Skip to comments.The nature of human free will
Posted on 02/24/2003 9:12:32 AM PST by Frumanchu
PREDESTINATION seems to cast a shadow on the very heart of human freedom. If God has decided our destinies from all eternity, that strongly suggests that our free choices are but charades, empty exercises in predetermined playacting. It is as though God wrote the script for us in concrete and we are merely carrying out his scenario.
To get a handle on the puzzling relationship between predestination and free will, we must first define free will. That definition itself is a matter of great debate. Probably the most common definition says free will is the ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. For the will to be free it must act from a posture of neutrality, with absolutely no bias.
On the surface this is very appealing. There are no elements of coercion, either internal or external, to be found in it. Below the surface, however, lurk two serious problems. On the one hand, if we make our choices strictly from a neutral posture, with no prior inclination, then we make choices for no reason. If we have no reason for our choices, if our choices are utterly spontaneous, then our choices have no moral significance. If a choice just happensit just pops out, with no rhyme or reason for itthen it cannot be judged good or bad. When God evaluates our choices, he is concerned about our motives.
Consider the case of Joseph and his brothers. When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, Gods providence was at work. Years later, when Joseph was reunited with his brothers in Egypt, he declared to them, You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). Here the motive was the decisive factor determining whether the act was good or evil. Gods involvement in Josephs dilemma was good; the brothers involvement was evil. There was a reason why Josephs brothers sold him into slavery. They had an evil motivation. Their decision was neither spontaneous nor neutral. They were jealous of their brother. Their choice to sell him was prompted by their evil desires.
The second problem this popular view faces is not so much moral as it is rational. If there is no prior inclination, desire, or bent, no prior motivation or reason for a choice, how can a choice even be made? If the will is totally neutral, why would it choose the right or the left? It is something like the problem encountered by Alice in Wonderland when she came to a fork in the road. She did not know which way to turn. She saw the grinning Cheshire cat in the tree. She asked the cat, Which way should I turn? The cat replied, Where are you going? Alice answered, I dont know. Then, replied the Cheshire cat, it doesnt matter.
Consider Alices dilemma. Actually she had four options from which to choose. She could have taken the left fork or the right fork. She also could have chosen to return the way she had come. Or she could have stood fixed at the spot of indecision until she died there. For her to take a step in any direction, she would need some motivation or inclination to do so. Without any motivation, any prior inclination, her only real option would be to stand there and perish.
Another famous illustration of the same problem is found in the story of the neutral-willed mule. The mule had no prior desires, or equal desires in two directions. His owner put a basket of oats to his left and a basket of wheat on his right. If the mule had no desire whatsoever for either oats or wheat he would choose neither and starve. If he had an exactly equal disposition toward oats as he had toward wheat he would still starve. His equal disposition would leave him paralyzed. There would be no motive. Without motive there would be no choice. Without choice there would be no food. Without food soon there would be no mule.
We must reject the neutral-will theory not only because it is irrational but because, as we shall see, it is radically unbiblical.
Christian thinkers have given us two very important definitions of free will. We will consider first the definition offered by Jonathan Edwards in his classic work, On the Freedom of the Will.
Edwards defined the will as the mind choosing. Before we ever can make moral choices we must first have some idea of what it is we are choosing. Our selection is then based upon what the mind approves or rejects. Our understanding of values has a crucial role to play in our decision-making. My inclinations and motives as well as my actual choices are shaped by my mind. Again, if the mind is not involved, then the choice is made for no reason and with no reason. It is then an arbitrary and morally meaningless act. Instinct and choice are two different things.
A second definition of free will is the ability to choose what we want. This rests on the important foundation of human desire. To have free will is to be able to choose according to our desires. Here desire plays the vital role of providing a motivation or a reason for making a choice.
Now for the tricky part. According to Edwards a human being is not only free to choose what he desires but he must choose what he desires to be able to choose at all. What I call Edwards Law of Choice is this: The will always chooses according to its strongest inclination at the moment. This means that every choice is free and every choice is determined.
I said it was tricky. This sounds like a blatant contradiction to say that every choice is free and yet every choice is determined. But determined here does not mean that some external force coerces the will. Rather it refers to ones internal motivation or desire. In shorthand the law is this: Our choices are determined by our desires. They remain our choices because they are motivated by our own desires. This is what we call self-determination, which is the essence of freedom.
Think for a minute about your own choices. How and why are they made? At this very instant you are reading the pages of this book. Why? Did you pick up this book because you have an interest in the subject of predestination, a desire to learn more about this complex subject? Perhaps. Maybe this book has been given to you to read as an assignment. Perhaps you are thinking, I have no desire to read this whatsoever. I have to read it, and I am grimly wading through it to fulfill somebody elses desire that I read it. All things being equal I would never choose to read this book.
But all things are not equal, are they? If you are reading this out of some kind of duty or to fulfill a requirement, you still had to make a decision about fulfilling the requirement or not fulfilling the requirement. You obviously decided that it was better or more desirable for you to read this than to leave it unread. Of that much I am sure, or you would not be reading it right now.
Every decision you make is made for a reason. The next time you go into a public place and choose a seat (in a theater, a classroom, a church building), ask yourself why you are sitting where you are sitting. Perhaps it is the only seat available and you prefer to sit rather than to stand. Perhaps you discover that there is an almost unconscious pattern emerging in your seating decisions. Maybe you discover that whenever possible you sit toward the front of the room or toward the rear. Why? Maybe it has something to do with your eyesight. Perhaps you are shy or gregarious. You may think that you sit where you sit for no reason, but the seat that you choose will always be chosen by the strongest inclination you have at the moment of decision. That inclination may merely be that the seat closest to you is free and that you dont like to walk long distances to find a place to sit down.
Decision-making is a complex matter because the options we encounter are often varied and many. Add to that that we are creatures with many and varied desires. We have different, often even conflicting, motivations.
Consider the matter of ice cream cones. Oh, do I have trouble with ice cream cones and ice cream sundaes. I love ice cream. If it is possible to be addicted to ice cream then I must be classified as an ice cream addict. I am at least fifteen pounds overweight, and I am sure that at least twenty of the pounds that make up my body are there because of ice cream. Ice cream proves the adage to me, A second on the lips; a lifetime on the hips. And, Those who indulge bulge. Because of ice cream I have to buy my shirts with a bump in them.
Now, all things being equal, I would like to have a slim, trim body. I dont like squeezing into my suits and having little old ladies pat me on the tummy. Tummy-patting seems to be an irresistible temptation for some folks. I know what I have to do to get rid of those excess pounds. I have to stop eating ice cream. So I go on a diet. I go on the diet because I want to go on the diet. I want to lose weight. I desire to look better. Everything is fine until someone invites me to Swensons. Swensons makes the greatest Super Sundaes in the world. I know I shouldnt go to Swensons. But I like to go to Swensons. When the moment of decision comes I am faced with conflicting desires. I have a desire to be thin and I have a desire for a Super Sundae. Whichever desire is greater at the time of decision is the desire I will choose. Its that simple.
Now consider my wife. As we prepare to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary I am aware that she is exactly the same weight as she was the day we were married. Her wedding gown still fits her perfectly. She has no great problem with ice cream. Most eating establishments only carry vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Any of those make my mouth water, but they offer no enticement to my wife. Aha! But there is Baskin Robbins. They have pralines and cream ice cream. When we go to the mall and pass a Baskin Robbins my wife goes through a strange transformation. Her pace decelerates, her hands get clammy, and I can almost detect the beginning of salivation. (Thats salivation, not salvation.) Now she experiences the conflict of desires that assaults me daily.
We always choose according to our strongest inclination at the moment. Even external acts of coercion cannot totally take away our freedom. Coercion involves acting with some kind of force, imposing choices upon people that, if left to themselves, they would not choose. I certainly have no desire to pay the kind of income taxes that the government makes me pay. I can refuse to pay them, but the consequences are less desirable than paying them. By threatening me with jail the government is able to impose its will upon me to pay taxes.
Or consider the case of armed robbery. A gunman steps up to me and says, Your money or your life. He has just restricted my options to two. All things being equal I have no desire to donate my money to him. There are far more worthy charities than he. But suddenly my desires have changed as a result of his act of external coercion. He is using force to provoke certain desires within me. Now I must choose between my desire to live and my desire to give him my money. I might as well give him the money because if he kills me he will take my money anyway. Some people might choose to refuse, saying, I would rather die than choose to hand this gunman my money. Hell have to take it from my dead body.
In either case, a choice is made. And it is made according to the strongest inclination at the moment. Think, if you can, of any choice you have ever made that was not according to the strongest inclination you had at the moment of decision. What about sin? Every Christian has some desire in his heart to obey Christ. We love Christ and we want to please him. Yet every Christian sins. The hard truth is that at the moment of our sin we desire the sin more strongly than we desire to obey Christ. If we always desired to obey Christ more than we desired to sin, we would never sin.
Does not the Apostle Paul teach otherwise? Does he not recount for us a situation in which he acts against his desires? He says in Romans, The good that I would, I do not, and that which I would not, that I do (Rom. 7:19, KJV). Here it sounds as if, under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, Paul is teaching clearly that there are times in which he acts against his strongest inclination.
It is extremely unlikely that the apostle is here giving us a revelation about the technical operation of the will. Rather, he is stating plainly what every one of us has experienced. We all have a desire to flee from sin. The all things being equal syndrome is in view here. All things being equal, I would like to be perfect. I would like to be rid of sin, just as I would like to be rid of my excess weight. But my desires do not remain constant. They fluctuate. When my stomach is full it is easy to go on a diet. When my stomach is empty my desire level changes. Temptations arise with the changing of my desires and appetites. Then I do things that, all things being equal, I would not want to do.
Paul sets before us the very real conflict of human desires, desires that yield evil choices. The Christian lives within a battlefield of conflicting desires. Christian growth involves the strengthening of desires to please Christ accompanied by the weakening of desires to sin. Paul called it the warfare between the flesh and the Spirit.
To say that we always choose according to our strongest inclination at the moment is to say that we always choose what we want. At every point of choice we are free and self-determined. To be self-determined is not the same thing as determinism. Determinism means that we are forced or coerced to do things by external forces. External forces can, as we have seen, severely limit our options, but they cannot destroy choice altogether. They cannot impose delight in things we hate. When that happens, when hatred turns to delight, it is a matter of persuasion, not coercion. I cannot be forced to do what I take delight in doing already.
The neutral view of free will is impossible. It involves choice without desire. That is like having an effect without a cause. It is something from nothing, which is irrational. The Bible makes it clear that we choose out of our desires. A wicked desire produces wicked choices and wicked actions. A godly desire produces godly deeds. Jesus spoke in terms of corrupt trees producing corrupt fruit. A fig tree does not yield apples and an apple tree produces no figs. So righteous desires produce righteous choices and evil desires produce evil choices.
Sproul, R. (. C. 1986. Chosen by God. Tyndale House Publishers: Wheaton, IL
This is chapter 3 from the book entitled Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul. Please do bear in mind in discussing this that this is only one chapter and that some of the points here are further developed and explored throughout the book.
While i understand what Dr. Sproul is getting at, this is an unfortunate statement. Something from nothing is not irrational, it is indeed, how the creation came about, and no one has ever successfully accused God of irrationality! It would have been better to say that for finite, limited human beings, it is something from nothing, which is irrational...ex nihilo, nihilo fit only applies to the creation, not the Creator.
I would agree in the case of God's creative power. He created the Universe from nothing. But in the case above we're addressing human will. Indeed, does not God's will (at least as far as we're concerned) also operate by the same principle as ours insofar as God does not make random choices but rather those according to His desires (which, fortunately for us, happen to be immutably good)?
So, in the end what is the final decision maker?
If in a believer, with a new nature, facing the temptations to sin, why does he sin and when he does is it God willing him to do so?
Moreover, Sproul is setting up a strawman to knockdown.
No one is defending the neutral theory since choices are based on desires.
The question is what the the ultimate source and thus, who bears the responsiblity for that choice, God or man?
In other words, when we sin, we must reject God's Holy Spirit, and do our own will.
Is that part of God's will for our lives, to sin?
The problem the Calvinists have is that they will not concede that man can resist God's will a resistance that God allows and does control, but nevertheless a resistance against God and foreknown by Him. (Acts.7:51)
Would you mind supplying a passage of Scripture that indicates that God created the material univers from, "nothing." And, while you're at it, you might take a stab at explaining exactly what you believe "nothing" is?
I will supply Scriptures that indicate the Material Universe was created by God, but not from "nothing."
The question is not whether or not men can choose, but whether it is possible to surrender choice to whim or passion and not be responsible. It is impossble for a human beings to do anything without choosing to do it.
Here is a something I wrote for another purpose, but fits here:
The Nature of Choice
Everything we do as human beings we must choose to do. Even to do nothing requires a choice.
|Before we go any further, let's get something out of the way. As soon as you mention choice, someone will bring up the question of, "free will." Don't ever get caught in that trap. The meaning of that expression is hopelessly muddled and has nothing to do with this matter of choice.
"Do you really believe people have free will?" you will be asked. "You can't do just anything you want," it will be argued. "People's behavior is determined by many things, their nature, their heredity, their subconscious, their environment, their education, their economic status....blah, blah, blah."
All of that has nothing to do with the fact that to do anything, you must choose to do it. You do not have to study theology, psychology, and philosophy for a million years to know this is true. You can test it for yourself, once and for all, and never have to worry about this question again.
Sit down in a chair somewhere. (You'll have to choose to do it.) Now make one more choice. Choose not to choose anything else. Just sit there and let your nature, your heredity, your subconscious, environmental influences, your education, or your money determine your actions.
What happens when you do that? Nothing!
If you never choose anything again, you will never do anything again, but notice, even to not choose you must choose.
The ability to choose, which we call volition, is not about what can be chosen, or how one chooses, or why one chooses, but the fact that a human being not only can choose, but must choose, and that this necessity of choice cannot be avoided or bypassed so long as one is fully conscious. It means that everything a human being does is done by choice.
| I am convinced the non-concept called, "free will," is impossible of meaning, and is always a confusion of desire and choice, which are totally different concepts.
The terms "free", and "choice", and "will" all appear in Scripture, and always they are clearly differentiated. The devilishly confused expression, "fee will," never appears in Scripture.
What Calvinits hate about the undeniable fact that human beings cannot do anything without choosing to do it is its converse, which is, if human beings do anything, they have to have choosen to do it.
It is impossible for a human being to do anything without choosing to do it. It is impossible for a person to believe in Jesus Christ without choosing to do it. Salvation is not an accident that happens to someone.
Ok, I'll play. If God created the universe from pre-existent matter, where did that matter come from? Regardless of how far back you want to take it, at some point there existed only God. Unless you want to argue for the eternal nature of the universe itself apart from God, at which point I will throw out my Bible.
Provide a scripture that says He didnt..And remember that before the first line of Genesis the Universe was already in existance and the Spirit of God was already brooding over it .Genesis is about the "organization " of the earth ..
That is fine. I have never questioned your sincerity in honestly seeking the truth in this or any other issue, and I also appreciate differences of opinion rationally presented, as yours always are.
On this issue, I cannot accept any concept that mixes "desire" and the human capacity/necessity to think and act by choice, called volition. My argument is that a human being cannot do anything that is strictly human without consciously choosing to do so, and if a human being does anything without consciously choosing to do so, (like coughing or sneezing) it is not strictly speaking a human action, but merely a biological or caused event.
I also cannot consider anything to have moral consequence if is not by choice. Any human behavior that is not the result of conscious choice, has no moral character, but is like a sneeze or cough, merely a caused event.
There is an attempt by some to becloud this issue by claiming that choice itself is, somehow, determined. But that which is determined is not chosen, but merely a naturally (or if God is the determiner) a supernaturally caused event.
Then how can God be Sovereign if everything a human being does is by uncaused and undetermined choice?
That this seems a problem for some has always amazed me. On the one hand they seem to say, God is omnipotent and omniscient and nothing can happen that he does not determine, but on the other hand they seem to say, if man really can and must choose everything he does and thinks, that would make it impossible for God to be sovereign. But that is putting a limitation on God. Why couldn't God determine everything if man is truly a volitional being? What is the limitation on the God that prevents Him from determining everything even if man's volition choice is not caused by anything?
Now, to be honest, I know what the apparent contradiction is. If God determines everything, but man's choice is not determined, then everything is not determined, and God does not determine everything. And this would be a contradiction, too, if one simple thing, called context, was not being ignored. Human beings live in a material temporal world and all their choices and actions are made in that context. Within that context none of their choices are determined. But God is not bound by the limits of time and materiality, and within the context of the super-existense, of which our material existense is only a subset, there is no reason events in the temporal/material existense cannot be completely determined, including all that every human being will ever do, and do by their uncaused volitional choice.
This does not solve all the problems, and great care must be maintained to keep these two contexts separate, but I see no philosophical, logical, or even theological problem with this view. While it solves the problem, it does so in a way the will not be acceptable to those bent on holding their Calvinist views, no-matter-what.
I assure you, this is not a game.
You begin with an assumption, when you say, "If God created the universe from pre-existent matter...." Matter is the substance of the material universe, what we call the natural world. But the material universe is not all that God created, and probably only an infinitesimal part of all He has created. We know He created everything, which includes not only the material universe, but all of the supernatural, or what the Bible calls, the celestial realms of Angels and other wonderful subpernatural beings, as well.
Regardless of how far back you want to take it, at some point there existed only God.
This, also, I think is a mistake. When wouldn't there have been God? In fact, the idea that God is eternal means that there never was a time when God wasn't. And when was God's nature different? The Bible clearly declares that God works and creates, it is His naure (part of it, I mean). Also, you statment suggests that the works of god are done in, "time," and that some eternal things can exist before or after other eternal things. Surely you don't suppose God is limited to creating things which are not eternal, not existent in the same way he is. Then, if God makes eternal things, there would never be a state, in time or otherwise, when those eternal things which God creates and God Himself, did not both exist.
The Bible frequently distinguishes between the natural material world and the supernatural world as the seen (natural or temporal world) and unseen (supernatural or eternal world). For example, "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:18)
Now surely, the things which are not seen are not nothing, else what would our faith be in? "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb 11:1) Certainly faith is not evidence of nothing. So the "not seen" is not "nothing."
Now the Bible clearly says, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." (Heb 11:3) So we see, the things which are seen (that is, the material temporal world) are not made out of nothing, that is ex nihilo, but for things which cannot be seen (the eternal and supernatural).
The problem with the concept of ex nihilo is that it was derived from an amalgum of mathematical concepts and paganism. In fact, there cannot be, "nothing," and nothing can come from what is not, but must also come from something.
So long as God is, there is something. And this is another way to consider the question. You mentioned the peculiar conscept of, "there existed only God." I'll ignore the obvious implication of a temporal quality to God's existense this introduces, and ask this question, what does "only God," mean? Since we cannot say, "was there a time when God had not yet created anything, since that suggests God exists with temporal limits, which we know is not true, what can we say? Is there some sense in which, in some mode, God can be called existent even thought there is nothing else existent, so that we would have to describe God in this imagined mode as existing nowhere doing nothing ....
It is inconceiveable. It is absurd. It is not possible for God to be and for nothing else to be, unless God were unable to be the source of all that is, and there were nothing else. If God is, there is always all that is eternal with Him.
The material world had a beginning, because the material world is temporal and constrained by the laws of material existence. The supernatural world of which God is the source, and it all "springs" from him is eternal. That does not mean that everything in the supernatural realm is eternal, but that the realm itself must be, else it could not be God's realm.
The natural world is a subset of the supernatural world, and was (as a technical explanation) differentiated from the supernatural world by the imposition of those qualtities we call the spatial/temporal(physical)laws of nature.
If you say God made the material world out of nothing, it makes God nothing.
Acts 17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
Col. 1:17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Then you said: Provide a scripture that says He didnt...
Can you provide a Scripture that says God didn't make the world from peach pits? Can you provide a Scripture that says God did not make the world from Heaven's trash? (Sometimes it seems like that's what it is.)
Of course you can't, and I'm pulling your leg a little for asking me a question you knew wasn't exactly kosher. Never mind, I did provide just such a verse, or verses, in my response to Frumanchu, here, post #17.
It is inconceiveable. It is absurd. It is not possible for God to be and for nothing else to be, unless God were unable to be the source of all that is, and there were nothing else. If God is, there is always all that is eternal with Him.
I admittedly have a difficulty with this from a logical standpoint. Here's why. The very act of creation carries with it a 'before' and 'after.' Otherwise they were not created...they simply were. You and I were clearly created. We are promised eternity with God, meaning that we shall be with Him eternally...going forward. Do you maintaint that our souls pre-existed our incarnation? Satan had to already exist at the point of creation. Satan cannot have been in the bottomless pit while simultaneously appearing in Eden.
I think we're off on a tangent here, but it raises some interesting questions. I certainly maintain that God not only creates but sustains all things.
What were all those "things made from?
We can argue over the hebrew word for create...But unless you do not believe the truth of the New Testament ...John stated it lest there be any misunderstanding
TDNT Reference Root Word
TDNT - 1:681,117 a prolongation and middle voice form of a primary verb
Part of Speech
v Outline of Biblical Usage
1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
a) of events
3) to arise, appear in history, come upon the stage
a) of men appearing in public
4) to be made, finished
a) of miracles, to be performed, wrought
5) to become, be made
Psa 33:6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth