Review of Afraid to Believe in Free Will by Carl E. Begley

I just finished Afraid to Believe in Free Will: The Human Tendency to Avoid Responsibility for Free Choices by Carl E. Begley. This book took a while to read, but once I committed I found it well worth the effort, primarily because its not often you find an author whose a psychologist with a theological edge.

The purpose of his book is summed up in this quote:

“Belief in free will implies a commitment to personal responsibility. Fear of belief in free will is fear of responsibility.”

The middle portion of the book is where the goods are. It contains 4 chapters which could be seen as case-studies detailing how various realms deny free-will. The important areas he hits are:

  • Science – In this chapter, Begley shows how Science is primed to defend determinism because “Humans are merely biological machines controlled by physical occurrences in our brains.” The most enlightening thing for me here was the way Begley demonstrated how this leads to what has “been called ‘physics envy,’” where other disciplines such as psychology are “reduced to physics without any credence given to free will.”
  • Politics – In this chapter, Begley helps us see why many political agendas thrive on keeping people as victims. Its easier to provide services than to tell people that they may be able to overcome their problems if the government only cut off support. The best quote in this chapter came from Theodore Dalrymple who said: “Misery increases to meet the means available for its alleviation.”
  • Religion – Here Begley takes shots at R. C. Sproul and Jonathon Edwards for the way they make “much of the irresistibility of grace and barely, if at all, make a place for free will.” The Calvinists in the house will not enjoy this chapter, and although he may exaggerate slightly in order to prove his case, it does help us see how Calvinism can be a burden when it is separated from a larger framework.

Begley proves to be a well-read author who pulls from a variety of sources. His book  always aims to provide an apologetic for free will, which serves the higher purpose of honoring the Christian worldview. Although at times I didn’t feel qualified to judge some of his arguments, I enjoyed his style and would recommend this book if you are looking for a psychologist’s take on a very important theological and moral question.

Quotes worth keeping:

“Free will is an awesome power; it is tempting to water it down, to claim that the stakes are really not very high. When we realize that we have made free choices that have led to unpleasant consequences, we really don’t want it to be true that we were free. We yearn for someone or something other than ourselves to be responsible for unpleasant outcomes of our free choices. Or we hope that something or someone very powerful will be in charge and won’t be playing the game of free will for keeps.”

I have gotten to know people who spend a great deal of time and effort complaining about what is wrong with the world. Over and over, almost daily, many people seem freshly astounded that their situation, as well as the world at large, is not ideal—not all good—and they can’t accept the reality of evil or bad things. From them I hear long lists of complaints: “My wife doesn’t understand me.” “I thought he would take all day.” “Where was God during the Holocaust?” I get the impression that these people awaken each morning with the expectation that it’s the beginning of a new day in the Garden of Eden. Then, when the first frustration comes along, they are surprised and outraged because things don’t work out the way they expected.”

I review for BookSneeze®I received this book free from the publisher through the http://BookSneeze.com book review blogger’s program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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