined above.

[30] He says, “All these commitments are highly contentious.” O’Connor, Persons and Causes, 73.

[31] O’Connor, “Agent Causation,” 173; FW, 257.

[32] O’Connor, Persons and Causes, 73.

[33] Ibid., 43.

[34] O’Connor, “Agent Causation,” 177; FW,

[35] Ibid., 191; FW,

To be continued……


Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Moral Responsiblity: A Philosophical Introduction to Available Models. Part 1

Part 1: Introductory Remarks 

1 Introduction

Because this post is concerned with evaluating theological concepts, I go into some detail expositing the conceptual systems under consideration. While I may not utilize or critique every aspect of the systems which I outline, it will be helpful to have a thorough understanding of their conceptual details and equipment. In what follows I set forth three kinds of libertarianism and two kinds of compatibilism. It is not my intention to evaluate these positions in this set of posts. Rather, I only intend to lay the concepts before us so that we may have a thorough understanding of what we are evaluating before I present my model of divine providence and human freedom. 

2 Preliminary Remarks

A few preliminary remarks concerning my definitions and use of terms will be helpful before we get underway. First, incompatibilism is the thesis that in so far as a human action is determined (i.e. inevitable), it is not free. Libertarianism is the account of freedom which naturally follows from incompatibilism and affirms that to be free an agent must have sufficiently robust alternative possibilities.

Conversely, compatibilism affirms that a human action may be free and nevertheless determined. By free I mean a certain type of control over one’s actions which is sufficient to bolster moral responsibility ascriptions. I will take moral responsibility to be that property of an agent by which she may be considered morally blameworthy or praiseworthy for her actions. An agent is a person who is, among other things, a proper recipient of moral attitudes.

3 Moral Responsibility and Human Freedom

There has always been a very intimate association—intuitively, philosophically, and theologically—of moral responsibility with human freedom. David Widerker and Michael McKenna echo this long standing tradition in a recent anthology by suggesting two propriety conditions for morally responsible agency: an epistemic and a freedom condition.

Take first the epistemic condition. For an agent to be morally responsible for what she has done, she must have had some understanding of (or at least she must have been able to understand) the moral significance of her behavior…Turning to the freedom condition, it seems natural to hold that an agent must, in some way, have been in control of what she did if she is to be morally responsible for it.

John Fischer and Mark Ravizza affirm similar sentiments when they insist that,


Ordinarily, we simply assume that we and other human beings are persons and are at least sometimes morally responsible agents. Thus, we assume that we (most of us) at least sometimes have the kind of control that grounds moral responsibility and personhood. Typically, this assumption is deemed so obvious as not to command any attention or elicit even the slightest bit of controversy.


And unquestionably, moral responsibility is linked very closely with central scriptural teachings. Entire orthodox formulations like divine judgment and reward, substitutionary atonement, and original sin are borne out on the assumption that man is in fact morally responsible for his actions. What is not clear, however, are the mechanistic intricacies of responsibility conferral. Evidently, a responsibility conferring mechanism is the implication of moral responsibility ascriptions. Of course, the leading candidate for such a mechanism has always been ‘free will.’


After surveying a wide array of ancient Jewish and Greek texts as well as the Johanine Gospel, Carson concludes that “Responsibility is certainly linked to ‘free will’ in some fashion;” but, he asks, “how is free will to be defined?”


Two answers have been given to this question: libertarianism an compatibilism. Thomas Tracy accurately identifies what generally seems to be the distinct theological motivations for these two positions. He says,


The incompatibilist is concerned that theological determinism both (a) denies certain great goods in human moral life and relation to God and (b) makes God the cause of sin. The theological compatibilist, on the other hand, may worry that a stronger understanding of human freedom both (a) carries with it a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian understanding of divine grace, and (b) lacks the resources to give a sufficiently strong account of divine sovereignty.


This seems to be a fairly accurate description of the theological motivations for the two positions under consideration. The motivation for my own position, however, will emerge from textual and hermeneutical considerations as well as conceptual considerations sensitive to recent developments in philosophical action theory rather than from developed theological concepts like providence and sovereignty. Of course, these doctrines will play a role in my decisions in so far as they are organic to the texts under consideration. My concern, however, will be with textual rather than theological strata. To facilitate this goal I offer an outline of both positions—libertarianism and compatibilism—followed by a brief discussion of how each position has related its central doctrines to divine providence and (derivatively to) foreknowledge.


To be continued…….. on Part 2

Scripture, Sovereignty, Responsibility and Freewill

Two Views on Freedom: Compatiblism and Libertarianism

These two terms—compatiblism and libertarianism—designate two competing versions of human freedom. Compatiblism maintains that meticulous providence (also known as specific sovereignty)—the idea that God determines all things—is compatible with genuine human freedom. Those who adhere to a libertarian model of freedom hold that any version of meticulous providence will, in the end, compromise the integrity of authentic human liberty. Consequently, the idea of “genuine human freedom” takes on different connotations when operating within the context of each model. Libertarians define freedom as an agent’s ability to do otherwise in any given situation; whereas, compatiblists propose that an agent is genuinely free when he or she has the ability to do what he or she desires in any given set of circumstances.

Compatiblism shall be the version of freedom favored in this essay. With reference to compatiblism, it will be my first priority to answer the fatalism-determinism-type-objection which will in turn allow me to better define my own position for the reader. In favor of the compatibilistic model of freedom, I shall delineate two types of arguments: theological and philosophical. I shall also seek to exhibit a sensitivity to the concerns of my position’s critics, as well as its alternatives. Finally, I will interact with one particular objection to compatiblism posed by philosopher and theologian, William Hasker.

Compatiblism, Fatalism, and Determinism

Many theologians and philosophers have sought to represent compatiblists such as Jonathan Edward and Paul Helm [1] as adhering to some general form of determinism (all things are causally determined with or without out reference to human freedom-depending on the particular version of determinism) or fatalism (the present is necessitated by the causal chain of the past). This seems to be a fairly common move by critics of compatibilistic freedom, but a move that is nonetheless inappropriate.

Compatiblism’s primary concern is to preserve genuine human freedom while maintaining a high view of providential sovereignty (i.e. meticulous providence). Given the strong Biblical evidence for a meticulous version of providence (Gen 50: 21; Isa 45: 5-7; Acts 4: 27-28 Rom 8:28; 11:36; Eph 1:11), any version of freedom that is constructed, not only must portray freedom as genuine, but it must also be a version of freedom that coincides with the Biblical data in favor of specific sovereignty. Following the tradition of Jonathan Edwards, compatiblism recognizes the role of causal factors in determining the will, although, the will is never said to be constrained or impeded by such factors. Certain causes, events, and states within the person himself are to be accredited with moving the will toward choosing a certain state of affairs over another. These internal causes, events, and states are identical to a person’s desires, ambitions, and passions. External circumstances can be considered as antecedent or indirect causes, since they are in many circumstances, responsible for moving the desire of the will one way or another and thus, causing a person to make a given choice. In summary, compatiblism posits two types of causal factors that can be said to move the will: internal primary causes and external antecedent causes. The compatiblist model is therefore able to account for specific sovereignty since God governs all external circumstances which are the antecedent causes of the desires which move the human will. In certain cases where the will is free from external conditions, the internal causal factors are still God- given and consequently determined.

It should therefore be clear that Compatiblism differs greatly from fatalism and determinism. If a label must be attached to the compatibilistic system, other than compatiblism, soft determinism seems most appropriate-the idea that determinism is in some way consistent (in our case, through compatiblism) with genuine human freedom. Thus, any attempt to fit Compatiblism into the box of fatalism or general determinism, as many have sought to do, seems to be an unwarranted procedure.

Compatiblism: Its Rationale

Theological Argument

First, as noted earlier, whatever version of freedom that one chooses to adhere to, as a Christian, that version of freedom can not be self-standing; it must cohere here with the entire corpus of beliefs that make up Christian Theism (the Christian faith). Earlier, I stated specific sovereignty as a given, but it begs the question to ask the reader to presuppose such a major part of my system. Thus, my first argument will rest in the vast amount of Biblical support for a meticulous model of providence, which will in turn necessitate some form of compatiblism or the denial of freedom altogether.

Since it is outside the scope of this paper to exhaust the full range of Biblical data in support of meticulous providence, I will limit myself to certain categorical expressions of meticulous providence that are seen in the Scriptures. A selected passage will be used from each Scriptural category of providence as representative of that category as a whole. There are five basic categories of divine providence (the doctrine that God upholds, sustains, and determines the events of the world) that serve to show the comprehensive nature of the Biblical model of providence: divine providence in evil, divine providence in government, soteriological providence, providential concurrence, and universal providence.

One thing that should be noted about these five categories of providential control is that they all effect volition in some way or another. Thus, these five categories-if nothing else-are the five that pertain directly to the issue of human freedom.

In reference to God’s providence in evil, Isaiah 45: 5-7 seems to be the most clear. In this passage God states, “I form light and create evil, I the Lord do all these things” (author’s translation). This text is clear, God providentially ordains “all things,” including “evil” (cf. Gen. 50: 20-21; Job 1: 21). The second category-divine providence in government-is quite evident in passages like Romans 13:1. Paul says at the end of verse one that “The authorities that exist are appointed by God” (cf. Dan 4:17). The idea behind soteriological providence is divine providence in salvation. Romans 9:13 is a good sample of this category, “Therefore, it is not of him who wills, or of Him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” The context of this passage clearly defines “it” as a reference to salvation, which informs the reader of God’s comprehensive providence, even in matters such as repentance which clearly involve a volitional action on the part of the agent (person) (cf. John 1: 13; 2 Tim 2: 25). Providential concurrence affirms that God’s predetermined plans are worked out through free agents. Acts 4: 27-28 is relevant in this respect.

For truly in this city, there were gathered against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You appointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.

This passage clearly establishes God’s predetermined purposes being worked out through free agents (cf. Gen 50:20; Acts 2:23). Finally, passages that contain the phraseology of “all things” used in accordance with providential language fall under the category of universal providence. Ephesians 1: 11 may be taken as representative of this text-group. In this passage God is said to “work[s] all things according to the council of his will” (cf. Prov 16:3-4; Isa 45:7; Rom. 8:28; 11:36). The last category is probably the most powerful attestation to meticulous providence since it is intentionally all-encompassing.

Philosophical Argument

My second argument is designed to demonstrate the explanatory power of compatiblism with reference to the freedom-foreknowledge question. Any attempt to construct a Christian model of human freedom must take into account the foreknowledge dilemma. Zagzebski offers a somewhat bias form of the dilemma when she sets it up as “[Forcing] the religious person to give up one of a pair of beliefs, both of which are central to the Christian practice. These beliefs are, first, that God has infallibly true beliefs about everything that will happen in the future, and second, that human beings have free will in a sense of “free” that is incompatible with determinism.” [2] Zagzebski correctly acknowledges the two horns of the dilemma- God’s comprehensive knowledge and genuine human freedom- but I would submit to the reader that her outline of the dilemma is slanted since she rules out any form determinism prima facie (on the surface).

In contemporary Christian theology, four competing solutions are generally offered to solve the dilemma: open theism, Molinism, simple foreknowledge, and compatiblism. The first three solutions accept the second horn of the dilemma unfolded by Zagzebski (i.e. libertarian freedom) and seek to alter the classical conception of foreknowledge; whereas, compatiblism seeks to retain the classical model of foreknowledge and revise the definition human freedom. Open theism fully embraces the second horn at the expense of the first. This seems to be the most dangerous move of the three non-compatibilistic options in light of the large amount of Biblical evidence in favor of a comprehensive view of foreknowledge (Isa 41: 21-24; 46: 9-10; Acts 2: 23). Molinism, posits a version of knowledge called middle-knowledge which allows that God not only know all actualities but also, all potentialities in all possible worlds. The idea is that God knows what every free creature will do in an infinite number of possible situations and by God choosing to create a given set of circumstances (the actual world), he knows what all free creatures will do in the particular set of circumstances He chooses to actualize (i.e. the actual world) and thereby has comprehensive knowledge. The problem here is that libertarian freedom is not preserved. If God knows what will happen because he knows what his creatures will choose in certain circumstances, then the agent’s decision must be determined by the agent’s nature and desires. This is not libertarian, but compatibilistic freedom! Simple foreknowledge does not fair much better since, although it retains libertarian freedom, it ends up confusing the cause and effect relationship between God and his creatures. Advocates of this view claim that God’s knowledge is based on what free agents choose. The problem here is that simple foreknowledge cannot account for the existence of these free agents that make up God’s knowledge. If the agents are the basis of God’s knowledge, where did they come from, if one posits God as the cause of their existence then it seems that God’s intentions to make these free agents must precede the agents themselves both logically and chronologically.

Compatiblism on the other hand, keeps the classical model of divine knowledge in tact and simply offers a revision of libertarian freedom. This seems to be the safest solution to the problem since there is a seemingly inexhaustible corpus of texts that affirm comprehensive foreknowledge and precious view that speak of human freedom in any sense. Most of the Biblical evidence for freedom lies in logical deduction from certain Biblical passages and not in the Biblical passages themselves. Further, there is no working definition of freedom given in the Scriptures and there is certainly no hint of libertarian freedom. What is more, as has been demonstrated already, libertarian freedom is in conflict with the Biblical model of providence. Consequently, among its competitors, compatiblism seems to be the most viable, Biblically faithful option in solving the dilemma.

William Hasker’s Criticism of Compatiblism

Hasker’s critique is basically a challenging of the “genuiness” of combatablistic freedom. Hasker claims that if a there is a prior cause (a past cause that lead to other causes that caused the will to make a certain choice in the present) that goes back to a point in time before the agent’s existence, that agent cannot be held accountable for his choice in the present since it was necessitated by the causal chain of the past and consequently, in such a situation, the agent is neither free nor culpable. [3] This objection is off base in a least two ways. First, it is guilty of the strategy mentioned earlier which attempts to fit compatiblism into the box of fatalism. Second, Hasker seems to forget that, in the compatiblist model, circumstances are only the indirect causes of an agent’s choosing. An agent’s desires and internal constitution are the direct causes. Thus, freedom and culpability remain intact and Hasker’s critique fails.


In order to affirm the Biblical idea of moral accountability, some version of freedom must be upheld by the Christian. Libertarianism should be rejected since any version of “free” in the libertarian sense requires major revisions and or difficulties with the orthodox model of divine foreknowledge. In addition, libertarian-type freedom is inconsistent with the Biblical portrait of specific sovereignty. Consequently, “freedom” must be defined as such that it allows for comprehensive foreknowledge and coheres with specific sovereignty. To date, compatiblism is the only version of freedom that meets this criterion.

[1] See William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich. 1987), 5; also, Norman Geisler, Chosen but Free, (Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Min. 2001), 230

[2] Linda Zagzebski, The Dilemma of Foreknowledge and Freedom (Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York. 1991), 3

[3] William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a Worldview (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. 1983), 33-35