A true swordsman is recognised not simply by ability to swing the largest of swords with great speed and strength, but by the skill and agility to wield any sword in the best way. Likewise, the vision of God in Christian Scripture (not only in the NT – explicitly in passages like Philippians 2:5-11 – but in the OT) is of a God who does not mindlessly brandish the sword of omnipotence around like a brute or side-show stuntman, but rather wisely wields it in ways that are not about mere strength but intent, skill and purpose.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that basically no Christian doctrine about God makes any sense at all if God’s omnipotence is not seen in this particular way. Just as a skilled swordsman most probably indeed could swing a sword quite fast and powerfully, but would only do so at rare occasions or perhaps only once, so also there are many things that an omnipotent God is able to do, but not willing.
The kenotic, or ‘self-emptying’, God is not shackled to ‘logical’ expectations for what omnipotence would do. God both a) refrains from doing things he has capacity to do, as well as b) does things he does not need to do. God could have not created. It’s not as though there could be any force or person or will ‘above’ God that caused God to create. But create he did – and does. To venture into the conversation of sovereignty and process theology and ‘free will’, etc., God could have chosen to have a very deterministic and micro-managerial rule over the world. It’s not as though that would be un-fitting or impossible for omnipotence. But his sovereign rule is far more respecting of freedom, and what we have is a mixture of inability to do many things (i.e. breathe in space, fly, etc.), and ability to direct our own courses of action. We are dependent enough upon the world and each other such that the degree of indifference we can fall to has limits, yet we are also independent enough from it and others such that an annoyingly persistent responsibility for our actions is perpetually ensured.
another ‘free will’ post came to mind.
Whether or not you believe that ‘free will’ is illusory or not, there seems to be an agreed spectrum from, say, rock to Raymond, when it comes to apparent capacity for self-determination: to determine one’s own action. Rocks are utterly a slave to physical forces or agents other than themselves; being forced into rock walls or river beds. Raymond however, though his father’s vocation may affect his choice, determines for himself whether he will be a rock wall builder or a fresh water biologist.
Somewhere in the middle would be plants and animals. Plants ‘choose’ to grow toward the sunlight, apparently. And animals can ‘choose’ a mate, etc. I believe I’ve correctly applied the quote-marks around ‘choose’, because as far as we know, the plant and animals are ‘going with the flow’ of the biological and cultural pressure that presses upon them.
Humans at least appear to be able to swim at or hold their heads above, the surface and breathe the air of self-determination. Rather than being entirely determined by others, we can choose to reject a religion, a meal, a person, an idea, or life itself . A few observations:
- As a rock cannot choose to be this or that colour, we cannot choose to, for example, fly or levitate. So we’re talking about possible choices, not impossible ones.
- Whilst our heads are above the water, our bodies are under water. We don’t consciously choose to distribute blood throughout the circulatory system, or say to our toenails, ‘Grow!’
- We easily (and regularly) slip beneath the surface. Sleep, for example, takes us under. By contrast, whilst sleep is a refreshing, re-fuelling, humane subconscious state, getting drunk or taking meth-amphetamines pulls you under in a most dehumanising way. I’ve been drunk many times in my life (particularly if not entirely between ages 18-20!). There were periods that I don’t remember at all. These points I was blurring the line between human and non-human. My ability for self-determination was decreased to the point of nearly vanishing.
- In light of the above, some macro-choices seem to set up subsequent micro-choices. The macro-choice to get drunk (itself preceded by choosing to drink ‘one more’… and ‘just one more’…) will lead to all manner of other, progressively less self-determined (!!) micro-choices – including choosing to drive home sleepy and drunk (as I did at least once!!).
- Because individual self-determining humans do not exist in a vacuum, there will be all kinds of influence from others (and circumstances) upon this self-determination. Though a) the mere presence of influence does not determine how the influence will be responded to (the flow of influence may be yielded to or opposed), and b) the mere presence of influence on the chooser does not mean that the choice made is unreal; even an experiment where a subject must ‘choose’ the mathematical equation that is balanced is still a choice, though entirely prescribed.
- In the same way, I see no reason that the ability to predict a choice means that it is not an actual, real choice.
Posted in philosophy, science
Tagged animal, choice, free will, human, influence, other, plant, prediction, pressure, rock, self, self-determination
Scenario 1: After instructing a person to make a random choice between two options in front of her, a computer detects brain activity in a human subject before she clicks the button to communicate her choice. The experiment conductor, upon repeats of the same experiment, can predict her choice seconds before she is aware of it. It is still a choice, for although the choice emerged from brain processes, she was not told which one to choose.
Scenario 2: After asking her son to choose between strawberry or vanilla ice cream, a mother detects a facial expression on her son before he verbalises his choice. The mother, upon repeated instances of this scenario, can predict his choice before it is communicated. It is still a choice, for although he has a tendency to choose vanilla, both flavours were on offer.
Scenario 3: Having eternally given to creation (humans in particular) the freedom to move toward good and order or evil and chaos, the omniscient Creator has full knowledge of the direction taken before, after and during the moment (from their perspective) it is made. The Creator, in all places and times, can predict the direction taken. It is still a free initiative, for although the result was known, both were live options.