What this post is not
This is not a positive argument demonstrating the existence of free will. I believe that is a question better suited to:
- Philosophy - showing that it is irrational to believe you do not have free will
- Theology - showing that free will is a gift from God and an essential part of His plan
What this post is
This is a negative argument addressing the following proposition:
- The Biblical text indicates that humans do not have free will
I believe this proposition is demonstrably false on at least two counts:
Passages giving commands that would be pointless if humans lacked free will
The idea that "knowing something in advance is the same as causing it" is a false equivalence.
Passages that pre-suppose free will
[C]hoose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your
fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods
of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house,
we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)
Joshua explicitly tells the people to choose--this is something they cannot do if they lack free will. Joshua acknowledges that there are people who have done something different (worshipping false gods), but that it is not a foregone conclusion that people must necessarily do as those in the past have done.
Joshua further states what he will do; meaning he has the ability to direct his own actions.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it
shall be opened unto you: (Matthew 7:7)
This statement would be pointless unless the opposite is also true:
- Don't ask, and it shall not be given you
- Don't seek, and ye shall not find
- Don't knock, and it shall not be opened unto you
Jesus is inviting people to do something. Doing vs. not doing that something will produce different results.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but
God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye
are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape,
that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13)
If God sets a limit on temptation to the level a person is able to bear, that means a person is able to resist temptation, and we are not mere molecular machines that cannot help doing whatever feels good (clearly some people wish to believe otherwise, and I suspect many today argue against free will in an effort to justify doing whatever they want).
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts:
and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and
to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)
God is merciful and wishes to pardon sins; this is inconsistent with a God who gives commandments that people cannot choose to keep, and then punishes them for not making choices they had no ability to make in the first place.
One might ask, at least rhetorically, what is the point of giving a commandment to someone who cannot choose to keep or break that commandment?
If people lacked free will, the commandments would only serve to damn people. The passage indicates that damnation is not a foregone conclusion, but that it is indeed possible for someone to change course.
Foreknowledge is not equivalent to causality
If prediction = causality, consider how absurdly powerful that would make me. I can predict that the sun will rise tomorrow. In fact, I can even predict with precision at what time it will rise. If my prediction is accurate, does that mean I caused the sun to rise?? Would the sun fail to rise were it not for my prediction?
Obviously this is absurd. I'm not that powerful. I can predict things without causing them.
There are neuroscientists have tried to get around this, and their results, far from disproving free will, showed that not only is prediction not causality, but compulsion can't touch the will. A person can be compelled to raise his arm, but a person cannot be compelled to will to raise his arm.
The classic Libet experiments, and repetitions thereof, showed that the brain can indeed do many things on autopilot (did you remember to breathe while reading this?), but that the mind has the ability to override the autopilot--this resulted in the coining of the term "free won't". Even when scientists could predict what would happen, they could not stimulate the will.
These neuroscientific findings are discussed by Michael Egnor here and Michael Jones here.
Divine foreordination is a topic for theological discussion, but it is entirely compatible with the view that God, despite a) knowing what will happen and b) being powerful enough to make different things happen, nevertheless sets bounds within which people can choose for themselves.
I personally subscribe to the succinct statement on free will found here.