Free Will Makes Sense in the Christian Story

If God made all things, then we can make sense of other important beliefs we hold to be true. One of them is our belief (and experience) that we have free will. This belief fits well with the Christian story of creation.

That is what I told nearly 2,000 students, parents, and youth leaders at our annual reTHINK Apologetics Student Conference this past weekend in Orange County, California. By the way, it was awesome, and I encourage you to check out rethinkapologetics.com to find out how you can attend the next one. We are adding additional conferences around the country, so there might be one coming to a city near you. But I digress.

Most of us believe we make free choices that are not determined by a force outside ourselves. We believe we can decide with our mind about what our body is going to say or do. What story of creation can account for such free-willed decisions?

The atheist story of creation is an evolutionary story, which is a physical story. Physical forces (e.g. physics and chemistry) working on physical things can only yield a physical product. Since humans are the result of evolution, according to atheism, they, too, are mere matter.

Physical objects, though, don’t—and can’t—have free will. It doesn’t matter how complex they are. A ping pong ball can’t change direction on its own volition because it’s entirely physical. A stapler, although more complex, can’t begin stapling on its own. It doesn’t have free will because it is also merely a physical object. An automobile doesn’t have free will either. It’s much more complex than a ping pong ball, but its movements are still determined by physical forces because it is entirely a physical object.

Humans, then, can’t have free will either because they, too, are physical objects. It doesn’t matter how complex they are; it doesn’t affect the outcome. At the end of the day, if a human is merely a physical thing, it will ultimately be subject to physical forces. It wouldn’t have an immaterial mind that can think and decide independently of physical forces.

The only way you and I can act freely is if we have an immaterial mind that is not affected by the physical laws of nature. That doesn’t exist in the atheist creation story, but it does exist in the Christian creation story. Our story teaches that God made human beings with a physical body and an immaterial soul. If you think we have free will, then that reality makes much more sense in the Christian story.

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Alan Shlemon