Saturday, October 30, 2010

Free to Be or Not to Be…

Free to Be or Not to Be…

Most of us do not ask if we have free will. We feel responsible for our choices, hold people responsible for their choices, and never give it much thought whether we or they are really free to choose. If we had to respond to the question of free will, we might respond with more questions: Why do we even use the word “intend” if we never freely intend anything? Why do we distinguish between
 unintentional behavior and intentional behavior, if the intentional behavior is no more free than unintentional behavior? Why do we deliberate between our options, if we are not free to choose? Why do we punish criminals and reward children, if they are not free to choose?

Granted, we have limited options, but it seems that we are free to choose from among those options. “I did not have the option” does not equate to “I did not have free will.” Also, we can shape which options will occur to us as conceivable by refusing to entertain thoughts about options we do not want to occur to us, and by choosing to entertain thoughts about options we do want to occur to us. Those thoughts we entertain most will occur to us most, which is part of why it is so hard to break a habit, and which is why part of breaking a habit is distracting yourself and keeping your mind busy with other things (like healthy habits). Habitual behavior is free behavior, because actions, including thoughts, performed as a matter of habit, confirm a pattern of past intention, and habits can be broken with new intentions. Certainly not all of the behavior of our body is voluntary, like cell reproduction and habitual thoughts that occur when we are trying to break a habit, but one could argue that the involuntary behavior of our body is not “our” behavior, and hopefully, if necessary, we learn how to bring that behavior under our control.

Golden Rule love is a choice, and sin is its alternative choice (see Objection 16 in Appendix E). When we make a habit of either, we are still choosing, but some of the choice has become “second nature” to us and can be made without thinking it through. It is just like driving to or from work without even thinking about it. We are not driving against our will—we are willfully driving—our will is just on autopilot. If we notice anything out of the ordinary that needs quick, immediate action, we will come out of our autopilot state and make conscious decisions. The same is true of our moral decisions—we will choose how we have always chosen, without really thinking it through, unless we are given reason to give it more thought and choose differently. So we can never blame our mistakes or victories on blind will—if we didn’t really want to do what we did, we would have stopped ourselves from doing it, just as we would come out of autopilot and slam on the breaks the second we notice the car running the red light.

How we think about this is important, because if we truly feel that we do not have free will and cannot control our thoughts and behavior, this will be reflected in our choices, especially if we think that in the end, none of it matters.

Look at Joseph Duncan’s blog at as an example, albeit an extreme one (47). To ask if Duncan’s choice of evil was compelled begs the question of whether or not evil is even a real option. Did Duncan commit evil? Was it sin? Was he free to have chosen better, and would it have been essentially better than what he chose, or is “better” an illusion, is there no alternative to evil, because there is no essential good, and therefore no evil (no privation, absence, of essential good), and so he did not choose evil in the first place? We will discuss whether or not he had free will a little later in this section, but for now we will consider whether “good” is a real option, and “evil” its real alternative.

There are five opposing positions to choose from on sin or evil and what it implies about God, the first four being insufficient and answered by the fifth, which is correct (some or all of these alternatives are discussed in Ravi Zacharias’ “Jesus among Other Gods” and Geisler and Feinberg’s “Introduction to Philosophy / A Christian Perspective”)—you will see we cannot discuss sin or evil without discussing free will.

1. Evil and suffering exists, therefore a good/omnipotent Creator does not exist. This comes from Epicurus (341-270 BCE) and is called the Epicurean paradox, or Riddle of Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

This explanation contradicts itself because it implies an objective, transcendent good (God) (because without good, there can be no evil, because evil is the privation of good, explained in option five), and then denies the existence of that good (God). In order to condemn God for not preventing all evil, you must first admit the “real” good which describes him, and so in condemning God, you would be negating the real good, so that there is no real basis from which to condemn him (and no him, if he doesn’t exist, since he isn’t good). All forms of suffering (whether or not it is punishment for sin) can draw us closer and into a deeper relationship with God, who is there regardless of circumstances, a never-changing anchor in the stormy vicissitudes of life (a Melville-ism). This can be seen in a dialectic (58, 66)…

The Theodicy Dialectic

Thesis: God is good and all-powerful.
Antithesis: Evil and suffering are real, so either God is not good, or is not all-powerful to prevent evil and suffering.
Synthesis: God is good and all-powerful when He allows us to choose or reject Golden Rule love-despite-circumstances.

Couldn’t it instead be that there are reasons God does not prevent all suffering? What would happen if He did prevent all suffering? We could never be able to make a choice which would lead to suffering (even self-sacrifice; there goes free will)—and so Golden Rule love would be impossible (love being a choice), and we’d never know the sort of love for which we hunger (57)—and God (a study in self-sacrifice, showing that love is more important than being free from suffering) would blink out of existence (impossible if He ‘is’).

Would it be a fair trade to end all suffering, but in so doing, to also end all truly living? Most folks who’ve suffered greatly would answer a resounding “No.” Nietzsche said some things on this which ring true, about suffering making you stronger (but, stronger to love!), about great heights being made possible by great depths. One is reminded of Ivan’s speech to Alyosha in Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov”—"Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end... but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature ... And to found that edifice on its unavenged tears: would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell me the truth!" If you were the child, would you want the world, all its past, all its present, all its future (lives) never to exist, on account of ending your suffering? No child would want that who wasn’t taught to be selfish and hateful. Of course that does not justify ‘our’ allowing a child to suffer. We are obligated to help—if we cause the child’s suffering, or allow it to continue—it is we who are responsible, not God. If you only want God to end the suffering that no one else can end, and that no one brought on themselves—what about everyone else?—what real standard makes that okay? What about forgiveness? What about learning about the sort of Golden Rule love that is greater than our suffering (74) (see Objection 1 in Appendix E)?

2. All is god (pantheism) and there is no evil (see Dawkins quote in #4). Hinduism explains the perception of evil as induced by ignorance (3; 120). However, Hinduism’s doctrine of reincarnation, of paying your debt of karma (known to Jews and Christians as the debt of sin — the consequence of which is death, complete separation from God, rather than...), having to ‘suffer’ through another life (although an infant has done nothing to earn your debt... and what debt did the first human incur?) inadvertently acknowledges the reality of evil (the corruption of good) while denying it and utterly missing the point.

3. Dualism: Good and evil in eternal opposition. This assumption: “If the past, present, and future are complete before it all started, then from God’s perspective there is no change, and even evil is unchanging, essential to reality…” fails to distinguish between temporal and eternal. Absolutes are anchored in the eternal, reflected in the temporal. Evil is limited to the temporal (changing), is not an opposite of Golden Rule love (unchanging), and is certainly not a reflection of it, but a privation of it. (To clarify: The temporal is not itself evil.)

There is an argument that centers around the narrative of the Fall found in the book of Genesis. This argument claims God failed to provide a consequence Adam and Eve would understand (because they had no idea what death was), and so they were acting in ignorance and didn’t mean to sin; they didn’t possess free choice, they didn’t ‘know’ what they were doing, until after eating the fruit from the Tree of the ‘Know’ledge of Good and Evil. Entangled in this argument is the belief that in order to know “good” they had to know “evil” (and vice versa)—and so God’s command to not eat of that tree was a command against knowledge. However (if this narrative actually happened, and if we grant they had no idea what death was), in Eden, Adam and Eve knew the difference between eating and not eating the fruit. It is not that their freedom began when they ate of the fruit and God killed an animal to demonstrate death and make them clothing. Before they ate the fruit, they were freely following God. Understanding the consequences was not necessary for them to ‘know’ that they were doing something God warned them not to do, and we should not only do right when there is a reward for it or a punishment for doing wrong (our only motivation should be God’s unmerited Golden Rule love, by which they were surrounded). Additionally, how would God have given a proper demonstration of the kind of death he meant—breaking unity with him (essential life and goodness)? Adam and Eve could have had as much knowledge as God could give them if they had asked him for it. He knew the difference between good and evil, and could have explained it to them in a way that would not corrupt them, if they had sought the answer in him. That they broke unity to try to be like God apart from him (essential Golden Rule love) is how they came to be able to distinguish good from evil in a corrupt way, rather than in God’s pure, immune way of knowing, and rather than only knowing good (though, before disobeying God, they didn’t know they knew good, like spiders don’t know they know webs and birds don’t know they know nests—see note 71). Their knowledge of good was the kind of intuitive, innate sense we discussed earlier.

As just mentioned, some have said that we don’t know what good decisions are (and so are not free to make them) until we make ourselves capable of committing and empathizing with the opposite evil. Actually, we don’t know evil without knowing first the good which becomes corrupted (becomes evil). We shouldn’t seek to learn how to better help people by learning how to hurt them worse—it would be better to, say, take a CPR class. The only good purpose of knowing evil is to develop antibodies against it (in ourselves and the Other), but our focus should primarily be to educate ourselves in God’s Golden Rule love. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:21. Dualism neglects that without the eternal default of good, there is nothing to become corrupted (become evil). Consider this dialectic (58, 66)…

The Privation Dialectic

Thesis: Good and evil are opposites (dualism).
Antithesis: There is no good or evil (because without preexistent good, there can be no evil).
Synthesis: Evil is the privation of a preexistent good.

This synthesis will be discussed further below—but now we come to our antithesis:

4. There is no such thing as evil, because evil implies an essentially objective, transcendent moral law, which only exists if God exists, and God does not exist. This explanation cannot logically demand an explanation for why God allows evil or what He is going to do or has done about it, since it does not allow for the existence of God or evil. To repeat atheist Richard Dawkins’ words (but see note 66), “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other god. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music,” (24; 133). Though it sounds like Dawkins is saying we have no free will, he actually means that, unless we choose otherwise, we ‘dance’ according to our amoral genes (Sartre, discussed below in the section on Existentialism, would consider this to be dancing in bad faith, if we blame our dancing on our genes). Dawkins is not saying that we absolutely must dance deterministically according to our genes, he only means that “If you would extract a moral from this book, read it as a warning. Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs (SG, 3). We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth…We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism, something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world (215),” (64). Far from being born capable of only selfishness, we are also born capable of rational empathy (51). Conscious selfishness has moral meaning, whereas selfish genes do not. That said, Dawkins shows honesty when he admits that there is no “ought” in nature. Unfortunately, he does not recognize that his desire to cultivate “pure, disinterested altruism” is evidence that there is something which satisfies that desire. He encourages us instead to make it up (create it from scratch, when we could instead create toward the eternal) [creating meaning to satisfy our hunger (57) brings to mind the cliché “necessity is the mother of invention”]. Sartre would have sat more easily with Dawkins (until Dawkins’ recent change of mind, note 66), and less easily with Nietzsche.

Some, like Nietzsche (see ‘existentialism’ below), have argued that we are not responsible for our actions and evil is an illusion because we do not have free will, as the universe, including all of our actions within it, is physically determined (upwards causality) (theists would add to or correct determinism with ‘predestined by God’). Schopenhauer said: "A man can do as he will, but not will as he will" (32) because, "Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity," (32; Einstein). However, the universe is not physically determined (it is probabilistic), we can influence the universe (30; downwards causality), and God’s predestination of the universe from beyond time (He knows all the probabilistic outcomes) includes our freely willed, self-determined, downward-causing, co-creative actions (with his interaction). A causal relationship is maintained between God and his creation [prayer requests, though directed upward (from within temporality), are granted downward from beyond the beginning], as the temporal came from the eternal but did not become divorced from it—God is both immanent (60) and transcendent. Note that Karl Popper (30) spoke of downward and upward causality but had a much different view of the universe and God.] Many factors, including what we know, determine our conceivable and viable options, but only influence our actions. Free will (thesis) and predestination (antithesis) appear to contradict eachother, but that is resolved by the synthesis that predestination includes our freely willed actions [for more, see (27) and Objection 1 in Appendix E]. Let’s make this dialectic (58, 66), taken from Norman Geisler’s “Chosen but Free” (73) stand out:

The Geisler Dialectic

Thesis: Free will over-rules sovereign predestination (extreme Arminianism).
Antithesis: Sovereign predestination over-rules free will (extreme Calvinism).
Synthesis: Sovereign predestination includes freely willed actions (moderate Calvinism).

And now to discuss further the previous synthesis that evil is the privation of a preexistent good.

5. Sin is co-creating (exercising free will) apart from God (Golden Rule love). God allows the evil He died to forgive, because He cannot compel us to love. Love is not love if it is not chosen (if it is forced upon us), and so requires free will. Without the possibility of rejecting God’s Golden Rule love (at the root of all sin—a breaking away from the Synthesis mentioned in the Greek Virtue Theory section), there is no possibility to choose it. “In a world where love is the supreme ethic, freedom must be built in,” (3; 118). Evil is a privation of love, like blindness is a privation of sight. Evil is “good messed up.” Sin is not an eternal opposite of good, rather, the target (good) must first exist before it can be missed. “The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) is usually translated as sin in the New Testament; it means ‘to miss the mark’ or ‘to miss the target’ which was also used in Old English archery,” (11). With moral autonomy comes the ability to go one’s own way, set one’s own standards, yes — “become one’s own law-maker” (44)—but the point of moral autonomy is to be able to adopt God’s requirement (our ultimate fulfillment) as our own—Golden Rule love. Since love is perfectly relating (the original point), then sin is de-relating (missing the point). Our ultimate fulfillment and happiness is realized in oneness with God—sin separates us from God, atonement reunites us. This understanding was developed using the old sacrificial system and Jesus’ final sacrifice—communicating that it is God who provides the means of atonement, it is He who rights the wrong and brings us back to him—communicating, “Yes, you have used the freedom I gave you to go your own way and have separated yourself from Me, but I forgave you for all of that before and beyond the beginning. I created you to share my Golden Rule love with you, to share that I love you no matter what, so much that I would die for you.”

However, it is our choice to accept the truth he has revealed about his Golden Rule love, or accept total separation from God and from his unforced approval—that’s the only alternative… and there must be an alternative in order for there to be a choice to love (see Objection 24 in Appendix E). The ultimate consequence of sin, alternative of Golden Rule love, is hell: “In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity” (2; 78). But, remember that ‘the hunger’ (55, 57) isn’t shame or guilt, though such things can ignite it. It isn’t about justice so much as it’s about meaning. It's like you buy everyone a round of drinks—those who are your friends, those who will become your friends, and those who will reject you. Only some people accept it. For those who reject it, you offer it to them all over again. They still don't want it—they don't want a hand-out, they throw it back in your face and ask you who you think you are. Your second offer was pointless, and rather than shoving beer down their throats, you let them go without. The ones who wanted a free beer, enjoyed it. What God is offering (never mind turning water into wine; he who believes in him will never be thirsty!) is eternal life—full being. “‘Sin is: In despair not wanting to be oneself before God. …Faith is: That the self in being itself and wanting to be itself is grounded transparently in God,’ [Kierkegaard]” (2; 162). Speaking of transparency; when our face is down in it... that is where he is... that is when we come to him and are known by him the closest. We don't get our act together and then come to him. That defeats the whole point. If you can't be completely transparent, guts and all, in front of God, then the whole universe is a sham. And it isn't. Hell is the ultimate result of choosing to reject transparency and full existence. Sin is a sort of “denaturizing” and our co-creating apart from God might better be termed “de-creating” as long as one acknowledges that the total creation was complete before it started, including our poor choices (in other words, God is never forced to come up with a “plan b”). The section on Existentialism will discuss further that Golden Rule love must be a choice.

Sin is marketed as moral “independence” though some may view it as “independence from morality.” Those intentionally rebelling against God think they are surpassing him. What they do not realize is that there is no surpassing perfection (69), and that what they are actually doing is degenerating apart from his perfect Golden Rule love (apart from the Vine, we wither). Our freedom to reject love and responsibility to choose love is a built-in part of this grand creation over which God is sovereign—nothing surpasses him, and nothing surprises him. That we choose to reject Golden Rule love, that we choose to sin in his creation, does not equate to his endorsing what we choose—but it does equate to his endorsing “choice” (for he is not a dictator) (see Objection 24 in Appendix E). God, like a good father, allows us to learn from our mistakes (including the mistake of neglecting to nurture our children’s moral sense), rather than dysfunctionaly protecting us from them by a) preventing us from making them, or b) preventing us from experiencing the consequences. C.S. Lewis writes, “(Our) free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give (us) free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of (robots) would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for (us) is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to him and to each Other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that (we) must be free,” (18; 48).

We are all capable of good (see Objection 1 in Appendix E). The Golden Rule is found in the creeds of every major culture throughout history (9 and 10) (see Objection 12 in Appendix E). But, to say we can be good without God (i.e., follow the Golden Rule as if we designed it rather than discovered it—see Objection 1 in Appendix E) is similar to discovering e=mc^2 and maintaining that it is created (71) and needs no physical universe (70; 82) [but Golden Rule love is eternal and essential and describes the love that God is (does not describe how humans always are or how we always behave, but only the being and behavior which will truly satisfy us) (69), whereas e=mc^2 describes the temporal]. If we think doing good on our own, apart from God, makes us good, we have an unanchored definition of good. All definitions of good apart from God’s essential, unmerited love are as sandcastles for the tide (72). Apart from him, we are not free to do good, because if God does not exist, there is no “real” good (fulfilled Golden Rule love) (69, 70). He designed our moral sense and capacity for Golden Rule love (after his image) and apart from his eternal goodness (love), the term “good” in the phrase “freedom to do good” has no essential meaning (is a mere idea) (70). The Golden Rule is found in all cultures throughout history (9 and 10) (see Objection 12 in Appendix E), and it is true if it corresponds to an eternally good God.

If we also think that apart from God, our independent goodness makes us worthy of Golden Rule love, then we are also enslaved in a Pharisaical performance mentality and do not understand God's unmerited love. To think that following the Golden Rule makes us worthy of his love shows that we don’t know that his love, his grace, cannot be bought or lost, that he cannot be manipulated into loving us more or less.

Some have argued that it is too limiting, too stifling to adopt God’s definition of good and love. Many of us grow up in ultra-conservative, Pharisaical, no-dancing, restrictive fellowships which warp our conception of right and wrong, and instead of reevaluating those human-created values to discover (71) the eternal, we abandon the whole project, until we are far enough removed from it to be able to look upon it with fresh eyes. What a blessing it is when we find a fellowship that harbors dialogue which explores what Jesus meant by “I came that they may have life” and “the truth will set you free”—which asks, “What then is the moral-spiritual reality we must acknowledge to thrive? What is the environment that liberates us if we confine ourselves to it, like water liberates the fish?” while anchored to the knowledge that “Love is the most liberating freedom-loss of all,” (2; 47, 49, emphasis added). May we be authentic, liberated beings who accept responsibility for our sin and choose full existence, accepting his unmerited love, transparently basing our identity on what we are made to look like through his eyes. Now we are ready to explore existentialism. Does embracing full existence even mean anything, if we reject the essence of Golden Rule love?

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