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Free will is a practical question for the mindfulness therapist

But denying it is an article of faith for Darwin’s followers.

Further to “Psychiatrist slammed in National Geographic publication for signing Dissent from Darwinism statement”: There we learn from a book reviewer that psychiatrist Jeff Schwartz’s “obsessions corrupted his work,” which is developing credible mindfulness-based treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder. Signing the Dissent statement was the evidence offered. Such is the fate, presumably, of all who pause at Darwin’s Westminster Abbey grave to say “goodbye”

The reality is, thanks in part to attitudes such as the reviewer exhibits—judging the treatment by the philosophy of its developer, not by evidence—psychiatry is in such a huge mess that the its handbook, the DSM is no longer accepted in key venues.

The issue, for Schwartz, turns on whether or not there is such a thing as free will. The assumption of free will is critical to mindfulness therapies for practical purposes.

Philosophies and religions have various opinions about ultimate free will. The therapist must ask, is my patient capable of carrying out a program that requires that he choose to focus his attention on A and not B? In practice, this turns out to be true for many patients, which makes the therapy useful. There is neuroscience evidence for brain reorganization as a result, showing that it is not merely an imagined effect.

Now, if someone wishes to claim, as many outspoken advocates of Darwinian evolution have, for example, that free will is impossible, the only thing that a mindfulness therapist can say is, go away. Either they are mistaken or the research results from mindfulness therapies are.

Or—a third possibility— the issues the Darwinians wish to address are not really science issues anyway, but philosophical ones. Put another way, Schwartz wouldn;t want to lose funding for research or treatment on the basis that free will does not really exist when the research results from a mindfulness treatment are actually quite promising. However one chooses to explain that.

See also The Spiritual Brain.

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55 Responses to Free will is a practical question for the mindfulness therapist

  1. Aquinas argued that perfect happiness is found not in created things but in God, who is the supreme good. Man’s moral constitution consisted of sensuality, appetites, the will, and reason. What confers upon the man the attributes of morality is that these elements are the ingredients of free acts. If a person were moved to act by his appetites in a mechanical or rigorously determined way, his acts would not be free and couldn’t be considered from a moral point of view (Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy, 5th Edition, pages 189-190).

    The problem of free will exists because the scientists of the Renaissance developed a scientific mode of thought that stated that nature could be observed and analyzed mathematically. They then extrapolated that thought to include everything else: the planets above, the smallest particles below, and the realm of human behavior (what Aquinas and other philosophers denoted as free will); all could be reduced to a mechanical model.

    To reduce everything to mere electrochemical impulses misses the point. God did more than create us with just a body and a brain. He also created us with special mental and emotional qualities. A key part of our mental and emotional makeup is free will.

    Think about this: Do you appreciate having the freedom to choose what you will do and say, what you will eat and wear, what kind of work you will do, and where and how you will live? Or would you want someone to dictate your every word and action every moment of your life? No normal person wants his life taken out of his control so completely. Why not?

    Because of the way God made us. The Bible tells us that God created man in his ‘image and likeness,’ and one of the faculties God himself has is freedom of choice. (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 7:6) When he created humans, he gave them that same wonderful faculty—the gift of free will. That is one reason why we find it frustrating to be enslaved by oppressive rulers. To go with the gift of free will, God gave us the ability to think, weigh matters, make decisions, and know right from wrong. (Hebrews 5:14) Thus, free will was to be based on intelligent choice. We were not made like mindless robots having no will of their own. Nor were we created to act out of instinct as were the animals. Instead, our marvelous brain was designed to work in harmony with our freedom of choice.

  2. This is a false dichotomy based on the 17-19th century deterministic physics. Laws of physics as known today are fundamentally indeterministic (quantum theory, capable of making only probabilistic predictions), hence they don’t contradict additional choice.

  3. Hi Barb,

    I have actually been discussing the doctrine of election with various people on Facebook and of course ‘predestination’ and ‘free will’ were all dully thrown about with varying opinions being put forward.

    I have been looking into this at some depth this weekend because of it (I am now in the process of reading Wayne Grudems ‘Systematic Theology’)and I think i can say with confidence there really is no such thing as ‘free will’.

    After all God doesn’t have ‘free will’, and seeing as how we created to do His will, neither do we.

    We either do God’s will (as believers), or we are slaves to sin (unbelievers), therefore none of us really has ‘free will’.

    Of course that doesn’t stop us from making choices, but we need to remember that God ordains everythin that goes on, whether we make a good choice or a bad one, whther we mean something for good or mean it for bad, God has ordained it. all.

  4. I can say with confidence that there really is such a thing as free will. Stating personal beliefs or opinions as fact make it so.

  5. 5

    And just who exactly are the “many outspoken advocates of Darwinian evolution” who have claimed that “free will is impossible”?

  6. Can someone supply a consensus definition of “free will”?

    I can make choices within the limited options available. I can for instance agree with my wife or I can shut up. Therefore I have free will?

  7. psychiatry is in such a huge mess that the its handbook, the DSM is no longer accepted in key venues

    DSM is as an American manual (and not actually the official manual of mental disease for the USA although the crazy US health system has propelled it into prime position there). The world outside North America uses ICD-10 as it prime manual for mental disease.

    This follows the totally fallacious story about Jane Austen replacing Darwin on the £10 note.

    If, as I suspect, both of these were written by Denyse I am really surprised that as Canadian you seem unable to see beyond the US standpoint.

  8. AF,

    From a Christian perspective I don’t think ‘Free will’ really exists. We all have a will, we can all make choices, but we either serve God or serve sin. Whatever we will is derived from the two powers that influence everything we do in this life.

    For instance, Adam was placed in the garden of Eden to do the ‘will of God’. He was of course able to make choices; naming the animals, eating from certain trees, but he foolishly chose to disobey Him fooled into believing that he had the free will to do so by the serpent.

  9. And just who exactly are the “many outspoken advocates of Darwinian evolution” who have claimed that “free will is impossible”?

    Jerry Coyne, I guess. “We are legion”. ;)

  10. “I think i can say with confidence there really is no such thing as ‘free will’.” – PeterJ

    Ah, a Scottish Calvinist, isn’t that a peach?

    That’s what a bender of a weekend on FB will do for you!

    “he foolishly chose to disobey Him fooled into believing that he had the free will to do so by the serpent.”

    Did he have the ‘free will’ to “foolishly choose” or not? He was fooled, yes. But did he freely choose to let himself be fooled, to be a fool when he could have chosen otherwise?

    Goodness, politics in Scotland sounds so deterministic these days! ;)

  11. Hi Gregory,

    I would never really have classed myself as a Calvanist, Scottish yes, but please don’t hold that against me ;)

    “But did he freely choose to let himself be fooled, to be a fool when he could have chosen otherwise?”

    Well I suppose that’s the crux of the matter isn’t it, did he choose freely, or was there something else at play here?

    I mean had the serpent not put the idea into his head, would he out of his own ‘free will’ done the deed, in other words; how free was his will?

    He didn’t do God’s will, he may to a certain degree have done his own will, but he certainly carried out that of the serpent.

    Make sense?

  12. Anddid the serpent have a choice? What was in it for him?

  13. “I can for instance agree with my wife or I can shut up.”

    I love it, Alan! I assume there is a third choice – to say, or at least to think, “One day I’ll – I’ll – well, one day I will, that’s all.”

    “My wife makes the small decisions, and I make the big ones. So far there haven’t been any big ones.”

    The freedom is the freedom to act in character, and to form your character by your decisions. Certainly not a simple concept to define, but a long way from tranlsating Augustine’s “arbitrio” in terms of English “arbitrary.”

  14. 14
    Kantian Naturalist

    In re: (9) — sure, and it’s only a matter of time before the regulars here trot out the same tired old quotes from Provine, Crick, or Rosenberg. But the “many outspoken advocates” — where are they, exactly?

    Though the notion of “free will” is hard to define, there is a somewhat deeper or more difficult problem — is “free will” an observational term or a theoretical one? That is, is the concept of “free will” already at work in just observing that we are capable of voluntary and involuntary actions? Or is free will supposed to explain how we can have both?

    Another thorny issue here is, of course, the notion of compatibilism. I’m willing to bet that far more biologists are compatibilists than are determinists. Whether compatibilism is a coherent or plausible view is another matter — what matters here is that, if they take themselves to be compatibilists, then they are not trying to “claim that free will is impossible”. At most, the naturalist would be arguing against a specific conception of free will — the libertarian conception.

    So what we see here is, as usual for this website, the intellectually dishonest maneuver in which a specific conception of a concept is presented as the only conception available.

  15. I’m willing to bet that far more biologists are compatibilists than are determinists.

    I doubt any scientist alive today would self-identify as a determinist.

  16. Peter,

    If Adam had no free will, then I have no idea what you mean when you say he chose to do something against the will of God. Would you say that rain chooses to fall?

  17. Collin,

    What I’m saying is that God placed man on the earth to do His will in all situations, not our own.

    Of course we have the ability to make choices, but those choices should align with God’s will.

    If for some reason our choices do not align with God’s will, then they are being aligned to our ‘sinful nature’.

    Either way – we serve.

  18. I have actually been discussing the doctrine of election with various people on Facebook and of course ‘predestination’ and ‘free will’ were all dully thrown about with varying opinions being put forward.

    Predestination is at odds with free will.

    I have been looking into this at some depth this weekend because of it (I am now in the process of reading Wayne Grudems ‘Systematic Theology’)and I think i can say with confidence there really is no such thing as ‘free will’.

    Here is where we disagree.

    After all God doesn’t have ‘free will’, and seeing as how we created to do His will, neither do we.

    How do you know God doesn’t have free will. Who in this universe can force an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God to do his or her bidding? That is simply illogical. God chose to create. That implies free will.

    We either do God’s will (as believers), or we are slaves to sin (unbelievers), therefore none of us really has ‘free will’.

    But the choice is there, and that is what makes us free moral agents. Hence, we can say we have free will. Not having a choice would mean that we didn’t have free will.

    Of course that doesn’t stop us from making choices, but we need to remember that God ordains everythin that goes on, whether we make a good choice or a bad one, whther we mean something for good or mean it for bad, God has ordained it. all.

    I mentioned this in another thread on here with respect to God’s ability to foreknow events. Consider a few points to ponder: If each one’s moment and manner of death were already fixed at the time of birth or earlier, there would be no need to avoid dangerous situations or to care for one’s health, and safety precautions would not alter mortality rates. But do you believe that a battlefield during war is as safe as one’s home far away from the war zone? Do you care for your health or take your children to the doctor? Obviously, taking precautions is beneficial.

    Also, let’s consider a couple of questions that this point of yours raises:

    Is everything that happens “the will of God”?
    2 Pet. 3:9: “Jehovah . . . is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” Remember, though, that not all respond to his patience. Clearly, it is not “the will of God” when some fail to repent.

    Jer. 7:23-26: “This word I did express in command upon them [Israel], saying: ‘Obey my voice, and I will become your God, and you yourselves will become my people; and you must walk in all the way that I shall command you, in order that it may go well with you.’ But they did not listen . . . I kept sending to you all my servants the prophets, daily getting up early and sending them. But they did not listen to me, and they did not incline their ear, but they kept hardening their neck.” Obviously, the badness taking place in Israel was not “the will of God.”

    Does God foreknow and foreordain everything?
    Isa. 46:9, 10: “I am the Divine One and there is no other God, nor anyone like me; the One telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done; the One saying, ‘My own counsel will stand, and everything that is my delight I shall do.’”

    Aocording to Isaiah, God makes known his purpose, foreordains certain matters in connection with its accomplishment, and has the almighty power to assure that these will be fulfilled.

    Deut. 31:20, 21: “I shall bring them [the nation of Israel] to the ground that I have sworn about to their forefathers, which flows with milk and honey, and they will certainly eat and be satisfied and grow fat and turn to other gods, and they will indeed serve them and treat me with disrespect and break my covenant. And it must occur that when many calamities and distresses will come upon them, this song [recounting how they acted because of failing to appreciate God’s favor] must also answer before them as a witness, . . . for I well know their inclination that they are developing today before I bring them into the land about which I have sworn.”

    Here, please note that God’s ability to discern the outcome of their course did not mean that he was responsible for it or that it was what he wanted for them, but on the basis of what they were doing he could foresee the outcome. Similarly, on the basis of what is observed, a weather forecaster may predict the weather with a great degree of accuracy, but he does not cause it or necessarily like it.

    Does God’s ability to foreknow and foreordain events prove that he does this regarding all the actions of all his creatures?
    Rev. 22:17: “Let anyone hearing say: ‘Come!’ And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.” The choice is not foreordained; it is left to the individual.

    Rom. 2:4, 5: “Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and long-suffering, because you do not know that the kindly quality of God is trying to lead you to repentance? But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath and of the revealing of God’s righteous judgment.” There is no forcing of individuals to pursue a prescribed course. But there is accountability for what one does.

    Students of Bible are confident that free will does exist.

  19. Barb

    You give the impression of someone pretty erudite in the ways of fundamentalist Christianity. Can you give me an intelligible definition of free will?

  20. Barb

    “But the choice is there, and that is what makes us free moral agents. Hence, we can say we have free will. Not having a choice would mean that we didn’t have free will.”

    Of course you can choose, but you either make a choice that aligns with God’s will, or being a slave to sin your choices align with it.

    “How do you know God doesn’t have free will. Who in this universe can force an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God to do his or her bidding? That is simply illogical. God chose to create. That implies free will.”

    Yes, but we have to ackowledge that there are certain things that God cannot do. For instance, He can not sin, He can not lie, He can not break His covenants, He can’t not love His son, and so on.

    For once I find myself agreeing with Alan here and think it might help if you could give a definition of what you consider free will to be.

    This

  21. Mr. Fox, I am not a fundamentalist.

    My definition of free will was noted on here a few months ago: freedom of choice in making decisions, whether moral (should I have an abortion?) or inconsequential (should I wear the blue shirt today?). Essentially, free will indicates that we are all free moral agents. We do have the freedom of choice to do good or bad.

    When you think about it, free choice within the boundaries of God’s laws is not be burdensome but rather results in a delightful variety of food, homes, art, and music. Properly exercised, free will should result in a wonderful, ever-fascinating life on a paradise earth. It’s the “properly exercised” part that most of humanity gets wrong.

  22. Barb,

    If you are a born again believer, filed with the Spirit of God, you are called to do His will. End of, really.

    So you either do it, or you don’t.

    Take the Lord’s prayer as an example.

    “Let THY will be done”

    I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where it says that we can use our own ‘free will’, unless where it talks about giving a ‘free will offering’ but even that doesn’t work in favour of man’s ‘free will’.

  23. My definition of free will was noted on here a few months ago: freedom of choice in making decisions, whether moral (should I have an abortion?) or inconsequential (should I wear the blue shirt today?). Essentially, free will indicates that we are all free moral agents. We do have the freedom of choice to do good or bad.

    Well, that coincides with my effort at parsing “free will” as constrained choice. I can do whatever I have within my power to do and not more. And…

  24. PeterJ:

    Of course you can choose, but you either make a choice that aligns with God’s will, or being a slave to sin your choices align with it.

    Again, you miss the point. The fact that we have a choice indicates free will.

    Yes, but we have to ackowledge that there are certain things that God cannot do. For instance, He can not sin, He can not lie, He can not break His covenants, He can’t not love His son, and so on.

    Deuteronomy 32:4 indicates that all of God’s activities are perfect in that he expresses his attributes of justice, wisdom, love, and power in perfect balance. The Bible assures us: “Nothing is impossible to God.”—Luke 1:37, The Jerusalem Bible.

    So, then, how do we understand Hebrews 6:18, which states that it is impossible for God to lie? Hopes built on the promises of men so often lead to disappointment. The opposite is true of those who trust in God, because their hope is built on the strongest foundation in the universe, his own promise.

  25. PeterJ @ 22:

    I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where it says that we can use our own ‘free will’, unless where it talks about giving a ‘free will offering’ but even that doesn’t work in favour of man’s ‘free will’.

    Did you bother to read the scriptures I quoted earlier, which clearly show that people were given moral choices to make?

    Jeremiah 21:8 reads “And to this people you will say, ‘This is what Jehovah has said: “Here I am putting before YOU people the way of life and the way of death.”

    Ezekiel 31:11-13: Say to them, ‘“As I am alive,” is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living. Turn back, turn back from YOUR bad ways, for why is it that YOU should die, O house of Israel?”’

    Galatians 6:7: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”

    God extends to everybody a free choice. Through Moses, God admonished the people of Israel: “I have put life and death before you . . . and you must choose life in order that you may keep alive, you and your offspring, by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him.”—Deut. 30:19, 20.

  26. Hi Barb,

    Thank you for the Scriptures, but again it is glaringly obvious what God is asking of his people, He is of course seeking that they turn from whatever they are doing and do His will, not their own, or that of their sinful nature.

    In each of those verses the only conclusion we can realistically draw is that God’s will was not being done.

    And that is my point, Barb.

    We either do the will of the Father, or we don’t.

    Take Christ in the Garden of Gesthemeny

    “yet not My will Father, but Thyne be done”

  27. Right, but Peter you are still missing the point: we have a choice–and therefore we have free will in order to make a choice–to follow God and obey his commands or not. The Bible makes this abundantly clear.

  28. What Does Quantum Physics Have to Do with Free Will? – By Antoine Suarez – July 22, 2013
    Excerpt: What is more, recent experiments are bringing to light that the experimenter’s free will and consciousness should be considered axioms (founding principles) of standard quantum physics theory. So for instance, in experiments involving “entanglement” (the phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”), to conclude that quantum correlations of two particles are nonlocal (i.e. cannot be explained by signals traveling at velocity less than or equal to the speed of light), it is crucial to assume that the experimenter can make free choices, and is not constrained in what orientation he/she sets the measuring devices.
    To understand these implications it is crucial to be aware that quantum physics is not only a description of the material and visible world around us, but also speaks about non-material influences coming from outside the space-time.,,,
    https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/what-does-quantum-physics-have-do-free-will

  29. I do not see the justice of God in consigning anyone to a hell where that person had no choice but to go there.

    I think that no one has adequately defined free will though. I’m not sure it can be adequately defined.

    Peter, I would ask you if Adam had a sinful nature when he was in the garden before partaking of the fruit. If so, how could God create Adam with a sinful nature? If not, then how could something without free will bring to pass something contrary to God’s will? Or would you say that it was God’s will that Adam transgressed? Would God be dishonest if he commanded Adam to not partake of the fruit but actually Willed Adam to do so? And if so, then why is Adam to be blamed for fulfilling the Will of God? Shouldn’t God bless us for doing it?

  30. Collin,

    I think you’re right that no one really knows exactly what free will is (or even a limited freedom to choose), or exactly how it works. The fact that we *think* we can make free choices is probably the strongest argument that we can come up with.

    Through practical knowledge, it seems that some people have less choice than others (alcoholics and drug addicts come to mind).

    I’ve always found philosophy rich in speculation and very weak in facts or reliability, but I trust that the Bible is inspired communication from God to us, written by human hands. It’s never let me down, even when I found myself suffering.

    - In the Bible, we are assured that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. This should not be a surprise to us. I believe that’s why God frequently asks us to trust his ultimately good intensions.

    - The Bible also tells us that this world was once good, but now is now dying, the result of a attack by a powerful but evil spiritual being called Lucifer, who wants enslave humans, and to be worshipped as God.

    - God determined to judge and destroy this being and those that follow him using the very victims of the attack, namely us.

    - We are assured that God loves us all intensely and, unlike religions of theo-pacification, provided a perfect sacrifice, himself, to satisfy justice and to save us.

    - Lucifer distorts the truth and tries to manipulate us into hating God. Lucifer’s goal is to bring down as many people as possible to share his fate in what the Bible calls “the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Accusing God of “not being fair” is one such strategy. Lucifer causes tragedies and then asks, “Why didn’t God prevent this? It’s all God’s fault.”

    God has provided all of us the opportunity to be saved from destruction. I’ve chosen to serve God, accepting his sacifice for me through Jesus, and you can too.

    But let me encourage you to simply and sincerely ask God to in some way provide you with the assurance that you need to choose God and life over bitterness and death. This is not an unreasonable request. The Bible promises that God will in no way reject you if you ask with sincerity.

    Kind regards.

  31. “Through practical knowledge, it seems that some people have less choice than others (alcoholics and drug addicts come to mind).”

    to me this is actually proof of the opposite. my brother was a huge alcoholic. he was on the verge of death and seemingly had no control. yet when ultimately faced with the choice of dying or choosing to get rehab and spend years and years trying to change and fight off the drug he chose life. despite being overcome with addiction. despite facing an easy out with death. he still chose the harder and better route.

  32. Hi Collin,

    To be honest with you this whole conundrum concerning free will has only been impressed upon me over this past weekend largely because of a discussion I was involved with on Facebook with some friends, but also from a study that I have been doing on Reformed Theology. So, although I have been a Christian for the best part of 7 years this is all coming as somewhat of a revelation to me.

    Looking again at Adam there are certain things we can ascertain from Scripture concerning who was in relation to God and also what his purpose in being here was. As we know God created Adam, He breathed life into him. He then gave Him a set of commands, rules to follow, therefore I think we can safely deduce that it was God’s will that Adam was to followed in ALL situations.

    You are of the mind that for Adam not to do God’s will sin must have been prevalent in him, however Scripture assures us that sin only entered Adam the moment he turned from doing God’s will and instead did the will of the serpent.

    And this, imho, is the crux of the problem. If you have been born-again you take on the very character and nature of Christ becoming bondservants with him in doing the Father’s will. If we are true followers then that should be our greatest desire, our motivation, in fact it should be our very purpose in life. And Christ very clearly shows us this in Scripture. As the first Adam failed to do God’s will; the second Adam didn’t. And that in a sense is what this is all about, if the first Adam had ‘chosen’ to do God’s will alone he would never have fallen, and of course, Christ being faced with a similar choice in the Garden of Gethsemane, makes that very distinction; who’s will is required to be done? “Yet not my will, but THYNE be done” (emphasis mine).

    As Christians we do not have free will for this reason, not if we truly belong to Christ. I don’t think we can really argue against that. We can of course show instances in scripture where certain individuals have made ‘choices’, but if they do not align with God’s will then they are outside of it. Either way whatever you choose to do is carrying out one of two wills, you are either carrying out the will of the Father, or like Adam you are carrying out that of the serpent. And that is why I believe this man made doctrine of ‘free will’ is very dangerous.

    Collin you also mention God’s justice, and find it incredible that God could allow someone to go to hell when they seemingly had no choice. I haven’t really studied enough on this matter to give a definite answer, however I can clearly see in Scripture that God has ‘chosen’ those who will enter heaven, in fact there are many passages that discuss this. Also we can see in Revelations that there are those whose names are ‘not written in the book of life’.

    Querius touches on this in his post but I’m afraid I have to disagree with him. I do not believe we are able, within ourselves, to ‘choose’ Christ. It tells us very clearly in Scripture that we didn’t choose Him, He chose us. There is nothing within ourselves that has a hand in our Salvation, salvation comes purely through God, and God alone. If we were to say for instance ‘although Christ died on the cross for my sins, I had a choice to make’ that would mean that we have a hand in our Salvation, which of course is heresy. Our salvation is dependent on Christ and Him alone.

    Lastly I would just like to mention that I too have been an alcoholic and a drug addict. I was in this condition for 25 years of my life. However, having been chosen by God, rescued at a point in time which He ordained, I was born again and my life restored.

    If you are interested in the story I will provide a link for you. Perhaps you know someone who might benefit from reading it.

    Regards ?

    http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF.....r+Jamieson

  33. Upthread I said:

    I doubt any scientist alive today would self-identify as a determinist.

    But I find I am wrong. Jerry Coyne calls himself a determinist here.

  34. Peter

    As it happens I succumbed a month or two ago to doing a 5 part blog series looking at the distinctions/similarities between biblical views of “freedom” and “will” and modern assumptions. I’ve previously come to embrace a Reformed kind of theology, but in this series ignored that and started from first principles.

    It was specifically related to the common TE idea of creation itself being “free” as if it had a will of its own, rather than to the eliminative materialist position criticised in the OP here, but it seems to relate to what you’ve been saying (and maybe, though I says it myself as shouldn’t, nuances the issues beyond simply saying “free will exists or free will doesn’t exist”).

    Anyway, if it’s of any interest it starts here.

  35. Alan @33

    I think determinism is still quite widespread amongst “supporters of science”, despite the indeterminacy of quantum theory, especially in relation to human mental activity.

    In fact, it seems to underlie a small but vehement strand of denial of the Copenhagem interpretation: QT must be at the end deterministic, because otherwise one might have to accept free will – or that’s how the thinking seems to go.

    As I’ve said before in my day (think 1973) it was even an axiom in the social sciences – it was always nature or nurture, but never choice. For that reason I think it’s a social hangover from the worldview of the nineteenth century, when Men were Men and before science “went soft” and started listening to philosophers. Apply that to Jerry Coyne as you see fit.

  36. Apply that to Jerry Coyne as you see fit.

    I doubt Jerry Coyne is a strict determinist. No true scientist could be a strict determinist. :)

  37. No true scientist could be a strict determinist.

    Especially not our wee Jerry McCoyne.

  38. Free will is not free choice, nor is it free action. It is the capacity to will as you wish, whether you can act on it or not, regardless of the limitations of one’s physically actionable possibilities. One can be beset by all sorts of physical restrictions, physiological compunctions and addictions and still will a different outcome, even if it doesn’t – or even cannot – occur.

  39. I am always amused by the free will debates. No one advocating that we do not have free will acts like they don’t have this capacity.

    I remember a lecture from several years ago on Sartre, who I believe was an avowed atheist. His thing was something called, “Existentialism” which I could never really get the exact essence of. Sartre was supposed to have said that we are determined by our choices. Who we are is based on the choices we make.

    The following example, probably not quite right, was illustrative.

    A prisoner in the deepest dungeon, chained to the walls and unable to move hardly at all has choices. And the choices he makes is what determines who he is.

    We see all around us on this site, examples of choices that people make. The answers one gives to questions (or better, the non-answers), the types of questions they will ask. the topics they bring up and the actual words one uses. All a product of free will.

    But then again, maybe the anti-ID people don’t have free will and that some of us do while others don’t. That would explain a lot.

  40. With respect to the first man, Adam: We see from Genesis that the first human differed from all other creations on earth. He resembled his Creator, able to reflect a godlike attitude in reasoning, in demonstrating love, justice, wisdom, and power. He had the faculty of conscience to help him reach decisions that would benefit himself and please his heavenly Parent. (Romans 2:15) In short, Adam had free will.

    The question then arises of how could he sin if he were created perfect? The maker of a robot expects it to do exactly what he has programmed it to do. But a perfect robot would not be a perfect human. The qualities viewed as essential are not the same. Adam and Eve were humans, not robots. To humankind, God gave the ability to choose between right and wrong, between obedience and disobedience, to make moral decisions.

    For Adam and Eve to qualify as being created perfect, must all their decisions thereafter be right? That would be the same as saying that they had no choice. But God did not make them in such a way that their obedience would be automatic. God granted them the ability to choose, so that they could obey because they loved him. Or, if they allowed their hearts to become selfish, they would become disobedient.

  41. Goodness Jon, why so anti-wisdom with such antagonism to philosophy? Did a philosopher betray you when you were at university studying medicine? No love for Sophia?

    “it’s a social hangover from the worldview of the nineteenth century, when Men were Men and before science ‘went soft’ and started listening to philosophers.”

    Ah, the nostalgia of the retired!

    I’ve been hanging around with recently and reading physicists, cosmologists and chemists who openly EMBRACE good philosophy and who are imo very solid and clear thinkers for it. Good philosophy surely helps a person articulate their thoughts more deeply and effectively.

    Perhaps the big problem, Jon, is that you haven’t found any good philosophy and don’t know where to look … or aren’t interested in looking? It might be just the Philosophia Reformata is in a stagnant period; perhaps you should look elsewhere.

    Well, I guess a Calvinist could just argue it was ‘determined’ in the Book of Life that you could not possibly use your free will to change your mind and pick up some good philosophy texts and read them.

  42. Btw, Jon, you might like this:
    NOTHING IN EVOLUTIONARY THEORY MAKES SENSE EXCEPT IN THE LIGHT OF CREATION

    Just put it in your mouth and taste. Ew, uggh, yuck … anything but ‘philosophy’ is not a healthy answer. Just try it.

    It sounds a lot like already-reformed you, only more philosophical. ;)

  43. There have been a lot of good points made here, and I’m not inclined to argue any of them for the simple reason that they involve beliefs that are not testable and are likely to be complex and strange. I’ll use a Jewish kal vachomer argument to illustrate my point.

    But first, I’d like to say to Wentzilitis and PeterJ that while choices might be reduced, they do not disappear entirely, and that the love of God does indeed draw people to him–Jesus knocks at the door to our hearts long before we would ever imagine seeking him.

    Back to my kal vachomer argument:

    “If quantum mechanics, which we can observe to some extent, baffles the finest human minds, how much more so the interaction of God with our volition.”

    (This is not to say we cannot experience quantum mechanics or God, but just that this is beyond our understanding.)

    There are dynamic tensions in the Bible between God’s mercy and God’s justice; between predestination and free will (I believe both are true to some extent); and in physics between the wave nature and the particle nature of matter, between determinism, chaos, and randomness; the challenge of Kurt Gödel’s theorems in mathematics (with scary implications in other fields) proving that consistent systems cannot be complete, and so on.

    The Bible says that God made humankind in his image, but a little lower than the angels, yet the Bible also says that God has not been seen by anyone, and that God is a spirit to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. What does “in his image” mean?

    In physics we can’t even define mass-energy, space, or time without using two of the three in our “definition”. And what happened to cause the big bang evokes a plethora of speculations that invoke words like “might have” and “must have”. Never mind that without time there are no probabilities and no quantum effects. Hawkings invokes mysterious multi-verses that might as well be giant cosmic turtles laying eggs. In fact, considering decreases in entropy as we move backward in time, turtles are more likely. Oh, but before Planck time, we can know nothing, and the laws of physics are either different or suspended, which is indistinguishable from a miracle.

    In biology, we argue that given a dozen billion years, a star can generate a living, breathing chihuahua, among other things, and that ratcheting up to a dizzying number and hyper-complexity of interlocking chemical cycles is inevitable, although not reproducible in the lab. And we don’t even have a reasonable explanation how a new gene appears in enough organisms simultaneously to become entrenched in a genome (I prefer to speculate in mass transfer of sections of DNA by viruses).

    To top things off, we think we know what God can and can’t do, complain that God is not fair (according to our impeccable standards), and argue over the nature of God.

    I’m in favor of a view comprising deliberate and increasingly informed ignorance. ;-)

    This is why I like Micah 6:8, where it says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

    The corollary in science might be something like this:

    “You have seen what is good science, that which requires you to observe carefully and report with integrity; to love curiosity, an open mind and flexibility; and to maintain humility in your work and in other’s work with a sense of awe and respect for creation.”

  44. With respect to the first man, Adam: We see from Genesis that the first human differed from all other creations on earth. He resembled his Creator, able to reflect a godlike attitude in reasoning, in demonstrating love, justice, wisdom, and power. He had the faculty of conscience to help him reach decisions that would benefit himself and please his heavenly Parent. (Romans 2:15) In short, Adam had free will.

    Nicely put, Barb.

  45. William J Murray wrote:

    Free will is not free choice, nor is it free action. It is the capacity to will as you wish, whether you can act on it or not, regardless of the limitations of one’s physically actionable possibilities. One can be beset by all sorts of physical restrictions, physiological compunctions and addictions and still will a different outcome, even if it doesn’t – or even cannot – occur.

    The reason that I like what you wrote is the recognition that while we might be influenced or even enslaved by our desires, addictions, and backgrounds, we still maintain a capacity to will.

  46. Wow, on first glance I thought the title of the OP was “Free will is a practical question for the mindful rapist.”

    Boy was I wrong!

  47. There is no question, as far as Scripture is concerned, that we do indeed have a will of our own, my question is how ‘free’ is that will?

    WJM reckons we can ‘will as we wish’ however, I’m not sure that is even possible.

    It’s like I have been arguing for some time now, we are either doing God’s will, or we are not. We can of course make choices, desire certain outcomes etc, but we are all of us influenced by one of two powers that govern over us, and possibly by both at the same time.

    It’s like Christ pointed out to the people He was preaching to in John 8:43-44.

    “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and YOUR WILL is to do your father’s desires” (emphasis mine)

    Although He refers to them as having a will, as WJM points out in his post above, they weren’t exactly using it freely. They of course would have thought that they ‘willed as they wished’, but as can be clearly seen in this case it wasn’t a decision the was ‘freely’ chosen.

    I think it would be interesting if someone could give an example of someone using their ‘free will’ where there is no doubt that it has not been influenced by God or the devil.

    I’m not long home from a long drive and going off to my bed in a few minutes but I will return to this in more detail the first opportuntiy I can tomorrow. There is a lot more to be said about this :)

  48. My view of free will is that it is something other than any particular action or decision. My body takes all kinds of actions that I have no direct, willful choice over. My mind is often compulsed into behaviors that I – again, have no apparent control over. Is someone accountable for their actions when mentally diseased, or when sleepwalking, or under other such circumstances? Are we in control over circumstances that may force actions we would rather not commmit?

    This is why I hold free will to be better described as that which we set our minds to (meaning, will is above what we normally refer to as mind), whether those things seem real or possible or not.

    It is my opinion that most of the mind is a mechanism that generates our perception of self and the world, and our free will is properly thought of as that which we use to direct the resources of our mind. Various particular decisions and actions are relatively unimportant; what matters is what you set your mind upon in the first place.

  49. What I think is interesting is the process of how someone sets or changes their mind/will.

    Have you ever changed your mind? What was it like?

    I’m not talking about changing your mind about, let’s say, what salad dressing you want (although the choice can also be a struggle), but a decision with important consequences.

    For example, what went through your mind when you first decided to make or accept a marriage proposal? Or when you decided that you were sick and tired of a particular lifestyle and decided to make a change. Or when you decided to buy a particular make or model of a car.

    Did you feel impulsive or deliberate? Do you notice a difference?

    In contrast, I believe it was C.S. Lewis who observed that many consequential decisions are made without any fanfare–that one just sort of slides into them, especially the bad ones. For example, how many drug addicts consciously decided, “Let’s see. Today, I think I’ll become a drug addict.”

    Just some thoughts.

  50. PeterJ:

    I think it would be interesting if someone could give an example of someone using their ‘free will’ where there is no doubt that it has not been influenced by God or the devil.

    Is influence the same as cause here? For me, this is the crux of the issue. I can accept that no choice is free of influence. I can accept that choices are subject to constraints. But is there no middle ground between this and the belief that all choices are determined? For me, “free will” is a recognition of this middle ground. As such, it’s definition is rather muddy and flexible in my head, and I feel much more strongly about what it isn’t than about what it is.

    I can empathize with your reluctance to use the word “free” about people who are often portrayed as slaves or servants (or under-rowers) to a master, whether Christ or otherwise. But freedom is also an important Biblical concept. And master-slave is not the only analogy used to describe our relationship to God. We are also co-heirs, adopted children, a royal priesthood, a bride, saints, and more.

    As for being “chosen,” I tend to read a lot of these passages as extending the language of Identification with Christ. Christ is the Chosen One. By faith, through grace, we are placed in Him. In Him, we die. In Him, we are raised. And in Him, we are chosen before the foundations of the world. He is the Elect One. In Him, we are the elect.

    When Jesus overlooked Jerusalem, He spoke about how often He wanted to gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks, “but you would not.” Whatever is meant by that passage, that’s what I mean when I speak of “free will.” Yet I also believe that God is sovereign and ordains all things. For me, this isn’t very different from how I believe that God is One and Three. I’m pretty sure I don’t totally understand, but I do my best to comprehend what I can.

    I tend to hold these positions loosely because I don’t think we can truly understand what it means to be God outside of time exercising sovereignty over humans living within time’s constraints. While it may feel comfortable to imagine that I can wrap my stubby little intellectual arms all the way around such theological principles and interlock my fingers on the other side, I can’t help but think in doing so that I would be missing out on the greater part of the truth. Instead, I prefer to loosely hold something much bigger and more unwieldy, despite how intellectually uncomfortable it makes me feel. I think the Bible gives us a few helpful handles to grasp, and sometimes it feels like I have to let go of one of those handles to grab hold of another, but this just tells me that the reality is probably a whole lot bigger than what I can comprehend.

  51. Phinehas,

    These are exactly my thoughts!

    If quantum effects are strange to the point of defying logic, it’s no wonder that God, who is by definition outside of time, operates a ways we can’t understand.

    And this is exactly what I’d expect!

  52. Oops. I meant, “By grace, through faith…”

    Querius:

    I find that the more a theological concept is about the very nature of God, the less I should expect to totally comprehend it. It is so easy to get trapped into my own mental dichotomies, like, “Well, either God is sovereign or He isn’t.” The God that the Bible describes doesn’t seem to fit neatly into these kinds of dichotomies.

    - Either God is One God or He isn’t
    - Either God is Three Persons or He isn’t
    - Either God is transcendent or He isn’t
    - Either God is immanent or He isn’t

    A God who fits into the mental boxes I’ve created for Him may very well end up being a God I’ve created with my own mind. And that’s not a large step away from crafting a golden image with my hands, which is to say it is no God at all.

  53. Phinehas,

    Again, I agree. It makes me nervous to think of all the places one can go wrong–with pretty bad consequences. Spinoza made me nervous in the same way when I read some of his works a long time ago.

    I remember once attending a Judaism class taught by a Reform rabbi who told the class that, “Either God isn’t good or God isn’t God.” A bitter guy. Too bad.

    No wonder the Bible emphasizes trust so much.

  54. Gregory @41

    Suggest you switch off irony filter. It’s the determinist scientistic types who despise philosophy, not me.

  55. Hi Phineas,

    Of course the issue of ‘free will’ is an extremely complicated one, however I do believe that there is a clear distinction to be made. As you have pointed out I am very much of the opinion that we do not ultimately have ‘free will’. Scripture clearly tells us, as you readily recognise, that we are either a ‘slave to sin’ (sinful nature) or we are ‘bondservants with Christ’ (clothed in Righteousness). And therefore it stands to reason, surely, that no matter what we do we are serving the will of one or the other.

    Although you readily recognise this, and are not arguing against it, you seem to think that we are more than just this and the examples you give allow us some form of freedom ‘We are also co-heirs, adopted children, a royal priesthood, a bride, saints, and more’. This is of course true, we are indeed much more than just servants, but again in each of those examples we are expected to ‘do His will’. What heir to the throne can simply do whatever he/she pleases? What child, adopted or otherwise, is not expected to do as he/she is told by their parent? What priest is not bound by the decrees of God? What bride doesn’t commit herself to coming under the grooms headship? It doesn’t matter what position we hold, if we are born again, we are expected to do the will of God, to do that which pleases Him and brings glory to His name. Therefore to do otherwise, in my view, is not acting on our ‘own free will’, but succumbing to sin, or it can perhaps be that God has caused something to happen in which it may well appear that we have done ‘whatever was pleasing to us’ when although that may be true to some extent it has still been ordained by God and therefore allowed to happen for ‘His purposes’.

    In 38 above WJM made the point that we could ‘will as we wish’, meaning we are not restricted to simply ‘doing God’s will’. However, I believe that Scripture clearly points out that in all things God has a plan already mapped out and whatever we decide may already be conformed to His will.

    Look at what God says to Jeremiah in Jer. 1:5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

    I wonder if Jeremiah woke up one day and said ‘do you know what? Today I’m going to do whatever I wish, yeh I’ll totally surprise everyone by doing something completely random … like becoming a prophet’.

    The choices we make are indeed free, as far as we are concerned, but how ‘free’ are they really where God is concerned? In everything that takes place it is His purposes that are being fulfilled. It doesn’t really matter what we do, all our actions ultimately are under God’s providential care ‘In Him we live and move’ Acts 17:28.

    I know that some will argue that God can use the results of our ‘free will choices’ to work out His plans and so God has given us some amount of ‘free will’, but again, our ‘will’ is either do to that which pleases God in the first place (becoming a prophet), or is derived from our sinful nature (disobedient to God’s will).

    At the end of the day, no matter what we choose to do, we are responsible for those choices, and although we may think that we have the total ‘freedom of will’ to make those choices, whether we make good ones or bad ones, we will be held accountable for them. So again, it brings us back to ‘whose will’ is required to be done in all situations, and whose purposes are ultimately being fulfilled in the process. We really need to be mindful of this fact; in whatever we choose to do we are accountable. If it were not so, we would truly have ‘free will’ and therefore I do not believe our actions/deeds could be counted against us. Accountability is one of the key words when considering ‘free will’.

    So, once again, how ‘free’ is our will?

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