Free Will vs. Determinism

Due to the vast amount of literature comprising the history of Western philosophy, I have been obliged to refine my objectives. This page is now an essay on Free Will/Determinism.

Please see also my related resume of Holbach's and of Mackay's arguments.

Any questions or objections may be directed to my guestbook.

There are two alternatives: either all of our actions are entirely determined, and freedom is nonexistant, or else we are free in at least some of our actions. One or the other of these must be the case; there is no other possible option. Further, either God is the Creator, or He is not. So ought we to believe that we are free? What results if we are or if we are not?

Here is the breakdown of my argument:

  1. The moral implications of determinism are bad.
  2. The moral implications of free will are not bad.
  3. If there is no Creator God, we ought to believe that we are not free.
  4. If God is the Creator, we may believe that we are free.
  5. It is more reasonable to believe that there is a Creator God than to believe that there is not.
  6. It is therefore more reasonable to believe that we are free than that we are not free.
  7. If one disagrees with me, that it is more reasonable to believe that we are free, then he is forced to accept the bad consequences of determinism.

1. The moral implications of determinism are bad, for morality and responsibility are effectively eliminated. Moral actions are those freely chosen by a moral agent, such as a human. Free choice is choice from among more than one possibility; but if we are completely determined, then there are no alternate possible courses of action other than the one we choose. There is no choice made.

There are those who attempt to preserve ethics in a determinist universe, but their case is weak, for they have to redefine 'moral action,' 'choice,' etc. We are using these terms in their most plausible sense, so there is no redefinition necessary. Again, if there are any objections or comments, please direct them to my guestbook.

2. The moral implications of freedom are not bad, for if we are free, then we are obviously capable of choosing from among several possibilities. If that is the case, then there can be moral choices, and we are not living in an amoral world. This seems to be straightforward and uncontroversial.

3. If there is no God, then we ought to believe that we are not free. All things in Nature (everything in the universe) obey the natural laws. There is no exception; even though humans do not have knowledge of all natural laws and all factors that cause events to come about, the laws apply whether or not we have complete knowledge of them. So, since humans are entirely natural, we must necessarily obey the natural laws. The only reason that we believe ourselves to be free is that we do not have sufficient knowledge of the laws and of all factors that cause our action. We mistakenly assume our freedom. So if we are not created by God, we are entirely natural; and, being entirely natural, have no free will at all.

4. If we are created by God, then it is possible that He has created us free. God is infinitely powerful, and could very well have given us free will if He so desired. To what extent we are free, even if we are created, is debatable, but it is certain that we may be free. There is, of course, the problem that, since God is all-knowing, and He therefore knows all of the actions I will take before I take them, how can I be free in taking them?

There are two answers to this problem, which I shall present briefly. The first is that foreknowledge does not necessarily mean determinism/unfreedom. For example, if I knew beyond all possible doubt that someone would commit suicide, does that mean that that person was not free in doing it? The second answer is that God does not have foreknowledge, in the way that we think of it. He is eternal; He does not exist in time. He is NOW, always, and the very concept of future or past does not apply to Him. Events in time simply happen; He does not know them before they happen, but when they happen, for with Him, there is no 'before.' But this answer can lead to many difficulties, so I shall leave it at that.

Suffice it to say that, even if these answers do not satisfy, it is yet possible that God created us free, since He is all-powerful.

5. It is more reasonable to believe that there is a Creator God than to believe that there is not. There are many arguments intended to show the existence of God. I shall briefly set forth two of them.

i. The First Cause. All things that exist must have a cause, something which caused them to come into being. No thing in Nature can be the cause of itself. For example, the cause of a chair is the fashioning of wood; the cause of the fashioning, wood and fashioners; the cause of the wood, a tree; and so on, ad infinitum. But if all things require a cause, and no natural thing can be the cause of itself, there must a First Cause, outside of Nature: the Self-Mover. That is God. (Not even the Big Bang can be a first cause, for the matter that went BANG, and the Bang itself, would have required a cause.)

ii. Divine Design. Look at the world. It is such a complex thing; take the human body, for instance. It has so many parts that work together so intricately; a small difference in any number of its parts, and the body would die. Or, again: the planet Earth. It could so easily have been destroyed any number of times. All these things make it seem likely that we were created, for it is difficult to believe that it happened simply through evolution, that the Earth and all its inhabitants are simply highly evolved stardust. The world appears to be the product of a great Design.

There have been attempts to show the impossibility of God, which I do not have the time to fully respond to here. One attempt defines God as both necessary and contingent, which is impossible. If this does not mean anything to you, don't worry about it; if it does, then notice that God is only necessary as a presupposition for the existence of other things; it is not a logical necessity at all. So that He is necessary for the being of other things, and contingent in His own existence, is not contradictory. See Ferre's Language, Logic and God for a pretty good treatment of this argument.

Another attempt, by Sartre, defines God as the in-itself-for-itself, which for him is impossible. Again, if you get this, ok; if not, ignore it. For Sartre, the for-itself is nothingess, and the in-itself is Being. Therefore, an in-istelf-for-itself cannot exist. If you buy Sartre's definition of God, and his notion of the for-itself, then indeed God is impossible; but for reasons that I cannot develop here, I don't buy them.

A final attempt is made by the logical positivists to show the literal meaninglessness of metaphysical talk. Note that if such talk is meaningless, then when we think we're talking about God, we're really not doing so at all. Note also that we cannot say that God does not exist, for that is also meaningless - for ALL talk about God (and ethics, and aesthetics) is cognitively meaningless. See Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic for the most straightforward exposition of this view; see Ferre for a response, but let me say that I think that Ferre is mistaken about Ayer on a couple of points, and that one line of response of his does not satisfy me. However, Ferre does present what I take to be a good response: the positivists, rather than examining all of language, examine scientific language, and assume that ALL language must have the same kind of meaning as the scientific. But enough.

6. Since it is more reasonable to believe in the existence of a Creator God than not to do so, it is also more reasonable to believe in the possibility of human freedom than to believe in strict determinism. There is, then, room for free (and therefore moral) choice.

7. But if the arguments in favour of God do not persuade, and one wishes to cling to atheism, then one must accept absolute determinism. If anyone thinks that that is a more reasonable position, so be it; but in that case, one must also forgo all moral judgment, for there is no place for morality where there is no free choice.