Isn't Free Will Arbitrary?

Hi Steve,

I understand that’s the position you have, but it doesn’t address any of my points. Just answer this question for me: Why does one person say “yes” to faith and another person say “no”?

Because they choose to do so based on reasons they create for themselves. In the case of the yes, the reasons are based on truth. For the no, the reasons are based on falsehood, or at best half-truths.

God does not create these reasons.

They create reasons for themselves. Ok, why do some people create these reasons and other people don’t?

St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica I, Q83, I, 5:Objection 5. Further, the Philosopher says (Ethic. iii, 5): “According as each one is, such does the end seem to him.” But it is not in our power to be of one quality or another; for this comes to us from nature. Therefore it is natural to us to follow some particular end, and therefore we are not free in so doing.
On the contrary, It is written (Sirach 15:14): “God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel”; and the gloss adds: “That is of his free-will.”

I answer that, Man has free-will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain. …
Reply to Objection 5. Quality in man is of two kinds: natural and adventitious. Now the natural quality may be in the intellectual part, or in the body and its powers. From the very fact, therefore, that man is such by virtue of a natural quality which is in the intellectual part, he naturally desires his last end, which is happiness. Which desire, indeed, is a natural desire, and is not subject to free-will, as is clear from what we have said above (82, 1,2). But on the part of the body and its powers man may be such by virtue of a natural quality, inasmuch as he is of such a temperament or disposition due to any impression whatever produced by corporeal causes, which cannot affect the intellectual part, since it is not the act of a corporeal organ. And such as a man is by virtue of a corporeal quality, such also does his end seem to him, because from such a disposition a man is inclined to choose or reject something. But these inclinations are subject to the judgment of reason, which the lower appetite obeys, as we have said (81, 3). Wherefore this is in no way prejudicial to free-will.
The adventitious qualities are habits and passions, by virtue of which a man is inclined to one thing rather than to another. And yet even these inclinations are subject to the judgment of reason. Such qualities, too, are subject to reason, as it is in our power either to acquire them, whether by causing them or disposing ourselves to them, or to reject them. And so there is nothing in this that is repugnant to free-will.

1st can we agree, that saying yes or no to something is a choice made freely?

If I give you my best attempt to condense faith into a tight few sentences I think you will still ask questions on all that I left out. So I’ll take excerpts from an article, and I’ll provide the link so you can read it in full.

**Excerpts **(all emphasis mine)

faith" is a supernatural gift and is not the necessary outcome of assent to the motives of credibility. No amount of study will win it, no intellectual conviction as to the credibility of revealed religion nor even of the claims of the Church to be our infallible guide in matters of faith, will produce this light in a man’s mind. It is the free gift of God.

just as the light of faith is a gift supernaturally bestowed upon the understanding, so also this Divine grace moving the will is, as its name implies, an equally supernatural and an absolutely gratuitous gift. Neither gift is due to previous study, neither of them can be acquired by human efforts, but “Ask and ye shall receive.”

temptations against faith are natural and inevitable and are in no sense contrary to faith, “since”, says St. Thomas, “the assent of the intellect in faith is due to the will, and since the object to which the intellect thus assents is not its own proper object—for that is actual vision of an intelligible object—it follows that the intellect’s attitude towards that object is not one of tranquility, on the contrary it thinks and inquires about those things it believes, all the while that it assents to them unhesitatingly; for as far as it itself is concerned the intellect is not satisfied” (De Ver., xiv, 1). (b) It also follows from the above that an act of supernatural faith is meritorious, since it proceeds from the will moved by Divine grace or charity, and thus has all the essential constituents of a meritorious act (cf. II-II, Q. ii, a. 9). This enables us to understand St. James’s words when he says, “The devils also believe and tremble” (ii, 19). “It is not willingly that they assent”, says St. Thomas, "but they are compelled thereto by the evidence of those signs which prove that what believers assent to is true,

Loss of FAITH .—From what has been said touching the absolutely supernatural character of the gift of faith, it is easy to understand what is meant by the loss of faith. God’s gift is simply withdrawn. And this withdrawal must needs be punitive, “Non enim deseret opus suum, si ab opere suo non deseratur” (St. Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. cxlv—“He will not desert His own work, if He be not deserted by His own work”). And when the light of faith is withdrawn, there inevitably follows a darkening of the mind regarding even the very motives of credibility which before seemed so convincing. This may perhaps explain why those who have had the misfortune to apostatize from the faith are often the most virulent in their attacks upon the grounds of faith;

FAITH IS REASONABLE.—(a) If we are to believe present-day Rationalists and Agnostics, faith, as we define it, is unreasonable. An Agnostic declines to accept it because he considers that the things proposed for his acceptance are preposterous, and because he regards the motives assigned for our belief as wholly inadequate. “Present me with a reasonable faith based on reliable evidence, and I will joyfully embrace it. Until that time I have no choice but to remain an Agnostic” (“Medicus” in the “Do we Believe?” Controversy, p. 214). Similarly, Francis Newman says: “Paul was satisfied with a kind of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus which fell exceedingly short of the demands of modern logic; it is absurd in us to believe, barely because they believed” (“Phases of Faith”, p. 186). Yet the supernatural truths of faith, however they may transcend our reason, cannot be opposed to it, for truth cannot be opposed to truth, and the same Deity Who bestowed on us the light of reason by which we assent to first principles is Himself the cause of those principles, which are but a reflection of His own Divine truth. When He chooses to manifest to us further truths concerning Himself, the fact that these latter are beyond the grasp of the natural light which He has bestowed upon us will not prove them to be contrary to our reason.

Agnostics, again, take refuge in the unknowableness of truths beyond reason, but their argument is fallacious, for surely knowledge has its degrees. I may not fully comprehend a truth in all its bearings, but I can know a great deal about it; I may not have demonstrative knowledge of it, but that is no reason why I should reject that knowledge which comes from faith. To listen to many Agnostics one would imagine that appeal to authority as a criterion was unscientific, though perhaps nowhere is authority appealed to so unscientifically as by modern scientists and modern critics.

Excerpts taken from Faith

Thanks for the replies!



It remains a mystery. Catholic Encylopedia surmises: “Thomism and Augustinianism, which take grace as the starting-point, and Molinism and Congruism, which set out from free will. These are the extremes. The middle ground is held by Syncretism, which may be regarded as an eclectic system making an effort at compromise.” … and finally speaking of Syncretism (Ligouri) “Consequently this system ends like the others in the inevitable conviction that we are confronted by a great mystery.”

But to answer about Thomists:For although it be true that a man who is freely sitting cannot at the same time be standing (sensus compositus), nevertheless his freedom in sitting is maintained by the fact that he might be standing instead of sitting (sensus divisus). So it remains true that grace is not efficacious because free will consents, but conversely the free will consents because grace efficaciously premoves it to the willing and performance of a good act. Here gratia efficax is intrinsically and by its nature (ab intrinseco s. per se) efficacious, and consequently intrinsically and extrinsically different from sufficient grace (gratia sufficiens), which imparts only the posse, not the agere. To make merely sufficient grace efficacious a new supplementary grace must needs be supplied. How then is such a grace really sufficient (gratia vere sufficiens)? To this most of the Thomists reply: If the free will did not resist the grace offered, God would not hesitate to supply the efficacious grace so that the failure of the grace is to be referred to the sinful resistance of the free will.

Pohle, J. (1909). Controversies on Grace. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

There are four objections given to the Thomists.

I have been pondering this recently too. The answer is that it is a mystery - something reasonable but beyond our ability to understand. God has miraculously created us in His own image, so that our choices our really our own and not decided for us by God - but how God does this is just incomprehensible to us.

We really do have free will. Two people given exactly the same grace to overcome exactly the same amount of temptation could make different choices which belong to them alone - their decision is foreseen but not decided by God; God only makes their choice possible. I don’t see how our decisions could be dependant entirely on a purely grace/temptation ratio and still be our own and therefore worthy of merit or condemnation. Of course, without grace we cannot make good choices; The damned are deprived entirely of grace and so cannot choose good at all. The actions of the damned (such as blasphemy) do not merit additional punishment because they do not have the ability to choose good over evil anymore, because they are deprived of the grace that makes good will possible.

We are like God in that we can make choices of our own, not determined by our nature or external forces. God cannot act contrary to His nature, but He does act in ways He is not bound to by His nature.

Just a quick comment

Grace from God is always there for every person to have always. However grace is NOT efficacious when it meets resistance from the free human will. That person who resists grace, then remains in darkness.

I actually agree that this is the position of the historic Church prior to Augustine.


I don’t think the OP disagrees with this, necessarily. However, I do believe he’s suggested that people resist, or cooperate, based upon a particular predisposition to resist or cooperate. So, the question then is how they arrived at this predisposition. The further suggestion is that God’s involvement through grace in each person’s life either predisposes them to resist or cooperate. Thus, ultimately, regardless of whether someone resists or cooperates with God’s grace, it is God who makes the choice, since it is He who predisposes them either way.

I think it should be this line of reasoning that needs to be addressed in this thread.

100 percent correct!


I think we make this too complicated.

Look at Adam and Eve. They were perfect human beings. They had no sin in them. Nothing to complicate anything, no crummy childhood, life was good … then came the test.

If one is preprogramed to either fail or pass a test, no matter what, then why give the test in the first palce? It’s a nonsense exercise.

God did not cause, did not preprogramm Adam and Eve to fail the test. He doesn’t do that. They failed the test on their own.
*]God gave them only one command. One simple command. Everything was okay for them to do, but for that one prohibition.
*]And God told them the consequences if they disobey that one command.
[/LIST]That notion of God forcing people to do wrong, imputes on God an evil nature which He doesn’t have.

God put the command and prohibition there precisely because Adam and Eve had the ability to obey or disobey the command. And they chose to disobey. God knowing in advance they would fail doesn’t mean He caused them to fail

If they had no REAL ability to choose, or were forced by God to disobey, they couldn’t be responsible for their actions. No harm no foul.

But the fact they hid from God after they sinned, shows they had the ability to understand right from wrong, and they knew they disobeyed.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I agree. I don’t think there’s a contradiction between God’s mastery over all, and human free will. I was just trying to help clarify the question of the OP.

I think ultimately, grace needs to be cooperated with in order to be efficacious. So, even if there were things that happened in the past that predisposes one to choose now, those graces that were given in the past still needed to be cooperated with in order to arrive at a predisposition.

Ultimately, the meaning of free will is an uncaused choice. I would argue that most human choices are caused. They are driven by bodily urges, and predispositions. But, along the way, real free choices are made. And since the choice is always, “God or not God,” then our predispositions and bodily desires will either be in line with God and His will, or they won’t, and those relatively few free choices that will either flow along with our predispositions and urges, or they will run contrary to them. It is these choices that run contrary to what logic suggests we should have done that most clearly demonstrates our capacity for free choice because they are so unreasonable (even those choices that are good for us, such as turning away from addiction).

How is the position of the current Church different?

I never said they didn’t have a choice in the matter. Everyone agrees they had a choice. Even Calvinists would say that and do in their confessions!

The question is WHY did they make the choice they did? Why did Adam and Eve reject the commands of God? This is the whole point. You keep applying arguments to my position as if I’ve said them, when in reality, I haven’t! Even if we exist in a Pelagian world, which is basically the most extreme position we can take, my point is the same. People make choices for a reason and those reasons can reasonably and ultimately be traced back to God’s design for the world.

I understand your point here, but again, I’m not sure it really addresses my concern. If people are free to make choices, that still doesn’t explain why they make the choices they do and how it’s possible those reasons for making choices should not ultimately be traced back to God.

I would say most choices can be traced back to God, in immediate ways. However, in a broader, more mediate sense, most human choices can be traced back to God due to the nature of will. Will is drawn to the good. That’s just how it works. Intellect informs the will, such that as the intellect informs it of what is good, so it is drawn.

However, those choices we make that are against God, so to speak, that are evil, are irrational in nature. For, even when our intellect informs us of the good, we proceed to will the evil. Such choices run contrary to our created nature, contrary to the informed intellect, and cannot be said to be rational. Trying to find reason for what is inherently unreasonable is futile. Moreover, such choices should not be “traced back to God” as though God were the primary cause of them.

I can find several reasons for “why” in Genesis 3. Can you? How are any of them arbitrary?

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