Freewill, Determinism and Bringing the Rain

God might be interested in things and still choose not to interfere outside the natural order. I’m agnostic to the precise manner in which he providentially governs.


This is a possibility. But it is certainly more like Venema’s position than it is like mine, or others who don’t think it rains anywhere without God’s explicit arrangement - - either through his use of natural laws, or through his miraculous suspension of those natural laws.

I wonder what we would find if we surveyed YECs on this point? Has there been any research on whether or not there are YECs who would be comfortable with the idea “that God doesn’t specifically cause some rain… he just allows it”.

I might be surprised to find out there are lots of YECs who share your view, Professor!


Aquinas is good on this. Even in the 13th century people objected to God as a “micro-manager”, saying that even lowly human rulers do not plan details, but leave them “to be planned by agents at a lower level.” But he answers why human managers need to do the delgation thing:

… as a matter of fact, this is so because of his own deficiency … Now, deficiencies of this kind are far removed from God, because He knows all singular things, and He does not make an effort to understand, or require any time for it; since, by understanding Himself He knows all other things, as we showed above. Therefore, He plans even the order for all singular things. So, His providence applies to all singulars immediately.



It is not surprising that there are Church Fathers who hold to the idea… just as there were Church Fathers who rejected that position.

Here is a handy typology to help keep people clear on the differene between positions that allow free will and those that do not.


The question remains … would most YEC’s fall in my category marked with the red star (and yellow interior)? Or in a different category?

Most Evangelical YECs affirm God’s providence and free will together. They would be Theological Compatibilists. However, most of the (speaking from my ubringing) are not in touch with theology either, with a certain amount of American bred anti-intellectualism. So they have not usually worked out how providence and free will are compatible, and can adopt incoherent positions as a result.

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You need to avoid confusing “providence” with “free will”. Aquinas treated free will as axiomatic - but extended providence to it, as he did to the ctaegory of chance (which, on close examination, he is treating as epistemological in an age before a clear formulation of “regularity” and “contingency” in the modern scientific sense.

But there is a clear distinction to be made between governing the things that happen to individual creatures, the issue I’m answering here, and governing the thoughts or actions of rational agents, which is considerably more difficult to understand.

The difference, maybe, is between the objection that God’s “micromanagement” would be obsessional, that it’s somehow beneath his dignity to decide when it rains and when it doesn’t; and the objection that it would be unjust, because folks ought to be free to manage their own affairs, thank you very much.

Many TEs confuse the two with the category “creaturely freedom” applied to irrational things like the weather, so that God is being unfair to the rain to “make it rain” instead of letting it make up its own mind. In vain does one ask them where they discovered that weather has a mind to make up!


God bless the miracle of incoherent positions simultaneously embraced!

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Agreed. You don’t have to worry.

I didn’t put the two terms together because I thought they were the same. I put the two terms together because for me, provident events are examples of God working out his front-loaded creation to a very finely combed result.

And I included Free Will because I don’t see Free Will as defeating front-loading.

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See my reply to George on separating discussion of “natural order” from “free will.” But on the latter, agreed on this. The “incoherence” seems often to take the form of simple refusal to accept anything other than crude monergism: “If God ‘forces’ me to choose something, I’m not free. End of.” It seems to trump those many Scriptures where that isn’t “end of”!

The sophisticated philosopher or theologian can work on ways to make God’s sovereignty and our freedom compatible. But it’s an option for all of us to live in the humility of the tension knowing that “God’s ways are higher than our ways.” I’m not sure if Evangelicals shutting the door firmly on that is anti-intellecutual, or something else.


George, just remembered a piece I did a while ago, interacting with the kind of conundrums that quantum mechanics throws up. Even in QM the ideas of causation in reality, choice and time in classical reality are every bit as mystifying as consideration of God’s activity and ours… and I suggest that’s perhaps because they shouldn’t really be separated. In fact I suggest that a classical theology of sovereignty and providence irons out, potentially, some of the wierder implications of quantum theory when seen naturalistically.

You’ll see there are some deep comments from two scientists who actually work with quantum theory.

Ah, “free will, determinism, providence”: One of the classic, unresolved, philosophical conundrums.

I think its discussion provides more insight when used as a Rorschach test for participants rather than resolving the ultimate nature of reality. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Funnily enough, have just been having a productive e-mail discussion with a biblical scholar on our slightly different understandings of the same biblical passages on the theology of nature. Both seem to be compatible if one steps back from “classical” views of reality, and one needs either, or both together, to take the passages seriously.

In other words, 'tain’t just free will that requires grappling with such things (or alternatively simple faith in the tension between them), but the whole project of understanding science in relation to Christian faith.

Evidence is a mirror. Not just on this, but most any question.

My Rorschach reading of early Genesis has the universe as originally created a place of darkness and chaos. It is a place where God’s will does not have to be done, and indeed is unknown. Only after His Word entered it was it illuminated and set on the right path.

Nature is still not a place where His will is done, unless His Word enters it.

Hi Joshua,

There is a big difference between providence and theological determinism. On the latter view, everything that happens in our universe (including our choices and the choices of the fallen angels) is determined by God. There are only a few million Christians who uphold such a view, nowadays: on the Protestant side, rigorist Calvinists who continue to uphold the doctrine of double predestination, and on the Catholic side, Bannezians (who are very thin on the ground indeed - most Catholics have never heard of them). As far as I’m aware, none of the Orthodox uphold theological determinism. Thus I would say that most YECs are likely to be theological indeterminists.

The following articles seem to bear out my claim:

Is Free Will an Illusion? (AIG). And from what I can gather, Jonathan Sarfati is a believer in free will as well. Do you know of any evidence to the contrary?


Dan Barker just published a book on free will that is very well thought out


The way you describe it, it sounds like we are all in agreement.


Only a few million? That’s interesting to know. Where can I go to read about that?

If I may add something to this thread, though @vjtorley already touched on this briefly, I think the categories in the chart there are a little confused. The upper right corner is contradictory. If theological determinism is true, libertarian free will cannot be true (at least for creatures). At most you could say that compatibilistic free will can be true. (Unless, like many proponents of libertarian free will, you think that compatibilistic free will is an oxymoron.)

Theological determinism (where God unilaterally determines everything that happens) has to be distinguished from divine providence (where God chooses which world to actualize, but may take creaturely free choices or indeterministic events into account) for those such as Molinists or Open Theists who don’t believe in determinism.


Does someone have a link to this chart?