Free Will and Materialism

Here is a little note I wrote some time back to help explain the differences between believing in God's sovereignty and believing in atheistic materialism. I was discussing the Westminster Confession of Faith at the time, which is why I'm walking through a passage in it.

Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.Westminster Confession of Faith V.2

Let's break this down:

"Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly,"

Do the things that God foreknows come to pass immutably and infallibly? Do the things that God decrees come to pass immutably and infallibly?
If you say no to the first question, then God doesn't know the future. If you say no to the second, then God is not sovereign.

"yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes"

In other words, though God is the first cause of the universe, He does not directly cause everthing that happens. We don't live inside a giant puppet theatre with God pulling our strings. Rather, He decrees that things will occur by second causes.

"either necessarily, freely, or contingently."
There are 3 types of second causes enumerated here by which events occur.

1. Necessity: This is simple cause and effect. You push one domino, the others all fall. In causal determinism and materialism, this is the only cause that is recognized. In Christian theology material cause and effect certainly exist, but they are only one part of the puzzle.

2. Freely: Some events occur because men freely choose certain actions. Unlike materialistic fatalists, we don't believe that the thoughts and choices we make are governed wholly by cause and effect, just atoms and chemicals bouncing around in our brains. We have the freedom to make decisions that influence the future and change our lives.


3. Contingently: This means that whenever we make a decision it affects everything around us. Certain things may happen contingent upon the decisions we made. So when we sit down to make a decision, we have to consider, "If I do this then A will occur. But if I do that then B will occur." So A and B are contingent upon the decision I will make.

And yet, within the realm of God's providence, things that happen of necessity (Gen 8:22, Jer. 31:35), freely (Gen. 50:20, Isa. 10:6-7; Acts 4:26-28), and contingently (Deut. 30:15-19, Josh 24:15, 19-20) are occurring according to His perfect plan immutably and infallibly.

Comments

Chris said…
We always choose, indeed we cannot do anything but choose according to our strongest desire at any given time given our ability to do whatever we choose to do. I may have a desire to run 50 MPH but I can only act according to my ability. But I am also "bound" to act according to my strongest desire. It wins everytime!

God orchestrates His decrees through these "free" choices of men, as you correctly pointed out according to His perfect plan.

Behind it all is a personal God and not an impersonal force!