Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Jonathan Edward's on The Freedom of the Will

The long debated argument that has permeated down through the millenia has never gone away and it looks like it never will. Obviously, this debate has not been limited to just the theological realm, but that of the philosophical as well. The tension between freedom and determinism can be philosophically stated as:

If we are free agents than we do not and cannot know the future, b/c the future is contingent (dependent on our, as of yet undecided) choices.

However, we live in a world governed by universal laws and using these are able to predict future. So in this sense, everything in the world is determined from the beginning by the laws that the govern the universe.

Basically, if we are governed by all these scientific laws and that matter must follow these strict rules without exception, are our choices than necessary interactions of these laws?

Theologically this problem becomes:

Why and how can we choose (that is make a real choice of) God if He has already determined it from eternity past?

To the Arminians, the unregenerate human will has the capacity and freedom to choose Christ as His Lord and Savior.

To the Calvinist, the unregenerate man is totally unable to choose God, and it is He who must sovereignly decide who comes to choose him. Man does have freewill; it can freely choose, totally unrestricted, any evil of its liking, but its bound in sin. Man cannot choose good without God.

So when we choose God do we actually choose him from our own will or did He program us and make it our inescapable destiny to choose him against our wills?

Jonathan Edwards in his book "The Freedom of the Will," which some deem his greatest work (though many, including me, believe that his "The History of the Work of Redemption" is his magnum opus) addresses this issue in a very, very thorough fashion. The book itself is unlike Edwards, as it is very philosophical in its nature, breaking down each and every Arminian point. Don't be fooled however, it is still very Biblically centered. Unfortunately, there wasn't much in the positive sense for Calvinism and his old English is tough to get through at times (I am even contemplating writing a contemporary English version).

I'll try not cover arguments that can be found most anywhere else ie that foreknowledge = foreordination, but will try to give 4 "new" points I found in Edwards. Before we start it is important to note that Arminians hold that actions from necessary choices in themselves contain no intrinsic moral value ie good nor evil. After all how can a machine do good? The will has perfect indifference.

1. The Ontology (being) of the Will

Many Arminian proponents claim that the will is free of any necessary association and that is its own first cause, including any predisposing influences and motives.

i. It cannot be its own first cause or else it would come from nothing. This mean something is prior to the first cause of the will.

ii. If you say the soul is the cause of the will, than the will is not free because it is determined by something.

iii. If it is totally undirected than for every event, there should be a 50/50 chance of choosing or not choosing the event. This becomes more clear in point #2 with the discussion about good and evil motives, basically if something is influencing the will, say good, than your will has proportionally lost that much freedom.

iv. The will does what it wants. Say a murder regrets killing someone and didn't really want to do it, it is absurd to say that he did something his will did not want to do. Why? Because that would mean that his will at the same time did something it wanted to and did not want to do.

2. Destruction of virtue and vice.

i. If the will is influenced in any way, for example by a motive, if it is sufficiently strong enough it would make the will unable to choose anything opposing that motivation, thus rendering freewill and libertine choice void.

ii. Therefore, if you are motivated by a strong desire for good than those actions are necessary and in them contain no virtue.

iii. The absurdity here as you can see is that a choice when made with the most sincere good or malevolent motives, are neither good nor evil since they are necessary. At the least, less good and less evil, because of the predisposition to those things.

3. Misunderstandings of philosophical vocabulary and their applications to the natural world.

i. Philosophers, metaphysicians, and theologians use words like "impossible," "cannot," "can," "possible," that are contrary to their normal usage.

ii.However they use these same words (that they all have a different definition for) to and use them in analogies outside philosophy.

iii. Therefore, the layity/normal people, that do not understand the philosophical usage of the term, take them and use them in their normative sense.

iv. This leads to false analogies.

For example: Arminians say if we are bound and have no choice in the moral realm and it is impossible for us to avoid the choice, than just like in the natural realm we are not held accountable. Would God hold us accountable for not being able to fly, play bball like Jordan, or for falling if we got pushed off a building? Thus it follows that we have freewill - WRONG

The problem here is that the "impossible" of a moral decision does not parallel the "impossible"of a natural situation. For one thing, our bodies are composed of matter and our spirit is not. The fundamental laws of physics, chemisty, etc. that are corporeal bodies are bound to, do not apply to our spirit. Also, common experience tells us the contrary - we can lie or not lie, write or not write, fight or walk away etc. we have no choice in the say to obey gravity or not.

Remember the real question behind all this is if man can do good without God's intervention, not specific actions.

4. God is necessarily Good and the Devil is necessarily Evil.

i. The most powerful of all his arguments. God, by definition must choose the very best good and cannot choose evil in any circumstance. Does that make God a robot since He can only choose good? Of course not!

ii. Satan cannot do anything good, but only choose evil. Since all his choices are necessarily evil do they make them less evil and does that make Satan a machine? Of course not!

iii. Yet, when humans make decisions according to God's foreordination why can't they be good or evil? Yes, they are free analogous as God is to make real decisions.

1 comment:

charles cawley said...

Freedom of the will

It has long been a belief that freedom of the will is an illusion and that every decision we make is caused by physical laws and the actions of the World as they apply to our bodies. We may believe that our decisions are made freely but, in fact, they are not independent of our experiences, the laws of physics, biology and chemistry. We may think we are taking independent decisions, but in fact we are deluded because our characters which are also pre-determined, appear to conform to the decisions we think we are making.

A common illusion has also created a barrier to solving this problem. It is believed that any freely made decision must have been consciously made and that the evidence or information used should have been consciously discovered. However, consciousness can only consider knowledge, information is what we refer to of concerns that are not the immediate subject of consciousness. Metamorphosis of thought has the capacity to create new ideas and when consciousness is aware of this, they become new ideas and new knowledge.

This new knowledge does not directly come from a chain of causality, it has metamorphosed from other information coming together. In some cases it can come from other information, partly dismantled and re-assembled.

The mind, which covers both the conscious state and the place of information, is what is free, not consciousness. Consciousness is not free, but because it can use genuinely new information and new ideas, created in an undetermined way, its decisions can be free even if its operation is determined.

This is the key to freedom in determination. It depends on the difference between knowledge and information and the different restrictions and freedoms related to these two aspects.