“If we are bound by our desires, in that as sinners we can’t help but sin…what about Adam & Eve? Were they created free, innocent, and/or predetermined to sin?” – Tony Vance @TonyVance1966



Thanks for the excellent question Tony! I take it you heard our latest podcast “Corporate or Individual Election?” where I discussed my view of compatibilist freedom. For those who did not hear the show I’ll give a quick background. There are differing philosophical views on human freedom and, in my opinion, whichever one is correct really needs to resolve the totality of Scriptural characterizations of God’s control and human freedom. On the one hand God appears to have deterministic control in all things (Job 42:2; Lamentations 3:37; Daniel 4:35), on the other we appear to have freedom to choose (Exodus 8:2; Deuteronomy 30:17-18; Luke 7:30). A number of explanations have been proposed that attempt to resolve all of these passages. There are two that we mentioned on the show. The compatibilist view of freedom I’ve referred to (typically held by a number of Calvinists) is essentially the notion that people have a freedom insofar as they do what they most want to do in any given circumstance. But, and this is the important qualifier, people do not have the freedom to do otherwise. In this view both God’s sovereign deterministic control over His creation remains as well as our freedom to choose. The compatibilist view stands in contrast to typical libertarian freedom (usually held by Arminians and Molinists) which is the notion that people have freedom to do what they want and they have the freedom to do otherwise. In this view God has decided to limit His sovereign control in order to keep from infringing on human decision-making. In other words, for the libertarians, freedom has two defining characteristics (the freedom to do X and the freedom to do otherwise) and, for the compatibilists, freedom is constrained to only the one characteristic (the freedom to do X).

In the show I mentioned that a stumbling block for me with regard to the libertarian view of freedom is that it posits a type of decision-making that cannot be determined by anything save the agent’s choice; that is, one cannot be “pushed” into doing something because of past events or even one’s own disposition or prior mental states. For example, even if I knew that I am the type of person who always loses his temper on the road when someone cuts me off, under the libertarian view, I have to believe that for every instance in the future where I am cut off I have the libertarian freedom to remain perfectly calm. Even though I might be greatly influenced by prior events or mental states, the libertarian view still holds that I am disengaged from past events in such a manner that my reaction one way or the other is really a gamble. In philosophical circles there are a number of ways to cash this out and try to deal with it, but in the end it is understood to be a significant problem with the libertarian view. Why? Because not only is it unclear (in terms of specifics) how one truly makes a decision given the libertarian definition it is also unclear as to how God can know what anyone will do in the future, since indeterminism is a necessary component of decision-making.

As I mentioned on the show, all the Arminians/Molinists I’ve heard (including William Lane Craig) simply assert that God knows future decisions given the libertarian view even though they have no explanation as to how that is even possible. Now, let me just say, it is possible that God does know this and libertarian freedom is true. But I don’t see how appealing to mystery on this is a sufficient explanation for the Arminian/Molinist. Nor do I see how the Arminian/Molinist has a sufficient explanation for the passages of Scripture that appear to show God’s deterministic control. Under my view, however, I do have a sufficient explanation. We are determined by what we most want to do in any given circumstance. This explains how we will never choose God because we are dead in our sins (Romans 3:11-12; Ephesians 2:5) how God knows the future by our determined actions since He knows the secrets of our heart (Psalm 44:21; Jeremiah 17:10), i.e. what we most want to do.

I don’t want to digress too far so I’ll stop here. But I think it is important to explain my view because of your excellent question, Tony. That is, you asked, given my constrained view of human freedom (that is compatible with God’s deterministic control), do I believe Adam and Eve were free or predetermined to sin? I think they were not predetermined. I think they were free to either refrain from sinning or to sin. But then the question is: What do I mean by free? I do not believe Adam and Eve possessed the second characteristic of libertarian freedom, i.e. the ability to do otherwise. I believe they had compatibilistic freedom; that is, they only had the ability to choose to do what they most wanted to do. Now, I don’t believe the biblical authors were attempting to unpack a philosophical definition of human freedom when recounting the Fall in the Bible. So the Scriptural details to work with on this issue are a bit hazy. However, I don’t see that it is necessary to propose that, because Adam and Eve had the ability to refrain from sin, they possessed the ability to choose to do otherwise than what they most wanted to do.

In other words, logically prior to creation, God chose to create a world in which He knew but did not predetermine that Adam and Eve would eat the fruit. The reason He knew Adam and Eve’s future decision is because 1) He thoroughly knew Adam and Eve and 2) Adam and Eve were constrained in their freedom by what they most wanted to do. However under their particular constraints was a greater freedom, the ability to sin or to not sin. And, as I said, it’s not necessary to propose that Adam and Eve possessed the ability to do otherwise than what they most wanted just because God granted them a unique ability that, as you mentioned, we do not have as their descendants (without God’s grace). Perhaps this seems counterintuitive from our perspective; that is, whenever we speak about the freedom to do otherwise, it usually refers to the ability to refrain from sin. And now I’m saying that Adam and Eve had the ability to refrain from sin but was still only free to do what they most wanted to do. I think it’s important to understand the distinction between having the ability to choose to do otherwise than what you most want and how that specifically applies to each particular decision we are faced with. If we see the distinction then I think it becomes clear that there’s nothing wrong with saying that Adam and Eve could have refrained from sin if and only if that had been their greatest desire in the moment. Thus, Adam and Eve’s decisions were free in the compatibilistic sense, i.e. determined by their greatest desire, which God knew would be to eat the fruit before He created the world.


  1. Nate, you are the man!

    First, Gid knew what Adam would do, Biblically speaking, as Christ was the savior before creation was created.

    Second, in your view, wanting to sin, could (I said could) be seen as sinful, and they didn’t sin till they sinned.

    Third, maybe choice is it. We all choose, with what we got to work with. Adam and Eve had the revelation of God, to tell them what they should do & satan’s lie to push them the other way-BAMM! A choice. We do too, except we must acknowledge there are many more bad influences (sin, satan, our noetic minds, etc) and only one good (God/encompassing all He does eg. Holy Spirit, Word, etc.)

    Thanks for this challenge…I’m studying to take you on someday, sir…lol

  2. If we are tLking about characteristics of God or in other words what defines a maximally great being, what is the difference between omniprescience and any other necessary property? Is omnipresence and omnipotence necessary but foreknowledge (as a subset of all knowledge) not necessary?

    • Thanks for the comment, Robert! It appears that your question is dipping into “perfect being theology” which, admittedly, I am not well-versed in. A good person to read on this would probably be Alvin Plantinga. In terms of what the difference is between, say, omnipresence and omnipotence (or perhaps omnibenevolence) is unclear to me; particularly, since omnipresence is categorically different than, say, omnibenevolence (i.e. one is an amoral description and the other is a moral description). And I just haven’t done the reading all that much to have an opinion one way or the other. However, in terms of whether foreknowledge (or omniscience) is necessary for a maximally great being, I think Plantinga would say, “Yes,” because to say that God does not have omniscience is to suggest a fallibility that undercuts God’s maximal greatness.

      Anyone else with more knowledge on this issue, please feel free to step in!
      Thanks again for your thoughts, Robert.

  3. Hello. I’m not a podcast listener but I do follow on twitter, and that’s how I came across this thing.

    “Arminians/Molinists I’ve heard (including William Lane Craig) simply assert that God knows future decisions given the libertarian view even though they have no explanation as to how that is even possible.”

    I think they do have an explanation. God sees time from beginning to end, so He can see what choices we will make, yet we make those choices freely. I don’t see the conflict, nor do I see how that explanation is an appeal to mystery. Nevertheless I’d be interested in hearing the other side.

    • Thanks for your comment Josh. And thanks for following us on Twitter!

      What I meant by Arminians/Molinists simply making the assertion is exactly what you pointed out. So according to some Arminians and all Molinists, God, as you said, “sees time from beginning to end [and] can see what choices we will make…” This is exactly the assertion I’m talking about. To say this is simply to make the claim. But there is no explanation as to how God can specifically see our future, libertarian decision-making (given the philosophical definition I fleshed out). The few Molinists that I’ve heard and read have no problem appealing to “mystery” on God’s foreknowledge under their view. But I think they need to do more than appeal to “mystery” if they really want to hold on to that position. But that’s just my opinion.

      Thanks again for interacting, Josh!

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