Part 1 of 2: Freewill vs Determinism vs Ultimate Reconciliation/The Sovereignty of God

Written by Thomas Perez. September 14, 2009 at 11:17pm. Copyright 2009.

Free Will vs Determinism – Sovereignty of God/The Philosophy of Freedom

The Question of mans freewill can be answered in conjunction with what has been set and already established within the various study approaches given in the field of philosophy. Within this article we will also look at Biblical passages of Scripture that allude to both the ‘Freedom of choice and Determinism.’ We will also briefly compare the seemingly contradictory passages of Biblical citations that infer to both freedom of will and determinism, or as theologians characterize it, “The sovereignty of God.” We will also look at all the various interpretations and ideologies on determinism – and determine if there is such a thing as determinism to begin with.

I am sure that we have all heard of the expression, “You reap what you sow.” This quotation is taken from the Biblical book of Galatians 6:7. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the end or outcome of a matter is a by-product of its cause, (in this case, what we have sown and planted in this life). Similarly, the expression “You are what you eat” is another prime example of an outcome resulting from a cause. Thus, is the case when discussing what is called, ‘Determinism.’

Determinism: The Pre-Socratic Thought

Determinism is the view that every event occurs necessarily. Every event follows inevitably from the events that proceeded it. A sort of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Freedom either does not exist (such an ideology entails ‘Hard Determinism’), or freedom exists in such a way as to be compatible with necessity (‘Soft Determinism’). The first appearance of this thesis (Determinism) first occurred in the Pre-Socratic (before Socrates) tradition, by the likes of Leucippus 460 – ? BC and Democritus 460 – 370 BC. Leucippus’ and Democritus’ observations and speculations on Determinism took a culmination of at least a hundred years of studying the world surrounding us. Their conclusions were not truly recognized until about two thousand years later. True science, in the sense of the word, the way we know it today, did not come to the forefront of history until such men as Sir Isaac Newton 1642 – 1727, The Baron Henri D’Holbach 1723 – 1789, and Pierre – Simon Laplace 1749 – 1827. These men further argued that if such events proceeded cause in the physical world, the same principle can also apply to the human brain and the general functionality of the human body as well.

The human brain is made up of many parts that function as an integrated whole. For example, one such part is the medulla. The medulla is responsible for our vital organs, like the brain, heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, etc. The medulla regulate our cardiac centers: heart rate, blood vessels, blood pressure, and respiratory centers – in turn they regulate breathing. Of such we have no say or choice in the matter (some call it, ‘The Breath of Life’ or The Living Soul).

We have no choice at birth or death, only what is done in between. Yet, this apparent choice of what is done in between is often at the forefront of discussion and debate. Here it can be said that the medulla has its own individual Hard Determinism. Furthermore, the medulla does not have the will to stop itself in performing its daily task, nor can we stop it, unless it ceases to function.

Another part of the brain where apparently and co-hesively the ability to will itself exists, is in the area that is known as the cerebellum. The cerebellum is concerned with movement. Here we have the necessity of movement because we desire to do or accomplish a task (Soft Determinism), like picking up a pencil or reading a book (a responsibility given to the cerebrum). Reading, writing, speaking, and doing math is the function of the cerebrum.

The cerebrum works in conjunction with the command of movement from the cerebellum. Within these functionalities; we can observe, as the ancients did, and many post modern scientific authorities of today do, that the human brain house’s what is deemed the ideology of ‘Determinism’ ‘Hard Determinism,’ and ‘Soft Determinism’ as an integrated whole.

The key ideas of Determinism is therefore a chain of events proceeding from one event to another. Determinism is the idea that “A” causes “B,” therefore “B” can not exist without “A.” Hard Determinism is the belief that determinism is true and that freedom and responsibility do not exist. It is contrast to ‘Soft Determinism.’ We will determine how the three intergraded functions of the brain works with the overall purpose of a Sovereign God later in this article.

Hard Determinism: B.F. Skinner and Sigmund Freud

In B.F. Skinners’ book, ‘Beyond Freedom and Dignity,’ Skinner proclaims: “Many anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists have used their expert knowledge to prove that man is free, purposeful, and responsible. This escape route is slowly closed as new evidences of predictability of human behavior are discovered. Personal exemption from a complete Determinism is revoked as a scientific analysis progresses, particularly in accounting for the behavior of the individual” (pg 20 – 21).

Here Skinner is claiming that “the escape route” of freewill, purpose, and responsibility are eroded away due to mans predictability (Hard Determinism). Skinner was an empiricist and a materialist (the view point that all knowledge is derived primarily from sense experience or an accidental cause, as in the theory of evolution, thus eradicating purpose and goal). In this sense Skinner denies the theological model of explanation as discussed in Part 2 of this article.

As you will remember the theological model explains things in terms of goals, purposes, plans, and intentions. If Skinner does away with the theological model, he also overturns our moral and legal institutions by denying the free will of intentions. Moreover, overturning our judicial system, value of life, and sense of belonging as well.

We hold people responsible for their actions, if they break the laws of the legal system, they are held accountable for their actions. Therefore, if Skinners’ model of Hard Determinism is valid, one can commit murder and claim that it was not intentional because he/she is incapable of freewill. Skinners’ model/theory is a radical one and is left wanting or needing further explanation.

If this argument is valid, what do we do with the concepts of theft, murder, disobedience, anarchy, or our moral obligations to our partners in marriage? Society, as we know it to be, would not exist as a civilized body of individuals. A society is a totality of human relationships, a human community of sharing a culture. In all, or most cases, that culture is based upon principles of what is legally right and wrong. But upon an individuals justification of their in-ability to choose due to a lack of freedom of the will, leaves behind a society devoid of basic rudimentary principles. Principles that can be seen governed, even in the animal kingdom.

Another constituent believer of such an ideology was Sigmund Freud. Freud takes the deterministic argument further. Freud argues that human responsibility and character is established at the age of five. Freud further states that after said age, a persons urges, painful memories, childhood memories, fantasies. unresolved conflicts, desires, and fears all stem from the unconscious of which we know nothing of, or have no control over for that matter (no conscious will of a suppressed unconscious). This unconscious is what Freud called “The Ego.” Yet, Freud also admits to a conscious of responsibility called, “The Super Ego.” However, the super ego is the by product of a nay – saying, guilt – spawning social conscious according to the Freudeanim thought.

According to this Deterministic reading of Freud, all significant actions of the so – called normal person, or psychotic for that matter, are unfree. As in the case of Skinners’ model. Freud argues there is no responsibility here because we cant help our actions. The significant action according to Freuds’ model is quoted by Freud as follows: “We may say that a man is free only to the extent that his behavior is not unconsciously motivated at all. If this be our criterion, most of our behavior could not be called free: everything, including both impulses and volitions, having to do with our basic attitudes toward life, the general tenor of our tastes, whether we become philosophers or artists or business men, our whole affective life including our preferences’ for blondes or brunettes, active or passive, older or younger, has it’s inevitable basis in the unconscious. Only those comparatively vanilla – flavored aspects of life – such as our behavior toward people who don’t matter to us – are exempted from this rule” (John Hospers, “Meaning and Free Will.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol 10, No 3 March 1950, pg 316 – 330).

In this view Fatalism is expressed.

Fatalism is the view that what happens is inevitable, regardless of what we do or don’t do. Hard Determinism holds that things happen because of antecedent causes, our own behavior being one of these causes. Here Freud seems to be saying that all significant decisions are caused (determined) by unconscious motives. But Freud does advocate a certain kind of freedom of choice to the extent that unconscious behaviors can be thus controlled. One can only try to control the ego by a psychoanalytical analysis of oneself, by realizing that such a motivating factor (the ego/unconscious) truly exists.

Therefore, one can never truly change because of the ego, but only reform. Such a contrast to the ideology of the Apostle Paul, who offered a deeper psycho – spiritual analysis of ourselves to become not a reformed individual, but a new man (II Cor 5:17) by the permission of The Christ. If one can reform as Freud indicates, he is therefore inferring to what philosophers call ‘Soft Determinism.’

Soft Determinism: The Stoics and Enlightenment Philosophers

‘Soft Determinism’ is the view that Determinism is true, but that freedom and responsibility can exist despite the truth of Determinism. It is in contrast to ‘Hard Determinism.’ There are many philosophers who have affirmed to a belief in ‘Soft Determinism,’ but only because they didn’t like the conclusions reached by Skinner and Freud; that no one is ever responsible for anything. It is with this conjunction that philosophers have pressed to demonstrate ‘Soft Determinism.’ ‘Soft Determinism’ is quite common among twentieth century philosophers. However, its roots go back to Roman times (The Stoics, 1st Cent AD).

St. Augustine (4th Cent), Thomas Hobbles (17th Cent), and Baruch Spinoza (17th Cent) all defended this particular model of Determinism as well. However, in Augustine’s view, man is left to do only what he knows how to do in reference to his own free will that is left in bondage due to sin. However, a bondage of the will indicates a lack of freedom in the truest sense of the word. In this definition of ‘Soft Determinism,’ freedom is compatible with Determinism. I sometimes do what I want to do even if my will was determined.

In theological terms, it is that which is ordained by a sovereign God that will come to pass, but in coming to pass it is doing so because of my free will, bringing about Gods’ personal set actions, plans, goals, and intentions as seen in the theological model. In Augustine’s’ viewpoint; God knows the future, the future must unfold in accordance with His knowledge of it or as other proponent’s would declare a ‘foreknowledge.’

However, Augustine’s argument is left needing further information and clarification, of which we will examine later in this article. One can argue if God truly has a foreknowledge of the future, He is left limited due to the unfolding of such futuristic activities performed by man and can thus only perform His own will in accordance with a future that will unfold. In this view God is left limited due to a model of free will. God can only operate in the affairs of men based on His foreknowledge of what man will or will not do. Therefore, God is not omnipotent. This view places the sovereignty of God in subjection or servitude to what I call the sovereignty of will (the will of man). The very concept seems to warrant a cancellation of each other. But, as we will learn, it truly does not.

While it may be said that a free will can co – exist with Determinism, Determinism, in the true sense of the word, can not exist within the realm of ‘Soft Determinism.’ if we are to believe that God is omnipotent and sovereign. Moreover, many critics are dissatisfied with the Soft Determinists definition of freedom as in the coincidence of will and ability (desire to do “X” plus ability to do “X” = freedom to do “X”). Yet, we are reminded about the abilities and functions of the human brain.

As you recall, the medulla functions on its own, shall we say, ‘Determinism.’ While the cerebellum is concerned with the ability to do “X” which entails freedom to do “X.” Now we have a paradox as ancient as the pre – Socratic tradition on Determinism. It is because of this paradox, as well as those discussed, that it was inevitable that an opposite model to Determinism would begin to hatch, the model of ‘Indeterminism.’

Indeterminism: Werner Heisenberg

Indeterminism is the view that there are such things as uncaused events and that therefore; Determinism is false. In the twentieth century a number of scientists and philosophers of science rejected the ninetieth century conception of causality. An Indeterminist can argue either that…
1. There are only random events.
2. There are some random events.
3. There are some uncaused events.
4. Some caused events are not necessary events.

Of all the four theories, number four is probably the best one for explaining the truth of propositions like “Heavy smoking causes cancer.” Not every case of cancer is caused by heavy smoking and not every case of heavy smoking causes cancer, but nevertheless, heavy smoking (statistically) causes cancer. Indeterminists defend possibilities 1, 2, and 3 depending on which model of causality they work with.

Indeterminism has been given a new lease on respectability because of recent developments in physics (which is somewhat ironic because the authority of Determinism has usually been associated with its relationship to classical physics). This recent development in physics is due impart to the noble prize recipient, Werner Heisenberg. Heisenberg suggested that at the sub – atomic level of physical reality (the causal model) does not work and must be replaced with a statistical model or a law of average.

While we can predict causality on a classical Newtonian world, we can not for certain predict causality at the sub – atomic level (the principle of uncertainty applies). We can not predict the trajectory or the velocity of an electron at the sub – atomic level. Failure to predict the fate of an electron is not just merely a weakness in our human ability to know, but is a fact about the nature of the sub – atomic world. A world that is truly caused by some events but are not caused out of necessity.

It follows then from this that the movement of an electron would either be an uncaused event or an occurrence that did not happen out of necessity. If there are such events (as most physicists believe to be the case), then according to this model, the theory of Determinism is false and Indeterminism is true.

However, due to the paradox of the human brain, observations in nature, and recent observations at the sub – atomic level some philosophers along with Heisenberg, concocted a co – hesive proponent to co – inside with ‘Indeterminism,’ it is called ‘The Libertarian Model.’ Herewith, Heisenberg himself waxed philosophical at this point and tried to derive a ‘Libertarian’ position from his ‘Indeterministic’ point of view.

Libertarian Model: C.A. Campell and Richard Taylor

The Libertarian Model is the view that freedom exists. This model consists that determinism is false and that freedom does exist. That is, some acts do not follow necessarily from their antecedents (causes) and in addition are free in the true sense of the word. Heisenberg hoped that the fact that some events in the brain are uncaused might be the scientific basis for a theory of freedom (a universe or brain free to run its course). But, his critics pointed out that uncaused, or non-necessary, sub – atomic events can hardly be called free. Rather, they are more correctly called random events, possibly caused by an unseen event or uncaused randomness. Based on this model we have three components: Freedom, necessity, and randomness (C.A. Campell and Richard Taylor supported this view). Therefore, Freedom may well be considered the opposite of necessity. Yet as we read, there are not just two components of this formula but three.

I shall now present what I take to be the mainstream ‘Libertarian’ argument. The first point to make is that ‘The Libertarian sides with the ‘Hard Determinist’ against ‘The Soft Determinist’ on one important topic: ‘The Libertarian’ and ‘Hard Determinist’ agree that if ‘Determinism’ is true, then there is no freedom. The ‘Soft Determinist,’ while accepting determinism in general (the view that every event follows necessarily from its antecedent conditions), did not like the radical conclusions the ‘Hard Determinists’ drew from this fact (namely, that there is no freedom, hence no responsibility).

The Soft Determinist, in attempting to salvage responsibility, pointed out that “freedom” means the coincidence of will and capacity (“I can”). Furthermore, the ‘Soft Determinist’ claimed that, given such a definition of freedom, freedom certainly does exist, even in a ‘Deterministic’ universe. And if freedom exists, says the ‘Soft Determinist,’ so does responsibility. Libertarians such as Campbell argued that the Soft Determinist definition of freedom is only half truth.

Freedom entails not only the ability to achieve what one desires (“I can”) but also the access to genuine alternatives, real choices (“I could have done otherwise”). That is if I perform act ‘X’ under conditions A, B, and C, ‘X’ is a free act for which I could be held responsible only if under those identical conditions I could have performed act ‘Y’ instead of act ‘X’. But, this is what Determinism denies. ‘According to this theory, Soft Determinists are wrong. Their theory does not generate a genuine concept of freedom, hence it does not generate a legitimate concept of alternatives or responsibility.

Well then, is there such a thing as freedom as defined within the models of ‘Determinism’ as discussed (“I can” and “can do otherwise”)? Libertarians point out that if we are to appeal to actual experience, our own and that of other humans, we would have to answer that question in the affirmative. Our experience in the world certainly tells us that sometimes we are free. But is our experience shown to be illusory by the theory of Determinism? What is the role of a theory in general anyway?

A theory’s function is to explain some feature of experience, I.e, Newton’s theory of gravity is meant to explain features of the physical world as we experience it. Freud’s theory of the unconscious is meant to explain certain impulsive acts as we experience them. But the puzzling feature of the theory of ‘Determinism’ is that, far from explaining the data of our experience, this theory denies them (at least from a ‘Hard Deterministic’ point of view). Yet we know of its existence due to our model example of the human brain and its apparent deterministic functions within the medulla. It was only a matter of time until another theory would spring at the opportunity to rear its own ideology in the attempt to answer the puzzling question of ‘Determinism,’ such is the theory of ‘Existential Freedom.’

Existential Freedom: Jean – Paul Sartre

Existential Freedom was conceptualized and represented by twentieth century philosopher Jean – Paul Sartre (1905 -1980). Sartre was a humanist who thought that Existential Freedom existed in the moderate sense. In other words, Sartre recognized that we are free in only some of our acts, not in all of them which entailed that Determinism might be true despite our experience to the contrary. In this sense Sartre is claiming that we choose our own destinies as we fulfill what life throws at us.

For example: Picture four hikers, their goal is to reach the top. However, upon their climbing, a boulder crashes down and blocks their path. Hiker # 1 says, “Well that’s it, the hike is over”, ‘it is insurmountable,” this is what Sartre calls ‘A Self Defeaters Attitude.’ Hiker # 2 says “No we can get around it,” there must be a way.” Sartre calls this the Heroic One/Challenged One. Hiker # 3 says “Look how beautiful this rock is as it glistens in the foreground against the mountain peak.” Sartre calls this ‘The Self as Artist.’ Finally hiker # 4 says, “Look at these interesting crystals and colors pertaining to the age of this boulder, we should study it” Sartre calls this ‘The World as a Specimen, the Self Scientist.

What Sartre is saying is that there is no accident in life. One makes a choice based on random alternatives (as provided by the ‘Libertarian Model’). But while in so doing, we have the ability to make our own random decision to choose destiny life ‘A’ ‘B’ or ‘C.’ Yet, Sartre recognizes alternative ‘A,’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ as being part of a ‘Deterministic Model, since we are given various options of choice as defined in his ‘being-for-self’ and ‘being-in-itself.’ We make or fulfill our own destinies as we are dealt the cards that are given to us in life. In Sartre model the “being-for-itself” is what we experience of itself. It is equivalent to the consciousness, as in Freud’s “Super Ego” theory. While the “being-in-itself” is a non-human-reality as it exists prior to human intervention. In other words; “It is what it is,” nothing more can be said.

The ideologies of ‘Free Will’ and ‘Determinism’ make sense to a certain degree. Each concept can practically stand on its own merit of thought and conclusion (including all their counterparts). It can virtually also stand together as an integrated whole. So what are we to believe? Before we answer this question let us go a step further. While all the views as discussed above seem to offer satisfactory answers to the age old question of Freewill or Determinism, they all overlook one general basic elemental reality; the reality of time; even if it’s an illusion. The concept and reality of time (indeed time is a reality), allows for the conceptual argumentations of such various ideologies as discussed. With that said, allow me to present some scenarios

Time Travel

We know as individuals that we live in a three dimensional world (width, length, and height). This 3 dimensional world is governed by time. We can not see, touch, or smell time, yet it is in absolute control. We are in constant restriction because of time. But what if we were to create a time machine and travel back into the past or forward into the future? For example traveling back in time, to the year 1912, to prevent the sinking of the Titanic by warning the Captain of the icebergs that lay ahead, convincing him to steer away from the impending doom. Such an action would save 1500 lives. Another scenario presents itself in the prevention of Kennedy’s’ assassination, or the extreme opposite of such; a 1938 assassination of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. An even more extreme scenario would be to prevent the crucifixion of Christ. History, and the world in which we know it to be, would not exist as it exists today. Overall, we would not be having this discussion today at all, since my website is based upon the salvation we have in Christ.

We have known that time travel is possible in theory. Today science has the capacity to send, at the very least, particles at the sub-atomic level into time; but what we don’t know is how to do it in practical terms, or applications, on a larger scale. However, we do know how to send information into time. We also realize that sending particles back or forward into time would allow information to take the same route. In other words, our DNA information stays the same. What is human will always be human. The implications of time travel as human beings are truly amazing. If we could get information back from the future, then we could win the lottery every time or manipulate the stock market if we wanted to, or bring scientific information from the future into our present. One can not conceive the endless possibilities. Such a machine would revolutionize the world and shatter the past, present and future.

Although mathematical equations, formulas and theories are new, the underlying science is not. In fact the first step was taken a long time ago, not in a scientific paper, but from a fictional book published in 1895 entitled ‘The Time Machine’ by H.G. Wells. The book was made into a movie on different occasions, the latest being the 2001 release, of course entitled, ‘The Time Machine.’ This particular theatrical version was directed and written by the great grandson of H.G. Wells himself, ‘Simon Wells.’ The story is about a Victorian scientist who goes back in time to prevent the murder of his fiancée. He discovers that he can do nothing to change the past, but he can see the future. So he travels forward in time to see what becomes of the human race.

When the book was published, it seized the imaginations of both the public and scientific communities. Other science fiction books amd films subsequently followed. The breakthrough was to treat time travel as a fourth dimension of which it may be possible to travel in time, like traveling across a city grid. Imagine if you receive an invitation to a meeting in New York city. To make sure you get to the meeting, the invitation must have a number of pieces of information on it.

First you need the street number. Since New York is laid out on a grid, that number would give you a position that is in the north/south direction. Next you will need the avenue; in this case 5th Ave, which gives you a position in the east/west direction. So far you’ve found the unique location of the meeting in 2 directions or dimensions. Now you need a 3rd piece of information to tell you where the meeting is, in the 3rd dimension (57th Floor). But, of course the 3rd position is not enough to ensure that you get to the meeting. The invitation must carry a 4th piece of information, the time. Four pieces of information signifying a single event, 3 of space and 1 of time. So here is a single event in space and time or as scientists call it, ‘Spacetime.’

Update Notation: As of 2019 the concept of spacetime is questionable.

Moreover, once a time machine is turned on, it can only travel to the future and back; but only up to the point the machine is turned on, not before, because it did not exist. To do so would require a machine that already existed in that given past. This problem creates a paradox, the paradox of the possible inability to travel into the past. This paradox is the mathematical problem science faces today. Because of this paradox, it is believed by skeptic that we may never see our departed loved ones ever again. But this is not according to 95% of the world’s population that believes in God.

Furthermore, before we get carried away with the notion of travel into the past, we must realize the paradox mentioned above. Even if time travel into the past was possible, then theoretically I could go back to visit my grandfather or grandmother when they were little kids. What if I accidentally kill them both or even one of them for that matter? They don’t grow up, get married, have my father or mother (depending on which side of my family I accidentally kill), and I don’t get born. So the question is, if I don’t get born, who was it that went back in time and accidentally killed my grandparents? It did not happen, but it did happen, this is called a paradox.

Even if I wanted to kill them on purpose, something would taunt my plan. Things will stop me from achieving my purpose. Therefore; perhaps, I really have no freewill at all and everything is predestined. A traveler can go into the future, come back and describe the future for each and every one of us. From birth, to death, our lives will be predestined as immovable and unchangeable as the past.

This paradox brings us back into our seemingly contradictory positions on Determinism and Freewill. The paradox as a whole is not only limited to that of the philosophical or scientific world located in the branch of reason (as in philosophy) and (physics, as in science), but also at the spiritual level as well. This paradox can also entail the idea of going back in time to prevent the fall of Man when freewill was abundant. But if that were possible, the idea of a time machine would not exist. We would have no need of such a machine, Man would be perfect as the Creator intended.

Thus far, we have discussed the philosophical differences and the scientific possibilities that exist within this discussion. According to the theories above the ‘Determinist’ and the ‘Hard Determinist Model’ can be accurate. With that said, we now come to our discussion of ‘Freewill’ and ‘Determinism’ from the theological perspective, or as philosophers call it, the study of “Freewill Vs. The Sovereignty of God” – ‘Theological Determinism.’

To Be Continued In Part 2.

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