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the impossibility of free will

September 10, 2007

“In order to know that our wills are determined by no cause, we should have to know every possible cause in the entire universe. Nothing could be allowed to escape our mind. To be conscious of free will therefore requires omniscience. Hence there is no consciousness of free will; what its exponents take as consciousness of free will is simply the unconsciousness of determination.” –Gordon Clark: Religion, Reason and Revelation, “God and Evil” (in Vol. 4, Christian Philosophy, p. 262)

Not only am I unable to determine the cause of my will’s determination, but I have no ability to know all possible options from which I make such a determination, as this, too, would require omniscience.

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13 Comments
  1. September 10, 2007 10:21 pm

    Hmmm. Somehow it doesn’t quite remind me of Westminster.

  2. September 11, 2007 6:28 am

    Not even a philosophical drag race to the same conclusion?

    Actually Clark refers to the Reformation Principles for a clearer explication of “the absolute necessity of nature” on p. 258 of the volume I cited.

  3. September 11, 2007 8:54 am

    No, actually. Ch. IX of the Westminster Confession affirms free will.

  4. September 11, 2007 9:13 am

    Quoting Clark, “Now the Westminster Confession indeed speaks of the natural liberty of man’s will. The first paragraph of Chapter IX is: ‘God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good or evil.’

    “These phrases could seem to be accommodations to the theory of free will, but they can seem so only because the meaning of the phrase ‘absolute necessity of nature’ has been mistaken. The Reformation Principles…makes a clearer statement when it condemns as an error the view that man ‘is necessarily impelled to choose or act as an unconscious machine’….They are certainly to be taken as consistent with the Confession’s chapter on the divine decree. Here again the Reformation Principles is quite clear, for the immediately following error denounced is ‘that he can will or act independently of the purpose or the providence of God.’ If the meaning of these phrases has been forgotten by some present-day writers, the remedy lies in reading the discussion of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”

    I’ve heard this addressed succinctly as simply, “we are free to do God’s will.”

  5. September 11, 2007 4:24 pm

    I don’t think Reformed theology has traditionally (though I may speak as a fool here) acknowledged a tensions between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. God is the free creator: by His decree the liberty and contingency of second causes are established. The question of the bondage of the will, or of determination as opposed to freedom, comes in with total depravity, not with God’s exhaustive sovereignty.
    Daniel Dennett’s “The Illusion of Conscious Will” (title reproduced from memory, so may be inaccurate) was what leaped to mind. And isn’t Clark’s proposition convertible? Without omniscience we don’t know that our wills are determined in any sense that would violate their liberty or contingency.

  6. September 11, 2007 4:55 pm

    There is no tension, that’s the point. God’s sovereignty and man’s free will would be logically inconsistent. We may experience free will, but it is nonetheless subject to God’s sovereign direction. Contingency, or its ultimate manifesto, open theology, just isn’t possible.

    I would not venture to “convert” Clark’s proposition. Logical propositions are unidirectional. Definitions are not always reversible; they are only in cases of identity. Free will and divine sovereignty are non-identical. But I am not sure this accurately answers your question. I do think we are given to know without omniscience that our wills are determined by an ultimate source, or we could not refer to our exercise as a second cause.

  7. September 12, 2007 7:40 am

    But that is just the point at issue: according to Westminster, God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are *not* logically inconsistent. Hence the insistence that it is through God’s sovereignty that the *contingency* of second causes, as well as their liberty, is established.

  8. scribbles2day permalink
    September 12, 2007 9:03 am

    For free will advocates omniscience is something assumed.

    I believe an excellent, excellent example of this would be the democrats. They’re all over the map and they constantly contradict themselves.

    Question: Since ‘free will’ is related to self-trust, wouldn’t an authority give the impression of omniscience concerning a subject? I think this would dispell the notion of earthly authorities. Good thing my hope is in God!

  9. September 12, 2007 9:46 am

    Ruben: Is a second cause that has an ultimate *cause* freely caused?

    Scribster: Good thing indeed!

  10. scribbles2day permalink
    September 12, 2007 10:35 am

    This omniscient thing is a really good case for epistemology!

    Yes, wouldn’t an authority give the impression of omniscience concerning a subject?

  11. September 12, 2007 10:42 am

    A non-divine authority could only be qualified, not omniscient, and the qualification would necessarily have to be supported by Scripture. Dr. Gordon Clark is a Scripturalist: a presuppositionalist whose epistemology is Scriptural revelation.

  12. scribbles2day permalink
    September 13, 2007 1:20 pm

    Are you saying that scripturalism and scriptural revelation are the only God-ordained means of knowing?

  13. September 13, 2007 1:58 pm

    It depends: of knowing what? Of knowing what God wishes us to know about Him, yes. Of knowing how to dispose of electronic debris in Tacoma, no.

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