Is Free Will possible?

I know that there are many who dispute the possibility of Free Will so perhaps it is worth discussing?

If there is any sort of Original Sin or inherent Sinful nature than that would preclude Free will… because it denies that we can choose a righteous behaviour.

Heaven and Hell might be considered a barrier to free will… because a gun to the eternal head precludes choosing anything other than Righteousness or at least Salvation

Culture and circumstance might be considered a barrier to free will… be cause our choices are limited so that we are unable to follow our desired choice and have to settle for the next best, or even a Hobson’s choice.

Or is free will only the freedom to choose within limits. So that it is only as free as we ourselves are free. I can only choose to fly if there is the means available. I can only choose an occupation if I have the qualifications or experience required. I am only free to choose from a selection, not the whole.

I can only choose to kill if I accept that there are consequences. So my freedom becomes whether to conform or be punished? Does morality and / or law prevent Free Will?

Is choosing to be aligned with God a free choice or ultimately inevitable?

Or does free will mean the choice to choose right over the pressure of nature and society to do otherwise?

Perhaps the innate human nature of self survival and benefit precludes the possibility of actual free will?

Perhaps even self sacrifice can become a duty rather than a free choice?

I hope people can answer without fear of judgement or reproach. I do not think that there is necessarily a right or wrong response. Just an intellectual conundrum that may or may not have an answer.


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It has always seemed a vexed question to me. Sure we have a will and make choices all the time. But then the determined determinist will counter that we can choose to act for what we want but we aren’t free to choose what to want. At that point I usually change the subject if at all possible. What we start off wanting is related to who/what we are. If I can only truly be free by not accepting my self, I don’t think I want to play.


I see this is primarily a theological approach to the question. But perhaps the philosophical problems are more fundamental.

The fundamental philosophical problem is this: If our actions have no cause then how are they an act of will, but if they do have a cause then how can they be free?

Many people have decided that this problem is without solution and proves the very concept of free will to be meaningless. I disagree, but will acknowledge that the solution is not an easy one. I certainly reject the notion that an appeal to non-physical or spiritual causes can solve the problem (at least not directly and sufficiently). I think what it takes is a second look at causality and to realize that the way science restricts itself to time-ordered causality may be a part of the problem here.

Here is how I actually arrived at my solution. I noticed that people generally have a reason for the choices they make. But does this mean they did not consider any reasons for a different choice? I don’t think so. But doesn’t this mean that they not only chose what to do but also chose the reason why? So isn’t it like the cause and the result have originated simultaneously in the same event?

Here is another way of looking at it. Consider the old question of whether a man steals because he is a thief or is a thief because he steals. Its a bit of a catch 22 right? Somehow he makes a choice and becomes a person who steals – a thief. It seems that we don’t just choose our actions but we choose what kind of people we are. Is it not like we become the cause of the actions and choices we make?

Thus I think the solution to the philosophical problem is to set aside the scientific restriction to time-ordered causality where the cause comes before the effect in time. And perhaps that is where the non-physical or spiritual might play a role in this since these are already often thought to be somewhat free of the space-time of the physical universe.

But what is this going to look like in a world view which does restrict itself to time-ordered causality? Won’t it look like there are events with no causes to be found in the pre-existing conditions? Isn’t this exactly what physics has found in quantum mechanics?

It should be easy to guess that my theology is pretty much going to follow the path I have already laid out in my philosophical solution to affirm free will over such things as original sin or predestination. And so I am an incompatibilist libertarian open theist.

It would seem that the problem is with absolutes. There is no such thing as absolute freedom because any action is limited by time, space and circumstance, likewise a choice will be limited to possible options. But within those limitations or parameters?
To suggest that personality will affect a choice does not change whether that person is freely choosing. Surely restrictions of personality are no more significant than restrictions of circumstance?

Perhaps the question is too generalised for this forum. The underlying question is whether we are “free” to choose right or wrong without the influence of God (Calvinism)

I personally refute any notion of predestination or (s)election by God irrespective of personal choice or decision. IOW we have free will within whatever limitations life supplies.

As in other discussions, I am reluctant to start citing Scriptural proofs one way or the other.



Yes. Good question. If one of the principle effects of the bad habits of sin is that they rob us of our free will (as I often claim), then how is salvation/redemption even possible? And how can our choice play a role in this as I certainly think God requires of us? It suggests that an intervention by God is required to liberate our free will at least enough for us to make such a choice.

I agree with you. Personality is malleable in the way Mitchell describes. We can influence our habits and thereby influence our traits. But the determinists I’ve wasted time talking with online insist that unless I am free to choose what it is I would like to like I am still determined. To me that just seems absurd. I can only choose what I would like to like if I am free to choose what me to be. But on what could I possibly base such a decision? Perfect freedom is incompatible with actually being someone in particular. Not really imaginable, and not a good bargain even if it were.

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You may find this equally vexing!: after watching one of the 4 horsemen of atheists describe Freewill vs. Real Freewill, i concluded that Real Freewill must exist… but only because God supernaturally enables it to exist!

That’s a pretty good trick to convince yourself of something almost self evident on the basis of something entirely indemonstrable in any interpersonal way. But I’m not sure what you may have heard that sent you in that direction. I have no interest in hearing self satisfied blowhards expound on what they believe to be true, whether that be in favor of or against the existence of something more than what one can muster with his own wits. I’ll take the something more but leave it in the box reserved for mysteries until more is known. Personally, I don’t expect sufficiently more will ever be known that will allow for a final sorting. Nonetheless I am glad to believe in a certain mysterious something more. I feel lucky.

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My standard refrain:

You have to believe in free will, you have no choice. I.B. Singer :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Forgive me but I cannot see how you arrive at this conclusion. Individuality would seem to me to be part of freedom not a barrier to it? If there is a right or wrong answer then the choice is not free, but if it is just a matter of personal preference then it most certainly is.


I just think what we most want says a lot about who we are. Some care most about relationships, for others it is the acquisition of knowledge, conquest, creativity or something else. On what basis could we choose for ourselves what we most care about? Surely it would have to be on the basis of something else we care about. To be free to choose what we most want/value we would have to be someone devoid of values and wants, in other words, free of the defining characteristics that make us who we are. So complete freedom would require that we be entirely unanchored by anything, and that can only happen if we start without any commitments. As persons I think that is not possible.

I feel like I’m just repeating myself now. Sorry but I can’t think what else to say. Can you be more specific about what you object to here?

Just that personality or genetic make up would seem to me to be outside free will in fact prerequisite to it. Free wiĺl implies an individual answer based upon personalised choice rather than restricted by it.


I agree with you entirely.

In addressing those who insist free will requires more than what you say, I am not disagreeing with you. Quite the opposite. I find most justifications for determinism incoherent.

But they do have the advantage of letting the proponents excuse themselves from any personal responsibility, making them more ‘free’ (like a goldfish is more free on the floor without the restraints of its glass bowl :slightly_smiling_face:).

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How? If it is my free decision, who else can be responsible for it?


I was replying to @MarkD’s

If you are a determinist, you do not have free will, your thoughts and actions are determined by something else, and it is to blame for your, let’s say, selfish immorality (is there any other kind?).

It seems we agree.


I find it amusing, hypocritical, and bizarre how theists can spout this nonsense about atheists believing in determinism so they are free of responsibility for their actions when they essentially believe exactly the same thing with divine predestination but somehow the same conclusion doesn’t apply to them.

As an incompatibilist, I find both determinism and absolute predestination not only incompatible with our experience of existence but theoretically incompatible with life and consciousness as well.

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Huxley, Aldous. Ends and Means. New York: Greenwood, 1937.

You obviously have not understood what I have said about what I believe about ‘predestination’.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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