Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Free Will Revisited

In yesterday's post Free Will vs. Meat Machine I shared a recent New York Times article on a scientific look at free will. Today, I'll briefly consider a Christian take.

Classic Christianity and Free Will
Christians have long considered the topic of whether humans are free moral agents or follow a plan foreordained by God. The two classic views are Arminianism championed by Jacobus Arminius and Calvinism which follows the thinking of John Calvin. Methodists are strongly Arminian as are Episcopalians and most Baptists, believing that humans have a choice rather than a preset destiny. While Presbyterians, and other Protestant denominations in the Reformed Tradition hold that God's plan for you is the deciding factor in your ultimate destiny.

This relates directly to a discussion during Bible study this past Wednesday evening in which a question was asked wondering why if there is so much grace from God, there can still be a judgment day. Calvinist say that one is predestined to heaven or hell and those predestined to heaven would find God's grace irresistible. Arminians say that grace—God's unearned love—is offered to all and it can be either accepted or rejected and can even be accepted and later walked away from (though this is the one exception Baptists take to Arminianism, saying "once saved, always saved").

Science and Free Will
The scientific take on this from yesterday's article in the New York Time on Free Will would suggest that it is my subconscious, rather than my conscious mind that is really running the show. Then they make the move to say that if it is my subconscious and the conscious mind is only playing catch up to decisions already made without my mind taking any real part, then free will is a "convenient illusion."

I think the scientists are on to something in, like Freud and those who followed him, noting the role of the subconscious. But I think they overstate the case, acting is if we play no role in forming our own subconscious and that therefore our own will can not shape our own destiny.

An anecdotal alternative
Subway Hero, Wesley AutreyThe article Man is rescued by stranger on subway tracks is the best anecdotal argument I have that one does have free will. A mish-mash of subconscious, evolutionary fueled-instinct and the illusion of choice don't quite explain actions against one's own best self-interest or the interest of furthering your own line in the evolutionary chain. It seems more likely that a variety of factors had formed the subway hero so that his subconscious jumped to save another even as his conscious mind caught up to the danger. But both parts of his mind were involved and in agreement.

For more reading, there are posts at (where I am a sometime contributor) on Free Will and Predestination. There's also the sermon in the archives A Tale of Two Towns Destined for Eternity.

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor


  • At 1/05/2007 6:02 PM, Blogger Robin D. said…

    When free will is removed from the equation that leaves a lot of room for judging the value of other people's lives.

    "If I'm more financially successful then God must think I'm better than my brother."

    If one leaves all God's control out of the picture then you get the fall prey to the other side of the argument which is judging people who have had bad things happen to them as being bad decision makers.

    "If my brother is poor or unhealthy it is because he was lazy and wicked. He didn't do the best that he could."

    This is an interactive living Universe and as such the relationships between God and man are living and interactive.

    The following Lyrics are from Mos Def and his rap, "Fear Not Of Man".

    Well, from my understanding people get better
    when they start to understand that, they are valuable
    And they not valuable because they got a whole lot of money
    or cause somebody, think they sexy
    but they valuable cause they been created by God
    And God, makes you valuable
    And whether or not you, recognize that value is one thing


  • At 1/06/2007 6:13 AM, Blogger Linda McCloud+ said…

    Can we be predestined to Arminianism?

  • At 1/06/2007 8:45 AM, Blogger anything but typical said…

    A seminary professor gave me some wise advice. He said the best course of action is to take the Gospel and run with it - spread it far and wide. If Calvinism is true, you won't convert anyone who isn't predestined, and if Armenianism is true, then we've been unquestioningly obedient to the Great Commission and participated in a great work of God.



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