The Art of Free Will

This post is taken from a post on Robert Neddo's blog about Free Will. I found it interesting and thought I take a stab at it for my intellectual entertainment.

A while back we had a debate on destiny as it relates to God. My belief is that there are predetermined consequences and rewards for living outside or inside the will of God. Therefore, when it’s all over, we are fully responsible for the decisions that we make. Thus, we are in complete control over out destiny. Having free will allows for the manifestation of that destiny.

Example: A young man wakes up at 5am every morning to practice so that he can become a track star. He practices after school and all day, every day during the summer. Upon graduating high school, he attends a major university that has a great reputation for developing Olympians. Eventually, this young man is invited to the Olympic Games and wins several gold medals. During an interview, he states that he worked his entire life to achieve the goal of winning a medal at the Olympics.

As a young man, he set the conditions and made the choices to achieve his goal. His parents didn’t push him into track. It was just something he wanted to do. It was his choice to make and he made it and did what was required of him to become successful.

Life, unfortunately, is much more complicated than that. We are the sum of our experiences, values, faith, education, family and morals. Boys who were raised with abusive fathers have a greater chance become abusive fathers. Over protected children become rebellious teens. People that go through a bad marriage become fearful of marriage. Those that were raised in homogeneous communities sometimes have a hard time relating to those from other ethnicities.

Our experience will often time dictate the choices that we make. Many of us were programmed with the importance of morals, values, God, culture, education, friendship and family by our parents. In essence, we are the results of what the people around us placed in us or failed to place in us. We then go on to live lives and make choices based on the indoctrination of our youth and the positive and the accumulation of negative experiences as adults. This is what makes defining free will very difficult. Because it seems impossible to exercise free will when we’re seeing and making choices based on the past.

There are several different definitions. Here are a few I found:

* freedom of self determination and action independent of external causes.

* the partial freedom of the agent, in acts of conscious choice, from the determining compulsion of heredity, environment and circumstance.

* The power of self-determination regarded as a special faculty

*Free will is the philosophical doctrine that holds that our choices are ultimately up to ourselves. The phrase "up to ourselves" is vague, and, just like free will itself, admits of a variety of interpretations.

Is There Such A Thing as Free Will?

Since we are the product of our past experiences and make decisions regarding the future based on our past, can we truly say that we have free will? In my example with the Olympian was a young man that was solely responsible for the conditions that allowed him to succeed and made the decisions without outside coercion. If a person sets the conditions and define the choices, would that not be an exercising of free will? It could be – but that’s not the reality of most people.

There are some that conclude that when we rely on the values, traditions and experiences of our youth, we are not operating with free will but what they consider determinism. Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences (source). So as long as we are connected in some way to our past, we can not possibly bring to bear free will.

Like those that believe in the literal interpretation of the bible, I find that this philosophy is too dogmatic for my taste. The way I see it, humans function within a range where absolute determinism is on end of the spectrum and absolute free will on the other. Where a person falls is determined by how conscious that person is about their life and the choices they make.

The more aware of the motivation and linkage to past experiences a person has and how those things impact their present condition and choices, the better they can control the circumstances of their lives going forward. The increased awareness of who you are and how you came to be will result in an increase of free will. It one thing to make decisions, but it is something different to make decisions while conscious of the motivations behind them.

David Hume argued that while it is possible that one does not freely arrive at one's set of desires and beliefs, the only meaningful interpretation of freedom relates to one's ability to translate those desires and beliefs into voluntary action. source

I want to get into the concept of God and free will but I’ll save that for another day. I’ll just let you guys chime in while I do some more reading.

1. What is your thought on free will?
2. Is an Omniscient (all knowing) God and free will compatible. (next topic)

3. What is your definition of free will?


15 Responses to The Art of Free Will

  1. Outside the Box Says:
    1. What is your thought on free will?

    It doesn't exist in the way that the majority of people believe it does.

    2. Is an Omniscient (all knowing) God and free will compatible?

    Hmmmmmm, let me see. An omniscient God knows what you're going to do even before you do it. I think Free Will could still exist, but it certainly would take the fun out of everything for that God.

    3. What is your definition of free will?

    To make a choice with no influences whatsoever, which to me is impossible.
  2. Timmer Says:
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  3. Timmer Says:
    There are a variety of ways to go about solving this whole 'free will' query:

    Scientific: Does God play with dice or does he not? Perhaps he lets us play with dice while he knows the outcome (or all possible outcomes) ahead of time. It is fair to say that as the world progresses from lower to higher entropy and thus assume things become less ordered and more chaotic. This would suggest that in early life determinism rules while as life goes on the capacity, ability, and indeed utilization of free will occurs more frequently.

    Historic: The past is the ultimate ruler of out future. Whether we learn what to do from it or what not to do from it, the past has sovereignty over the future.

    Calvinistic (In honor of my own background): Everything is pre-determined and pre-ordained; do not even think to consider questioning that.

    Humanistic/Romantic: Free will can be achieved when man reaches his full potential and casts of the burdens of history, psychology and religion and determines his own fate.

    Existential: The only choice we ultimately have is whether we continue to live or whether we choose to die.

    I could go on. The short answer is I have no idea. I my mind the definition would best be described as an odd mix of a few of these categories (which I will leave to you to guess). I encourage the rest to add your own category!

    I will say that I do think an omniscient God and free will are indeed compatible. However I would bite a bullet in saying that God would have to voluntarily limit his knowledge and power to do so. How else could one explain the devil or the fall?
  4. bold as love Says:
    1. What is your thought on free will? It exists, we all have it. It was given to man by God.

    2. Is an Omniscient (all knowing) God and free will compatible.
    Yes they are. I believe God granted us free will to liven things up, make the journey we take(life) a little more interesting. I do believe God knows our ultimate destination, but the paths we take- I suspect at times amuse Him.

    3. What is your definition of free will?
    Free will is simply what it is- free will, a choice- Most people make it more complicated than what it is. It's simply making choices. Now, some will argue that sometimes we have no choice- yes, you do- even when faced with shitty choices we can choose to not to choose- we can end our own lives at any moment, pull the plug so to speak and not have to make a choice we desire not to,experience something we do not want to, ect...
    Regardless of our upbringing, environment, family structure- we always have a choice, even if it means not choosing.
  5. Outside the Box Says:
    Even though Bold As Love posted these, I'm not responding to him directly, as they are the most common beliefs about Free Will that I encounter.

    Free will is simply what it is
    - free will, a choice.

    No it's not. It's the ability to choose.

    Now, some will argue that sometimes we have no choice-

    Argue? No, but I would like to point out that this is a common misconception. People quite often confuse having a "choice" with having an option.

    Here's how it works.

    This can be done with anyone
    but we'll stick with Bold.

    Bold, when it comes to what you believe in you have many options. However, I'm willing to bet that when it comes to all those options (Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.) you can only make one "choice" and that is Christianity. (And I'll argue that it's not even a choice, but that's for another time.)

    A choice is the ability to choose.

    You do not have that ability,
    so it's not a choice.

    Or do you?

    Go ahead. Prove me wrong.

    Choose another religion right now.
    Let me know how it turns out.
    (Again, this really pertains to everyone, not just Bold. Thanks for participating, by the way.)
  6. James Manning Says:

    I would argue that choice and options are synonymous. People choose different religions all of the time. We call them conversions. I can choose to believe in God and once I do that I can choose under which doctrine I will practice my belief in God. Even as I practice under a particular doctrine, there are some aspects of the doctrine that I may choose to disregard. In every step of the process I am free to do this.

    Your definition of free will is to make a choice without influence. How do you define influence? Do you mean indoctrination by others or personal experience and knowledge obtained by an individual.

    For example: If you ask a four year old what they would like to be when they grow up, you may hear one of them say a fireman or a cowboy. They base this decision on the simple conclusion that it looks fun to them. There is no influence – just an exposure. If you ask the child to narrow it to one or the other, he’s going to use some very basic benchmarks to come to a conclusion: what’s going to be more fun, riding a horse or driving a big red truck?

    Conversely, if you were to ask a high school senior what he would like to do, you may find him debating on whether to study engineering or architecture. He’ll have some idea of the college he’ll have to attend, the job market and his level of desire for each. He’ll also gauge his academic strengths and weaknesses to see if they are at a level required to be successful in either field. He may even talk with his parents or a high school counselor to make a final decision.

    Which of these two are closest to exercising free will as you define it? I would say both. Both have choices but they have different degrees of information and resources available to them to make a choice. The only choice that we don’t have is whether or not to accumulate experience and knowledge. We generally call humans that make decisions while completely detached from outside influence psychopaths or schizophrenics.
  7. Ddot the King Says:
    1. What is your thought on free will?

    God created us with free will because he is a God of freedom. That is one reason why we find it frustrating to be enslaved by oppressive rulers.

    Since he knew the way our minds and emotions would work, he knew that we would be happiest with free will.

    To go with the gift of free will, God gave us the ability to think, weigh matters, make decisions, and know right from wrong. (Hebrews 5:14) Thus, free will was to be based on intelligent choice. We were not made like mindless robots having no will of their own. Nor were we created to act out of instinct as were the animals. Instead, our marvelous brain was designed to work in harmony with our freedom of choice.

    2. Is an Omniscient (all knowing) God and free will compatible?

    God can do whatever he pleases including forseeing or foreknowing things and he doesn't always use that power. To insinuate that he does is to say that all wickedness stemmed from God as soon as he said Let us make man in our image.It is therefore not a question of ability, what God can foresee, foreknow, and foreordain, for "with God all things are possible." (Mt 19:26) The question is what God sees fit to foresee, foreknow, and foreordain, for "everything that he delighted to do he has done."(Ps 115:3).

    3. What is your definition of free will?

    Free will is the ability to choose. But to avoid anarchy it is regulated by the rule of law.

    Basically it's the ability to choose right from wrong based on God's law.

    I love these typ discussions James. Keep them coming!
  8. Mr. Grey Ghost Says:
    Geez, this reminds me of stuff we used to discuss in my old philosophy classes when I was still in school. I dont necessarily believe in free will. I believe that we do need rules and laws or else a burdenng society could not exist; we need to be protected from total anarchy.

    God and free will already exist in the sense that God already provides a path for us, it's on you to decide whether or not you which to follow it. Then too, I could see one arguing that they couldnt exist since God is the ultimate authority on life and death. Damn, now you got me confused....pretty thoughtful post tho.
  9. Bullfrog Says:
    Most people are not willing to entertain the thought that we do not have free will because that thought violates a part of us that we ALWAYS honor: PRIDE. "We MUST have free will, because if we don't what is the point of living? If I can't choose my destiny and my future, I don't want to bother!"

    I believe our will is buffeted by experience, our nature, the subconcious, and other factors that have already been mentioned.
  10. Bullfrog Says:
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  11. taylor Says:
    1. What is your thought on free will?

    It absolutley does exist, we always have the freedom to choose the path we take regardless of the path we've been on.

    2. Is an Omniscient (all knowing) God and free will compatible?

    Sure is. God wants us to love him not because we are forced to but because we want to. We aren't forced to follow rules, regulations, religions, commandments etc. But when we do that makes God smile. As for the omnipotence, I take it as something that those of us who only use up to 10% of our minds (humans) will never truly be able to understand. It's just not scientific enough perhaps.

    3. What is your definition of free will?

    you choose.
  12. Outside the Box Says:

    according to your beliefs, what happens to those who do not "choose" to love God?
  13. Brotha Buck Says:
    1. What is your thought on free will?

    I believe it is given to us by our creator.

    2. Is an Omniscient (all knowing) God and free will compatible?

    Yes, I think anything is possible with God.He knows when we are gonna mess up, and he lets us.

    3. What is your definition of free will?
    To be able to do what we want, when.
  14. Dell Gines Says:
    We have limited free will only God has complete free will.

    The simplest way to prove this is to let us say, choose not to die. If there is a choice that can be made that is impossible to make there can be no such thing as complete free will because free will is the ability to make any choice you deem to make. Get it?

    Secondly, it is not free will because the person choosing the choice has to have 100% knowledge of the outcome of the choice and the consequences of the choice and information about the choice. That is an impossibility, therefore again, no free will.

    If you look at the characteristics of true free will, you will see they are the characteristics of God, all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere at once.

    Being that we are not God, we don't have free will.

    Now I argue that we have limited free will (if you don't consider that oxymoronical). Meaning that we have the ability to choose within a finite set of choices. You may not be able to not die, but you may be able through making healthy choices pro-long life, etc.
  15. Outside the Box Says:
    Hey James, maybe you can help me out.

    Why doesn't my example of religious beliefs work? I think it's an excellent way to explain to people the difference between options and choices.

    For me, while I have plenty of options, I have only one choice (at this point in my life) and that is to lack a belief in any kind of supernatural being.

    Is it different for you?

    Are you able to, right now, "choose" another religion AND truly believe in it? If so, then yes, my example doesn't work, but I highly doubt that's the case.

    My belief is that you have no choice in your belief, just as I have no choice in my lack of a belief. The difference between us is how we got there.

    Oh, and by the way, is it asking too much that if you're going to be referring to Bushwack as "Robert" that you change my link to Outside the Box?