Afraid to Believe in Free Will - Book Review

I never thought about free will outside the realm of theology, so I was confused as I started reading the book Afraid to Believe in Free Will by Carl E. Begley.  Rather than an Arminian versus Calvinism argument, it is focused on free will in the discipline of psychology.
Since this was a new concept to me (the psychological aspect of free will versus determinism), I needed some definitions up front to know what the author was discussing.  Who really believes that we are predispositioned to turn out the way we are, that our choices are already determined? Free will upsets psychology, which is based on a system of fixed relations.
By the time I got to the second chapter, I was asking who was afraid of free will (as defined psychologically, not theologically)? What’s to be afraid of? Isn’t free will obvious? But he points out how much our culture and media are opposed to the idea of free will by searching out root causes for destructive behavior. A violent crime is committed because the perpetrator’s past as a victim of child abuse or an alcoholic – well, the explanation of whether or not an alcoholic has free will boggles my mind. The author says, “It would help if the media would stop affirming all the excuses and send the message that the person acting destructively is responsible for the bad consequences.”
He goes on to say that he estimates that 30 percent of our behavior is not free, but determined.  “We need to know when we are powerless and have to rely on outside help; we need to know when we have the power and responsibility to act on our own, without making excuses.”
Finally he approached the theological argument in the latter part of chapter 3. He claims that Jonathan Edwards and R.C. Sproul resist the importance of free will and rely so intently on emphasizing God’s sovereignty that they leave no place for human faculties.  When the creature is diminished, the Creator is more glorious. The author says, “Taking this to its logical conclusion, we have to say that it is more glorious of God to create a creature with little or no free will than to create a human with authentic free will.” This isn’t the logical conclusion for me!  He further accuses them of making so much of the irresistibility of grace that there is no place for free will.
This book is very academic and requires complete concentration.  It’s deep. I confess I skimmed the parts that didn’t interest me (a couple entire chapters). The biggest thought that I take away from this book is how often do I rely so much on the sovereignty of God that I fail to acknowledge my own responsibility or even take action? In a seminary or college setting, there is much material here for students to discuss and argue.
To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, sounds seriously as complicated as reading Ericc Fromm's - Having vs Being.
    Is there an argument about our gift of free will? We were given it and God respects it. If Blessed Mary had no free will, there would be no reason for God to 'request permission' thru the Angel to use her to carry Christ into this world.

    Your biggest thought(second last sentence)has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.

    I enjoy reading your thoughts from your reviews, moves my thoughts along different paths.