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Determinism Free will and Predestination

Jews, Christians, And Muslims

Unlike ancient philosophers, Jews and Christians believe that the whole world is contingent at least in the sense that God could have decided either to create it differently or not to create it. Everything that exists is the result of God's free choice. Moreover, the Jewish Scriptures emphasize the importance of a covenant between humans and God whereby humans freely follow its conditions. For Christians, the Epistles of Paul explain the struggle between the flesh and the spirit within a Christian. This influence of Jewish and Christian Scriptures, combined with his own moral experience, enabled Augustine of Hippo (354–430 C.E.) to develop the first explicit doctrine of the will.

Although the word voluntas existed previously, Augustine was the first to use it similarly to the way in which the word "will" is now used. He underwent an intellectual conversion to Christianity without at first changing his behavior. Consequently, he was compelled to reconsider the problem of incontinence. According to Augustine, the explanation of why someone is unable to do what he knows to be good is that his will is disordered. He does not use the term "free will" but "free choice" (liberum arbitrium). Nevertheless, he thinks that on account of their will, humans can choose to do what is right or wrong.

Although Augustine developed his understanding of the will in a primarily moral context, Greek Christians developed a parallel notion in their defense of the orthodox Christian belief that Jesus Christ has both a divine and a human will (thelesis). John Damascene (c. 675–c. 749) summarized the Greek teaching and emphasized that reason has its own appetite. Some later Christians base their understanding of the will as a rational appetite on his thought. Just as the senses desire what is pleasant to them, so does reason desire what it apprehends as good.

The Jewish and Christian Scriptures contributed greatly to the recognition of what we now call the will. Nevertheless, they also raised the problem of how to reconcile human wills with God's will. Although Jews and Muslims share a common belief in providence and human freedom, for the most part they have developed different approaches to explaining their compatibility. The most influential medieval Jewish position developed in response to the Muslim attempt to combine the Koran's emphasis on human freedom with the emphasis in the hadith (the body of traditions relating to Muhammad and his companions) on providence. The earliest Muslim position, namely the Mu'tazilite, distinguished between God's causality and that of human acts, for which humans are praised or blamed. God is not responsible for sin. In contrast, the Ash'arite position is that humans appropriate an act that comes from God. Although humans are responsible for their actions, they do not act independently of God. The Sunnis adopted this account, although there is no clear explanation of what this appropriation is. The greatest medieval Jewish thinker, Moses Maimonides (1135–1204), reacted strongly against the Ash'arite position. His reaction is at least partially based on the Jewish Scripture's insistence that God's covenant with the Jews requires a free response. In general, Muslims emphasize God's providence, whereas Jews emphasize human freedom.

Christians share the same difficulties as Muslims and Jews, but they also hold the doctrine of predestination, according to which God's providential decision to save some humans is prior to their response. Augustine developed this teaching in opposition to the Pelagian position that humans can obey God's commands and merit heaven without the special form of help from God that is called grace. He argued that human freedom is severely damaged by original sin and that humans are unable to perform meritorious actions on their own. Moreover, Augustine and his followers responded to a position that was later described as Semipelagian, according to which humans have the first choice in accepting or rejecting grace. The Western Church condemned Pelagianism and Semipelagianism.

Augustine's description of predestination presented many difficulties for later Christians. God moves the will, and yet the will moves freely. The agent cannot be primarily responsible for good actions, yet he is solely responsible for his bad ones. Final perseverance in grace precedes merit, although reprobates are punished only on account of their sin. Although the tension between these beliefs is most strongly felt during the early Protestant Reformation, even in the Middle Ages many thinkers emphasized some aspects of Augustine's thought at the expense of others. For example, in the early Middle Ages the Predestinarians argued that reprobation is parallel to predestination. Just as God freely wills to save some before considering their merits, so he wills to eternally punish others apart from their offenses. Predestinarianism was strongly condemned by the Western Church. Consequently, later Catholic theologians were careful to avoid Pelagianism on the one hand and predestinarianism on the other.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Formate to GastropodaDeterminism Free will and Predestination - Ancient Greek Philosophy, Jews, Christians, And Muslims, Scholastic Christian Thought, Reformation And Counter-reformation