Defining Free Will

October 24, 2009

My thoughts on Free Will have changed quite a lot last few years. I actually don’t know 100% what exactly I currently believe in. Part of the motivation I guess for me to write on this blog is to hammer our my thoughts and beliefs and reason it out. I do know that there are probably at least a couple hundred ways people have defined it, some from purely philosophical, and others from theological perspectives. Unfortunately, I would not be able to enumerate the nuances between all of these definitions. What I hope to do is to think upon the biblical understanding of free will and to come to a conclusive definition by the time I finish writing these thoughts.

First, what are the motivations for defining Free Will? One motivation is to elevate the human choice. But this is rather flawed in that it places unreasonable and unnecessary emphasis on free will. It takes as its premise our subjective experience and general revelation, rather than objective truth and special revelation. While there are knowledge to be gleaned from purely philosophical examination of human choice, it cannot claim the depths of revelatory explanations.

Another motivation for defining Free Will, is to account for the existence of evil. This is one of the classic arguments against the existence of God. I’m pretty sure that this argument dates back before Christianity (Epicurus maybe?). The argument can be stated in many different ways, but can be summarized like this. 1) God is good, or omni-benevolent. 2) God is all-powerful, or omni-potent. 3) If God is both all-good and all-powerful, there would be no evil in this world. 4) But there is evil in this world. 5) Therefore God is either not good or not powerful, in which case he would cease to be God.

One powerful way to refute this argument is by Free Will. Everything God created is good. The existence of free agents to possess free will is good. But the definition of a free agent is that it can choose that which is evil rather than good. Therefore, God is still good, and he is still all powerful since he created the free agents in the first place, but is not responsible for evil. The intention of preserving this notion of free will isn’t to ‘protect’ God from doing evil, as some claim, but rather to harmonize these two orthodox claims that God is good and that there is evil in this world.

One criticism of this refutation of the atheistic argument, is that it equates being creator of the initial conditions and the rules, as being all-powerful. But does not the definition of all-powerful mean that it is in powerful at every moment? Suppose I write a simulation program, in which I can only specify the governing rules and the initial conditions. Am I really in total control of that entire simulation? Maybe if I had knowledge of most minute consequence of the initial conditions, and if I could somehow change the initial conditions and the rules in a way to change one small detail in one specific corner in one instance of time of the simulation without changing what I desired for all other parts of the simulation, then yes. In other words, if I had omniscience over the entirety of the simulation, and had with intention, willfully set up the initial conditions and the rules so that the outcome would be exactly as I have foreseen it, then yes, I still have omnipotence. However, there is one serious flaw to this compatiblistic definition of free will: it fails to account the fact that it places God under the law of time, and hence limits His omnipotence.

One way I’ve tried to think about this is through the relativistic experience of time. But first, some geometrical nonsense. Have you noticed that when you take a reflection of a 2D shape to a line, then take another reflection of the resulting shape to another line, it is like a rotation about the point at which the lines intersect? But when the lines are parallel (or when this point of intersection is infinitely far away), then you get a translation and not rotation! Or another way to look at it would be translation is a funky type of rotation. The reason I bring up such a mundane observation is that any time an infinite quantity is involved, our definitions of things break down. Now, keep this in mind as we think about our experience of time. The faster you go, the slower time passes by. So if you had an identical twin who traveled around the galaxy at light speed and came back to earth meet you, he will be much younger than you. (head explodes). So if God is Spirit, and is omni-present, that is analogous to Him being infinitely fast and traveling everywhere. (Which would also explain why He does not change. )

Now a choice, as I understand it, is in context of time. When I make a choice, there was a point in time when I was undecided and a point in time later on when my mind was made up. Now suppose I’m on a spaceship while making this choice. From a stationary observer on earth, it would seem as though it took me longer to make that same choice, while in fact, from my experience it took the same amount of time. As the speed of this imaginary spaceship increases, the observed time difference (to the stationary observer) will progressively increase as well. When the velocity of the spaceship is infinite, and the spaceship is everywhere at all time, then the mind of the sentient being on-board does not change at all to our observation.

I’m single myself (ladies~), but when I hear most people talk about romantic relationships, they recollect it with a sense of fate and destiny. “I was destined to be with you!” they say to each other. And yet, every kind of romantic advice I get tells me that I should proactively make a choice! I think this is kinda like what’s happening in the spacecraft! When we’re in the spacecraft, looking for a home planet to land on, the choice seems very real. But to the lover waiting on the surface, there is but the fate of the first encounter. Okay I must be getting tired.

One definition of Free Will that I do not agree with is “the ability to make choose between meaningfully differentiable options”. Then, humans have no choice at all. The reason I dislike this this definition is that Jesus doesn’t seem to talk about Free Will this way. The only thing that is necessary for the definition of Free Will is moral reprehensibility. And that does not necessarily preclude the ability to act upon that choice. Jesus seems to consider the heart and motivation more important than the act. But if ability is not part of free will, then only ‘will’ is left. But even if this is true, is God sovereign over the our will itself? (head explodes again)

I give up.


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