Theological Question of the Day: What Kind of Freedom Did Adam and Eve Have Before the Fall?


While reading For Calvinism by Michael Horton, I came across the following quote:

A libertarian view of human freedom insists on nothing less than the ability to choose anything. However, this means that the will is free not only from external compulsion but from the person who is exercising it! In other words, it assumes that the will is independent of the mind, preferences, character, and heart of persons (pp. 43–44).

By contrast, Horton, like most Calvinists, subscribes to a compatibilist view of human freedom in which freedom is understood as freedom from external compulsion. What choices free people make must be explained in reference to their mind, preferences, character, and heart. He writes:

Before the fall, humankind had the natural and moral ability to obey God with complete fidelity and freedom of will. After the fall, we still have the natural but no longer the moral liberty to do so. When it comes to our fallen condition, we all have the natural ability to think, will, feel, and do what we should. None of our faculties has been lost. We have all of the “equipment” necessary for loving God and our neighbors. Nevertheless, the fall has rendered us morally incapable of using these gifts in a way that could restore us to God’s favor (p. 44).

The juxtaposition of these passages led to the following chain of reasoning: If before the fall, Adam and Eve had compatibilist freedom, then their mind, preferences, character, and heart explain their action. But if their mind, preferences, character, and heart were morally good, why did they sin? Unless we attribute Adam and Eve’s fall to some flaw in their created nature (i.e., their mind, preferences, character, and heart), it seems that Adam and Eve’s prelapsarian fall was libertarian in nature. How else could a good tree—contrary to its nature—produce bad fruit?

So here’s today theological question: Before the fall, what kind of freedom did Adam and Eve enjoy? A libertarian or a compatibilist freedom?

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11 thoughts on “Theological Question of the Day: What Kind of Freedom Did Adam and Eve Have Before the Fall?”

  1. Can you explain what Michael Horton mean by “moral freedom”? I think I understand “natural freedom,” but I don’t know how he defines “moral freedom” as distinct from “natural freedom.”

  2. I’m also wondering if he cites any theologian who actually defines “libertarian free-will” as being “independent of the mind, preferences, character, and heart of persons.” Or maybe you know one? Or is this a straw-man argument against “libertarian free-will”?

  3. Regarding what Horton means by “moral freedom,” consider this from pages 44-45: “Our choices are determined by our nature; we choose what we desire and we desire what is most consistent with our nature. If we are bound by sin, then it is not a natural ability that we have lost but a moral ability. We can only choose sin and death…until God liberates us from this bondage… Again, it is not that the will is rendered inactive by sin, but that it is bound by sin until grace restores it in a one-side, unilateral, and unassisted divine act.”

    Regarding whether Horton’s argument against libertarianism knocks down a straw man, I should only say that this criticism of libertarianism is the standard one. See the following in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/#3.2, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-theories/, and http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-arguments/.

    1. Thanks George.

      Tell me more about “compatibilist free-will.” Is the “free-will” agent’s choice CAUSALLY DETERMINED by both internal (desires, personality, temperament , preferences, character, or the heart/mind) and external realities (God and Nature)? Is the “free-will” agent morally responsible for their choices? I don’t see how this works exactly.

  4. All I care about is that: 1) the choices of free-will agents are not CAUSALLY DETERMINED by things/agents outside the free-agent themselves (although there are external INFLUENCES), 2) free-will agents are morally responsible for their own choices.

    I don’t have a problem with describing free-will as “self-determination” (Determination of one’s will by internal realities within oneself [desires, personality, temperament , preferences, character, or the heart]). And, the fact that there are many elements or factors that play a role in a person’s “inner realities” (desires, mental states, preferences, character, or the heart) demonstrates that any one of these elements can be transcended, but of course the whole of our inner reality cannot. But I do have a problem with any kind of mechanistic view of either God or nature/events determining all “free-will” choices.

    So am I a compatabilist or libertarian when it comes to “free-will”?

    1. You sound more compatibilist to libertarian than me. One of the crucial questions you need to ask is whether those “internal realities” that determine personal choice were themselves determined by external causes or personally chosen.

      1. I accept biological/environmental INFLUENCES and even LIMITATIONS upon one’s will, but I don’t see these as CAUSUALLY DETERMINING one’s choices within the range of possible choices available to a person.

        That that put me into the libertarian camp? or the compatibilist camp?

        What is your own view?

  5. DOES A FREE WILL ‘DECISION’ SAVE A SOUL?
    I agree that you and I didn’t have a free will choice on things pertaining to our pre-existence, such as: we did not choose our parents, our gender, our hair color, our eye color, our height, etc. But the real issue, the one I cannot get many professing Christians to admit, is that virtually all of them teach (even insist) that notwithstanding all that Christ did to save the world by his life, love, ministry, sufferings, death and resurrection, still, they claim, it was not enough to save the world. He declared, “It is finished!”; but most Christian advocates insist that it is NOT FINISHED until each soul puts the ‘finishing touches’ on the finished work of Christ by making a personal free will ‘decision’ to seal the deal.
    Therefore we have often heard the preachers say words to this effect, “Unless you personally ‘accept and confess the Lord’ before you die, you cannot hope for salvation.” Then, to make matters worse, the preacher or theologian or book author or TV evangelist will threaten the prospective convert with God’s eternal wrath unless the ‘invitation’ is responded to by a free will action before it’s too late. It is estimated that approximately 96 billion souls since Adam have lived and died without ever once hearing of Christ or his gospel so as to make a free will ‘personal decision’ to follow him. It’s easy for some to write-off those billions by insisting they are without excuse because “the heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows his handiwork.” But no thinking Christian today would ever be convinced that souls could be saved simply by star-gazing or bird watching.
    No! Humanity cannot be spiritually saved by observing the wonders of Nature. Nor can humanity be saved by saying something, praying something, or doing something religious. Our salvation was a done-deal (established fact) 2,000 years ago and for ALL humanity thanks to Christ, the second Adam (1 Cor 15:22). This is glorious ‘good news’ and this is the true gospel the world is longing to hear. Should we teach repentance for wrong-doing? Yes, of course! To repent simply means (Gk: “change your mind”). That’s exactly what we teach our children when they do bad things to themselves or to others, but we still love them and claim them as our children, no matter what. ~ Ivan A. Rogers

  6. THOMAS TALBOTT ON FREE WILL…

    “If I am ignorant of, or deceived about, the true consequences of my choices, then I am in no position to embrace those consequences freely; and if I suffer from an illusion that conceals from me the true nature of God, or the true import of union with God, then I am again in no position to reject him freely. I may reject a caricature of God, or a false conception, but that would be a far cry from rejecting the true God himself. Accordingly, the very conditions that render a less than fully informed decision to reject God intelligible also render it less than fully free; hence, God should be able to remove these conditions—the ignorance, the illusions, the bondage to unhealthy desires—without in any way interfering with human freedom, properly understood.” (Thomas Talbott, pages 174-175 in the second edition of The Inescapable Love of God)

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