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
The 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 AskthePriest.org (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