This entry will spoil one of the major plot elements of the new Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban (and I assume the book too, though I haven't read it), so don't read any further if you don't want to ruin it. It might also ruin my favorite episode of Andromeda and one of the most interesting elements of Babylon 5, but you can avoid that by skipping the last part (when I address other movies and TV shows) if you just want to read what I have to say about Harry Potter and the philosophy of time involved.
I'm not talking about the political view. I'm talking metaphysics here. For those more familiar with theology than philosophy, I'm talking about the view Arminians assume about free will. The libertarian view can be expressed in two non-equivalent ways (and some people hold one and not the other, in which case I don't know if I would call them libertarians).
1. Your action is free only if you could have done otherwise than you actually did. It has to be genuinely possible for you to have done otherwise. If determinism is true, then (on most views) this condition fails.
2. Your action is free if it's caused by you and not by prior events. This condition by definition rules out freedom if determinism is true.
The first principle is called the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP). Harry Frankfurt famously argued against this principle (I think successfully) but still thinks you can meet condition 2 without having alternative possibilities, so he considers himself a libertarian. He just only adopts the second condition. There are compatibilists who accept 1 and give a complex account of possibility to explain how we can be predetermined and still possibly do otherwise. So not everyone who accepts 1 accepts 2, and not everyone who accepts 2 accepts 1. Still, I think 2 is essential for libertarianism, whether 1 accompanies it or not. Therefore, I'm going to argue against 2, which is commonly called the concept of agent causation.
There's a debate within those who believe in some sort of rational defense of Christianity about how it should be done. The main lines of the debate are between what I call the classical apologetics view and the presuppositional view. I've never understood the presuppositionalist position, and all the arguments I've ever seen in favor of it seem so bad to me that I have to think there's something to the view beyond what people seem to me to be saying, but I've still seen no evidence that anyone has a better statement of the view and its claims than the bad ones I've so far seen. I've finally gotten around to putting together my thoughts on why I think presuppositionalism is fundamentally mistaken.
Some people say yes, but can there be if theological determinism is true? The idea is that if God stands behind every action in some way, good or evil, then there cannot be potentiality in God. It's somehow inappropriate to say that something different could have happened, I could have done something different, etc. I am the one who did it, and I am responsible for doing it, but could it have been different if God stands behind it in some fundamental sense? Many Reformed thinkers will say no. There is no potentiality in God.
I disagree with the conclusion, though I think the general picture behind it is correct. To get a sense of why I think the fundamental picture behind it is correct, read through chapter 10 of Isaiah's prophecy and Peter's speech in Acts 2 and Acts 4. Evil actions are described -- first the king of Assyria and his attack on God's people, then Judas' betrayal of Jesus and the Jewish leaders -- follow-through that led to his being put to death. These are evil actions. There's no question about that in the minds of Isaiah (who gave the prophecy from God but presumably through his own mind and ways of expressing things, including through his own divinely inspired theological reflection), Peter (who gave the speech in the Acts narrative), and Luke (who gave us the Acts narrative). These people are blamed by the biblical writers for their evil actions. However, it's also true that God stands behind these events. The actions of Judas and the Jewish leaders, while evil, were necessary for God's plan of salvation. They are, in effect, part of that plan. Similarly, the actions of the Assyrian king are evil but are part of God's process of judging Israel. Isaiah goes so far as to call him a tool in God's hands, and yet somehow he's responsible for what he did! There is a mystery here. I'm not trying to sort it out, but its background is important for this issue.
Now about the conclusion many Reformed thinkers draw -- does this mean that only one thing is possible? After all, God has his one plan, which includes evil things in it, so we can't insist that the evil things are not part of God's plan and say that they allow for the various possibilities. If it's possible that God can in some way stand behind evil actions without himself being morally responsible for the evil people do, then we don't need to insist on human free action as something outside God's control. Then there really only needs to be one possible outcome, and it seems as if there aren't real possibilities. I once thought this was a good argument, but I'm now convinced that it's not. The biblical data from above points us one way. What you'll find is another set of passages in tension with the ones above, pushing us in a different direction. First let's consider those, and then we'll move on to discuss the philosophical implications.
Reformed thought affirms the idea that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross covers only the elect, only those God has predestined to be saved without regard to anything they deserve. Arminians question much of the Reformed picture, but limited atonement comes under fire even by middle-of-the-road people. One way Calvinists often put the doctrine is misleading, and they often have to give what seems to me to be a strange reinterpretation of very straightforward passages about God’s love for the world or for everyone or about Christ’s death for all or for the whole world. However, I don’t think you have to give up the doctrine of limited atonement to affirm these passages the way that seems most obvious. These reflections below explain why I think that. They were written in a context of an online debate, and I’ve included some of the statement that I’m responding to.
Jeremy Pierce is a philosophy professor, Uber/Lyft driver, and father of five.