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Q&A: On The Relationship Between Outside Nature Forming Features and Libertarian Free Will

Hello Mr. Minton

Thank you so much again! If you don’t mind, I have another question. This has nothing to do with regressions this time, but about free will. 

About two years ago, I discovered the view of determinism. It was the first time I heard of it and it shocked me a lot when I read articles. One specific article really got me and I still find myself wrestling with it. Since I believe that the Bible is true in everything in teaches, I don’t believe in determinism. But just like you who was shaken my the problem of divine hiddenness for years, I am still bothered by the article I read.

The best way to express my question is this: If factors outside of ourselves help shape our nature, and our free will/choices is based on our nature, wouldn’t this mean that outside factors technically determine our choices? Where is free will here?

I don’t remember the article title anymore, but I still vaguely remember the example given there. I will rephrase it. Imagine you are in a restaurant. Some years ago, you tasted steak for the first time and was pleased with the flavor. You became a person who loves steak. So as you sit on the restaurant table and looked at the menu, you chose to order steak. This choice was predetermined.

I think the article has a point. For example you met an accident and developed a trauma. Your trauma changed you and so your actions are affected by it. The accident you met basically changed your nature, so couldn’t one say that outside factors (in this case, the accident) determined your choice? It seems like outside factors (perhaps directly or indirectly) affects our choices in the future.

Now obviously I know there’s got to be something wrong with this thinking, since God clearly teaches us that we have free will. I just don’t know where the mistake lies. Could you please give me your insight on the matter? Thank you and have a great day.

You’re right that our natures determine our choices to an extent. This is what compatiblists get right. What they get wrong is in saying that our natures determine precisely what we choose. The Soft Libertarian position is that our natures determine, not our specific choices, but the range of choices we are able to choose from. So, for example, it is consistent with my nature to play a Pokemon game or a Legend Of Zelda game, or to not play any video games and read a theology or philosophy textbook. These are all consistent with who I am as a person, so how can it be that whichever I choose, my nature determined me to make that specific choice? All of them are in accord with my nature, so why did my nature determine me to, say, play Pokemon Sword instead of The Legend Of Zelda? 

To use your specific example, suppose I go to a restaurant and, because I like steak, I choose to order the steak. But there are other items on the menu I equally enjoy, such as a Fried Chicken dish with a side of corn and mashed potatoes. What is it about my nature that would determine me to pick one instead of the other? They’re both consistent with my taste in meals.

It does make sense to think our natures prohibit what we can choose. I can choose between a variety of alternate possibilities in any given situation, but I can’t, for example, torture a kitten or drown an infant. Such morally abominable acts are too evil for someone like me to commit.

So, I think it’s proper to say that we can choose between a range of options each consistent with our natures. This applies to moral choices as well as non-moral choices. I can choose to mouth off to someone who disrespects me or I can choose to stay silent. I can choose to ogle a scantily clad woman who crosses my path or I can avert my eyes. When I get mad, I can choose to take the Lord’s name in vain, or I can choose not to. I can choose to lie or to tell the truth. And so on. 

Now, when it comes to factors outside of our control that shape who we are, I don’t think that robs us of our freedom. If someone is predisposed to angry outbursts because of a bad upbringing or a mental illness, he can still choose to try to suppress his anger or let it all out. He can choose to go to Anger Management or let his problem persist until he gets into trouble. 

So I don’t think you ought to be troubled by what this article said. There was a bit of truth to it, but the conclusions were overstated. Our natures restrain the number of choices we can make in a given situation, but they don’t remove our ability to choose between alternatives. 

One final note about nature forming. Our natures aren’t formed only by factors outside of our control. We can change our natures through making a series of choices. If you imagine the limit of options we can choose as a fence, what I’m saying is that we can move the fence. Not immediately, but over time. I like to call these “Free Will Bridges”. Making choice after choice after choice (one a little worse or better) until they’re able to do something they were previously unable to. Christians have experienced this with being kind to people they used to hate. It was hard at first, but eventually, it became second nature through continuing to make the choice to love their enemies. Sex addicts sometimes become really deviant through doing something a little kinkier, and then something a little kinkier, and then something a little kinkier, until they’re doing things so perverted that years ago they would never even think of choosing to those things.

As Kenneth Keathley said in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, We make choices, and our choices make us.” So a person could, after a period of time of making morally worse choices, eventually get to the point where they can commit the worst of atrocities. And vice versa, a person can improve their moral character through a series of choices until doing a particular good thing is either now possible (whereas it was not before) or at least not as difficult as it once was. 

Now, I know that some readers are going to be wondering about our ability to choose to receive Christ for salvation. Do we really have free will to do that? After all, John 6:44 and John 6:65 say that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them. Well, that’s the thing; by nature we are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), and unless God draws us, we will not and cannot choose to receive Christ. Fortunately for us, in John 12:32 Jesus says that He draws all people to Himself. But this drawing is not irresistible. Acts 7:51 makes it clear that people can resist The Holy Spirit. And Matthew 7:13 says some will go down the road that leads to destruction. But The Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts and enables us to choose to receive Him or reject Him. To go more in depth about this, check out my blog post “What Biblical Evidence Is There For Prevenient Grace?” 

For arguments for the existence of Free Will, check out my blog post “5 Arguments For The Existence Of Free Will.” Some of these are biblically based arguments, others are philosophical arguments that don’t hinge on believing The Bible is inspired (e.g The FreeThinking Argument). 

If you have any questions about Christian theology or apologetics, send Mr. Minton an E-mail at It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or Non-Christian, whether your question is about doubts you’re having or about something you read in The Bible that confused you. Send your question in, whatever it may be, and Mr. Minton will respond in a blog post just like this one.

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