Friday, June 24, 2005

Libertarian Free Will and the Absurdity of Praying for Oneself

Excerpt from John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, pp. 705.

…[W]ith libertarian free will many prayers make no sense. . . .

…[C]onsider petitions about ourselves that do involve our free will. Suppose we ask the Lord to help us be more faithful in Bible reading, prayer, and witnessing. Or suppose we pray that the Lord will help us treat our family or neighbor better. I maintain that if libertarian free will obtains in our world, these are to a large degree absurd requests. For what are we asking God to do? In order for me to be more faithful in Bible reading, prayer, and witnessing, won’t I have to decide to do these things? But if I have libertarian free will and am allowed to exercise it, how can God fulfill my request? If he doesn’t override my libertarian freedom, he cannot guarantee the fulfillment of my request. So what am I asking him to do? Override my freedom? Make it the case that I freely decide to do these things? But here libertarians tell us that, if God brings it about that we do anything, we don’t do it freely. It seems that God cannot be certain to grant my request unless he overrides my freedom, but why would God want me to engage in these spiritual exercises because I’m forced to do so (according to my libertarian free will, I would be forced, but God wants my love and devotion freely!)? Shouldn’t I, then, petition myself in an attempt to convince myself to do these things? After all, only I can freely effect what I choose to do, given libertarian free will. But if I did petition myself, wouldn’t that usually mean I had already decided to do these things, and if so, the petition becomes unnecessary? I submit, then, that unless I really want God to override my freedom, what I ask him in these cases is absurd. If he doesn’t tamper with my libertarian free will, he can’t do what I ask; only I can, but petitioning myself engages me in the further absurdities mentioned.