Not all Christians have free will

Some weeks ago I developed an argument showing that not all Christians have the free will they say God has given them, especially when it comes to choosing whether to follow God.

I don’t think I put the argument in a blog post at the time, but I’d like to share it now. I think it speaks for itself, so I won’t comment further. If you spot something terribly wrong about it, let me know.

Part 1:

  1. A person’s ability to make decisions is restricted or distorted if she is not aware of all the relevant facts.
  2. A person cannot exercise her free will if her ability to make decisions is restricted or distorted.
  3. Therefore, the exercise of free will requires knowledge of all the relevant facts.

Part 2:

  1. Christians disagree about the relevant facts of their religion.
  2. Therefore some, if not all, Christians, hold at least one incorrect belief about the facts of their religion.
  3. If some Christians hold an incorrect belief about their religion, then they are not aware of all the relevant facts.
  4. If these Christians are not aware of all the relevant facts then, according to Part 1, they cannot exercise their free will.
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8 Responses to Not all Christians have free will

  1. RG says:

    I hear you saying, “Only omniscient people have free will.” I think you’re confusing “knowledge” and “decision-making.” Any manager can tell you that we constantly have to make decisions based on incomplete and inadequate information. At most, you could say that “Only omniscient people can make perfectly good decisions.”
    From a Christian POV, that would also imply that non-omniscient people are unable to assess the quality of the decisions of omniscient people. I kinda like that…

    • Keith says:

      Ruedi

      Your objection is certainly valid if we assume that every single fact in the universe must be known in order to make any decision. But I think this is quite an extreme assumption.

      I think it’s far more reasonable to assume instead that a given decision has a finite, often quite small quantity of knowledge that must be obtained in order for that decision to be made.

      Here’s an example: If I want to buy the least expensive of two umbrellas, the only information I need is the cost of each umbrella. I don’t need to know what color they are, or how big they are, or how long they will last, and I certainly don’t need to know totally unrelated information like the age of the shopkeeper and the name of his pet goldfish.

      • RG says:

        Keith,
        That’s a big assumption. Most decisions worth thinking about are the kind that need a larger amount of knowledge than we have for making them. Which umbrella to buy is not something that causes me sleepless nights, but even a small decision like which apartment to rent takes us beyond comprehensive knowledge of present or future. Whether that knowledge is finite becomes an irrelevant technicality; in any case, there are more factors than I can cover.
        Your argument seems to hang on a idiosyncratic definition of free will being dependent on unlimited knowledge, and that seems weak.

        • Keith says:

          Ruedi

          Your new objection, namely that even if the required knowledge is finite, it is seldom available, simply leads us to the conclusion that almost no decision is truly free (under the definition of free will given in my argument, anyway).

          Your response is to throw out my definition of free will, because it seems absurd to you that most, if not all, of the decisions we make in life are not truly free.

          However, I think that possibility is worth considering. We do the best we can with the knowledge we have available. And this means that we can seldom take every important factor into account – we can seldom do a completely accurate cost-benefit analysis.

          This, to me, seems like a restriction on free will, since it is an impediment to decision-making.

          • RG says:

            Keith, I’m not throwing out your definition of free will because it leads to absurd conclusions. I’m just not letting in the door in the first place because it seems purely idiosyncratic. Maybe if you can provide a non-circular reason why free will needs to be defined that way, I’d feel differently. Right now it just seems to me that too much of your argument hangs on that particular definition.

  2. L.Long says:

    I see that RG is also saying something similar to me……

    Part1 & 2 reminds me of the logic problem about the lying natives at the fork in the road. And the answer is a convoluted logic statement, which is invalid in the real world.
    I think your argument is complicated and shows a fine point in logic rather then free will.
    Knowing what is correct or not nor having all the information has nothing to do with free will.
    I am pointing a gun at the man who raped my daughter.
    He looks like the guy and the police said they thought he was the guy. (But unknown to me they have the real guy in jail.)
    But based on my character, beliefs, anger, emotional state, whether they are totally known or true does not change my ability to use free will to decide whether to shoot or not.
    My decision may not be a good one but no one is deciding for me whether to shoot or not.

    So your Xtian may not make a good or correct decision, he can still make one.

    Or am I missing something about free will? I know that it is a complicated idea as to how free is it really.

  3. Keith says:

    L.Long

    You are quite correct in that my argument does depend quite heavily on how free will is defined. If it is defined as the ability to make decisions without coercion by another agent (and this is a definition I have used myself in the past), then my argument fails, as your rather vivid example demonstrates 🙂

    For my argument to hold, you have to regard false information, or a lack of information, as an impediment to a truly free choice. An analogy that may serve here is the physical limitations our bodies impose on certain types of motion. For instance, we cannot fly through the air merely by flapping our arms. Indeed, we cannot fly at all unless we are assisted by machines. You could say that our free will to move as we wish is limited by physics.

    Analogously, our free will to make decisions is limited by a lack of critical knowledge required to make those decisions (critical knowledge being anything which, had it been available, might have led us to make a different decision).

    Another way to look at it might be that a lack of information, or the existence of false information, is itself a type of coercion. It is an unjustified influence on our decision making. It is something that causes us to decide in a way that we would not have were we fully informed.

    Personally, I’m on the fence about this. I just thought I’d put it out there.

    • L.Long says:

      My vivid example was caused by my reading another blog about the rape problem.

      I see your point but I still consider you points not so much free will as what it takes to make a good free will choice.

      But this is a good blog because it generates the best thing…..good questions to ponder.

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