The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is Libertarian Free Will Possible?

I’ve been thinking about this issue recently, and as far as I can see, libertarian free will seems like an incoherent concept. In my mind, and event either a) has a sufficient cause, or b) is a “random” occurrence. a) seems to clearly rule out libertarian free will, and b) doesn’t seem to help either; is a randomly determined occurrence really a “free” decision? I think not. I don’t see any room for a free will framework to sneak into. It seems to me that, in the Christian realm, libertarian free will is an ad hoc concept tacked on to biblical theology in order to make God seem more fair and to provide a justification for the concept of moral guilt and punishment. Arminianism, the main conduit for free will theology, was created in response to Calvinism, not as an original idea. Typically, libertarian free will is explained by the existence of the soul, which supposedly can transcend physically imposed determinism or randomness, and make libertarian free will decisions. However, the way I see it, wouldn’t the soul be imposed to the same sort of constraints a purely physical being would? For example, an animal acts based on its nature, desires, and experiences. There is both nature and nurture - an animal has certain innate tendencies, yet it can also be trained to exhibit certain behaviors, either positive or negative (think of dogs - good owner vs. bad owner). In a similar (although likely not identical) fashion, humans are influenced both by nature and nurture. I am born with (or perhaps, God designed me with) a certain set of parameters that shape and constrain my nature. These parameters are, in many ways, plastic, but seem highly susceptible to be influenced by my environment and experiences. Think of a kid born into a perfect, loving Christian home vs. a kid born to a single mom on crack, living on the streets, getting raped, beat up, made fun of, etc. Who do you think is likely going to turn out to be the better adult? Is the kid born into the perfect Christian family a great adult because of some sort of libertarian free will decision, or because life shaped her that way? Getting back to the idea of the soul, if everything is either sufficiently caused or random, why would the soul be any different? Why is the soul somehow different than a physical entity? Wouldn’t there simply be “spiritual causes” and “spiritual randomness” rather than physical versions of these? If my soul chooses something, isn’t that because I was either wired that way, or the sum of my experiences bent me towards choosing that way? Even if my previous decisions influence the current state of my soul, I think that the beginning of the chain was either deterministic or random. In short, free will seems impossible, but it does seem to be implied by the Biblical concept of guilt and punishment, which is why I think people hold to it.

Shoot, I posted this to the wrong forum. Can this get moved to the general theology section, or whatever the appropriate forum may be?

I reposted this in the theology forum, so this thread can be shut down.

I am always amazed that a human being who actually possesses libertarian free will can make such a statement. The cause of your choices, decisions, and actions, my friend is YOU.

I created a different thread in the Theology forum, so it might be best to respond in that thread.

I agree that I am making choices. However, I would contend that any choice I’m making is either sufficiently caused or random. Even if I am the initiator of my choices and decisions, what caused me to make the particular choices that I did? It may help to compare all the people in the human race. If John chooses to follow Jesus and become a pastor, while Jerry chooses to become a drug addict, why did John choose differently than Jerry? Was John just a better person than Jerry? If so, why? Did God just make John an innately better person than Jerry? Was John’s childhood better than Jerry’s? Did Jerry just happen to get exposed to drugs as a teenager and fall into temptation? If John made a better choice than Jerry, he was either already a better person in the first place, or perhaps they were on equal footing. If two people on ‘equal moral footing’ make different decisions, I fail to see how this is not simply a random occurrence. Or perhaps one had more willpower to resist than the other. Then this would be a sufficient cause. Even if my choices come from myself, I think they’re either random or sufficiently caused. I could be completely wrong about this, but I can’t see where libertarian free will fits in.

You are still looking for an external cause. There is no cause for John and Jerry’s choices other than John and Jerry themselves. Perhaps John thought that his choices would benefit the most people, including himself. Perhaps Jerry thought that drugs would give him the most pleasure. Say, if you want that their thoughts were “the cause” of their actions. But those thoughts arise from themselves. There was no external cause, nor were their actions random.

I don’t perceive that my thoughts just arrive out of myself, or independent of external causative factors. Indeed, I hope some of my observation and study uncovers good external data on which to shape my thoughts more reliably :wink:

Developing thoughts with no external forces shaping them could sound a bit like a brain in a vat. I don’t know what thoughts I’d come up with, if the relevant reality was simply me :slight_smile:

Bob, I’m not suggesting that your thoughts are not related to external data. All I’m saying is that that external data doesn’t cause your thoughts. If external data caused thoughts, then everyone exposed to that data would have the same thoughts concerning it.

But Don, no one supposes external data are the only causative factor in our thoughts. Even with the differing choices that computers may make, the influence of the external data combines with the inner working and disposition that forms the nature of that computer. And parallel to that, many observe that human choices also appear explained by a combination of external and internal factors already in place at a given point.