Who Decides? You or God?

There has been extensive discussion on some of the blogs I follow about “Free Will.” I even posted something related to the issue; however, it didn’t really address my personal outlook on the topic.

Free Will is defined in various ways. Following are a couple of defs that I came across …

  • WordWeb: (n.) The power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies; (adj.) Done of your own accord.
  • Wikipedia: The ability of agents to make choices unimpeded by certain prevailing factors.
  • Wiktionary: (n.) A person’s natural inclination; unforced choice; (philosophy) The ability to choose one’s actions, or determine what reasons are acceptable motivation for actions, without predestination, fate etc.

The major discussion around the topic is generally divided between those who believe humans possess free will (as defined above), and those who are certain our actions are dictated by a higher power. I lean towards the former.

Here’s how I look at it …

Throughout our lifetime, we make choices. These choices run the full gamut of how we live our lives. Further, I think this ability to choose is part of our organic evolutionary makeup and begins in early childhood — around the time of our “self-awareness.”

I DO NOT think our choices are dictated by anyone or anything. We alone our responsible for the decisions we make and the actions we take. Yes, we often weigh external factors and resulting consequences, but in the end, WE are the ones who make the final decision on how we will proceed. If we make a bad decision, we will suffer the consequences, which could even lead to our death.

Here’s how many others look at it …

Some believe God (generally the Christian God) is the controlling factor in our lives. They free_will_puppetcontend that all human actions are dictated by an omniscient (all-knowing), invisible, super being. Moreover, not only does this super-being know the choices we will make, but it has actually pre-determined these choices. Further, by virtue of its omnipotence (unlimited power), it controls the factors that make up these choices. In other words, our lives are totally controlled by a Power that cannot be physically seen, felt, or heard … yet exists to run our lives.

Based on this “Godly” perspective, not only are we born by God’s choice, but it is God who decides everything for us from that point on. And think on this — if God is the determining factor in a person’s life choices, it could be said it is God who decides whether a baby will be aborted! (Take that right-to-lifers!)

Thus, according to this school of thought, anyone who believes in individual free will is living under an illusion.
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As I mentioned elsewhere, this is a topic where neither side can be declared a “winner.” Nonetheless, it makes for fascinating discussions since multiple scenarios can be presented to “prove” one viewpoint over the other. And that prompts me to say … “Have at it!” What’s your take on the subject? Do you agree with me or “the others” … and why?

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22 thoughts on “Who Decides? You or God?

  1. I look forward to reading the comments here. I feel our choices in life are far more limited than most realize. Our choice of choices are determined by things far beyond our control. I exist and thus I try to make the best I can with what I can. What I have and can do is far less than some and more than others. I try not to judge unless I’m in my arm chair pontificating. Then all I do is judge, though I’m always shocked when people listen. $Amen$

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  2. The major discussion around the topic is generally divided between those who believe humans possess free will (as defined above), and those who are certain our actions are dictated by a higher power.

    Far be it from me to disagree with anyone, but I see a third alternative – choices that may at first appear to be “free,” but are actually not.

    First, let me say at the onset something that should surprise no one – I completely reject any divine manipulation of my decisions.

    Can a person who, though some accident of birth, some malfunction of cerebral wiring that results on that person’s developing sociopathic tendencies, CHOOSE to be empathic, to feel and care about others? Can a gay person choose to have an interest in a sexual partner of the opposite sex? I could go on and list other conditions that induce behaviors that we are powerless to resist presenting, but I’ve no doubt you can fill in your own blanks.

    Then we have the influence of early child-hood conditioning, both by instruction and by example. Again, I could fill space by listing a myriad of these, but there’s no need, as subjectively, each of you knows what those were, individually, for you.

    And after considering all of the above, we still have remaining the question, is it REALLY free will, or merely the illusion of free will – and how do we know but what we’re answering that question BASED on the illusion that whichever answer we choose, may itself be an illusion of correctness.

    Maybe circumstances, such as wiring and early environmental influences have limited, for each of us, the number of choices available to us (individually), and we are free to choose from among them.

    I can’t answer it, so I will simply pretend that the choices I make are free and keep putting one foot in front of the other as if they are.

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  3. Arch, your points are well made — and worth pondering.

    I admit I didn’t take into account the external factors you suggested. They definitely add another layer to the discussion.

    For me, I can’t help but believe our place in life (and thus, our choices/decisions) is based more on the evolutionary process rather than some super-being who controls from afar. So in that, I guess we are in agreement.

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    • The biggest complaint I have when this argument/discussion is brought up is when it is connected to the Christian ideas around free will. They’re based in the unquestionable premise that Jeebus exists and everything ties back to the him and the Bible somehow. THOSE free will arguments are like a slow root canal being done on me with no anesthesia. Take that silliness away, and we’re left with a discussion on the neuroscience involved with “free will.” Sam Harris has a very good little book he wrote on this topic which I’d recommend to anyone interested. His conclusions coincide very much with what arch has said. I’m fairly certain Victoria would say much the same thing as well.

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  4. OK guys — sorry if I’m boring you. 😦

    Seriously, as I said, this is a topic that will never be “won” by either side. It’s just fascinating (at least to me) to learn what other people think. I guess I’m weird (no comments!) but I sorta’ dig “deep” stuff.

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    • I guess I’m weird (no comments!) – that ship has sailed – “but I sorta’ dig ‘deep’ stuff.

      As do I, but some things, like, “Am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming I’m a man?” are so insoluble, they’re not worth a lot of time spent in contemplation, when there’s so much living out there to do.

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  5. You’re not at all boring. It only becomes a boring discussion when everything has to tie back into a belief in the christian god in order for the discussion to have meaning. Take that away, and we can discuss more precisely what is free will? What is the nature of consciousness? Is there a will free from the “us” our hereditary and environments made? How much choice in who and what we are do we really have? These are not boring questions. Not to me any way. But, telling me I’m destined to this or that fate by god, yet I’m still free not to be even though I still am, well, that’s boring and redundant to me.

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  6. I understand, Jeff (and Arch). I guess I haven’t read as much on the topic as you. I just recently starting following more blogs (previously only 2 or 3, now about a dozen or so) so I wasn’t aware of the extent it’s been washed, rinsed, and dried.

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    • I wasn’t either until I, like you are now, started following the topic on blogs about a year or so ago. I really got a pretty good grasp on the subject from Sam Harris’ book “Free Will.” I understood it. A lot of what’s discussed on the topic I don’t get. Maybe I’m too dumb, but it just wrecks my noodle and seems to go nowhere. Check out Wikipedia on free will. There are so many subsections and sub-subsections on types of will that my head spins. Your post is excellent. It takes a very inquisitive and intelligent person to question the nature of free will, especially when you take Jeebus out of the picture. I’m very sorry if I gave you the impression I was being critical of you for asking the questions on this that you are. I’ve got too big a mouth most of the time. 🙂

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  7. Although I don’t know much about this topic, in my opinion Wikipedia offers the best explanation:
    ….The ability of agents to make choices unimpeded by certain prevailing factors….

    Can somebody describe a situation without any prevailing factors? Can you escape from the influence of your upbringing, your environment, your nature? Yes, you can want to be an chemist or a physicist, but that is because your preferences go into that direction. Art or literature are options on the same professional level, but your inclinations tell you that you don’t want those alternatives. So, you can certainly make a choice, but you cannot WANT to make THAT particular choice. So my argument is that free will is a delusion.

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  8. Good points Federico!

    For me, I guess I’m just too independent. I want to believe the decisions I make in life are my own. The idea that my life is being ruled by some super-being in the great beyond just doesn’t sit well with me.

    I do agree that our decisions are influenced by many external factors, but to my way of thinking, they are still OUR decisions.

    As Arch and Inspired have noted, this subject has been pretty well scraped to its core, so I’m going to close any further comments since they most likely will just be a rehash of what has been said on numerous other blogs. Besides, now that I’ve had my “say” on the subject, I feel better. 🙂

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