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Free Will by Rav B. Horovitz


Is There 'Free Will'?

by Rav B. Horovitz

"See I have set before you life and the good, 
and death and evil: you should choose life"
(Deuteronomy 30:16)

This principle of free will is assumed by the Divine commandments, by man's responsibility for his actions and their consequences, and by Divine reward and punishment.

But is this not contradicted by G-d's Providence and Omnipotence which pervades the Biblical outlook?  'All that the Lord desires He performs in the heavens and upon the earth.' (Psalms 135:6)

The Rabbis answered: 'All is in the hands of G-d except the fear of G-d'( i.e. morality).  G-d limited His control over man so that he could choose to become a saint or sinner, for without potential for evil there would be no virtue in doing good.  This also accounts for the existence of evil in the world.  If all events would show only G-d's goodness, this would force man to follow G-d's will.

Secondly there is a paradox between G-d's foreknowledge and freedom.  'All is foreseen, but freedom is given.'  (Rabbi Akiva)  Just as man cannot grasp the Absolute Being - 'Man cannot see me and live', so he cannot understand the knowledge of G-d, who foresees all actions and nevertheless gives man free choice.  It is logical that creatures cannot fathom the mind of the Creator.  Human knowledge is bound by time, a created relative concept, not applicable to the Absolute Being, in Whom past, present and future are telescoped into knowledge beyond time.

The third apparent objection to freedom comes from the theory of causality.  The nineteenth century scientists dreamed that it was theoretically possible to foretell all happenings and human behavior from known causes which would produce known effects.  But today 'the old scientific ideal of absolute, certain demonstrable knowledge has to be an idol.'  (Popper)   Laws of science are today viewed by the greatest authorities as no more than hypothesis.

The Law of Causality, thought scientifically incorrect according to the Principles of Indeterminism, is still popularly assumed to operate, even in the spheres of psychology and sociology.  According to this view, the actions and thoughts of man are determined by antecedent chance causes.  This must also apply to the thinking of the scientists, which according to this view, is also determined by chance biological or sociological factors, and therefore loses its claim to truth.  "Truth" and "falsity" then lose their meaning.  We must beware of imposing our intuitive a priori principles, which desire to connect the data of the universe, upon the empirical world (Edington); succession of facts is no proof of relationship (Hume).

Despite these factors we seem to experience causality in an outward limited fashion.  Experience is based upon external empirical sense-perception and upon inward intuitive perception, such as the ego, mathematical dot and line which take up no space.  Just as the existence of the ego, thought it is not an object sense-perception, cannot be denied - it is, in fact, the subject of all perceiving; so can free choice, which is an inward consciousness, not be denied, though it is not apparent to the causal view.

According to the Principle of Complementarity, light has empirically the properties of wave and particle, although it seems contradictory.  Similarly, freewill and causality are two paradoxical aspects of human reality that complement one another. 

Both dimensions have a purpose: Freedom teaches moral responsibility, and causality directs the mind to the First Cause.

The process of free choice is to recognize or hide from that which one really knows to be true.  For example, a habitual smoker, knowing that it is ruining his health, chooses for the good when he accepts this truth, and for the bad when his ego ignores this truth and gives room to the false desire to smoke.  Thought its potential extends further, the actual plane of free choice is at the meeting-point of the evil and good inclinations - at different levels for each individual.

We have been conditioned by our environment and upbringing not to murder and rob, nor do we have actual freedom to attain the spiritual levels of the prophets.  Our field of actual responsibility is, for example, removing selfishness, envy and greed.

It is man's freedom of choice which makes him into the "Image of G-d".  He has been granted liberty to avoid license and perfect himself and the world.  This gives meaning to commandments and prohibitions, reward, punishment, and human responsibility.

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