of the nature of human choice fall within three categories:
determinism, indeterminism, and self-determinism. A determinist
looks to actions caused by another, an indeterminist to uncaused
actions, and a self-determinist to self-caused actions.
There are two basic kinds of determinism:
naturalistic and theistic. Naturalistic determinism is most readily
identified with behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner. Skinner held
that all human behavior is determined by genetic and behavioral
factors. Humans simply act according to what has been programmed
All who accept strong forms of Calvinistic
theology hold to some degree of theistic determinism. Jonathan
Edwards related all actions ultimately to God as First Cause.
"Free choice" for Edwards is doing what one desires, and
God is the Author of the heartís desires. God is sovereign, in
control of all and so ultimately the cause of all. Fallen humanity
is totally without freedom of the affections, so they can do
whatever they want, but what they want will forever be in the
control of their corrupt, world-directed heart. Godís grace
controls actions as God controls desires and their attendant
thoughts and actions.
Response to Determinism. Nondeterminists
respond that a self-caused action is not impossible, and all actions
need not be attributed to the First Cause (God). Some actions can be
caused by human beings to whom God gave free moral agency. Free
choice is not, as Edwards contends, doing what one desires (with
God giving the desires). Rather, it is doing what one decides, which
is not always the same thing. One need not reject Godís sovereign
control to deny determinism. God can control by omniscience as well
as by causal power.
Two forms of determinism may be distinguished,
hard and soft. A hard determinist believes all acts are
caused by God, that God is the only efficient Cause. A soft
determinist holds that God as the Primary Cause is compatible
with human free choice as the secondary Cause.
According to the indeterminist, few if any human
actions are caused. Events and action are contingent and
Arguments for indeterminism.
The arguments for indeterminism follow the nature of free
actions. Since they follow no determinate pattern, it is concluded
that they are indeterminate. Some contemporary indeterminists appeal
to Werner Heisenbergís principle of indeterminacy to support their
position. According to this principle, events in the subatomic realm
(like the specific course of a given particle) are completely
According to the argument from the
unpredictability of free acts, an act must be predictable in order
to be determinate. But free acts are not predictable. Hence, they
Critique of Indeterminacy.
All forms of indeterminism fall shipwreck on the principle of
causality, which asserts that all events have a cause. But
indeterminacy asserts that free choices are uncaused events.
Indeterminism makes the world irrational and
science impossible. It is contrary to reason to affirm that things
happen willy nilly without a cause. Hence, indeterminacy reduces to
irrationalism. Both operation and origin sciences are dependent on
the principle of causality. Simply because a free act is not caused
by another does not mean that it is uncaused. It could be
Use of Heisenbergís principle is misapplied,
since it does not deal with the causality of an event but
Indeterminism robs humans of their moral
responsibility, since they are not the cause of these actions. If
they are not, why should they be blamed for evil actions?
Indeterminism, at least on a cosmic scale, is unacceptable from a
biblical perspective, since God is causally related to the world as
both originator (Genesis 1) and sustainer of all things (Col.
According to this view, a personís moral acts
are not caused by another or uncaused, but are caused by oneself. It
is important to know at the outset precisely what is meant by
self-determinism or free choice. Negatively, it means that a moral
action is not uncaused or caused by another. It is neither
indeterminate nor determined by another. Positively, it is morally
self-determined, an act freely chosen, without compulsion, in which
one could have done otherwise. Several arguments support this
Arguments for Self-determinism. Either
moral actions are uncaused, caused by another, or caused by oneself.
However, no action can be uncaused, since this violates the
fundamental rational principle that every event has a cause. Neither
can a personís actions be caused by others, for in that case they
would not be personal actions. Further, if oneís acts are
caused by another then how can he or she be held responsible for
them? Both Augustine (in On Free Will and On Grace
and Free Will) and Thomas Aquinas were self-determinists, as are
moderate Calvinists and Arminians.
The denial that some actions can be free is
self-defeating. A complete determinist insists that both
determinists and nondeterminists are determined to believe what they
believe. However, determinists believe self-determinists are wrong
and ought to change their view. But "ought to change"
implies freedom to change, which is contrary to determinism. If God
is the cause of all human actions, then human beings are not morally
responsible, and it makes no sense to praise human beings for doing
good, nor to blame them for doing evil.
A dimension of this controversy has to do with how
the "self" is viewed. By "self" the
self-determinist believes there is an "I" (subject) that
is more than the object. That is, my subjectivity transcends my
objectivity. I cannot put all that I am under a microscope to
analyze as an object. There is more to "me" than
objectivity. This "I" that transcends being objectified is
free. The scientist who attempts to study personal self always
transcends the experiment. The scientist is always on the outside
looking in. In fact, "I" am free to reject "me."
It is not determined by objectivity, not subject to being locked
into scientific analysis. As such, the "I" is free.
Objections to Self-determinism.
Free will rules out sovereignty.
If human beings are free, are they outside
Godís sovereignty? Either God determines all, or else he is not
sovereign. And if he determines all, then there are no
It is sufficient to note that God sovereignly
delegated free choice to some of his creatures. There was no
necessity for him to do so; he exercised his free will. So human
freedom is a sovereignly given power to make moral choices. Only
absolute freedom would be contrary to Godís absolute sovereignty.
But human freedom is a limited freedom. Humans are not free to
become God themselves. A contingent being cannot become a Necessary
Being. For a Necessary Being cannot come to be. It must always be
what it is.
Free will is contrary to grace.
It is objected that either free, good acts
spring from Godís grace, or else from our own initiative. But if
the latter, they are not the result of Godís grace (Eph. 2:8-9).
However, this does not necessarily follow. Free will itself is a
gracious gift. Further, special grace is not forced coercively onto
the person. Rather, grace works persuasively. The hard
deterministís position confuses the nature of faith. The ability
of a person to receive Godís gracious gift of salvation is not the
same as working for it. To think so is to give credit for the gift
to the receiver, rather than to the Giver.
A self-caused act is logically impossible.
It is objected that self-determinism means
to cause oneself, which is impossible. Someone cannot be prior to
oneself, which is what a self-caused act entails. This objection
misunderstands determinism, which does not mean that one causes
himself to exist, but rather causes something else to happen.
A self-determined act is one determined by oneself, not another.
Self-determinism is contrary to causality.
If all acts need a cause, then so do acts
of the will, which are not caused by the self but by something else.
If everything needs a cause, so do the persons performing the
There is no violation of the actual principle of
causality in the exercise of free actions. The principle does not
claim that every thing (being) needs a cause. Finite things
need a cause. God is uncaused. The person performing free actions is
caused by God. The power of freedom is caused by God, but the
exercise of freedom is caused by the person. The self is the
first-cause of personal actions. The principle of causality is not
violated because every finite thing and every action has a cause.
Self-determinism is contrary to predestination. Others
object that self-determinism is contrary to Godís predestination.
But self-determinists respond that God can predetermine in several
ways. He can determine (1) contrary to free choice (forcing the
person to do what he or she does not choose to do); (2) based on
free choices already made (waiting to see what the person will do);
and (3) knowing omnisciently what the person will do "in
accordance with his foreknowledge" (1 Peter 1:2). "Those
God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of
his Son" (Rom. 8:29). Either positions 2 or 3 are consistent
with self-determinism. Both insist that God can determine the future
by free choice, since he omnisciently knows for sure how they
will freely act. So, it is determined from the
standpoint of Godís infallible knowledge but free from the
vantage point of human choice.
Connected with the argument from strong
determinism is that, while Adam had free choice (Rom. 5:12), fallen
human beings are in bondage to sin and not free to respond to God.
But this view is contrary to both Godís consistent call on people
to repent (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38) and believe (e.g., John 3:16; 3:36;
Acts 16:31), as well as to direct statements that even unbelievers
have the ability to respond to Godís grace (Matt. 23:37; John
7:17; Rom. 7:18; 1 Cor. 9:17; Philem. 14; 1 Peter 5:2).
This argument continues that if humans have the
ability to respond, then salvation is not of grace (Eph. 2:8-9) but
by human effort. However, this is a confusion about the nature of
faith. The ability of a person to receive Godís gracious gift of
salvation is not the same as working for it. To think so is
to give credit for the gift to the receiver rather than to the Giver
who graciously gave it.
Augustine, On Free Will
J. Edwards, The Freedom
of the Will
J. Fletcher, John Fletcherís Checks to
Antinomianism, abridged by P. Wiseman
R. T. Forster, et al., Godís
Strategy in Human History
N. L. Geisler; "Manís Destiny: Free or
Forced," CSR, 9.2 (1979)
D. Hume, The Letters of
C. S. Lewis, Miracles
M. Luther, On Grace
and Free Will
_______ The Bondage of
B. F. Skinner, Beyond
_______ Beyond Freedom
Thomas Aquinas, Summa