On Free Will

Acts of God are acts of God. From time to time there are going to be things that can’t be prevented. (Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) regarding the gulf oil spill)

There are those who believe that the recent earthquake and hurricane along the US’s east coast is God’s sign that he disapproves Democrats in Washington. Then again, do the same people believe that the fires in Texas are God’s way of warning Americans about Texas Governor Rick Perry? At least he is out of the 2012 picture.

Last year I wrote this post about the burning of a large Jesus statue near Cincinnati. A friend of mine told me that it was God’s way of showing his disapproval of the statue; so, I respond of saying that is God’s way of wanting a newer and bigger statue. Of course, I could add numerous Rev. Pat Robertson examples to the above, but I will spare my readers. Interestingly, all this leads to the concept of free will.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Adam and Eve would be one of the first examples of free will in the Bible and Torah by demonstrating their free will by rejecting God’s will. To me, Adam represents all of humanity because of the free will we possess.

Life involving making choice – and no matter our choice – that choice leads to other choices. Regardless if the relationship is with a spouse, friend, neighbor, family member, co-worker, managers, or stranger, our individual choices affect our relationships. No matter the relationship, every choice one makes leads one makes leads them toward or closer to that personal entity.

For those of us believing in God, each choice we make leads us toward or away from God. Sure God has a preference, but we have a choice. However, no matter our choices, we still sin, we remain selfish, people die, and some do horrible acts on humanity.

As God gives us a gift of choice our own path, free will has consequences because the greatest freedom also leads us to unacceptable behaviors as abuse, murder, greed, deceit, evil, hate, and others lead to suffering. Free will is a gift, an opportunity, and a curse – thus how each of use it is a matter of individual choice.

God’s free will gift also extends to nature and the universe for they operate within the parameters natural laws. As with human behavior, this free also leads to abuse and suffering – such as, natural disasters, diseases, genetic disorders, and handicaps to name a few. Although the natural laws are not the same as human behavior, the natural world’s free will allows it to operate with ever-changing forces that work to maintain a steady state with benefits and consequences. Yet, Pat Robertson wants to use natural disasters as a way of God punishing people.

Human creations are subject to disasters as Exxon’s Valdez, Union Carbide’s Bhopal, coal mine explosions, and post-tsunami meltdowns of a nuclear reactor. Yet, Gov. Perry refers to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an act of God that can’t be prevented.

Each of our lives are not pre-programmed with dates of birth and death, family information, interests, occupations, locations, and events; nor is God playing out the natural world as a video game. Just something to think about the next time someone makes a statement about God’s involvement in a natural disaster, a horrible highway accident, or a personal illness.

Other posts done here about free will:

54 thoughts on “On Free Will

  1. I was reading a short story about Albert Einstein when your post popped up in my email. One thing he said, “I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation and is but a reflection of human frailty.”. I think he would agree with your post.

    • Un,
      Now there is an interesting coincidence! Einstein said many interesting points about the relationship between science and religion … thus I’m honored to be in his company! Thanks for visiting.

  2. Just finished reading Stephen Hawking’s ” The Grand Design”. I’d be a fool to say I understand all of it, but I got a sense of what scientists think of the universe and natural laws. The fact that there are billions of universes suggests there are different sets of natural laws. All mind blowing. We’re all a bunch of jiggly particles–all made up of the same stuff. I cannot answer the question of free will. I know enough to know that I don’t know.
    I liked the post!

    • Les,
      I have not read the Hawking’s book – but this is the second recommendation I’ve gotten on it. Yes – the size of the universe is mind blowing – yet we are a mere speck that is on a speck. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Hi,
    A very thought provoking post, a lot of things happen in our world, and to put it simply I think people need to start to take responsibility for their own actions.

  4. I liked this post, Frank. There are things I agree with you, here, and things I don’t agree with you… but still, I liked it. When I was still a child, I found myself wondering about what god was like. The only hint I had, was that he had made us in his image (from the bible). That was a hard one to understand, because I was being educated as a Jew, not to see god in any particular image. So I thought a lot about what was the most sublime aspect of human existence, for that would probably be the image of god. And what I came up with, was free choice.

    • Shimon,
      I appreciate you sharing how you came to link free choice to the image of God … and yes, “in his image” is difficult to understand. Glad you liked the post, and just so you know, it’s ok to disagree here – especially because I know you would do so in a respectful manner. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. I don’t like it when some people go around saying God has done all the bad things because he’s wanting to punish us. Why don’t people ever blame the devil for wanting to do bad things to us? God doesn’t promise us a life free from trouble, so when things happen to me I thank God that He has a way through for me, rather than screaming, ‘Why did you do this?’ xx

    • Spiced,
      Here in the US, Rev. Pat Robertson is known for saying something after disasters, which actually causes me to shake my head. Gov Rick Perry was a candidate to become the Republican nominee for US President. Meanwhile, those who make the news with these statements do NOT speak for all Christians … and probably not even for the majority. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Your post either opens a can of worms or a can of thoughts. I vote for the latter and I liked it a lot. Also, you cracked me up with your reply to your friend that God might have wanted a bigger statue!

    • Tim,
      Being that you know the statue in question, you understand the situation. I’ve had this written for some time, and it is possible that the Gov. Perry’s presidential bid sparked the thought. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  7. Free will is the ultimate gift of God – for us and for God. It allows us the right to choose, and allows God the chance to be chosen. Who doesn’t want to be chosen? (unless its for the Hunger Games). Sadly, we tend to handle free will like a teenager with car keys – we go too fast, follow others too close, get distracted by roadside things, and text while driving. So, sometimes we crash. Most times – its a fender bender, sometimes its worse. And sweet God, attends our accidents and gives us another set of car keys — and a chance again to chose better. Circle of Faith Life…

  8. “Of course, I could add numerous Rev. Pat Robertson examples to the above, but I will spare my readers. ” — so another post then? :-D He is such an easy spectacle.

    • Twixt,
      Although Pat Robertson is a gold mine for ridiculous, I generally consider him as a waste of my time – well, other than when his absurd statements make the news. I hear them, shake my head, and then move on. So, sorry to say I doubt if I’ll be doing a post with a collection of his statements. Thanks for visiting and the suggestion.

  9. Great Post. I have come to the conclusion that when I exercised my free will in the twenties, most of the decisions were mediocre at best, with one exception picking my wife. But the way we met is so totally improbable that I feel God was reaching in and moving things around inside His fish tank to make it happen. I was off the path, and brought back on. I try to do better now in my 50s, but still do boneheaded free will things.

    • Randel,
      I imagine that most of us would say that we make better decisions in our 50s than in our 20s – after all, experience is a great learning tool. Nonetheless, everyone (regardless of age) remains very capable of making bonehead choices. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Frank, I really enjoyed this post. You express yourself so very well. I am also deeply bothered by the lack of personal accountability that so often comes to fruition with a major crisis. I don’t need to say more..it’s been said! Debra

    • Debra,
      Thanks for your kind words. I tend to be pragmatic while taking my time with some posts – although I always realize some will disagree – which is OK – well, unless they make the major mistake. ;) Thanks for visiting.

  11. The advantage of a statement like Perry’s (or his comment on the BP spill) is that it lets him abrogate his responsibilities while still seeming to be a spiritual man.
    I’ll stop here because I feel a rant coming on, and it’s probably best left alone.
    Excellent thoughtful post, Frank!

    • Guapo,
      Perry’s statement to lend itself to a certain Christian mindset, but unquestionably not all – and I feel comfortable at saying not even the majority. I appreciate your comment, thus thanks for stopping by.

  12. Thanks for alerting me that you had reissued this post on free will. What fascinates me is that God created a people with such power. If I ever have a chance to become a god, the first thing I will do is make my creation without free will so that I can have some peace. As soon as a baby figures out that she or he can get their way by exercising their free will by crying or screaming, the poor parents are off to the races and their terrorization doesn’t stop until they enter the great beyond. My kids, who are grown now, always ask me what I liked least about being a parent (I think they think I’ll change my answere), and I always answer, “that you had a choice whether to obey me or not–someone should have warned me, I might have reconsidered the entire process.” :)

    • E-Tom,
      Your description of the actions of kids is a great example of free will – especially in relationship to parenting. Nonetheless, that’s what it is – and gosh knows each of us respond to that gift/curse differently. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  13. And here, I thought someone had kidnapped George Will, and you were leading an online campaign to free him.
    (Kinda like when you’re watching a war movie in the theatre, the CO yells “Fire at will!”, and I turn to you and ask “Which one is Will again?” ;) )
    Hey, somedays you’re philosophical, and some days – well, let’s just say today is one of THOSE days…… :D

    • John,
      LOL … on my my …. a post about freeing a kidnapped George Will. That is classic – as is the “Fire at will” command. Thanks for the providing the chuckles!!!

  14. Good post, as always. John Polkinghorne, talks about how God did something more difficult than simply creating the universe, God created a universe that could create itself. Because the universe creates itself, there is an inescapable “shadow side” to creation- earthquakes, and other natural disasters.

  15. Terrific job, Frank.

    I’ve never understood why there are folks who believe that God created man (and woman) with heart, soul, and brains, and then told them to shut up and believe whatever their church tells them.

    If we aren’t supposed to use our heads and our hearts, why do we have them. If we aren’t supposed to discover, why are we curious? If we aren’t supposed to learn, why do we yearn to.

    Well, some of us, anyway.

  16. When I hear people like Rick Perry saying that God was responsible for the Gulf disaster it is so hard not to get angry. Why blame God for human greed?

  17. There is something completely wrong if God’s will is used as an excuse for human violence or atrocities or negligence. It’s also completely wrong if God’s will is used to scare or frighten other human beings. If there is a god why would he support one human being or one group of human beings before somebody else? That just doesn’t make sense to me. Now as to free will, that is a huge discussion that philosophers have pondered over for many centuries. Just a little notch in that respect: If our choice automatically leads to other choices, one would assume there was choices made before this one. So is this choice really a choice of free will then?

    • Otto,
      I’m not sure how it is in other parts of the world, but wow – there is a lot of misuse of God’s actions here in the US. Meanwhile, leave it to the philosophers to provide the question that the dominoes of free will choices is a not free choice. Interesting stuff to ponder … and thanks for sharing!

  18. This is a new post for me but from looking at the comments it seems like many are not into the new research of neuropsychology. The following article is a good simple introduction to the whole new and improved discussion about free will, and God is not part of the formula. New research and scientific experiments view free will differently than we used to, and their conclusion is that what we consider free will is often pre determined by our genetics and background. I don’t want to stand on a soap box here to here’s the article: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012-01-01/free-will-science-religion/52317624/1

    • Rachel,
      First of all, thanks for going following one of my links. Interesting choice. Also, thanks for the link. Interesting article. Not sure I buy into all the conclusions, but still interesting. On the other hand, I sense that the author’s primary goal is actually written this with a slant in an attempt to prove evidence against God/religion. Just a thought … and thanks for sharing.

  19. Pingback: Flashbacks: On Religion | A Frank Angle

  20. Free will is usually opposed to determinism. Scientists say that milliseconds before we are aware of a decision we have made they can see that the decision has been made by observing the brain. Consequently it is not that we don’t make decisions it is rather that we have no idea why we make the decisions we do. This is certainly disturbing and counter intuitive but it does represent the latest in cognitive science. Sam Harris has an excellent book on the subject:


  21. Issues like free will are a matter of personal belief, obviously, and I believe one of America’s best strengths to be an ethos for tolerance of all kinds of beliefs. That is, so long as they don’t conflict with the reasonable rules of civilized behavior and the collective safety under a democratic (small “d”) rule of law. But, since the topic is raised I am motivated to post my opinion. I’m old, but I’m still looking for answers.

    The phrase “power of prayer” assumes that God is inclined at least occasionally to intervene in natural or human affairs, which leads me to speculate on what criteria He might use in doing so. Is it whim, or is it a matter of measuring the supplicant’s sincerity? It is not a question amenable to rational analysis of course, nor has there ever been any kind of miracle that can’t be challenged by rationality. Therefore, to postulate both free will and the “power of prayer” is to be inconsistent. IMHO. Unless, that is, one believes that prayers only matter relative to the hereafter. But if that’s the case, the only reason I can think of to pray is to satisfy a heavenly need for adoration. That’s not very satisfying to me but it would, however, fit with the concept of a superior being who would create creatures and then torture for eternity those who fail to overcome rationality with willful servility.

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