HOME   People do good because they are human, not because they are religious! 

Do not give God any credit for the good they do, they did it!


Christianity's Prime Theologians on Free Will and its relation to God


Charles Hodge challenges the view that your deeds make you a good or bad character - see Systematic Theology Vol 2 page 117.

He wrote,

So far from its being true that in the judgment of men the voluntary act alone constitutes character, the very opposite is true. The character of the act is decided by the nature of the principle by which it is determined. If a man gives alms, or worships God from a selfish principle, under the control of a disposition to secure the applause of men, those acts instead of being good are instinctively recognized as evil. Indeed, if this Pelagian or Rationalistic principle were true, there could be no such thing as character; not only because individual acts have no moral quality except such as is derived from the principle whence they flow, but also because character necessarily supposes something permanent and controlling.

A man without character is a man without principles; i.e., in whom there is nothing which gives security as to what his acts will be.

Comment: Is a man who does good for bad reasons make himself worse than one who just does harm?  The man is warping his own sense of good so that he ends up seeing selfish but sweet manipulation of others as a good thing.

Hodge backs up his argument using the Bible: 

The Scriptures in this, as in all cases, recognize the validity of the intuitive and universal judgments of the mind. They everywhere distinguish between principles and acts, and everywhere attribute moral character to the former, and to acts only so far as they proceed from principles. This is the doctrine of our Lord when he says, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for a tree is known by his fruit.” (Matt. xii. 33.) “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matt. vii. 18.) It is the inward, abiding character of the tree that determines the character of the fruit. The fruit reveals, but does not constitute, the nature of the tree. So it is, he tells us, with the human heart. “How can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things: and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.” (Matt. xii. 34, 35.) A good man, therefore, is one who is inwardly good: who has a good heart, or nature, something within him which being good in itself, produces good acts. And an evil man is one, whose heart, that is, the abiding, controlling state of has mind, being in itself evil, habitually does evil. It is out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies.  These terms include all voluntary acts, not only in the sense of deliberate self-determination, but also in the sense of spontaneous acts. They moreover include all conscious states of the mind. It is, therefore, expressly asserted by our Lord, that moral character attaches to what lies deeper than any acts of the will, in the widest sense of those words, but also to that which lies lower than consciousness. As the greater part of our knowledge is treasured up where consciousness does not reach, so the greater part of what constitutes our character as good or evil, is lower not only than the will but even than consciousness itself. It is not only however by direct assertion that this doctrine is taught in the Bible. It is constantly assumed, and is involved in some of the most important doctrines of the word of God. It is taken for granted in what is taught of the moral condition in which men are born into this world.  They are said to be conceived in sin. They are children of wrath by nature. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, i.e., carnal, morally corrupt. The Bible also speaks of indwelling sin; of sin as a principle which brings forth fruit unto death. It represents regeneration not as an act of the soul, but as the production of a new nature, or holy principle, in the heart.  The denial, therefore, that dispositions or principles as distinguished from acts, can have a moral character, subverts some of the most plainly revealed doctrines of the sacred Scriptures."

Comment: Jesus taught that every thought of man whether deliberate or unintentional contains an ingredient: explicit or implicit rejection of God.  For him we are rebels at core or at nature.  Instead of evil being a mere absence of good - Catholicism says that is all it is - evil is human.  Evil is a part of human nature. 

Hodge rejects the Augustinian view that sin is merely a good thing in the wrong place

Hodge corrects the doctrine of Augustine that sin is just a goodness in the wrong place - a mere lack of a good that should be there or that should be there in a certain way.  Another way to put that is that sin is a limitation not a moral flaw.  It is like a maths exam that it limited by the failure of the student to comprehend algebra.  Even if it is not watering down sin human nature feels that it is.  You cannot expect any human being to see the assertion: "evil is good in the wrong place" as anything other than too close to condoning or dismissing the evil.  It virtually condones if it does not actually condone.  This makes outrage against sin just proof that the angry person is a hypocrite and a hater of the person.  They are using the sin to get at the person.

He writes:

The second anti-Christian theory of the nature of sin is that which makes it a mere negation, or limitation of being. Being, substance, is good. “Omne quod est, in quantum aliqua substantia est, et bonum [est],”says Augustine. God as the absolute substance is the supreme good. The absolute evil would be nothing. Therefore the less of being, the less of good; and all negation, or limitation of being is evil, or sin.

Spinoza says, “Quo magis unusquisque, suum utile quærere, hoc est suum esse conservare conatur et potest, eo magis virtute præditus est; contra quatenus unusquisque suum utile, hoc est suum esse conservare negligit, eatenus est impotens.” In his demonstration of that proposition he makes power and goodness identical, potentia and virtus are the same. Hence the want of virtue, or evil, is weakness, or limitation of being.

Still more distinctly, does Professor Baur of Tübingen, present this view of the nature of sin.  He says, “Evil is what is finite; for the finite is negative; the negation of the infinite. Everything finite is relatively nothing; a negativity which, in the constant distinction of plus and minus of reality, appears in different forms.” Again, “If freedom from sin is the removal of all limitation, so is it clear, that only an endless series of gradations can bring us to the point where sin is reduced to a vanishing minimum. If this minimum should entirely disappear, then the being, thus entirely free from sin, becomes one with God, for God only is absolutely sinless. But if other beings than God are to exist, there must be in them, so far as they are not infinite as God is, for that very reason, a minimum of evil.”

The distinction between good and evil, is, therefore, merely quantitative, a distinction between more or less. Being is good, the limitation of being is evil. This idea of sin lies in the nature of the Pantheistic system. If God be the only substance, the only life, the only agent, then He is the sum of all that is, or, rather all that is, is the manifestation of God; the form of his existence. Consequently, if evil exists it is as much a form of the existence of God as good; and can be nothing but imperfect development, or mere limitation of being.

This theory, it is clear,

(1.) ignores the difference between the malum metaphysicum and the malum morale, between the physical and the moral between a stunted tree and a wicked man. Instead of explaining sin, it denies its existence. It is therefore in conflict with the clearest of intuitive truths and the strongest of our instinctive convictions. There is nothing of which we are more sure, not even our own existence, than we are of the difference between sin and limitation of being, between what is morally wrong and what is a mere negation of power.

(2.) This theory assumes the truth of the pantheistic system of the universe, and therefore is at variance with our religious nature, which demands and assumes the existence of a personal God.

(3.) In destroying the idea of sin, it destroys all sense of moral obligation, and gives unrestrained liberty to all evil passions. It not only teaches that all that is, is right; that everything that exists or happens has a right to be, but that the only standard of virtue is power. The strongest is the best. As Cousin says, the victor is always right; the victim is always wrong. The conqueror is always more moral than the vanquished. Virtue and prosperity, misfortune and vice, he says, are in necessary harmony.

Comment: Brilliant analysis.  To argue that sin is a form of good or good that is not good enough is to tell people the glass is okay for it is either nearly full or there is water in it.  How can you know that any good is really as good as it can be?  You think something is perfect and it is not.   The idea of God cannot be as good as God for it is not God.  Thus it is inevitable that faith will be an idol - its respect for a dodgy image of God.  It is not a statue but no less an idol.  The doctrine that evil is banality conveys the poor thinking that leads to evil and how boring it is and how it is never satisfied for its rubbish.  Evil cannot be banal if it is good even if it is faulty good.  The doctrine serves only to have believers relishing evil.  They could be outwardly decent but inside they are praying malevolent prayers and doing terrible things behind people's backs.  The evil person soon learns that evil is better if you can use prayers or spells to try to hurt others.  It is easier and less risky for him or her. They feel they are creating evil rather than making evil.   Thus their evil is more satisfying to them.  Also if evil is so banal then the evil in the heart will be a hundred times worse than anything that the person does to express that evil.  Why?  Because if you want it but find it too banal to act much on it has to be inside you festering and faking and cursing away.

Religion says evil is deceptive which is why it always disappoints the evildoer and leaves her or him never satisfied.  So evil breeds evil and even when it cannot breed any more evil that does not mean it is not trying.  And such trying is itself evil.

If believers are not pantheists what use is that because they still hold that all is good - the problem with pantheism is not so much as that all is God but that all is good.  And we must remember the words good and God are often interchangeable depending on the believer.  Even if God is not the same as goodness he practically made the same.  It is worse to say that all is good than to say the acorn is the same God as the squirrel that eats it.

The doctrine that evil is not real but a lack is needed if  you want to be a pantheist.  It is another way of saying that all is good even if all good is not in the right place or right time.  It is worrying about the time and place not the immorality of the act.  Saying all is good is a required pantheist doctrine even if non-pantheists say it too.  It is a step to pantheism.  As pantheism is considered a grave abomination in the Bible which orders that statues worshipped as God must be destroyed the step must be a bad thing too.  It is like taking a step closer to the brothel even if it is just one step.

Feebleness as vice

Feebleness is a vice (i.e., sin), and therefore is always punished and beaten.  This principle is adopted by all such writers as Carlyle, who in their hero worship, make the strong always the good; and represent the murderer, the pirate, and the persecutor, as always more moral and more worthy of admiration than their victims. Satan is far more worthy of homage than the best of men, as in him there is more of being and power, and he is the seducer of angels and the destroyer of men. A more thoroughly demoniacal system than this, the mind of man has never conceived. Yet this system has not only its philosophical advocates, and its practical disciples, but it percolates through much of the popular literature both of Europe and America.

Comment: This sounds very Darwinist!  The reality is that people who are considered to be heroes for others and about others such as Joan of Arc are so good because they are strong.  Without the strength they would be just all about good intentions and nothing gets done.  The point is it does not matter if your power is over the good that  


This book asks if God causing all things means God causes our decisions.  If he does not then we are able to create and God can do nothing about it.  Remember that those who say everything being caused or determined is compatible with free will are redefining free will.  To them its a feeling and as long as you are not forced by an outside force to act the act is yours.  But that ignores the fact that inside forces could be stronger and making you think you are free when you are not.  They could be forcing you to fail to see or feel that you are not free.  If we are not free then we are not responsible for what we do.  There is no sin.  The criminal is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Calvinist Christianity holds that God causes all your decisions and ordains your sins.  This is hard to fit with personal responsibility so Calvinists settle for saying its a paradox.

The author       writes:

In like manner, if God causally determines in the way that Feinberg suggests, the agent is not really free and cannot really be morally accountable for what he was causally determined by God to do. A sufficient condition that “decisively inclines the will” is a condition that forces the agent to do what the agent does. Some Calvinists, such as Feinberg, believe they can get around this problem by saying that the agent is only doing what the agent desires and is therefore morally responsible for what he does. In the Calvinist scheme of things, this only pushes the problem back one level. Why does the agent desire to do what the agent does? Feinberg says that the agent’s desire is causally determined and his will is “decisively” inclined. If such is the case, there is no rational way to deny that the agent’s will and desire are under a divine and irresistible “constraining force.” Feinberg, as well as many hypo-Calvinists, wants what Calvinism cannot give him. The Biblicist faces no such problem. God’s absolute sovereignty does not deny human freedom but is in fact the basis for real and meaningful human freedom. If we should admit an apparent problem, it is certainly solved by the very implications of the meaning of divine sovereignty. Admittedly, there are some things even God cannot do. For example, God cannot lie because He is by nature true. He cannot cease to exist because He is by nature eternal. As Hank Hanegraaff points out:

God is limited in His activities only in this way—He accomplishes what He wants (or wills) to accomplish. In other words, because God always acts in accord with His nature, He does not (and indeed cannot) desire to lie or deny Himself. While it is agreed that God is completely sovereign over His creation, He performs only what sovereign power can actually accomplish. To make a nonsense statement and add the words “God can …” in front of them does not change the fact that the statement is nonsense. … Simply because God is unable to create a hypothetical absurdity, such as a square circle, does not mean that He is not omnipotent. Instead it means that there is no such thing [and cannot be] as a square circle. The same can be said with the “heavy rock” question often asked of Christians [e.g., can God create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it?]. God can lift any rock He actually creates. But there is no such thing as [and cannot be] a rock so big that an all-powerful and sovereign Being could not lift it. So the probability of God creating one is naturally zero.

Such an admission says nothing that diminishes the concepts of absolute sovereignty and omnipotence. By definition, nothing could diminish the absoluteness of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence. Either He is or He is not absolutely sovereign. Period! Of course, men can and do deny that God is absolutely sovereign and all-powerful, but the idea of a reduced level of absolute sovereignty or omnipotence is itself absurd. It would be like saying that a man has all the money in the world in his safe, but others have some in their safes as well.

While questions such as “Can God create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it?” may sound clever to the people asking them, they say nothing at all about what God can or cannot really do. In no way should they lead to an admission that God may not be sovereign or omnipotent after all. Questions like these merely reflect the inability of some men to seriously think through the questions they sometimes ask, or to see how intellectually silly questions like these really are.
Unless we say that God sovereignly determines that men will deny His sovereignty (which in some sense Calvinism does), it is evident that divine sovereignty does not cancel out human freedom. There is no definitional, logical, or scriptural reason to suggest that divine sovereignty makes it impossible for an unregenerate man, while in an unregenerate state, to make a real choice between either of two eternal destinies. The fall of Adam and the resultant depravity of man imply nothing that could possibly limit the options open to a sovereign God.

God is just as sovereign over the unregenerate as He is over the regenerate. All this is to say that an acknowledgment of divine sovereignty, consistent with what is affirmed in Scripture, overcomes any problems that might otherwise be posed by the limitations imposed by the many and serious consequences of the fall, such as spiritual death. To say otherwise is not to protect the doctrine of sovereignty, as is often claimed, but to undermine it. Thus, one should not appeal to the facts of either divine sovereignty or human depravity as proof that an unregenerate man can have no say in where he spends eternity. Neither divine sovereignty nor human depravity should be used as a basis for denying that a man can have a say in where he spends eternity. Sovereign power is the solution to the problems faced by the unregenerate and not a problem itself, as Calvinism has made it out to be.

The Calvinist agrees that sovereign power is the solution in that God regenerates the unregenerate. Man is spiritually dead. That is the problem. God gives life to the spiritually dead. That is the solution. There is nothing about the concept of sovereignty or the unregenerate nature of man that prevents God from enabling a spiritually dead man, while spiritually dead, to make a choice between heaven and hell. Everything about the scriptural concept of divine sovereignty says that God can make it possible for a spiritually dead man to turn in faith to Jesus Christ if that man so chooses. The question is not what can God do, but what has He done or what will He do?

Comment: What a clockwork scheme but believers in a creator God are saying these things without realising it.


Note: Determinism holds that your choices are not really choices for many factors cause them.  They are the effect of causes and not something created by the agent out of nowhere.

Here is an argument that Christianity teaches moral self-determinism:

The view I hold and that I believe is the biblical view is called “moral self-determinism.” The Christian philosopher and Evangelical theologian Norman Geisler has stated this view as well as I think anyone could. Because Geisler has done such a great job in this regard, I will not reinvent this same theological and philosophical wheel. First, it must be understood, as explained by Geisler, that “moral self-determinism” holds:

Moral acts are not uncaused or caused by someone else. Rather, they are caused by oneself.  In agreement with Geisler I believe: This view best fits both the biblical and rational criteria.

As Geisler says:

There are several philosophical objections [to moral self-determinism]. The first has to do with the principle of causality—that every event has an adequate cause. If this is so, then it would seem that even one’s free will has a prior cause. If one’s free will has a prior cause, then it cannot be caused by oneself. Thus self-determinism would be contrary to the principle of causality which it embraces.

In defense of moral self-determinism, Geisler explains:

There is a basic confusion in this objection. This confusion results in part from an infelicitous expression of the self-determinism view. Representatives of moral self-determinism sometimes speak of free will as though it were the efficient cause of moral actions. This would lead one naturally to ask: what is the cause of one’s free will? But a more precise description of the process of a free act would avoid this problem.

Geisler goes on to explain:

Technically, free will is not the efficient cause of a free act; free will is simply the power through which the agent performs the free act. The efficient cause of the free act is really the free agent, not the free will. Free will is simply the power by which the free agent acts. We do not say that humans are free will but only that they have free will. Likewise, we do not say that humans are thought but only that they have the power of thought. So it is not the power of free choice which causes a free act, but the person who has this power.

Geisler then reasons:

If the real cause of a free act is not an act but an actor, then it makes no sense to ask for the cause of the actor as though the actor were another act. The cause of the performance is the performer. It is meaningless to ask what performance caused the performance. Likewise, the cause of a free act is not another free act. Rather, it is a free agent. And once we have arrived at the free agent, it is meaningless to ask what caused its free acts. For if something else caused its actions, then the agent is not the cause of them and thus is not responsible for them. The free moral agent is responsible for the free moral actions. And it is as senseless to ask what caused the free agent to act as it is to ask who made God? The answer is the same in both instances: nothing can cause the first cause because it is the first. There is nothing before the first. Likewise, humans are the first cause of their own moral actions. If humans were not the cause of their own free actions, then the actions would not be their actions.

Geisler anticipates and answers critics of this view as follows:

If it is argued that it is impossible to claim that humans can be the first cause of their moral actions, then it is also impossible for God to be the first cause of his moral actions. Tracing the first cause back to God does not solve the problem of finding a cause for every action. It simply pushes the problem back farther. Sooner or later theists will have to admit that a free act is a self-determined act, which is not caused by another. Eventually it must be acknowledged that all acts come from actors, but that actors (free agents) are the first cause of their actions, which therefore have no prior cause. The real question, then, is not whether there are agents who cause their own actions but whether God is the only true agent (that is, person) in the universe.

James White in his challenge to (some would say attack on) Geisler and 326 t he Dark SiDe oF calviniSm

Chosen but Free, a book in which Geisler sets forth and defends this view, takes the very position that Geisler refers to. That is, according to White, “God is the only true agent (that is, person) in the universe.” This is the error (some might say heresy) of monovolitionism.

Geisler also identifies and effectively answers three important philosophical objections to moral self-determinism. I highly recommend reading the book Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (David Basinger and Randall Basinger, eds., InterVarsity Press, 1986), in which Geisler does this, and carefully considering what he has to say.

As much as I appreciate that Geisler and others from different theological persuasions have grappled with this topic for us, I do not really think it is all that difficult to accept either the concept that God is absolutely sovereign or that man is responsibly free (and therefore morally responsible for a whole host of important and even eternal matters). The fact that you may not be able to articulate your convictions in precise theological or philosophical terms makes little or no difference in your day-to-day living. Most Christians simply do not have trouble reconciling sovereignty and free will because they see no natural conflict between them.

What matters most, for most of us, is that we take God’s sovereignty seriously and use our God-given freedom to submit to His sovereignty so that we do the right thing. You may not understand how it is that God can be absolutely sovereign while you are truly free and morally responsible. That, however, does not necessarily constitute a paradox or even rate as a mystery. It may just be that you have been misled into believing the two concepts cannot be reconciled this side of glory. The very fact that a sovereign God says He is going to hold us accountable for how we use our freedom should settle the matter for all practical purposes for the believer. Both concepts are true and are of the greatest practical importance to our life, both temporally and eternally.

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ

While this reasoning initially seems quite plausible, it is actually wrong. For it assumes that our wants and desires are all that we consider in making our choices, in which case it follows that the range of our choices would be restricted by the range of our wants and desires. Consequently, if God
or fate or physical or psychological factors (or whatever) determine the range of our wants and desires, then God or fate or physical or psychological factors (or whatever) indirectly yet inevitably determine the range of our choices. Scripture, however, both assumes and asserts that we are to take more than our wants and desires into consideration in making our choices—namely, we are to take God and his law into consideration, with the understanding that if his law runs against our wants and desires, then we are to choose to follow his law rather than satisfy our wants and desires.

And, according to Scripture, every human being knows this (see, e.g., Rom. 1:18–2:16). We do not need libertarian freedom of the will, then, in order to be responsible. All we need is freedom of choice plus an awareness that sometimes God is commanding us to follow his law rather than satisfy our wants and desires.  In other words, according to Scripture, each one of us possesses a primary inclination either to sin or to righteousness. This primary inclination determines our wants and desires. So there is no such thing as freedom of the will at the most fundamental level of human being. As our Lord said, each of us is either for him or against him (see Luke 11:14-28). In the spiritual realm, as should be clear from our examination of Ephesians 2:1-3, neutrality is impossible.

With some careful thinking, we can see why there can be no such thing as freedom of the will at the most fundamental level of human being. Ultimately, even though we should be motivated to make our choices in terms of God’s law, our actual motivation to make a choice between any two possibilities—let’s designate them possibility A and possibility B—is that either A or B is more consistent with our primary inclination. (If by God’s regenerating grace my primary inclination is to righteousness, then I will in fact be motivated by what should motivate me.) Consequently, if we were to have no primary inclination, then we would not be moved to make any choices. Moreover, it is impossible to choose our primary inclination because we have nothing more primary than it to motivate that choice.  From here through the end of my next section, I am relying somewhat on what I have already said in my earlier piece, “True Freedom,” in Beyond the Bounds, 88-100. That piece deals explicitly with some of the objections that open theists would make to my interpretation of Joseph’s story. Page 61 Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.

This is strong meat. It can be very hard for us to digest these truths. Yet even considering these claims raises other issues. For if these claims are
true, then what becomes of human freedom? If everything that occurs happens because God has willed it to occur from before time began, then how can human acts be free? And if we are not free, then what happens to the crucial notion of human responsibility? How could it ever be right either to praise or blame or to reward or punish anyone?

This is the second set of issues that we must address. We need to investigate how Scripture represents the relationship between divine foreordination and human freedom. In other words, we need to think about how what God has willed relates to what we will. And we need to determine what Scripture claims about human responsibility.  Open theists are what philosophers call free-will libertarians.

Freewill libertarianism involves a claim about what must be true if human beings are to be truly free and thus capable of genuine responsibility. For free-will libertarians, true freedom involves more than just my doing whatever I choose to do. Such freedom of choice, Robert Kane argues, is just “surface freedom,” because someone could manipulate me so that I always chose to do what that person wanted me to do.

True freedom, Kane and other free-will libertarians hold, requires that a person not only is able to make specific choices but also was able at the time she chose to choose differently than she actually did. So I have only freely chosen to eat chocolate ice cream if, as I chose it over rum raisin ice cream, I could actually have chosen rum raisin instead. Again, you are only free in choosing to remain sitting right now if you can also choose to stand up. But if something would stop you from standing up (let’s say that someone is with you who would hold you down if you tried to stand up), then even if (rather than fight that person) you choose to remain sitting, you are not really free. For Kane and other free-will libertarians, all of this means that we must possess what they call freedom of the will—that is, freedom to decide what we will want and thus to determine for ourselves who we will be and thus what we will choose—in addition to freedom of choice.

[For the general concept of God’s ordaining things before time began and then bringing them to pass in history, see (e.g.) 1 Corinthians 2:7 with Ephesians 1:7-10. Even Boyd admits that God has predestined some events from before creation and then brought them about in time, including the incarnation and the crucifixion (see his God of the Possible, 45).  This comes out clearly in comparing various translations of Isaiah 37:26. In the NIV it reads like this:  “Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you [Sennacherib, king of Assyria] have turned fortified cities into piles of stone.” In the ESV it reads like this: “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins.” The Hebrew word that gets translated here as either “ordained” or “determined” is >asah, which means to make or do.]

Comment: Notice we are told free will can be understood as the power to choose x but if you had the moment over again you could choose y.  The power to go after something different is not enough to indicate free will.  Why?  You could be controlled by a randomiser.  Just because it could be x or y does not mean that you are not compelled.  Free will is a pure assumption. We feel that if we could go back in time we could choose differently but that feeling is lying for it is telling you what it cannot tell you.  A feeling that you can change your past choice if you got it again is no more valid than a feeling that Jesus ate chicken.

Giesler defines free will as follows: "Free will is simply the power through which the agent performs the free act."  He denies it is about will.  It is about the agent. That shows that a religion that says you must treat the sin as nothing to do with the sinner and love the sinner does not believe in free will and does not truly believe in sin and does not understand or care about evil at all.



As Harry Frankfurt has pointed out, even animals possess some freedom of choice because “an animal may be free to run in whatever direction it wants” (“Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” in Harry G. Frankfurt, The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays [Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988], 20).

Comment: Animals certainly feel as free as we do though nobody thinks they have "free" will equal to ours.

Question can we be free if our choices are programmed or triggered by causes or do we just choose them regardless of what causes are at large?

Now here is the crucial point: for free-will libertarians, we cannot be held responsible for what we are and do if our wills aren’t free in this libertarian sense. If the ultimate explanation for my choosing as I do lies outside me, then I am not really free and I cannot be held responsible for how I choose. And if I cannot be held responsible, then I cannot justly be praised or blamed or rewarded or punished for how I choose.

On the level of everyday life, this seems to make sense. We know that virtually all serial killers were sexually abused as children, and so it seems proper to place part of the blame for whom they have become on their abusers and not just on the killers themselves.  This is what makes it seem necessary to free-will libertarians that we must have freedom of the will if God is to be just in holding us responsible for what we do. And surely we should grant that in Scripture God does hold us responsible for what we do—just read, for example, Romans 1:18–3:20. So free-will libertarians conclude that we must possess freedom of the will, which means that God cannot foreordain what we do. For open theists, there is an additional rub, given what they think are the requirements for our possessing libertarian freedom.

As Kane puts it, freedom of choice is valuable because it allows us to satisfy our desires. When we have freedom of choice, we can choose to get what we want. But free will runs deeper than these ordinary freedoms. To see how, suppose we had maximal freedom to make choices of the kinds just noted to satisfy our desires, yet the choices we actually made were in fact manipulated by others, by the powers that be. In such a world we would have a great deal of everyday freedom to do whatever we wanted, yet our freedom of will would be severely limited. We would be free to act or to choose what we willed, but we would not have the ultimate power over what it is that we willed.

For free-will libertarians like Kane, we are only truly free if our wants and desires—the things we choose either to satisfy or not to satisfy—are “up to us,” where the ultimate “sources or origins of our actions would . . . be ‘in us’ [and not] in something else (such as the decrees of fate, the foreordaining acts of God, or antecedent causes and laws of nature) outside us and beyond our control”.

[See Kane’s Contemporary Introduction, 4f. For a fuller account of a real-life case where it seems that part of the blame for how a person has turned out needs to be placed on others, see Gary Watson’s retelling of the story of Robert Harris in Perspectives on Moral Responsibility, ed. John Martin Fischer and Mark Ravizza (Ithaca and London: Cornell, 1993), 131-37.]

Comment: We only want free will and to believe in it because it satisfies our desires.  That is what we are told.  If we could feel free and enjoy satisfied desires without free will we would not want it. Many in fact claim to be having a good life without free will or belief in it.  They point to animals who do not have the kind of will we have.

When we can be punished for the sins others commit

Only God knows the human heart, and so he alone can fairly assess how much blame each of us deserves for what we have done. Blame will always rest primarily on the actual perpetrators of a specific evil—in other words, serial killers are primarily responsible for their crimes—and therefore the actual perpetrators are primarily blameable and punishable for their own acts (see Deut. 24:16; 2 Kings 14:1-6; Isa. 3:11; Jer. 31:30; Gal. 6:7). This is not to say, however, that the sins of others cannot have a negative effect on us (see Ex. 20:5; Num. 14:18). Indeed, the acts and omissions of others, insofar as they contribute to someone’s sin, can make them blameable and punishable, too (see Ezek. 3:16-21; Matt. 18:6f.).

Comment: If there is no God, then bad people hurt others for it is not possible for the bad person to suffer alone.  Others face the direct and indirect consequences of his actions.  That is not punishment.  If there is a God who plans to punish sin or sets sin up to punish itself then it is his doing.  To be truly helpful instead of being judgemental we need to stop risking saying people may be punished when in fact they are not being punished. We need to drop God.