Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Free Will

God “has appointed a day” of judgement (148), but –being omniscient – must already know how it will go. Is there a conceptual problem with reconciling an all-knowing, all-powerful creator with the idea of judging his/her/its own creation? Aren’t the judg-ees already doomed, having been created imperfect only then to be assessed and penalized for their imperfection.\?
Don Enss
            An omniscient being is a paradox because it creates a conundrum – how can a being know everything from the beginning to the end without controlling everything in between by their knowledge of the outcome before the event occurs? The question of whether we have free will to make decisions has been tackled by philosophers and theologians for ages in the past and probably long into the future.
            As Herman explains in Chapter 18, the issue of free will “separated Boethius and Saint Augustine at the onset of the Middle Ages,” and “had at its heart the clash between Plato and Aristotle on free will.” (318). Erasmus (1466-1536 CE) and Luther (1483-1546 CE) disagreed vigorously on the question. Luther followed St. Augustine (354-430 CE), “The path of reason doesn’t lead us toward the light of God, but only deeper into the cave: in fact, right to the gates of hell.”(320). Luther did not agree with Aristotle, “This is why, of all Aristotle’s writings, the one Luther despised the most was the one Raphael and the Renaissance had most celebrated: Aristotle’s Ethics.” (319). In them, Aristotle “proposes that all moral action is about making right choices, and choice is about intention.” (318). According to Herman, “Plato argued that doing good versus evil was a matter of knowledge versus ignorance: in other words, the man who is ignorant of the good can no more choose good than one who is ignorant of algebra can solve a quadratic equation.” (318).

            Almost all of an individual’s choices whether through ignorance or by intention are the responsibility of the individual and they are not predetermined and are unknowable. To make them otherwise is to suggest that someone else is responsible for our actions.  If it is raining outside and I choose to walk out without an umbrella, I will get wet; if I choose to use an umbrella, I will stay dry. There is no external intervention to predict at that exact moment why I chose to do either and nothing predetermined by fate to mandate the outcome; I simply did it. As long as I do not have someone with the physical means to insure that I use an umbrella, I have free will. I prefer not to create God in man’s image and to attribute micro-managerial skills to a divine being. Life is what it is, and I agree with Boethius (480-524 CE) that “we have to be free to act in the world, even if that means we make mistakes,” (191) and that “If we are going to deal with a complex and dangerous world, he believed, we had better be prepared.” (191).


  1. Some people believe in divine intervention and that through there faith and adherence to rules that God provides a way for them to survive. There could be greater forces in control of our lives, that we don't possess the cognitive abilities to understand. Even physics itself is more powerful than man, and we still don't possess the ability to fully comprehend it. What keeps a tree from falling on you in the forest or a tidal wave consuming you isn't anything of your own ability, the human mind and body can only act "so fast". Atheist or Christian, one must accept the fact that there is something that is greater themselves, there are even stronger, smarter people than ourselves, which is why it makes sense for us to gather together, because there is strength in numbers. Whether faith is simply the re-connection of synapses in the brain producing stronger memories, the fact remains that some people have more of an advantage than others, perhaps those with the greatest faith are the most apt to survive.

  2. The perennial, intractable free will/determinism debate is complicated. But my own personal sense of free will is pretty simple: I need to believe in the relevance of what I perceive to be my own choices, decisions, and actions, illusory or not. I cannot allow myself to act on the belief that anyone or anything else is "pulling my strings." I'd find that self-conception deeply dispiriting. Not everyone does, though, apparently.