Are we free?

For the religious adherent, whether we are agents created by the Almighty to freely act according to our desires, or we are under His divine direction will depend on your theology.  A case could be made either way I suppose.  I think the Atheist has a more difficult time reconciling the determinism/free agency divide than does the Theist, but that is his to do.  This debate is more lively in circles of Theists  due to the deeper theological consequences, and thus more interesting to me, but I will ask for the Atheist’s input toward the end.

For some, if man has a libertarian freedom it is said to diminish God’s sovereignty and exalt man.  If God is not firmly in the driver’s seat, it belittles His authority as God.  For others, if man does not have an unhindered will, he cannot be said to truly love God; he is nothing more than a sophisticated puppet.  Then there are those for whom there is a mixture of the two: the compatiblist.  We are both directed by God, but simultaneously freely act.  Of the three positions, I find the latter the most difficult to defend without talking out of both sides of your mouth.

If I had to summarize my view, I would have to say that I believe for the most part we are free to make decisions and act in the libertarian sense.  From day to day our actions and thoughts are completely our own doing.  However, the Bible makes it clear that God intervenes in our lives for whatever purposes he has.  So in a sentence, we are ordinarily free in the libertarian sense and God intervenes as He sees fit to fulfill His purposes.

free willThis applies to conversion as well.  The Reformed theological position is that God chooses individuals whom will accept Christ’s sacrifice and be saved.  If you are among the chosen (the elect), you will believe.  Another view is that individuals choose for God, not so much uninfluenced, but certainly uncoerced.  From what I understand to be how the Bible describes this process is that people have the ability to accept or reject God, but that some people are elect in the way the Reformed position claims for all people.  God would have the authority to choose some people specifically because it serves the purpose of His will.  Moses and Paul are two examples.  Because He is the Creator, He has the unique authority to do as He pleases with it.

So I’m fairly certain adherents from both (and other) camps will have their say as to where I’m mistaken.  That’s a good thing.  I don’t mind being corrected provided the arguments are persuasive and well founded.

To my Atheist readers: it seems you are stuck with only one option, strict determinism. For if the universe is only made up of matter, then physical reaction is all there can be.  Like an avalanche, the snow falls where it falls, it doesn’t plan its route.  It simply reacts to its immediately prior cause.  How can we be any different?  If there is no difference between our mind and our brain, a mere semblance of agency, then we have a false perspective on reality.  The synaptic reactions we believe are conscious thoughts are only chemical dominoes.  How did the illusion of free agency come about especially since there are many organisms who survive quite well on pure mechanical instinct?

I’m looking forward to the multitude of perspectives on this issue of free agency or determinism.


  1. jujubee300 says:

    I’ll start. My thoughts are that regarding God, our wills our bound and have no freedom. This is a good thing! What?! A good thing? Yes! God put us all in bondage, that he could have mercy on all. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.Romans 11.

    With regard to our fellow humans, we have free will to mistreat them, or love them.

    Keep this in mind, too: I am not a Calvinist.

    • Juju

      Thanks. But wouldn’t that mean that it would be impossible for some to believe? To me that seems deceptive since the bible, given a plain reading, suggests that it is possible that anyone be saved by trusting on Jesus. This then means those who have no chance to be saved will read this and be effectively deceived.

      My opinion is that if an offer isn’t a true offer, it’s no real offer at all. Does that make sense?

  2. I’m somewhere between your position and the compatiblist position. I am happy to say that God allows (instead of “determines”) our free actions, but just saying that doesn’t removing a great deal of mystery because issues of divine foreknowledge presents problems for libertarian freedom. So, to some degree, I think we have to admit mystery in the whole affair and leave the trickier details to God.

    • Steven

      You’re probably right. I don’t have an issue with foreknowledge, since knowing some future event doesn’t necessarily mean its determined. For example I could know whether my daughter would rather have ice cream or veggies for a snack doesn’t mean my knowing its going to be ice cream determines it.

      I’m OK with the idea of determinism I just don’t think its the case.

  3. wiley16350 says:

    We’re obviously not completely free. We don’t choose the circumstances that we’re born into. We don’t choose what the people around us do. Our choices are limited by the situations and environments we find ourselves into. What we’re free to do is make a choice based on the available options and circumstances that we find ourselves in. Those choices will be made based on the knowledge and information we have experienced to that point in our lives. So you could never claim absolute free will. We’re all limited by experience, knowledge and circumstances. God has the ability to change our direction in life by changing the circumstances, giving us knew experiences or by leading us to new knowledge. God doesn’t do it by force, he does it by gentle persuasion. Although, there are probably examples where he uses extreme persuasion when he has an ultimate purpose in mind.

  4. I am totally a “free will” guy. I think that is my problem with calvanistic Christian beliefs all together. God, I hate to drop another link, but I wrote about this too.

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