Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free will freeforall.

I recently saw a comment on free will that I'm trying to wrap my head around: God loves people too much to violate anyone's free will. So if a guy named Eric wants to kill Harry, and Eric is stronger, more capable than Harry, and really just has the power to do so, then God will not stop Eric from killing Harry. God does this out of love for all human free will.

I'm utterly at a lost as to how this type of God can be reliable or trustworthy. If God favors human free will that much, then how you can possibly rely on this God to protect you from anything in this life? Say Harry is a Christian -- why would he even bother praying to God to help save him from Eric? Or stop Eric? Isn't that essentially telling Harry that God loves Eric's free will more than he loves Harry's safety?

Or let's say Eric is about to abuse his five year old son. God loves Eric's free will more than the five year old's safety? Seriously?

Not only that, but if you truly love someone, there are times when you step in and violate their free will. If you know your best friend is about to commit suicide, you would try to get that person help, even take away the method of suicide. If you knew that your best friend was Eric, and about to kill Harry, wouldn't you do everything in your power to stop Eric? Plus, when you're in a relationship with someone, there is this trust that the other person will step in when you're about to do something stupid, or dangerous. That the other person loves you more than your ability to exercise your free will.

14 comments:

Pastor Bob said...

Free will? How does that combine with providence? Of course if the guy does it whether by free will (if it exists) or God's providence this still raises the problem of an omnipotent God and evi.

Jonathan Edwards has something to say about this!

Tit for Tat said...

Is the Creator(God) a personal deity? Is it some individual that comes in and out of our lives when it decides were not doing things right. Are we spiritual beings or Physical beings? Is life for learning and experiencing both good and evil? Lots of questions, many different answers. It seems most people are so attached to their physical world that they see most pain that is attached to it as wrong. That sure does seem to negate the negative and only allow one view of life to be "right". So much for the Creators creation of Duality.

societyvs said...

Free will - this is always a tough one to debate for me. What I do know - it exists and we all function our of the virtue of choice/decisions/free will.

I think God loves us - but the creation was endowed with the 'gift' of free will in his/her actions. This does mean people will hurt one another - but I cannnot figure that being God's intention for giving us such freedoms.

Free will is great in a way - it puts sole responsibility on us for our actions (no one else is to blame for what you decide to do). In the case of Harry and Eric - they have decisions to make - now if they choose 'evil' - they will be recompensed that back (ie: jail-time or what have you).

In the case of intervening - this is what we have to do - what is our personal ability to 'help' out in. If we view suicide is problematic - we have a voice and reason to use (so we do). In the case of a child being abused - we can also intervene. Free will does not mean we cannot do something to try 'help' another - rather - I think that is part of the solution.

Free will does not mean life sucks...we can pull extreme cases out (of evil) and then berate the freedom we have in our lives...we can and we do. I think God for free will - if I merely became a product of my environment - I would not be the person I am today. I made personal decisions to deal with tough issues in more sensitive ways (hurt becomes compassion for example).

Free will is the choise to do good or bad to someone else (or to ourselves). It's a huge responsibility I think - and one we can apathetically approach or allow our full resources to understand our role.

Lorena said...

"If God favors human free will that much, then how you can possibly "

Exactly, who the heck needs a God with that sort of love?

Isn't it better to just live our lives completely unconcerned of such a deity, even if she exists? Imagine, a life free to think of other matters with an unpolluted mind.

PrickliestPear said...

"So if a guy named Eric wants to kill Harry, and Eric is stronger, more capable than Harry, and really just has the power to do so, then God will not stop Eric from killing Harry. God does this out of love for all human free will."

Look at it this way: If God is capable of stopping Eric and doesn't, what does that say about God?

The problem is that God cannot grant free will selectively without rendering the very concept of "free will" completely meaningless altogether.

It is an empirical fact that evil happens. If God is willing to stop murderers from murdering, then why do murders ever happen?

Does God ever stop would-be murderers from murdering? Positing a God who intervenes in such a way -- occasionally suspending the free will of those would harm others -- we would have to ask why this God doesn't always do that.

If we accept that some things that happen are contrary to God's will, we have to ask why God would allow them to happen at all. That God has, apparently, an absolute respect for human freedom may not be comforting -- but denying it means explaining why an omnipotent deity allows genocide, among other things.

OneSmallStep said...

Pastor Bob,

You align more with Calvinist views, right? In which case, you have a pretty good answer right there to the whole quandry. :)

Tit for Tat,

**Is life for learning and experiencing both good and evil?**

In terms of learning, though, shouldn't there be a limit on the amount of evil one experiences?

Society,

**I think God for free will - if I merely became a product of my environment - I would not be the person I am today.**

Why are those the only two options, though? You either choose to respond or the environment chooses for you -- yet if you were created to be entirely good, and thus have no free will, you would still deal with tough issues in sensitive ways.

OneSmallStep said...

PP,

**That God has, apparently, an absolute respect for human freedom may not be comforting -- but denying it means explaining why an omnipotent deity allows genocide, among other things.**

I appreciate your comment on this, because you've given me a new way of looking at this. Hopefully, a more compassionate way, as the answer to free will has always frustrated me.

However: I would still say that there isn't an absolute respect for human freedom. In the example I gave, Harry had no freedom in not being killed, if Eric was successful. So Eric's freedom was valued higher than Harry's. And that's the part I keep tripping over. Even if it's contrary to God's will, in a situation like this, one person's freedom is respected more than another's.

So I can understand why people would accept this, in order to explain events such as genocide. But even genocide events are not a situation where I see absolute human freedom respected -- rather, I see the freedom of the strongest side respected.

PrickliestPear said...

"In the example I gave, Harry had no freedom in not being killed, if Eric was successful. So Eric's freedom was valued higher than Harry's."

There is a distinction that has to be made between two different kinds of freedom. The Catholic philosopher Bernard Lonergan distinguished between "essential freedom" and "effective freedom."

Basically, "essential freedom" is the freedom to make choices. "Effective freedom" is the freedom to actually carry it out. When we talk about "free will," we are talking about essential freedom, not effective freedom.

(I can "choose" to grow a pair of wings and fly around the room, but I can't actually make it happen. I have the essential freedom to choose, but not the effective freedom to bring my choice to fruition.)

In your example, neither Eric's nor Harry's essential freedom (or "free will") is being in any way diminished. Harry had the essential freedom to choose to live, but not the effective freedom to actually defend his life.

But disparities in effective freedom have nothing to do with free will. (The fact that I cannot give birth to children, for example, is not because I lack free will -- it's because I'm male!)

steve martin said...

We've got a "will", alright...but it's certainly not free.

OneSmallStep said...

PP,

**When we talk about "free will," we are talking about essential freedom, not effective freedom.**

What good would this freedom do if it can't be carried out, though? In the example with the wings, if someone said, "I choose to grow wings and fly," I'm pretty sure the response would be that the person cannot in fact choose to grow wings. Or let's say God gave essential freedom only, but not effective freedom. Would we still argue that we have free will, because none of our choices can actually occur.

It just seems that dividing the line like that really diminishes the whole aspect of free will.
Let's take the whole concept of Original Sin. The idea is that by eating from the tree, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden and thus bringing sin into the world. They did this because they were given free will. However, under this idea, what if they decided to eat the fruit, and then never acted upon that decision? Would "Original Sin" still have been introduced into the world?

PrickliestPear said...

OSS,

The importance of the distinction between essential freedom and effective freedom is that essential freedom pertains to decisions, while effective freedom pertains to actions capable of being carried out.

My "growing wings and flying" example was somewhat facetious. I was simply highlighting the vast difference there is between deciding to do something (an exercise of free will) and actually doing it. In your example of Harry being killed by Eric, you suggested that Harry's "freedom to not be killed" meant that his free will was somehow being undermined, or undervalued relative to Eric's.

But "free will" clearly doesn't mean that whatever we want to happen actually happens. It simply means that we are able to decide between multiple courses of action. Harry may well have chosen to resist Eric's attack, but the fact that he was unsuccessful was not due to any limitation to his free will. It was due to his inferior strength (or something to that effect). That's a completely separate issue that has nothing to do with free will.

I don't know how to respond to your question about Original Sin, as it seems to be predicated on a literal reading of the second creation story. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

OneSmallStep said...

PP,

On my end, I'm still not able to separate the idea between making a decision, and being able to carry it out.

If we go back to Harry and Eric -- this post was in reaction to the idea that if God stepped in to save Harry from Eric, then God had violated Eric's free will. The concept I see behind that idea is that God would be impeding upon Eric's ability to act. Yet how I'm understanding your definition of free will, God physically stopping Eric would not in fact impede upon his free will, because Eric could still make the decision to act. He simply couldn't act upon it.

And, based on how I'm understanding you, can we even say that the answer to why bad things happen is because God gave humanity free will? Because when that question is asked, it's asked in terms of actions. Why did that person get murdered. Why did the genocide happen. Why did that person starve to death.

People deciding to kill someone -- the essential freedom -- isn't what people are asking about, to a degree. They're asking why the effective freedom occurred. Why the person was then allowed to act upon his or her decision. If the effective freedom didn't occur, people wouldn't even ask why bad things happen. There'd be no bad things to happen. So can free will still be used as an answer to this question?

**I don't know how to respond to your question about Original Sin, as it seems to be predicated on a literal reading of the second creation story. Please correct me if I'm wrong.**

It is the literal reading, as it's taken from my understanding of the fundamentalist/evangelical idea behind the second creation story. Maybe the question can be answered in a better fashion if I framed it as such: oftentimes when the question is asked about why bad things happen in the world, it gets traced back to Original Sin in some format. It doesn't necessarily have to be a literal interpretation of the second creation story. It can be a metaphor, serving as an example to show that humanity was once untainted by sin, and is now tainted.

We don't even have to go with everyone born in a sin state. It can be the idea that God created humanity, something happened, and now humanity must deal with evil/sin.

However, that "something" is predicated upon someone acting. If that "something" that occurred sometime back when made the world as we see it today -- with evil as well as good -- isn't that "something" an effective freedom?

I don't know if that helps.

PrickliestPear said...

OSS:

"Yet how I'm understanding your definition of free will, God physically stopping Eric would not in fact impede upon his free will, because Eric could still make the decision to act. He simply couldn't act upon it."

Ah, I see what you are getting at! If "respect for free will" means "respect for making decisions freely," why doesn't God just let people decide to do what they like (thereby respecting their free will), but then stop them from actually carrying out their decisions?

That brings up an entirely different set of questions about the nature of nature itself!

First, consider something else you wrote in your last response to me:

"...the second creation story...can be a metaphor, serving as an example to show that humanity was once untainted by sin, and is now tainted."

We might ask if it's true that "humanity was once untainted by sin, and is now tainted." This is a problematic assumption, and doesn't mesh well with what we know about the evolution of the human species. I would recommend reading this article, "Evil, Evolution, and Original Sin," by Daryl P. Domning, a professor of anatomy at Howard University in Washington, D.C. I could attempt to summarise his ideas, but I would strongly urge you to read it first hand.

OneSmallStep said...

PP,

One thing I don't think I made clear in my previous responses is that I don't hold with the Original Sin idea. Based on everything we know in a scientific basis, I find no grounds for the idea that we once existed in a perfect/non-disease state, and then "fell" into everything we see today, with nature being what it is, with our bodies getting diseases and growing old and dying.

What I was trying to do with my Original Sin question was see how the essential freedom fit into the evangelical notion of free will. A standard evangelical response to why the world is the way it is is because God gave Adam and Eve free will, and they decided to use it and disobey God's order and eat the fruit.

However, the evangelical answer is tied up in the action - Adam/Eve used their free will to eat the fruit, and that's what caused everything we see today. However, if they had used their essential freedom only -- the free will portion -- and not then acted upon that decision, I don't see how the evangelical's answer of free will can hold up, because it was really the effective freedom of Adam/Eve that made the world what it is today.

I will still read the link you provided, though.