I’m actually having a conversation on this blog post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/03/28/young-restless-and-no-longer-reformed-2-john-frye/
I wrote a lengthy comment as part of that conversation. It expresses a large chunk of my views on the subject, so I decided to repost it here.
Please allow me to explain how I think taking the “free” out of “free will” doesn’t really cause any actual problems, and instead solves many problems for us.
The concept that a fully functional and meaningful Will can and does exist in a deterministic system—if given the right perspective—can be consistent with and deeply satisfying to many of the values that we care about.
We (our Wills) are continually making choices, when it is continually presented with many different possible courses of action. For me, I’m much more interested in “probability” than in mere “possibility”. My understanding of the way the world works tells me that “probability” is always a function of knowledge. The more knowledge I have, the more precisely I can predict the outcome of an event. As that knowledge increases, the set of possible outcomes decreases in cardinality. We know this is the case in the physical, material world. What the psychology studies have shown, is that knowledge of our brain states (seconds before we make our choice) can similarly predict our choice, and essentially rule out the possibility of the other “possible” choices. (When probability falls to absolute zero, possibility becomes false.)
How strictly deterministic the world is really depends on how strictly cause-and-effect works. As much as the present causes the future, the present must have been caused by the past. If my present self does in fact influence the future, then my present self must have been influenced by the past.
For a better explanation:
How then, do we view theology, ethics, and morality? Let me explain. For me, a dominant thread in the bible is the idea of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Knowledge profoundly changes our very being—it changes our Wills. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”, implying that sinful people are to be forgiven precisely because the lack of knowledge is what makes them sinful. Sin, which more literally means “missing the mark”, having connotations of “falling short”, is associated with a lack of knowledge. In Jesus’ eyes, sin looks more like a nutritional deficiency, or illness, that needs to be cured.
Knowledge/wisdom is so important, that Paul says this:
1 Corinthians 1:30 (CEB)
30 It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us.
The logic is that Christ gave us wisdom, and this wisdom makes us righteous and holy, and delivers (saves) us from sin.
Isaiah 53:5 (KJV)
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
The word “chastisement” here, in KJV, is most commonly translated as “instruction” (30 times), “correction” (8 times), and “chastening / chastisement” (6 times).
The mere knowledge of the gospel is enough to change our Wills, so that the little faith that we have is even counted as righteousness, i.e. the state of our Wills, with this gospel knowledge, God already considers to be righteous.
Can you now see the implications this has on our theology, ethics, and morality? Here, we have a clear causal mechanism, as clear as day, of how the atonement actually works, of how we are delivered (saved) from sin through Christ. This mechanism is based on knowledge, wisdom and understanding, which can only be achieved through corrective instruction (which could involve some form of benign punishment), as opposed to retributive punishment.
The “punishment”, has been wrongly interpreted as some kind of retribution that is deflected from us, the full force of which strikes Jesus dead. This kind of retributive punishment is not the point. It’s not God’s point. There should be no room in Christian theology/morality/ethics for any form of retributive punishment.
“Chastisement”, what Christ did for us through the cross, was really a profound act of teaching (corrective instruction) after all, which is why all the more we need to truly understand what the atonement means and learn what it is that Christ was trying to teach us. In turn, we must teach others as well.
People who have the gospel knowledge will necessarily work with God as co-agents, and thereby accomplish/fulfil their own salvation, as much as the fact that God is the one doing it.
Likewise, people who do not have the gospel knowledge will necessarily be working to accomplish their own destruction. (Even though God is also said to be the one doing the destroying.) This is explained in the following passage:
Galatians 6:7-10 (NRSV)
7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Here, we see a statement of the Christian ethic, or moral obligation: “whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith”.
Finally, let me conclude with an analysis of how Free Will vs Determinism affects our view of God.
Free Will requires that God does not fully know the future, which means that God’s omniscience is necessarily limited.
Determinism doesn’t necessarily limit God’s omniscience, and if we assume that God is omniscient, determinism then requires that God chose to create a world in which some people are saved, and some are not. But this is in fact what the bible has demonstrated to us right from the Old Testament. The God we believe in has been, and will always be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel is saved, and not-Israel is not. Does this limit God’s goodness, because he created a world in which not all people are saved? Or does this simply place a limit on God’s omnipotence, i.e. that he could not create a world whose eschatology is one of perfection, without the world necessarily going through a phase/period of imperfection?
Romans 8:18-25 (NRSV)
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in[a]hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes[b] for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
I would like to take this chance to explain that “good” and “evil” in the bible are not attributes that we can simply assign to people as if it were some kind of inherent quality. “Good” and “evil” are in fact subjective. When we save a hostage from death by killing the terrorist, we are in fact being good to the hostage, but bad (evil) to the terrorist.
In the same way, Israel’s God, as depicted in the Old Testament, has always cared exclusively for the welfare of Israel. Abraham was the one whose descendants were chosen to populate the whole world. In Israel’s perspective, God is good, because God does good things to/for them. But in the perspective of the countless non-Israelites who were brutally slaughtered like animals, God is evil to them. God was selectively patient with Israel’s sinfulness, but had no qualms about wiping out the non-Israelites.
So, a view of determinism ultimately places limits on God’s omnipotence, and thereby places limits on God’s capacity for goodness, in the sense that he is not able to be good to every single person in the world. As in the example earlier, in a hostage situation, we have to decide whether to save the hostage or the terrorist, knowing full well that ultimately, both are sinful humans. But because of our limited power, we can only choose to save one. If I love the terrorist more than the hostage, I would choose not to kill the the terrorist, which leads to the death of the hostage: in so doing, I have been good to the terrorist, but bad (evil) to the hostage. Does this mean that I am an immoral person? No, it simply means that my lack of power imposed limits upon my ability to do good.
In conclusion, we find that Free Will limits God’s omniscience, and Determinism limits God’s power. Which one makes more sense? Do we even understand the concept of limitless power? Is it even logical? On the other hand, the concept of perfect knowledge makes perfect logical sense. If the universe is not infinite, that means that knowledge is finite, and logically speaking, perfect knowledge is possible.
Hopefully, what I’ve written here has been adequately intelligible, and that it has managed to help us in our understanding of philosophy/thelogy/ethics.