Does Man Have Free Will?

Hi Lenny :

I just read one of your responses to a writer's email regarding the word hell. In the body of your response you stated..."God created man with "free will"....? REALLY!? He did? Let me ask you. Think of one time or example in either history, or, in the future where a man has managed to thwart the will of God with his (man's) own will. You can't can you. This is because man does not have a "free will". Man does have the ability to make choices. Man does not have a will which is "free" to do what it pleases. We (mankind) never have been, and we never will be, able to circumvent or subvert in any way, shape, or manner, the will of almighty God. We need to carefully think about and consider the meaning of words before we use them. Wouldn't you agree?

I await your response.

Hi Kevin,

I think you are making an error in your categorization. Free will does not mean that man must "thwart the will of God" in order to exercise such. It means that man was freely capable of choosing other than what he did choose in any situation. Perhaps God ordered the universe in such a way that man's free choices accomplish God's ends. However, to deny man's free will means that all real choices only belong to God - including the choice to sin.

God bless you as you continue to study these issues.

Hi Lenny :

Might I suggest either a Dictionary or, perhaps conferring with just about any Professor at any level in his career path who has studied theology; logic; jurisprudence; etc. There is a distinct and profound difference between the words "choice" and "will". I see from the wanton juggling about of the two words that you're uncertain and unfamiliar with their distinctions.

It is God's will which will be done on earth and in Heaven. Not man's. Man is only "free" to make choices. You can not say man has a "free will" and then limit it's capability and potential. That is not a "free will" because it is not "free" to do as it wills. It's not that difficult to apprehend or comprehend. I've taught the topic for numerous years to undergraduate level students who have no difficulty whatsoever. I trust you won't either. Might I add that I did not at any point in the text of my initial letter insist that..."man must thwart the will of God"....Were you trying to quote me on that? (no harm done, or, animosity.). Carefully look at the sentence structure of the last sentence in regards to a premise and you will see that you start the sentence by stating..."to deny man's free will"...then, you either intentionally or otherwise, insert the word ..."choices" in..."all real choices"....this isn't even a non-sequitur or an invalid argument, since, you've confused the subject. Which do you wish to posit - "choice"; or, "will"? Again, there is a distinction between the two.

Once more, I sincerely appreciate and respect your kindness and Christian love. I patiently await your response my brother.

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for taking the time to write back. I hope to clear up the confusion in our discussion.

In your reply, you took me to task for misquoting you. I quoted your phrase "thwart the will of God" which was contained in your original letter. The quotation marks were not around the word "must". That was a summation of the idea I saw in your original post. You wrote "Think of one time or example in either history, or, in the future where a man has managed to thwart the will of God with his (man's) own will. You can't can you. This is because man does not have a 'free will'."

This struck me as setting up a dichotomy where man needs to somehow thwart the will of God in order to demonstrate his own free will. However, if I misinterpreted your intent here, I'm sorry. It seems that our real conflict is over the concept of "choice" versus "will". Let's focus on just what type of distinction there I between the two.

Per your suggestion, I consulted a relatively easy online reference work on philosophy - the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Their entry entitled "Incompatibilist (Nondeterministic) Theories of Free Will" at states "To have free will is to have what it takes to act freely. When an agent acts freely-when she exercises her free will-what she does is up to her. A plurality of alternatives is open to her, and she determines which she pursues. She is an ultimate source or origin of her action. So runs a familiar conception of free will."

A bit farther into the article, when discussing noncausal accounts, it states

"Proponents of noncausal accounts generally hold that every action is or begins with a basic mental action. A decision or a choice is typically held to be an example of such a mental action. An overt bodily action, such as raising one's arm, is held to be a nonbasic, complex action that is constituted by a basic mental action's bringing about a certain motion of one's body. The basic action here is often called a volition, which is said to be the agent's willing, trying, or endeavoring to move a certain part of her body in a certain way."

Also, the book _Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview_ By J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig have a chapter entitled "Free Will and Determinism". There, they write

"Finally, there is freedom of moral and rational responsibility - that freedom, whatever it turns out to be, that is part of human action and agency, in which the human being acts as an agent who is in some sense the originator of one's own actions, and in this sense, is in control of one's own action. This type of freedom serves as a necessary condition for moral, and some would say, intellectual responsibility. This third sense of freedom will be the major view in this chapter, and when we talk about freedom or free will, this is what will be meant unless otherwise indicated." (emphasis in the original.)1

In both instances you will notice there is no distinction made in the degree of human action. Whether it be raising one's arm or leaving the room, or eating from the tree that God commanded one not to eat of, an action has an agent. The agent is either acting of his own accord (freely) or acting in some way in which he is compelled to act (not freely). If the agent is truly compelled to act, then he has no free will, and cannot be held responsible for his actions. If he acted of his own accord, he is responsible.

An example offered is the "Manchurian Candidate" scenario. Suppose a scientist placed an electronic control in the brain of a man (Jones) so that the scientist could control his actions and make him murder another (Smith). Jones doesn't like Smith much and, before the control has been activated, was considering murdering Smith anyway. Jones decides against such an act, but the scientist flips the switch on the control and has Jones shoot Smith. In this example we see that Jones was compelled to kill Smith and couldn't have done otherwise - another's will controlled his actions. However, if he would have killed Smith before the control was activated, then he would be the originator of his actions and thus responsible. As I quoted above, free will is freedom of moral and rational responsibility. All morally responsible actions are choices or the byproducts of choices.

Thus free choice and free will can be used interchangeably in this sense. Choice is simply the exertion of one's will. If you cannot will to do something, you cannot choose it. You are merely a mechanism in the apparatus of another. Thus, in order for anyone to be culpable of sin, they must have to choose to sin. If they can choose to sin, they have free will.

These questions are not new. The debate over determinism and libertarian free will has been going on for centuries. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about them in his Summa theological. A helpful overview of this particular debate may be found here: 

Thank you again for this invigorating discussion. I'm sure that as iron sharpens iron, we'll both gain much.


1 Moreland, JP and Craig, William Lane Philosophical Foundationms for a Christian Worldview
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Il. 2003 p.268
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