How the Cognitive Sciences Might Contribute to the Theological Debate about Free Will?

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This article argues that recent results of the cognitive sciences could make significant contributions to theological debates about free will, but they have been largely ignored by contemporary systematic and philosophical theologians. Recent work in cognitive psychology and moral psychology has to do with our intuitive and automatic patterns of reasoning in the domains of freedom and responsibility. This research will be relevant for many theological domains and has the potential to raise new issues and problems. The essay examines three such domains. First, the debate between intellectualist and voluntarist accounts of the will have been central in theology. Recent findings suggest that intellectualist accounts of the will have more intuitions on their side than has been previously assumed. Second, theologians have debated whether belief in free will is central for moral and political life. This question was pertinent during the Reformation when many of the reformers either rejected free will or presented truncated accounts of it. Recent results from moral psychology suggest that belief in free will has significant pro‐social and altruistic effects. Finally, the possible compatibility of divine determinism and free will is crucial for theological debates about sin, grace and God’s providence. Recent psychological results point in the direction of affirming that while most humans have strong intuitions about the incompatibility of free will and divine determinism, these might be based on a false inference. Finally, some new counterintuitive challenges about the manipulativeness of God are raised against the divine determinist position.
Original languageEnglish
JournalModern Theology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)362-381
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 614 Theology
  • Free will
  • Moral responsibility

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