Free will is an enduring question in secular philosophy but why? Could it possibly be that as part of the created order by God free will cannot be dismissed.
Free will affirms human dignity. Without the concept of human dignity societies would collapse. We would be free to treat each other as we saw fit with no accountability or repercussion. This is because without free will no one can be held accountable for their actions. If man is not free to choose his actions then how can he possibly be held accountable for those actions?
Richard Dawkins points out if your computer has a problem we don’t blame the computer. No, we look for the programming error and we correct it. If we see humans in this same light then we see how we cannot possibly hold people accountable for their actions if they cannot choose those actions. It would be irrational to do so.
It naturally follows that with that line of thinking in place it is also irrational to believe that a human without free will can possess unconditional love for their children, which as Rodney Brooks states is the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.
This poses a huge problem for secular philosopher because it forces them to live with what they have named “a useful fiction” or “double thinking.” This is essentially saying one thing and living another. This is because they realize that free will is not only a useful theory but also necessary for human dignity and for society to continue to function. Though it cannot be explained many secular philosophers have accepted the theory of free will labeling it as necessary.
Human beings no matter how much we try cannot deny what we experience. We may believe a secular worldview but that belief can in no way remove the everyday experiences we have of the Christian worldview; the reality that God is the Creator, morality is not a human construct and free will is something innate in every human being.
Many secular philosophers understand that without free will life would be intolerable. This in itself speaks to the necessity of acknowledging free will. A machine doesn’t care that it doesn’t have a free choice to make decisions on its own apart from what it has been programmed to do. Nor do they give any though as to how their actions might affect another computer or cause harm or difficulty for themselves. They simply do what they are told in complete compliance not out of choice but due to programming. After all they are merely machines whose sole purpose is to help human beings. They were created to help man.
I believe a prime example of this would be the computer virus. This is something that is programmed into the computer by those who wish to harm computer systems, information systems and individuals. They are used to steal, kill and destroy both the machine and some part of the life of the user. Yet, the computer has no choice other than to act upon this programming. The only way to stop it is to find a better programmer to remove the virus, stop it the virus or reprogram it. Once the virus is initiated harm follows until the virus has been stopped.
The computer has no choice but it also feels neither remorse nor shame for the harm it causes to itself or for the harm it causes to another computer system or the user. There is no free will so we cannot hold the computer responsible but there is no free will so the computer doesn’t care.
Human beings when forced to do harm to themselves, another person or the property of another always unless there is mental dysfunction or illness will always without fail feel remorse or shame. It contradicts everything in the nature of a human being because we were created to live to honor the Creator and each other. We were created to live without guilt. We were created to live in a healthy community with each other and our Creator. This shame/remorse concept is what makes it possible for societies to function properly in a fallen world.
Even more important to recognize is that this is how human beings deeply desire societies to function. We desire not to hurt others or do harm to them and we desire that we also be free from the hurt and harm inflicted by another human being. If free will were not a reality then we wouldn’t care how society functions. We would merely be instinctual creatures following our programming.
Additional abilities that depend upon free will that come to mind for me are the expression of the self through art, and music. The most simplistic ability I can think of that depends upon free will would be choosing from a menu in restaurant or fast food establishment.
Now the first, art and music are better examples. These things cannot merely be a part of computer programming or biological process. Each human being has the ability to paint a star for instance. Now if this were mere programming or a biological reaction then each star should be the same in form, color, size, and placement. Yet if 50 people were given a paint brush and asked to paint a star each one would express that star differently. This is not because they are all witnessing different stars and interpreting them but because while each person’s experience of a star is the same each one would choose to highlight or diminish certain characteristics of that star based on their preference of what was most important to them about that star at that moment. This would be combined with the imagination of the individual in which they may want to change something real for something imaginative in order to convey a message or concept to the viewer of the art. These are all free will choices.
Even if we are not aware that this is what we are doing when we paint our star if we are pressed to answer questions as to why we painted the star a certain way each person would be able to explain their choices. We all choose even if we are not aware at first of our choices. This concept is the same in music. Every person has the ability to sing. Some obviously better than others but I would argue once again this is based on preference or free will choice. This is why what is considered “good” music is different across cultural boundaries, age groups, socioeconomic classes, personality types and more.
Now I want to explain the simple example of the menu as an example of free will. This could be said to be a biological function in that your body needs a certain element available in your food choice in order to function properly because it was low in that element much like a car needing gasoline.
Here is where free will shows us the truth though. The care never “desires” gasoline. It merely needs it to function and when it runs out it stops functioning. The car does not automatically drive itself to the gas station and pick out the octane it wants and how much of it to get.
Humans not only realize that they are hungry but then they take action to fulfill that hunger requirement. They will choose a place to eat that most satisfies their current desires. They then narrow this choice down further by choosing which item this establishment offers will best satisfy their requirement plus their desire.
We must then add in the social aspect of eating a meal. We choose an establishment based upon the environment of that place in conjunction with our current emotional, physical, or mental state. Sometimes we choose a rowdy and ruckus environment when we want to enjoy fun and at other times quiet and subdued after a long tiring day.
Next, we consider the element of the influences of others in our group. Often people choose what they will eat based upon what others in the group are eating or what they see others in the restaurant eating. They will also base their choices upon price and quantity.
These are all free will choices based upon the preference of the individual. And I haven’t even begun to delve into the sociopolitical aspects of what we choose to order or where we choose to eat. To explain simply many Christian choose to eat at Chick-Fil-A because it is a Christian establishment and they want to support that economic worldview choice. Many people choose not to order or eat at places that don’t pay attention to the issues of dolphin free tuna or coffee beans picked by child labor in Guatemala for the same reasons. These last few are moral choices and have nothing to do with biological reactions or programming. They are the direct result of our free will.
To squelch or negate the free will of another person leaves a devastating mark upon individuals and societies. Individuals suffer mental and emotional illness while societies crumble. We as created beings cannot help but desire to live as we were created. To hinder another person’s free will is to deny them the opportunity to be fully human. The textbook definition of this action is called oppression.
God as our Creator chose to hinder His own free will in order to ensure the free will of His creation remained intact. Human beings in our ever constant effort to take the place of the Creator in creation often maintain that the free will of some must be limited for the good of the whole or the good of society. But is this concept true? God doesn’t think so. At least not in the way the humans do. God desire all of his creation to honor and live in community with him. He desires that all would come to know Him and live in relationship with him but he desire that we make that choice based upon our free will. God then goes a step further and asks us to follow in the example of His Son, Jesus Christ in using that free will for the honor and benefit of another not the self. The process should look like this. The lost individual chooses to use their free will to willingly join themselves to Christ in an eternal relationship. This free will action is motivated by the immediate benefit of the self.
However, after we come to know Christ and as we renew our minds and grow spiritually in Him we then should more often become motivated to use our free will choices to benefit our Creator God and our neighbor instead of the self as a result of our love for other and God. The person who uses free will to benefit the self especially through the negating of the free will of another loves no one but the self. This self-love; this egocentric nature which seeks to do whatever is necessary to promote and gratify the desire of the self is a direct result of the fall.
Sadly, this is often times how our religions work. Instead of promoting the freedom of another we teach that others must give up their free will for our benefit or so that God is glorified. But if God created human beings to be creatures that operate in a free will state then how does demanding the removal of that free will choice from others glorify their Creator? If free will is demanded to be given up; if it is commanded that you negate it in order to live in a right relationship with you Creator and your neighbor then it is no longer free will. Free will must be a choice.
This is why we as Christians are told that we should submit to each other. We should think of others as better than ourselves. We are created to honor God and each other. We are never told that we are to rule over each other. To come to the conclusion that some human beings were created to rule or have dominion over other human beings as some have concluded is an improper understanding of scripture, the creation and its Creator. It is also a belief that does great harm to the glory of the name of God.
I am reminded of Nazi, Germany; the American Restoration Movement’s condoning practices of slavery as Biblical; and Joseph Stalin, who if you didn’t know was a theological seminary student training for the priesthood. Stalin was known for his devout nature to the church as well as his oppressive nature in society.
In each situation men believed that some humans were created either inferior or with differing functions. The German’s believed Jews were inferior while the American Restoration movement which was made up of several denominations with Methodists and Baptists leading the numbers believed that black people were created to be a slave race and that God condoned and even set up slavery as a natural practice to glorify Himself. This was backed up by scripture of course. The belief was that since God gave guidelines for slaves and slave masters in the Bible it was a necessary and God honoring part of creation. Those who rebelled against slavery and desired to live in their own free will were to be beaten or a nicer word would be oppressed into submission for their own good so that they could live in accordance with their created function.
Submission is a choice based upon free will and as such cannot be commanded. But when one decides that they can remove the free will of another person or people group they put themselves in a position as ruler over them. Free will submission results in right relationship but submission demanded results in oppression. We must remember that it was for freedom that we have been set free not for oppression. Free will that has been set free from the bondage of sin has the opportunity to operate in that freedom through chooses to honor and lift up the Creator and others instead of the self. Freedom glorifies our Creator and draws the nations to Him. Oppression simply mirrors the state of the fallen world back to itself so that they no longer can tell a difference between the fallen and the redeemed.
Sources: Pearcey, Nancy. Finding Truth. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015.