Free Will with Kevin Timpe (Part Two)

Do you think that the Christian Bible teaches a specific account of freewill or no?

No, I don’t. I do think that the Bible teaches us that we have free will, so long as we understand free will as the control condition for moral responsibility rather than the having of alternative possibilities. (This should/can be linked to the first interview, but not sure how best to do it.) For I think that it’s apparent that the Christian Scriptures hold that at least some humans will be held responsible for their actions. And if that’s true and free will is the kind of control over one’s actions required to be held responsible, then there must be free will.

But I don’t think that the Christian Scriptures teach a specific account of what free will is—that is, whether incompatibilism or compatibilism is true. I’m inclined to think that those who think they find one or other of the views clearly taught are importing their own views into the text. I don’t think we should expect the Scriptures to teach one or other of the views since that’s not the purpose of the Scriptures. It’s not a metaphysics text and I am suspicious of the hermeneutic of those who think the Scriptures are trying to give us a fully worked out metaphysic.

And while I’m skeptical that the Scriptures did teach compatibilism or incompatibilism or libertarianism, I’m even more doubtful that they teach a more specific account of free will, such as that free will involves agent-causal powers that are not reducible to event-causal properties.

[Pause] Oh wait, the Scripture clearly and unambiguously teach the source incompatibilism rooted in reasons-responsive substance causal powers with a robust tracing condition is true…. And that just so happens to be my own view as well!

Why might God create humans with freewill?

I’m inclined to think that there’s not a single reason why God would do that. I’m quite tempted by Alex Pruss’s view of omnirationality that God not only acts for reasons, but that he always acts of all and only the unexcluded reasons in favor of that action. What reasons might there be for creating creatures with free will? Among the plausible candidates are: as a reflection of God’s nature; because it is good for things to exist, and good for a wide range of things to exist; because it is good for things that require the existence of free will to exist, such as virtue, certain forms of love, certain forms of creativity, certain forms of being a self. I think that free will is both intrinsically and extrinsically valuable, and God values things properly. Of course, free will also has tremendous extrinsic disvalue given the ways that we misuse it. And so those reasons against giving us free will also need to be taken into account.

(Laura Ekstrom has a really nice paper on “The Cost of Freedom” in the Free Will and Theism volume that Dan Speak and I edited. In fact, it’s in there with a number of other really nice papers. If folks are interested in the intersections of the philosophical free will debates and Christian theism, they might want to check out this volume.)

While I don’t think that we are creators in the same way that God is a creator (since we can’t create ex nihilo), I suspect that God wanted us to participate in God’s creative act by being involved in the co-creation process. I have to confess that on many days, that the ranking of the various reasons cumulatively favors creating beings with free will isn’t obvious to me. But if something akin to historical Christianity is true (as I think it is), then I think that this is how the ranking does turn out and probably has to given what we’re holding fixed.

Does God have freewill?

If, as I have suggested, free will is understood as the control condition on moral responsibility, and if in line with historical Christianity we hold that God is praiseworthy for God’s actions, then I think we have good reason to think that God does have free will. I think it’s pretty obvious that God makes choices. And I don’t see how God’s choices could be constrained by anything outside of the Godhead—that is, I don’t see how anything could coerce or determine God to act in a certain way. And so, again on the assumption of Christian theism, I think that God is the most free being there is—and our freedom gets its nature by God’s creative act that makes us image God’s nature. I have a paper in which I explore the possibility that creaturely freedom is just analogical to God’s freedom. I take a slightly different approach, one most open to the idea ‘free will’ might be predicated univocally and not just analogically of God in my Free Will in Philosophical Theology book.

Does Jesus have freewill?

Given that I take Jesus to be the incarnate second person of the Trinity and, as indicated in the previous question, I think that God has free will, I’m also going to answer this one in the affirmative. This answer is fairly widespread in the history of Christian theology. Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas, for instance, all endorsed it. A Lateran Council in 649 CE affirmed that the Incarnate Christ has free will:

Canon 10: “If anyone does not properly and truly confess according to the holy Fathers two wills of one and the same Christ our God, united uninterruptedly, divine and human, and on this account that through each of His natures the same one of His own free will is the operator of our salvation, let him be condemned.”

And in the East, St John of Damascus writes in book 3, chapter 13 of his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith:

Confessing, then, the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, to be perfect God and perfect man, we hold that the same has all the attributes of the Father save that of being ingenerate, and all the attributes of the first Adam [including] … two natural volitions, one divine and one human, two natural energies, one divine and one human, two natural free‐wills, one divine and one human, and two kinds of wisdom and knowledge, one divine and one human. (Willis & Rouët de Journel, 2002, 323)

Tim Pawl and I have a paper on this (unfortunately hidden behind a for-profit publisher’s firewall; if people want a copy, they can email me). In that paper we try to do two primary things. First, reconciling the Incarnate Christ’s free will with the claim that Christ’s human will was subject to the divine will in the Incarnation. Second, reconciling the claim that Christ was both fully human and free with the claim that Christ, since also divine, could not sin. This latter claim can get tricky since we usually think that free will involves the ability to do moral evil. But we give a number of ways that one can affirm that the Incarnate Christ is both free and unable to sin.

Do humans have freewill after they die or after they are resurrected from the dead?

I think so—though I guess if I die and wake up in heaven and I’m not free, I probably won’t complain too much.

Tim Pawl and I have a series of papers where we address this with respect to those in heaven. (And unlike the previous paper I mentioned, these are available open access thanks to the awesomeness of the journal in which they’re published, Faith and Philosophy.)What we call the Problem of Heavenly Freedom asks How can someone be free and yet incapable of sinning? If the redeemed are kept from sinning, their wills must be reined in. And if their wills are reined in, it doesn’t seem right to say that they are free. There are a number of ways to respond to the Problem of Heavenly Freedom, depending on one’s views of free will and divine providence. Our view is a libertarian one, according to which through patterns of action we can shape our moral character (what Aristotle called habituation). A person’s character directs their actions both by influencing what one sees as reasons for actions and by influencing how one weighs reasons for and against those actions. Heaven, on our view, requires having a morally perfect character. But once a person has a morally perfect character, they will see no reason to engage in sinful and wicked actions. But since sinful actions are ruled out by their freely formed character, rather than external constraint or determination, we see no reason to think that threatens their free will.

A parallel story can be told about those in hell, which is what I try to do in the “Damned Freedom” chapter of my Free Will in Philosophical Theology. There I argue that those who are in hell are unable to escape, despite retaining their free will. The damned’s inability to turn to God, in the sense of psychological impossibility and not logical impossibility, is consistent with their being free. In the following chapter, I show how a similar line of reasoning can explain how it is that the redeemed will be unable to sin despite being free.


Author: chandlerwarren

Pastor in rural Oklahoma. Educated in St. Andrews, Scotland.

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