Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Determinism vs. Free Will
Gordon Brown 
Department of Mathematics 
University of Colorado 
Boulder, Colorado 80309

From: JASA 29 (March 1977): 47.

I am pleased to see articles in Journal ASA devoted to important theological topics such as "Determinism vs. Free Will" by Richard Ruble in the June 1976 issue. However, five or six pages is probably not enough to expect a clarification of all the areas of confusion associated with this particular subject.

The format of Ruble's article is such as to suggest that there are essentially only two positions, viz. determinism and free will, but in this discussion he actually refers to several different positions, and many of his comments are relevant to certain specific positions rather than to determinism and free will generally. It is a source of much frustration to one discussing this topic to have his position confused with another one, and this is certainly a major factor contributing to the heat with which this subject is frequently debated.

Ruble's discussion of determinism often suggests a view in which a person's decisions are mechanically determined by events and natural laws over which he has no control, thus implying that he is no more responsible for his behavior than a rock is for its. On the other hand, the first argument the author suggests in support of determinism does not imply such a mechanistic doctrine. This argument is based on the nature of God, and so should be of special interest to those of us who value the theological approach. From God's nature one reasons that since the Creator freely acts with perfect knowledge of the consequences of his actions, no event should be regarded as ultimately purposeless or accidental. Forcing mechanisms are not necessary. What is contradicted is not freedom, but chance, which, unfortunately, Ruble lists as a synonym for free will even though attributing decisions to chance is not the same as claiming responsibility for them.

I enjoy the stimulation of articles like this and hope to see more such theological discussions in future issues of Journal ASA.