Free Will: Its Essential Nature and Implications


As I said in my previous post, Chris, “I think we need to slow down and take this one baby step at a time”; I also suggested that we start with this question: “Have I said something specific that has led you to suspect that, in my view, God is indeed the cause of sin?” Or, if you prefer, have I said something specific that has led you to suspect that my own understanding of sin is incoherent? What I guess I was hoping for here was that you would identify a few specific statements of mine that seem to you problematic, so that we might examine their implications more carefully. And the last thing I wanted was to discuss everything at once. Accordingly, I shall here restrict my attention to the sentences quoted above. We can always get to the rest of your reply later, if we wish.

So here is my first question: Where have I ever used the term “infinite ignorance”? I don’t even know what that might mean, and it appears as if your own usage of that term may be an intentional form of caricature. In any case, consider the following statement: Because God did not in fact create us omniscient, we all emerged and started making choices in a context marked by some degree of ambiguity and ignorance. Would you at least agree with that? If so, do you think it even possible for God to have created us omniscient? Personally, I don’t think so; and if I am right about that, then a context of ambiguity and ignorance is indeed a metaphysically necessary condition of our emergence as created rational beings. Do you disagree? If so, why?

A second question: You profess not to know how sin, given my understanding of it, “equates to anything other than ‘not knowing which choice is right.’” But have I not explicitly stated that, as I see it, one can knowingly act wrongly and that ignorance of right and wrong might not be the relevant kind of ignorance in a given context? To quote myself from a previous post: “Or consider a case where an adulterous affair leads to an absolute disaster. Even if the parties to this affair should have known, on some level at least, that they were acting wrongly, would they likely have anticipated all of the misery they were about to unleash upon themselves as well as upon their loved ones, such as their own children?” One can know that an action is wrong, in other words, without knowing what all of the consequences of doing something wrong will be. We do not, after all, have a perfect knowledge of the future. And as I also said before: “Whenever the consequences of a past action induce us later to regret that very action, we are witnessing, I believe, the role that ignorance played in making this action possible in the first place.” Would you agree with that? If not, why not?

My hope here is that instead of talking past each other, we can find some area of agreement, however small, and then try to move on from there.

All the best,



That’s an excellent question, Dave. Not long after I wrote my 1:22 p.m. post of April 15th in which I summarized my own understanding of the freedom that pertains to rational agents, I felt as if this thread had pretty much run its course. For in a sense that post was where the thread was headed from the beginning, and since then things have gotten more chaotic as I have simply been responding to issues that others have raised. But there are issues that we could discuss more systematically, if anyone wishes to do so. Here are a few:

(1) The argument of some philosophers that an undetermined choice would be indistinguishable from a chance occurrence or a random event and would therefore be incompatible with moral responsibility.

(2) My claim that compelling evidence, unlike other forms of compulsion, is compatible with the freedom that pertains to rational agents.

(3) My claim that some of the very conditions essential to our emergence as free moral agents are also obstacles to a fully realized freedom.

I have a feeling, however, that many have tired of this whole topic, which is fully understandable given its abstract nature. For my own part, I’ll stick around a while longer to see whether any issue arises that might be fruitful to discuss further. If not, then I’ll be altogether content to let this thread die of old age.

Hope things haven’t gotten too frustrating for you.



I think you make an excellent point, Micah, and very pertinent to the issue of whether sin (or “messing up”) could realistically have been avoided forever.




Believe me Jim, I was not suggesting anything improper here or even that you should cite Lewis. There is no reason why two people cannot have similar thoughts on this matter, particularly if both of them are working with an evolutionary account of the fall. Anyway, I just intended my own comment as a compliment. But I fear that my expression “remarkably similar” may have suggested a different intention.

Sorry if I confused you.



Hi Bobx3

Concerning your sidebar, I thought your point was beautifully expressed. In fact, I would not even call it a sidebar, because it seemed to me right on target and altogether relevant to our topic.





Do you believe Adam - or any being, for that matter - at the time of temptation is free to overcome the amount of ignorance they have, without some further illumination by God?


I would really like an answer to this question:

Is ‘free will’ the same thing in the following scenarios:

  1. Making a decision about career alternatives
  2. Deciding whether it is right to kill a person in combat
  3. Deciding whether to sleep with thy neighbor’s wife

Is moral free-will a different faculty than we find in non-moral decision making?



Tom T, I took that post as a compliment while you reminded me of when I discussed Lewis with friends in the late 1980s. Thank you :slight_smile:



If I understand your first suggested topic correctly (which I very well may not), the suggestion is that any non-determined action is the product of random chance, and nothing more than an anomaly. So, either what we do and think are determined by hypothetically predictable natural factors (or by God), or they are the result of an “accident” such as a data error, etc. Is that what the topic suggestion means?

If it is, and if the hypothesis is correct, then there’s probably no point in anyone discussing anything at all. It’s all predetermined reaction, or else chance randomness – sound and fury signifying nothing. :wink:

As for #2 & #3, I wouldn’t object to discussing them (OR #1 for that matter), though I think I probably already agree with you on those two. I’ve enjoyed this discussion and though I haven’t contributed a ton, reading what everyone else has to say has been very helpful. Dave’s suggestion is a good one also though, and I think that might be an interesting thought path to follow. I’m not sure I know the answer, and that’s always at least one good reason to set off on a side-track.


I have to admit I’m intrigued by Dave’s suggestion as well Cindy. The role of our “moral intuition”–(“conscience” or what have you) is something I’d be interested in exploring further. Tom said earlier in a response to me that:

This is pretty much where I stand as well, I’ll admit, and I would think the decisions Dave describes not be qualitatively different, just that “moral influence” etc. may play a bigger role in the #2 and #3 scenarios (though certainly not absent from #1—especially if a career option I’m considering is say…that of a drug-dealer or a pimp.) :laughing:


Oh yes, Steve – did you get that book? Science and the Renewal of Belief? I just finally poked through chapter 20, and the whole time I was wondering what you and Melchi would think about it . . . I thought it very interesting.


It does not take the work of the Holy Spirit to make a career decision - we do the best we can with what we can afford, what our grades have been, our experience, who we know, etc.

It does take the work of the HS to trust in God, and for bearing the fruits of the Spirit, etc.

I DO think there is a qualitative difference between ‘everyday’ decisions and moral decisions, and decisions that can only be effected with the help of the HS. Deciding ‘for Christ’ is more than weighing circumstances and options, or whether to obey one’s conscience. As has been mentioned in this thread more than once, Christian belief is supernatural; a gift of grace - because we are unable to will it ourselves.

I don’t think I’m adding anything to the thread, just summing up a bit why I think that, as to the concept of ‘will’, we should ask - in which arena of action?


Hi Cindy, :smiley:

No haven’t gotten that book yet. I 'll probably get a new nook this weekend so will order it then.

Given your thoughts about “qualitative” differences in certain types of decisions, perhaps Tom will let us know his thoughts regarding that. Though, as I said, I don’t think there is a “qualitative” difference in the decisions, just a difference in the importance or influence of our moral intuition in particular types of decisions.

Edit: I also think that when we “feel” we’ve done wrong or made a “wrong” decision morally it is because we’ve made a decision contrary to what our moral intuition was telling us was “right.” In my opinion, because the weight of our other desires outweighed that which our moral intuition leaned toward. Also in my opinion, that doesn’t necessarily mean our moral intuition is right or directs us to the morally “right” decision all of the time. I don’t think our moral intuition is necessarily the “voice of God” or " leading of the Spirit" and, in fact, believe it can lead us to decisions that God wouldn’t approve of. In other words, I see it as a sense similar to eye-sight that can deceive us or be corrupted.


To be honest, Chris, I’m not quite sure what it might mean to “overcome the amount of ignorance” that someone has at a given moment. Could you perhaps give me an example that might help me out here?

In general, a rational agent removes ignorance by acquiring additional knowledge about the world through experience and experimentation, and this tends to be a time-consuming process. In a case where someone wrestles with temptation for a long period of time, it might be possible for such a person to make some relevant discoveries during the period of temptation. But one’s ignorance about the actual consequences of an action will not likely be removed until after one actually acts. According to the Genesis account, for example, Adam and Eve had no experiential knowledge of good and evil, no awareness of their nakedness, and no clear idea of what the consequences of their sin would be until after they had already eaten the forbidden fruit.

Does that address the question you had in mind? Quite frankly, I’m not sure it does. Anyway, let me know.




Was their ignorance such that it made refraining from sin impossible?


Hi Dave,

I love the fact that your keyboard seems to have slipped into a devout mode in point #3 with the expression “thy neighbor’s wife.” Reminds me of the slightly irreverent line where someone jokingly says: “Love thy neighbor, but don’t get caught!” Hope that’s not a violation of board rules!

Anyway, the conceptual question, remember, concerns the conditions under which someone acts freely, and the quasi-empirical question is whether the relevant conditions are in fact met on some specific occasion. I call this a “quasi-empirical question” because it may not always be possible, even in principle, to determine by empirical means whether the relevant conditions are in fact met. But in general, someone acts freely according to my conception whenever it is within one’s power to follow one’s own reasonable judgment concerning the best course of action. That would be true regardless of the situation in which one finds oneself.

Point #2 strikes me as a bit tricky, however, for this reason: Whereas 1 and 3 involve decisions about what to do, 2 involves a decision about what is true or at least about what principle to affirm. One could theoretically affirm the principle that it is wrong to kill in combat, I believe, and nonetheless think it best, all things considered (including the fact that one’s own life is at risk), to do so anyway. In a particular case, of course, one’s belief that killing is wrong in combat might also be a decisive factor in one’s choosing a particular course of action, such as that of becoming a conscientious objector. But whether it is a choice of career, a decision to kill in combat, or a decision to sleep with a neighbor’s wife (or husband!), one acts freely, on my account, provided that it is within one’s power to act in accordance with one’s own reasonable judgment concerning the best course of action.

Although that is my view, others may have a different view. So if you have a different view, feel free to express it.

Thanks Dave,



Considering the volumes of philosophy written about free will since ancient times, this thread has a narrow focus. But yes, this is complex.

I’ll skip 1 for now because I suppose only an atheist or agnostic will argue that.

Per 2, your view that compelling evidence is compatible with the freedom that pertains to rational agents is not uncommon among proponents of libertarian free will.

Per 3, what is “fully realized freedom”? Did I miss that earlier in the this long and perhaps record breaking thread for this forum? Does that have anything to do with rejecting the possibility that creatures can make irrevocable decisions except perhaps if the reversal of the decision is logically impossible?


Jim - yep, this thread had a narrow focus, and then began to broaden out in a somewhat aimless fashion. Was just hoping to get a feel for the new directions. Tom is herding cats, and doing a good job.

No offense meant to ‘the cats’ - I’m one! :sunglasses:


Very good, Cindy. You state the problem very well. As I see it, a reasoning mind must operate on its own, so to speak, in a difficult to specify sense. But how are we to understand such an idea?

Once again, the place to start, perhaps, is with God himself. For just as a supremely perfect God would be the freest of all beings, so would he also be the most rational of all beings. Because neither his existence nor any of his actions would be the product of sufficient causes external to himself, he would therefore be the uncaused cause of every event he causes to occur; and because it is necessarily true that he would never act contrary to his own (correct) judgment concerning the best course of action, there would be no question of his most important actions being wholly, or even partially, a matter of random chance. So even though such a God would always act from an inner necessity, at least with respect to the most important matters, he would also remain the originating cause of his own actions.

Now suppose, once again, that our human rationality and freedom are reflections, however pale they may be, of God’s own freedom and rationality. The problem, of course, is that we created rational agents, unlike God who never came into being, must somehow come into being ourselves. So if, as I have suggested, God had no choice but to start us out and to permit our embryonic minds to begin operating on their own in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, and a kind of indeterminism that implies random chance—if these are essential conditions of our emergence as free moral agents—then these very same conditions are also obstacles to a fully realized freedom.

And by the way, Jim, when I speak of “a fully realized freedom,” I have in mind a freedom that approximates God’s ideal freedom in this two-fold sense: It exists only when our choices are neither the product of external sufficient causes nor a matter of random chance. And a choice will never be a matter of random chance when, despite being independent of external sufficient causes, it is nonetheless fully determined by a rational judgment concerning the best course of action. In that respect, freedom is also a matter of degree. At the beginning of our lives our actions may reflect a good deal of indeterminism of the kind that implies random chance, which is also an obstacle to a fully realized freedom. But as we begin to learn various lessons, particularly the lessons of love, and our judgments come to reflect God’s own judgments more and more closely, our freedom then becomes more fully realized for the very reason that it comes to resemble God’s ideal freedom more closely.

Stated so briefly, such an account no doubt raises more questions than it answers. So feel free to raise further questions as well as further objections.

Thanks Cindy,