Four Views on Humans’ Free Will

Are humans free or are they programmed to make the choices they do? This issue is prevalent within Christian theology. Calvinists and Arminians, and Thomists and Molinists continue to debate these ideas today. But this question is not limited to Christian theology. Jewish theologians of the first century held differing ideas pertaining to the limitations of human freedom. Sadducees believed that people had total freedom with little to no interaction from God.

The Essenes and the Sadducees were polar opposites. They contended that God had predetermined all things and that everything was left to fate regardless of what one may decide to do. The Pharisees held to varying views in the middle which embraced both God’s sovereignty and human freedom. Even in the scientific world, people debate how much freedom people have as opposed to what is programmed in them by nature. The following points list out four views that people hold concerning human freedom: determinism, compatibilism, concurrence, and libertarian free will.

Determinism: Fate with No Freedom. Determinists hold that humans have no free will and that everything is left up to God’s sovereign choices (Christian theism), fate (other religious perspectives), or nature’s hardwiring (naturalism). In Christianity, this view is held by hardcore Calvinists. Some Calvinists even argue that such a belief extends past what one would call classical Calvinism. Nevertheless, in determinism, free will is an illusion. No one has the power to change one’s fate. Of ancient Jewish sects, the Essenes best fit this category. Compatibilism: Freedom within Fate. The compatibilist view is sometimes called soft determinism. Most Calvinists, especially moderate Calvinists, and Thomists fit this category. Compatibilists hold that people have free will, but that freedom is restrained by previous events that limit the freedoms that people have. Compatibilists hold to an idea called event causation which holds that, like a series of dominoes falling, a person’s choices are determined by previous causes that preceded them. Thus, God determines the paths of every person by limiting what choices a person can make. A person’s choices are also limited by the person’s inclinations and desires to do certain things. So, determinists do believe that people are free, but that the person’s choices are limited and dictated by God and by one’s desires. For compatibilists, a person can freely choose whatsoever they can within restricted confines, but their choice is already predetermined. The Pharisaical Jewish sect fell somewhere between compatibilism and concurrence, which is the next view to be discussed. Concurrence: Fate within Freedom. Concurrence is a soft version of libertarianism. Molinists best fit the concurrent philosophical framework. Concurrent ideas are very comparable to compatibilism in many ways, however, concurrents maintain that people are responsible for their own actions despite what may have happened in the past. In other words, they are not simply a domino falling into a pattern, they are free moral agents.

Concurrent advocates hold that people do have limited choices, but God works through what he knows people will choose. Concurrence argues five principles: 1) ultimate responsibility—moral agents are responsible for their own actions; 2) agent causation—a person is the origin for his or her own sins and not God; 3) principle of alternative possibilities—each person has the possibility of choosing or refraining from a particular task; 4) will-setting moments—separating concurrence from hardcore libertarianism, concurrence holds that certain choices limits, reduces, or withdraws future free choices; 5) distinction between freedom of responsibility and freedom of integrity—freedom is a permission granted to a person by God, but that freedom (freedom of integrity) is not the same for all people; therefore, a person who is redeemed will have a greater range of possibilities from which to choose than a person who is not because of the infusion of the Holy Spirit. A person’s freedom of integrity is greatly limited in some people more than others. The more a Christian is sanctified, the greater range of spiritual possibilities the person holds. The perfected saint of God in heaven will have the greatest range of positive choices without any negative choices.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brian G. Chilton