I recently had a tempestuous debate with a friend about free will. I was incensed, and decided then and there to blog about the issue. Of course, now that a week has passed, I don’t really remember our positions, and I kind of don’t care.
But I did just read eight of 20 pages of Wikipedia commentary on the subject, so I imagine it’s better to post something than not. Also, I promised myself that after I wrote something, anything, I could watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.Â Here are few contextless observations:
1. Individual free will can be limited/expanded (infinitely?) based on fixed natural laws, context, enculturation, and other people’s choices. Some choices like, “What sexual organs should I have?” are severely limited by genetics, legality, available funds, access to Thai doctors, etc. While others like, “What should I think about?” have far more potential outcomes associated with them. Perhaps a better question than “do humans have free will?” is “to what extent do humans have free will in varying contexts?
2. In an American context, it seems that those who prize destiny over free will, like those who believe in past lives, always believe that their destiny is positive. No one imagines they were a cockroach in a past life; similarly, none of my free will-discounting friends believe that they are destined for a life of poverty, desperation and loneliness, or a meaningless existence of routine and mediocrity. No, it’s all falling in love, life milestones, and changing the world.
3. Eliminating free will is a particularly effective way to disempower. Dominant groups’ ability to secure power, wealth, and influence is inversely proportionate to the level at which underclass members conceptualize their own will and choice. Strict socio-political hierarchies – e.g., caste, gender inequity, religion – depend on the lowest, and usually the largest, group being unaware of or forfeiting their ability to exercise free will. Eradicating free will and doing it under the auspices of divine inspiration is especially successful. I imagine the next best thing would be limiting personal freedom under the guise of utilitarian benefit.
4. “The Judeo-Christian God knows everything, so our actions are predetermined.” Really? I can’t imagine that this is the case, if only because I think God would self-destruct under the crushing weight of His own infinite boredom.
5. Supposedly, God knows everything that was, is, and will be. Does He also know everything that could have been and could be? If so, I don’t see that His knowledge of infinite possibilities would necessarily predetermine our choices. (I think a finite set of possibilities might work differently, but I’m too lazy to think about that right now. Flan and HP call…
What if God were only relatively omniscient? That is, He could only make an educated guess about the future, based on the most logically probable outcomes of an infinite set of possibilities. This could explain why God occasionally responds to advocacy and intercession, and why He suffers.
When you are aware of the infinite options for better choices, and the ripple effect of poor choices, it must be excruciatingly painful to watch people consistently choose the latter. And yet, a good choice, selected from a limitless sea of (un)desirables must be amazingly uplifting. God, it must be hard to be God.
Photo by: rcordella