« Ideas about free will I'm compelled to share | Main | Our belief that we're freely acting agents causes pain and suffering »

August 21, 2023


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Hey Brian,
When you get a chance look up our old friend Alan Watts and his book the Meaning of Happiness, specifically his chapter The Great Liberation.
How determination (fatalism) posits freedom (free will).
William J

I have to admit, my take on free will is basically quite simple – though not naïve. It makes no sense to me to believe that somehow, we (or some aspect of me) is exempt from natural laws, laws that also apply to what the total brain/body organism adheres to. I, and any other person or creature, cannot choose something that is unknown; for a choice to be made there has to be information about it – it needs to surface from the reservoir of knowledge that is the brain/mind.

The main reason that gives one the feeling that by some means we are exempt from natural laws when it comes to life’s decisions is almost certainly to do with the foundation sense/belief that we have a separate self. As I mentioned in a previous thread: - “I would think that beliefs or assumptions of free will cannot really be settled until the underlying assumption of a separate self is realised. After all, the self construct (the ‘me’) is the supposed basis from where free will emerges. It is this ‘me’, this ‘self’ that is believed to exercises free will.”

It is this illusory sense of a separate self with its off-shoot of free will that seems to me to be at the basis of much religious and spiritual thinking. It carries the assumption of it being special and distinctive from the physical organism and gets linked in with the further assumption that the cognitive faculties of thought, memory, perception etc., are also part of the self’s influence – along with the feeling of free will.

Determinism and free will are entirely compatible. Free will, as I've written before, is always relative. We may act free of influences that once bound us. But this is through the influence of other new influences, such as information, upon us.

Determinism is simply cause and effect restated. There can be no effect without its cause And so Determinism is absolute. But relative free will is not absolute. It can grow or shrink only relative to different forces of influence.

In order to deny free will, it is being argued that free will is absolute, and therefore must require that cause and effect cannot be in operation, which is false, and therefore free will cannot exist. But it is the absolute definition of free will that is false.

This argument against the absolute definition of free will is just a straw man.

People who act from their free will still act from causes, for their own reasons. When people say that someone acts of their own volition, such as when they sign a contract for a new house or car, it is understood they have their own reasons but they are acting from free will. They are not being compelled knowingly against their own will by another force. They have their own will. Legally all laws require this understanding. Without this common and obvious definition of free will, no contract would be binding. No legal responsibility would have standing. Society depends every day upon this common, relative, definition of free will. The argument against free will offered here has a definition of free will that is so extreme and unrealistic that it is absurd and useless.

Relative free will, which can be conferred with new knowledge and the
new choices that knowledge brings within our grasp, gives us relative freedom from old influences from the forces that once controlled us.

This is why the driver's education analogy is a correct example of relative free will. The influence of new knowledge opens new choices and new behavior relatively free of the old forces that, in ignorance, were free to influence our behavior. But with the influence of new knowledge, no more. And legally we can now be held responsible to act according to that knowledge as we have promised.

All the claims about theology and God have been confused and brought in to this discussion are non-sequitors. Atheism has much to defend it, but this silly thinking only weakens the case for Atheism. God and religion are part of the creation and have their own influence upon those with such knowledge. God is a human attribution to forces experienced that are usually unseen. But God and the uther died forces of nature are all part of the creation and amenable up discovery.

With your will you have relative freedom. And with greater knowledge your choices expand, am has he influences of those choices now influences your actions. When, from your little boat, you finally see land, you steer there. It's automatic.

Therefore arguing against this straw man absolute definition of free will is entirely unrelated to the case for God and all things that may exist and may influence us. Things which science may not have explored yet but which exist and have their unseen influence.

That poor thinking only exists by dogmatically insisting upon that straw man absolute definition of free will which never existed. Any theologian will tell you that it is only relative free will that exists, freedom to act as the result of some higher influence, even if we can't see it, just like the influence of mundane forces.

And the relative definition of free will is the basis of the laws of every society, which can only be enforced based upon personal responsibility that is the result of relative free will.

“I also read a comment that spoke about how thoughts might directly lead to action, or thoughts might be only indirectly related to action, if the cause of an action is unconscious and thoughts merely reflect what the unconscious has decided to do. Coming along for the ride, so to speak, rather than doing the driving.”

…..That was from my comment, right? Not quite I meant, actually! But no matter, not to beat this to death. And this other idea, of thoughts and actions being correlated maybe, even if without mutual causal connection with each other, that you speak of here --- which is different than what I’d speculated --- that’s completely fascinating, too!


“OK, that's interesting, but it also has nothing to do with free will.”

…..Brian, that perfectly sums up my own take on all of these discussions!!!

In fact, this is what has, throughout, perplexed me about these discussions on free will. And I remember having asked this same question, quite a few times: What has any of this to do with free will?

That experiment you’d spoken of, long back, for instance. About how the brain centers responsible for movement/action are activated before the brain centers for volition, or something like that, basically indicating that we do things before we think about doing them. Quite a few more discussions along those lines. And now this discussion on Wegner. Throughout, that has been my take, like exactly: that’s all very VERY interesting, and I’d like know more about all of this, absolutely; but none of this has ANYTHING to do with free will!

Free will is simply our innate, inborn, intrinsic tendency, that is by definition and at core free of any and every other influence . That’s how theology defines it, and that’s how most people define it. And free will can be trivially shown to be impossible by arguing directly from first principles, by invoking Occam’s Razor, and the principle of the burden of proof, and the nature of the universe that science has revealed to us so far, which is a materialist universe. That’s completely trivial, this “proof” that free will does not exist. (Or at least, that’s our default, given the state of science, and given how the burden of proof is weighed. People claiming that free will exists would need to show their evidence for it, which they haven’t been able to so far. So, no free will, and that’s the end to it.)

That holds true whether or not thoughts cause actions. If it is the case that thoughts do cause actions after all, even then, since thoughts themselves are an emergent property of our brain, therefore they are necessarily not “free” of precedent causes, and therefore free will cannot exist. And if it is the case that the unconscious directly causes actions, without the intermediation of thoughts, then too, obviously, there’s no free will. So that whether or not thoughts cause actions, is completely irrelevant to the question of whether there is free will. (Albeit that’s a fascinating discussion, all of this about whether thoughts cause actions, et cetera, fascinating in its own right, important in its own right. I’m personally VERY interested in that discussion. Just, and like I said, I never did see, and still don’t see, what that has to do with free will.)

“… But relative free will is not absolute … it is the absolute definition of free will that is false … This argument against the absolute definition of free will is just a straw man.”

None of that is true, Spence.

That after all is how theologians frame the argument for theodicy: that God has imbued man with free will, that he may choose God’s Grace of his own free will and not as some kind of puppet dancing to God’s strings. So that man’s free will is free of any and every other thing, including even what God Himself might want of us. (Albeit it may be fogged over by conditioning, but that is on the surface; deep within, our will is free. That is what is free will. Not this relative free will thing of yours. While what you speak of is an interesting psychological idea, and valid enough in those terms, but it isn’t what “free will” per se is about, at all.)

And not to mention that if you ask normal everyday people, people who haven’t actually sussed out this question (whether theologically or neuroscientifically) --- and I’d been one of them myself, before I encountered these discussions on free will thanks to Brian --- well then that’s what most people will likely hold, that free will is our capacity to will something, a capacity that is innate to us, a capacity that is at core free of any other influence.


But while your “relative free will” has nothing at all to do with what the term “free will” actually denotes, but in terms of general psychology, I agree that’s probably a valid discussion. Nothing to do with “free will” per se, though, as that term is commonly understood.

In any case, here’s the thing: While a discussion purely on semantics might be interesting enough I suppose, if there's interest in sussing out etymology: But if the idea is to discuss the underlying ideas, and to arrive at understanding about those underlying ideas and about reality: well then, in that latter case, we might simply sidestep semantic disagreements by the simple expedient of making fully clear, right at the outset, how we’re defining our terms, and then proceeding on with definitions clearly agreed on for the duration of the discussion. That's probably a more sensible way to do this thing.

I’ve told you how I’ve defined free will. (At least, I’d spelt it out in the last thread, and I've done that again in my previous comment addressed to Brian, and very briefly right here in this comment.) I’m fairly sure that’s how Brian defines that term as well --- although of course, he can correct me if I’m wrong about that. Both he and I think that free will, thus defined, does not exist. If you don’t agree, then we might, hopefully, have an interesting discussion about why you don’t. And if you do agree, then that’s the end to it, right there. (Likewise, if we define free will in your sense, this relative free will business, well then I for one have no reservations in agreeing that this relative free will thing does exist, obviously, obviously it is a thing. No disagreement as far as that much, as far as I'm concerned.)

P.S. to my comment above:

In fact, I guess that a purely semantic discussion on the meaning of free will, that might actually be interesting not just from a linguistic basis, but a legal one as well. I guess the mens rea idea is based actually around what might be a valid definition of free will, in legal terms that is to say.

Seen in those practical terms, I guess the discussion can take a somewhat different form. We do differentiate between homicide in the heat of the moment, after all, and premeditated cold-blooded murder. Likewise we do differentiate, in law, between an adult of sound mind committing a murder, and someone who's not mentally quite sound committing that same crime.

While I fully agree with Brian that seen philosophically, free will cannot possibly exist; but in practical legal terms, I don't know that I'd be prepared to take that same line. So then, I guess I'd be falling back, de facto, on your relative free will after all!


I don't think I'm really equipped to carry out a discussion myself on this from the POV of law; but should there be some such discussion at hand, then I'm sure that would make for very interesting reading!


In any case: Like I said, it is probably sensible to separate out these two discussions: the semantic one, on one hand, and the underlying discussion/s on the issue/s themselves. Conflating the two will probably serve no purpose other than to create unnecessary confusion.

Hi Appreciative
You wrote
"That after all is how theologians frame the argument for theodicy: that God has imbued man with free will, that he may choose God’s Grace of his own free will and not as some kind of puppet dancing to God’s strings."

I think that is not actually a very accurate reflection of all of theology. It is a white washing. A straw man.

"7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, 8 as it is written:

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that could not see
and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.”[c]

9 And David says:

“May their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them.
10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.”[d]

11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!"

Romans 11:7-11

People behave according to how they are conditioned, and even Paul acknowledges this. But he hold those he is speaking to responsible for what they have heard.

You suggest that according to Theology, we are all absolutely free within. That simply isn't found in Theological writings.

You wrote:

"So that man’s free will is free of any and every other thing, including even what God Himself might want of us. (Albeit it may be fogged over by conditioning, but that is on the surface; deep within, our will is free. "

But from Romans 9 we read St. Paul's clarification about this:

"10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”[e]

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[f]

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[g] 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."
Romans 9: 10-16

Even Paul does not claim that anyone has free will as Atheism defines it. But since Atheism doesn't believe in such absolute free will, and theologians don't either, certainly not the major founder of Christianity, it seems the entire argument of absolute free will vs determinism mounted here, tired and obviously false, is an invention with no purpose and no stakeholders.

The fact of Determinism in no way refutes the idea that God is a member of this reality, even the author of it.
The fact of limited, relative free will in no way refutes determinism. We are all limited by space, time and capacity. So how can any freedom be anything but relative?

If that were the only definition of free will, false as it is, there can be no personal responsibility for anything at all.

Yet Christianity, most religions, the law, and most Atheists do expect their fellows to take responsibility for their own actions.

That there is relative free will, that through education and influence we become aware of new options and exercise them, having greater freedom and control over our environment as a result, is obvious. That someone who doesn't believe in religion would deny this puts Atheism in a very ridiculousl light. that is a given. And rather than claim this is wrong, it would be best to admit it because the evidence is all around you.

But instead of admitting it, Brian and you and others are trying to fight against a view of Free Will that is absolute and most certainly not commonly believed. A notion of free will that is absolutely free of all influences, even internal ones. Free of determinism.

Let's say for the purpose of discussion that this is the real issue here. That relative free will is not being debated, since it all falls within the realm of determinism.

I still claim that this definition you are defending is not actually one that is being used by Theology.

It is a straw man. But to support this false argument, they must support the very definition of free will they don't believe it, nor does any theologin.

[1. Free will is the notional capacity or ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded. 2. Some conceive free will to be the capacity to make choices undetermined by past events.] Two popular definitions of free will., there are probably many more that could be voiced. I guess this includes being impeded and undetermined by biological factors.

Francis Crick (1994) put it succinctly: You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.

All other sentient creatures on this world act either from their particular genetic information together with the lessons gained from their mothers and/or their family and social group from which they learn to navigate and survive in their environment. These animals are not said to have free will. They simply act according to their genetic programming and their upbringing and in this sense, they certainly have the capacity of choice. Research shows that the decision-making process of animals is very similar to that of humans.

We humans also learn in the same manner and of course have more evolved decision-making abilities; why then should we be endowed with something extra tacked on we call free will? I can think of two prime reasons; one is that because our senses and thinking gives us the impression that we feel as though we are separate, autonomous individuals, then it follows that we can be self-directed. The other reason stems from religious thinking, thinking that forms various concepts around our sense of self that we are special, perhaps created by a God who equipped us with a soul or similar.

We are free to choose – but only within the confines of our genes, our particular parenting, our cultural training and belief systems. There is no evidence for any ‘additional’ non-biological entity guiding our thoughts and actions.

Hi Ron E
Every new awakening to experience and knowledge you never knew or were exposed to before, is the evidence you seek. And that will change you forever, as it already has. With that, you make different choices freely, unimpeded by a smaller past. That is a greater degree of freedom. And exercising that freedom, you are now using your will free of its own past.

Travel is a great way to get that.
So is curiosity.

“You suggest that according to Theology, we are all absolutely free within. That simply isn't found in Theological writings … I still claim that this definition you are defending is not actually one that is being used by Theology … It is a straw man.”

Hey, Spence.

Hm. So, despite my spelling out the thing about multiple definitions, and the confusion arising out of conflating them, and my suggestion that we engage with the underlying issue (or issues, as the case may be) rather than the merely linguistic; and despite my having already gone some way in engaging with both definitions, my absolute-free-will definition as well as your relative-free-will definition: I see you nevertheless insist on focusing on the semantic disagreement. While semantic discussions have their own place, but don’t you see the wisdom of engaging with the underlying issues instead? …But as you wish, Spence, by all means let’s do the semantics thing, and specifically the theological treatment of free will, since that’s what you insist on.


In trying to claim that “theology” does not posit an absolute free will, what you’ve done is trotted out some passages from the Bible. But those are the words of the apostles, and not of theologians! I can tell you for a fact, from personally having interacted fairly extensively with practitioners of RCC voodoo (the clergy, that is to say), that they do in fact believe in absolute free will, and not this wishy-washy relative free will thing. As do regular lay folks as well, of the RCC persuasion at any rate. What they all believe in, is what I’ve clearly said already: that we’re all imbued with a basic tendency, a basic “will”, that might be on-the-surface fogged over by our conditioning, but at bottom is innate to us, intrinsic to us. The idea is that God does not want automatons programmed to mindlessly sing his glory. He has imbued mankind with free will, so that we may, of our own free will, reject evil and choose God.

While this above is anecdotal, but I assure you that’s so, by and large. While obviously I cannot present to you evidence of my personal and anecdotal interactions with RCC clergy and (practicing, devout) laypersons, but here’s what the official RCC catechism says about free will:

“God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel, so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”

Further, it says right there, summarizing basically the same thing in brief:

“Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.”

Link: https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P5M.HTM

That’s absolute free will, right there. There’s no way you can spin that to claim that this refers to some kind of relative free will.


This is completely basic stuff, in RCC terms that is to say. God is omnipotent, and omnibenevolent as well. Nevertheless there clearly exists evil in the world. How to square these two? The answer is, God in his goodness created us humans with free will, that is capable even of opposing His will, because he did not want a Creation peopled with mindless automatons. While that free will is given to us in order that we may turn to Him of our own and unfettered free will, but given that it is unfettered and free, therefore we may choose to turn away from Him instead: wherefore the existence of evil, either as direct result of evil acts, or as retribution for evil choices.

You won’t find that in the Bible per se. That came some centuries after, with St. Augustine first laying out that particular theodical argument. (Yes, I had to look that up actually! But I’m not supplying links, in fact I did not even preserve the links, because that’s very easily searched out and referenced if you’ve a mind to check that out for yourself. And while details of that view have indeed been debated extensively within the RCC over the centuries, but that continues to be the official RCC position to this day, and by and large what faithful RCC adherents actually believe.)


Therefore, no, that semantic argument you’ve chosen to go with here, it’s emphatically not the case, Spence. Mainstream RCC theology does hold absolute free well as one of its foundational articles of faith, and not this relative free will idea you’ve introduced.

You see by taking things out of context you are left only with the echo chamber of your own view, and not the full view in context of the author.

As I had written repeatedly we have only relative free will based upon what we become aware of, what we learn, and our new options. These free us relatively of our old constraints. This is unique to human beings who have the greater capacity to form concepts and make decisions upon them.

So we most certainly in this respect have greater freedom than animals but it remains relative within the environment of our own conditioning. We can choose to learn and in so doing increase our freedom.

You are arguing that we have absolute freedom, which no one advocates, even St. Ireneus, whom you have quoted out of context.

He writes

"1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. the choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."28

" 1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts."


Just as I wrote, freedom is relative. It can expand or contract based upon what we learn from our environment and what we choose to do with it. Just as St Ireneus states above. It is by no means absolute.

" 1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just."

Hence the definition you have attempted to defend, of an absolute free will without the constraints of determinism is a false depiction of theology which no theologian, including Ireneus, holds.

It is a straw man created by Atheists that no one believes and which has no stakeholders. So then what is the point?

Spence. Yes, knowledge and experience allows more choices - as they always have; that's still far from something invented called free will.

Hey, Spence.

Sigh. Here goes then, one last time:



I’m sure you’re familiar with the Free Will Theodicy argument. Even if you’re not --- which is unlikely, given how completely basic it is, when it comes to matters religious/theological, and given your overall knowledge of things religious, and particularly things Christian --- but, I was saying, even if not, I’ve already clearly spelt it out in my previous comment.

Do you not see that that argument would be completely incoherent, had it not involved an absolute free will, a free will that is “free” of determinism?



You accuse me (and Brian as well) of using free will in an absolute sense that, as you put it, no theologian, and no one else, uses, and that has not stakeholders.

And yet I’ve shown you clearly, incontrovertibly, that:
(a) That is the sense in which Augustine uses that term.
(b) That is the sense in which present-day RCC uses the term.
(c) That is the sense in which actual flesh and blood theologicans/clergy and the faithful laity generally use that term. (Well okay, this last I’ve not “shown” you, only told you. But you blithely ignore that as well, I see. If you do not believe my word, then, I ask you, given your interest in religion, haven’t you yourself ever spoken with actual scholars in RCC, actual clergy, or at any rate actual devout followers? If you haven’t, you might still do that if you wish. While there is scope for differences in individual beliefs and observance, obviously, but you’ll very likely find they’ll bear out what I’ve said --- at least that has been my own personal experience.)

Despite this I cannot fathom how you can possibly claim this absolute free will, absolute in the sense that it is free of determinism and even of God’s own will, is one that no one uses.



You complain that I’ve taken the free will discussion from the catechism out of context. That is completely mistaken, and in fact ironical considering that it is you who insist on stripping those sentences of context that’s foundational to RCC faith for near two millennia!

Those lines, that definition of free will, they haven’t been plucked out of thin air. They’re exactly the terms in which Augustine framed his Free Will Theodicy argument. And that theodical position ceases to be coherent if you posit that free will is subject to determinism, given that the argument holds that God has created man with free will that is free even to the extent of being free of God’s own will.

When you insist on stripping those terms of clearly documented context spanning near two millennia of established, mainstream, and foundational belief, and then complain that my mainstream reading of these terms is taken out of context, well then that’s like the complete height of irony right there.



Before moving on to the specific posts you quote, I’ll take the liberty of holding up, close to your face, the terms in which RCC catechism defines free will, in (somewhat forlorn) hopes that seeing them one more time, up close, will lessen the opacity of the blinders you insist on covering your eyes with.

“God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions” ----- Man can “initiate and control his own actions”. How much clearer than that do you want it, this expression of free will that is free of determinism?

“God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel” ----- Man’s will man is free to fashion basis his own “counsel”, basis his own judgment. How much clearer than that do you want this expression of free will, that is free of determinism?

“Man is rational and therefore like God” ----- Man’s “freedom”, man’s free will, as just as free as is the freedom and the free will of God Himself! THAT is how completely free is the free will that God has imbued man with. How much clearer than that do you want this expression of free will, that is free of determinism?

“He is created with free will and is master over his acts” --- Man is “master over his own acts”. Can a free will that is the function of past causes, of determinism, remotely answer to that description? How much clearer than that do you want that expression of free will, that is free of determinism?

This is completely incoherent, your insistence that free will as defined in Christianity, and particularly in mainstream Catholic theology, is compatible with determinism. It makes zero sense, your complaint that we're using "free will" in a sense that no one uses, when we argue that free will is absolute, in the sense of being free of determinism.



Before I move on to your two quotes, that you’ve clearly cherry picked out, let me first dwell on the opening sentence from the page you’ve linked to, and that you’ve carefully refrained from quoting even as you go ahead and quote the two subsequent quotes from that page. That sentence goes:

“Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility.”

What are they saying there, then? That freedom to act or not to act is rooted in reason and will. (That and nothing else, right?) Therefore, one’s will is …free of the inevitability of preceding causal influence. In other words, one’s will is …not inevitably linked to the chain of cause-and-effect that is determinism, one’s will isn’t determined, and one can will yourself to act in any which way that one’s reason and one’s …well, one’s will, lead one to. How much clearer do you want it, this statement of absolute free will, in the sense of being free from determinism?



Now let’s turn to the first of the two quotes you’ve presented here:

“The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. the choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."

Agreed, the words of first sentence there, if taken completely literally, do refer to being “freer”. But to interpret it literally as you do would be a completely superficial and entirely misguided misreading. Here’s why:

The “free” nature of free will has already been spelt out, completely clearly, many times already, in the section where the basic definitions have been laid out --- which is the portion that I’d quoted in full. Further, it has been clearly stated that man’s free will is just as free as is God’s own will! No freedom greater than God’s is even possible, not even conceptually, not basis the theistic and speficially Catholic framework. It is the height of absurdity to treat that word, “freer”, literally --- as you’re trying to do here, clearly --- because that would mean that man’s free will becomes “freer” even than God’s. Don’t you find that claim completely preposterous?

I suggest to you that the two sentences in that paragraph go together. The second paragraph states that freedom, free will, is an instrument intended to lead man to God. Therefore, true freedom is posited as consisting in moving closer to God and in rejecting evil; and the obverse of that would constitute no more than an abuse of freedom, of free will.

In those terms, the word “freer” there clearly refers to ‘moving closer to God’. So that, that first sentence is clearly a shorter restatement of the longer second sentence. The two clearly go together. To treat the first sentence in isolation, and literally, is nonsensical, as it would posit free will for man that is “freer” even than God’s own freedom of will --- which POV is nothing less than blasphemy, and that there’s no question of mainstream Christianity ever having entertained.



And now on to that second paragraph you’ve quoted:

“Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.”

I’ve no idea what you’re trying to show, with this quote, Spence. The first sentence tells you, in so many words, that you can be held responsible for something only if you’ve voluntarily done it (so that, as has been said, a mother that is exhausted from caring for her child and off of that exhaustion is unable to do something, is not to be held responsible; while for the rest, for actions voluntarily done or refrained from, given that one has free will, one is indeed responsible, and culpable). And that second sentence simply says that the more you do something, you become better at it. Obviously you do, what has that got to do with anything?

The more you do of something, the better you get at it. Practice makes perfect. If you keep doing good, you end up more used to doing good. If you keep dong evil, you end up more used to doing evil. That’s …completely elementary. All that that sentence does is emphasize that man’s culpability, man’s responsibility, is predicated on his actions being voluntary, and the completely obvious observation that the more of something you do, the better you get at it.



Like I said, this is the last iteration of this that I’m getting into. Enough time wasted over this completely obvious thing. I’m not getting into a further iteration of this endless ride now, although I’ll be happy to check out any response you might want to make, obviously.

Two more things, before I sign off: First: How exactly are you defining your relative free will idea, Spence? Define it for me, if you would, clearly, concisely, make up a clear definition of what’s in your mind. What is this free will “free” of? If you formulate your definition clearly, then I think you may recognize your own mistake, by seeing how it measures up against the basic theodical argument, and against the foundational definition that I’ve provided from the preceding page.

Here’s my definition, clearly stated: what I’m referring to as “absolute free will” is free will that is free of determinism, is all. What this free will is free of, is the inevitability of the cause-and-effect chain of determinism. What is your definition, then, and what is it free of?

(Obviously doing a thing better makes you better at it. Seen qualitatively, doing good makes you better at doing good; and doing evil makes you better at doing evil. Learning to drive a car increases your freedom of being able to drive safely. Likewise, not learning to drive a car, and nevertheless driving around, increases your freedom of wreaking havoc and destroying property and killing people --- something your instincts will make it difficult for you to do if you do learn to drive. That, like Ron points out in his short comment immediately preceding mine, has nothing to do with “free will”, as it applies to determinism.)

Hi AR:

Thank you for the detail of your response.

You wrote:
"Further, it has been clearly stated that man’s free will is just as free as is God’s own will!"

Nothing in any Christian or Catholic writings, certainly not in the Catechism you have referred to says this.

This is the straw man you are hopelessly attempting to defend.

From the Catechism you referred to again:

"1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. "

We are not born with true freedom at all. We have a capacity for freedom, the capacity to understand and learn and make different choices than we did in the past, given new knowledge. We can grow our freedom or shrink it based on our choices and their effect.

"1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary."

Even here the author makes it plain that we may not have free will at all, and only to the extent that we are free to act voluntarily. That is entirely relative to our circumstances.

All that exists within the realm of determinism. Your efforts to suggest otherwise must reflect the interpolation of a sort of Evangelical version of Atheism where dogma paints over objectivity.

It seems clear enough to me that from the Catechism, from Paul, the writings of Ireneus and Aquinas that we are not free at all, except the gift to choose once we have been informed and understand what those choices mean.

To do this the Dogma version of Atheism must invent its own absolute definition of free will:

you wrote:
"Here’s my definition, clearly stated: what I’m referring to as “absolute free will” is free will that is free of determinism, is all. What this free will is free of, is the inevitability of the cause-and-effect chain of determinism."

Yes, as I've written earlier, it is absolute.
But as I've also written several times, in actual reality we have relative freedom. That is freedom from the influence of certain variables. I've written this a number of times.

Freedom from ignorance leads us to make different decisions and take different steps. So, that freedom changes our behavior.

But, again, as I've mentioned a few times, that is entirely within determinism. It is the freedom brought about by the influence of another variable upon us...could just be information, knowledge, new experience.

Paul says we can't do anything without that influence:

"14 But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? "
Romans 10:14

But all this aside, shouldn't this discussion be about what in Free Will is true, and what in Determinism is true? What level of freedom do we have in our own lives? And how to expand that?

When you overcome addiction you are now free of it. You have relative freedom. And in choosing to continue to remain free of addiction, to build an environment conducive to remaining free, you exercise your free will. It is free to the extent of our education and conditioning. That this must be explained repeatedly, and even demonstrated with quotes from the Bible (though relative free will and relative freedom are entirely independent of belief in anything supernatural), speaks to the heavy layer of dogma upon the minds of those who refuse to acknowledge this.

Without relative free will, every act is involuntary, and therefore no one can be held responsible for their actions. No laws could be enforced. The effort to try to defend such thinking is as absurd as the notion that garden gnomes made you act as you did. This notion of no free will doesn't serve Atheism at all, and in fact makes a mockery of it.

Humanism is the finest form of Atheism, yet what you, Brian, David and others here advocate in suggesting there is no relative free will within a deterministic reality, is virulently anti-religion AND anti-Humanist. It is the weakest form of Atheism because it relies upon a straw man, and the elimination of evidence that is all around and within you every day.

Such a belief denies the reality of human development, human responsibility and human progress.

Having said this, I understand you may not be an Atheist of the Humanist school, as I consider myself to be. So, to think is to have a different opinion. I celebrate your views, defend your right to bring them forth, though I have a different take.

Hi AR:

You quoted this from the Catechism:
"Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.”
And you asked what was meant by it. Your interpretation was:

"the more you do something, you become better at it. "

Please take a closer look at the original quote: "...mastery of the will over its acts."
Here the author does not claim that we master an act, but the will over our own actions: Will Power. There is a larger reference to this that our actions hold power over our will and we are bound by them, rather than we hold power over our actions:

"23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."
Romans 7: 23-25

Here Paul writes that we can act from compulsion, even compulsion from within our own selves, in direct conflict to our will. And he laments this is the condition of humankind. But he offers a solution in the influence, the effect of Faith, Practice...

What the Catechism refers to is growing freedom over our own bad habits by the growth of our will over our own behavior, the growth of our free will. How can free will grow? It is always relative to the influence of other things. It may be slave to senses, or it may be free to the influence of senses but slave to God; or free of the influence of indulgence in food, but slave to drugs; Free of the positive influence of a good teacher, but slave to an intimate relationship. Freedom and free will are always relative. Influencing forces can be positive, or negative. But we have some power, within our knowledge of options, to make some choices; to work towards the influence of a positive force, with its help, which frees us of the influence of the negative forces / habits that enslave us and hold us back, and keep us prisoners. But as it is always our choice, we must be vigilant in what we expose ourselves to by choice, and the actual effect of those choices upon us. So we want to always develop our exposure to the greater influences as over time, those help us become free of the lesser things. This is growing our relative free will. Since we have very little wiggle room, as products of biology, time, education, society and family, we should focus on optimizing that as best as possible. And if some trial and error along the way are necessary, well, that's just reality, right? The point is to try. To exercise our free will, to expand it, by choosing something new from what we have been doing. It may even be novel or counter intuitive. So? Somethings we would never do, maybe we should think about trying, or at least questioning our own conclusions again now and again. The point is to be willing to experiment in our own behavior change and learn from that, if our goal is to expand our relative free will and win greater freedom in our lives.

You wrote
"You accuse me (and Brian as well) of using free will in an absolute sense that, as you put it, no theologian, and no one else, uses, and that has not stakeholders.

" And yet I’ve shown you clearly, incontrovertibly, that:
(a) That is the sense in which Augustine uses that term."

But Augustine does not state that our free will is absolute, as your straw man claims.

He says quite the opposite and in full support to what I have written, that free will is only relative, limited, but we can grow it by submitting ourselves to the influence of another variable, in this case God, through the practice of prayer.

"And yet the determination of the human will is insufficient, unless the Lord grant it victory in answer to prayer"

St Augustine, Retractions, book II, chapter 9.


So if neither Atheism nor theologians believe in absolute free will, which by definition is outside of determinism, who then is Brian, you, David and others arguing against? Only a straw man shadow of your own invention.

My takeaway from this glimpse of the Catechism is that the freedom part of free will is clipped bit by bit to docility and collaboration with the Church. Little tree, true growth is being chopped into firewood!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)


  • Welcome to the Church of the Churchless. If this is your first visit, click on "About this site--start here" in the Categories section below.
  • HinesSight
    Visit my other weblog, HinesSight, for a broader view of what's happening in the world of your Church unpastor, his wife, and dog.
  • BrianHines.com
    Take a look at my web site, which contains information about a subject of great interest to me: me.
  • Twitter with me
    Join Twitter and follow my tweets about whatever.
  • I Hate Church of the Churchless
    Can't stand this blog? Believe the guy behind it is an idiot? Rant away on our anti-site.