Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No Time Like the Present

No Time Like the Present
A response to Libertarian Past-Tense Free Will


In "Through the Lookingglass," one of the characters is offered a position that provides a certain benefit "every other day." It sounds tempting, but it is then discovered that this condition "every other day" is construed with the utmost literal precision, such that the benefit never enures, because today is never any other day than today.

That kind of hyper-literal analysis is silly in a children's book, but can prove to be essential in philosophical discussions. Many things can turn on the precision of definitions, and thus we should be careful to avoid the "other day" trap.

Some advocates of Libertarian Free Will may perhaps have fallen into such a trap with loose definitions of human freedom. Either they have fallen into the trap by speaking imprecisely, or they mean something that it is totally unacceptable.

By analogy, one could say that man has freedom, under their definitions, every other day.

Freedom in the Past Time Only

One of my respected Arminian colleagues has posited the idea that the relevant sense of freedom is something that only comes before the act (e.g. choice), not something that exists at the time of the act.

Stepping back from the details for a second, this is like saying that you are free with respect to what you do tomorrow, but not today, and saying that every day. It is the "every other day" trap. You don't have freedom with respect to actions that you are doing, but only with respect to actions that you will do.

Under this system of thought, before it is time do something, you have freedom, but when it comes to actually doing it, you do it of necessity. The result of this model is that every single act is an act of necessity. Freedom is ephemeral. It dissipates just when you need it.

The Importance of the Present

The present is important, becuase it is the present that we exist, we act, we do, we think, and we choose. If we act freely, then we do so in the present. If we act of necessity, we do so in the present. If Paul someone says they "are" free, they mean at present.

When Paul speaks, in Romans 7:3 of the freedom of widows, he says that if her husband is dead, she IS free. Paul is speaking here about the Calvinistic De Jure freedom, not a Libertarian Free Will freedom (even if such a thing existed). More important, though, is Paul's explanation regarding that freedom.

While her husband lives, she is not free: if she marries another man she will be called an adulteress. Although she may be free in the future, that future freedom does not give her license to marry whomsoever she will.

The analogy is simple: whatever kind of freedom matters for us to say that we ARE free, is freedom in the present time, not freedom in the future, or freedom in the past.

Objection 1 - I don't care

This is a curious objection. The objection simply states that it makes no difference whether the acts themselves are free. The objector doesn't care whether acts themselves are free. Of course, the minute such an objection is made, one recognizes that whatever this freedom or necessity is, it is not what the Bible is talking about: it is not the freedom described in the Bible, nor is it even the kind of freedom that common sense or intution tells us we have. I "can" is present. I "am" able is present. I "have" free will is present. We could go on and on.

If, with respect to his actions at time X, man is not free, but only was free at some past point, that matter freedom is of only historical significance.

If man is not free with respect to the things he does, man is never free.

Perhaps there are more objections, we will have to see.


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