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Chance, Choice and God
(Expanded version of a paper delivered on May 2, 2006, at the
John Byl, Ph.D.
A number of recent writers on science and religion claim that God has created the world so that it is inherently indeterministic. A prime argument is that quantum mechanics entails indeterminism. A difficulty with this position is that it implies that quantum events are, at least to some degree, uncaused. This is contrary to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The belief that quantum events are fully caused---whether by some (as yet) unknown physical mechanism or by some non-physical force--seems rationally superior to the hypothesis that they have no cause at all. Some writers assert that indeterminism is needed also for human freedom and moral responsibility. I argue that indeterminism does not solve the problems of human freewill and responsibility, nor does it solve the problem of evil. An indeterminist universe is difficulty to reconcile with the orthodox Christian view of God's omnipotence, omniscience and providence. A deterministic universe does not rule out human choices and responsibility. On the contrary, a compatibilist view of human freewill stresses that we willfully make our decisions for sufficient reasons, in accordance with our nature, beliefs and desires. This leaves God linked to evil but there can be good reasons why evil exists in God's plan.
Keywords: indeterminacy; God; quantum mechanics; human freedom
Does God Play with Dice? A number of recent writers on science/religion believe that God creates through chance. By chance they mean chance in the sense of genuine randomness, rather than mere coincidence or ignorance. They consider chance events to be an inherent part of creation, necessary for creatures to have creative freedom.
For example, Arthur Peacocke asserts that God creates through law and chance. Consequently, Peacocke argues, the future of the physical world is open, rather than being fully determined, and not even God knows the future fully (Peacocke 1993:121). Similar views have been expressed by Keith Ward and John Polkinghorne. The notion that God has limited knowledge of the future is promoted by adherents of Open Theology, which has recently become quite popular in North America.
Chance is generally held to exist in quantum events and human freewill. We shall examine each of these areas in turn. I shall argue that neither case demands indeterminism, that, in fact, indeterminism raises more problems than it solves, and that a determinist alternative is more feasible.
1. Chance in the Quantum World
Chance seems to play a large role in quantum mechanics. We cannot predict exactly where an electron, after passing through a slit, will hit a screen or when a radium atom will decay. Does quantum uncertainty just a limitation of human knowledge, due to our inability to accurately measure the very small quantum events? Or does it mean that nature itself behaves in an inherently random fashion?
Many physicists and theologians believe that quantum events are intrinsically random. In that case the course of the universe is no longer determined by laws and boundary conditions. The randomness of quantum events makes the universe indeterministic, by which we mean inherently unpredictable. Thus the theologian Gregory Boyd (2000) grounds his believe in an open future primarily on this view of quantum mechanics.
This interpretation of quantum mechanics raises a profound question. Consider a radium atom, about to decay. In any given instant it will either decay or not. What makes the choice? In a deterministic universe the choice fully depends--although perhaps in a very complicated way--on the present state of the universe. But what makes the choice in an indeterministic universe?
One might respond, as is often done, that the quantum choice is made by chance. But this raises the question: What is chance? The word chance is often used in the sense of accidental or unplanned. In quantum mechanics, however, chance refers to the notion of indeterminism. Chance in this sense means, as defined by statistician D.J. Bartholomew (1984: 67), that there is more than one possible outcome for an event and one cannot predict, with certainty, which outcome will occur.
It is important to note that chance, thus defined, is not a cause. Chance is not an agent that can do anything. Rather, chance indicates the absence of a sufficient cause for an event. It means that there is no reason why a particular outcome occurs. Hence Keith Ward (1996:21) asserts that no reason can be given why a particular radium atom decays at a particular time, rather than at some other time. He argues that quantum events are not sufficiently determined by their physical causes.
Not all physicists are happy with such a strange conclusion. For example, Henry Stapp (1993: 216), an expert on quantum mechanics, comments, “Many physicists of today claim to believe that it is perfectly possible, and also satisfactory, for there to be choices that simply come out of nowhere at all...The claim that the choice comes out of nowhere at all should be regarded as an admission of contemporary ignorance, not as a satisfactory final word”. Elsewhere he remarks, “Chance is an idea useful for dealing with a world partly unknown to us. But it has no rational place among ultimate constituents of nature" (Stapp: 216).
Indeed, a basic principle of rational enquiry is that everything has a sufficient reason. This Principle of Sufficient Reason implies the Principle of Causality, which affirms that every event has a sufficient cause. To say that a quantum choice is made by chance is to say that nothing makes and actuates the choice. This contradicts the Principle of Sufficient Reason. To say that an event has no cause is to give up on science and to invoke magic, in this case magic without even a magician.
The irrational nature of the suggestion that quantum events are not fully caused leads us to ask: How well established is the claim that quantum events have no sufficient cause?
First, can we be certain that there is no sufficient physical cause? Neither the present state of the universe nor the internal state of quantum entities are completely known--or even knowable--to human investigation. Hence we cannot rule out the possibility that there exists an inherent determinism at a deeper physical level, as yet hidden from the human observer. This leaves open the possibility that quantum events do have sufficient physical causes.
Further, even if one could establish the definite absence of a physical cause in quantum events, this still leaves open the possibility of non-physical causes, such as, for example human minds or spiritual angels. Such non-physical causes are, by definition, beyond scientific enquiry. To infer, from the absence of physical cause, the absence of any cause requires the metaphysical assumption that there are no non-physical causes.
The Principle of Sufficient Reason entails that any causal explanation of an event, no matter how unlikely or implausible, is rationally preferable to postulating no cause at all. Hence, the belief that quantum events are fully caused---whether by some (as yet) unknown physical mechanism or by some non-physical force--is rationally superior to the hypothesis that they have no cause at all.
2. Quantum Mechanics and Determinism
As Nicholas Saunders (2002: 164) stresses, the formalism of quantum theory does not demand an indeterministic interpretation.
Consider, for example, the orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics. Here the collapse of the wave function is caused by an observer's act of measurement. The wave function represents, not the actual state of the universe, but only the observer's knowledge of that state (see Barr 2003: 243). In this positivistic view quantum theory is concerned with describing how nature responds to our methods of observations, not with nature itself. It stresses our human epistemic limitations, leaving open the possibility of sub-atomic determinism. We must be careful not to commit what Keith Ward calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, whereby we confuse our mathematical representations of our knowledge of reality with reality itself.
Further, we note that it is possible to reformulate quantum mechanics as a totally deterministic theory as, for example, in the de Broglie-Bohm pilot-wave model. Although Bohm’s model posits an ontological physical determinism, human ignorance of initial conditions results in an epistemological indeterminism.
The various models and interpretations of quantum mechanics are all consistent with the same quantum facts. Hence one cannot use experiments to decide which one bests accord with the reality beyond our observations. Speculations about deeper requires the application of extra-scientific, philosophical considerations.
What philosophical guidelines should we appeal to? John Polkinghorne (1998: 53) justifies an indeterminist view of quantum mechanics on the grounds that we should try to maximize the correlation between our knowledge and ontological belief. According to him, our conjectures about reality should be guided by our epistemology. Hence, since we cannot fully know quantum causes, he argues that quantum events are not fully caused.
But why should objective reality be limited to what can be humanly measured? Is
such an ontology not unduly anthropocentric? It seems more prudent to base a
theistic view on reality on what divine ability, rather than on human ignorance.
3. Divine Providence and Chance
Indeterminism raises problems also for God's providence. The traditional Christian position is that God not only created the universe but that he also continues to it by his word of power (Hebrew 1:3). The universe is at all times entirely dependent on God's sustaining power, without which it would instantly cease to exist.
God continuously acts in the world not merely to preserve it but also to govern it. Governance has to do with that continued activity of God whereby He rules all things teleologically to attain his divine purpose. God is the primary cause of all events. He is the necessary and sufficient cause of all events. Everything occurs for a purpose, in accordance with God's comprehensive plan. In the traditional Christian view God is omnipotent, able to do to the world whatever he wishes, and omniscient, knowing all past and future states of the world.
Although God is the primary cause of everything, He usually works through secondary causes. In sustaining the universe from one moment to the next God generally does so in accordance with the properties He has assigned to His creatures. God usually permits His creatures to act according to their natures. In particular, He normally allows humans to do what they want, making their own decisions. Yet these human choices cannot be put into action without God's concurrence or cooperation. Thus every normal natural event has two causes: a primary, divine cause and a secondary, natural cause.
Miracles occur in those extraordinary cases when God withholds His concurrence and substitutes some other effect. Further, the traditional Christian worldview also acknowledges the existence of spiritual agents (angels and demons) who can influence physical events. Allowance for miracles and spiritual agents entails that not all physical events have physical explanations.
Chance, in the sense of indeterminism, is difficult to reconcile with the Biblical God. It seems inconceivable that God could create an entity whose actions are unpredictable even by God, its omniscient Creator. Suppose a quantum event were to lack a sufficient physical cause. Since God is the primary cause of all that happens, this still leaves God as the primary cause of the quantum event. The absence of a sufficient secondary cause entails only that God is here acting directly, in which case God must surely know the outcome.
Authors who postulate that God works through chance rarely pause to consider how an all-knowing, all-powerful God could create chance events. D. J. Bartholomew is a notable exception. He writes:
"It is difficult to conceive of how God could be 'responsible' in some sense for pure chance without having designed the mechanism giving rise to it. Speaking personally, I find it impossible to frame any statement about God's action in generating random events which avoids the notion of design on his part and so justifies us in saying that chance events are without any explanation whatsoever. It is more congenial to both faith and reason to suppose that God generates the requisite degree of randomness much as we do, by deterministic means" (Bartholomew: 102)
But if God generates chance by "deterministic means", then "chance" events are actually fully deterministic and only God's knowledge of the event is uncertain. At bottom, Bartholomew argues, chance is bound up with the notion of independence rather than lack of cause. Bartholomew (102-3) asserts:
"To allow the existence of pure chance in any sense is rather like saying that God can choose to act so that his left hand does not know what his right is doing. Or to put it more formally: that there must be independent sources of independent action within the one Godhead. There seems to be nothing logically impossible in such a suggestion but whether or not it can be usefully developed is not clear."
Although this entails a significant limitation of God's self-knowledge, it still leaves the universe fully deterministic. As such, it offers no genuine explanation of chance events. It just hampers God's ability to make predictions. Further, Bartholomew's suggestion contradicts the omniscience, unity and simplicity generally attributed to the God of the Bible. Appeals to the multi-personhood of God do not help, since the orthodox notion of the Trinity asserts an essential unity to God, particularly as it relates to knowledge: each Person is essentially and equally omniscient (Father, 1 John 3:20; Son, Matt. 11:27; Holy Spirit, I Cor.2: 11). Hence, the orthodox conception of the biblical God seems to leave little room for the notion that He could generate chance.
This conclusion is further strengthened when we consider God's concurrence. At each instant, in order to actuate the universe at the next instant, God must have prior knowledge of all intended actions of all His creatures. Else how can God decide whether or not He will concur? However, if God can fully predict the next state of the universe then, again, chance seems to be ruled out. As it is written, "the lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" (Prov.16:33 KJV). God determines the outcome of the lot, which to us may seem random.
Arthur Peacocke (1993: 212) tries to make room for chance by suggesting that God has self-limited His omnipotence and omniscience: God has so made the world that there are certain areas over which He has chosen not to have power, so that there are certain systems whose future states are in principle unknowable, even to God. In a similar vein, William Alston (191) asserts, “To deny that God can voluntarily limit Godself in this way would itself be to deny God’s omnipotence”.
However, God’s omnipotence means that He can do all things logically possible and consistent with His character. For a rational, omniscient, omnipotent God to construct a purely random, indeterministic mechanism seems logically impossible, since it entails that God causes an effect (i.e., a quantum event) that has no cause. Furthermore, as stressed by Keith Ward (1996:37), God's omnipotence and omniscience are necessary properties of God. God cannot give these up without thereby ceasing to be God.
According to Peacocke, God's omniscience has to be construed as God knowing at any time whatever it is logically possible for Him to know (1997:145). This does not include as yet uncertain future quantum events, since these do not yet exist. Yet this still leaves God with complete knowledge of the past and present, ruling out Bartholomew's suggestion that God's left hand does not know what His right hand is doing.
W.G. Pollard (1958:22) and, more recently, Nancey Murphy (1995:339) advocate that the apparently random events at the quantum level are all specific, intentional acts of God. God is the hidden variable. Murphy (1995: 342) asserts that this position is not only theologically preferable to indeterminism, but has the further advantage of consistency with the principle of sufficient reason. Of course, if God is directly responsible for quantum events this entails that these are therefore predictable by God. Hence we are left with a deterministic universe, at least at the quantum level. (It seems more plausible, however, that God is involved indirectly via some secondary deterministic mechanism.)
In short, the orthodox view of God's providence implies that the universe is fully determined from God's perspective. Whether it is strictly determined in terms of purely secondary, physical causes remains an open question.
4. Indeterminist Freedom and Its Problems
A major argument against ontological determinism is the widely-held perception that indeterminism is essential for human freedom and responsibility. Thus, for example, Keith Ward argues that only an indeterministic universe can generate freely creative beings (1999:12); and Nancey Murphy (1995:355) asserts that indeterminism is needed for moral responsibility, whereas determinism makes God responsible for evil.
A freedom associated with indeterminism is what David Hume (1969:455) termed a liberty of indifference, as opposed to a liberty of spontaneity, the freedom to choose as we want, without coercion. A liberty of indifference, also called libertarianism, entails that one's choices are not fully caused by one's circumstances and character. It involves the notion that, in the same comprehensive situation, with the same external conditions plus the same internal (mental) state, the same person does not always make exactly the same decision. Libertarians contend that our will is genuinely free only if our choosing or willing is not pre-determined by external or internal conditions. Our motives and beliefs may incline us toward a particularly choice, but they should not guarantee it.
Only with an element of chance might the same agent choose differently in identical situations. Thus Bartholomew (1984:145) asserts, "the reality of chance is not merely compatible with the doctrine of creation but is required by it...only in a world with real uncertainty can people grow into free responsible children of their heavenly father".
However, freedom based on chance faces the same problems as those that arise with quantum chance. First, the notion that our choices are made for no causally sufficient reason contradicts the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Second, how could we ever prove that our decisions are ultimately based on no sufficient reasons? This would require our omniscience with regards to all possible causes. The assertion of the necessity of chance is no more than a metaphysical assumption.
Third, the notion that our choices are not sufficiently caused implies that they are not entirely explicable in terms of secondary causes. The traditional view of providence implies that these must then be attributed to the direct primary action of God. This makes God directly and solely responsible for our sinful choices, thereby defeating Murphy's efforts to make humans responsible for their own actions.
Libertarians may try to avoid this conclusion by positing that we somehow make our choices autonomously, independent of God. But this is difficult to reconcile with divine sovereignty. Creatures, unlike God, can neither create from nothing nor sustain themselves in being. They, and their powers, continue to exist only through God's providential power. However, if the existence of creatures and their powers depends upon God's upholding power, all their actions must likewise depend on that power. Ron Highfield (2002:296) comments,
"Acknowledging that God must act for the agent and its powers to continue in existence and yet contending that God need not--indeed, for the sake of our freedom, must not--act in our action so that it may have being...lands open theism in a self-contradiction" .
Indeterminist freewill seems to challenge divine foreknowledge. How can God foreknow with certainty an open future that depends on our uncertain choices? Patrick Richmond (2004:140) notes that both Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne significantly revised traditional views of providence and denied divine foreknowledge in order to accommodate libertarian freedom.
Finally, it is doubtful whether indeterminism is helpful for freewill. As Stapp notes, any play of chance would falsify the idea that I, from the ground of my essential nature, make a true choice (1993:92). Indeed, it seems clear that uncaused, random events, occurring without reason, do not enhance our human freewill at all, since these are beyond our control.
Moreover, if my free acts are outside my full control, how can I be held responsible? Responsibility is closely tied to causation. I cannot be held responsible for something I did not cause or intend to cause. Terrance Tiessen (2000:247) points out that moral responsibility requires our acts to be intentional. Hence random actions are not free in the sense required for accountability. Therefore, indeterminism undermines, rather than bolsters, moral responsibility.
Alan Torrance (2004:128) rightly comments,
"If we correlate freedom with indifference, freedom is identified not as willing a desired end but as an arbitrary capacity to opt for an end whether it is desired (i.e. willed) or not. Free will comes to denote freedom without the will, that is, without the willing and thereby risks identifying freedom with the arbitrariness of whim…Far from being the zenith of human existence and the essence of moral responsibility, freedom conceived in these terms risks the capacity to act unpredictably, counter-intuitively and in unreasoned or irrational ways."
5. The Compatibilist Alternative
Given the above difficulties raised by the indeterminist liberty of indifference, it is worthwhile to examine the alternative determinist liberty of spontaneity, also known as compatibilism.
Compatibilism asserts that the essence of our freedom consists of the fact that our choices are made freely, without coercion. We choose what we want, in accordance with our own character, history, and moral standards. Such freedom is essential for moral responsibility. To be morally responsible we must make our own decisions; they are not forced on us contrary to our will. Responsibility for our actions implies that we have a measure of control. Only then can we be held accountable for our wilful decisions and subsequent actions.
None of this requires indeterminism. One's choices are held to be free as long as they express our wants, even if these are in some way determined. The compatibilist argues that our choices are always based on reasons, even though we may not always be fully aware of them. Our choices are made in accordance with our character and experiences. Hence God, one who knows us perfectly, can fully predict our free choices. Our choices are free because they were willingly made by us, rather than coerced against our will.
There are four common objections to compatibilism: (1) it reduces us to puppets, (2) it entails fatalism, (3) it removes moral responsibility and (4) it makes God responsible for evil. We shall now examine each of these claims.
(1) Compatibilism Versus Physical Determinism
Compatibilism should not be confused with physical determinism. Physical determinism is the notion that all our thoughts, choices and actions are ultimately completely determined by purely physical laws and concepts. Such is the view of Sir Francis Crick, who believes that our minds are completely determined by the physical actions of brain neurons. It follows, as Crick (1994:3) himself notes, that all our beliefs, including our sense of freedom, are then mere illusions. Since this reduces to illusion also Crick's own belief that all our beliefs are caused by brain neurons, Crick's position seems to be self-refuting. Further, this view reduces humans to mere puppets, beings that appear to choose and act but are actually fully controlled by purely physical forces. If our choices are ruled by laws of physics, rather than by moral or rational norms, then our morality and rationality are undermined. This conclusion clearly holds also if physical laws are inherently random.
Human freedom surely requires a genuine ability for us make a mental choice, as well as the power to convert this mental choice into a physical action. My mental choice in, say, casting a vote in an election will depend on various abstract, non-physical factors such as, for example, the moral qualities of the candidates running for office. Hence, human freedom certainly implies physical indeterminism, in the sense that some physical events (raising my hand) must have non-physical (i.e., mental) causes. In the same physical situation different non-physical factors (character, beliefs and moral standards) may well cause persons to choose differently. Our freedom depends crucially on our mental control of our physical body.
In contrast to the "hard" determinism of Crick's physical reductionism, compatibilism is often called "soft" determinism. Although compatibilism asserts that our choices are fully caused, it gives proper recognition to the important role of our mind, beliefs and choices. There is a real self, who deliberates and makes decisions. Yet the self makes its decisions for reasons, determined by its character and wants.
Physical determinism entails that we are physically determined to believe whatever we believe, regardless of its truth. Hence the rational defense of physical determinism is self-refuting. That critique does not apply to compatibilism. Although what we believe is still determined, the determining process now includes our beliefs, our ideas of rationality and also our assessment of the truthfulness of the belief in question. What we believe therefore does depend on the truth of any particular belief. If our thinking apparatus were foolproof then our thinking, though determined, would nevertheless be determined to produce only true beliefs.
(2) Compatibilism Versus Fatalism
Compatibilism implies that our choices are completely predictable to someone, like God, who has total knowledge of us. Arthur Peacocke (1993:122), and many others, deem such divine foreknowledge to be incompatible with human freedom. The objection can be stated as follows. If, for example, God knows that tomorrow I shall mow my lawn, it is therefore true that I shall mow my lawn. Hence I do not have the power to refrain from mowing my lawn; I could not have chosen differently. Thus my sense of freedom is illusory and I am not really free.
Such reasoning confuses determinism with fatalism. Determinism means that all events are rendered unavoidable by their causes, including our choices and actions. Fatalism, on the other hand, holds that all events happen unavoidably, regardless of our choices and actions; there is nothing we can do to escape our fate. The fatalist argues that, if the future is already determined, then there is nothing I can do to change it, since even my choices are pre-determined.
Fatalism is a fallacy. It fails to take into account that my will is an active cause that helps to determine my future. Clearly, our choices do make a difference. Else there would be no point in getting out of bed in the morning or driving your car with your eyes open. The fact that our decisions are predictable does not detract from their effect on the future. Although we cannot change the future we can surely help determine what the future will be.
It is sometimes said, even by Christians, "You won't go before your time." This saying is fine, as long as its intent is to stop us from undue worry about things beyond our control. It is certainly comforting to know that everything is ultimately in God's hands. However, this gives us no excuse for irresponsible behaviour, such as, for example, driving an unsafe car at high speed. The time of our death is often closely related to our prior actions. Thus, while our time is surely foreknown by God, it may well have been set largely by our own foolish decisions.
Further, God's knowledge of our future decisions does not, in itself, influence our decisions. How could it, seeing that we have no access to such divine knowledge? Hence divine foreknowledge in itself does not constrain our freedom. Were our decisions to be different, God's foreknowledge of our decisions would be correspondingly different. As Adam Zeman (2003: 342) notes, "predictability does not prevent our efforts and our forethought from making a difference to the world, nor does it prevent us from doing what we will."
Such considerations apply also to the need for prayer. One might ask: if all things are determined by God's eternal plan, why should we bother to pray? The proper answer to this, as Terrance Tiessen (2000: 239) notes, is that God has foreseen our prayers and His responses to them. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims, "Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (Isaiah 65:24). Our prayers help determine the future. They are part of God's eternal plan.
(3) Compatibilism and Responsibility
It is commonly claimed compatibilism that leads to a loss of moral responsibility. Compatibilism entails that all my choices are fully caused. But all the causes of my choices have previous causes. The series of causes that determine my choices goes back to my birth, and even before that. All my character traits, dispositions, wants, and so on can ultimately be traced to prior conditions, such as genetics and environment, beyond my control. Had these conditions been different, I would have been different. How, then, the argument goes, can I be held accountable for my choices?
We note first that an indeterminist view of freewill, where the will lacks complete control, fairs no better in justifying moral responsibility, as we saw above. Thus some philosophers have concluded that we have no moral responsibility. For example, Derk Pereboom (2001) maintains that we can be held morally responsible only if we are the ultimate causal source of our actions. Pereboom contends that, according to our best scientific theories, our world is wholly governed by the laws of physics. Since factors beyond our ultimate control cause all our actions, he asserts that we are not morally responsible for any of them.
We note further that the essence of moral responsibility is that we wilfully act upon our wants, regardless of how these were formed. Morality has to do with the rightness and wrongness of actions. In practice, we hold someone responsible for a crime if that crime was directly caused by an intentional action based on a willful, informed choice, with full knowledge of the wrongness of the act and the consequences of doing it.
If Jack, a sane man, deliberately sets his neighbour's house on fire, knowing full well that it is illegal and that it may cause injury or death, would we not hold Jack morally responsible for his misdeed? The critical factor is that Jack’s choice was his own choice, rather than one forced upon him. We might not hold Jack responsible if Jack acted under gunpoint or under hypnosis.
Moral responsibility does not require that there are no reasons for our decisions. The freedom needed for moral responsibility is not a libertarian freedom from causation but, rather, a freedom from coercion by forces outside ourselves. Such is the freedom underlying moral responsibility.
What, then, of the argument that, since Jack did not cause his own nature, he is therefore not morally responsible for his actions? It fails. Moral responsibility, as outlined above, involves merely our present capabilities. We are morally responsible when we can act upon our own wants, in accordance with our own will, regardless of how our wants and will may themselves have come to be what they are. We would still hold Jack responsible even if Jack's vicious character were due largely to an unhappy childhood.
In fact, our nature is such that we intuitively know we are responsible for our actions. We take ownership over our decisions. Our own conscience, a deep sense of guilt and shame, convicts us of our misdeeds. Within our innermost self, we know we cannot shift the blame for our actions on our past or our parents.
We conclude that compatibilism does not erase moral responsibility but establishes it. Moral responsibility exists because we make our choices for reasons. Hence we can be influenced by reasoning, criticism or the prospect of reward or punishment. The knowledge that we shall be held accountable for our actions is itself a factor that influences our actions. On such grounds David Hume (1777: 104-107) asserted that only on the assumption of determinism can there be moral responsibility.
The Bible does not support the notion that inability limits responsibility. Even though man's heart is enslaved to sin (Romans 6:20; 8:7-8) from birth, beyond his ability to change, man is still held accountable for his every word and deed (Matthew 12:35-37). The key fact is that we sin willingly: "men loved darkness rather than light" (John 3:19), "knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but have pleasure in them that do them" (Romans 1:32). Judas is held responsible for his betrayal of Jesus, even though this Jesus was predetermined (Luke 22:22).
Man is free to do what he wills, but his will is not free in that it can determine itself. Man responds to his nature, which is what it is either by sin or by God's sovereign grace. This leaves human responsibility fully grounded. Nothing more is required for holding a man accountable than his acting with the consent of his will, however much his will may be determined by nature or nurture. Since we are held responsible for all our voluntary decisions, we are responsible also for the extent that these have formed our character through developing bad habits, addictions, and so on.
(4) Compatibilism and the Problem of Evil
A major theological objection to compatibilism is that it links God to evil. Even though man may be morally responsible, if his evil deeds are predetermined then God shares the blame because He made a world where evil is inevitable. According to Alan Torrance, if compatibilism is true, "then every act of murder, rape and child abuse, not to the mention the holocaust in toto, requires to be seen as concretely and specifically willed, decreed and determined by God" (2004:129).
To distance God from evil, Torrance, and many others, adopt the freewill defense. This alleges that God cannot give us responsibility without giving us indeterministic freewill beyond His control. Through indeterminism we, rather than God, are responsible for evil.
Yet, as we saw, indeterminism reduces, rather than enhances, our control over our decisions. As Richmond (2004:146) notes, adding indeterminism seems only to inject an element of luck into the decision-making process. Hence it actually diminishes our responsibility.
Nor does indeterminism really distance God from sin. God can still be held responsible for delegating responsibility to unreliable people. One still faces the question of why God chose to create an indeterminist world where such great evil as we experience is possible. Is indeterminism so valuable that it outweighs the evils it makes possible?
Also, since God in his providence sustains the universe at each instance, it follows that he sustains also sinners. The existence of evil requires not just God's permission but also his concurrence. Moreover, as we saw, divine providence entails that indeterminist choices are directly caused by God, thereby making God solely responsible for evil. Even if indeterminism could be produced independently of God, this still leaves the question of why God does not miraculously intervene to eradicate evil. Thus indeterminism does not satisfactorily solve the problem of evil.
A better approach to the problem of evil is to acknowledge that God is sovereign over all that happens, including evil. A rational, good God has a morally sufficient reason for everything He does, including all the suffering and evil that He foreordains. As Robert Reymond suggests,
"The ultimate end which God decreed he regarded as great and glorious enough that it justified to himself both the divine plan itself and the ordained incidental evil arising along the foreordained path to his plan's great and glorious end." (1998: 377)
As goods that logically entail evil, Richmond (2004:152) lists the value of human virtuous responses to evil, the need for knowledge for responsible activity, God's virtuous responses to evil, and the celebration and reward of responses to evil in Heaven.
In summary, I conclude that ontological indeterminism is not plausible. The notion that some events are to some extent uncaused is contrary to the Principle of Sufficient Reason and is difficult to reconcile with the orthodox Christian view of God's omnipotence, omniscience and providence.
Indeterminism is not demanded by quantum mechanics, since deterministic interpretations exist and since the uncertainty can be viewed in terms of human ignorance rather than ontological indeterminism. Nor can possible non-physical causes be ruled out. Indeterminism, as related to freewill, seems to diminish, rather than enhance, our control and responsibility and does not solve the problem of evil.
Compatibilism, on the other hand, stresses that we willfully make our decisions for sufficient reasons, in accordance with our nature, beliefs and desires. As such, God, our Creator and Sustainer, Who knows us completely, can fully predict all our decisions and actions. Although God has decreed all that comes to pass, including evil, God's goodness ensures that this evil is outweighed by the goods they entail
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