Does Free Will Mean that You Can Choose Not to Be Harmed?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the past when I’ve discussed free will in the context of the problem of evil, I have had skeptics come along and deny that God has granted humans free will because children who choose not to be molested are sometimes molested, or women who choose not to be raped are sometimes raped.  In other words, if a person wills to not be attacked, but they are attacked, then somehow free will does not exist.

This complaint confuses the definition of free will, though.  None other than John Calvin, himself, dealt with this same complaint over 400 years ago.  Below is his response, from Book 2 of Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Here let the reader remember, that the ability of the human will is not to be estimated from the [outcome] of things, as some ignorant men are preposterously accustomed to do. For they conceive themselves fully and ingeniously to establish the servitude of the human will, because even the most exalted monarchs have not all their desires fulfilled. But this ability, of which we speak, is to be considered within man, and not to be measured by external success. For in the dispute concerning free will the question is not, whether a man, notwithstanding external impediments, can perform and execute whatever he may have resolved in his mind, but whether in every case his judgment exerts freedom of choice, and his will freedom of inclination. If men possess both these, then Attilius Regulus, when confined to the small extent of a cask stuck round with nails, will possess as much free will as Augustus Cæsar when governing a great part of the world with his nod.

Free will is the ability to choose in your mind, not the ability to make every thing you choose happen.  Once you understand this, the complaint falls apart.  It is attacking a faulty definition of free will.

  • Matt Salmon

    Why then couldn’t God make the forbidden fruit impossible to eat? (I have an answer in mind but I’d like to know what you think)

  • Bill Pratt

    What would be the point in doing that? It was Adam’s heart he was testing, not his ability to ingest fruit.

  • Boz

    “In other words, if a person wills to not be attacked, but they are attacked, then somehow free will does not exist.”

    lol, that’s a retarded argument.

  • Bill Pratt

    I agree, but I’ve had a handful of people throw it at me.

  • Wade Sikes

    I notice that you have used language in your response to Matt that indicates that Adam’s heart was being tested. My question is why? If God exhaustively foreknows everything, what was the point of the test?

  • Bill Pratt

    The test is for our benefit, not God’s. He’s not sitting back, waiting to see how everything will turn out, since, as you say, he already knows what will occur.

  • Wade, I also have been a little less than content with the language of “testing”, for the reason you name. I don’t think it is wrong, but I do think it doesn’t go all the way to the bottom of the issue.

    God gave His name as “I AM” Jesus confirmed that he “is the God, not of the dead, but of the living.”

    One of the many ramifications of this idea is that He is not God of the hypothtical, but of the real. He is not lord of the illusionary or “might be” but of all that is. That is why deception moves us so far from Him, to the point that ultimate, wilfull self-delusion is damning; and why He gives us strength to meet the problems that occure, but not for all the problems we can imagine to worry about.

    Here, it suggests that God cannot “know” something that has not and never will happen. He knows what will happen, all moments being “now” to Him, but not what would happen if other things happen that are not going to happen. There is no “what if?” there is only “what is.”

    As anoher example, you can see the account of Noah as an exporation of the idea of why did God not just zap Adam, and try again, until prototype man, rev2.1 got it right. Among the many proofs in the Flood is the idea that a do-over wouln’t work, Noah and his family were soon right back in the midst of our sin. If God wants a creature that is both free and independent, yet loving and yielding, He is going to have to find a different way.

    But He can’t just draw it out on a blackboard. He is a God of reality, not just imagination.
    For God to “imagine” is for reality to occure.

    -R. Eric Sawyer

  • Joe2501

    Ridiculous. None of you can accept the fact that free will does not exist. Throughout the bible, god foretells of things to come. If we truly had free will, our destiny would not be set. Even the Israelites understood this. Free will is a tool of the devil – the flesh wants to be free and do what it wants. Romans discusses this in the parable of the pot and the claymaker. And god was not testing Adam. God created Adam and knew he would take the fruit – unless god is making prototypes which means that god is not perfect. God wanted to create an imperfect being who is only capable of salvation through him – which is what happened. This is why our own works cannot save us – god makes that choice. Stop with the freewill

  • Alex

    Wow. Only 8 responses in 3 years.
    “Free will is the ability to choose in your mind, not the ability to make every thing you choose happen.”
    I agree with this idea. That a person can be free to choose, but not necessarily be able to perform every action. BUT – saying a rapist is not violating the free will of the woman is nonsense. I am not sure there are many people who have been raped who would agree with you. And finally, as Matt said, why not put the tree on a mountain impossible to climb? You answered that God wanted to test Adam’s heart. Ok. Perhaps Adam would have shown God that his will was weak, but at least the rest of us would not have to pay for it.
    *That is if the story were true……

  • Thomas Scharkley

    In my sinful nature I choose not to accept Christ nor his salvation. Because in my sinful nature I know only sin. I have the mind and the ability to do what is good (FREE MORAL AGENT), but my nature is so sinful, It doesn’t know what is right, It has no desire to accept that which leads to salvation. Only through God’s will for me through his word am I given faith, grace and salvation and that not of the will of the man (ego), but by God’s Spirit 1John 1:13. not even by man’s ability can he save himself
    Eph. 2:8,9. If man can tell God what he will, then God has no control, but has now become controlled. If I can decide my destiny then Christ died in vein, all I would have to do is tell God in my sin nature apart from salvation, “I choose heaven”. After all it’s FREE WILL right? Wrong, we are free moral agents not free will.