Free Will vs. Determinism

thedaddyblitz recently wrote a post determinismtitled “A Tangled Dance: the Will and the Holy Spirit” in which he makes an argument for determinism. Being a believer in free will, I thought I’d comment on it. The comment got rather long, so I’m turning it into a post. I’m going to quote from thedaddyblitz’s post, but I recommend you read the whole post first.

In order not to create robots, God creates man with a will and the ability to reason. The will and reason give man freedom to make choices, so that when a man turns to evil, that is not of God, but of the man’s own desire.

This is an argument for free will. “Gotcha!”. But now the counter arguments:

[M]an started out with free will, but, at the Fall, man’s character became corrupted by the taint of sinful desires. At that point, man still had a will, but it became inclined to evil.

Before we became conscious, humans had no knowledge of good and evil, so our choices had no moral implications. After gaining the ability to reason and make judgements about what is good and what is evil, we had, for the first time, the ability to exercise choice between good and evil. The inclination toward evil is the inclination toward self interest while disregarding the interests of others.

“Bondage” and “blindness” are used repeatedly to describe the fallen condition of man. These terms are simply incompatible with the common understanding of “free will.” How can someone who is blind, cannot understand spiritual matters, and is enslaved to sin be free? They cannot.

People who live unconscious lives of hedonism, never pausing to think, are truly blind. They have been given the gift of consciousness and free choice, but choose to squander it. Jesus’s message was to rise up out of this state, to become spiritual. Fundamentalists (like the Pharises in Jesus’s time) are blinded by their own surety that they have the one true answer. It is the log in their eye.

There is no in-between, where a man’s eyes are opened by the Spirit and then he freely rejects the Spirit.

This is observably false. Many have been awakened. Some fall back into unconsciousness, others fall into the trap of blind rationalism. Others are blinded by their own belief that they are enlightened and know the one true path. “They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”

Man is neither forced to sin nor forced to believe. Both in sin and in faith, man does so of his own will. What I am trying to point out is that such will is not “free” as commonly understood… But reborn man consciously chooses between the influence of the Spirit and the flesh, as Paul describes.

This is free will, as I understand it. Those who live unconsciously can be said to have no free will; they are enslaved by their own desires, and their lack of desire to look beyond the immediate reality in front of them. Those who become conscious may fall back into blindness, or they may stray from the path. “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

If the universe is truly deterministic, what is the point? If my actions are predetermined, why should I care about others? Determinism leads to nihilism. If one truly believes in determinism, what purpose is there in debate? Whether you believe that free will comes from a higher power or is an emergent property of the human brain, you believe that life is worth the struggle. Believing that everything you do is predetermined is just another way of blinding yourself.


About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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6 Responses to Free Will vs. Determinism

  1. I read this as a classic Arminian approach versus my Calvinist interpretation. The problem with Arminianism is that it defers to human reasoning and desires over scripture. A mountain of scripture has to be glossed over to reach the conclusion of “free will” as that term is commonly understood. For example, scripture says no one can follow God unless “enabled.” It also says no one can believe in and follow God but for the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. And it also says in the same breath that if the Spirit is in you, you are saved. If the Spirit is not in you, you cannot submit to God. This explains Jesus’ discussion in John 6 and John 10, which paints a clear picture of God drawing His people and giving them to Christ, and only those God gives Christ will follow Him, and those God gives Christ are raised to eternal life.

    Bottom line is there is a spiritual battle going on that undercuts “free” will. It’s not just a willing blindness; evil is active in the blindness. You discuss consciousness, but Adam and Eve were not unconscious. They truly had free will, which was untainted by sinful natures, similar to the Angels who, even without sinful natures, a third rose up with Satan and rebelled against God and were thrown out of Heaven.

    The tree of knowledge didn’t give them free will; it subjected them to a spiritual assault by sin. Before, they had freedom to choose between good and evil, but they were not compelled one way or the other by spiritual forces. But their disobedience opened the gate to sin, thereby enslaving them to sinful desires at the hand of Satan.

    This is important because what the remainder of the Bible shows is God reclaiming His people by the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is required to overcome the mind’s enslavement to sin–the spiritual assault from Satan who blinds the minds of those who God does not enlightened by the Spirit. Missing this concept upends the truth of regeneration revealed in scripture.

    Some also mistakenly assume that the Spirit works on all blinded men such that all are restored to a state of freedom. That is completely contrary to a mountain of scripture that says the Spirit indwells only those God chooses to enlighten. Without the Spirit no one can overcome their blindness; but with the Spirit, they are sealed. And by that Spirit, God restores His people to a condition where they now have freedom to follow God willingly. It’s not a forced obedience but an overcoming of the spiritual assault by sin by restoring the light of righteousness that was snuffed out at the Fall.

    Without addressing the difficult scriptures, what is observable or rational is irrelevant. Our observations and conclusions must always be through the lens of scripture. I believe in past discussions, you have brushed aside Paul and James and perhaps even John. In my post, I cite quite a bit of scripture that I don’t see mentioned here. I think at least those (and they are by no means exclusive) must be addressed instead of deferring to reason.

    • jimbelton says:

      I would say your analysis of where we differ is spot on. For me, scripture, philosophy, and reason all inform experience. The ultimate source of spiritual truth is revelation. Jesus received a revelation in the desert, and the most reliable source for his teachings, which are based on that revelation, are recorded in the sayings recorded in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke (the so called “Gospel of Q”). That’s why I give John, Paul and particularly the OT less weight. While John, Mark, and especially Paul have had some spiritual truths revealed to them, they are not on the same level as the teachings of Jesus.

  2. “A mountain of scripture has to be glossed over to reach the conclusion of “free will” as that term is commonly understood.”
    Actually, just the opposite is true. A mountain of scripture has to be brushed aside, or re-interpreted in ways that don’t fit it’s clear meaning, to arrive at determinism. The scriptures do say that no one can come to God but for the work of the Holy Spirit. No where does it say the Holy Spirit’s work is irresistible, in fact, if that were the case, all verses prompting us to obey God and all verses about God being angry at our sin would be nonsense.
    Calvinists typically take Paul verses about being dead in sin as being dead like a rotting corpse, and ignore that being dead to sin as believers for example does not mean we can’t still choose to sin. So, being dead in sin doesn’t mean we can’t respond to the Holy Spirit. Was the prodigal son not dead in sin? And yet he came to himself and turned back towards the father. The Father did not drag his rotting corpse from the pig pen and bring him home against his will.

    “what is observable or rational is irrelevant”

    Well, there you have it, finally a Calvinist admitting the obvious, that what he believes is irrational.

    • jimbelton says:

      Aha! Discussion. Debate. Excellent…

        being dead in sin doesn’t mean we can’t respond to the Holy Spirit.

      There are few who don’t fall back into their desires now and then. Reaching the kingdom of heaven is like learning to ride a bicycle: get back up and try again.

        what he believes is irrational

      Well, in a sense, any spiritual belief is irrational. That’s why I said that reason ‘informs’ experience. Experience of the Spirit transcends consciousness, occurring in the state of mind where the self (and rationality) has been quieted, and you are at one with Spirit.

    • This is all fleshed out in our long thread on this subject on my blog, so I will not rehash it here. But don’t get too cute in response to honest biblical interpretation by taking comments such as the “rational” one out of context. You know what I meant there, which was human reason does not trump scripture. In fact, much of scripture is irrational to man. The very concept of God sacrificing His only Son for our sins is wholly irrational. My point was human reason has to be viewed through the lens of scripture. That is why I said what is rational is irrelevant, because the comments I was referring to were basically “those scriptures cannot mean that because it is irrational.” To which I stated that was not a valid objection.

  3. I greatly appreciated this debate! And I think it’s ok to be a little tongue in cheek about it. That helps the average person get through it and the more people that open their minds the better.

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