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Letters

Bait and Switch

Alvin Plantinga is a legend in philosophy of religion. But in an otherwise-devastating rebuttal of Sam Harris' denial of free will ["Bait and Switch," January/February], he misrepresents Jonathan Edwards' account of the will.

Plantinga says that Edwards held that God is the "only real cause of whatever happens," with two "substantial" consequences. First, God is the real cause of all sin, and second, human beings cannot be held responsible for their sins.

Plantinga's suggestion that Edwards' God is the only "real" cause of everything is probably based on Edwards' occasionalist metaphysics, which posits that, in Edwards' words, "God does, by his immediate power, uphold every created substance in being" moment by moment. But Edwards also insisted that humans sin voluntarily; their sin "is truly and properly theirs," since they fully consent to their own sins. God upholds them in their being and therefore also in their sinning. Their sinning is no less voluntary and no less theirs simply because God sustains their (sinful) being every nanosecond.

In other words, responsibility for action (and therefore sinful action) is not a zero-sum proposition for Edwards. God's upholding all and, in that sense, being the cause of all, does not rule out secondary causes such as human willing. Edwards famously wrote that "God does all and we do all." God is the real cause of all in the sense of upholding all reality, which of course includes all sinning. Edwards wrote that God is the "author and fountain" of our acts, but that those acts are still ours. We are the only "proper actors."

It is not, for Edwards, that God does some and we do the rest, as in zero-sum conceptions, but that human action must be viewed from different perspectives in order to capture the whole. As he put it, "We are in different respects wholly passive and wholly active."

Therefore Edwards's determinism was complex, as all notions of divine sovereignty must be if they are to make sense of biblical assertions ...

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