January 21, 2011

Careful, I'm Trying Theology

Today was Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom day at my school, because Jefferson started writing that bill here in Fredericksburg and it's pretty much the only thing of significance we contributed to the country other than a battle which the Confederacy won.

So, to celebrate, we had a Muslim and a Christian scholar come in and discuss their views on the document in particular and religious freedom in general. One idea that came up a lot was free will as a value which underlies Jefferson's notion of religious freedom. The Muslim speaker talked about free will with particular eloquence, and really, the best description of how an omnipotent deity could allow for free will while still knowing what was going to end up happening came from the imam at a mosque my Sunday school class visited.

He explained it like this: Think of human activity as a machine and God as the mechanic. He doesn't point to a particular gear and say "You're going to break now." But, because he knows the machine so well, when the gear does break he'll have seen it coming.

Which is a brilliant metaphor, in my opinion.

But doesn't really solve anything. By that logic, free will is a flaw in the design. I mean, you could argue that the machine only started breaking after the Fall of Man from Eden, and before that it was running along just dandy, but the possibility of error, in the form of free will for Adam and Eve, was always there. Either it was built into the design because it's somehow valuable, and if so, why are people punished for exercising it...? Or it was a mistake all along, in which case God isn't omnibenevolent as he's supposed to be, because he put people in a position to be damned for something that he knew was going to happen.

Though both of the speakers, the Christian and the Muslim, spoke about how coerced religion isn't true religion. So I guess the spiritual value on free will is that religious decisions can be freely chosen, though in practice of course they aren't necessarily. But if the free choosing is going to result in damnation, and God had that planned all along, then is it really spiritually valuable? If God had said from the get-go, "This is how it is, guys. Everything else is fair game, but stay with me on this salvation thing..."

Well, then it'd be fact, and not coercion. And obviously it can't be fact. Thus, I suppose, the value on free will (and thus the ability to choose faith even in the absence of evidence), even if it puts God in the questionable position of putting a flaw in the system from the start.

This thought, while entirely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, was in my head for the whole lecture, so I wanted to write it out. Anyone have any ideas on the subject?

1 comment:

Foxie said...

It's not a bug, it's a feature!

I think the thing with free will is that a choice has no value unless their are realistic alternatives. Sure, an omnipotent God knows where we're going to choose, but we don't.

I'm not religious, but I've always imagined the moment when someone finds God to be something special, something huge. Your life suddenly has purpose, importance. In order for us to feel like that, it has to be a choice, and in order for it to be a choice, there have to be realistic alternatives. We have to 'find' God, and not have God imposed on us.

The whole, 'condemned to Hell' thing is something that I don't get. It would make more sense to send us back to Earth after we die, and keep sending us back until we did find God and were saved. But hey, who am I to second-guess the mind of God?

The Grecian playwrites pretty much nailed free will for me: It doesn't matter if the Gods know what's going to happen, we don't. To us mortals, there's no difference between free will and the illusion of free will.