Book Review: Afraid To Believe In Free Will

Afraid To Believe In Free Will: The Human Tendency To Avoid Responsibility For Free Choices, by Carl E. Begley

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

It should be admitted at the outset that this is not a book for everyone, but those people who can read this book and appreciate it for what it is should find it immensely enjoyable. It is a book from a Christian publisher, and a book that might at first glance appear to be an entry into the Calvnist/Arminian debate [1], but this is not what the book is about at all. Instead, the book is written from a scientific and often psychological perspective about free will and the argument about free will in a way that is very dry and technical but also fascinating for its wide-ranging thoughts and implications. These implications are supported with research and explained with a sound and technical analysis that is impressive even if it not necessarily readily accessible.

Included in this book are a few chapters that are likely to rile some major and entrenched interests dealing with the question of free will and its implications for responsibility. One of the chapters of the book examines the cult of science, including its effects on the pedophile priest scandal of the Roman Catholic Church and their mistaken reliance on the effectiveness of therapy in dealing with deviant priests. Then the next chapter examines the tragedy of charity when it enables people to be dependent on the government and fail to develop the capacity for living competent and responsible lives, including the politics of categorizing homosexuality and the denial of free will in the restraint or gratification of deviant sexual desires. These chapters are powerfully written, but not likely to win the author any friends among those entrenched interests.

It should be noted, in the interests of completeness, that this book takes a very large detour in its larger discussion of free will to take a whack at the hornet’s nest of the political correctness that is involved in homosexuality and pedophilia, and takes a lot of time to discuss a controversy that took place because of confusion over organizations with similar names and the use of scientific studies for immoral purposes by various groups in ways that show how the political bias of scientific organizations tends to lead to a great mistrust of even encouraging scientific results because of the context of political and moral corruption. It is only after all of this lengthy discussion about the politics and science of the argument over free will that the author turns belatedly to religious arguments about free will. Even here, though, the author discusses free will from the perspective of Shakespeare and Jung far more easily than that of theologians or the Bible itself.

At its heart, this is a book that wrestles honestly and openly with the implications of free will and some of the reasons why free will has been denied or downplayed throughout history and in our contemporary society. By making a strong stand for personal responsibility, he takes a stance that may be viewed unsympathetically, but does so with a great deal of integrity and with a clear eye towards the sort of opposition he faces in our current societal discourse. The fact that the author is able to handle so many texts, from cartoons to psychology books, suggests the author’s vast knowledge of the subject and his awareness of the fact that even in a heavily technical book that humor can help make the author’s points about a tragic or realistic optimism that does not wallow in learned helplessness. By the time the book finishes with a discussion of charity versus coerced giving, one understands that this author has thought long and hard about the political implications of the doctrine of free will, and does so with a degree of graciousness and compassion that is not always easy to recognize because of the passionate ways he makes his points. As this is a problem I share, I have more than a little empathy for this author, and warmly recommend this deeply learned work.

[1] My blog has several entries in this particular debate:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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12 Responses to Book Review: Afraid To Believe In Free Will

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  8. Titus2Homemaker says:

    Thank you for this review. I wasn’t sure from the title if this book might be a direct attack on Calvinism. As I’m a solidly-convinced Calvinist (sorry, not sorry šŸ™‚ ), that would obviously not be a good fit. This sounds pretty intriguing, though.

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