Sunday, October 29, 2006

On Libertarian Freedom

"[Libertarians argue] ...For no one is responsible for an act unless he 'could have done otherwise.' If I am strapped to a robotic machine which, using my arms, robs a bank, I am not to blame for robbing the bank. I 'could not have done otherwise.' Such is the libertarian argument. I have always felt that this position lacked cogency. For one thing, it denies the rule of God’s sovereignty over the hearts and decisions of human beings, a rule which I find abundantly attested in Scripture (see my lectures on the Doctrine of God). Indeed, in saying that human actions can be 'uncaused,' it attributes to man ultimate causality; but in Christianity, only God is the first cause. For another thing, libertarianism seems to me to be unintelligible on its own terms, for it makes our moral choices accidental. R. E. Hobart, in a famous article from the 1930s, wrote to the effect that on the libertarian basis, a moral choice is like my feet popping out of my bed without my desiring them to, and carrying me where I don’t want to go. The attempt to separate decisions from desires is psychologically perverse. Further, libertarianism, rather than guaranteeing moral responsibility, actually destroys it. How can we be held responsible for decisions, if those decisions are 'psychological accidents,' unconnected with any of our desires? Indeed, such a situation would, precisely, negate all responsibility. Certainly it is difficult to imagine being held responsible for something we really didn’t want to do....If we have difficulty here, it may be because we fail to understand the nature of the sinner’s bondage. It is a moral and spiritual bondage, not a metaphysical, physical or psychological bondage. If, as in my robot-machine illustration, someone is physically forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, then of course his bondage removes his responsibility for the act. Confronted with his 'deed,' the person would have a valid excuse: 'I couldn’t help it; I was physically forced to do it.' But imagine someone coming before a human judge and saying, to excuse himself of a crime, 'I couldn’t help it, your honor; I was forced to do it by my nature. Since birth I’ve just been a rotten guy!' Surely there is something ironic about appealing to depravity to excuse depraved acts! If our defendant really is a 'rotten guy,' then, far from being an excuse, that is all the more reason to lock him up! My point, then, is that although physical (and some other kinds of) bondage can furnish valid excuses for otherwise bad actions, moral bondage is not such an excuse. I can’t imagine anyone disputing that proposition once he understands it."

Dr. John M. Frame, American philosopher & Calvinist theologian, Professor of Systematic Theology & Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.

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