Free Will Term Paper

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Free Will

The issue of free will and divine foreknowledge creates a somewhat problematic paradox for Christians. At the basis of the dilemma is the question that, if God knows beforehand the outcomes of everything on earth, can free will even be said to exist? Certainly human beings really have no choice if everything has been preordained. No matter what human choices appear to be made, preordination appears to turn human beings into little more than androids to carry out the divine will. Augustine however disagrees with this, as do several modern authors. Indeed, specific denominations of the Christian faith, such as Catholicism, have very specific interpretations of free will and preordination. What makes the argument for free will even more interesting today is the addition of the secular concept of determinism, which also apparently excludes the idea of free will.

While the argument against free will therefore appears very strong on both the religious and the secular level, authors such as Augustine however believe that free will does exist. Human beings make choices of their own volition, without apparently being controlled by any forces other than themselves, their personalities, and possibly their circumstances. No universal or divine force appears to be at the heart of such choice. Augustine holds that, while God provides grace on the basis of foreknowledge, he provides human beings with free will to choose not so much good and evil as good and "less good" (Murray).

After considering Augustine's argument for free will on the basis of explanatory writings such as those of Christine Murray and Katherin a. Rogers, Norman Swartz's work on the topic is examined to provide a balance of the modern thinking regarding free will and divine foreknowledge. Swartz indeed also includes a consideration of the secular manifestation of free will and how this relates to universal determinism. All the authors examined appear to be in agreement that, in whatever form, free will does indeed exist, or at least appears to do so.

According to Murray, Augustine's view of free will is his own observation that human beings indeed make choices of their own free will. He distinguishes between the "good will," which searches for God's truth and wisdom, and the will that clings to material things. According to Murray, the latter is "evil." Rogers appears to disagree with this term, stating that Augustine distinguishes between those who choose different degrees of "good." As such, choosing the material over the spiritual is not necessarily "evil," but it is not the greatest possible "good." Both choices are made out of free will, but the consequences are different. Murray mentions for example that those choosing an attachment to the material rather than the spiritual are in danger of losing all that is important to them, while those choosing the higher good of the spiritual have the assurance that their most important treasure remains regardless of any earthly loss. While, according to Murray, human beings therefore have the freedom to choose the most appealing path, a knowledge of the consequences may influence these choices.

Katherin a Rogers considers not only Augustine's views on the existence of free will, but also Anselm's expanded views on the topic. The latter also believes in the existence of free will and its compatibility with divine foreknowledge, which is ultimately responsible for choosing the earthly or heavenly good. According to Rogers, human beings choose to be saved, God knows which choices will be made, but does not enforce these. Human beings are not aware of which choices will be made, and therefore choose according to their will and according to the conditions leading to the choice and the consequences they view as in their best interest.

This is also the premise for Norman Swartz's view on the existence of free will and its compatibility with divine foreknowledge. The author approaches the issue from a purely pragmatic viewpoint. In examining free will, Swartz identifies the conditions necessary for free will to operate: these are that there must be two or more possibilities to choose from, and that the choice must not be forced by any element or person outside of the person making the choice. If these two conditions are met, free will is in operation, and the human being is free to choose as he or she wishes. Many have however argued that the rules of law and morality, as well as the physical laws of nature and the many possible consequences of human choice, influence the will to such a degree that it is not in effect free. Swartz however offers the counterargument that being morally and legally responsible for making wise choices does not mean that there is no free will. It simply means that there are many influencing factors in the matter of choice, but certainly not that such choice is forced by any of these factors. Influencing factors simply help the human being to make the wisest possible choice.

The same holds true when considering the divine factor within free will. Human beings have the free will to choose between degrees of good. This does not influence the fact of foreknowledge. Nor does divine foreknowledge mean that there is no choice. Swartz refutes both the idea that foreknowledge precludes free will and that free will means that there is no all-knowing God. Indeed, it appears that he views both views as limited and somewhat tragic in the influence that these views have over individual lives. As such, choosing to believe the one or the other has a more important influence than whether or not the choice relates to the actual truth of the matter.

Swartz compares the religious view of free will in relation to an all-knowing God with that of free will and determinism in nature. The course and laws of the natural world are predetermined. Science has proved this and it cannot be refuted. However, the fact that the universe will end millions of years from now does not mean that human beings do not have the freedom to make choices. The scales are vastly different and do not influence each other. This is Swartz's point. Divine foreknowledge simply does not compare in scale to individual human free will in choosing what to believe. God does not decide what human beings should believe. He offers the choice and provides free will. The responsibility for making the choice is human.

What is most problematic about Augustine's view, and also to some degree with Anselm's view, as explicated by Murray and Rogers respectively, is the fact that they individualize divine foreknowledge. They hold that each person's choices are individually predetermined by God. This is the basis of the paradox that has been criticized by many. Indeed, such as view indicates an image of a God that is arbitrary - offering salvation only to some souls on a completely random basis. It is furthermore incompatible with the Christian view of God as a compassionate and forgiving God, who accepts any person making the choice for the higher good.

While it is possible to reconcile divine foreknowledge with human free will, it is however also necessary to do this on the basis of sound Christian doctrine, as well as on the basis of a realistic scale. In this, Swartz's views on modern science and how it relates to the divine are helpful. Swartz's view is that human freedom of choice does not influence the divine will. Furthermore, human beings are free to choose only to a limited degree. Choices are open within certain rules and regulations, and also with certain consequences attached to them. These are all influencing factors upon the choice that is eventually made. Human choice is also influenced by the history of the individual making the choice. Education, environment, and experience for example can be used to make the wisest possible perceived choice.

In Swartz's view, the scales of human choice, divine will, and indeed universal determinism should not be confused, as they are not sufficiently compatible to preclude each other. For Swartz then, free will can exist within a universe whose future is determined by natural forces and also in a spiritual environment where the ultimate outcome is determined by divine will. This is the view that I tend to find most convincing for a number of reasons.

Most importantly, theorists such as Augustine and Anselm operated within an environment that was primarily based upon religion and the human relationship to the divine. The natural sciences were only in their infancy stage. Hence these theorists tended to diminish the divine scale of foreknowledge to be compatible with the human realm. The paradoxes created by this paradigm have necessitated a need for theory modification in order to provide for the compatibility of the obvious fact of human free will with the necessity of faith in divine foreknowledge. Comparing the divine with the universe provides a platform from which this can be done with some credibility.

Theories such as those put forth by Swartz are then… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Free Will.  (2008, May 4).  Retrieved February 16, 2019, from

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"Free Will."  4 May 2008.  Web.  16 February 2019. <>.

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"Free Will."  May 4, 2008.  Accessed February 16, 2019.