Sunday, February 28, 2010

Excerpt from "Mere Christianity" on Free Will

I was reading "Mere Christianity" today, which is written by one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis. There is a reason that this book is considered classic - Lewis is very wise and writes in a way that is easy to understand. In the section "What Christians Believe," I found this one part about free will. Perhaps now this section should be defined as "What Some Christians Believe" because it seems to go against much of what Calvinism and reformed theology teaches. Now, free will is defined many different ways, and I will let the reader decide for him or herself which kind of free will C.S. Lewis is talking about. I agree with what most of what Lewis says here. You might notice that he makes no mention of the "secret decrees of God" when explaining human sin. The question is also brought up: If God knew that man was going to sin, why would He allow it, or give them free will at all? Also, How could God truly be in charge, if His creatures break His laws?



One of the reasons I'm posting this is that recently, in a rebuttal to on my blogs, Michael Brusuelas wrote here, in response to my statement that "God gave man free will, and seems to prefer interacting and relating to people who can choose to respond to Him," that there were:
"Two major problems with this. For one, notice how “free will” is presupposed. Free will is mentioned so often in discussions of God’s providence yet it is hardly argued for."
[As a side note, this was in the context of the debate about irresistible grace, and to me, it seems that free will must be presupposed in order to debate whether grace is irresistible, because if there is no free will then everything is irresistible and grace would be no exception.]

Later in the same blog, when responding to my thoughts that God has let man choose from the beginning, he says
"Notice the assumption being made here? Let us even assume that Adam had complete free will, which is not an assumption many would be so generous as to grant it. How would it follow that this says anything about the condition of man this day? Sure, it is said that this situation is God’s ideal, but does not the entirety of human history exist in the fallout of Original Sin? Every descendent of Adam has a will that is enslaved to sin that they were born with and did not ask for. To assert that “it’s always been this way” is to assume what is in question."


I am not concerned in this particular blog to argue that free will (The idea that we are free agents: we determines our own choices, and they are not externally determined) is true. However, I do think that if one reads the Bible to see the straight-forward obvious meaning of things, free will is apparent. I think that most people who become christians start with the presupposition of free will, and that's why this section that I'm going to quote somehow wound up in a section called "What Christians Believe" as part of a book called "Mere Christianity," which is a book that is respected by many many christians. One might say that, in that case, I am not actually supporting the presupposition of free will, but merely showing that a lot of people presuppose it! That is quite true. I do think there are many good reasons to assume free will, but I'm not getting into that now. See, I have said previously that free will is obvious, and if something is obvious, one would expect it to be obvious to many people, even respected ones. If something were obvious, one might expect it to wind up in a book called something like "mere christianity." I am here supporting my claim that it is quite common for free will to be presupposed, because it is palpably obvious.

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Excerpt from "Mere Christianity", Book II "What Christians Believe", Section 3 "The Shocking Alternative":

Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the present the Prince of this World. And, of course, that raises problems. Is this state of affairs in accordance with God's will or not? If it is, He is a strange God, you will say: and if it is not, how can anything happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?

But anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, "I'm not going to go and make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You've got to learn to keep it tidy on your own." Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That is against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.

It is probably the same in the universe. God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata-of creatures that worked like machines-would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will-that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings-then we may take it it is worth paying.

When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me: "Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?" The better stuff a creature is made of-the cleverer and stronger and freer it is-then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best-or worst-of all.

How did the Dark Power go wrong? Here, no doubt, we ask a question to which human beings cannot give an answer with any certainty. A reasonable (and traditional) guess, based on our own experiences of going wrong, can, however, be offered. The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting Yourself first-wanting to be the centre-wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. (The story in the Book of Genesis rather suggests that some corruption in our sexual nature followed the fall and was its result, not its cause.) What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could "be like gods"-could set up on their own as if they had created themselves-be their own masters-invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history-money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery-the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

9 comments:

Silas Reinagel said...

What great excerpts from such a wonderful book!

By the way, your usage of such a broad array of tags makes them nearly meaningless. You might want to stick to fewer, but broader categories of blogs, and be consistent in your labeling of them.

Josh said...

I was just re-reading this again today, and when you say free will is palpably aobvious, it reminded me of the story of the Emperor's Clothes b/c it really doesn't matter, sadly, if something is palpably obvious, until someone point's out to them in a way they get, 2+2 will always equal 5, the Emperor will always have on clothes, (even though he so amusingly doesn't) and we will never be considered to have real free will.

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