If everything that begins to exist has a cause, can libertarian free will exist?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: If everything that begins to exist has a cause, can libertarian free will exist?

Answer: Greetings friend. It will be my pleasure to discuss libertarian free will with you today. I have never heard it challenged by the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, though — so this will be a good exercise for me. I pray that it can clear up a few things for you in the process.

But my preamble makes an assumption; it assumes that you have knowingly borrowed from the Kalam. So let me list the three steps of the argument to ensure we are talking about the same thing.

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is one of the many “cosmological” arguments for the existence of God. William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith Ministries gets a lot of mileage out of this argument — and for good reason: it is logically airtight, and its premises are difficult to argue against.

But the first thing you should note is that this is a “cosmological” argument. As such, its premises are limited to the physical universe. But the free will of human beings exists in the meta-physical universe — and because of this, they cannot be compared as your question seems to suppose.

Comparing elements from different domains is a logical fallacy called a “category error.” Here’s what’s up what that: the free will of human beings and the cosmos exist in parallel domains as true. But it cannot be said that any physical thing that begins to exist impacts a metaphysical entity in any way. Like parallel lines, these causes and effects will never meet.

This is not to say that these two domains are not related. Nothing could be further from the truth! So, let me massage the issues a little to create a potential conflict in hopes that I can capture more of what was on your mind.

Cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God are closely related. The cosmological arguments focus on the existence of stuff, while the teleological argument focuses on the design of stuff. The latter is one step closer to God’s purposes, but it is one step further away from the Big Bang... which is more the target of the cosmological argument.

But no matter how the universe began, God is the Prime Mover — the first cause of all things. In this, he “caused” everything else. But this doesn’t mean that everything is predetermined. If that were true, then free will would be a word that had no meaning.

But God is much more clever than that. He “caused” one of his creations, human beings, to be truly volitional. He gave us libertarian free will — right out of the box! First, this is not too difficult for an omnipotent God to accomplish. Second, a volitional God creating volitional creatures doesn’t violate any logic. I see no philosophical or theological roadblocks to God creating beings who will legitimately control their lives.

Consider too that God is omniscient and omnitemporal. He knows everything that has, will or could happen. He also exists at all times at the same time. When you combine these two attributes, you can see how free will and biblical concepts like election can coexist.

Through his omniscience, God knows everything that you would freely do under any condition. This is the equivalent of you living out every one of your possible lives under God’s assessing gaze — but under your own free will. He actuates which of those freely lived lives would best fit the objectives he has for his kingdom. You live this life in real-time — on the cosmic timeline. But he actuates it outside of the constraints of time.

The cosmos and metaphysics collide at human beings... and uniquely so. We are the only ones who were made in his image... and a big part of that was us having free will. But he placed us all in the garden... so to speak... to engage with the physical creation and subdue it to accomplish his purposes. So, both are necessary and both are true: all effects have causes, and we are like surfers riding those waves.

You see, without the libertarian free will of human beings, the universe would not have a purpose... I mean... God knows he can make things — and rocks, trees and toads simply don’t care. But we care. We alone care — and the fact that we were “caused” to care because God gave us a moral component does not mean that our libertarian free will ceased to exist. In fact, the human conscience is the flagship metaphysical organ. It proves free will; it does not work against it.

What about biblical election then? Although God is imminent in time via his omnitemporality, he exists in all time at the same. So, when he “sat back”... if you will excuse the anthropomorphism... to see what we would all do with our free will, the ones of us who chose to follow Jesus Christ he called “the elect.” So, election is a category we chose for ourselves.

The name seems to fight that, though... our modern understanding of how civil elections work militates against a proper understanding of how biblical election works. But that’s just something we will have to live with.  Here’s how all that works.

Biblical election did not happen “before” we were saved... not temporally, that is. If that were true, that would argue for predetermination and against free will. But there is another kind of “before.” There is “logically” before. God did all this before the foundations of the earth — standing outside of time — so time was not a factor in establishing election.

You see, an omnipotent and omnitemporal God consumes no effort and takes no time doing things. Everything he causes occurs at the same time. But logically, there is a “before and after.” This notion filters down to help us understand and teach the things we can’t quite get our heads around. The effects play out in real-time, but the causes took no time.

This “spin” on how free will works with biblical election is called Molinism. To see introductory and in-depth videos on Molinism by its highest-profile supporter (William Lane Craig), visit the following links.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IurPYaB0JGs&t=120s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWly0PlaTMI&t=2785s

I pray that all this helped you more than it confused you.

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20220321 Can libertarian free will exist?).

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