Of free will and predestination

Nice one at Vox’s on free will and utilitarianism. But first, had to laugh reading Dave Allen:

I’m what you might call a practising atheist. I’m quite happy to be an atheist because I think G-d likes atheists better, we never ask Him to do anything, we’re not bothering him the whole time.


Isn’t it fascinating how what passes for the thinking of the most popular atheists so closely resembles that of the omniderigent Christians? The sovereign God of the hyper-Calvinist and the nonexistent God of the atheist lead the adherent to the same conclusion: Man is not responsible for his actions.

I see it this way. There must be free will, otherwise the whole thing is meaningless:

that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life

Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t the word “believe” in there suggest choice in the matter or at the least the possibility of either believing or not believing? And that’s what separates Christianity from Throatslittingandhumanbombism. There is no coercion in that simple quote.

What would Erasmus have said on this?

Now it depends on how you view Adam as to where you are on this predestination thing. Is it predestination to know something ahead of time? I mean, there’s a certain logical conundrum here. Let’s say I know the result of a football match tomorrow – does that mean the match is predestined to go a certain way? What was that film where a number of different futures were possible and someone stepped back in time to alter the future they didn’t desire?

If I end up believing, which I feel is my own choice and it’s certainly suggested by John 3:16 – is that a product of my own free will, is it any less free will if my Maker knew all along I’d make that choice and knew that you wouldn’t? And can the arrangement of circumstances lead to inevitable results, even if the players are making what seem to be free choices all the way along the line?

And is there manipulation? For example, if a set of politicians descend to open corruption and greed, as distinct from potential corruption and greed, were the guilty the PTB that knew all about consequences of actions by reading millennia of history, was the guilty party human nature or was it entirely random that this happened? And was it also completely random that a nation would choose to remain under the yoke of a Marxist state and give up their sovereignty or was there a certain manipulation going on here?

Where is free will under these circumstances?

11 comments for “Of free will and predestination

  1. June 3, 2012 at 10:49 am

    “I see it this way. There must be free will, otherwise the whole thing is meaningless”

    Exactly – that’s it in a nutshell. Or if I may be allowed an alternative – there must be free-will otherwise we could not understand. The fact that we understand a few things is all the evidence we need for free-will.

    Many seem to be misled by the obvious and extensive limitations to free-will, but that misses the point. Those who understand are not so influenced by external pressures as those who fail to understand. As Spinoza realized – when we understand, we participate, we change outcomes, we are not so easily controlled by external events.

    • June 3, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Excellent – I do believe you have it.

  2. john in cheshire
    June 3, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I tend to support the idea of predestination, in that we are free to make choices but only God knows where those choices may ultimately lead. In my simple understanding I can liken it to a man reaching a fork in the road and having to make a decision which one to take. He doesn’t know where either of the roads may lead, but must make a decision. On the other hand, God sees this man making his choice, doesn’t interfere in the decision-making but knows where he will be going. I see the Bible as a guide to the man when he comes to such forks in the road. Does that make sense; does it correspond to others definition of predestination? Or am I in error?

    • June 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      It makes sense to me. Sackers wrote at my place on it and I answered, for want of a better thought about it:

      Perhaps it’s a mix of both, perhaps it’s not as extreme as we would like to believe – either/or, perhaps the Maker is in a timeframe, a model of time not like ours and chronological then, now and future have no meaning.

      • June 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm


        That is exactly it. A Catholic priest once explained it to me thus: God does not look ahead to see the future choices people will make, but rather exists in all potential times at once simultaneously—so in effect is looking back to see the past choices people have made.

        It is our temporal limitation—we can only be in one point of time at once—that makes it difficult to understand this, but this is the same thing that gives us free will. If, that is, one believes in God.

        I have heard atheists argue that it is the very belief in a being that knows everything—including the future—which creates the conflict of free will vs predestination. It’s only by thinking that someone might know the outcome, even though you don’t, that you start to question your free will. Take that knowledge out of the equation (either by not believing in God, or by believing in a God who is not omniscient), and suddenly the debate goes away.

        I haven’t made up my mind as to my own views, but this question of free will vs predestination has always presented me with an interesting thought experiment. To the people of the past, we are essentially like God in this respect: we know what choice they made, we know what the outcomes were of their choices, even though the people of the past themselves did not know what would happen. Does the fact that we know the future of the people of the past mean they had no free will?

        • June 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm

          Interesting phenomenon – the more I learn, the less I know. Maybe we just can’t know. Pretty sure about the part free will plays in it though.

  3. Voice of Reason
    June 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    For what it’s worth, most of the science and math types that I know are incapable of thinking or believing any other way, and (from conversation) have felt the same way since at least their teen years. That is not to say that all are atheist, but most tend to be less than dogmatic about their beliefs.

  4. Greg Tingey
    June 5, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    “Free Will” as classically defined, has been shown by recent research not to exist.
    However, “predestination” doesn’t exist, either ….
    Neuroscience is rubbishing the religious!
    It’s rather like the fatuous Mature/Nurture debate …
    where that actual fugires are (approx)
    Nature ~50% Society/Environment ~35% Parental direction ~15% all +/-5% (ish)

    BTW “Vox” is quite mad – he refuses to accept that evolution is true, and happens ……
    And if BigSky Fairy exists, why is he/she/it/they undetectable, at all?

    • June 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm

      “And if BigSky Fairy exists, why is he/she/it/they undetectable, at all?”

      Oh Greg – because you can’t detect it through your senses, it doesn’t exist? Hope one day you have your Damascus moment. 😉

  5. Greg Tingey
    June 5, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Not just my mere senses – all our extended “senses”
    That can go form zreo-rest-mass particles through ones that have almost none (neutrinoes) all they way up to distant (both space & time) supergalaxy clusters … no BigSkyFairy.

    If you claim BSF exists, then produce some evidence, that will stand in either a laboratory or a law court, or fuck right off.

    Rhetoric NOT allowed.
    EVIDENCE only.

  6. Greg Tingey
    June 6, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Oh, and Vox is wrong (AGAIN) here: “The sovereign God of the hyper-Calvinist and the nonexistent God of the atheist lead the adherent to the same conclusion: Man is not responsible for his actions.”
    I am resposnsible for my actions, and I’m an atheist.
    Therefore ……

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