Understanding free-will

Phill has just written an interesting post about free-will and predestination, about how to a certain degree we are just extremely complex biological machines, and that our decisions could be predicted if we could only understand how complex we are.  I then wrote a reply to that, which I thought I’d copy here as well so that my readers could also read it.

“Ah, the old free-will vs. predesination jobby. Don’t worry about making philosophical or theological statements, Phill, I always enjoy debating that sort of thing! 😉

“In this case, I’m tempted to agree with those who say that actually we have both – that’s not intended as a cop-out, but as a serious suggestion that our future is predestined to a certain degree, but we have control over it as well.

“If, as you suggest, we are just incredibly complex biological machines, then by inference God would have been able to see the entirity of history in an instant, as soon as he had made Adam and Eve (like running a simulation program on a supercomputer to determine the outcome of something). If that was the case, God’s actions would also be predestined, and he’d be locked into a series of events too, as he would know people’s reactions to anything he did to intervene.

“However, I believe that is not the end of the story, because that theory seems to fall down when we get into the realms of ‘divine intervention’. By this I don’t just mean God striking people down with bolts of lightning – what sets us apart as humans is that we have souls, a spiritual body within a physical body. This is what links us with God, and it is this part of us that God speaks to. This is not just a machine, this does not follow any kind of pattern or programming, and it can potentially redirect our entire lives.

“For the more technically-minded, think about it like a computer program, for the sake of argument. If you have a large and complex program and you set it running, that programming would naturally dictate that given a set of inputs a predetermined set of outputs will be given, however complex those inputs and outputs might actually be. Now imagine that in the middle of running that program, someone comes along and changes the code. Now any prediction made at the beginning becomes null and void because the processing of the inputs has changed. Not only that, but the result changes depending on how much of the code you change, which part of the program you change, and at what point in the running process you change it.

“Bringing that back into context, we can quite confidently say that God is not a machine, and is not tied to us as a servant. He is beyond our understanding, beyond time, and we answer to him, not the other way round. As such, God can choose how and when to change our code, whether that be through signs, messages, prophesy, visions, teaching, music…

“Choices we make on our own we could argue are simply biological reflexes. Choices we make with God on the other hand are those where we allow God to make changes in us. The more we allow God to change us, the more free-will we end up having.”

One thought on “Understanding free-will

  1. Hi Matthew,

    I thought I’d continue the discussion on your blog, and then perhaps post what I write here on mine as well (it’s a crazy mixed up world, you know!)

    If, as you suggest, we are just incredibly complex biological machines, then by inference God would have been able to see the entirity of history in an instant, as soon as he had made Adam and Eve (like running a simulation program on a supercomputer to determine the outcome of something).

    But… surely God has seen the entire of history in an instant, yeah? 😉 Don’t forget, God cannot be locked into “a series of events” because God is outside of time. God may very well respond in the same way to the same situations, more so than we are, because he is unchanging and we do change. In fact I read something quite helpful about this in the new book on prayer by Philip Yancey, but perhaps I’ll mention that at another time as it’s a bit off topic.

    Re: God changing us… I see your point. God is an external factor, as in — humans aren’t just about input -> output; it could be more like input -> [ineffable spiritual stuff] -> output.

    I like this though: “The more we allow God to change us, the more free-will we end up having” — I’ll have to remember that if I ever have to write an article or anything on the subject 🙂

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