Libertarian free will is the view that human beings have free will in the incompatibilist sense. This means that human beings have a genuine ability to choose between different possible courses of action unconstrained by factors such as nature, nurture, or divine predetermination.
The key aspects of libertarian free will are:
1. Humans have a genuine choice
Libertarians argue that in any given situation, humans have a genuine ability to choose between multiple options. When making a moral decision, for example, libertarians believe that people can weigh reasons for and against different options and decide for themselves what the right thing to do is. This contrasts with hard determinist views that human actions are entirely caused by prior events and deterministic laws of nature.
2. Free will is incompatible with determinism
Libertarians say that determinism – the view that all events including human actions are causally necessitated by past events and laws of nature – is false. If determinism were true, libertarians argue, people would not have the ability to choose freely between options. The fact that we feel like we have this ability is evidence that determinism is false and that we have libertarian free will.
3. Free will requires indeterminism
Since determinism is incompatible with free will, libertarians argue that there must be indeterminism in the universe – some events must not be caused entirely by prior events. Libertarians propose that human free choices are among these undetermined events. When a person is making a decision, they are not caused to choose one option over the others. Their choice stems from their own free will as an uncaused cause.
4. Free will is incompatible with divine foreknowledge
Many libertarians argue that if God knows in advance what people will do, then they are determined to act in that way and do not have free will. For people to have genuine libertarian free will, the future must be open and not fixed ahead of time even by God’s foreknowledge. Some libertarians try to reconcile divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will, but others deny foreknowledge entirely.
5. Free will requires agent causation
Libertarians say that free will requires that humans have the ability to cause their own actions as uncaused causes. When a person makes a free choice, they are the ultimate cause of their decision – it does not stem from prior events, but originates with the agent themselves. Some libertarians propose an ontological category of “agent causation” where agents can bring about effects in the world without being caused to do so.
6. Free will is inherently mysterious
Libertarians generally argue that free will is a metaphysical primitive that cannot be reduced to physical processes. The ability to make unconstrained choices is something supernatural or non-physical. Exactly how immaterial minds can influence the physical world through free choices is a mystery. But libertarians argue that we know we have this ability through direct experience of our own free will.
7. Free will grounds moral responsibility
Libertarians argue that free will is a necessary condition for moral responsibility. If human actions were all causally determined or predetermined, libertarians say people could not be morally responsible for their actions. Genuine praise and blame, reward and punishment, only make sense if people can freely choose between right and wrong.
8. Evidence for libertarian free will
Libertarians point to several main lines of evidence for their view:
- The feeling of free choice – We intuitively feel like we make free choices.
- The experience of deliberation – We weigh reasons before making decisions.
- Moral intuition – It seems obvious people deserve praise/blame for free choices.
- Creativity – Human creativity seems undetermined and freely chosen.
- Agents as causes – We attribute causal power to agents’ choices.
Libertarians say these features of human experience would not make sense if we did not have undetermined free will.
9. Implications of lacking free will
Libertarians argue that if we lacked free will it would have disastrous implications:
- No moral responsibility – No one could deserve praise or blame.
- No autonomy or dignity – We would not control our own destinies.
- No rational deliberation – Thinking carefully would be pointless.
- No creativity – Everything would be causally determined.
- No individuality – Our perceived differences would be illusory.
Libertarians thus argue that free will is integral to what makes us human and that much would be lost if we were not free agents.
10. Objections to libertarian free will
Some main objections to libertarian free will include:
- Incoherent – The idea of an uncaused cause does not make sense.
- Unsupported – There’s no positive evidence that indeterminist free choices happen.
- Random – Indeterminism would just make choices random, not free.
- Inconsistent with determinism – Modern science suggests the universe is deterministic.
- Inconsistent with divine foreknowledge – How could free choices be unknowable in advance?
Libertarians employ various strategies to try to overcome these objections. Overall, the main debate around libertarian free will revolves around whether it is plausible for human beings to make genuinely unconstrained and undetermined choices.
11. Types of libertarian free will views
There are several varieties of libertarianism, differing on key questions:
- Metaphysics of free will – Dualism vs. nonreductive physicalism vs. emergentism vs. panpsychism vs. mysterianism.
- Alternate possibilities – Not requiring alternate possibilities to hold people responsible vs. genuine alternate possibilities needed.
- Source of indeterminism – Quantum mechanics vs. chaos theory vs. agent causation vs. non-causal theories.
- Moral responsibility – Limited vs. robust objective moral truths and obligations.
- Divine foreknowledge – Open theism vs. varieties of middle knowledge vs. denial of exhaustive foreknowledge.
So libertarian free will is not a single uniform theory, but a family of related views grounded in incompatibilism and the reality of free choice.
12. Theological issues related to free will
The existence and nature of free will has many profound theological implications:
- Does free will theodicy succeed in justifying moral evil?
- How is God’s sovereignty related to human freedom?
- Are God’s choices also libertarianly free?
- How does grace and regeneration affect free will?
- Will we have free will in the glorified state?
- Did Jesus Christ have two wills – divine and human?
- How does a timeless God relate to temporal human choices?
These issues continue to be debated within Christian theology, especially between Calvinists who emphasize God’s sovereignty and Arminians who emphasize human free will.
13. Free will in biblical passages
Some key biblical passages that relate to free will include:
- Genesis 2-3 – Adam and Eve’s free choice to eat the forbidden fruit.
- Deuteronomy 30:19 – “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life…”
- Joshua 24:15 – “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
- Proverbs 16:9 – “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
- Isaiah 65:12 – God holds people responsible for their free choices.
- Matthew 23:37 – Jesus laments Jerusalem’s unwillingness to be gathered under God’s wings.
- John 7:17 – “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
- Acts 7:51 – Stephen chides the Jewish leaders for resisting the Holy Spirit.
- Romans 9 – Paul wrestles with God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
While not explicitly using the term “free will,” these and other passages reveal biblical assumptions about human moral responsibility, decision making, and voluntary choices.
The issue of whether human beings have libertarian free will continues to be debated within philosophy, science, and theology. The Bible clearly assumes that people can make real choices with moral implications, even if it does not provide an explicit theory of libertarian incompatibilist free will. As with many profound metaphysical issues, there are challenging philosophical objections to the coherence and plausibility of libertarianism. But libertarians argue that something like their view best makes sense of moral, theological, and everyday truths about human life. The reality and implications of free will remain a deep puzzle worthy of continued investigation.