The Independent Variable - Matt Haugland

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Free Will Semantics

Why do most people change the definition of "free will" when talking about it in a religious context?

In normal life, "free will" refers to the ability to make voluntary choices. The opposite of "free will" is being forced to do something we don't want to do. The factors that influence what someone wants to do aren't the issue. The bottom line is: if it's voluntary, it's free will. If it's unvoluntary, it's not free will. Pretty simple.

Why then is there such a debate about whether God gives people free will? It's quite obvious that he does. I can't think of any decision I've ever made where God was forcing me to make it against my will. Yet people seem to have a problem with the fact that parts of the Bible say he predestines and parts say we have free will. They say it's a great mystery that we'll never understand. Some even use it as the prime example of how we "can't comprehend the mind of God". But I can't comprehend why people have such a problem with this.

I think the reason is that many people use a different definition of "free will" in this context. The normal meaning of "free will" is thrown out the window. Instead, it becomes something like the ability to make decisions independent of causes, independent of our nature, or independent of God or God's plan. I know what they mean, but I don't think it should be called "free will". Maybe "uncaused will" or "uncaused desire" or "atheistic will" would be better. [note: the 'new' definition of free will has made it into some dictionaries as an alternative definition, but it's really only used in religious/philosophical contexts]

I think it's simple. If God determines what we want to do, he in turn determines what we do. And if we do what we want, we have free will. So there's no conflict at all between theistic determinism and free will.

The only conflict is when you use a different definition of free will that excludes determinism (then obviously there's a conflict because they become contradictory by definition). But if people use that definition when talking about God, why don't they use it in other contexts? I've never heard anyone say anything like "I went to a Sooner football game because I wanted to, but it wasn't a free choice because I grew up in Norman and my parents are Sooner fans and that's probably why I like the Sooners and wanted to go to the game instead of a movie." That would be silly. Of course it was a free choice, even though it might've been determined by external factors.

As for whether or not God determines what we want to do, that's a different topic. But if you believe God created us (which would mean he determined our physical needs and designed our brains to respond in certain ways to various stimuli), I think it'd be kinda hard not to believe he also determined what we want. Thus (for that reason and others), I think it's quite possible/likely that he determined everything we do. And I strongly believe he gives us free will. No conflict there.


At 2:03 PM, Anonymous jason said...

I agree with what you say. I believe before we come to this planet we chart what life and life events we are going to have. I believe we do this to perfect our souls for God. God created us to learn and experience. I believe in fate or a predetermined destiny. I don’t however this conflicts with free will, because life you say it is not the same thing. If it was predetermined that we were going to have a car accident, go into a certain field, have a certain spouse and kids, that doesn’t take away from free will. We may not choose, at least on this plan everything that happens to us, but we chose how we act and learn from these things, thus being free will. As for God choosing our needs, I am not sure. God created humans therefore making up who we are, so it would in a way seem to be logical, however he also gives us a choice to be who we want to be, but again he made us so is the choice ours really to begin with? I actually will be writing a blog about our life charts and why we come to Earth very soon.

At 2:05 PM, Anonymous jason said...

sorry about the typo's I didn't proof read lol

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Even So... said...

Good stuff...


Post a Comment