The Christian Perspective

Dr. William Lane Craig is an astounding debater and an extremely intelligent individual. He has many excellent arguments with regard to many things. These arguments, however, are not among them.

The question of free will is one that has been thoroughly debated for thousands of years. Some would say that free will can be defined as "the ability to do what you want". If we accept this definition, then surely everyone will agree that humans have some modicum of free will, as we all, at least on occasion, do as we want.

However, this is not the definition of free will that is really in debate. The debated concept is the following definition:

"The ability to choose, or to choose otherwise."

As the Bible teaches that God knows all things (Colossians 2:3; 1 John 3:20; John 14:6; Hebrews 4:13; Deuteronomy 18:22; 1 Samuel 2:3; Isaiah 42:9, 44:7, 46:10-11, 48:5; Acts 1:24), it seems to me that the most revealing way to look at this issue is to ask ourselves:

"Is it possible for us to do OTHER THAN that which God knows we are going to do?"

It seems to me that there is only one possible and Biblical answer to this question, and that it resolves the issue immediately. However, in our Western culture, many of us have become married to the idea of autonomous (or self-governing and independent) human freedom and will not surrender it no matter how absurd it is demonstrated to be.

Dr. Craig presents several arguments in opposition to divine determinacy. They are listed below, followed by their refutations.


1. Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture. The classical Reformed divines recognized this. They acknowledge that the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable. D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people's sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God's initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22). These passages rule out a deterministic understanding of divine providence, which would preclude human freedom. Determinists reconcile universal, divine, causal determinism with human freedom by re-interpreting freedom in compatibilist terms. Compatibilism entails determinism, so there's no mystery here. The problem is that adopting compatibilism achieves reconciliation only at the expense of denying what various Scriptural texts seem clearly to affirm: genuine indeterminacy and contingency.


1) It is stated that "the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable". There are plenty of texts that affirm divine sovereignty, but where are the texts that affirm autonomous human freedom? If indeed they do not exist, as we would contest, then there is no inscrutability here. Additionally, if the scriptures affirmed "indeterminacy", they would not affirm that God is all-knowing (and they do, see my introduction above), for the two are necessarily negations of each other.

1.1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands. The argument seems to be that God would not command us to do things unless we had within us the ability to freely or autonomously choose to do them. Without an autonomous free will, we do not necessarily have such ability, for we can only do that which is predetermined. However, Christ says "you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Are we able to freely choose to do this? And if so, why do we need Christ? Further, Peter condemns the Judaizers, asking "why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10). If we are able to freely choose to follow the rules, why, according to the apostle Peter, has no one been able to do so? Finally, Leviticus 5 deals with accidental sins and the sinner's responsibility in atoning for them. If God does not command us to do anything that we cannot freely choose to do, then how is it possible to commit an accidental sin? Thus we see that God clearly issues commands that man certainly does not have the ability to obey, refuting the premise of the argument.

1.2) People are said to obey, believe, and choose God. The argument seems to be that people cannot obey, believe, or choose God without an autonomous free will. However, it is possible to obey without considering the alternative, meaning that obedience does not even require conscious choice, let alone free will. Further, it is possible to believe without considering the alternative, meaning that belief also does not even require conscious choice, let alone free will. Thus the question comes down to the issue of choice alone, and the other stated actions are merely window dressing. But choice is indeed the heart of the argument, the ground of the debate, and to suggest that choice insists upon autonomous free will is to completely ignore the debate, for what is it that we claim other than that the choices we make are predetermined? The question at hand is not "do we make choices?", because of course we do, but rather, "was it genuinely possible for us to have chosen anything other than what we chose?". In other words, Dr. Craig's argument can be rephrased as "since choices are not predetermined, choices must not be predetermined". This is obviously a circular argument and further, we reject the premise.

1.3) People sin and rebel against God. The argument seems to be that people cannot sin or be in rebellion against God without making an intentional and autonomously free decision to do so. The Bible rejects this claim in at least two different ways. First, it asserts that people can commit unintentional sins, meaning that free choice is not necessary to sin against God. Second, it explicitly asserts that at least some sins are in fact caused by God, meaning that autonomously free decisions are not necessary to be in sin against God.

Regarding accidental sins, as explained in (1.1), the Law of Moses had specifications for procedures to cleanse the guilt that comes from unintentional sins: "If a person touches any unclean thing, whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean livestock, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and he is unaware of it, he also shall be unclean and guilty" (Leviticus 5:2). Further, note that as Jesus hung on the cross, He said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). According to Jesus, someone at the crucifixion needed forgiveness, which means they committed a sin, and also according to Jesus, they were doing so in complete ignorance, not aware of (let alone intending) the sinful behavior.

Regarding God causing people to sin, John states "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM" (John 12:40 from Isaiah 6:10). In Isaiah, God commanded His prophet to blind the eyes of the Jews so they would not follow Christ. John informs us that this plan succeeded. If God blinded their eyes so that they could not recognize Christ, so that they would not accept Him, and worship Him, then, in doing so, they sinned and were in rebellion against God the Son, because God caused them to be so. This is reiterated in Romans 11:8. A second example is 1 Samuel 2:25, in which scripture informs us that the wicked sons of Eli "would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death". Their disobedience was caused by God's desire to kill them. A third example is in Acts 4:27-28, where the disciples state "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur". Here, God predestined the murder of His Son.

We see therefore that it is possible for God to cause people to be in sin, and it is also possible for people to sin unintentionally and accidentally. It is therefore clear that scripture refutes the notion that one can only sin or be in rebellion against God if one has freely (and autonomously) chosen to do so, completely apart from any prior causation.

1.4) People's sins are judged by God. The argument seems to be that sins cannot or should not be judged by God if they were not the result of an intentional and autonomously free choice. The Bible says otherwise. See (1.3) for the refutation to this argument.

1.5) People are tested by God. The argument seems to be that there can be no testing if there is no autonomous freedom and indeterminacy. The problem with this argument is that if the concept of God's testing of people is taken to necessitate autonomous human freedom, then in the same sense it also necessitates a lack of God's omniscience -- He tests us in order to find out what we will do. In such a case, God does not know what will happen in the future as far as it is determined by autonomous human freedom. God did not know that Zacharias' son would be named John (Luke 1:13), as that was a free decision made by a free agent. He did not know that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), as the choice by Christ's parents to travel there was also a free decision made by free agents. God did not know that Mary would not be butchered by common criminals before her son was born while on the road to Bethlehem thereby nullifying all prophecies of the coming Messiah (Isaiah 9:6), He did not know that Judas would betray Christ (Psalm 41:9), He did not know that Christ would be pierced (Isaiah 53:5), He did not in fact know about virtually anything in the future that He tells us He knew about. This understanding would not just be a problem for us, but also for those who claim both autonomous human freedom and Biblical integrity, such as Dr. Craig. A better understanding of God's testing is, rather than to say that God tested someone, to say that God proved someone, such as Abraham or Job. The word in both Hebrew and Greek carries both nuanced meanings ("tested" and "proved"), and the concept makes far more sense Biblically when phrased in this manner.

1.6) People receive divine rewards. The argument seems to be that no thing should or could be rewarded if it has not autonomously and freely chosen to do well. However, rewards can simply be seen as one of the means that God has ordained to cause His elect to do His will. If our actions are caused by God, then they are not autonomously free.

1.7) The elect are responsible to respond to God's initiative. If the argument here is that nothing without an autonomous free will is capable of responding, then this is clearly false. Clay responds to the hands of the potter, engines respond to pressure on the gas pedal, and dead bodies respond to electrical stimuli. CLEAR! On the other hand, if the argument is that the elect cannot be responsible without autonomous free will, note that David was responsible for sinning by taking the census that God caused him to take by means of the devil (2 Samuel 24:1, 24:10-14; 1 Chronicles 21:1), demonstrating that an autonomous free will is not necessary to be held responsible for disobeying God's laws.

1.8) Prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God. The argument seems to be that since prayers are not caused by God, prayers must not be caused by God. This is obviously a circular argument, and further, we deny the premise.

1.9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved. The argument seems to be that since God pleads with sinners to repent, He cannot be the cause of either their sin or their repentance. However, it seems to me that such pleading is eisegeted into the scriptures, not exegeted from them. Where does God "plead" with sinners to repent? He certainly commands them to, but "plead"? Since we reject the premise, the conclusion does not follow. Indeed, it would not necessarily follow even if we accepted the premise.

So we see that argument 1 has been entirely refuted, point for point.


2. Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one's mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.


2) If our decisions are not determined by evidence provided by God, what are they determined by? If our conclusions are not based on thought processes intelligently designed by God, how have they come about? Another way to say this is that God ordains the means (evidence and thought processes) as well as the ends (our conclusions). Indeed, how can any conclusion be rationally affirmed if the Source of Truth did not bring it about? Note that if our conclusions and their subjects are not intentionally coordinated by God, then they are the result of uncoordinated accidents. Are your conclusions the result of uncoordinated accidents? If so, they are entirely unjustified (or without reason) and therefore irrational by definition. Indeed, apart from divine determinism, nothing can be rationally affirmed. So we see that argument 2 has been entirely refuted.


3. Universal, divine, determinism (A) makes God the author of sin and (B) precludes human responsibility. In contrast to the Molinist view, on the deterministic view even the movement of the human will is caused by God. God moves people to choose evil, and they cannot do otherwise. God determines their choices and makes them do wrong. If it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd. By the same token, all human responsibility for sin has been removed. For our choices are not really up to us: God causes us to make them. We cannot be responsible for our actions, for nothing we think or do is up to us.


3.A) Determinism makes God the author of sin. The argument seems to be that if God predetermines all that will occur, He predetermines that specific human sins will occur. This is, of course, true, and entirely Biblical and therefore not problematic in the slightest. However, some elaboration is necessary. "Determinism makes God the author of sin" is not a problematic statement at all, as the Bible never suggests that He is not. "God determines their choices and makes them do wrong" is, as we have seen in (1.3) above, an accurate representation of the scriptural narrative. Other scriptures in support of this claim that one might cite without detailed elaboration or explanation would be Job 1:21-22; 1 Chronicles 21:1-8 combined with 2 Samuel 24:1; Exodus 4:21; Deuteronomy 2:30; Romans 9:17-24; Genesis 45:5-8; Judges 14:4; Luke 22:22; Revelation 17:17. It is suggested that "if it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd", and we of course agree that such a conclusion is absurd, quite simply because it is not evil for God to make a human do something sinful. In rejecting the premise, as the scriptures do, we are not bound to the absurd conclusion. In elaboration, the Bible defines sin as the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Thus, in order for God to sin, we must first believe that there is in fact some kind of law that governs Him. Since He is the source of all laws, He would have had to order Himself not to cause anyone to sin. Then, in order for Him to be a sinner, He would have had to disobey His own order for Himself. We see no such command governing God in scripture, and since we do clearly see God causing people to sin, and since we know that God, the one in absolute authority, cannot possibly sin or err in any way or else He would be opposed to Himself and therefore no longer in authority, we must necessarily come to the conclusion that God has not in fact ordered Himself not to cause people to sin. Thus, it is not a sin for Him to do so.

3.B) Determinism precludes human responsibility. The argument seems to be that humans cannot be responsible for their actions if they did not intentionally choose to do them in a free and autonomous fashion. We have already refuted this in (1.3).


4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency. Since our choices are not up to us but are caused by God, human beings cannot be said to be real agents. They are mere instruments by means of which God acts to produce some effect, much like a man using a stick to move a stone. Of course, secondary causes retain all their properties and powers as intermediate causes, as the Reformed divines remind us, just as a stick retains its properties and powers which make it suitable for the purposes of the one who uses it. Reformed thinkers need not be occasionalists like Nicholas Malebranche, who held that God is the only cause there is. But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action. Hence, it's dubious that on divine determinism there really is more than one agent in the world, namely, God. This conclusion not only flies in the face of our knowledge of ourselves as agents but makes it inexplicable why God then treats us as agents, holding us responsible for what He caused us and used us to do.


4) The primary argument, apart from those that have already been refuted, seems to be that we cannot call ourselves "agents" unless we have autonomous freedom. An agent, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, can be defined as "a means by which something is done or caused; instrument". If God uses us as we use instruments, as we claim, how then are we not agents? Further, why should it matter if we can refer to one another as "agents"? The scriptures do not in any place insist that all men are "agents", or that we must refer to each other as such. To make this term a definitive piece of Christian doctrine is simply arbitrary. However, the (perhaps sarcastic?) comparison of a human being to an instrument such as a stick is apt, as that is the exact comparison (among others) that God Himself makes in Isaiah 10:12-15.


5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce. On the deterministic view, the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle. There are no free agents in rebellion against God, whom God seeks to win through His love, and no one who freely responds to that love and freely gives his love and praise to God in return. The whole spectacle is a charade whose only real actor is God Himself. Far from glorifying God, the deterministic view, I'm convinced, denigrates God for engaging in a such a farcical charade. It is deeply insulting to God to think that He would create beings which are in every respect causally determined by Him and then treat them as though they were free agents, punishing them for the wrong actions He made them do or loving them as though they were freely responding agents. God would be like a child who sets up his toy soldiers and moves them about his play world, pretending that they are real persons whose every motion is not in fact of his own doing and pretending that they merit praise or blame. I'm certain that Reformed determinists, in contrast to classical Reformed divines, will bristle at such a comparison. But why it's inapt for the doctrine of universal, divine, causal determinism is a mystery to me.


5) The argument seems to be that if there is no autonomous freedom, then reality is a deception (charade, farce, pretense, etc). This argument presupposes that God has told us that we are autonomously free, and yet we are not. In refutation, God has never told us that we are autonomously free, but rather He has informed us that we can either be enslaved to sin (and free from forgiveness) or else enslaved to Christ (and freed from sin) (John 8:34; 1 Corinthians 7:22); that every moment of our existence is entirely at His pleasure (James 4:13-15; Luke 12:16-20); and that our very actions are based exclusively upon His will (Proverbs 16:1, 16:9, 21:1). Thus, there is no deception, no farce, no charade, and no pretense, thereby refuting the presupposition behind argument 5.

In summary, Dr. Craig does not make a single coherent argument for the existence of autonomous human freedom, and both scripture and logic plainly refute this notion. As I asked in my introduction, I ask again, is it possible for us to do OTHER THAN that which God knows we are going to do?

If the answer is no, and it necessarily is, then we are not "able to choose, or to choose otherwise", our definition of free will. We can only make the choices God has predetermined we will make. There is, and can be, no indeterminacy with God.

Having explained this, God calls on all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). And make no mistake, He will hold you personally responsible for all of your sin unless you call on Christ for forgiveness (John 3:18).

God bless.