Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Terminology Tuesday: Free Will

Free Will: The ability of an agent to make genuine choices that stem from the self. Libertarians argue that free will includes the power to determine the will itself, so that a person with free will can will more than one thing. Compatibilists typically view free will as the power to act in accordance with one’s own will rather than being constrained by some external cause, allowing that the will itself may ultimately be causally determined by something beyond the self. Hard determinists deny the existence of free will altogether. Most Christian theologians agree that humans possess free will in some sense but disagree about what kind of freedom is necessary. The possession of free will does not entail an ability not to sin, since human freedom is shaped and limited by human character. Thus a human person may be free to choose among possibilities in some situations but still be unable to avoid all sin.1
1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 46-47.

14 Comments

  1. John June 1, 2010

    "The possession of free will does not entail an ability not to sin, since human freedom is shaped and limited by human character."

    This statement is contradictory. If the will must sin of necessity then it is in bondage to corruption, and that which is in bondage is not free. SO we must ask freedom from what? Freedom from coercion, yes, but not freedom from necessity.

  2. bossmanham June 1, 2010

    What if sin isn't of necessity? If someone must necessarily sin, and can't do otherwise, how could they be held responsible?

    • Anonymous July 16, 2013

      I think people sin inherently not necessarily but in either case we have been provided a way out of that inherent or necessary desire through Jesus Christ.

  3. Ex N1hilo June 2, 2010

    In Romans 14:23, Paul tells us that "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

    The lost do not have faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore all that they do is sin. Even the best actions of unbelievers are done for selfish and unrighteous motives. They do nothing out of love for God.

    It is not that they are being forced to sin. They do so willingly and without any letup.

    Yes, they make choices. They choose between sinful alternatives–because those are the only alternatives that interest them.

    They are responsible and will be held accountable for those choices.

  4. Brian June 2, 2010

    Even God's freedom is limited by his nature/character. But we would not say that just because God cannot sin that He is not free.

  5. John June 3, 2010

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. John June 3, 2010

    Brian,

    The Bible defines freedom as freedom from sin, not the freedom to do otherwise, as libertarians affirm.

    bossmanham you asked

    >>>What if sin isn't of necessity? If someone must necessarily sin, and can't do otherwise, how could they be held responsible?

    They are held responsible in the same way that someone who owes a debt they cannot repay is still responsible. If someone borrows $100 million from a bank and squanders it in a week of wild living in Las Vegas, his inability to repay the bank does not alleviate him of his responsibility. Likewise all who are in Adam have a debt they cannot repay so Christ comes and does for us what we are unable to do for ourselves.

    Also, the fact that we need grace and the Holy Spirit to believe the gospel proves once for all they man has no free will. Left to himself he would never come to Christ. Can a person come to Jesus apart from the Holy Spirit? No, the Scripture says emphatically (John 6:63-65) and "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Holy Spirit. This is because apart form the Spirit we are in the flesh which is by nature hostile to God (Rom 8:7)

    Therefore apart from the Holy Spirit sin is a necessity. Any "obedience" in the flesh does not come from a heart that loves God. The heart must be renewed for obedience to be acceptable to God…. Grace is not a reward for our faith …rather, it is the cause of faith. Jesus provides everything we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe.

  7. bossmanham June 3, 2010

    If someone is constrained to sin by something, ie made necessary by either past states of affairs or some other causal mechanism that they can't control, then moral responsibility becomes obsolete.

    Ex Nihilo,

    The lost do not have faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore all that they do is sin. Even the best actions of unbelievers are done for selfish and unrighteous motives. They do nothing out of love for God

    This verse is directly addressing believers. Anything believers do apart from faith is sin. Look at the context of Romans 14; this passage is not addressing depravity, nor is it speaking about or to non believers. It is specifically addressing the implications of Christian liberty. You can't take something meant for believers and apply it to all men indiscriminately.

    In fact, Jesus says the unbeliever CAN do good (Matt. 7:11). Now, obviously this "good" is not efficacious for salvation in any way, but even unregenerate man retains the imago dei. Look at the firefighters on 9/11. They unselfishly gave their own lives to help others. Were they all regenerate Christians? Do you think if they weren't that God held this act against them as sin in their judgment? I don't think so.

    Now, as this applies to free will, there are, as Brian alludes to, certain things that the unregenerate, ungraced man cannot do, such as please or search for God (without His drawing) or fly, as he is constrained by his nature. But does this mean that this man can't not sin? NO! It means there is a limit to his ability to do otherwise, but it doesn't mean he can't do otherwise. If man is mechanically controlled by his nature, as a computer program is controlled by its programming, how do we apply moral responsibility? We don't hold computer programs responsible for what they do, we hold their programmers responsible.

    Yes, they make choices. They choose between sinful alternatives–because those are the only alternatives that interest them.

    Well I would say they choose between non-meritorious actions. Many sinful, some potentially not.

    John,

    They are held responsible in the same way that someone who owes a debt they cannot repay is still responsible.

    This is demonstrably disanalogous to libertarian free will. First, this person made the decision. which they could have not made, to get themselves into debt. The inability to pay the debt is a consequence of a free action. Second, libertarian free will doesn't entail the ability to do whatever you choose, because some things are just physically or logically impossible. Rather, LFW is the ability to choose between actually possible alternatives.

    For instance, in our state of depravity we are unable to choose God. But that doesn't mean we lack LFW, rather our free will is limited. Once the Holy Spirit works on our heart, we are then able to choose God (or choose to reject Him).

    In your example, the gambler may not be able to pay his debt, but that doesn't mean his LFW is gone. He just has fewer choices.

    I see this misunderstanding of LFW quite often.

  8. bossmanham June 3, 2010

    The Bible defines freedom as freedom from sin, not the freedom to do otherwise, as libertarians affirm.

    And this is equivocation, as it is speaking of two different iterations of freedom.

  9. Ex N1hilo June 3, 2010

    bossmanham,

    Yes, in the context of Romans 14, Paul is addressing what believers eat, and what they avoid eating, and their motivation in eating certain foods and avoiding others, and the sinfulness or blamelessness of these choices. At the end of the discussion, he concludes with the principle that whatever is not of faith is sin.

    Now, it would be a mistake to limit this principle to apply only to what is on the menu of Christians. It is a general principle that can be found throughout the scriptures.

    If a Christian believer does something that is "not of faith" and is therefore sin, would it not also be a sin for an unbeliever to do the same?

    Would you really argue that, although believers cannot commit faithless acts without sinning, unbelievers can?

    Yes, unbelievers can and do do things that are good from a purely human perspective. But such acts are not viewed by God as righteous nor in any sense meritorious. Even the plowing of the wicked is sin, as Proverbs 21:4 tells us. The wicked man plows his field. He feeds his family. Yet he sins in so doing because he does not do it as unto the Lord.

  10. bossmanham June 3, 2010

    If a Christian believer does something that is "not of faith" and is therefore sin, would it not also be a sin for an unbeliever to do the same?

    I think the believer is held to a different standard than the unbeliever.

    Proverbs 21 seems to be speaking of pride and arrogance as the agricultural product (as the NET Bible puts it) of the person not seeking God.

    But such acts are not viewed by God as righteous nor in any sense meritorious.

    I agree. But does the converse automatically make it sin? I'm not saying they don't sin; they clearly do. But is every act they commit sin? I'm not so sure.

  11. bossmanham June 3, 2010

    Even if it were true that everything the unbeliever did was sin, what I said would still apply.

  12. The Janitor July 16, 2013

    >> If man is mechanically controlled by his nature, as a computer program is controlled by its programming, how do we apply moral responsibility? We don't hold computer programs responsible for what they do, we hold their programmers responsible.

    The alternative to LFW isn't necessarily robots. That's a question begging analogy. For instance, robots don't have consciousness. They aren't persons. What you're trying to do is say that *if* we don't have LFW then basically we would be like this unconscious, nonpersonal thing: a robot. But that begs the question against compatibilism.

    >>First, this person made the decision. which they could have not made, to get themselves into debt.

    When parents die the children sometimes inherit the debt. But we are working in a 21st century western context and we have to be aware of how our moral intuitions on these things may be different than a Jew living in the time of Moses. Though some Christians deny original sin and/or original guilt, I think it's Scriptural. We are not just born sinners but born guilty. This is why infants can experience the penalty of sin: death. So according to the Bible we can inherit guilt. The OT has a robust sense of corporate responsibility. An entire family may be punished for the actions of the head of the family. An entire "family" may be requitted for the actions of the head of the "family". Our federal head, Christ, wins us a verdict of "not guilty."

    >>For instance, in our state of depravity we are unable to choose God. But that doesn't mean we lack LFW,

    In respect to that choice it does and since power of contrary choice is tied to moral responsibility for most libertarians, this means they can't be held responsible for that choice.

    >>I agree [that it's not righteous before God]. But does the converse automatically make it sin?

    In the theological context and if you're admitting it's not righteous before God then YES. Righteousness (right standing before God) is what is required. Sure, you can abstract morality from its theological roots and try to operate with a secular notion of right and wrong. You can make right and wrong have some independent status from God. But that's really equivocal and won't work in the end.

  13. The Janitor July 16, 2013

    Jumping into the discussion three years late…

    Bossmanham said:

    >>If someone is constrained to sin by something, ie made necessary by either past states of affairs or some other causal mechanism that they can't control, then moral responsibility becomes obsolete.

    Not even all Libertarians would necessarily hold to that. For instance, we may make character setting choices that fix our character or make some choices necessary and, yet, morally responsible. And even William Lane Craig has said on one occasion that he finds Frankfurt style cases persuasive, such that one doesn't have to have the power of contrary choice.

    >>In fact, Jesus says the unbeliever CAN do good (Matt. 7:11).

    Good in what sense? I can say that someone's action is good because it has good effects without saying that what they did was morally good–or good as a moral evaluation of their choice.

    >>They unselfishly gave their own lives to help others.

    You can't actually look at their hearts and evaluate their motives.

    >>Do you think if they weren't that God held this act against them as sin in their judgment?

    I think God's judgment maybe is more complex than that because human actions and choices are more complex than that. As a matter of fact I don't think anything believer or unbeliever does is entirely without sin. None of our motives are perfectly pure or what they ought to be. Some sin stains all that we do. We fail to perfectly seek God's glory. We fail to perfectly love God with all our heart, strength, mind, etc. God can hold us accountable for that which is blameworthy even in those actions that are not entirely blameworthy.

    >>there are… certain things that the unregenerate, ungraced man cannot do, such as please or search for God (without His drawing) or fly, as he is constrained by his nature. But does this mean that this man can't not sin? NO! It means there is a limit to his ability to do otherwise, but it doesn't mean he can't do otherwise…

    Propping up your response here seems to be an abstraction of what sin is from its theological context. In other words, if wrong action and sin is rooted in God, such that sin is whenever we fail to relate rightly to God, then in fact if the unbeliever cannot please God then we could say that the unbelieving man cannot not sin. After all, I think any libertarian would want to say (perhaps in virtue of other things libertarians are likely to believe) that all men were created to be in a loving relationship with God–to be pleasing to God. That's the matrix in which we must define sin. Thus, as one who cannot please God, he cannot not sin. This doesn't mean every action he performs is wholly bad in every respect we might consider it–in intrinsic quality or with regard to its effects.