Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Will and Determinism are the Same

I have been wanting to write on this topic for awhile now, but had more important posts to work on. But tonight I googled "Choose Your Beliefs" and found a post named "You Cannot Choose Your Beliefs". In a sense I agree but on the surface that sounds contradictory to the name and purpose of my Blog. So, I thought I should explain how Free Will and Determinism (or alternatively Pelagianism and Calvinism) are not just compatible, but actually they are two perspectives describing the exact same concept. This is a first rough draft which I will clean up over the next few weeks, but I wanted to go ahead and post it to motivate myself to get this one done. This concept is key to having a rational view of who God is and to resolve some common misconceptions that lead to unnecessary debate.

The difference between free will and determinism is just a matter of perspective. If someone knows/controls a situation then to that person the situation is predetermined. If someone else does not know how a situation is controlled then to that person there is no determinism and everything involves free choice.

For example, if someone knows the way to the airport, was able to put in your mind the desire to go there and they put a roadblock in the way that causes a detour, that person will both know and cause you to take a certain path and they will know ahead of time where you will go. But from your perspective you will have made the free choice to go to the airport down the direct path, but an obstacle in the way will cause you to choose to take an unplanned detour. So, both perspectives of determinism and free will are true depending on how much knowledge of a situation a person has.

Another illustration is what happens when we roll dice. To the casual observer it looks like the result of the dice throw is pure random chance. But to someone who both knows and controls all the forces on the dice during the throw, including the forces exerted by our hands, the air, the surface of the table, etc.., that person can both know and control the result of the dice throw.

Now, just because someone can fully control every aspect of a dice throw doesn't necessarily mean that they actually do control every aspect of a particular throw. Logically they could know all the forces without directly causing each and every force. So, someone with the ability to control all forces on a dice throw could either actively and directly "cause" a certain result or they could passively and indirectly "allow" a certain result and we would not be able to tell the difference.

So, the debate between determinism and free will is just a matter of the perspective and ability of control that the observer has. From God's perspective, everything is fully controlled and known, either actively or passively on His part. So, ultimately the determinism perspective is the most accurate one since God's perspective is the most accurate perspective. But from man's perspective, it is as if everything is free will and nothing is controlled (unless God tells us what he is controlling beforehand). So, the only option man has is to act as if everything is free will and nothing is predetermined, unless God tells us what is predetermined (because only He knows).

The problems occur when people try to mix the two perspectives. It is a fallacy to talk about something being determined when from our perspective everything is free will.

So, here are some examples of mixing the free will perspective with the determinism perspective and getting confused:

If God actually controls everything and to us it just looks like we have free will, then is it right for God to Judge us for our actions?
From God's perspective he created some people to do good and some to do badly, and as creator he has the right to honor those he created for good and to separate out those he created to choose badly. But that is from God's perspective, not ours, so we can't think that way.

From our perspective we have no idea who was created to do good and who was created to do badly. So, from our perspective some people freely choose good and others freely choose badly and are judged based on their choices, and that is true from our perspective.

So, from God's perspective he has the right to do what he wants with what he created. From our perspective it is right for God to reward those that choose well and separate out those that choose badly. Both are perspectives are true and the only time people get confused is when they try to combine the two perspectives at the same time.

Then does that mean that God causes evil and pain?
From our perspective the two sources of pain are 1. man's bad choices and 2. God caused the world to not work quite right after man decided not to follow him (in order to cause men to desire a world that works correctly).

From God's perspective, yes, he does cause, either directly, or more likely, through passive acceptance, evil and pain which are apparently necessary for a greater purpose to be achieved.

But again, since we are human we can only take the first perspective since everything looks to us as free will choices.

What is Time?
One idea that many people hold is that "God is outside of time" or "God created time". But to discuss that idea we must agree on the definition of what "time" is and separate that concept from the concept of "clocks".

"Time" is man's observation of change. Websters says time is a "...measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues". But all periods can in theory be measured against other periods, so any time there is an action, process or condition, even for God, then time exists. To say that time did not exist is to say that no change could have occurred at all.

A "clock" is "a device... for indicating or measuring time". Note that clocks do not need to exist for time to exist. For example, if the sun and moon did not exist, the passing of years and months (time) would not stop.

To say that God is somehow "outside of time" is therefore to say that God could never "do" anything. Yet every time God speaks, creates or even thinks anything that means that God is going through "time".

If you look at the passages concerning the "beginning of time" in the Bible, in all cases at least some translations do not translate it to say that time was "created". I would suggest that those passages are actually referring to either the creation of our standard clocks, the Sun, Moon and Stars, or that God is eternal rather than having a beginning or end.


In theology, the concept most closely related to determinism is called Calvinism and a competing concept is called Pelagianism. Calvinism is usually defined by five concepts listed by an acronym called TULIP:

Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin) - From God's perspective, all mankind was created to choose badly and then some be redeemed from their depravity, but from man's perspective in theory each person could choose to do right all their life (though no one ever does).

Unconditional Election - From God's perspective he can choose who he wants to make follow him, but from man's perspective those who God chooses to put in the new Jerusalem are those who decide to follow him

Limited Atonement - From God's perspective, he knows who he created to choose good so atonement looks limited, but from man's perspective, we don't know who will choose good so atonement looks unlimited.

Irresistible Grace - From God's perspective, whoever he created to do good will, without fail choose to follow God so grace looks irresistible, but from man's perspective we have to the choice to follow God or not and we have the choice to resist

Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved) - From God's perspective he knows and controls who will be "saved" in the new Jerusalem so it looks to him like every one he has chosen will persevere, but from man's perspective we do not know who was chosen so to us it looks like some people turn away.

So, I can agree that from God's perspective TULIP is the most correct. Therefore, I can say I hold to a full five point Calvinist view. But I can also agree that from man's perspective (the only perspective that is valid to work with in this life) we have full 100% free will and the TULIP concepts makes no difference to us whatsoever (unless we know what the Creator has chosen to do, which is very rarely if ever the case). So, I can say that I am actually a Pelagian, which is normally considered an opposing view to Calvinism.

So, when you lift your little finger it is most accurate to say that, either actively or passively, God caused you to lift you little finger. But that is from God's perspective and that mode of thinking is useless to us. From our perspective you lifted your little finger by your own free will, and we get mixed up if we try to live our life as if we can see from God's perspective.

Doesn't Quantum Mechanics prove Free Will?
Quantum Mechanics does not show that the world at its core is only probabilistic. The uncertainty is in our ability to know where something is at any given time rather than the uncertainty and probabilistic nature being inherent to nature itself. That mistake in reasoning leads many physicists to the belief in the Schrödinger's Cat paradox, which logically cannot be true. That is why you will find Physicists who study Quantum Mechanics who also promote different forms of mysticism, such as the physics who have spoke at the Theosophical Society or those on "The Secret" video.

The closest I have found to this concept of Free Will and Determinism both being different perspectives of the same concept is called Compatibilism. But even Compatibilism doesn't seem to match what I am saying because I am saying that the differences between total free will and total determinism are just a matter of differing perspectives and both are fully true. Compatibilism on the other hand seems to try to somehow mix the two, when I would argue the two perspectives cannot be mixed at all.