You have NO free will people!!!!

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by Kenneth Justice

~ Growing up in Christian culture during the 1990’s I had a front row seat to the rebirth of Reformed Theology throughout Western Culture.

You see, Reformed Theology was intricately connected to the Protestants of the 16th century who contributed to the massive split throughout Christendom; men like Martin Luther and John Calvin postulated the idea that man has no free will, that we are powerless to believe in god or believe in atheism, that god determines everything.

There are many things I really appreciate about Reformed Theology, and on the same token there are many things I DO NOT appreciate about Reformed Theology.

During much of the 19th and 20th century, Reformed Theology simmered down and slowly disappeared as the main view of the Protestants, that is until the rebirth of Reformed Theology during the latter part of the 20th century when it became a massive movement throughout Evangelicalism once again.

Men like the now disgraced Mark Driscoll in Seattle, led mega churches in which they preached that men and women have no free will and that everything is predetermined by god. Like all doctrines and religious belief systems, the great travesty of Reformed Theology is that it creates an “us and them” mentality. The people in the Reformed camp believe they have a special window on revelation and truth, and the rest of the world are a bunch of nebbishes.

Of course, this “us and them” mentality reaches into so many philosophies;

—) Atheists believe they have a corner on the truth and everyone else are a bunch of nebbishes

—) Scientists believe they have a corner on the truth and anyone who disagrees is an idiot

—) Religious fundamentalists of all stripes believe they are right and everyone else is wrong

The wise philosopher is always ready to listen. Isn’t that the true hallmark of wisdom; listening. Perhaps I’m wrong, but any time someone get’s really defensive and upset in relation to their belief system; it usually tells me that the person is uncertain and a really bad listener.

Shouldn’t we always be open to being wrong? Shouldn’t we be open to new ideas and new perspectives?

Tonight I have the pleasure of having fellow blogger Chandler Klebbs on my Live Streaming show. Although Chandler is not a Christian, oddly enough he prescribes to the idea that none of us have free will. Apparently Reformed Christians are not the only ones who do not believe in free will.

Ultimately, if you and I are serious about community and connecting with each other, then doesn’t that mean we should always be open to listening to others and engaging in positive dialogue?

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee,


Kenneth



Categories: Culture & Society

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69 replies

  1. Out of topic: I just loved the T-shirt, Arusha

  2. I really like this. We totally have freewill, within a few parameters that is. We people tend to be linear thinkers, so we like things in terms of yes and no, black and white, cut and dry, and right and wrong.

    “Shouldn’t we always be open to being wrong?”

    LOL, No. In the context of polite society and trying to understanding the perspective of others, yes. But there is tremendous value in standing up for you believe in and putting your foot down and setting some parameters and boundaries. The horror of ISIS for example, this is absolutely horrendous stuff and we have leadership talking about tolerance and bringing up the Christian crusades, and going down assorted rabbit holes. That’s actually really crazy making and we need people willing to put some order to our moral chaos. Can’t we all just get along and declare that beheading people is appalling and wrong? No, we cannot, because there are people who genuinely believe this is a grey area. This is one is those cases where being open to the possibility of being wrong would be insane.

    • I love your comments, i wonder though; if we expect others to be open to being wrong and listening to us, then doesn’t it work both ways, shouldn’t we be open to being wrong?

      your point about ISIS is right on, they are clearly in the wrong. But if one of their leaders were sitting at my coffee table, i would listen to them respectfully, I would do my best to see things from their perspective, but ultimately, i’d have to disagree with them that killing christians is the right thing to do.

    • “..if we expect others to be open to being wrong and listening to us, then doesn’t it work both ways, shouldn’t we be open to being wrong?”

      It’s a sweet idea and I think it works well in the context of polite society where everyone is pretty much on the same page. In the real world however, that attitude can be really harmful, because it does not offer safety and boundaries to those who suffer at the hands of others. All things are not equal, all people are not on the same page. Let’s sit down and try to understand pedophiles, terrorists, and other assorted yahoos becomes a rather immoral thing because rather than standing up for what is right, we are acting as if all things are equal and there is just the possibility of misunderstanding here. Perhaps there is a place for that somewhere within our society, but within the culture at large this idea of fairness in all things just doesn’t work.

    • There is a huge difference between respectfully giving due regard to anything someone says and changing viewpoints with the wind. If we can openly and actively listen instead of half hearing and then formulating a response during the rest of someone’s statement, we would deal with half the worlds problems, no?

    • “Can’t we all just get along and declare that beheading people is appalling and wrong? No, we cannot, because there are people who genuinely believe this is a grey area. This is one is those cases where being open to the possibility of being wrong would be insane.”

      I agree. I think much of the problem comes from confusion about the difference between something being “morally wrong” and something being “factually wrong”. We should stand up against things that are obviously wrong and agree on remedies. I hate the nonsense about “grey areas”.

  3. I’m guessing that most people who don’t believe in free will, still believe in freedom. What for?

  4. I’ve been studying this lately. Reading grudem’s systematic theology and sproul’s book on election. I believe the reformed position is that everything is decreed by God but that man is also 100 percent responsible for his choices. Reformed followers don’t try to figure out how this is possible, they just accept that this is the teaching shown in the Bible. To say that everything is predetermined without saying that man is 100 percent responsible is a misrepresentation of their beliefs. Later, bob.

    • I like this. On the freewill question, our observations must validate the hypothesis, not the other way around. Acceptance of the way things are is critical if we’re going to learn anything interesting about free will.

    • I’ve read Grudem’s systematic theology and own all of Dr. Sproul’s books (i used to attend his church in a past life) and I agree with you; the reformed position does indeed say that God 100% predestines everything and that man is 100% responsible, but that unfortunately is where Reformed theology suffers, since it purports to logically offer a comprehensive and systematic approach to theology, yet the entire foundation of it is built upon a paradox. Therefore, the problem is that reformed theologians snub their noses at other theological systems for relying too much on paradox, yet the very belief that god is 100% in control and man is 100% culpable is indeed a paradox.

    • If you read Sproul, he argues that this is not a paradox but that it is a mystery.

    • Regarding snubbing others, the issue is too humbling to be prideful. I think they appear to snub others because the others are denying gods sovereignty, so they are probably just reacting.

    • Hi robertjgood,

      I would say that both Biblically and logically, Reformed theologians are mistaken on both points.

      Man is not 100% responsible for his choices because some choices are made under coercion, and we are responsible only for choices made in a state of freedom.

      And everything is not decreed by God because God has given us free will in spiritual matters, and has left us to decide whether or not to follow God’s decrees.

      I find nothing in the Bible that supports either dogma. But I do find a great deal that supports human spiritual freedom in the context of God’s framework of creation.

      When I see the word “mystery” in theological argumentation, I mentally substitute, “something that doesn’t make sense.”

      Though there certainly are mysteries in life, I do not believe that the fundamentals of Christianity are in any way mysterious. They are very simple, such that a fifth grader can easily understand them. And it seems to me that many theologians are not smarter than a fifth grader. 😉

    • If you think the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is a 5th grade subject, then you are not well read on the subject. Start with Grudem’s systematic theology and the chapter on providence. He gives points and counter points and then more counter points. If you are not humbled after reading that chapter after considering all the scriptures and arguments from both sides, then surely you have the greatest theological mind in the last 2000 years. This is deep stuff, and there should be much grace given to everyone on all sides. Bob.

    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your reply. I make no claim to having a great theological mind. Very little of what I believe is original to me–if anything of it at all is.

      Yes, I know that theology can get deep and complex. But I still believe that the fundamentals are simple and plain. And I take it as a challenge that if I could not explain the basics of something to a fifth grader, I probably don’t truly understand the subject myself.

      On the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of humans:

      God created the universe, and established the rules. God continues to keep those same rules in effect.

      With our God-given freedom, we humans can choose either to learn and abide by those rules or to ignore and break them.

      If we break them, we will suffer the consequences, some of which will be eternal.

      If we abide by them, we will enjoy the benefits, most of which will be eternal.

      This is something any fifth grader can easily understand. And for me it sums up volumes full of fancy theology on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.

    • Hi Bob,

      Back when I was in seminary twenty years ago I did attempt to read some Protestant and Catholic theology. I’ve made a few attempts since then.

      I think, though, that I’ve been forever spoiled for traditional Christian theology by having been steeped in the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg from birth. Swedenborg’s theology is so direct, so understandable, and so sensible, not to mention being solidly founded on an intelligent understanding of the entire Bible, that the works of every other theologian I’ve made an attempt at pales in comparison in my mind.

      My mother used to say, “Once you’ve read Swedenborg, why would you read anyone else?” And based on my admittedly limited experience of reading other theologians, I find it hard to argue with her on that point.

      It probably doesn’t help that I don’t accept many of the basic doctrines and assumptions that underlie most Catholic and Protestant theology. I find myself disagreeing with them on the very first page, and it gets worse from there.

      I keep telling myself that I should really read some of those famous works of theology. But whenever I start in on it, I simply don’t find it very rewarding. They seem to be making very complicated arguments that don’t have very much connection with the everyday realities of spiritual life.

      I’m sorry if this steps on some people’s toes, but that has been my experience.

  5. Again, I must disagree with what you are saying. There are scientist who are religious people and not all atheist want to smack believers with their views. To say atheists, scientists and religious fundamentalists have equal “us and them” point of view is not really fair. I said it before and I ‘ll say it again, we are all the same and very different. To label all the individuals of certain affiliation as one and the same is very close minded.

  6. Being wrong is AWESOME. Because it affords you the opportunity to experience that rejuvenating rush of satisfaction that comes with learning something new!! It is hard though to open yourself to it.

  7. Hi Kenneth,

    Good piece. Yes, there has been a recent resurgence of old Protestant faith alone and even predestinarian theology. However, it is more of a last gasp than a resurgence. Not only do most thinking people reject it as contrary to common sense, but the Bible itself doesn’t support those theologies. They are being tried and found wanting.

    Predestination, in particular, flies in the face of everything the Bible says about free will, choice, and repentance. For example:

    I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

    And:

    Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. (Ezekiel 18:30-32)

    If we’re all predestined, these and hundreds of other passages in the Bible about repenting, turning from our sins, and choosing life are all ridiculous nonsense.

    Perhaps from a materialistic perspective it can reasonably be argued that we have no free will. And it is true that materially we are not as free as we think we are. But from a spiritual perspective–and certainly from a Christian perspective–free will is a fundamental reality without which all of religion and spirituality means nothing.

    Even if we may not always be free to change our material circumstances, we are free to change the direction and goals of our mind and heart. And that change will bring about a cascade effect that will increasingly change our whole life.

    • “Perhaps from a materialistic perspective it can reasonably be argued that we have no free will. And it is true that materially we are not as free as we think we are. But from a spiritual perspective–and certainly from a Christian perspective–free will is a fundamental reality without which all of religion and spirituality means nothing.”

      The difference between the materialistic perspective and the spiritual perspective is so great that you can pretty much bet that when christians talk about free will, they are talking about something entirely unrelated to the stuff that philosophers and scientists are talking about related to causality, physics, and the unconscious mind.
      I fall in the category of a hard determinist who by necessity sees Free Will as an incoherent concept since nothing is free from prior causes. This holds true whether someone believes in a god or not.

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      Thanks for your replies–and for corroborating my statement that “from a materialistic perspective it can reasonably be argued that we have no free will.” 😉

      I would say that classical philosophers discussed some of the same things spiritual thinkers do, but modern philosophy has largely gone on a different path because of its general rejection of spiritual reality.

      As for science, Newtonian physics was certainly deterministic. But as I understand modern physics, there is an element of randomness and probability involved. Though this is not the same as freedom, it seems to be a physical analog of freedom–which in itself is a spiritual reality.

    • Randomness is even worse for the concept of free will than is determinism. Something random would have to be uncaused which seems absurd but even if true, it would mean that human will had nothing to do with it.

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      The elements of randomness and probability in modern physics do call into question the idea that the universe is strictly deterministic.

      Randomness is not the same as freedom. But it does verge in the direction of freedom inasmuch as it calls determinism into question.

    • People misunderstand modern physics. Not being able to predict movements of quantum particles does not imply their movement is not caused.

      Even so, it does amount to a certain concept of freedom, but a freedom which is not “willed” or able to be influenced by humans. If acausal events were a reality, it would not help free will.

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      Freedom is not acausal. Just not deterministic. The two are not the same.

    • But that is precisely what determinism is. That everything has a cause. The only alternative would be indeterminism which would mean that some things have no cause.

      The only reason we can’t always predict the future is ignorance of all the causes but we do in our daily lives predict what people will do based on our knowledge of their personality which is a combination of nature and nurture.

    • Chandler, If everything has a cause, them logically what would follow is the idea of a first cause. Otherwise, you are left with an infinite eternity of non-sensical causes

    • Kenneth, if everything has a first cause, then there can’t be a first cause because there wasn’t something to cause the first cause. The infinite regression is the theory that makes sense to me even though it sounds weird to people who don’t believe something can be infinite(although those same people often believe in eternal heaven or hell that never ends).

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      On what basis do you eliminate, or define out, human free will as a cause?

      If there is a motion of will in one direction rather than in another, that itself is a cause.

      I do not accept your identification of indeterminism with acausality. If freedom of choice exists, then it is perfectly possible for something to be non-deterministic but still have a cause.

      That cause, on the positive side, is God working within the soul, or spirit, of the person, aiming to bring about a change of will on the part of the person. That is the ultimate impulse, or cause, of moral and spiritual change.

      However, it is not deterministic because the humans in question do not have to accept that impulse or inflow from God. By act of will they can reject it (which really means twisting it and also greatly attenuating it), thus preventing that particular cause from acting in their spirit and their life according to its own nature.

      In that case, the cause is human resistance or perversity, which is the same thing as saying that the cause is evil–something that is created by that very act of human will rejecting the influences, or causes, that come from God and twisting them into something opposed to their essential nature.

      None of this can exist in purely material systems. It requires spiritual systems, which operate on a higher, and different, set of laws than that which governs material systems.

      However, material laws do reflect spiritual laws. That’s why we see such things as randomness in material systems. They are not the same thing as free will, but they are a material analog of free will, which is a spiritual phenomenon.

      Material laws are like flat projections of full-dimensional spiritual laws. They do reflect the nature of spiritual laws in a very precise way, but due to the limitations of a flattened reality, they are unable to express the full nature of spiritual laws.

      Material laws are to spiritual laws as a photograph is to the scene being photographed.

    • You don’t seem to understand that determinism is the same as causality. The alternative is indeterminism or acausality. I see no evidence to suggest that there could be such a thing as “spiritual” but that doesn’t help free will at all. There must still be a force that causes us to desire to choose one thing over another. Whether material or spiritual, it would not be something that we self-caused.

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      I understand what you’re saying. I simply don’t agree with it. I think it is an arbitrary conclusion from what we know of how the physical universe works. It is based more on older Newtonian mechanical concepts of the universe than on newer concepts of the universe developed in the 20th century.

      When it comes to the spiritual universe, since you apparently do not believe that such an entity exists, you would presumably not accept any of its laws and phenomena as being real either. And I’ve already said that real freedom exists only on the spiritual level.

    • Agreed. Since I don’t believe in anything spiritual, I also don’t take it into consideration. What you seem to be suggesting is that something spiritual would be capable of breaking the law of cause and effect.

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      Not exactly. Cause and effect works in a more complex way when you add spiritual reality into the mix.

      I see reality as consisting of three general levels:

      divine (God)>
      spiritual
      material

      To use a concept from classical philosophy, the divine level is the level of ends (purposes), the spiritual level is the level of causes, and the material level is the level of effects.

      Cause and effect can also operate within each level, but because the levels differ from each other distinctly, cause and effect operate differently on each level. Cause and effect also operates from higher levels to lower levels.

      In particular, the spiritual level includes the human will, or motivation. This adds an element to causation that is not present on the material level.

      As I’ve already said, I don’t think causation acts in a strictly mechanical fashion even material level, as you seem to be arguing. But on the spiritual level, where the human will resides, causation includes the capability of free will, or free choice. This itself becomes a cause pursuant to God’s end, or purpose, of building a community of human beings who can freely choose whether to be in mutually loving relationship with God and with one another.

      The material level, being the level of effects, does not have these more complex forms of causation involving human free will. But I do believe it has an analog of them in the phenomena of randomness and probability–something you seem to be avoiding or denying even though they are an integral part of modern physics, mathematics, and science in general.

      I believe that your mechanical cause-and-effect-only view of reality is too simple to account for the complexities that we actually see in studying even the material universe, let alone when spiritual and divine reality is included in a conception of reality. It also leaves no room at all for ends, or purposes. And though you may be content living in a purpose-less universe that is no more than the inexorable working out of cause and effect leading to a result that has been pre-determined from the infinite past, I am not.

      Nor do I think that it is more “realistic” to believe the universe is deterministic as you do. In fact, I think it involves taking a very narrow view of reality that ignores and denies major parts of human discovery and experience.

    • I can tell much effort went into this comment but it appears the entire thing depends on religious belief and a belief that complexity somehow comes from randomness. What am I to make of this?

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      You can make of it whatever you want. It’s a free exchange of ideas.

      Just for the record, I didn’t say that complexity comes from randomness. I said that randomness and probability on the material level are a relatively flat reflection of free will on the spiritual level.

      Complexity derives not from randomness, but from the infinite complexity of God.

    • Incidentally, about the effort that went into this and my other comments here, it does take some time to formulate a proper response and write it out. However, I swim in concepts like these every day as part of my regular work. So to me, everything I’ve written here is fairly ordinary stuff. Based on my particular knowledge and experience, it just seems like common sense.

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      Admittedly I’m not a scientist or a physicist. But my reading so far on modern physics has indicated that quantum uncertainty, etc., is not just a matter of our not being able to predict movements, but is built into the phenomena themselves.

      Also, the very act of observing a phenomena changes it. So there can never exist a circumstance in which we have all relevant knowledge and therefore can predict what will happen, because the very fact that we have observed the phenomena and have the knowledge of it changes the outcome. And the more observations we make, the more it changes the outcome.

      In the face of this and other oddities of modern physics, I would say that the idea that it is all fundamentally deterministic is more a matter of faith or belief than anything we can logically deduce as a necessary consequence of our observations of reality. The phenomena can just as easily be interpreted as being non-deterministic–in fact, probably more easily.

    • “Even if we may not always be free to change our material circumstances, we are free to change the direction and goals of our mind and heart. And that change will bring about a cascade effect that will increasingly change our whole life.”

      Yes, but something needs to cause that change. Something outside of us is required to make us aware that there is a need for change. That was what made me understand that I could not self-cause anything. However, things happened in my life that caused great changes in how I live.

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      Responding to this comment and to your point in your previous one about prior causes:

      It’s a great insight that nothing here in the material world is free of prior causes–including ourselves as human beings. The idea that we are self-causing and self-moving beings leads to all kinds of bad theology and bad philosophy.

      From a spiritual perspective, there is only one being who has no prior cause, and that is God. And God, in turn, is the prior cause of everything else in the universe.

      So far, it would appear that God must therefore have created a deterministic universe.

      But that’s not what God did.

      Instead, God created a universe in which one component–humans–were created with spiritual levels of mind and heart that made it possible for them to have free will.

      God remains the prior cause. But God allows us to direct that cause one way or another depending on our own freely made spiritual choices.

      To use an example, God gives us the power to flip a switch up or down, and even gives us the mind and body with which to do it, but allows us to choose which way to direct the power that comes from God: upwards or downwards.

      Understanding how God does this is difficult, because it involves a choice on God’s part to withdraw from full control of a key part of God’s creation–something that seems counterintuitive.

      Yet this is necessary for God to create beings with which God can have real, rather than predetermined, relationships. And if God is viewed as omnipotent and omniscient, then we must think of it as possible for God to accomplish God’s goals in creation–goals that involve free will and therefore the possibility of evil, as well as the reality of genuine relationships of mutual love and understanding.

      It is similar to a parent stepping back from a child’s life, and letting the child make his or her own choices and mistakes rather than trying to control everything the child does. Though this feels very risky to parents, it is necessary so that the child can grow into a self-responsible adult human being.

    • “To use an example, God gives us the power to flip a switch up or down, and even gives us the mind and body with which to do it, but allows us to choose which way to direct the power that comes from God: upwards or downwards.”

      To use your example of a switch. Consider that it is a light switch. You switch the light on in a room because you need to see what you are doing whether that is searching for your socks or reading a book. What humans call choice is nothing more than us acting on our desires(which is the freedom we all want). However, we do not choose which desires we are born with and all choices/decisions will line up with our nature and nurture.

      I am sure that you being a believer in god, you will say that god gives us our desires. This is somewhat acceptable although I would disagree because I believe the infinite regress makes more sense than a first cause. Either way what either you and I believe or do is a combination of our genes and experiences in life that teach us how we should behave. It is for this reason that people have different ideas of morality. The point of all this is that we are what we are and we did not choose to be what we are for the simple reason that we did not create ourselves. This is true for theists and atheists alike. Anyhow I appreciate your comment.

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      Or I may choose not to switch on the light in a room, even though I’m looking for socks and a book, because my wife is asleep in the room and I don’t want to wake her up. Or maybe I say, “Heck with her,” and flip it on anyway. (Don’t tell her I said that!)

      The point is, I can choose whether or not to turn on the light based on my values, my needs, and any number of other factors that may weigh into my decision.

      Further, I believe that we humans can actually choose our desires, though not like a simple flip of a switch.

      There are many competing desires within us, all wanting to be expressed. At any given time, within some limitations of course, I can say, “I’m going to express this desire rather than that one. In doing so, the desire I choose to act upon is strengthened in me, and the one I choose not to act upon is weakened.

      Through a long series of such choices that we call life, I can move some desires to the center of my being, while moving other desires to the periphery of my being.

      Yes, all of my desires ultimately come from God–though the destructive ones do so by a tortuous route that twists them into opposition to God. But I still have the ability to choose which ones will reign in my life, and which ones will be marginalized.

      I do agree, by the way, that being able to act upon our desires is a freedom we all want. And in the end, that is a more basic type of freedom than freedom of choice.

      However, freedom of choice determines which desires we will want to act upon; so even though it is in a sense a more temporary freedom, it does determine the course of our lives more fundamentally than the freedom to act upon our desires does.

    • “I do agree, by the way, that being able to act upon our desires is a freedom we all want. And in the end, that is a more basic type of freedom than freedom of choice.”

      That is really the only type of freedom that could exist

      “However, freedom of choice determines which desires we will want to act upon; so even though it is in a sense a more temporary freedom, it does determine the course of our lives more fundamentally than the freedom to act upon our desires does.”

      The point is that to act on one desire instead of another, you must have a desire to do so. This will fry your brain if you think about it too long. 😀

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      I’ve been thinking about these things for a very long time, and most of my friends and acquaintances think that my brain is not fried! 😀

    • Hi chandlerklebs,

      For a (mostly) non-philosophical look at human freedom and why we have it, you might be interested in this article:
      God Proposes, but Man Disposes . . . and God Re-Composes

  8. I don’t think we HAVE free will . . . I think we ARE free will.

    When it comes to truth? . . . truth is at least 90% perception . . .
    Ask me what I know FOR SURE? . . . You may get a one paragraph reply.

  9. “Perhaps I’m wrong, but any time someone get’s really defensive and upset in relation to their belief system; it usually tells me that the person is uncertain and a really bad listener.”

    I think you’re wrong to make the assumption that “any time” someone gets defensive, it means that the person is “uncertain and a really bad listener.” I, for example, refer to myself as a “defensive atheist.” I am not 100% certain, without any doubt whatsoever, that God does not exist, but I am certain that I see no evidence to persuade me that God does exist, therefore I believe that God does not exist.

    But, I do become defensive and upset when people say that, because I don’t believe that God exists or accept Jesus as my personal savior, I am evil, immoral, don’t know right from wrong or good from bad; that I am blind to “the truth,” and will spend an eternity in hell. I am defensive when people make misstatements about atheists or espouse misconceptions about atheism, such as referring to atheism as a “belief system,” a “world view,” or equate it to a religion.

    And I become defensive not because I’m a really bad listener. Quite the contrary. I listen carefully and when I hear people saying things that are ill-informed or demonstrate misunderstandings, I will respond.

    • this defensiveness you speak of is the proof of culture monk’s pudding.If you follow the principle of ‘know thyself’ and are truly a philosopher of self why do you react violently to the insight of another.Unless of course you are unsure of your own self and though appalled by it you do find insight in the other’s view.If you are sure of your stance a simple explanation will do no need to prepare a defense.True and logical stances stand for themselves ,once a stance needs a defense the likelihood of it being false always shoots up.

    • First, impostorpawn, I don’t “react violently.” I do not go around beheading Christians or burning people alive. Second, I don’t call the negative and misleading things people say about atheists and atheism to be “insights.” I call them misunderstandings and misconceptions.

      “True and logical stances stand for themselves, once a stance needs a defense the likelihood of it being false always shoots up.” So why is it that so many Christians feel that they have to be defensive about Christianity, claim that Christians in the U.S. are being persecuted, and feel the need to demean and diminish those who are not Christians?

    • Hi Doobster418,

      Not all Christians think that you are evil, immoral, and going to hell because you are an atheist. I am a Christian, and I believe that atheists who live a good life according to their own conscience will go to heaven, not to hell.

      About atheism not being a belief system, but a lack of belief in gods (as atheists seem to prefer to define their position), in this methinks the atheist doth protest too much.

      You cannot be 100% certain that there is no God, nor do you see evidence to persuade you that God does exist. You follow this up by saying that you “believe that God does not exist.”

      Isn’t that a belief?

      And isn’t that belief a key element of your perspective on life?

      I would call that a belief system.

      Believing that something is not so is just as much a belief as believing that something is so.

      For example, theologically, I do not believe that there is a Trinity of Persons in God, nor do I believe that faith alone saves, nor do I believe that a person must be a Christian to be saved. Those non-beliefs are part of my overall belief system. In their place, I have other beliefs of a positive nature.

      I would venture to say that along with your non-belief in God, you probably have a belief that material reality constitutes the whole of reality, and that it is either self-creating or has always been in existence in some form. This, then, for you, would be a positive belief that takes the place of your non-belief in God.

    • Phew, Lee, I’m glad you don’t think me evil or immoral. But my understanding is that the Bible tells us that anyone who doesn’t believe in God, who doesn’t embrace Jesus is going to hell, straight to hell, and will not collect $200.

      As to atheism being a belief system, I, as an atheist, stand by that it is not. As I’ve said, I’m not 100% certain that there is no God. No one can be 100% certain. But I believe that there is no God.

      A belief is not a fact. A belief is not necessarily even true. It’s an opinion. But my opinion that there is no God has very little impact on my life. In fact, I don’t even think about it until some Christian tells me that I’m evil, immoral, and going to hell because I don’t believe in God.

      And atheism has but one belief — that supernatural deities don’t exist. One belief, not a system of beliefs.

      You mention things about Christianity that you don’t believe, like the Holy Trinity and that only faith in God and Jesus can save one’s soul from eternal damnation. So you have taken the Christian belief system and modified it to reflect your own opinions. And that’s fine.

      But there are no rites, rules, or rituals, there is no dogma, no holy book associated with atheism. It’s simply a matter of believing that there is no God. Some atheists may believe in some sort of afterlife. I don’t. But it’s still not a belief system.

      But we will probably never agree, because a “belief system” is whatever one wishes to define a belief system to be.

    • Hi Doobster418,

      I didn’t say I don’t think you’re evil or immoral. I said I don’t think you’re evil or immoral just because you’re an atheist. There’s a difference, you know! 😛

      Okay, I’ll get serious now . . .

    • Hi Doobster418,

      We don’t have to agree. Progress tends to be made on the fronts where people disagree.

      However, I do think it would be helpful for atheists to recognize that theirs is a belief system because it rests on non-demonstrable assumptions–such as the assumption that the material universe exists objectively out there, independent of our consciousness, more or less as we perceive it to exist.

      That’s a good and useful principle on which to act, but it is still an assumption, or something that an atheist or materialist must believe as part of his or her belief system about the universe and its nature.

      I agree that not believing in God doesn’t constitute a belief system. But the beliefs that remain about the nature of reality, or that are substituted for a belief in God, do constitute a belief system. The most basic ones cannot be demonstrated or proven; they must simply be assumed and believed as a basis for all of the rest, including the entire edifice of science.

    • If you’re interested, I’ve written a fuller version of that line of thinking here:
      Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

    • Hi Doobster418,

      You say:

      You mention things about Christianity that you don’t believe, like the Holy Trinity and that only faith in God and Jesus can save one’s soul from eternal damnation. So you have taken the Christian belief system and modified it to reflect your own opinions. And that’s fine.

      The reality is that most of the “fundamentals” of Christian belief that have been adhered to for hundreds and even thousands of years simply aren’t in the Bible. So if Christianity is considered to be a religion based on the Bible, then what has passed as “Christianity” all these centuries is Christian in name only, and not in reality.

      The Bible does not say that there is a Trinity of Persons in God. That belief was formulated and asserted as fundamental Christian doctrine several centuries after the last books of the Bible were written.

      The Bible also doesn’t say that only faith in God and Jesus can save one’s soul from eternal damnation–at least, not as that is commonly conceived among Christians. Take a look at Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus says who will and won’t be saved. Nothing there about belief. Only about actions. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone did not become part of “Christian” belief until after Martin Luther and other Protestant theologians asserted it in the 1500s–a millennium and a half after the time of Christ.

      Incidentally, the Bible also does not say anywhere that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. That dogma was invented a thousand years after the time of Christ.

      As I said, most of the doctrines that are considered fundamental to Christianity by the bulk of Christians today simply aren’t in the Bible.

      I suppose if Christianity is identified with the beliefs promulgated by the various institutional Christian churches, you could say that I’ve modified the Christian belief system. But if Christianity is identified with the teachings of Jesus Christ in particular, and of the Bible generally, I am simply not accepting so-called “Christian” doctrines that are found neither in Jesus’ teachings nor in the Bible generally.

    • Hi Doobster418,

      About belief in Jesus Christ being the only way to get to heaven, that’s not something I can deal with even in my rather verbose (!) comments. So here’s a link to an article that looks into it more fully:
      Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      The idea that only those who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins get to heaven requires ignoring many, many statements in the Bible, and taking several statements badly out of context, not to mention redefining “faith” and “belief” in ways that the Bible writers would have found perplexing if not downright ridiculous.

    • “But, I do become defensive and upset when people say that, because I don’t believe that God exists or accept Jesus as my personal savior, I am evil, immoral, don’t know right from wrong or good from bad; that I am blind to “the truth,” and will spend an eternity in hell. I am defensive when people make misstatements about atheists or espouse misconceptions about atheism, such as referring to atheism as a “belief system,” a “world view,” or equate it to a religion.”

      I share your pain. People seem to think that atheism is a synonym for evil. Theists can’t understand that atheism is not a religion as people falsely categorize it. One of the most annoying things is that people assume that atheists are bound to a set of beliefs. I want to believe what is true rather than what the crowd says. I am not one who likes conformity and that had a lot to do with why I became uncomfortable with christianity and eventually found a way out.

  10. I know I can get “passionate” about some things and perhaps my emotions get the better of me, but I like to believe that part of that is simply because of strong belief, not being unwilling to listen. I’ve had numerous conversations with people who don’t feel the way I do and they’ve been fabulous conversations! I tend to get more rowdy when I feel under attack. That said – I find it interesting you tend to consider yourself a philosopher and in this article philosophers are the best of the bunch? Hmm…sounds a lil’ arrogant don’t you think? lol 🙂 I see your point and generally agree but I’ve known philosophical people and they too can be arrogant and even if they listen, they don’t really because at the end of the day, in my humble experience, they’ve tended to believe they were totally correct and everyone else wrong. That doesn’t seem much different than what you’re talking about with religious folk and scientists. I absolutely agree it’s time to stop shouting and to start listening. I’m a huge believer in listening – there is much to be learned when you shut up and let someone else talk for a bit. I also still believe that it’s good to feel passionately about things, especially in a world when there is far too much apathy; far too many people ignoring important things because it’s not right in their backyard therefore it must not matter. Not true. Listen to others but don’t forget to feel strongly about something so that you’ll pursue it; you’ll work to be that change in the world you want to see. As you said, I believe yesterday, there needs to be new leaders such as MLK, Jr., Gandhi, etc. Those two gentleman felt passionately about things and did something about it; it just happens to be they were also willing to listen. 🙂

  11. Like you said, Reformed theology has a LOT of problems and, I believe, creates unnecessary paradoxes. This is especially true in the area of theodicy (why God allows bad things to happen). Reformed explanations become convoluted and untenable. It’s this view of God’s lockstep sovereignty that turns many away from Him. After all, if God decides everything then He is also the author of evil and everything bad on the earth. Who would want to follow a God like that?

    I do believe He has predestined us to be His (Eph.1:4-5), but He did not predetermine that we would choose to do. God is love, which requires free will to choose. He initiates the grace to respond to Him, but we must respond. There is no real freedom without free will.

  12. Freewill or no? How about a combination of both! I don’t get why people seem to want to think it is strictly one way or another.

  13. Hmm. Suddenly the “Free Will Baptist” church I had to go to as a child makes sense – at least the name does now, anyway.

  14. I think, dear sir, you should drink more coffee and keep those thoughts flowing.
    Keep on blogging in a free world.

    The False Prophet

  15. “Of course, this “us and them” mentality reaches into so many philosophies;

    —) Atheists believe they have a corner on the truth and everyone else are a bunch of nebbishes

    —) Scientists believe they have a corner on the truth and anyone who disagrees is an idiot

    —) Religious fundamentalists of all stripes believe they are right and everyone else is wrong

    The wise philosopher is always ready to listen. Isn’t that the true hallmark of wisdom; listening. Perhaps I’m wrong, but any time someone get’s really defensive and upset in relation to their belief system; it usually tells me that the person is uncertain and a really bad listener.

    Shouldn’t we always be open to being wrong? Shouldn’t we be open to new ideas and new perspectives? ”

    I strongly dislike the “us and them” mentality that is far too common. The reason for listening to others is so that we can become aware when we are wrong. This allows us to change before more damage is done. Without others to show us our faults, we cannot change. This is but one of the important things to understand about not having a free will. Nothing happens without a cause.

  16. My son says you have to first define what free will is. For him, it’s being able to want what he wants to want. From another angle, Molinism is a Christian theology dealing with free will which says, out of all the infinite universes God could have created, he created this one because it perfectly matched his will from beginning to end. In that sense he has determined the outcome. However, within that universe each person still retains the ability to make choices.

    • By your son’s definition, I would still have to say that it makes no sense since we don’t get to choose which wants/preferences/desires we are born with. Nonetheless, defining what we mean by words is the first step.

  17. Read this quote today: The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. -Peggy O’Mara. In the free will debate, I wonder if folks understand how they are motivated by these inner voices, not even realizing those voices are determining their actions and thoughts.

    • Yes, the inner voices inculcated in us by parents, teachers, and others when we are children do become powerful influences on our life and actions. However, it is possible to become aware of those inner voices and their source. And when we do, we can gradually sideline the negative ones, and build up the positive ones, thus exercising our own will in re-forming the inner voices that motivate us. It is neither an easy nor a quick process, and there will always be shadows of the old negative voices in us, but it is possible to overcome them.

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