Usually free-will is assumed by most faith traditions as a prerequisite for moral responsibility in order to justify eternal punishment. The argument goes as "you are truly responsible for your immoral deeds because you were perfectly capable of acting morally, but chose not to, and therefore you are guilty and deserve punishment". In other words, there is an assumption of a self capable of having chosen otherwise. But this definition sounds kind of handwavy to me. What do they really mean by "capable of having chosen otherwise"? Does this mean that if we somehow go back in time and press the "univere's play button" again, a different decision would have come out of the same self? But how would that be different from randomness?

I would appreciate a formal (hopefully, mathematical if you can) definition of free-will that clearly differentiates it from determinism, randomness and any kind of determinism-randomness hybrid. Furthermore, I would love to read a logical discussion of how the formal definition provided would support the existence of true moral responsibility. Let me explain why. If the only options available were determinism, randomness and determinism-randomness hybrid, I cannot see any hope for true moral responsibility:

  1. Determinism: your actions, either moral or immoral, are just the ripple effect of past events, you cannot help but do what the laws of Physics make you do, you had no choice, it's not your fault, therefore there is no true moral responsibility on your part.
  2. Randomness: your actions are random, chaotic, there is no control, you are lucky/unlucky that you behave morally/immorally by random chance (e.g. because of weird quantum randomness in the brain, for example). In other words, it's just a matter of luck, a matter of winning the morality lottery. If you behave immorally, it's not really your fault, it's just your bad luck. Therefore there is no true moral responsibility on your part either.
  3. Determinism-Randomness Hybrid: your actions are the result of a combination of deterministic rules applied to past events combined with random quantum noise or something along those lines. Depending on how strong are the causal ripple effects from past events and how strong are the random noises altering them, you end up acting either morally or immorally. In part you are unlucky, in part you have no choice. Anyway, it's not your fault. Therefore there is no true moral responsibility on your part either.

So, somehow, free-will is supposed to have a mysterious formal definition that distinguishes it from determinism, randomness and determinism-randomness hybrid that allows for true moral responsibility in a way that these other concepts can't. I would really appreciate such a formal definition.

  • Compatabilism is a common choice. – PyRulez May 12 '18 at 19:58
  • @PyRulez, would you mind elaborating more? maybe write an answer? – xwb May 13 '18 at 0:02
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    (A) have you checked the Wikipedia article on "Free Will"? Is there something in there that needs explaining, or something you don't see in there? (B) How are you defining "a formal definition", and in particular, what do you mean by a "mathematical" one? – Matt Gutting May 13 '18 at 1:20
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    One final comment - this seems like a philosophical question, rather than one strictly related to Christianity. You should probably ask your question at the Philosophy Stack Exchange. – Matt Gutting May 13 '18 at 13:52
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    @xwb The answer is closed now, but see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism – PyRulez May 25 '18 at 0:28

Julian Baggini has written a book called Freedom Regained: the Possibility of Free Will. In it the idea emerges that Philosophers working on free will and moral responsibility proceed almost exclusively by appealing to intuitions.
Richard Oerton in his book The Nonsense of Free Will gives, I think, a good, not-too-technical-for-the-average-reader discussion of the incoherence of the free will idea. When something is essentially illogical it means that the sort of formal mathematical definition you seek is actually impossible. That's the thing about free will, it is free of formal definition. If we could define it it would not be free. It just fills a gap people want to fill. The human will is not free of how God made it or why God made it. We are free to be ourselves but not free to be anything else. We make choices based on who we are. Who we are depends upon how we were made. Nothing has ever made itself. All our choices depend on how we were made. Free will needs a gap between what we are and how we behave. This gap does not exist.

  • Your second to last sentence is you playing a word game, which appears to be what you are criticizing, and looks a lot like a non sequitur. Whether or not it is definable has no relationship to something being free, given that the characteristic of free is inherent to the concept. If your answer is "free will is not formally defined" (which is a way to challenge the frame of the question) please edit your answer to focus on that. (Thanks for the names of the references, I may take a look at them in the future). (I edited in a paragraph break, and punctuation, not content). – KorvinStarmast May 24 '18 at 17:33
  • The human will is not free of how God made it, or free of why God made it. Adam had an appearance of perfection but his true nature, how God made him, was only revealed through testing. – C. Stroud May 26 '18 at 12:53
  • OK, the ability for error was inherent in Adam, which would seem to be the base requirement for being free (or having a will that can be free). – KorvinStarmast May 28 '18 at 14:27
  • Being able to break God's law, to disobey His command, can, I think be seen as "freedom". It is freedom from the stricture of the law. But that is not freedom from who we are, and does not imply that we could have obeyed. God made a world in which only Jesus would fulfil the law. – C. Stroud May 29 '18 at 17:26
  • If you are going to have to invent new meanings for words, it's a bit more difficult to use those same words and terms. Thanks for clearing up for my your reasoning. – KorvinStarmast May 29 '18 at 20:01

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