Category Archives: Free Will

Who Is Responsible for the Division of Israel?

In 1 Kings 12, Rehoboam foolishly decides to threaten the northern tribes rather than agree to lighten their tax burden. This leads to the division of united Israel into the northern kingdom, called Israel, and the southern kingdom, called Judah.

In verse 24, the prophet Shemaiah tells Rehoboam that the division of the kingdom is God’s doing, so don’t we have a contradiction here? Whose fault is the division? Rehoboam, who spoke foolish words, or God?

The truth is that both God and Rehoboam are responsible for the division.  There is absolutely nothing contradictory about an infinite God being in control of every little electron in the universe, but creating creatures in that same universe who have a special power of free will.  God can accomplish everything he wants to accomplish in human affairs through human free will.

While He commands volcanoes to erupt and water to flow as inanimate objects, He commands humans as free creatures.  He works in coordination with human freedom, not without it or against it.

Philosophers refer to this as primary and secondary causation.  God is the primary cause of all activity in the universe, but He uses the secondary cause of free will to accomplish his purposes with human beings.

Some say that this concept of human free will takes away from the glory of God, but claiming that God cannot create free creatures and still bring his plans to fruition is really the position that takes away from God’s glory.

Has Neuroscience Proven There Is No Free Will?

These days you may indeed be told that experiments conducted by neuroscientists and psychologists have proven that free will is an illusion. I always snicker when someone tells me this because it means that they did not come to that conclusion freely, but were determined by their brain chemistry. But, leaving that aside, how should we answer these challenges to free will?

Philosopher Edward Feser, in a book review written for City Journal, denies neuroscience has done any such thing. Feser is reviewing Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, by Alfred Mele, and he claims that “Mele demonstrates that scientific evidence comes nowhere close to undermining free will, and that the reasoning leading some scientists to claim otherwise is amazingly sloppy.”

Feser first tackles the work of neurobiologist Benjamin Libet. If you’re not familiar with Libet’s work, here is a summary:

In Libet’s experiments, subjects were asked to flex a wrist whenever they felt like doing so, and then to report on when they had become consciously aware of the urge to flex it. Their brains were wired so that the activity in the motor cortex responsible for causing their wrists to flex could be detected. While an average of 200 milliseconds passed between the conscious sense of willing and the flexing of the wrist, the activity in the motor cortex would begin an average of over 500 milliseconds before the flexing. Hence the conscious urge to flex seems to follow the neural activity which initiates the flexing, rather than causing that neural activity. If free will requires that consciously willing to do something is the cause of doing it, then it follows (so the argument goes) that we don’t really act freely.

The argument is that we don’t detect the conscious urge to flex our wrist until after we have sent instructions to flex our wrist, so we can’t be freely deciding to flex our wrist. Is this argument valid? Hardly.

As Mele shows, the significance of Libet’s results has been vastly oversold. One problem is that Libet did not demonstrate that the specific kind of neural activity he measured is invariably followed by a flexing of the wrist. Given his experimental setup, only cases where the neural activity was actually followed by flexing were detected. Also, Libet did not check for cases where the neural activity occurred but was not followed by flexing. Hence we have no evidence that specific kind of neural activity really is sufficient for the flexing. For all Libet has shown, it may be that the neural activity leads to flexing (or doesn’t) depending on whether it is conjoined with a conscious free choice to flex.

But there are other problems with the experiment “proving” free will doesn’t exist.

There’s a second problem. The sorts of actions Libet studied are highly idiosyncratic. The experimental setup required subjects to wait passively until they were struck by an urge to flex their wrists. But many of our actions don’t work like that—especially those we attribute to free choice. Instead, they involve active deliberation, the weighing of considerations for and against different possible courses of action. It’s hardly surprising that conscious deliberation has little influence on what we do in an experimental situation in which deliberation has been explicitly excluded. And it’s wrong to extend conclusions derived from these artificial situations to all human action, including cases which do involve active deliberation.

Even more fundamentally, why should we tie the conscious feeling in our brain that we made a decision with the fact that the decision was freely made?

Even if the neural activity Libet identifies (contrary to what he actually shows) invariably preceded a flexing of the wrist, it still wouldn’t follow that the flexing wasn’t the product of free choice. Why should we assume that a choice is not free if it registers in consciousness a few hundred milliseconds after it is made? Think of making a cup of coffee. You don’t explicitly think, “Now I will pick up the kettle; now I will pour hot water through the coffee grounds; now I will put the kettle down; now I will pick up a spoon.” You simply do it. You may, after the fact, bring to consciousness the various steps you just carried out; or you may not. We take the action to be free either way. The notion that a free action essentially involves a series of conscious acts of willing, each followed by a discrete bodily movement, is a straw man, and doesn’t correspond to what common sense (or, for that matter, philosophers like Wittgenstein or Aquinas) have in mind when they talk about free action.

Mele tackles other science that purports to disprove free will in his book. Given Feser’s review, this book may be well worth reading.

How Did Evil Arise in a Good Universe?

According to the Bible, an angel created by God (Satan or Lucifer) was the first creature to bring evil into the universe. But the question arises how this good creature, created by a good God, living in a good universe, could choose evil. God did not cause Satan to sin, so who caused Satan to sin?

Theologian Norm Geisler tackles this problem in his book If God, Why Evil?: A New Way to Think About the Question. Geisler argues that there are only three options for who caused Satan to sin:

The best way to comprehend the basis of a free act is to examine the three possible alternatives. A free act is either uncaused, caused by another, or self-caused. That is, it is undetermined, determined by another, or self-determined.

No action can be uncaused (undetermined); that would be a violation of the law of causality (every event has a cause). Neither can a free act be caused by another; for if someone or something else caused the action, then it is not ours (not from our free choice) and we would not be responsible for it.

Hence all free actions must be self-caused, that is, caused by oneself. Now we can answer the question, “What caused Lucifer to sin?” No one did. He is the cause of his own sin. Sin is a self-caused action, one for which we cannot blame anyone or anything else. Who caused the first sin? Lucifer. How did he cause it? By the power of free choice, which God gave him. Thus God made evil possible by creating free creatures; they are responsible for making it actual.

So how did evil arise by free will?

1. A good creature (Lucifer),

2. With the good power of free will,

3. Willed the finite good of the creature (himself)

4. Over the infinite good of the Creator.

Geisler continues:

It is important to note that no evil need exist in order to will evil; for example, willing a lesser good can be an evil. Evil is created by a free person (oneself), and such a person does not have to participate in something outside of himself in order to be evil. The evil of willing oneself to take the place of God is an evil in itself. In fact, this is precisely what the Bible says about the first evil act of Lucifer: It was pride. . . .

Thus sin was born in the breast of an archangel in the presence of God. A stunningly beautiful and extremely powerful creature fell when he made himself, rather than God, the object of his adoration. God created only good things. One good thing He made was free will. A good being, with the good power of free will, chose to put his will over God’s. Who caused Lucifer to sin? No one else did – he was the cause of his own sin. Sin is a self-caused action, caused by oneself. Hence it is as meaningless to ask, “Who caused Lucifer to sin?” as it is to ask, “Who made God?” No one made God, the Unmade Maker, and Lucifer is the maker of his own sin.

#9 Post of 2014 – Why Did God Create Adam and Eve if He Knew They Would Sin?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Some people wonder why God created human beings if he knew we would reject him and bring sin into the world.

The answer seems to be that God desired to have a relationship with creatures that would freely love him.  Only creatures with a moral conscience and an ability to freely make moral choices could have authentic relationships with God.  Rocks can’t love God, and neither can squirrels.

Unfortunately, it may be actually impossible for God to create free creatures like ourselves and not have some of them choose to reject Him.  Even though God knew that some people would freely reject him, He felt it was the worth the cost to give others the chance to freely love him.  This world is better than a world full of inanimate objects or robots who can’t freely choose.

Will We Have Free Will in Heaven?

We’re told in Scripture that in Heaven there will be no sin and no evil of any kind. This leads to the question of human free will, because Adam and Eve were free to choose between good and evil, and as humans alive on earth now, we also have the ability to choose between good and evil. So, it seems that if we have no ability to choose evil in Heaven, then we will have an inferior freedom to what we have now. Is that the case?

Only if you can argue that a freedom to do evil is ultimately superior to a freedom to only do good. Adam and Eve were given the ability to choose evil as a test. The testing continues today, as each human being is allowed to choose good and evil every day of their lives. Why does God test us? Because giving mankind the ability to choose evil is the greatest way to teach us how awful sin really is. The testing grows us. Consider what James says in his letter to the church:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.… Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:2–4, 12)

Eventually, though, the testing must end. In Heaven the results of our earthly testing will be confirmed. Those who chose God will be given the ability to only choose good, which is a far superior form of freedom then the ability to choose good or evil. Theologian Norm Geisler, in his Systematic Theology, Vol. 3: Sin/Salvation, explains the difference between these two kinds of freedom:

It is important to note that heaven is not the destruction of true freedom but the fulfillment of it. On earth, we choose whether we want to do God’s will or our own; once the choice is made, our destiny is sealed at death (Heb. 9:27). Then, if we have chosen God’s will instead of our own, the freedom to do evil vanishes and we are free to do only the good. Since the freedom to do evil is also the freedom to destroy oneself, it is not perfect (complete) freedom.

The essence of true freedom is self-determination; true freedom is the kind that God has (and, in eternity, believers will have), namely, the self-determined ability to choose only the good. Likewise, in hell, evil persons no longer under the influence of God’s grace will be solidified in their will to do evil.

Heaven, then, is the completion of our freedom, not a negation of it. All true believers yearn to have the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled: “Your will be done, [O God,] on earth as it is in heaven” and “lead us not into temptation” (see Matt. 6; Luke 11). Therefore, when God brings us to heaven, where this will be true, He will not have eliminated our freedom but instead fulfilled it. In summary, the loss of the ability to do evil is not an evil of any kind; it is, rather, a profound good.

God has perfect freedom, and God is not able to choose evil. When we are in Heaven, we will finally have this same kind of freedom. The ability to choose evil, then, is a lesser form of freedom that will be discarded once we’ve joined God for eternity.

Is God Sovereign or Does Man Have Free Will?

Post Author: Bill Pratt  

Some Christians believe that God’s sovereignty over events on earth means that he ignores or overrides the free will of human beings. Other Christians believe that God only makes decisions after seeing what human beings will decide, and thus he is not really sovereign over everything. Under this second view, events on earth seem to split into things God controls and things humans control.

Both of these views, however, are wrong. The biblical view is that God is both sovereign over everything, and human beings have free will. We see this illustrated in Genesis 25. In verse 23, God tells Rebekah that Esau’s descendants (the nation of Edom) will be weaker than Jacob’s descendants (the nation of Israel), indicating His sovereignty over human history.

But in verse 34 we see that it is Esau who despised his birthright. The biblical author is indicating that Esau is not some impotent pawn being pushed around a chessboard by God, but an active participant in giving up his birthright. These two verses illustrate that God is sovereign and that Esau is free to reject his birthright. Both are true.

Why Is Physicalism Self-Refuting? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series, we argued that physicalism and determinism are self-refuting because they undermine rationality.  At the end of part 1, we said that there are three conditions of rationality that physicalism does not allow, and Dr. Moreland explains them below:

First, humans must have genuine intentionality; they must be capable of having thoughts and sensory awareness of or about the things they claim to know. For example, one must be able to see or have rational insight into the flow of an argument if one is going to claim that a conclusion follows from a set of premises. We can simply see that if you have: 1) If P, then Q, and, 2) P, therefore, you also have, 3) Q. This requires an awareness of the logical structure of the syllogism itself.

 As we saw earlier in this chapter, intentionality is a property of mental states, not physical ones. Thus, this first feature of rationality is incompatible with physicalism . . . . Intentionality is not a physical property.

The second factor is the enduring I.  Moreland explains:

Second, in order to rationally think through a chain of reasoning such that one sees the inferential connections in the chain, one would have to be the same self present at the beginning of the thought process as the one present at the end. As Immanuel Kant argued long ago, the process of thought requires a genuine enduring I.

In the syllogism above, if there is one self who reflects on premise 1), namely, “If P, then Q,” a second self who reflects on premise 2), namely, “P,” and a third self who reflects on the concluding statement 3), namely, “Q,” then there is literally no enduring self who thinks through the argument and draws the conclusion. As H. D. Lewis noted, “One thing seems certain, namely that there must be someone of something at the centre of such experiences to hold the terms and relations together in one stream of consciousness.”  

However, we have already seen in a previous blog post that physicalism denies a literal, enduring I, and thus physicalism is at odds with this necessary condition of rationality.

The third necessary condition for rationality is libertarian freedom of the will.

Finally, rationality seems to presuppose an agent view of the self and genuine libertarian freedom of the will. There are rational “oughts.” Given certain evidence, I “ought” to believe certain things. I am intellectually responsible for drawing certain conclusions, given certain pieces of evidence. If I do not choose that conclusion, I am irrational.

But “ought” implies “can.” If I ought to believe something, then I must have the ability to choose to believe it or not believe it. If one is to be rational, one must be free to choose her beliefs in order to be reasonable. Often I deliberate about what I am going to believe, or I deliberate about the evidence for something. But such deliberations make sense only if I assume that what I am going to do or believe is “up to me”—that I am free to choose and, thus, I am responsible for irrationality if I choose inappropriately. But we have already seen that physicalism . . .  rule[s] out libertarian freedom.

Moreland, thus, concludes that physicalism rules out the possibility for rationality.  “It is self-refuting to argue that one ought to choose physicalism . . . on the basis of the fact that one should see that the evidence is good for physicalism. Thus, substance dualism is the best view of the self and is most consistent with the preconditions of rationality.”

Is Free Will Possible for the Physicalist?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you recall, at the end of the series comparing physicalism and dualism, I promised to look at additional problems for physicalism.  Before doing so, let me remind you what physicalists believe.  Here is philosopher J. P. Moreland:

According to physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity.  The only things that exist are physical substances, properties, and events.  When it comes to humans, the physical substance is the material body, especially the parts called the brain and central nervous system.  The physical substance called the brain has physical properties, such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition, and so forth.

Physicalists are usually metaphysical materialists who believe that all that exists is matter in its different forms.  There is nothing immaterial that exists.

Moreland brings us to a fundamental human capacity that we all take for granted, that of free will.  What do we mean by free will?  Moreland explains:

When we use the term free will, we mean what is called libertarian freedom: Given choices A and B, I can literally choose to do either one. No circumstances exist that are sufficient to determine my choice. My choice is up to me, and if I do A or B, I could have done otherwise. I act as an agent who is the ultimate originator of my own actions.

Is there room for free will under physicalism?  Moreland argues that there is not.

If physicalism is true, then human free will does not exist.  Instead, determinism is true.  If I am just a physical system, there is nothing in me that has the capacity to freely choose to do something.  Material systems, at least large-scale ones, change over time in deterministic fashion according to the initial conditions of the system and the laws of chemistry and physics.  A pot of water will reach a certain temperature at a given time in a way determined by the amount of water, the input of heat, and the laws of heat transfer.

There are other problems that follow if determinism is true.  What about moral obligation or responsibility?  What about moral praise or blame?

Now, when it comes to morality, it is hard to make sense of moral obligation and responsibility if determinism is true.  They seem to presuppose freedom of the will.  If I “ought” to do something, it seems to be necessary to suppose that I can do it.  No one would say that I ought to jump to the top of a fifty-floor building and save a baby, or that I ought to stop the American Civil War, because I do not have the ability to do either.  If physicalism is true, I do not have any genuine ability to choose my actions.

Moreland concludes with the following:

It is safe to say that physicalism requires a radical revision of our commonsense notions of freedom, moral obligation, responsibility, and punishment.  On the other hand, if these commonsense notions are true, physicalism is false.

Is the Human Mind Like Computer Software?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The question of the origin of human rationality plagues the atheistic naturalist worldview – the worldview that says that all that exists ultimately is matter governed by the laws of physics.  If every event that has ever occurred and ever will occur is determined by physical laws, then how are humans able to make decisions that are free from that determinism?

Rationality is mere illusion under naturalism, as everything we say and think is the result of antecedent physical conditions and physical laws.  We can’t help what we say and think, because all our thoughts and words are the result of physical processes that we have no control over.  Judging a person’s beliefs would be like blaming a leaf for falling to the ground.

On a recent Unbelievable? podcast, atheist Norman Bacrac posited the following solution to the problem.  He claimed that the human brain represents the hardware that obeys the physical laws of nature.  But running on this hardware is the software of the rational mind, software which evolved out of the hardware of human anatomy.  According to Bacrac, even though the hardware is determined by natural laws, the software is not.  Software represents the thoughts and arguments made by humans when they are reasoning.

Does this software proposal really help?  I don’t think so.  Consider what hardware and software mean in the computer world.  Hardware consists in physical electronic circuits.  Software performs the function of the program it implements by directly providing instructions to the computer hardware.  Software is non-physical information.  It can be instantiated into a physical medium, but the medium is not the software – it merely contains the software.

If we are using the analogy of computer hardware and software to explain the difference between the human brain and human rationality, then we need to explain where the non-physical software came from.  Bacrac claimed that the hardware of the brain evolved through standard Darwinian processes, but what about the software?  Ultimately, for the naturalist, the software must come from physical matter.  So, we have physical hardware producing non-physical software, but this is certainly not the case in the world of computers.  Microprocessors don’t produce spreadsheet applications; human minds produce spreadsheet applications.

In order for Bacrac’s analogy to work, he needs to explain the incredible leap from the determined, physical hardware of the brain to the undetermined, non-physical software of human rationality.  On naturalism, I fail to see how this leap can occur, and thus the solution that Bacrac posits does not seem to work.

Why Does a Good Creature Choose Evil?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Since the Fall, we know why people choose evil – we are all born with original sin that saturates our soul.  The Fall, however, does not explain why Adam and Eve, or even Satan, used their free will to choose evil, to reject God.

This question may never be answered this side of heaven with any certainty, but William Dembski offers some interesting thoughts about the subject in his latest book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World.  Here is Dembski’s stab at this persistent mystery:

Perhaps the best we can do is offer a psychological explanation: Precisely because a created will belongs to a creature, that creature, if sufficiently reflective, can reflect on its creaturehood and realize that it is not God.  Creaturehood implies constraints to which the Creator is not subject.  This may seem unfair (certainly it is not egalitarian).  The question then naturally arises, Has God the Creator denied to the creature some freedom that might benefit it?  Adam and Eve thought the answer to this question was yes (God, it seemed, had denied them the freedom to know good and evil).

As soon as the creature answers yes to this question, its will turns against God.  Once that happens, the will becomes evil.  Whereas previously evil was merely a possibility, now it has become a reality.  In short, the problem of evil starts when creatures think God is evil for “cramping their style.”  The impulse of our modern secular culture to cast off restraint wherever possible finds its root here.

Interesting thoughts.  The creature, in effect, thinks that God is holding out on him, that what God has offered is not as good as what it should be.  Out of humanity, only the man Jesus was ever content with what God gave him, which is why he is the model we are all to emulate.