Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Free Will Defined by God

  1. Jul 11, 2005 #1
    For this, I am defining free will as "The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will." (Source - dictionary.com)

    To add my own words, instead of solely something out of a dictionary, the main point I am giving by defining free will is that no outside sources can make a choice for a person. There are certainly many influences, but the final choice lies within ourselves. This also assumes no extreme conditions, such as drugs, dementia, etc.

    All of the below statements assume that a God exists with the following properties: all powerful, all knowing, all loving. Also, this God is the Creator of the Universe and everything in it. Basically, the Christian God.

    As humans, we have limits. There are things we can do and things we cannot. As I have said in other threads, we cannot choose to get up and go flying without any external help. Our bodies are not equipped to do certain things by the laws of nature, which are defined by God. Everything we can do and everything we cannot is by the decision of God.

    So many of you may be saying "So what?", this whole thread is obvious, but it leads to other important points concerning the morality of the extent of our free will.

    I will wait to see if this gets replies before I go further.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2005 #2
    These limits extend beyond what we can and cannot do, so that we are not as "free" as we would like to think. In this way, I rather imagine that Free Will is more myth than fact.

    For example. Let's say a lion comes upon two bowls. One is full of dirt mixed with oil, the other is full of meat. Which will the lion eat? The meat of course! Free to eat both, it will always eat the meat. Why? Can't he eat the dirt and oil mixture? Of course he has the mechanisms to eat the dirt and oil, all he has to do is use the same mouth used to eat the meat. But he won't -- Why won't he?

    A lion will never choose to eat dirt-oil over meat, because of his nature. In a sense, he is bound by his nature. His freedom is bound by his identity. So a pack of lions is never found to have attacked a wheat field and consumed the whole crop. No, they attack animals. "Free" to choose as they please, they are yet bound by their nature.

    Humans too. Any idea of "Free Will" we might love to think we have is a fiction, of sorts. Like the lion, we might be free to choose, but we always choose according to our nature. Now, I am not simply talking about choosing food, but about choosing where we place our affections -- the big important stuff.

    I am not suggesting the following books as a way to end the conversation, but two come to mind and cover most of the territory we might canvas if we kept going on this. One was written by the 16th century scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, Discourses on Free Will. The rebuttal from the same century is, The Bondage of the Will.

  4. Jul 15, 2005 #3
    I agree to some extent. All animals have instincts, certain things that they are prone to do over others. Like you said, the lion will choose the meat over the dirt every time although it could have the latter.

    I believe that humans are one of the only animals that can overcome their instincts to a certain extent. For instance, most parents I think would die for their children. Why? This is obviously not a survival trait, but something deeper, more thought out. Humans have a much more advanced brain that I believe allows them to do things such as this. Ghandi protested by hunger strikes. I'm sure he was hungry as hell, but he persisted for another purpose. Jesus was crucified, and if he was the son of God (humor me), he could have easily prevented it.

    Those two examples are extreme, but think about your life. Have you ever fought off an instinct, a desire? :) I know I have.
  5. Jul 15, 2005 #4
    I am sorry, I was unclear.

    The way I am using it, "Free Will" is a technical term packed with meaning in theological discussions -- describing persons self-willing to desire the ultimate good or ideal. In that context I am arguing that there is no free will. I used the lion analogy to argue from the lesser to the greater. The lion is bound by its nature (that's the lesser), which corresponds by analogy (the greater) to how a person is bound by nature.

    My understanding is captured by an ancient poet who wrote, "There are none who seek after God."

    Now, this poet may be representing a peculiar point of view, but it is a view I find correct -- and I take it to mean that the will of man is predisposed to love, desire, and choose anything but the Best. One is not nearly as free as one might think.

    "I am the captain of my soul" is bellowed from a sinking ship while "I did it my way" is sung with sinking irony, and "I will choose free will" retains the sorry (even comedic) refrain of a divine tragedy.

    To paraphrase a more recent poet: The imprisoned spirit of humanity lays fast bound in nature's night.


    Steve Rives
  6. Jul 15, 2005 #5
    I'm curious then to how you explain our actions. Are they predetermined by some god? Or are we imprissoned in our nature, as you say?

    In the context that I defined free will in my first post, what are your thoughts on that? Do you concur that if we are created by a God then our actions are limited to His/Her decisions on the bounds of the universe?

    Although we might have different opinions as to why, it seems we agree that our actions, thoughts, etc. are limited by something. They are not of infinite possibility.

  7. Jul 15, 2005 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    How does it follow that the god you describe - all powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, necessarily gives us free will? That presumes that we can know what is best for us, that we know as much as this omniscient god does. But if we don't assume that then free will is just going to lead to stupid mistakes, which lead to unhapopiness, which contradicts all loving. Anyone who has raised a two year old should understand what I am saying.
  8. Jul 15, 2005 #7
    We do what we want to do! We do what we love to do! We believe and think according to our nature. And we can imagine no other. Remember, I am speaking about exercising our nature in relationship to that ancient poet: There are none who seek God.

    From our vantage point, we would want no other nature than the one we have. That is part of the imprisonment (imprisoned to love what it means to be us). We love what we are; we love our identity; we would not want to trade it in for another. And that is part of the ironic imprisonment. Imagine prisoners who love their cells! In not understanding our state as that of being in cells, we end up being happy as we are. It is the ironic bondage.

    This condition is from birth. We inherit our humanity from our parents. We are bound humans because our parents were bound humans. Our bondage has a human lineage so that we can't say, "It's the fault of deity that I have the nature I have."

    I have not talked about freedom from this prison, but I should make a brief comment: freedom is not to cease being human, nor is it to die. Freedom would be to remain human but to have a new nature not conforming to the diagnoses of that poet.

    The belief in "unconstrained choices" is the outer walls of the prison yard. It holds us in happiness as we imagine ourselves to be free. This definition of free will is from the lexicon of prisoners. All men everywhere wear orange prison garb as they make the same death march as their parents. We all die. And to make ourselves feel better we comfort one another with words of free will. We interpret what little comfort we might have as evidence that we chose some better path. But we are all on the march.

    I might not put it that way, but yes, something like that.

    Yes, we probably can say that we agree on something; we'll see as this gets going how much. Honestly, I find very few people who think this way.


    Steve Rives
  9. Jul 15, 2005 #8
    Good point. How do we know that we have free will? Why should we have free will? I cannot prove nor claim to know that we do or should. But, this brings me to a nice thought (I think so at least). If our actions are not completely free, meaning we are influenced either by our nature or by a deity that knows our lack of understanding, then we cannot be completely responsible for all of our actions.

    If we are influenced then part of the consequence lies in another force. If I push a ball and the ball did not move itself, who caused the movement? Whose consequence is that?

    So if you people can accept this (and I have a feeling this will get debated :tongue2:), then people must accept a new way of thinking. Is it moral to codemn someone to hell for being in their nature? Can we give someone life in prison if the decision to kill was not completely their own. How do we assign responsibility to people?

    selfAdjoint - I like your example of working with kids (I'm a tennis coach). If someone let a two year old walk into a pool and drown, where does the fault lie? Technically the child did it, but someone should have stopped that because the child had limited knowledge.

    This way of thinking adds so much grey to a black and white world.

    Best wishes,
  10. Jul 15, 2005 #9
    I definitely see things differently than that. I see people all the time, including myself, who do not want to be part of their nature. In fact, I know people that hate their nature. I would say the most remeberable people in history broke the common nature of the time and did what they needed to do anyway.

    Are you saying that you like having limited knowledge? I don't. The more I learn the more I understand, and what a wonderful feeling that is. And power?! Talk about the number one thing humans try to get outside of their prison.

    Could you please explain how and why people are happy with their limitations?

  11. Jul 15, 2005 #10
    First of all, when I say nature, I am not talking about the elements of our person we want improved. For example, lack of discipline, lack of intelligence, etc. Yes, we could hate what we are in terms of our inabilities (what you seem to mean by limitations). I agree with you that we bemoan our lack (some even find that they hate what they have become). But Nature, like Free Will, has a technical usage within the domain of discourse (in this case, theology and philosophy).

    Nature in this discussion is narrowly related to what man can "will" or "want" in the realm qualified by that poet I earlier quoted. So, even hating things about one's desires (like my desire to always eat too much cake) is not in view.

    Keep in mind that poet I quoted earlier, then hear this in that context: We are not as free as we like to think in terms of the range of things we can delight in. In the natural state of bondage, the human will cannot delight in The Divine. Following the German Ludwig Feuerbach: What the human does is create the metaphysical realm to conform to his highest hopes and dreams (religion), as to conform to all their thoughts on god (or no gods if they prefer atheism) -- as per what that being ought to be by their reckoning.

    So, take all those people who you mentioned who "hate" what they are by nature, they still started with some idea of the ideal -- some idea of the perfect (it may be dark or it may be happy, but they have some notions of the idyllic). Like all of us, they create in their minds/hearts (whatever) the perfect notion of what the cosmological realm is/means outside of visible reality. For some, this may mean dismissing altogether the concept of an other realm. That is, the human nature is bound to do this creating or dismissing. And if the human does not do it, he/she at least does not seek after the "Other" (using a Rudolf Otto term). The human -- as per basic human nature -- cannot accept The Other on external terms, but instead creates what is ideal and defines The Other (no matter how nice or perverted that definition may be). In at least one religion there is a technical term for this act of each person imagining/creating the invisible space according to their own ideal.

    Everyone (those on this list not excluded) has a notion of cosmology. Either by rejecting it, adopting some metaphysical constructs, taking an agnostic position, adhering to some religion, or making some new creation of their own, or.... And, in all cases, there is the desire to retain one's own notions (even if that means being a skeptic of one's own self and notions!). And that is the bound human nature -- we can do no other.

    People can hate themselves while believing all sorts of things, but what all share in common (as per that poet), is this idea of not seeking after the Divine as the Divine is. If we could listen in on a cosmological conversation, we might hear Rudolf Otto’s "Wholly Other" saying something like, "Your thoughts are not my thoughts, your ways are not my ways!” (quoting another poet from the Levant).

    Now, this train of thought certainly is not my own, I am relaying here what is actually a well known way of looking at this – and I hope I am accurately representing those poets! I am also standing against Erasmus in his disclosures on the will. So, if you want a really good scholarly rebuttal of what I am proposing, read Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam.

    I hope I am making some sense!

    Last edited: Jul 15, 2005
  12. Jul 16, 2005 #11
    I'm sorry to say that I am finding great difficulty in following your post. Honestly I think the extreme amount of quoting makes it hard to discern your view from the views of others.

    Words are only as good as the message one can convey. I tried to define what I was talking about to avoid confusion in my first post. You seem to say that certain words have meaning in certain contexts, and I am not completely clear to which of these you refer to, so I would greatly appreciate clarification.

    What does this mean? I really have NO idea. Please explain.

    I don't see where seeking the Divine ties into free will, or limitations on it. I don't mean that rudely, I'm just confused.

    I just need clarification on your last posts, and perhaps more later. :confused:

  13. Jul 16, 2005 #12
    I would love to be very clear, but my biggest problem is the constraint of the list: non-religious -- at least not specific to a religion. But your question is linked with religion.

    A summary of all I've written is this: Men do not seek the true God. They can't! They are like the lion who eats meat -- bound by their nature (i.e. not free).
  14. Jul 17, 2005 #13
    See I think of religion as "the following or worshipping of God, or gods". I was talking of no such thing. I was merely saying that if we have some Creator, then all of the bounds of the universe were defined by him. I just don't see where seeking God ties into that.
  15. Jul 17, 2005 #14


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    But in your original post you said:

    So your whole approach is colored by Christian tropes. Why not use Aristotle's pagan tropes, or Buddhist ones? You claim to be religion-neutral but you aren't.
  16. Jul 17, 2005 #15
    Ok, fair enough. I said, "Basically, the Christian God," because I wanted people to get the kind of God I was referring to. There is a difference in the qualities of the Judao-Christian God and Zeus, so I wanted to make some clarification.

    We can call it the God of Jameson if that's better. I just wanted to show that this God created the universe and had complete control of it.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Free Will Defined by God
  1. Defining God (Replies: 242)

  2. Defining Free Will (Replies: 3)