Free will and the power to do good

we have free will.but free will doesn’t give us the power not to sin.So if we have no power are we really free to do the right thing?I recently looked at a video on a serial killer named Jeff Dahmer.It appeared that even though he knew that murder was wrong he couldn’t control his behavior.While he was in the supervision of his grandmother or the army he was able to control his behavior and even feel good with his accomplishments.When he was in boot camp and AIC training(about a year total)he didn’t drink or have homosexual relations.But once he was given freedom(shipped over seas and no direct supervisor watching his every action)he went back to his drinking and eventually discharged as an alcoholic.Now as to children.a child has a brother.the brother takes the childs’s toy and the child gets mad and they fight.Now its a sin to fight.The child has the free will not to get mad at his brother for taking his toy.But he does get mad and therefore sins.I will say that this is a normal occurence.Even though the child knew (his parents told him not to fight in the past and not to lose his temper)he didn’t seem to have the power (or he was not aware of the power)not to get angry with his brother and try to get his toy back when his brother said “no I want it”.So as in the case with Dahmer.he’s obviously guilty for drinking,homosexual behavior and killing.But if he didn’t have the power to stop on his own,how guilty is he?

We have free will but we also have original sin. Unfortunately, the human race gives in to temptation often because our fallen nature has an inclination to sin. But you say, “free will doesn’t give us the power not to sin.” We have the power not to sin, but humans are fallible creatures which make mistakes often. But the way you speak of the subject you make it sound like if I start shoplifting I will never be able to stop and will never have control over a sin once I have a taste of it. This is false. Yes, most of humanity has sinned but that doesnt mean we have no power over sin and cant control it.

You site children and the criminally insane as proof that we have little power over sin. Children make mistakes and do childish things. That doesnt mean we have no control over sin. It means that we have a fallen nature which causes us to have selfish tendencies like the first child to steal the toy and the second to argue over it. The serial killer is unfortunately insane and cannot help a lot of what he does. His free will is hindered by mental disorders and other problems. We can only trust that God will know this and we can remember that “to whom much is given much is expected” This man hasnt been given as easy a life as us and has a lot he has to fight against therefore we can pray for this man and hope that God will help him. Hope this helps

So you’re saying that the child didn’t sin he made a mistake.THanks for the post.All in all I thought it very good.

Excellent observations!

Here are my thoughts:
There are 3 motivations of free will: Personal, Others, and God
When free will is personally motivated, it seeks to do that which is best for oneself. Though this can appear seemingly gratifying to the person, it will most likely negatively affect others.
When free will is extrinsically motivated by others, it seeks to do that which is best for others This motivation is seemingly righteous for its self-less approach. However, due to its selfless nature, this will likely become fatigued and feel under-appreciated.
When free will is motivated by God, it seeks to do that which is BEST. This motivation will lead to far greater peace(health), happiness, and longevity(energy) than a person can imagine!

About “How guilty are others for the wrongdoings they commit, given they do not how to overcome the desires?”
I think it is important to consider 2 things when attempting to “judge” the quality of guilt of a person’s actions:

  1. James 4:11-12 ESV
    Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
  2. Take great consideration when judging a “wrongdoing” as sinful. A sin is a willful violation of the Law of God. Great insight into the mind of the accused is necessary.

Thank you very much for your questions! I hope I have helped you find better understanding because you have helped me find greater understanding into my belief in the Catholic Faith!

Well I think the Church says that up to a certain point the child isnt responsible because they dont understand that what they are doing is wrong. Only when they start to become responsible does the Church step in by introducing the the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist around the age of 7 or 8.

thanks alot.very good stuff.

I usually tie in the idea of free will with charity/love that comes from Christ versus the law. When you grow up you know what the law is since you’ve learned what bad and good are and you also know what charity is since you’ve heard God’s word. You get to choose between the two; bad or Good, Satan or Christ. However, when you’re really young or insane, you may know what the law is (maybe it depends on how insane you are =P), but you probably don’t know what charity is since you don’t have the faculties for thinking about it. at the same time, little kids can love too, without knowing what Jesus has to do about it, and of course they can believe in Jesus, so even though they may lack that connection about Jesus fulfilling the law with love, they can still go to heaven, and so in a way they do have a sort of free will to choose between loving or not.

Found an interesting article by David Eagleman on this pretty much this very subject. It’s a bit of a slog to get through, but the crux of it is that free will, such as we tend to think of it, is a matter of the brain’s centres of rationality (primarily the frontal lobes) exerting control over the parts that produce the impulses to act in antisocial or destructive ways. One can’t simplistically say that a person is not responsible for actions brought about by his or her biological makeup, because there isn’t any meaningful sense in which the person is separable from the biology.

thanks for that interesting link.

we have free will.but free will doesn’t give us the power not to sin.

It does, actually. The problem is that the path of righteousness is so narrow that it is possible to sin even when attempting in good faith to walk it.

Of course, will is not the only consideration. Other factors – such as psychopathology, habituation, coercion, etc. – can mitigate one’s culpability for sin. We are as much creatures of flesh as of spirit, after all, and the body is prone to disorder.

Eagleman’s view is nicely summed up in one sentence:

“My colleagues and I are proposing a new approach, one that grows from the understanding that the brain operates like a team of rivals, with different neural populations competing to control the single output channel of behavior.”

In other words we are not responsible in any way whatsoever for our thoughts and decisions because they are - allegedly - produced by factors over which we have no control… Even “our” intellect is not “ours” because it is just the product of a brain. According to Eagleman’s scheme of things “we” don’t even exist! Everything without exception is no more than a configuration of matter… trapped in purposeless permutations of atomic particles… :eek:

Its seems to me that if a child learns what is right from his parents then If his parents don’t show him whats right(in fact he sets a bad example)the only way he learns whats not right is from society.In other words say this boy of 8 is a petty thief.he’s never been reprimanded by his parents(maybe his father is gone most of the time or he swears alot when he is at home)so he only learns what is wrong by knowing what society is against or what society punishes him for.

But i still believe that we feel some things are wrong no matter what anybody or society says.We have in us some ability to make a choice .It may be small but its in each of us.

Part of Eagleman’s point is that it’s not meaningful to make a distinction between the person and the biological makeup of the body and brain. As I’ve said before, it’s kind of absurd to excuse an action by saying, “It wasn’t me - it was my brain.” Is my beating heart not part of ‘me’ because ‘I’ have no conscious control over it? A person is not a floating consciousness grafted onto a biomechanical body, but a fully integrated system - every part of what we are makes us who we are.

If we deny we can choose we deny without having chosen to deny! :slight_smile:

Thank you for confirming you believe we are who (and what) we are because we are made by our parts. In your scheme of things we are products not agents because persons are fictions…

So that would make a person guiltless.Right?

If I understand this correctly you’re implying that everything is dependent on his body chemistry.That nothing comes from outside.That there is nothing spritual in man except his thought of spirituality.That there is no higher power(God)influencing him in any way.That man has noa spiritual dimension as well as a physical.That all his actions are do to heredical genes or some sociological influence.Its makes for a good debate but i just don’t believe it.I don’t think all of man’s thoughts come just from himself.I believe there is something good in man which he can;t explain no matter how evil he may be.Hitler had some good in him which he couldn’t escape.He may have been almost fully evil but this body,mind had some bit of good(man’s nature tends toward evil)because man’s nature(part is good,his mind is part good)and it can never be completely eliminated.

In what sense does a person become a fiction by being acknowledged as a product of biological processes? You’re so attached to the concept of an immaterial soul that floats into the body at conception and out of it at death that any denial of this undetectable entity seems to you to be a denial of the person. My scheme of things does not deny the agency of persons - it merely recognises that personhood is in all likelihood a property of complex arrangements of matter and energy such as humans, not something that merely inhabits a human body whilst remaining fundamentally separate from it. It makes absolutely no sense to say that because the decisions that influence my behaviour are made in the form of biochemical impulses in my brain, these are somehow not ‘my’ decisions.

You’re quite right that I don’t acknowledge any God in the sense of God being a ‘higher’, supernatural entity. I understand God quite differently, as I do spirituality. I don’t see the pursuit of spirituality as being in any way an attempt to escape or separate ourselves from the reality of physical existence, but to accept and embrace it and achieve a deeper understanding and appreciation of it. The way it was explained to me was that spirituality is a quest for the true nature or essence of what we are - kind of like alcoholic spirits are purer, stronger forms of liquids from which they are distilled.

This is why I find it unhelpful and distracting to seek for the truth of who and what I am somewhere outside my existence as part of this world. Certainly no person’s thoughts are generated entirely in his or her own mind - we are social animals, and subject to all manner of influences from outside our own brains and bodies. As for there being something good in all people, I do think - sociopaths and psychopaths aside - the vast majority of people have the innate capacity for love, compassion, and empathy, amongst other good things - it’s just that some people have these capacities destroyed by their experience of life in this world. It’s up to those of us who know these capacities first-hand to share them with others as much as possible.

My opinion in this regard is largely summed up by an early 20th-century quotation from Emma Goldman (an atheist and political anarchist) - “Beauty, as a gift from heaven, has proved useless. It will, however, become the essence and impetus of life when man learns to see in the earth the only heaven fit for man.”

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