Free will is a concept often talked about by theists. It's a device used to explain evil in the world and inconsistencies between dogma, scripture and reality.
The story of Adam and Eve implies that man was given free will, and then made the wrong choice and was cursed for it. Fundamentalist Christians believe this parable literally. More moderate Christians such as Catholics have recently applied a more liberal interpretation, citing that "original sin" is a metaphor for the dark side of man; his desire and propensity to exercise free will to perform "immoral" acts.
Nonetheless, all sects of Christianity claim mankind was given "free will" by God and that man abused this privilege and this is why they need to be saved, otherwise they will suffer in the afterlife.
So according to Christians, God gave this awesome gift to man: Free Will. And man screwed it up. And further demonstrating contempt for women as being second class citizens, this mistake is credited initially to Eve, the first woman.
Let's examine this notion of Free Will
What is Free Will?
Philosophers argue; scientists argue. It's an abstraction describing a process of decision-making within the brain, augmented by desire. The nature of man's desire is a different argument depending upon whether you talk to a theist, philosopher or scientist. Free will involves the process of acting upon desire.
A theist might say man's desire is something inherited from the fall from grace, the abandonment of following God's rules.
A philosopher might say man's desire centers around his ego and need for comfort and control.
A scientist might suggest that desire is manifested from survival instinct. Man desires things that will ensure his survival.
Where is Free Will discussed in the Bible?
In short, nowhere. Nowhere in the Bible is it specifically stated that God has given man free will and that this is some magical gift to be cherished and respected. Christians interpret various passages to imply that this concept is key. But Genesis basically tells a simple story about two people created by a God who break one of his rules. No grandiose elaboration is made by God nor his creation on the value of free will.
Christians will often cite various Bible passages they claim substantiates free will. As you can see, these are weak at best, and most of them could just as easily be interpreted to prove God doesn't give his creation much of a choice:
Deuteronomy 30:11 "For this commandment which I command you today [is] not [too] mysterious for you, nor [is] it far off. 12 "It [is] not in heaven, that you should say, `Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 13 "Nor [is] it beyond the sea, that you should say, `Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 14 "But the word [is] very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
Deuteronomy 30:15 "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 "in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. 17 "But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, 18 "I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong [your] days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. 19 "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, [that] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.
John 14:15 "If you love Me, keep My commandments.
John 15:7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
Romans 2:10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God.
1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain [it]. 25 And everyone who competes [for] [the] [prize] is temperate in all things. Now they [do] [it] to obtain a perishable crown, but we [for] an imperishable [crown].
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and [before] Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep [this] commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing.
2 Timothy 2:21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.
1 John 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.
Where is there any significance attributed to the notion of free will being a gift from God? The Bible merely acknowledges the obvious reality that not everybody may agree with God's dictates.
Is God's free will" legitimate?
So from this, Christians have manufactured the idea that:
- God created man
- Man has a choice to follow God or not, and this is called "free will".
- Since God created man, God created free will.
- Free Will is an amazing gift, because God is all-knowing and all-seeing and omnipotent, he could have easily made man 100% obedient and having no "free will" so mankind should cherish the gift of choice given by God.
- ... Oh.. Just one minor detail.. Yes you have free will, and here are your choices:
- A) Accept God/Jesus and their rules and regulations and live forever in heaven being totally happy
- B) Don't accept God/Jesus and suffer torture, torment, pain and suffering for all eternity
This is all fine and dandy if things stopped at #4, the notion of the significance of free will might be legitimate.
But honestly, according to Christian doctrine, what kind of choice does man really have? Eternal life and happiness, or eternal pain and suffering. FREE WILL. Woo hoo! Let me see... this is going to be tough...
So that basically sums up the Christian notion of "free will". Let's now examine free will from a more scientific/philosophical perspective. I am doing this because I think there's a strong case to be made that ultimately There is no such thing as "free will."
Objects of free will
Technically-speaking, the exercise of free will is the act of making a choice. Why do we make choices? Because we want to. Why? Because we have needs and desires. Let's break down the types of needs/desires we might have that would cause us to make choices and exercise our "free will":
This is pretty self explanatory. We don't like pain. We do whatever we can to avoid it. When we see people who make bad choices which invite pain and suffering, we consider them to have "issues" relating to proper and healthy mental functioning.
Immediate critical needs
There are basic needs a human requires, such as food, sleep, water. Man doesn't have true free will if there are some things he must pursue or else he will die. So the brain's decision-making process often centers around various needs that are integral to survival.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence of non-chance, non-arbitrary decision making in human brains. We all can observe this ourselves at any given moment. The choices we make are quite predictable. In fact, when people make chaotic and irrational decisions, this is the most common symptom of some form of brain damage or mental retardation.
So it's safe to say, we don't have much free will when it comes to basic needs. We must eat; we must drink; we must sleep. Much of our daily choices are governed by the necessity of meeting these needs. If people had unlimited food and drink and a comfortable place to live, would they still work at their jobs?
Ultimately all our needs play into one basic objective: comfort & security. Happiness is comfort and security. What's the opposite of comfort and security? Pain and suffering. So we have an innate critical desire to avoid pain and suffering and seek comfort and security. All animals. All humans. Anyone who doesn't avoid pain and suffering is likely suffering mental illness.
Long term needs and survival
Procreation is a necessity for humanity to survive. If we do not have sex and propagate our species, we will eventually become extinct.
As a result, it does not come as a surprise to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of biology, that mankind has an innate desire (as well as a need) to procreate, which involves sexual activity. And it's no surprise that one of the most pleasurable experiences a human can have is an orgasm which is often attained at the moment preceding conception. The desire to have sex is built in to all creatures. Without it, we would cease to exist. How much free will comes into play involving sex when such an act is necessary for survival of the species?
Our brains reward us with special feelings that we consider pleasurable. Often these sensations directly correspond with addressing our need to be comfortable and secure. Humans have advanced quite a bit to the point now where ironically, we can synthesize drugs that simulate these natural feelings in an unnatural environment. This explains why some choices which might seem to make us feel good at first, are sometimes considered unhealthy. Nonetheless, there is a rational, logical explanation for why people make double-edged choices like this, and it's also very predictable and certainly not arbitrary.
This level of free will might relate to what we'd normally consider superfluous choices.
Do I have chicken or fish?
Should I put new carpet in the bedroom or buy a ticket to Cancun?
Is Joseph Smith a Prophet of God?
Should I go to church this Sunday?
These all seem like basic, arbitrary decisions. This might be what theists call the most common exercise of free will. Life's everyday decisions. And we are supposedly judged by how we make these choices.
But are these choices really arbitrary?
Isn't it possible that even an arbitrary decision plays into a specific long or short term need? Do I eat chicken or fish? Maybe one of them is healthier for me, or one makes me feel better, and maybe feeling better and living longer is key to a critical need? The same thing goes for carpet vs. a trip to Cancun. It might seem like a superfluous, arbitrary decision but it is made with the idea in mind of what works best for you; what makes you feel more emotionally and physically better, which plays into a critical need for health and survival. If having new carpet in your bedroom makes you wake up more refreshed every morning, that could play a part in your outlook on life and your longevity. Morale is a very important factor in achieving comfort and happiness.
What about religious decisions? The same thing applies. Choosing to follow a particular doctrine or ritual plays directly into the need to seek comfort. Religion also creates discomfort by suggesting if you don't follow the rules, there will be punishment. So it conveniently offers a solution to provide the necessarily security and safety humans require.
What about other choices which seem to have no impact on addressing our basic needs? Then are these choices significant at all? What do they matter? Do I touch my nose or my ear? Who cares? It's irrelevant and meaningless.
True free will
If I really had true free will, wouldn't I be able to do anything? If I really have the ability to exercise my right to make decisions for myself and those around me, why can't I end world hunger? Why can't I make it rain in the desert? Why can't I jump 25 feet in the air?
Apparently free will is limited by the parameters of the physical world in which we live. Free will certainly is not an absolute concept.
Is "free will" technically legitimate?
If you ask a neuropsychologist about the nature of the brain, you may find them suggesting that there is no such thing as free will. The brain is a machine that is programmed and follows a pattern that is based on input. You can train animals and people to act in very predictable ways. Even against their nature.
Ultimately, if you break down why we do what we do, it becomes obvious we seek comfort and security. This is our motivation. So where is the free will? Yes we have choices, but they all ultimately boil down towards choosing the option that we feel provides us the most comfort and security.
What about killing other creatures?
Again, a judgment call is made, and in virtually any case, you can observe that the killing is done pursuant to the needs of the person doing the killing, whether it's for protection & defense or to acquire resources that the other person has access to that you need. Any situation where it might not be obvious where the critical need lies, would be a situation agreed upon by most, perpetrated by someone with serious mental illness.
Ironically, the way our society works is that any time someone exercises their "free will" and does something unpredictable and unhealthy, our first response is, there's something wrong with their brain. How much free will do we really have when for the most part, the choice for all important decisions is quite obvious? If it isn't, then perhaps the significance of one's choice is of arguable importance?
The bottom line seems to be that any "choice" made by man can easily be traced back to selecting an option that the person feels gets him closest to comfort and security. This is an innate, built-in need that cannot be avoided in people who have properly functioning brains.
So where is the true "free will?" It is an abstraction, like perfection, which ultimately has no meaning in most contexts.
Is God's "free will" legitimate?
If God really wanted man to have free will:
- He would have not created man with built-in desires that motivate his behavior
- He would not have suggested there was a penalty for making a one choice, and a reward for making another choice
These two ideas negate each other. You can't have true free will:
- If one choice is clearly superior to the other and addresses instinctual requirements for survival
- If your options are overwhelmingly controlled and limited by the physical world, laws of physics and other non-supernatural aspects of reality
If you really think about it, you can come up with a plausible, obvious explanation for every decision you make. Free will ultimately comes down to making the obvious, predictable decision that best represents your interests.
Additional articles and references on the topic of "Free Will"
- The free will that humans enjoy is similar to that exercised by animals as simple as flies, a scientist has said.
- The idea may simply require "free will" to be redefined, but tests show that animal behaviour is neither completely constrained nor completely free.
- The paper, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests animals always have a range of options available to them.
- "Choices" actually fit a complex probability but, at least in humans, are perceived as conscious decisions.
- The idea tackles one of history's great philosophical debates, and Bjoern Brembs of the Berlin Free University brings the latest thinking from neurobiology to bear on the question.
- What has been long established is that "deterministic behaviour" - the idea that an animal poked in just such a way will react with the same response every time - is not a complete description of behaviour.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11998687" rel="nofollow" title="Source">[ref]
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