June 5, 2011
Why People Think Free Will or Lack Thereof Matters
I had fun sharpening swords with Marc Cortez over at Scientia et Sapientia last week over the Christian view of personal freedom. We might also call this the “Calvinism – Arminianism” debate to make it more easily recognizable, but it’s really a much broader set of issues. Marc’s intention in his series of posts is to help establish a common ground so that we can all discuss theses matters more charitably and, perhaps, efficiently. Criticizing people for things they don’t believe doesn’t help discussion too much.
So I thought I would set up some of my own clarifications because I’m not sure I really agree with all the comonalities that Marc outlined, or that they are the best approach to the question. I know, isn’t this twisted? We can’t even agree on what we have in common! Many people say, “Who cares about such an abstract and contentious issue anyway?” Sometimes I also think such things. Though I would never verbalize it in certain company. On the other hand, there are two things that keep me coming back to this set of questions.
First, I’m a sucker for a good philosophical/theological discussions, and this is the mother of all theological/philosophical discussions. It even gets into science, psychology and probably other areas too. On issues like this, if people accuse me of being too abstract or too theoretical or of wasting my time on impractical matters, I just go, “Yea, I know, it’s only rock and roll but I like it.” Point being, some of us like this sort of thing and that’s reason enough to get into it. Others like watching football or reading novels. That’s fine too.
Second, the reason this issue is so fascinating and contentious is that it does have practical implications; or maybe it’s better to say quasi-practical implications; or meta-practical implications. In many cases, people who disagree with each other about free will do the same things: they pray, they live a Christian ethic, they evangelize, they study scripture, etc. BUT the crucial issue is that they think differently about the things they do based on their view of free will. And this matters a lot!
Let’s take the example of prayer. The free willer thinks that when he is praying, he is asking God to do things which might not have happened if he had not decided to pray. But the other perspective sees it differently: for them prayer is our participation in what God has already determined will occur. There is no question in this second, “determinist” view that what God has purposed will happen. But in the first view, the matter has not necessarily been decided ahead or time. It can significantly depend on independent human input.
To me these “meta-practical” issues seem extremely important. Each person has his or her motivation for doing the things they do. I suggest that this is actually one of the most important reasons for our ongoing debates about these issues.
I’f I’m inspired and get some reader input, I might do some more on this issue. What do you all think? Or it too impractical?