Free Will – Daniel Denham

Daniel Denham

One of the areas often hotly disputed in religion and philosophy is the question of human free will. Are human beings free moral agents? Do they have the inherent ability to choose to do certain things or not do those things? Do they have the power to obey or disobey God on their own volition? Many philosophies are deterministic in nature. By deterministic we refer to the idea that human beings have no real free will and that their actions are completely predetermined by forces outside of their control. Even in many religions, determinism is a central part of the belief system.

However, the doctrine of determinism is counter-intuitive, meaning that from the outset it runs contrary to what common sense itself would seem to dictate. If every action by a human being is completely predetermined by outside forces acting independently from one’s own will, then no one could rightly be held accountable for any action. No one would be responsible for what he does. The very concept of justice runs counter to this conclusion. It is clearly false that people are not at all responsible for their actions. They most certainly are responsible and are held so by our own legal systems, which operate on the premise of personal responsibility to abide by the legal norms and statutes of society for the sake of stability, peace, and safety. This is fundamental to any orderly society. To hold people responsible is implicit in any legal system. This presupposes the ability of people to comply of their own free will with the laws of that society.

Also, the idea of determinism is self-defeating in that it implies that one cannot change one’s mind of his own accord. This contradicts the practice of teaching deterministic systems in religion or philosophy. Teaching implies the capacity for the one taught to learn, which implies some measure of control of will on his part. It is patently absurd to maintain that people ought to come to believe in the specific deterministic system while maintaining that it is impossible for them to do so of their own accord. When one holds to determinism, he implicitly admits the falsity of his position when he seeks to rationally convince others of its truth. If the system were true, then people would have to believe in it anyway. They would be compelled to do so by the predetermining power outside themselves to do so. So why spend time arguing for its truth? Why try to convince someone that he really cannot be convinced of anything of himself? That would be an exercise in futility, if the system were really true.

The Bible teaches that man is a free moral agent. We have the innate ability to choose to obey God. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” proclaimed Joshua to the Hebrews in his farewell address (Josh. 24:15). Christianity is premised on the ability of “whosoever will” to come and drink of the waters of life (Rev. 22:17). The invitation of Christ is open to all (Matt. 11:28-30).

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