Free Moral Agency

God Made Man a Free Moral Agent

Having free moral agency is a large part of what it means to be a person. A computer is not a free moral agent. It does exactly what it is programmed to do. It does not have the ability to go against its programming. An animal also does not have the ability to go against its programming. It does exactly what its DNA (its program) tells it to do, no more, and no less. Neither a computer nor an animal can do things that are original, creative, or unexpected (in an absolute sense). They can’t do differently than what they were always meant to do.

What does it mean to do as one was always meant to do? Imagine a long line of billions of dominoes set up and ready to knock down. When the first domino falls, the end result is already known. One by one the dominoes fall according to the laws of physics. Computers, animals, and everything else in the universe is contained (metaphorically) in this long line of falling dominoes. A person’s brain, some suggest, is simply part of this long chain of cause and effect. This is known as the doctrine of determinism.

At issue is whether humans are creatures that are wholly determined, or whether they are creatures that have free moral agency, free will. If humans have free moral agency, then they have the ability to act other than their DNA is programmed to act. They may be original, creative, and act unexpectedly. They may act contrary to their “programming.” They may choose to do other than what they would have done.

If humans do not have such ability, then they are, more or less, just complicated animals/machines. Consequentially, attitudes, thoughts, and actions would be simply products of their environment. As one atheistic philosopher put it, “The brain secretes thoughts as the liver secretes bile.” Or, as one atheistic psychologist said, “We don’t act upon the world; the world acts upon us.”

If man is a free moral agent, there is something about him that is radically different from his environment. He is not simply a collection of atoms, but something more than that, something beyond the material world. He must have some capacity outside the material world that enables him to know both that he is not just a rat in a material maze, and that he is capable of making such decisions as would move him beyond the maze itself regardless of how difficult that may be. This implies something about his non-material existence, and also about his non-material Creator: there is a God who exists outside of space and time who is responsible for fathering our free spirits (Heb. 12:9)!

A human person is thus a being that is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), with a body (his material self) and a spirit/soul (his immaterial self). Freedom is a gift from God that is part and parcel to the experience of being a person. Free moral agency is the ability we have to choose one way or the other, to live according to the dictates of the material world (our environment), or to choose to transcend those dictates so as to be something more than a natural product, as God told Cain, “Do thou rule over it” (Gen. 4:7 ASV).

Men who seek simply to gratify the desires of the flesh choose to live like beings of mere material existence without real freedom, and without hope for life beyond the material world. The longer they pursue such choices, the more materialistic/carnal they become. Those who choose to live beyond the dictates of the physical world and not allow those dictates to control their end become something greater than this natural world has to offer. They choose to follow the dictates of the spirit. We become that which we choose, the flesh, or the spirit (Rom. 8:1-13). This is the choice that God has given us as free moral beings.

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