The division within Christianity between those who believe in human free will and those who do not, has a long history. One critical point were the arguments between two extremists known as Pelagius and Augustine. It had become the habit of that time to solve differences of theological opinion by declaring your opponent a heretic and ex-communicating him and more often than not putting him to death. It was part of the failure of Christianity at that time not to embrace much diversity at all. And the end result was arrogant men assuming far more authority and knowledge than they really had. Thank God the Protestant reformation finally came along and eventually put an end to this.
Frankly if Pelagius was a heretic so was Augustine, many of whose beliefs were just as extreme and even outrageous. Augustine once said that salvation was just God choosing a few humans to replace some angels which He had lost. It is unlikely that all of the beliefs of Pelagius are embraced within Christianity today. He was an extremist - that is clear. But certainly many of his beliefs are embraced within Christianity today. I think it would have been more fruitful if the two could have sat down and talked out some of their differences but I guess that would have been too much to expect.
Today the same extremes are represented in Christianity by the Calvinists on side and the Open Theists on the other side. The Calvinists emphasize God's sovereignty and the utter depravity of sinful man so that the existence of free will is either completely denied or considered irrelevant. The open theist may go to the extreme of even suggesting that God even waits to see what mankind chooses to do and believe before making up His own mind about what to do or even what is right. While I am probably a lot closer to the Open Theist end of the spectrum, refuting all five points of Calvinism, I reject both of the these positions as too extreme.
In any case I would like to start the discussion with the following argument for the case of free will within the context of the Christian world view.
Many Christians emphasize God's sovereignty and omniscience so much that they conclude that the fall of Adam and Eve must have been according to God's will and plan, knowing that He could then send His son to the earth to redeem mankind, all to the greater glory of God. But if a parent set up his child to fail so that he could look good rescuing him, what would we think of such a parent?
We cannot trivialize this failure either since we are not talking about any of the childish things that fallen men desire we are talking about failure in the eyes of God and Adams fall from grace which seperated him and all of his descendents from God. If God is in absolute control and he set up Adam and Eve to fail, then it was at the cost of their eternal life so that they and all their descendents would be doomed to an eternity of hell. If God did this just so that He could come down to earth and save them, all for His own greater glory, then I would call this the behavior of an evil tyrant. I would not believe in such a God.
If you do something knowing for certain that as a result of what you do, bad things will happen, then are you not responsible for those bad things? For example, murder is not just pulling the trigger of a gun but setting in motion any chain of events that you know will lead to the death of the person you want dead.
Now there is a small difficulty here when other people are involved. Suppose a gunman holds a woman hostage and says he will shoot her unless everyone stands still. If a person then runs from the room is that murder by the running man? Of course not, not only because it is doubtful that the running man wants the woman dead, but also because it is still the gunman who chooses to carry out his threat. He is still the murderer not the person who ran. But this really does not reflect the kind of control that God with his absolute knowlege and power has over the situation we are talking about, so let us consider another example.
Suppose a computer programmer sets a trap so that clicking a series of links on the internet causes someone to be killed. Suppose also that these links actually give clear warning of what the consequences of clicking all these links will be. But the programmer knows from trial runs that numerous people will click on these series of links anyway. So the question is, when the person is killed who is the murderer? This is only a little bit closer to kind of control over the whole situation that God has in our lives. So if the computer programmer is responsible for what he caused to happen then why not God?
The idea of free will not only has difficulty in theology with the conflict it has with God's omniscience and sovereignty, but there are difficulties in science with the conflict it has with the deterministic nature of physical law, and there are even philosophical difficulties which have made many people declare that the idea of free will is a logical contradiction and makes no sense whatsoever. So lets hear your thoughts on this issue.
Edited by mitchellmckain, 04 June 2006 - 09:20 PM.