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Determinism Free will and Predestination - Modern Science And Human Freedom

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In the seventeenth century modern science seemed to provide a mechanistic understanding of the world that threatened human freedom. René Descartes (1596–1650), the father of modern philosophy, held a dualistic theory whereby physical events are determined although human actions have a liberty of indifference because the soul is not material. In general, modern and contemporary philosophers have been determinists, compatibilists, or libertarians. Determinists hold that everything is physically determined and that there is no human freedom. Libertarians such as Descartes hold that human actions are free and that the free agent must have a liberty for choosing alternative possibilities that are not determined. Compatibilists such as David Hume (1711–1776) hold that human freedom is entirely compatible with physical determinism. Most compatibilists think that the indeterminacy of libertarians would only make the free actions arbitrary. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) appeared to be a hard determinist with respect to the world of appearances and a libertarian with respect to the real world.

Contemporary philosophers still fall roughly into one of these three categories. Although a combination of chaos theory and quantum mechanics has now thrown into doubt determinist scientific theories, many philosophers think that the new science has no significant impact on debates over human freedom.

The history of ideas shows that there is no one concept of "free will." Instead, concepts of human freedom develop in response to perceived threats such as ignorance, God's omnipotence, intellectual determinism, and physical determinism.


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Burrell, David B. Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993. Includes a discussion of Jewish and Muslim thought.

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Flint, Thomas P. Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Gallagher, David M. "Free Choice and Free Judgment in Thomas Aquinas." Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 76 (1994): 247–277.

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald. Predestination. Translated by Dom Bede Rose. St. Louis, Mo.: Herder, 1939.

Kane, Robert, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

McGrath, Alister E. Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Muller, Richard A. Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins. Studies in Historical Theology 2. Durham, N.C.: Labyrinth Press, 1986.

Rimbach, Harald. Gnade und Erkenntnis in Calvins Prädestinationslehre: Calvin im Vergleich mit Pighius, Beza und Melancthon. Neue Beiträge zur Historischen und Systematischen Theologie 19. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1996.

Rist, John M. Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Thomas M. OsborneJr.

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