The Question of Free Will

Sadly when I think of theology and philosophy I first think of the famous Monty Python skit “The Philosophers’ Football Match” instead of anything I learned during 36 hours of theology and philosophy courses at The University of St. Thomas.

The Philosophers’ Football Match was a Monty Python sketch depicting a football match in the Olympiastadion at the 1972 Munich Olympics between philosophers representing Greece and Germany. Starring in the sketch are Archimedes (John Cleese), Socrates (Eric Idle), Hegel (Graham Chapman), Nietzsche (Michael Palin), Marx (Terry Jones), and Kant (Terry Gilliam). Palin also provides the match television commentary.

The footage opens with the banner headline “International Philosophy”, and Palin providing the narrative. Confucius is the referee and keeps times with an hourglass. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine (sporting haloes) serve as linesmen. The German manager is Martin Luther. As play begins, the philosophers break from their proper football positions only to walk around on the pitch as if deeply pondering, and in some cases declaiming their theories. Franz Beckenbauer, the sole genuine footballer on the pitch and a “surprise inclusion” in the German team, is left more than a little confused.

However, as funny as that was, I wish I had studied more in this area as I have since come to enjoy the discussion around the fundamental philosophical questions many of us have. One of those, and the reason for my post today, is one of the most debated theological subjects which is the question of “Free Will”. I made the mistake of somehow getting into this discussion with family members over the Thanksgiving holiday which ended up being a good debate with no clear winner at the end.

I mentioned St. Thomas University earlier which was named after St. Thomas Aquinas who is recognized as one of the great theological minds of history. Freedom of the Will for St. Thomas is the manner in which intellectual beings seek universal goodness. It was his belief that individuals are wired to naturally do good things (such as following the Ten Commandments), however, they do have free will to make other choices that would not be as God wished. St. Thomas justified man’s ability to make free choices by reasoning that there would not be a need for commands, rules, or laws, or rewards or punishments if free will did not exist.
That certainly sounds logical and hard to refute.

Where I did not come to agreement with my family member was in regards to God’s omniscience and his ability to know beforehand what decision we will make. Sounds pretty simple to me but many people do not believe in a God much less God’s power of omniscience and the ability for predestination.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we are puppets. God wants us to do the right thing and has pre-wired us to make the right choice but he also blessed us with free will and the ability to do what we want, even if that decision is sinful. Many factors come into play when we come to a needed decision. Does this taste good and should I eat it? Is this bad for me and will it affect my health long term? Another way of putting this is that emotions, appetites, and intellect (science) come into play each time we are faced with a decision to make.

I would also argue, although this might be getting off the topic a bit, that there are good forces (God) and evil forces (Devil) that are all around us as we go through life that affect each decision we make. I view these as real and tangible “beings” even though they are out of our realm of comprehension. Simply put, God wants us to go good and the Devil tries to get us to do evil.

Finally, to conclude is another thought on omniscience. I believe, as St. Thomas did, that God knows which choice we will make even before we make it. That seems to indicate that we are indeed just puppets but I think that is a misunderstanding. We still have free choice. Some might argue that no being has that power but I feel the power of God and the mysteries of this universe are simply beyond our feeble minds ability to comprehend. The universe and life are so perfect and so hard to comprehend that only a supreme being could have produced all this. For this Supreme Being to be omniscient and to not live in time and space as we understand it seems quite plausible to me. Hopefully today I will take the “good choice” as circumstances and decisions face me today.

2 thoughts on “The Question of Free Will

Add yours

  1. When I walked the Camino Portuguese a couple of years ago I was quite surprised by the fatalistic view that many people displayed towards God and the Catholic Church. Every speed bump in life was met with the comment that it was ‘God’s will’ rather than any sense that they, personally, could impact the outcome. I am not sure I agree with them at all. Thanks for the discussion. Mel

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and your comments. Many people tend to deny the existence of God and state that if there were a God he would never allow evil and bad things to happen. That is most likely going to be another post I make in the future. This world is flawed in many ways but we must understand this is only a temporary stop.

      Liked by 1 person

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