Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Friendly Atheist on Edwardsian Freedom:
Part 1

My first exposure to the writings of philosopher William L. Rowe was in my college philosophy class Atheistic Argument from Evil. Rowe is actually an interesting philosopher, because though he is an atheist, he exercises charity towards theism and has even defended the cosmological argument. In his classic article on the problem of evil, Rowe coined the phrase "the friendly atheist," to describe someone (such as himself) who believes that some theists are justified in believing God even though he doesn't actually exist.

I was surprised to find that in Rowe's 2004 book Can God Be Free he actually penned a chapter on Jonathan Edwards' view of divine freedom. Rowe's general argument in the book is that the notion of divine freedom is incoherent. While I will not interact with the entire book, I want to focus on Chapter 4 of the book, "Jonathan Edwards on Divine and Human Freedom" since I have long believed Edwards' arguments to be airtight.

My general impressions of Rowe's approach are that he seems to understand Edwards' arguments in Freedom of the Will quite well. He seems to fully grasp the forcefulness of Edwards' position as well as his criticisms of the Arminian philosophers. Most of the chapter is, in essence, Rowe's summarization and subsequent agreement with Edwards' conclusions regarding the incoherence of libertarian freedom.

"It should be clear that the Arminian theologians cannot have it both ways. As proponents of libertarian freedom as essential for moral responsibility, they can’t insist that power not to will as one does is required for a willed act to be free and, therefore, one for which an agent may be morally responsible, and then proceed to declare that God is not just free, but perfectly free, when he wills of necessity to always and unfailingly do what he sees is the best to be done. For then God is a necessary agent, not a free agent. He lacks power over his will in that he is unable to will to refrain from doing what he sees is the best to be done" (Pg. 64-65).

Rowe understands the strength of Edwards' reasoning, and considers this Edwards' strongest argument. The Arminians consider God's acts to be free, and yet not free in the libertarian sense, while nevertheless considering God's acts of goodness as being praiseworthy. Rowe, who has no dog in the fight since he is an atheist, is happy to show the incoherence of libertarian freedom and divine freedom since he plans to subsequently demonstrate that Edwards' compatiblistic freedom is also incompatible with divine freedom. One take on this chapter of the book is that he lets Edwards do the heavy lifting by decimating the libertarian position, all the while planning to do the same to Edwards before the conclusion of the chapter. The question is, how does he plan to do it?

To Be Continued


  1. I'm looking forward to the rest of this series. Good work!

  2. Sounds fascinating. Not being all too familiar with Edwards, is it safe to assume he and Aquinas held similiar views on the subject of divine freedom?

  3. I second the sentiments of Adam Fites!


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