There’s been an argument in favor of ‘free will’ put forth in several comments. It’s a common go-to which fills gaps in reason within the framework of Christian dogma, especially when believers confront and try to come to term with illogical aspects of God’s mercy or lack of mercy. The concept of free will suggests that we are given, by God, the freedom to exercise control over our thoughts and decisions.
Before we tackle the subject of free will, it should be noted that “free will” is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the bible. Here are the pertinant verses with respect to predestiny and free will:
"And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." -- Acts 13:48
"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.... Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." -- Romans 8:29-30
"Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." -- 2 Timothy 1:9
"See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your
God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong [your] days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, [that] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live. -- Deuteronomy 30:15
"If you love Me, keep My commandments." -- John 14:15
"He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." -- Ephesians 1:4-5
"God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation." -- 2 Thessalonians 2:13
"God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned." -- 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
"For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation." -- Jude 4
"For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. .... For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." -- Romans 9:11-22
I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life. -- Dt.30:19
Choose you this day whom ye will serve.... But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. -- Joshua 24:15
As you can see, the whole concept of “free will” takes creative interpretation to find as a concrete and inarguable biblical tenet. Lets assume, though, for the benefit of the doubt, that free will is clearly implied in the above scriptures.
Most Christians subscribe to two main points:
Determinism, which states that God has a divine plan, which is to say that God knows our fates and who will and will not be saved; and/or
God is omniscient.
Here, I will argue that the two aforementioned concepts, Free Will and Determinism, can not coexist.
To begin, free will can only apply to voluntary behavior. No philosophers or theologians debate this important point. If man has not chosen his thoughts or behavior, then the concept of free will cannot be applied to a situation. In addition, most suggest that free will is a necessary component of social responsibility. That is to say we must choose to be good people in order to be saved. Running this theory backwards implies that if free will didn’t exist, there would be no social responsibility since our actions and thoughts already would have been predestined by God; thus, if God is omniscient and has a master plan, social responsibility is predetermined, and ‘free will’ ceases to exist. I know this is a brainbender, so take a moment to chew.
So, does God have a plan or do we have free will? Therein lies the Christian paradox. You can find evidence of it in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 9:21: "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?" If God preprograms us to be either good or bad, then any human behavior is just part of God’s plan, and God remains omniscient. If God is omniscient, then he knew each choice we make in our entire lives before we were ever conceived; therefore, free will cannot exist.
I know that this is a toughie, so lets take a little break from the paradox and talk about cases in which free will can not apply, like rape, murder, theft, etc., where actions of another override one’s ability to practice free will. Remember, free will can only apply to voluntary behavior. Consider this famous case: In the early morning of February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, a Guinean biochemistry student was standing on a sidewalk near his Bronx apartment upon returning home from a meal. Four undercover NYPD officers crept by in an unmarked Ford Taurus. Tensions were already high in this area -- criminal activity was commonplace on this Bronx block, so the “Street Crimes Unit” maintained a low profile in order to catch criminals in the act. What happened next took place in a matter of mere seconds. The officers spotted Diallo, and mistook him for a wanted serial rapist. Diallo, noticing the fast approaching unmarked Taurus, made a dash for his front door, believing he was going to be robbed. The plainclothes officers sprang from their vehicle, in hot pursuit. Mid-panic, Diallo reached for his wallet to throw to his would-be attackers, which was, in the immediate chaos, mistaken by the four officers as a gun. 41 bullets were fired in rapid succession, and Diallo died on his own front porch, shot nineteen times. While the whole episode probably took less than 20 seconds, the officers' decisions to fire took place in the fraction of a second. This is a tragic story, and it shines a light on the concept of free will, which requires a moment of reason to function. Without that moment of reason, the decision to open fire on Diallo was completely involuntary. Immediate circumstance and misunderstanding caused the officers behavior. There was no freedom of thought; this was pure animal impulse. The Diallo story and many others are dissected in Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink,’ a pop-psychology book which focuses on the science and consequences of split-second decision making.
The concept of free will, if it can exist at all (God is not omniscient/predestiny, though covered ad infinitum in the Bible, nonexistent), can only apply to voluntary behavior. Man must be in control of his actions for free will to function. If man cannot control his behavior, then consequenses as a result of the free will concept cannot apply. If free will exists, it only exists when the mind and its perception of reality are united. Man must also be responsible for his mental state in order to have so-called ‘free will’. Other examples of cases where free will cannot apply include mentally incapacitated individuals (Schizophrenia, Tourette, OCD, etc.) and addicts who cannot control their actions, despite their will. Within this paradigm, it could be successfuly argued that the 9/11 hijackers suffered from delusions, whereby extreme societal and religious idealism overtook their mental state, thus removing free will. Consider African children, who were not their mother or fathers. They were not their society’s originator. They did not make themselves, nor shape their surroundings. Their mental state and decision-making processes are, at least partially, beyond their control. Their will, therefore, is not entirely free. Thus, if God hasn't predestined this fate for Africans, then at least their free will was overridden by circumstance or never existed at all. Other examples of the removal of free will are instances of rape, slavery, and torture. Inner and outer freedom must coexist for will to be free.
If God grants some of us free will, others not, and allows for situations where free will can be circumstantially overridden, why and how does she arbitrarily decide not only who can exercize it, but also when and where? The existence of omniscient God negates the notion of free will through a simple exercize of logic. Ask yourself: Does God know if an individual will be good or bad? If you answered ‘no’, then God is not omniscient. If you answered ‘yes’, then free will does not exist. So, which do you choose: an omniscient God, or free will?
Lets look at this a slighty different way. If god is omniscient, then he knows all. If he knows all, then he can accurately predict behavior. Free will assumes that God either cannot or does not predict our decisions. This implies that God doesn’t always know how we will act. If he doesn’t know how we will act, then he is not omniscient. Therefore, an omniscient God cannot exist if we have free will. That is the paradox: An omniscient God and free will cannot coexist. There is, however, one reasonable counter-argument, which is that perhaps God is omniscient with regard to everything that can logically and reasonably be possible to know. But this is the point at which we ask if God follows rules of logic and reason. If so, then the believer must rework her entire stance, applying logic and reason to the very existence of God herself.
And that is a discussion for another day.