Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Free Will

Ah, my old friend, The Free Will Debate. This is a particularly nostalgic debate, because it was the stone that shattered my belief in Christianity. And now (the blog) All Considering is bringing it up again and causing me to ramble upon its familiar paths.
Background: I was raised in a faith based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. (a Lutheran denomination) And I became an enterprising young thinker and stumbled across the debate of Free Will that had so haunted Martin Luther. Only, instead of coming to his conclusion, (that God chooses who goes to Heaven, and man chooses who goes to Hell)... yes, that was his conclusion... I came to a different one. And that was that: Martin Luther was rationalizing his faith, basically copping out of answering that question, there is no evidence in the Bible itself (if one takes a literalist interpretation) to support the idea that man has free will.
So I began a year of my life where I believed (as the Bible literally teaches), that God chooses the destinies of man. I became angry at God, disillusioned, and surly. I did not want to go to Heaven, because I felt that if God causes some people to go to Hell he was not worth worshiping. Well, after that realization, I became disillusioned in the whole Bible and began a life filled with much less inner turmoil, abandoning the belief that the Bible is really all that great a book to base my life upon.

And now I come back to The Free Will Debate, but I realize that the options are not as clear-cut or limited as when I debated with myself as a Christian. And the debate seems vastly less important. After all, there is now (in my perspective) more to life than Heaven and Hell, there is a vast array of options and possibilities.

First of all, the terms have become substantially more vague. Who, or what, is the determining force behind predestination, if it exists? How can we prove that there is free will without knowing every detailed factor in each choice? How do we even define a choice? Some people do not see alternatives even though they are there. (For example, they think that leaving a relationship is their only solution to a specific problem.) In their own mind, they do not have a choice, even though externally they do. So not only do we have internal and external choices, but we have a million different "causes" for our actions. Society, genetics, God, karma, destiny, etc.
I do believe in free will, but obviously there are a lot of factors to be taken into account. Sometimes they come into conflict. Like, if society says I need to be a stick-thin girl, but my genetics gave me big bones and a healthy appetite. Which is more important? We base our decisions on what is important to us, which may or may not be determined at least in part by external factors. The fact remains that there is always a choice- the question is, how do human beings make choices? Some reason out the pros and cons, some go by impulse, some follow the advice and influence of others, some follow their own whims. Why do humans make choices in such different ways? What makes humans fundamentally different (or similar) to each other? What creates a person?
The question of free will is extremely hard to answer because anytime you try to delve into deep discussion about it, you end up stumped by impossible-to-answer questions like the previously mentioned ones.

So I'm interested in your opinions. Do you find The Free Will Debate to be an important one? An impossible one? Do you know all the answers? Please share. :)


  1. BTW, part of this blog post is a comment I made to All Considering's blog. I think the link is in my sidebar, but in case it's not, here is the blog (which I highly recommend)...

  2. Hi-

    If I may suggest please read my post dated 4/16/09 - "Choice Theory" - you will then know what I believe about what makes us choose/behave - I believe in free will/choice 100% - but please read the post. K.

    Love you

  3. I enjoy reading your blog because you aren't afraid to bring up topics that can cause some controversy!

    I have an interesting past with choosing my beliefs, a past which would take up far too much space here in the comments, but let's just say that from a young age I felt a deep curiosity in this thing called "God." I've always felt I knew a higher power existed and have explored many options on how to incorporate the importance of God in to my life. I've been shaped by others, given in to the masses, rebelled, joined again, questioned, judged and am constantly finding my own way.

    The conclusion I have come to does not completely answer your question: We cannot know.

    We cannot know if man has free will, but we can assume we have a choice in our destiny and do as much in our power to work towards positive things. We cannot know why people make certain decisions, but can strive to understand their reasoning behind them.

    Simply put, we cannot know for certain if there even is a God. No one that I know of has been able to die and come back to tell us.

    So what I believe is this: it is not important how you choose to worship your God. Religion is man-made. What IS important is that you choose something and that something you choose is based on an educated and informed decision making process. It IS important to take the values of that sect of belief and do your best to live by them. It IS important to raise children to question everything so they find their own way in this confusing world of man, free will and religion.

    It is MOST important to be tolerant of others and look at things from their perspective. Thinking you are the only one that has found the "right" way is what causes wars, conflicts, discrimination and bigotry.

    Sorry if I got off topic. :)

  4. thanks gail, i did read that and was definitely inspired by it. :) thanks for sharing that with me!

  5. That's why I've decided to be 'spiritually free', that 'label' was easier to handle for me at some point in my life. Now, I don't think about it anymore... I just am.... when I remember myself. :)

    We just are.

    What?... every-thing and no-thing all the time. That's why is imposible to define ourselves in a way or another. We lost our 'free will' when we intent to use 'tags'.

    Anyhow... I hope my comment was a bit useful. Good post (:

  6. Hi Iktomi,

    Some things we can never be sure of but I think we should usually assume because they are necessary, practical, or fulfilling.

    In descending order of certainty, it is necessary to assume our shared senses of morality, logic, and math (it is pointless to wonder if 2+2 == 4 because our brains cannot conceive it differently); practical to assume a world outside our mind, a mind inside our peers, a reality outside our world, and that sense perception corresponds to reality (science relies on the last one); and fulfilling to assume a purpose to life, honesty in friends, sincerity in strangers, love in lovers, and good faith in rivals (this kind of optimism is rewarded more often than not).

    My answer to your question "is there free will?" combines all three. The assumption of free will is probably necessary because most people cannot conceive of themselves as non-free, certainly practical because legal and social systems derive their right to reward and punish from people's freedom to choose, and arguably more fulfilling because we have evolved to desire freedom more than not.

    But does free will contradict divine sovereignty? I don't think so. It would be a contradiction if we had two mutually exclusive absolutes--but we are not absolutely free. We're free to act within the limits of this material world, free to intend within the limits of our imagination (a point I think Quixotica is making about language as a limiter). And if a god were all powerful he would be powerful enough to grant freedom to some without violating his sovereignty.

    As for why different people choose different actions, I would have to trot out the old holy trinity of choice: genes, experience, and will.


  7. I believe we are free moral agents but our choices are bounded by the circumstances of our birth and life.

    I believe in a God who created a world of sexual reproduction and recombinant DNA and people of free will. I believe in a God who is so intelligent that he knows every possible combination of human/plant/animal that might possibly be created and then set in motion a world of free will and chance that He too might be delighted with novelty as to what actually came to be!

    I believe in a God who foresee both the beauty and goodness man was capable of creating, and the horror and took a chance on beauty and goodness winning out.

    I believe in a God capable of experiencing surprise and novelty, in good ways and bad. So yes, when the Bible states that God changed his mind, I think it states that truly.

    God of Possibilities by Gregory A. Boyd does a great job of explaining this idea which is called "Open Theism" or "the Open View of the Future".

    I believe in Jesus because that is how God revealed Himself to me, and though it is considered heretical by many, I respect that God may reveal himself to other people in other religions/philosophies.

    I do not believe a Being creative enough to bring life and substance into being could possibly be boring enough to have predetermined everything that will ever happen (sort of like writing a novel, and then making animated automatons to act it out). I am an artist and a writer, and I know that creaters delight in novelty!

    Does God know the end from the beginning? Yes, of every possible choice. But I posit that he does not know with certainty which of these many possible ends we will choose and others will choose and the laws of physics will choose, though he certainly knows them all.

    And that is why the promise is "I will never leave you" and "I am with you always" and "nothing can separate us from the love of God" and never was any guarantee of a particular circumstantial outcome.

    Nuff about what I believe, but thank you for a place in cyberspace to spread it out and look at it again for myself. With peace and joy, SS