Hey Dr. Stratton,
In a FB group, Tyler Vela (a well-known internet Calvinist) posted the following question:
“Libertarians – will we be robots in the eternal state since we will not be able to sin? (Note: if you make a nature or “we won’t want to” argument then you’re just making the same nature/ultimate desire argument as a compatibilist does.)”
In the ensuing thread, Colton Carlson, who affirmed your definition of LFW (libertarian freedom), stated that LFW must not be an option in heaven, and if that is the case, then by analogy or by parallelism, why do we need it (LFW) here on Earth? Colton made the argument that Dr. Stratton’s view (see Free Will in Heaven) is just compatibilism rebranded. Colton cited the magnets’ analogy, and that we will be drawn to him (God) is simply compatibilism.
The main argument offered against your view, Dr. Stratton, is that his stance on LFW in heaven contains a conditional ability vs. categorical error. Colton, through numerous posts, stated the following, which I have done my best to represent accurately.
“Stratton says this, after conceding that we could categorically sin in heaven:
‘Perhaps, yes, but the question is raised: Even if one could freely choose to leave heaven, why would they want to? Those in heaven would have experienced the imperfection of our world filled with evil, pain, suffering, and even what seems to be gratuitous evil. Moreover, they would be in an epistemic position to know that hell is even worse in the absence of God and all that is good.’
This is part of the problem. Stratton says “yes” but then goes on to explain the conditional ability, NOT the categorical. The latter is necessary for LFW, not the former. Whereas, on compatibilism, it is the former that is necessary, not the latter. He is just reiterating what compatibilists have maintained for quite some time, yet trying to spin it in terms of LFW. But, clearly, that doesn’t work, nor should it work.”
Colton goes on to say,
“If you wondering why the categorical is entailed by LFW, Stratton himself concedes this in pages 4-5 in his book by quoting JP Moreland’s definition of LFW, in which the categorical ability is present. Also, in his philosophical chapter, Stratton uses the categorical all the time. So, I am perfectly within my rights to say that LFW => Categorical. The problem is that LFW (even with that definition) must possess the categorical ability to do otherwise. If that is the case, you must possess the liberty of contradiction. But, in heaven, you do not… so, you don’t have LFW.”
So, Dr. Stratton, how would you respond to Tyler and Colton?
Dr. Tim’s Response:
Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Yoki! I consider both Tyler and Colton to be friends and respect both. Although we disagree on many theological issues, we do each affirm the most important things. Be that as it may, on this topic, there seems to be some deep confusion. Perhaps that’s my fault for not being as clear as possible in previous writings. Your question provides the opportunity to clarify.
To begin, let’s address Tyler’s question about “robots in heaven.” Consider the nature of a robot. A robot is causally determined via an external source; namely, a programmer. A robot is not responsible (in a desert sense) for how a programmer programmed the robot’s nature. The robot does not deserve praise or blame for how a programmer programs all the robot’s thoughts, actions, beliefs, behaviors, intentions, evaluations, and judgments. These things are not “up to” the robot if they are causally determined via the programmer. With this in mind, a robot does not deserve blame if an evil programmer programs the robot to rob the bank (either directly or via programming it to have a “bank robbing nature”). Indeed, it seems intuitively obvious that the robot should not be punished (click here for an example), but that the programmer deserves to be blamed and imprisoned.
A Star Wars Thought Experiment
I discuss what I refer to as a “Star Wars Thought Experiment” in my recent paper responding to a philosopher who believes that God exhaustively causally determines all things all the time (See Bignon’s Review of Mere Molinism: A Rejoinder). In this paper (pages 22-24) I discuss droids (robots), programmers, re-programmers, Yoda, and desert responsibility. This thought experiment makes it clear that the droid (K-2SO) does not deserve praise or blame unless he is not causally determined by the original programmer, a reprogrammer, or Yoda. Only if the droid is somehow freed from causal determinism (libertarian freedom) can/should the droid be held responsible and accountable for its thoughts and actions.
With robots and droids out of the way, consider this view of exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) that a seeming majority (not all) of Calvinists affirm today. EDD is the view that God causally determines all things all the time — including all of a human’s thoughts, actions, beliefs, behaviors, intentions, evaluations, and judgments. If EDD-Calvinism is true (a view that Calvin and the original Reformers seemed to oppose), then every human in Heaven, every human in Hell, every human on earth, and anywhere else are always causally determined in every single aspect via an external source — God is the “programmer.”
This means that God is the “author of evil” as He causally determined Satan’s original rebellion, the fall of Adam and Eve, Hitler’s holocaust, every instance of child abuse, rape, murder, and every false belief a human has ever held about anything — including all false theological beliefs! If this view of humanity is not relevantly analogous to “robots,” it seems to make humans less than robots — nothing but “passive cogs” at the mercy of the deity of deception.
Most Christians will reject this low view of both God and humanity for biblical, logical, and intuitive reasons. Thankfully, Christians possess the opportunity to exercise an ability to choose a better explanation (over false beliefs) because we are not exhaustively causally determined (and thus, humans — unlike robots — possess libertarian freedom).
The 3 Circles Model
Consider a preferable view: I have offered what is referred to as the “3 Circles Model” which assumes what I describe as a soteriological view of Molinism (not to be confused with “mere Molinism”). According to this model, the citizens of Heaven will not be causally determined via an external source. This is — at minimum — sourcehood libertarian freedom (which is not available to the compatibilist or EDD-Calvinist).
The key issue separating the view offered by Tyler and Colton, and my view, is causal determinism. Their view contends that not only are humans on earth exhaustively causally determined by an enormously powerful being — they are also exhaustively causally determined by this enormously powerful being in Heaven. On the view I have offered, however, there are no causal strings attached to humanity on earth or in Heaven.
This is a significant and major difference between these competing views. It also provides the key difference between humans and robots. The salient point is this: we can answer Tyler’s question by showing that there is a big relevant difference, despite his claim to the contrary.
On this Molinist view, those in Heaven retain all narrow abilities and broad opportunities to do everything that Satan did. However, a citizen of Heaven simply freely chooses not to rebel because they have learned in freedom permitting circumstances (2 Cor 4:17) how stupid it is to sin (see, “Can God Create a Morally Perfect Creature?“). In this article I conclude:
Although it might be impossible, with feasibility in mind, for God to create morally perfect human beings instantly ex nihilo — it seems that God did create morally perfectible creatures who possess the ability to evolve (change over time) into moral beings who will eventually eternally freely choose to love all persons — from each Person of the Trinity to every person the Trinity ever created.
That is heaven.
Nothing in Heaven is causally determining its citizens not to rebel. Humans, just like Satan and the angels will exist in a perfect, suffering free, paradise, in the presence of God. However, unlike Satan and a third of all the angels, the citizens of Heaven have learned from their freedom permitting circumstances on earth. This makes sense of 2 Cor 4:17 — we gain experiential knowledge and learn just how stupid it is to “miss the mark” and sin (knowledge that Adam, Eve, Satan, and the angels did not possess).
Click here to watch a short video on Free Will and Sin in Heaven.
According to the model I have offered, citizens of Heaven will be free in a libertarian sense with no causal strings attached. This is not the case if EDD is true because God causally determines all things on this view.
It seems to me that if something or someone else is not causally determining you to do X, then you might have the opportunity to exercise an ability to (at least attempt to) do other than X. But, suppose I am incorrect about these opportunities to exercise alternative possibilities, it is still the case that humans are not causally determined, and thus, EDD — and compatibilism — do not describe reality (since compatibilism assumes determinism).
One more thing: We ought not confuse “greatest desires” with rationality and knowledge. I discuss this in Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism and in greater detail in my paper linked above. What separates humanity from the animal kingdom is that we do not always have to act upon our greatest desires — we are “rational animals” (as Aristotle would say), and we are called to a higher standard. So, the citizens of Heaven are not causally determined via their greatest desires which are, in turn, causally determined by our nature, which are, in turn, ultimately causally determined by God (note the chain of metaphysical dominoes). No, the citizens of Heaven possess knowledge gained in freedom permitting circumstances (which is far different and much more important than mere “desire”).
With that in mind, consider Colton’s comments about my view being “compatibilism rebranded.”
As demonstrated above, this charge completely misses the mark. Compatibilism is the view that free will and/or responsibility is compatible with determinism. Thus, if determinism does not describe an instance of reality, then it makes no sense to say that freedom or responsibility is compatible with that instance being causally determined. My view explains how humans are not causally determined on earth or in Heaven. Thus, while there might be some similarities, there is a major difference that cannot be dismissed as a mere “rebranding.”
You noted that Colton cited one of the models I have previously discussed (not my primary view) — the “magnet analogy” — and asserted that “since we will be drawn to God” that this “is simply compatibilism.”
This also misses the mark! The magnet analogy that I have offered is not an “irresistible” drawing (as it were). It requires humans making a free, intentional, and knowledge-based choice to “cross the line to the point of no return.” On this view, although the citizens of Heaven will be causally determined not to sin for eternity, they still required libertarian freedom to “cross the line.” So, even if humans are “robots in Heaven,” we still need libertarian freedom on earth.
Be that as it may, this is one possible model I have offered, and not the one I prefer (although I have not ruled it out; it is my “fallback” position). This should not be referred to as “Stratton’s view.”
You noted that Colton’s main argument against my view is that my stance on libertarian freedom in heaven contains a “conditional ability vs. categorical error.” To reiterate, the most important thing to grasp is that on his EDD view, God exhaustively causally determines all things about humanity all the time (on earth and in Heaven). On my model, humans are not always causally determined (on earth or in Heaven). If one is not causally determined by something or someone else, then they possess libertarian freedom in the sourcehood sense (at minimum). It seems that this provides opportunities to exercise abilities to do otherwise (leeway libertarian freedom). Be that as it may, if for some strange reason this alternative possibilities view is false, humans are still NOT causally determined by something or someone else and they possess libertarian freedom in the source sense.
Colton goes on to say, “If you [are] wondering why the categorical is entailed by LFW, Stratton himself concedes this in pages 4-5 in his book by quoting JP Moreland’s definition of LFW, in which the categorical ability is present.”
Offering another person’s view of libertarian freedom is not “conceding” anything. Although I am inclined to agree with Moreland, I made it clear in my book (and multiple times elsewhere) that sourcehood freedom is all that is necessary for libertarian freedom. Colton should know better.
Colton continued: “Also, in his philosophical chapter, Stratton uses the categorical all the time. So, I am perfectly within my rights to say that LFW => Categorical.”
Colton is not “within his rights” to make such a claim. It seems that I am being misrepresented and straw men are being attacked instead of my position. I made it clear in my book and other writings (not to mention multiple podcasts and videos on YouTube) that I do think humans occasionally possess opportunities to exercise a categorical ability to think otherwise (this ability to freely think allows humanity opportunities to rationally infer and rationally affirm claims of knowledge). I have also made it clear that as long as one is not causally determined by something or someone else, then one possesses libertarian freedom (even if they do not possess the ability to do otherwise for some strange reason).
The cart seems to be in front of the horse. If one possesses a categorical ability to choose or choose otherwise, then one possesses libertarian freedom. However, just because one possesses libertarian freedom, it does not necessarily follow that one possesses a categorical ability to do otherwise (or so it seems to me). If Colton is claiming to be interacting with “Stratton’s view,” he needs to be much more careful with his claims.
Colton concluded: “The problem is that LFW (even with that definition) must possess the categorical ability to do otherwise. If that is the case, you must possess the liberty of contradiction. But, in heaven, you do not… so, you don’t have LFW.”
False, false, and false! As Luke Skywalker would say:
“Amazing. Every word of what you just said . . . was wrong.”
It is not true that one who possesses libertarian freedom MUST possess a categorical ability to do otherwise. Indeed, Frankfurt examples show how an agent can possess libertarian freedom and still not have the power to act otherwise. It is not true that one with libertarian freedom MUST possess the “liberty of contradiction.” Moreover, on the model I have offered, a citizen of Heaven seems to possess the same opportunities to resist God as Satan had, but we have learned from “light momentary afflictions” (an opportunity Satan did not possess), and will freely choose to love God instead. Indeed, it seems logically consistent to affirm that one can possess a categorical ability to sin or not to sin for eternity, and never freely choose to sin.
But even if I am wrong about these broad abilities and opportunities, we are still NOT causally determined — like robots — by something or someone else. Thus, the view I have offered is far different than a compatibilistic view which assumes that we are exhaustively causally determined by God.
Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),
Dr. Tim Stratton