Human Freedom And God’s Providence: Is There Conflict? -- By: Mark Pretorius

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 08:1 (Sep 2009)
Article: Human Freedom And God’s Providence: Is There Conflict?
Author: Mark Pretorius

Human Freedom And God’s Providence: Is There Conflict?

Mark Pretorius1


How can we reconcile human freedom with God’s providence? The key, in my view, is bottom-up and top-down causality. These particular terms state that all events in the world are the result of some previous event, or events. Accordingly, all of reality is already in a sense predetermined or pre-existent and, therefore, nothing new can come into existence. But how does this impact on our actions? Are we predetermined to walk a specific path and, if so, how is this accomplished by God without violating our human freedom?

1. Introduction

Scripture does not precisely define the nature of human freedom, but philosophers and theologians do discuss it. In general, scholars usually present two main notions of freedom: libertarianism and compatibilism. These are mutually exclusive conceptions of human freedom, but both are internally consistent. Supporting the notion that both views of freedom are coherent and defensible, Flint (1988:177-179) proposes that “ultimately the view of freedom that one ought to embrace should be the view that best fits the biblical data, not our pre-conceived notions of what human freedom is or ought to be”.

Before unpacking this seeming enigma regarding human freedom in current philosophical and theological literature, the two basic views need to be dealt with as they impact on one coming to a reasonable conclusion on this subject.

The one is an indeterministic notion, sometimes called libertarian free will or incompatibilism. The other is a deterministic notion, referred to as compatibilism or soft determinism. The view of freedom to which one subscribes has dramatic implications for how one construes the relationship between divine sovereignty, omniscience, and human freedom.

What follows is a breakdown of the differences and similarities between libertarianism and compatibilism, and a possible solution to combining human freedom with God’s providence.

2. Libertarianism And Compatibilism

Compatibilists view human actions as causally determined, yet free (Wellum (2002:260). In other words, in contrast to a libertarianistic view, a compatibilist view of freedom perceives the human will as decisively and sufficiently inclined toward one option (Peterson et al. 1991:59). The will is deemed to be free as long as it meets the following requirements:

  1. the immediate cause o...
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