Beyond the piles of books, posts, lectures on the free will vs. determinism discussion, there remains a nagging objection to this whole business. It takes many forms:
“Great theologians and philosophers have disagreed over this question for centuries. You’ll never figure it out!”
Sometimes the objection takes the form of the assertion that
“It is a paradox that the human mind is incapable of understanding.”
I’ve never seen any good argument for this assertion and the Christian shouldn’t accept it because he would be suggesting the insufficiency of God’s revelation on the subject. The former objection is much better and humbler since it blames the human not Creator God. Even less plausible is the form:
“Arminians have their verses and Calvinists have their verses”
The objection assumes that the inconsistency lies with God’s Word, and the brilliant minds of men have come to unbiased objective conclusions; demonstrating that God has contradicted Himself.
So now, to clarify the discussion, let me present a more plausible nagging objection.
“The battle of the freedom of the will rages because we refuse to define our terms”
What is free and what is will? Can we really argue for or against the freedom of the will without knowing what it is? Most, if not all, of the after-church discussions I’ve participated in are characterized by equivocating definitions of free will. It’s not only that different people have different definitions. Actually, a single person vacillates between multiple definitions in a single conversation; if not in a single sentence. It would be unfair to say that the piles of books, posts, and lectures spoken of above all fall into this category. Rather, if, during the after-church discussions, we spent some time defining our terms, more time would be devoted to studying the concepts of freedom and will and less time would be devoted to arguing and proof-texting. Unfortunately, this takes us deep into the realm of theology, philosophies of anthropology, and psychology. It is better to give up and save time to play XBOX or watch Oprah reruns.
Here are a few definitions and some discussion appended. I’ll be revising this article so I would like feedback on any perceived errors or ambiguities in my thinking, and I, not having exhausted the amount of reading I can do on the subject, would appreciate being directed to published answers to any of the objections that I have given to these definitions.
D1: Free will is the state of a mind whose actions are not determined by anything or anyone.
D2: Free will is the state of a mind whose constitution and actions are not determined by anything or anyone.
D3: Free will is the state of a mind whose actions are determined by it’s desires.
If human beings have free will:
A) D1 implies that, although God may have created human minds the way that they are, He has not created their actions. Moreover, if a fixed future is a “thing”, it must have been determined by the actions of the human mind and not by anything else. Some Molinists and Arminians accept this, but some reject that the future is a thing and say, therefore, that it cannot be known. However, if the constitution of the mind determines the actions of the mind, then God determines the actions of the mind (I’m setting the will equal to the actions of the mind.).
P1: The constitution of the mind determines the actions of the mind
P2: God has determined the constitution of the mind
C3: Therefore God determines the actions of the mind.
One may object that the constitution of the mind does not determine the actions of the mind but only affects them. If this distinction is insisted upon, all the “determines” in the above syllogism may be changed to “affects.” Therefore, God affects the actions of the mind. The objection may be plausible. Other events and other people appear to affect our actions. A person driving a car toward us motivates us to think: “get out of the way!” Here’s what we have then:
P4: The actions of the mind are only affected by (1) the constitution of the mind and (2) affects external to the mind.
P5: The actions of a mind are determined by the set of all things affecting
C6: Therefore, the actions of the mind are determined by (1) and (2)
P7: (1) is determined by God
P8: (2) is external to the mind
C9: Therefore the actions of the mind are determined by God and/or things external to the mind.
I think that the argument can carry further to show that (2) is also determined by God, but C9 is incompatible with free will as defined in D1 so the argument may end. Assuming the Molinist and the Arminian will challenge P4 by adding affects to (1) and (2), my question is an anthropological question: What else affects the actions of the mind? Until this affect is defined, I don’t see how anyone can object that I am begging the question in P4. I realize that Arminians and Molinists assert that there is something else; a (3) and maybe a (4). Maybe the critic could challenge the argument above by showing an equivocation between P4 and P5 on the word affect. Point me in the right direction here.
B) D2 implies that God has not created human minds nor their actions. For now, let me say that I think it implies that the Bible is errant.
C) D3 seems to me to an acceptable definition for Calvinists because it allows God’s plan and human desires to line up consistently, so that what we desire for evil reasons, God can mean for good (Gen 50:20). This way, God creates our minds and, thereby, determines our actions. However, it doesn’t say what Arminians, Catholics, Molinists, and Kantians would like it to say in order to allow for human responsibility. I suspect the argument would go:
P10: If (A) God determines our actions, (B) God cannot hold man responsible for them
P11: God holds man responsible for them
C12: Therefore, God does not determine our actions
P10 seems not to be provable unless one deduces it from God’s Word, since there seems to be no analytical relationship between (A) and (B). At this time, I cannot imagine an argument for it, but would be happy to be pointed in the right direction here. It would seem that Paul denies P10 in the clearest possible terms in Romans 9:19 and following. Most of the time, in my experience, people merely assert it P10 and use it as their axiom. With them, I think the discussion cannot continue.
The anthropological question for D3 is complementary to the question for the D1: Do desires alone determine actions of the mind? Loaded inside this question are sub-questions like: Does God ever force human minds to act out of accordance with their desires? Do insane people act out of accordance with their desires? etc.
It should be noted that although the concept in D3 is acceptable on a Calvinist view, many Calvinists prefer to use D1 and reject the notion of free will. After all, D3 is just the state of having a will so calling it free is misleading since the only will that is not determined by it’s creator is God’s; God not having a creator. Therefore, we reject free will but maintain that man has a will. God does not coerce our wills but we act according to our desires. Biblical determinism is possible because God has created our wills. It is important to understand what the bible teaches and then pick proper terms to describe it. To help with answering the question of responsibility vs. determinism, an article that has helpful references is here. The godshammer blog has a very helpful article focused on a similar subject here.