29 Mar 2011

Freewill and Predestination

Submitted by Stephen Winters

This morning It discovered a message thread "Do You Have Free Will? Yes, It’s the Only Choice" in a forum that was discussing freewill versus predestination. I must say that I was both delighted and amused at all the comments and often seemingly jovial bantering back and forth about a seemingly deep subject. I have really enjoyed reading both sides of the discussion. This posting is a result of the thoughts stimulated by that message thread. At this point of my life, my own personal thought is that it is neither freewill nor predestination (by themselves), but rather that it is both freewill and prestination in combination. This is my view, I'm not trying to convince anyone else of this.

The reality is that there are pretty defined consequences to our behavior and our actions. For example, if someone gets lazy and doesn't work and doesn't take care of necessities, eventually he'll go hungry and have no place to live. In another example, if a man kills people, the police will come and arrest him, put him in jail. After the trial he could be executed or spend many years in prison. We can spend a lot of meaningless effort trying to argue whether or not he had the free will to kill the people. In any case, he will suffer the consequences of our own behavior. He had a thought or an impulse and he acted on that impulse. On the other hand, many people may have a thought or impulse to kill someone, but don't act on the thought.

In many ways, we are a product of our own thinking and of our own behaviors. For example, if a man steals, he becomes a thief (of course, one could always argue that he was a thief already, before he had stolen anything, and the act of stealing only confirmed that he was indeed a thief. But this doesn't hold up under close scrutiny because many people have a thought to steal something, but they don't act on the thought.) In many ways, "we are what we do", not what we think we are.

But even all of this explanation seems pointless because I mainly hear the discussion of "freewill" versus "predestination" from religious people in talking about the afterlife. Much of this is focused on whether someone will go to "heaven" or "hell" after they die. The accompanying thought is, "How can God condemn people to hell unless they have free will?" (The subject of "hell" is another discussion, which I won't go into here.) 1

The reality is, in this life we all have daily moment-by-moment choices. We decide whether to get up in the morning, or not, We decide whether we will eat, and what we will eat. We decide whether or not we will go to work, or to school, etc. You might say, "but I don't have a choice. I must .... (go to work, go to school, etc.)". The truth is that any of us can decide to NOT do anything. But most of us realize that with each choice we make comes a consequence. We can chose what to do, but we generally don't have a choice about the consequences of our choice.

I've heard this ongoing debate over freewill versus presdestination for many years. I've seldom got in the middle of the discussion because, who really knows. And what difference does it make anyway? Things are what they are. Our responsibility is to find out what that is and then live our lives according to that reality.

Of what value is the question about free will versus predestination? It seems that the question mostly just comes up in conjunction of people being sent to "heaven" or "hell".  A more useful question might be to ask if we humans control where we "spend eternity", or what happens to us after we die.

If people who do wrongs here on this earth are punished here on earth, will they also be punished "forever" in a place called "hell"? So, do "evil-doers" get punished twice, one while or earth and then again forever in another place after death? If the people who sinned here on earth were punished for those sins here on earth, would God punish them for those same sins again after they die?

  • 1. As a person who was raised in the Christian faith, I would say that much of modern day Christianity is all mixed up. Although I still consider myself a Christian (of a different sort) I really don't even like to use that term.

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