Determined to Believe: Chapter 1 - Human Freedom, Determinism and Morality

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 1! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main take aways were that rejecting God leads to slavery rather than freedom and that free will is necessary for morality.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are the two types of determinism we will be addressing in this book? What are their implications?
  2. In what ways is free will critical for the existence of morality?
  3. Do you think free will is compatible with determinism?
  4. In what ways does rejecting God diminish human freedom?

Quotes

Yet one of the key questions for any of us is: how free am I, if at all?

how can I be free, since the universe is completely responsible for my existence?

how free am I, if at all, when God is completely responsible for my existence and behaviour?

two kinds of freedom – the liberty of spontaneity and the liberty of indifference.

I can choose either course of action indifferently; and having chosen the one course of action, I can, on looking back, know that I could equally well have freely chosen the other course…In this book when I use the term “free will” I shall understand it in this sense.

some philosophers think that freedom of spontaneity is compatible with determinism – a view called compatibilism.

Oxford Handbook of Free Will says: … debates about free will in the modern era since the seventeenth century have been dominated by two questions, not one – the “Determinist Question”: “Is determinism true?” and the “Compatibility Question”: “Is free will compatible or incompatible with determinism?” Answers to these questions have given rise to two of the major divisions in contemporary free will debates, between determinists and indeterminists, on the one hand, and between compatibilists and incompatibilists, on the other.

An essential part of what it means to be mature human beings (so discounting here both infants and the severely mentally ill) is the freedom to choose between A and not-A, such that we are morally responsible and hence accountable for our actions.

To be a moral creature, one first of all needs moral awareness.

Secondly, if one is going to behave morally, one must not only be aware of the difference between moral good and moral evil; one must have sufficient freedom of will in order freely to choose to do good or to do evil.

Jean-Paul Sartre captured this idea well: The man who wants to be loved does not desire the enslavement of the beloved. He is not bent on becoming the object of passion which flows forth mechanically. He does not want to possess an automaton, and if we want to humiliate him, we need try to only persuade him that the beloved’s passion is the result of a psychological determinism. The lover will then feel that both his love and his being are cheapened… If the beloved is transformed into an automaton, the lover finds himself alone.

The potential of evil thought and act to produce evil effects cannot be annulled without simultaneously removing the necessary condition for free will to function. This is a moral universe.

This is the heart of contemporary humanist philosophy: A humanist has cast off the ancient yoke of supernaturalism, with its burden of fear and servitude, and he moves on the earth a free man, a child of nature and not of any man-made gods.

Far from increasing human freedom, it is the rejection of God that actually diminishes it and leads to a pseudo-religious anthropocentric ideology, whereby each individual man and woman becomes a prisoner of non-rational forces that will eventually destroy them in complete disregard of their humanity.

We shall focus instead on the increasing emphasis on determinisms of various kinds, both among atheists and theists (mainly Christians).

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What I love about this chapter is that he sets us up for the rest of the book. These are the fundamentals that we need to grasp. These are the things that should be in the back of our minds.
What types of freedom are we dealing with, and what are it’s implications?

The freedoms:
Liberty of spontaneity
Liberty of indifference

The fundamentals:

  1. We need freedom for morality

To be moral you need a moral awareness. You must have freedom of will to choose to do good or evil.
To have a law implies ability to obey.
You can’t be held responsible for what you don’t have the capacity for, just like a blind person won’t be responsible for not having sight.
(I think this is one of the most important things we need to reconcile when talking about predestination and determinism. Where exactly, or rather, how exactly, can we be moral?)

I love that he addresses human psychology in a humorous way when he says when we do right, we like to be praised for it as something we’ve done. When we do something wrong we usually deny responsibility and say we couldn’t help it. I see a lot of myself in this.

  1. We need freedom for love

‘if the beloved is transformed into an automaton, the lover finds himself alone’

  1. Freedom is the claim of Christianity

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 ESV

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@c3vanzyl Great thoughts! I am always amazed when I consider anew the way that Jesus sets us free from slavery to sin and self to worship the living God. As Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

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Beautiful quote! And so so true!

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I have replied to the questions above. Honestly, some might be in the wrong category, or simply not a complete thought. Please feel free to correct me as I am here to learn and try to truly internalize this material so that I might be able to draw upon it in conversations. :wink:

  1. What are the two types of determinism we will be addressing in this book? What are their implications?
    A. Liberty of Spontaneity – follow our own motive (not forced by government, etc)
    B. Liberty of indifference – Ability to choose one option over another
    These seem very similar to me. If I am allowed the Liberty of Spontaneity, am I not allow being allowed the Liberty of Indifference (I can choose between A or non-A)?

  2. In what ways is free will critical for the existence of morality?
    A. You must have the ability to choose in order for a civil society to exist.
    B. Laws imply that you have the ability to choose obedience or disobedience. How can one be held responsible for something he can’t choose?
    C. Must have moral awareness. A dog can be trained, but you can’t train it to understand why something is right or wrong. A computer can be programmed, but can’t be held responsible for choices. For example, if a computer gives you the most effective method of committing a crime, it has only provided you with the information. You are the one morally responsible for the choice that’s made.

  3. Do you think free will is compatible with determinism?
    A. How can a God who does not allow free will, hold us accountable or responsible for our behavior if we cannot freely choose right or wrong?
    B. If we are pre-wired for certain behaviors, just as with the computer, is not the programmer responsible rather than the computer? :face_with_raised_eyebrow:
    C. For love to be love it must be given by choice to another person.

  4. In what ways does rejecting God diminish human freedom?
    Page 34 “As the Christian sees it, the atheist’s mistake here is that, in seeking to escape from oppressive, legalistic, superstitious and opiate religion, he rejects God, who himself denounces such religion. Far from increasing human freedom, it is the rejection of God that actually diminishes it and leads to a pseudo-religious anthropocentric ideology, whereby each individual man and woman becomes a prisoner of non-rational forces that will eventually destroy them in complete disregard of their humanity.” What we worship, we follow…and we all worship someone or something. As Dawkins states, “… we dance to our DNA.” If you believe that, then you are not free to choose…you simply are responding to something outside of your control (DNA). If everyone is responding to something outside of their control, where and what right do you have to impose moral laws and codes within a society? It seems as if you would not have any right or freedom to create such laws, because your laws might conflict greatly with another individuals “rights”. In essence, you would be taking their freedom to dance to their DNA away from them by force.

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@kelelek Great response!

I believe for (1) you listed the two types of freedom rather than the two types of determinism - still very helpful :slight_smile: This was a bit of a curve ball though - because this information is in the prior section. The two types of determinism are physical determinism and theological determinism.

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Question for the group.
On page 22 Dr. Lennox defines freedom as Liberty of spontaneity and Liberty of indifference. He goes on to say;

In this book when I use the term “free will” I shall understand it in this sense.

Does he mean spontaneity or indifference or both?

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@Jimmy_Sellers I believe he is referring to this definition, which is the liberty of indifference. So ‘free will’ in this book is regarding are ability to have chosen otherwise.

I can choose either course of action indifferently; and having chosen the one course of action, I can, on looking back, know that I could equally well have freely chosen the other course…

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This chapter did a good job setting the table for the rest of the book. He gets our appetites wet so that we are ready to devour the meat of the book. Unlike Andy Stanley’s book which had a confusing introduction that I failed to understand the relevance until well over halfway into the book, Lennox details the issues he’s going to get into later a lot clearer right off the bat.
Before we decided to read this book by Lennox, I recently finished reading Lennox’s 2011 book Gunning for God. He has a great chapter in there where he discussed the naturalistic problem that evolution poses to free will. He quotes Richard Dawkins and his struggle of reducing man to only his genes yet saying that man can rebel against his genes:
“We are built as gene machines…but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”

Yet at the beginning of Dawkins’ same book Lennox quotes him again:
“We are survival machines– robot vehicles blindly-programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.”

So Lennox responds with this:
“But how can we rebel, if we are nothing but our genes? If there is no non-material, non-genetic, element or force within us, what is there in us that could possibly have the capacity to rebel against our genes and behave morally?”

Lennox wisely points out Dawkins’ contradiction when we basically defines us as determined beings that can “shake off” our determined state and be “free.” I always find it amusing when atheists call themselves free thinkers when under their worldview there really is no such thing. Only Christians can claim to be free thinkers in the truest sense of the word. But enough on that. I can’t wait to dive into the topic of theological determinism.

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Great responses! I really enjoyed reading them, specifically @kelelek at point 2C: “a computer can be programmed, but it can’t be held responsible for choices… the programmer is responsible for them”, and also @c3vanzyl : ‘if the beloved is transformed into an automaton, the lover finds himself alone’.

A simple point under question 2) ;
our justice system rejects materialistic determinism by its very reason for existence: To hold people accountable for their actions.

Indeed, the very existence of civil and criminal law demonstrates that members of civilised societies have a deep-seated conviction that they possess not only the liberty of spontaneity but the liberty of indifference. An essential part of what it means to be mature human beings (so discounting here both infants and the severely mentally ill) is the freedom to choose between A and not-A, such that we are morally responsible and hence accountable for our actions. The Supreme Court of the United States of America says that a belief in determinism “is inconsistent with the underlying precepts of our criminal justice system” (United States vs. Grayson, 1978).

To be a moral creature, one first of all needs moral awareness. Human beings, as far as we know, are the only creatures on earth that have such awareness… (continues)

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 26). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

Also, I thought the point about the order of the universe being a moral universe ‘that makes sense’ was of interest. All the space around us is neutral in order for morality to exist. I like his analogy of a beam of wood being hard when it’s used for good, and then becoming soft when used for evil. :slight_smile: the air waves carry both insults and words of encouragement and love.

– matter, in other words – must have a certain fixed nature, a certain autonomy as Lewis calls it. Suppose the contrary were the case. Imagine, for example, that the world was structured in such a way that a beam of wood remained hard and strong when used in the construction of a house, but it became as soft as grass when I hit my neighbour with it. Or if the air refused to carry lies and insults.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 30). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

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If you like this analogy, I’d highly suggest reading the problem of pain by CS Lewis. I think that is where he took that analogy from, and lewis goes into beautiful detail.
I’ve also heard Ravi quote it in some talks. It is a wonderful analogy indeed!

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1- I find the idea of compatabilism quite interesting. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I am sure Lennox will dive into this. But I would like it if someone could tell me who adopts this view? Neoatheists? And if there was a video or something where they explain it I would really appreciate it.
2-How do we become free with God?
He says:

“It therefore rightly rouses our indignation to see any human being enslaved – treated as nothing more than a cog in a machine, a mere means to the end of another person’s pleasure or profit. Every human being, man or woman, boy or girl, of whatever race, colour, or creed, from whatever part of the world, has a right to be treated as an end in himself or herself, never as a mere statistic, or simply as a means of production, but as a person with a name and a unique identity, born to be free.”

If we believe that treating one another as an end rather as a mean, makes us free, how much more would it be if God, Himself, the One who brought us into existence, treat us as an end not a mean for some greater purpose? The passage that Lennox quotes in Luke 4, was like Jesus’s opening ceremony. Maybe it wasn’t the first time he got up in front of an audience and preached, but this was like a statement from God of why He came to Earth.
I am super excited about the book! And I love the enthusiam. Keep it up guys.

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My definition of compatibilism please feel free to comment.
A belief that is rooted in natural determinism. A determinism that is a product of our nature (genes) and nurture (our environment) that somethings are indeed predetermined. Compatibilism is the understanding that we have parts of our lives that have been predetermined but as humans we can still choose other or neither spontaneously and indifferently.

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Thank you Jimmy! Your definition is right to the point.

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I haven’t started reading yet but I thought this question was interesting. Immediately this quote popped in my head from GK Chesterton, “We are never free until some institution frees us; and liberty cannot exist until it is declared by authority.” In short, the paradox of freedom is that it requires some authority to declare it. A slave cannot simply declare his freedom and be free, he must be set free. A prisoner cannot free himself from his cell, he must be set free by the authorities. I think Jesus touched on this in John 8:31-36 when he said,

“If you abide in my word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free…everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”

We don’t have the authority to declare our own free will. A mindless universe has no authority and cannot grant free will or free thought. Only God can. So in rejecting him, we reject the only authority which can set us free.

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@rla9316 Great point! I think that is very hard for people in modern Western society to grasp because while we actually get our identity from our social and cultural context, we claim to be rooting our identity within ourselves. So it takes a bit of explaining to help people understand you cannot provide yourself the affirmation you need to establish a self.

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I found John Lennox’s comments about freedom at the beginning of the chapter interesting. I’m curious about the four freedoms set forth by FDR and included in the preamble to the UN Charter of Human Rights:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

Lennox mentioned that “such freedoms are almost universally regarded as central to what it means to be human.”

Why did Roosevelt choose these four and not others? Why not include freedom of movement and freedom from pain? Why include freedom from want and fear?

I haven’t found a right to freedom from want and fear in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 11:27-28 Paul told how he was often “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” In 2 Corinthians 7:5 Paul described his state of mind as “fighting without and fear within” (ESV).

I’m not criticizing Lennox’s example. It was a great way to get us thinking about the importance of freedom to humans, but I’ve wondered before about Roosevelt’s list. Does his list of freedoms flow logically from a certain worldview? If so, what worldview? How should we as Christians define freedom? Is it important to have a Biblical understanding of freedom in order to understand the implications of determinism?

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@Jennifer_Wilkinson I think the four freedoms were created from the perspective of a world leader - what protections should a government offer its citizens??? So they were not written from an explicitly Christian perspective, but the perspective of what leaders should provide their nation.

I think one freedom not on that list that a Christian would proclaim is freedom from sin and death, which can only be found in Christ!

Look forward to hearing others thoughts :slight_smile:

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I just started diving into this book couple of weeks ago. I am excited to read through the discussion on each chapter! I’ve been introduced to Reformed Theology several months ago and it’s been a battle for me to digest through all of its implications. I had a hard time accepting many of the Reformed theology statements and I came across this book which I’m extremely excited about! I’ve been on Lennox kick lately and this is book #4 for me. I just can’t get enough of his writing!

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@Kasia_Tunnell Wow - that’s great! So glad to have you along :slight_smile: Feel free to jump in on any of the chapter discussions. I just posted chapter 14. Will be interested to hear your thoughts as you process all that you are considering. Christ grant you wisdom.