By Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)
The question of free will is important for Christian theology. The notion of
salvation through faith suggests that we have the free will necessary to choose
what we believe. If we were unable to choose to believe or not believe, then the
term “salvation through faith” would be misleading. It would be more accurate to
attribute salvation to whatever force compels belief. For example, John Calvin
argued faith was a manifestation of salvation, and salvation was predestined and
ordained by God. Neither human actions nor choices could influence whether one
were saved. It is my understanding that Calvin did not deny that humans have
some degree of free will, but he held that the force of human depravity
overwhelmed any possibility that we could earn salvation through good works and
avoidance of sin.
Still, many Christians hold that salvation is predicated on leading a
virtuous life, which appears to presume that humans have free will. While there
are differing views on the how much free will human beings have, many Christians
seem to be in much greater agreement on how much free will nonhuman beings have
– little or none. Yet, animals must make many choices, and the notion that
somehow these choices are “hard-wired” by “instinct” makes no sense. In fact, we
see that animals can communicate, learn, and adapt. Both humans and nonhumans
have certain ingrained behavioral predilections, and it appears that both make
choices based on experience.
Therefore, I see similar evidence for free will among human beings and nonhuman beings. If one group has free will, it is reasonable to believe that the other does as well. The source of free will appears to be the same – the need to make choices among many options in a complex, ever-changing world. Next week, I will reflect further on whether humans and nonhumans have free will.