Can God be philosophically compatible with free will?

It seems to me that God can’t have free will, because were God to be pure actuality it would mean necessarily that he is immutable. For all change is simply a transfer from potentiality to actuality, so to be completely devoid of potentiality also means to be completely devoid of the elements of change. Now if we are to agree that were God to have a will it would have to follow the rest of his existence on the basis of his essence (that being complete actuality/perfection and thus immutable) then it would follow that such would also be unchanging, and thus unchangeable. But to hold free will must mean that you have within yourself the capacity to think and choose freely on the basis of choice, which necessitates the possibility of change. But God cannot change, therefore he cannot have free will. If the Bible affirms God has free will, how do we deal with the logic against his free will philosophically?

1 Like

Here then, I’ll simplify my argument:
P1) To be devoid of all potentiality is to be immutable
P2) God is devoid of all potentiality
C1) Therefore God is immutable
P3) You must have the elements of change within you to have free will
P4) God is immutable and thus does not hold the elements of change
C2) Therefore God does not have free will

1 Like

Free will means “no compulsion by a superior power”, “not being moved by an agent”.
It has nothing to do with the idea of potential choices, which is a temporal phenomenon apparently, rather than actually, by thinking that does not comprehend the soul and its powers.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Thelolgiae, Part 1, Q19, Article 10. Whether God has free-will?

I answer that, We have free-will with respect to what we will not of necessity, nor be natural instinct. For our will to be happy does not appertain to free-will, but to natural instinct. Hence other animals, that are moved to act by natural instinct, are not said to be moved by free-will. Since then God necessarily wills His own goodness, but other things not necessarily, as shown above (Article 3), He has free will with respect to what He does not necessarily will.


@John_Martin God still seems to be constrained into acting in only a particular manner demanded by necessity of his nature and therefore not an agent which may choose to act in a given manner as opposed to another manner. Is free will then not the acting in one way but nonetheless holding the ability to act in another? If not so, then were we to say God has free will we cannot imply that he thus had the ability to choose anything other than creation.

@Vico So God being only determined in will towards his own good allows for him to be free in his will on subjects beyond himself? But that means he can change in his will towards subjects, of course. But change necessitates potency, does it not? That be so, he cannot change in his will towards subjects, right?

The logic is flawed, Yes GOD is immutable but that applies to him HE does not change but HE has free will, in as much as HE chose to create the Universe. HE could have chosen NOT to create in which case neither of us would be here second guessing HIM.

1 Like

Here’s the thing @JerryZ, if we acknowledge that the will of a being is an aspect of their existence, than the nature of that existence carries over to the will as well. Were, for example, something to not exist, then it also does not hold the capacity to will as well, of course. Now if God’s existence is the same as his essence (which would be pure actuality) then his existence would be purely immutable, and thus not subject to change. That be so, it does not seem to me, from that logic, that God can’t have our concept of free will. If my reasoning is wrong, please, correct me. I’m not trying to second guess God, I’m simply trying to get past a philosophical challenge.

God knows everything. His knowledge does not change. And he effects his will perfectly. What he wills eternally is absolutely what he wants. The notion that he would change his will (when he already knows everything and effects his will perfectly) would itself imply that God is imperfect. His will is also not itself caused by anything external to him, but stems entirely from his own act. God’s will and judgment, if you reflect upon it, is the most perfectly free.

With regard to creatures keep in mind that any type of creation, whether the smallest creation or the largest (if we even have such limits) do not add to God in any way. God is already perfectly fulfilled, a larger creation doesn’t fulfill God anymore than the smallest creation or even no creation. Therefore there should be no divine obligation to making any one particular universe over another. His choice of how to create contingent creatures (or whether to at all) is therefore a free choice.

I do think we can say that any creation God makes must be good. That is there is no possibility of a creation which is gratuitously evil or a creation that has no good (there are reasons to call such a thing absurd).

@Wesrock I see. So what I said is true in so far that his will is unchanging, yes? And this is both true in that he cannot be changed in will by an externality or an internality (for that would imply that God has not yet attained a given perfection in an aspect of his existence, specifically will). That be so, what would you define as free will? For it seems to me that free will is the ability to act in one given way yet hold within you the possibility to act in an alternative way as well. But if God is unchanging in his will by both external and internal force, how could God choose to act in any other given way then the way he has chosen to act?

The effects of God’s eternal will could have been different if God chose differently, but the choice that God chose is immutable. Not because of any imperfection on God’s part, but precisely because he is perfect. Thomists make a distinction between passive potency and active potency. Without going into much detail passive potency is how I can be acted on and changed by external things. Active potency is how the effects I produce could be different. There is no passive potency in God, but there is active potency insofar as God has the power to effect things which he has chosen not to do.

Our language and way of thinking isn’t very well suited to the notion of eternity. What’s ultimately of concern though is agency over one’s own actions between different possibilities, whether that be once-for-all (eternally-for-all?) or because imperfect creatures like us act with imperfect knowledge and changing appetites which pull us in different directions. The important point is not about being able to do action A one moment and then decide to do action B the next. It’s that the actor is an actual agent in his actions, that he chooses by internal principles and isn’t just moved about like a puppet just by externalities.

I’m terrible at breaking down philosophical arguments but I’ll give it my best shot.

God’s Will is unchanging in that He is immutable but He is perfectly capable of acting one way or another in His actions. Let’s use the Incarnation as an example: God chose to give mankind salvation through the Incarnation and His eventual Passion and death. He could have chosen another way to save mankind and it would have been equally as good.

I might be missing the mark a bit here but it’s the best I’ve got. And if I have slid into heresy somebody please correct me.

Since God chooses to be unchanging, God has free will.

Again flawed logic, GOD does not change in HIS essence it remains the same. HIS will also remains the same. HE chose and does not change.
It is the same for the Angels, even though they are not in the same category as GOD since they are creatures, they are beings with free will.
They chose when they were created either to serve GOD or not.
Once they made the choice it cannot change since they exist where Time does not exist. GOD on the other hand is an uncreated being and has existed forever HE has no beginning or end but everything that does exist has HIM as the beginning. HE willed you, me, us, the Universe all of creation.

Article 7:

I answer that, The will of God is entirely unchangeable. On this point we must consider that to change the will is one thing; to will that certain things should be changed is another.

“Will” is always “already deliberated”, “Will” is never “undecided”. And, being omnipotent, nothing can change the determination of the Holy Spirit (the “Will” of God, of which you are speaking, is a “Single-Minded” Person, not an “attribute of a deity”).

Some users like me, are not good in English.

Hi Jerry! What’s up?

I think God, has free will to do every possible work, if else God would be limited and God philosophically is not limited.

@Wesrock so, correct me if I’m wrong, but what you’re saying is that God has free will, in a sense, due to his will being completely unchangeable by external agents rather than him having an ability to alter his will? For were his nature completely constant and immutable his will must follow as well, correct? But doesn’t that seem to suggest that God, being completely unchanging in will, is more or less like an automaton; His nature (like perhaps A.I code) is already set in place and unchanging, and thus all actions are actions directly stemming from such nature (A.I code). But that be the case, how can we say God chose to create rather than say he had to create (not on the basis of external influence but rather by an internal determined nature)? I’m sorry if I’m not catching on, I feel rather dumb for not getting it :sweat_smile:

Definitely don’t feel dumb. Eternity and immutability are difficult concepts for us. We don’t work that way, and nothing else really works that way. There is no moment of time where God went from undecided to decided. His will is eternal. Yet we also know that God’s power is such that it in principle could have effected other things but did not.

[C]orrect me if I’m wrong, but what you’re saying is that God has free will, in a sense, due to his will being completely unchangeable by external agents rather than him having an ability to alter his will? For were his nature completely constant and immutable his will must follow as well, correct?

Yes. But also that his will effected one possible result of his powers instead of others which were within his power.

But doesn’t that seem to suggest that God, being completely unchanging in will, is more or less like an automaton; His nature (like perhaps A.I code) is already set in place and unchanging, and thus all actions are actions directly stemming from such nature (A.I code).

An A.I. code is a code programmed by some externality. Furthermore God is Simple (he is not composed of parts). God’s nature is God himself, and God is his nature. His nature is not something different from who or what he is. It is not something imposed upon him, some add on that could possibly have been different, or even some result of processes outside himself. If actions stem from his nature, they stem from God and who God is.

God is also not just an unchanging boulder that persists through duration. He is eternally active in effecting his will. And unlike an automaton, God is the agent and director of his action and not just an instrument of a programmer.

This will take two posts…

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit