Monday, May 19, 2014

Free Will

 This is another class paper for Philosophy 101 

Free Will


Intro: Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Looking at science to answer our questions leaves us with an empty void. To believe that nothing came from nothing, and then when someone does something of significant, means nothing as he or she is nothing but a blip on the overall time scheme leaves anyone, with a heart of purpose a bit cold. The lack of purpose leads a person to the conclusion would be there is nothing worth living for, or worse, dying for. If leading philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, reduced his own argument for the existence of God, to a quote from Richard Dawkins, quoting Bertrand Russell saying, “that if he found himself in front of god after his death he would point out to him that there just wasn’t enough evidence”, then how can someone like a student of religious studies write anything worthy of reading? [1]

However disillusioned by a Christian heavy weight, a student of philosophy or theology must soldier on and still humbly look at how things piece together. Faith is one thing atheists do not accept and many philosophers have truly examined. While there is greater debate over the lack of evidence of God, we also must wonder if we are in the hands of fate or have free will. If one presupposes there is a God and God’s have purpose, then maybe we also have purpose. However, is our purpose come with freedom of choice about what our life is about or is it all predetermined? Taking the time to look at the strengths and weaknesses of Incompatibilism vs. Compatibilism can help in regards to belief in Free Will.

There is hope
If we were to assume the position of Anselm’ Ontological Argument, and we conceive the idea of the Greatest Conceivable Being (GCB), as proof that humanity is not the top of the random ladder of evolution, we can proceed with the idea that just may this GCB has a purpose of His, (or Her), own. [2] The issue is, would such a Being allow for those He, (or She), created to have Free Will or leave them to his or her own determination? Even if there were such a GCB, would mere humans even begin to perceive if he or she has free will or not? Just maybe, conceiving an idea is the beginning of perceiving our reality. However, even that could be presumptuous as we are finite beings dealing with the infinite Being.

Everyone makes simple choices. There is the choice as to what shoes to wear, shirt, to shower or not, or even to give the death penalty to someone who has committed atrocious crimes. Everyone seems free to make choices. Choices themselves appear a means to guide all people along the way. Are these choices merely some preordained guidance or are they random as far as what we may or may not do? Even if they are preordained guidance, this may not mean they are not a choice from our own free will. To see options to choose from may open a door to free will. It may be that humans have the advantage over a cat as far as determinism. If a cat has a desire to kill a mouse, it is then out of the cats control to do so. When a mouse appears, the cat must kill the mouse. However, it seems that even a cat may change its mind and play with the mouse for a while, and even become bored and let the mouse go. If a cat, which has the desire to kill a mouse, can change its mind, even more a human being can do so.

Hard Determinism leads to lack of moral accountability
As the subtitle above states, Hard Determinism (HD) leads to lack of moral accountability. In a sense, it becomes survival of the fittest. While the advocate of HD will argue that, the act of rewards and punishment is not meaningless as it is part of a way to deter certain behavior. However, how would this apply to Nazi Germany? Would Nazi’s not just claim that their society is a higher morality that does not allow subhuman to exist, (Jews, mentally disabled, etc.)? Would such a society of people see the morality on a sliding scale in favor of their own actions? There is an innate sense of accountability with people that seem to know there will be ramifications for actions. A soldier may have society’s permission to kill an enemy, however, the soldier will be held accountable if they were to do harm anyone when returning home.

Heraclitus said what?
Heraclitus spoke of “fate” similar to “justice”. Fate was the base universal law “that all things, including man, are subject.” [3] The Sophists saw “Man” as “the measure of all things” that while humans could not escape from the process of law, they could defend himself and win position in society. While the eternal destination may be predetermined, a person may shape the existing world to his own desires. [4] Meaning this, man is not entirely a slave to fate.
Aristotle taught that morality is not a matter of some inevitable law, but is a matter of free choice. [5] “Virtue, as well as evil, lies in our power.” [6] Frost sums up Aristotle with this, ‘Humanity if free to strive to become all that is in him to become, or to become less. The choice lies within man.”[7] One argument for incompatibilists is the Garden of Forking Paths model. According to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Garden of Forking Paths can be explained like this:
  1. Any agent, x, performs any act a of x's own free will if x has control over a.
  2. x has control over a only if x has the ability to select among alternative courses of action to act a.
  3. If x has the ability to select among alternative courses of action to act a, then there are alternative courses of action to act a open to x (i.e., x could have done otherwise than a).
  4. If determinism is true, then only one future is possible given the actual past, and holding fixed the laws of nature.
  5. If only one future is possible given the actual past, and holding fixed the laws of nature, then there are no alternative courses of action to any act open to any agent (i.e., no agent could have done otherwise than she actually does).
  6. Therefore, if determinism is true, it is not the case that any agent, x, performs any act, a, of her own free will. [8]
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy simplifies the above argument as follows:
1.      If a person acts of her own free will, then she could have done otherwise (A-C).
2.      If determinism is true, no one can do otherwise than one actually does (D-E).
3.      Therefore, if determinism is true, no one acts of her own free will (F).
This appears to be one of the strongest classical arguments. This seems also consistent with a Biblical worldview. For if, there is not a choice then Adam and Eve never fell in the Garden. If Adam and Eve’s choice was not made of his or her own Free Will, then the outcome was pre-determined.
1.      If Adam and Eve acted of their own free will, then they could have done otherwise (A-C).
2.      If Adam and Eve’s actions were pre-determined, they could not have done otherwise. (D-E)
3.      There for if Adam and Eve’s actions were predetermined, they had no choice and could not do as they did otherwise.

The question would be why God bothered to tell Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when Adam and Eve had not real choice.
The issue is whether man has a Free Will or is it a mere sham? For believers in Jesus, it is hard to say that God be such that He would be part of such a sham. God is not a like man that He would lie. [9]
To be fair, let us look at the argument taken from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, proving Determinism is true called the Consequence Argument:
  1. No one has power over the facts of the past and the laws of nature.
  2. No one has power over the fact that the facts of the past and the laws of nature entail every fact of the future (i.e., determinism is true).
  3. Therefore, no one has power over the facts of the future.

This argument seems watertight; however, if we were to look at the story of Cain and Able, and apply the argument we must choose between the biblical text or the argument.
4.      Cain has no power over the facts that God rejected his sacrifice thus became angry according to the laws of nature.
5.      Cain has no power over the facts of the rejection as that has past and his anger is part of the fact of the future. (Cain has no choice but to be angry and act on that anger.)
6.      Therefore, Cain has no choice but to kill Able.

Hopefully, anyone can see the issue here. Why then did God speak to Cain and tell him “Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.'' [10] It would again appear God is just toying with Cain if the Consequence Argument is true. However, again, as Believers in Jesus, we know God is not like humans who lie. So, we have to ask again, did Cain have a choice? It appears from the Biblical text he did.

To be fair
To be fair, there are Believers in Jesus who do believe all is predetermined. There seems to be more happening than fatalism as when we look at the Biblical text, God appears to be reasoning with Adam, Eve, and Cain. Each person in our Biblical examples are given a choice and warnings, however choose the opposite of what the Will of God would be for them. This choice seems left in the hands of humans as to whether they will see God as a Blesser or Curser. Unfortunately, the first humans chose to see God as a curser thus received the consequences of his or her actions.
Reasoning seems to short circuit what is has already been determined. Alternatively, stated differently, there may be more than one or two possible determined ends depending on the reasoned responses. It is not beyond reason to allow the possibility that God many know every outcome possible, however, allows humanity to reason with or without God as to his or her actions. Here would be another paper of course covering the ideas in Open Theology.
Conclusion or more confusion?
The main argument this paper attempts to discuss is whether Compatibilism or Incompatibilism help believers better understand if Determinism is Biblical. It would appear after contrasting two major Biblical stories that Incompatibilism is more biblical. However, when looking at reasoning with God who gives choices, there seems that may be more to Determinism than initially is seen. While this paper falls in the side of Free Will because God is the God of choices, this paper must also accept that God has His Will for our eternal destiny and being outside His Will may have eternal negative consequences. Seeing God is the “stable disposition”, who constantly reasons with humanity, (who of course is of unstable disposition), this would open the door to multileveled view of Determinism.[11]

This of course leads us to a whole other debate; what is the relationship of reason to causes? [12]  Giesler makes a point that maybe the free-will debate is misconceived. [13] So now, the argument seems to center around Reasons being essentially different from causes. [14] As with the Biblical texts that were examined we see that God attempts to reason with humanity, however, the reasoned actions played out in a negative way. If God has all things pre-determined, humans would reason in accord to the Will of God and not against. To come to some conclusion would mean in traditional argument humanity has Free Will and a decision as to his or her own eternal destiny. If we turn to the non-tradition argument pointed out by Norman Geisler, then the argument must be reframed around the relationship between reason and causes. This debate may take on an entirely new path of discovery in light of Believers own relational aspect with God.
Adding relationship to the equation also opens more aspects. God is the God of relationship who seeks to reason with humanity and show us a better way. To have Free Will there is a responsibility for actions. While humanity may have the freedom to choose his or her own destiny, it is in response to God who reason with us. In the end, humanity must respond to the reasoned question of all eternity. As Believers, God gives us the answer in what we do or do not do with Jesus Christ. It is still humanities choice, to follow God’s Will or not out of our love for God.


Cowan, Steven B, and James S Spiegel. The Love of Wisdom. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009.

S. E. Frost, Jr., Ph.D. The Basic Teachings of the Great Philosophers. Garden City: Halcyon House, 1948.

McKenna, Michael, "Compatibilism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

Norman L. Geisler, Paul D Feinberg. Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980.

 Pigliucci, Massimo. “Is Alvin Plantinga for Real? Alas, It Appears So.” Blog Title, February 14, 2014. Accessed February 20, 2014.

[1] Massimo Pigliucci, “Is Alvin Plantinga for Real? Alas, It Appears So,” Machines Like Us, February 14, 2014, accessed February 20, 2014,
[2] Cowan, Steven B, and James S Spiegel. The Love of Wisdom. Nashville: 2009. 258-259

[3] S. E. Frost, Jr., Ph.D. The Basic Teachings of the Great Philosophers. 1948, 143

[4] Ibid, 145

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid
[8] McKenna, Michael, "Compatibilism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 2.1
[9] Numbers 23:19

[10] Genesis 4:6-7
[11] Cowan and James S Spiegel 2009, 241

[12] Norman L. Geisler, Paul D Feinberg. Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective, 206

[13] Ibid 204

[14] Ibid 204

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