Free will in theology

Free will in theology

Free will in theology is an important part of the debate on free will in general. This article discusses the doctrine of free will as it has been, and is, interpreted within the various branches of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

In Christian thought

In Christian theology, God is described as not only omniscient but also omnipotent; a notion which some people, Christians and non-Christians alike, believe implies that not only has God always known what choices individuals will make tomorrow, but has actually determined those choices. That is, they believe, by virtue of his foreknowledge he knows what will influence individual choices, and by virtue of his omnipotence he controls those factors. This becomes especially important for the doctrines relating to salvation and predestination. Other branches, such as Methodists, believe that while God is omnipotent and knows the choices that individuals will make, he still gives individuals the power to ultimately choose (or reject) everything, regardless of any internal or external conditions relating to the choice. For example, when Jesus was nailed on the cross, the two criminals, one on each side, were about to die. Only one asked Jesus for forgiveness while the other, even at the end of his life with nothing else to lose, mocked Jesus. In the view of Methodists and others who believe in free will, this was a free and personal choice between everlasting death and everlasting life.

In Calvinism

Calvinist Protestants embrace the idea that God chose who would be saved and who would be damned prior to the creation. They quote Ephesians 1:4 "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" and also 2:8 "For it is by grace you are saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." One of the strongest defenders of this theological point of view was the Puritan-American preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards believed that indeterminism was incompatible with individual dependence on God and hence with his sovereignty. He reasoned that if individuals' responses to God's grace are contra-causally free, then their salvation depends partly on them and therefore God's sovereignty is not "absolute and universal." Edward's book "Freedom of the Will" defends theological determinism. In this book, Edwards attempts to show that libertarianism is incoherent. For example, he argues that by 'self-determination' the libertarian must mean either that one's actions including one's acts of willing are preceded by an act of free will or that one's acts of will lack sufficient causes. The first leads to an infinite regress while the second implies that acts of will happen accidentally and hence can't make someone "better or worse, any more than a tree is better than other trees because it oftener happens to be lit upon by a swan or nightingale; or a rock more vicious than other rocks, because rattlesnakes have happened oftener to crawl over it." ["Freedom of the Will", 1754; Edwards 1957-, vol. 1, pp. 327.]

It should not be thought that this view completely denies freedom of choice, however. It claims that man is free to act on his strongest moral impulse and volition, which is externally determined, but is not free to act contrary to them, or to alter them. Proponents, such as John L. Girardeau, have indicated their belief that moral neutrality is impossible; that even if it were possible, and one were equally inclined to contrary options, one could make no choice at all; that if one is inclined, however slightly, toward one option, then that person will necessarily choose that one over any others.

Some non-Calvinist Christians attempt a reconciliation of the dual concepts of predestination and free will by pointing to the situation of God as Christ. In taking the form of a man, a necessary element of this process was that Jesus Christ lived the existence of a mortal. When Jesus was born he was not born with the omniscient power of God the Creator, but with the mind of a human child - yet he was still God in essence. The precedent this creates is that God is able to will the abandonment of His knowledge, or ignore knowledge, while remaining fully God. Thus it is not inconceivable that although omniscience demands that God knows what the future holds for individuals, it is within his power to deny this knowledge in order to preserve individual free will. Other theologians argue that the Calvinist-Edwardsean view suggests that if all human volitions are predetermined by God, then all actions dictated by fallen will of man necessarily satisfy His sovereign decree. Hence, it is impossible to act outside of God's perfect will, a conclusion some non-Calvinists claim poses a serious problem for ethics and moral theology.

An early proposal toward such a reconciliation states that God is, in fact, not aware of future events, but rather, being eternal, He is outside time, and sees the past, present, and future as one whole creation. Consequently, it is not as though God would know "in advance" that Jeffrey Dahmer would become guilty of homicide years prior to the event as an example, but that He was aware of it from all eternity, viewing all time as a single present. This was the view offered by Boëthius in Book V of the "Consolation of Philosophy".

Calvinist theologian Loraine Boettner argued that the doctrine of divine foreknowledge does not escape the alleged problems of divine foreordination. He wrote that "what God foreknows must, in the very nature of the case, be as fixed and certain as what is foreordained; and if one is inconsistent with the free agency of man, the other is also. Foreordination renders the events certain, while foreknowledge presupposes that they are certain." [] Some Christian theologians, feeling the bite of this argument, have opted to limit the doctrine of foreknowledge if not do away with it altogether, thus forming a new school of thought, similar to Socinianism and Process Theology, called Open Theism.

In Catholicism

Theologians of the Catholic Church universally embrace the idea of free will, but generally do not view free will as existing apart, from or in contradiction to grace. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively on free will, with Augustine focusing on the importance of free will in his responses to the Manichaeans, and also on the limitations of a concept of unlimited free will as denial of grace, in his refutations of Pelagius. Catholic Christianity's emphasis on free will and grace is often contrasted with predestination in Reformed Protestant Christianity, especially after the Counter-Reformation, but in understanding differing conceptions of free will it is just as important to understand the differing conceptions of the nature of God, focusing on the idea that God can be all-powerful and all-knowing even while people continue to exercise free will, because God does not exist in time (see the link to Catholic Encyclopedia below for more).

In Eastern Christianity

Oriental Orthodox

The concept of free will is also very important in the Oriental Orthodox Churches, especially in the Coptic affiliated ones. As in Judaism, free will is regarded as axiomatic. Everyone is regarded as having a free choice as to in what measure he or she will follow his or her conscience or arrogance, these two having been appointed for each individual. The more one follows one's conscience, the more it brings one good results, and the more one follows one's arrogance, the more it brings one bad results. Following only one's arrogance is sometimes likened to the dangers of falling into a pit while walking in pitch darkness, without the light of conscience to illuminate the path. Very similar doctrines have also found written expression in the Dead Sea Scrolls "Manual of Discipline", and in some religious texts possessed by the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia.

Eastern Orthodox

Dostoevsky (an Eastern Orthodox Christian) the novelist suggested many arguments for and against free will. Famous arguments are the Grand Inquisitor, Notes from Underground and the argument that suicide, if chosen out of the irrational, was validation of freewill (see Kirilov in the Demons) novel. As for the argument presented in "The Brothers Karamazov"'s section "The Rebellion" that the suffering of innocents was not worth the price of freewill, Dostoevsky appears to propose the idea of Apocatastasis as one possible rational solution.

In the LDS (Mormon) Church

Mormons or Latter-day Saints, believe that God has given all humans the gift of moral agency. Moral agency includes free will and agency. Proper exercise of unfettered choice leads to the ultimate goal of returning to God's presence. Having the choice to do right or wrong was important, because God wants a society of a certain type -- those that comply with eternal laws. Before this Earth was created, this dispute over agency rose to the level that there was a "war in heaven." Lucifer (who favored no agency) and his followers were cast out of heaven for rebelling against God's will. Many Mormon leaders have also taught that the battle in Heaven over agency is now being carried out on earthFact|date=August 2007, where dictators, influenced by Satan, fight against freedom (or free agency) in governments. contrary to the will of God.

Mormons also believe in a limited form of foreordination; not in deterministic unalterable decrees, but rather callings from God for individuals to perform specific missions in mortality. Those who are foreordained can reject the foreordination, either outright or by transgressing the laws of God and becoming unworthy to fulfill the call.

In the New Church

The New Church, or Swedenborgianism, teaches that every person has complete freedom to choose heaven or hell. Emanuel Swedenborg, upon whose writings the New Church is founded, argued that if God is love itself, people must have free will. If God is love itself, then He desires no harm to come to anyone: and so it is impossible that he would predestine anyone to hell. On the other hand, if God is love itself, then He must love things outside of Himself; and if people do not have the freedom to choose evil, they are simply extensions of God, and He cannot love them as something outside of Himself. In addition, Swedenborg argues that if a person does not have free will to choose goodness and faith, then all of the commandments in the Bible to love God and the neighbor are worthless, since no one can choose to do them - and it is impossible that a God who is love itself and wisdom itself would give impossible commandments.

Other Views

Free will is also a point of debate among both sides of the Christian communist theory. Because some Christians interpret the Bible as advocating that the ideal form of society is communism,Fact|date=February 2007 opponents of this theory maintain that the establishment of a large-scale communist system would infringe upon the free will of individuals by denying them the freedom to make certain decisions for themselves.Fact|date=February 2007 Christian communists adamantly oppose this by arguing that free will has and always will be limited to some extent by human laws.Fact|date=February 2007

In Jewish thought

The belief in free will (Hebrew: "bechirah chofshit" בחירה חפשית, "bechirah" בחירה) is axiomatic in Jewish thought, and is closely linked with the concept of reward and punishment, based on the Torah itself: "I [God] have set before you life and death, blessing and curse: therefore choose life" ( Deuteronomy 30:19).

Free will is therefore discussed at length in Jewish philosophy, firstly as regards God's purpose in creation, and secondly as regards the closely related, resultant, paradox. The topic is also often discussed in connection with Negative theology, Divine simplicity and Divine Providence, as well as Jewish principles of faith in general.

Free will and creation

The traditional teaching regarding the purpose of creation, particularly as influenced by Jewish mysticism, is that "This world is like a corridor to the World to Come" ("Pirkei Avoth" [ 4:16] ). "Man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in God, and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence… The place where this joy may truly be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to the object of our desires is this world..." (Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, "Mesillat Yesharim", [ Ch.1] ). Free will is thus required by God's justice, “otherwise, Man would not be given or denied good for actions over which he had no control” [] .

It is further understood that in order for Man to have true free choice, he must not only have inner free will, but also an environment in which a choice between obedience and disobedience exists. God thus created the world such that both good and evil can operate freely [] ; this is the meaning of the Rabbinic maxim, "All is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven" (Talmud, "Berachot" 33b).

The paradox of free will

In Rabbinic literature, there is much discussion as to the apparent contradiction between God's omniscience and free will. The representative view is that "Everything is foreseen; yet free will is given" (Rabbi Akiva, "Pirkei Avoth" [ 3:15] ). Based on this understanding, the problem is formally described as a paradox, beyond our understanding.

The paradox is explained, but not resolved, by observing that God exists outside of time, and therefore, his knowledge of the future is exactly the same as his knowledge of the past and present. Just as his knowledge of the past does not interfere with man's free will, neither does his knowledge of the future [] . This distinction, between foreknowledge and predestination, is in fact discussed by Maimonides' critic Abraham ibn Daud; see "Hasagat HaRABaD" "ad loc".

(One analogy here is that of time travel. The time traveller, having returned from the future, knows in advance what x will do, but while he knows what x will do, that knowledge does not cause x to do so: x had free will, even while the time traveller had foreknowledge; see [] . However, one objection raised against this analogy – and ibn Daud’s distinction – is that if x truly has free will, he may choose to act otherwise when the event in question comes to pass, and therefore the time traveller (or God) merely has knowledge of a "possible" event: even having seen the event, there is no way to know with certainty what x will do; see the view of Gersonides below. Further, the presence of the time traveller, may have had some chaotic effect on x's circumstances and choice, absent when the event comes to pass in the present.)

Alternate approaches

Although the above discussion of the paradox represents the majority Rabbinic view, there are several major thinkers who resolve the issue by explicitly "excluding" human action from divine foreknowledge.

Both and Judah ha-Levi hold that "the decisions of man precede God's knowledge" [] . Gersonides holds that God knows, beforehand, the choices open to each individual, but does not know which choice the individual, in his freedom, will make. Isaiah Horowitz takes the view that God cannot know which moral choices people will make, but that, nevertheless, this does not impair His perfection.

In line with this thinking, the teaching from "Pirkei Avoth" above, is read as: "Everything is "observed" (while - and no matter where - it happens), "and" (since the actor is unaware of being observed) free will is given " [ See for example, the commentary of "The Bartenura", Obadiah ben Abraham, "ad loc" ] .

:See further discussion in the article on Gersonides.

In Kabbalistic thought

The existence of free will, and the paradox above (as addressed by either approach), is closely linked to the concept of "Tzimtzum". "Tzimtzum" entails the idea that God "constricted" his infinite essence, to allow for the existence of a "conceptual space" in which a , independent world could exist. This "constriction" made free will possible, and hence the potential to earn the World to Come.

Further, according to the first approach, it is understood that the Free-will Omniscience paradox provides a temporal parallel to the paradox inherent within "Tzimtzum". In granting free will, God has somehow "constricted" his foreknowledge, to allow for Man's independent action; He thus has foreknowledge and yet free will exists. In the case of "Tzimtzum", God has "constricted" his essence to allow for Man's independent existence; He is thus immanent and yet transcendent.

In Islamic thought

Disputes about free will in Islam began with the Kharijite vs Murji'ite disputes, with the Kharijites arguing that humans had "qadar," the capacity to do right or wrong, and thus deserved the reward or punishment they received, whereas Murji'ites insisted on God's "jabr," or total power and initiative in managing all events. [ Denny, Frederick. An Introduction to Islam, 1985 Macmillan ] Later thinkers such as Abu Hanifa and al-Ash'ari searched for ways to explain how both human qadar, and divine jabr could be asserted at the same time.Ash'ari develops a "dual agency" or "acquisition" account of free will in which every human action has two distinct agents. God creates the act with his divine jabr, but then the human "acquires" the act, making it theirs and taking responsibility for it using their human qadar. [Watt, Montgomery. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. Luzac & Co.: London 1948.; Wolfson, Harry. The Philosophy of Kalam, 1976 Harvard University Press and ]

In Hinduism

As Hinduism is primarily a conglomerate of different religious traditions [ [ Cambridge University HCS] "Since Hinduism is itself a conglomerate of religions, an attitude of tolerance and acceptance of the validity of other belief systems has long been a part of Hindu thought." ] there is no one accepted view on the concept of free-will. Within the predominant schools of Hindu philosophy there are two main opinions. The Advaita (monistic) schools generally believe in a fate based approach, and the Dvaita (dualistic) schools are proponents for the theory of free will. [ [ Predictive Astrology - Understanding Karma, Fate, & Free Will ] "“Dvaita” or dualism and is generally a proponent of a free will orientation. The path of surrender or non-action, represents “Advaita” or non-dualism and is generally a proponent of fate orientation." ] The different schools' understandings are based upon their conceptions of the nature of the supreme Being (see Brahman, Paramatma and Ishvara) and how the individual soul (atma or jiva) dictates, or is dictated by karma within the illusory existence of maya.

In both Dvaita and Advaita schools, and also in the many other traditions within Hinduism there is a strong belief in destiny [ [ Himalayan Academy] "Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds" ] and that both the past and future are known, or viewable, by certain saints or mystics as well as by the Supreme being (Ishvara) in traditions where Ishvara is worshipped as an "all knowing being". In the Bhagavad Gita, the avatar, Krishna says to Arjuna:
*"I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come." [ [ Bhagavad Gita 7.26] ] However this belief in destiny is not necessarily believed to rule out the existence of free-will, as in some cases both free-will and destiny are believed to exist simultaneously. [ [ Bhagavad-Gita 3.27] "The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature" ] [ [ B-Gita 15.7 puport] "As fragmental parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, the living entities also have fragmental portions of His qualities, of which independence is one. Every living entity, as an individual soul, has his personal individuality and a minute form of independence. By misuse of that independence one becomes a conditioned soul, and by proper use of independence he is always liberated" ]

Different approaches

The six orthodox (astika) schools of thought in Hindu philosophy give differing opinions: In the Samkhya, for instance, matter is without any freedom, and soul lacks any ability to control the unfolding of matter. The only real freedom ("kaivalya") consists in realizing the ultimate separateness of matter and self. For the Yoga school, only Ishvara is truly free, and its freedom is also distinct from all feelings, thoughts, actions, or wills, and is thus not at all a freedom of will. The metaphysics of the Nyaya and Vaisheshika schools strongly suggest a belief in determinism, but do not seem to make explicit claims about determinism or free will.Koller, J. (2007) "Asian Philosophies". 5th ed. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-092385-0]

A quotation from Swami Vivekananda, a Vedantist, offers a good example of the worry about free will in the Hindu tradition.

Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is moulded by conditions of time, space and causality. ... To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here. Swami Vivekananda (1907) "Freedom" from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. vol. 1. [ ((online))] ]

On the other hand, Mimamsa, Vedanta, and the more theistic versions of Hinduism such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism, have often emphasized the importance of free will. For example, in the Bhagavad Gita the living beings (jivas) are described as being of a "higher nature" who have the freedom to exploit the inferior material nature (prakrti):

Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature. [ [ Bhagavad Gita 7.5] ]

The doctrine of Karma in Hinduism requires both that we pay for our actions in the past, and that our actions in the present be free enough to allow us to deserve the future reward or punishment that we will receive for our present actions. The Advaitin philosopher Chandrashekhara Bharati Swaminah puts it this way:

Fate is past karma, free-will is present karma. Both are really one, that is, karma, though they may differ in the matter of time. There can be no conflict when they are really one.

Fate, as I told you, is the resultant of the past exercise of your free-will. By exercising your free-will in the past, you brought on the resultant fate. By exercising your free-will in the present, I want you to wipe out your past record if it hurts you, or to add to it if you find it enjoyable. In any case, whether for acquiring more happiness or for reducing misery, you have to exercise your free-will in the present.Chandrashekhara Bharati in "'Dialogues with the Guru" by R. Krishnaswami Aiyar, Chetana Limited, Bombay, 1957]

An Important Source of Confusion

One source of confusion in discussions of free will is that between discussions thereof as a spiritual faculty on the one hand (see faculty psychology) and discussions of free will as a name for a random element in human behavior. clarifyme

Freedom-as-chance, a position advocated by William James among others, can be understood quite naturalistically. The word "chance," he wrote, "with its singular negativity, is just the word for this purpose" -- the purpose of moving debate beyond competing grabs for the eulogistic word "free." clarifyme

References and notes

External links


* [ Divine Foreknowledge and Free Will] , Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Christian Material

* [ Article at Roman Catholic Encyclopedia]
* [ Free Will from a conservative Calvinist perspective]
* [ Calvinism and Free Will]
* [ The incompatibility of human freedom and Christianity]

Jewish Material

* [ Article at Jewish Encyclopedia]
*Daat enc|title=בחירה חופשית|id1=1680
* [ Free will and the purpose of creation] , Aryeh Kaplan
* [ Fate and Destiny] , Aryeh Kaplan
* [ Repentance and Predestination in Jewish Thought] ,
* [ Material at] : The Paradox of Free Choice, Determinism, Robotism, Prescience, Omnipotence, Oneness and Primal Cause

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