If Libertarian Free Will Is True, Why Pray?
John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, pp. 705-706:
If I [believe in libertarian freedom and] plead with God to remove my friend’s illness, that is not absurd, for God can answer that prayer without negating anyone’s freedom.
But what about the request that God change the attitudes and actions of my friend’s tyrannical boss?
What about petitions that ask God to move those processing applications for graduate school to accept my friend?
Or what about prayers that ask God to keep my enemies at work from bothering me?
And what about pleading with God to save a dear relative or friend?
In all of these cases, what am I asking God to do, if libertarian free will obtains? I am either asking God to override others’ freedom, or I am asking him to move them to do something freely in spite of the fact that my belief in libertarian free will means that I believe God cannot get anybody to do anything freely. If I truly value libertarian free will as much as libertarians say they do, why would I ask God to override it just because of my petition? . . . Libertarians may be asking God to try to persuade their friends, but I repeat that God can only guarantee their persuasion by causal determinism, and that abridges libertarian free will.
On the other hand, if I am not asking God to override someone else’s freedom, then I’m asking him to do something which I believe he cannot do (make it the case that someone else does something freely). I may ask him to try to persuade the person, but I know that without God overriding their freedom, he cannot guarantee that they will change. In fact, since at the moment of free decision making nothing decisively inclines their will, regardless of what God or anyone else does or says, the matter may be hopeless. In light of such problems with interceding with God to change someone’s incompatibilistically free actions or attitudes, there is good reason for anyone committed to libertarian free will who understands the implications of the position to think twice before offering intercessory prayers of the kind mentioned. In fact, prayer to change either our or others’ actions seems problematic.
For those interested in this issue, Feinberg’s volume has an extensive and generally helpful discussion about how to define libertarian free will, compatibilistic freedom, determinism, etc., and how to determine which is biblical and philosophically tenable.