Calvinism,  Free Will,  Open Theism

Some Responses to Greg Boyd’s Argument from Conceptual Content

Here’s a really interesting argument for libertarian free will. I found it in Greg Boyd’s Satan and the Problem of Evil:

If humans lack a logically consistent concept of self determining freedom, What provides the analogical ground by which we can talk about God is gracious self determining freedom? A concept devoid of all experiential content is vacuous. If we assume that it is meaningful to claim that nothing outside gods will caused him to create and interact with the world, That he could have done otherwise, And that his decisions are not capricious, Then we must affirm that we experience something like this sort of freedom. In short, Unless we were free in a self determining sense, We could never meaningfully says that God is (page 70).

So what is the argument? Something like the following:

  1. A concept is knowable/intelligible only if there is some experience that gives us the content of the concept. 
  2. If there was no experience of having something like self-determining freedom we would not know what it is. 
  3. “God has self-detemermining freedom” is a meaningful sentence. 
  4. Therefore, we have experienced something like self-determining freedom. 

Here are three ways to attack the argument:

First, if we need an analogous experience in order to have an intelligible concept then we could not have intelligible concepts of other more mundane doctrines of God. For example, what analogous experience would give us the conceptual content sufficient for the intelligibility of omnipresence? Omnipresence, to be fair, is not easy to grasp. It does not mean that God is identical with every point in space and time; it means that he is at every point in space and time and not identical to it. I cannot think of any analogous experience that would give me the sufficient content for the intelligibility of omnipresence yet I don’t think of the concept as being empty or impossible to understand. If I can gain the content of a concept without an analogous experience then Boyd’s conclusion is false.

Greg Boyd

Second, what governs our view that God has something like libertarian free will is not merely a comparison of capacities, but a comparison of the possibilities that may entail determinism. It is not only an analysis of a being’s powers that determines our concept of free will, but an analysis of the possible restraints on any power a being might have. While there are at least two candidates sufficient to be factors for determinism as it relates to human action, there are precious few options when it comes to God’s action. The actions of human beings may be casually determined in virtue of the uniformity of the laws of nature or they may be determined by the decree of God. However, it appears that to set up some determining condition external to God by which his actions might be determined is much trickier. What could those conditions be? One might say something like “immutable laws of thought” but that would entail something less than the classical doctrine of God. God’s free will is not generic, but sui generis. There is, literally, nothing in creation that is like God’s will and (2) is false.

Finally, and in the opposite direction to my last comment, why must we assume that compatibilistic free will is so disanalogous to libertarian free will that it would render us unable to obtain the concept of libertarian/self-determining free will? What would the experience of compatibilistic free will lack in order to make it impossible to conceive of a self-determining free will? On compatibilism people are uncoerced and able to act according to their desires. They are able to imagine various options and use their reasoning to decide which one they would like to choose. And they are able to imagine having taken a different path in life. None of these features entail libertarian free will and yet they are sufficient to imagine that there is no antecedent condition that entails that the action they will take cannot be other than it is. If this is right then (2) is false.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.