Sunday, November 08, 2009

Let's assume that we don't have free will...

Here're some of the discussions that I had on Facebook with my friends. I pieced my fragmented replies together and thought it is good to have them posted here:

"You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

'Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.'

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."
(Acts 4.25-28. Emphasis added.)

Given that we have no free-will, then that's just saying God created a mechanical world: We don't have free-will; bad people are around because God has created them so. And why we think they are bad because we have been programmed to think so.

There is no evil and there is no free-will. Punishment and all senses of revenge, guilt, anger, or joy are destined or determined. We are just acting according to what we have been predestined to do, like a software in the computer.

The whole thing is a computer program. Nothing is left, only codes and codes. No evil, no horror, no good, no moral, and no value.

In the end, this absence of free-will points to the non-realism of god. The predestination or determinism mechanisms of the material world such as the natural process of biology and the law of physics are sufficient to explain this mechanistic existence. There is no need to postulate a creator god.

Even if god exists, he exists only within the bound of this huge cosmic software and has no real existence outside of this cosmic software. That means god exists only within the determinism of the natural world, and is simply a natural postulation emerged from the mechanism in the world.

So in the end, those who argue for determinism or predestination, in arguing for the sovereignty of god, has in effect chopped off the very head it wants to protect. And so, what is left are just codes and motion moving to and fro the computer screen. An oxymoronic theological nihilism.

By way of clarification, I have to say that I have no answer to this problem between determinism (predestination) and free-will. Yet I am interested to see how different arguments are presented opposing each other.

I am not a libertarian. I am more inclined towards its counterpart 'communitarian'. That means my idea of free-will is understood within the latter framework. Yet I don't see that free-will has no place within communitarian thoughts, as some might argue. Though restricted, yet still free.

Libertarian view 'free-will' very individualistic, each person is independent of influences from others (be it community, nature, or culture). That means the highest point of reference in making a moral choice is in the individual alone. "Freedom" then is making a choice without external influences, and so without restriction except only the 'harm principle' (individual can do whatever on himself or others or whatever as long as no harm is inflicted on any) and "utility principle" (your action causes more harm than happiness). So basically moral choice is based on a person's desire and personal value.

Communitarian opposes this. Each person is not independent from the influences of community, nature, and culture. Individual identity (in Charles Taylor's term "the source of the self") only exists within a community. Add to that, individual's rationality and hence moral reasoning also exist only within a tradition (Alastair McIntyre). Because of this dependent, therefore individual is responsible to larger reality other than the individual. "Freedom" still exists in the individuals in a community but restricted by the community, the greater or "universalizable" good (Kant's categorical imperative). So basically moral choice is based on the community's rule and value.

The communitarian view does not came out from trying to answer the question on 'determinism vs free-will'. It's more on individual's moral and rational ability and limit. Yet that does give us a glimpse on how constraint are we, humans, in our rationale and moral reasoning by a larger reality. Hence, in that sense, our rationality and moral values are determined. This also goes against existentialism's "existent precedes essence".

At this stage, predestination theologians employ 'compatibilism' to explains that there is no real tension between our conscious freedom to choose and the already determined or predestined reality.

Libertarian's notion of free-will has no place in compatibilism. Compatibilists affirm there is will, but one under bondage. Hence we need 'regeneration' to free the will to do what it is suppose to do. Hence in this way, the 'freedom' of the will is teleological; the will is free only to do what it was meant to do. But any form of 'freedom' in compatibilism is necessarily contradicting god's all-sovereignty, as the latter leaves no place for compromise, if not, it is only 'sovereignty' and not 'ALL-sovereignty'.

(No doubt Kant's argument for such free-will as 'autonomy' is rather convincing. Yet he was not solving our problem "determinism vs free-will". He was responding to utilitarianism, and hence didn't touch on our problem. So his autonomous free-will, though goes along with compatibilism's notion of free-will, yet it has no material relevance or whatever with compatibilism.)

The Reformers' way of arguing over this problem is still helpful to us, yet not primary or has the most relevant. So the language they used are still useful, yet less compatible with what we now know about the intricacy of God's creation. There is a more fertile ground for exploration concerning the problem of "determinism vs free-will" in brain sciences. These fields parallel the older debate of the Reformers.

The Reformers had their deserved glory.

Finally, I have to say that I have no clue how the question 'determinism vs free-will' works out. Look forward to learn the possible answer.

So does that mean Acts 4.25-28 is wrong about determinism? It is wrong if only the passage is solely meant to answer our "determinism vs free-will" question. But that passage is not to answer our abstract question. Acts 4 was meant to answer other abstract question that has to do with messianic prophecy within the Jewish community of its day. Though we cannot deny the fact that it does have direct implication to our understanding of the ontological status of the happenstance in the world.


reasonable said...

"They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."

What the sentence (and those sentences before it) did not say is to WHAT EXTENT OF DETAILS did God "decide" regarding the event.

For example, it did not say that God decided that specific individuals Pilate, Judas and so on were to be the ones to bring about Jesus' death.

What could be the case was that God first understood that given the context, some people would eventually just bring about the death of Jesus. Then God decided to put Jesus into that context. God did not decide who are the individuals to bring about the death of Jesus. He left it to a NATURAL flow of events. It need not be Judas and Pilate; in fact, if Judas did not do it, someone else would. If Judas changed his mind and turned back from "betraying" Jesus, Jesus would still have been killed via some other individuals, perhaps in one or two years later than the year Jesus was killed, and the betrayal could be by another follower of Jesus (need not be one of the twelve). Or Jesus could be brought to his death without anyone playing the role of betrayal (for example, the Jewish leaders led a band of Roman soldiers to hunt for Jesus, and then discover Jesus praying alone on another night, and then forcibly captured him)

[aside: Even Socrates or Plato could foresee that a truly good man would be brought to death (one of them said that.]

So in my Wesleyan/Methodist/Arminian worldview, God is a super-intelligent grand chess-master. He needs not decide his opponent's every move. He just sets up the stage, and respond accordingly to achieve his goal, whether it is the opponent's "knight" that moves or the opponent's "queen" that moves.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

I get what you mean.

But the 'chess-analogy' is not strictly an Arminian's view right? That's more like a Molinist's view, a.k.a. Middle-Knowledge.

Basically I don't have any stand on this problem because I don't see any framework able to reconcile determinism and free-will. And I don't see the point of a loose determinism that says almost everything is determined but something like human's will is not.

Sze Zeng said...

And when I refer to the problem "determinism vs free-will", it is more than God's sovereignty and human's responsibility, I also include the metaphysical discussion of our entire existent, whether is the world a mechanic machine or not. For eg. our brain and our 'mind'. Studies show that our brain has made a decision 5-10 seconds before we are conscious of our decision. That can be seen as our brain determine what we are conscious about.

So, I still don't know how to reconcile or understand this relationship. I've explore other option like process philosophy (panentheism) as well but still unable to see how the problem can be settled.

Sze Zeng said...

Just one more note, I have also explore a recent philosophical movement known as 'Experimental Philosophy'. The movement has conducted surveys at four different countries (USA, Hong Kong, Columbia, and India) to ask for opinion. And their results still do not give any answer to the problem. The result generally just show that the general public prefer 'fee-will' when they come to affective situation (robbing banks & murdering someone), but when they encounter abstract situation (universal determinism and natural processes), they prefer 'determinism'.

NikoS said...

hi Joshua,
I have several points regarding this classical issue:

1) Free.. What is free? In my view, there's no such 'absolute free'. Free is always in context. The freedom is relative to the heart commitment. Our freedom is always limited by our worldview, way of life, and what we think as true.

2) It might be a mistake to equalize the sovereignty and human's responsibility at the same level or dimension. If we do that, it might be like genesis 1 vs science regarding the creation issue. They are looking at the same point from a different perspective. A perspective is irreducible to the other.

3) And also, we can consider to see this issue based on the doctrine of revelation, that statess that God reveal the bible through his servant organically, not mechanically. God use his servants' personality fully and yet his servants remained free.

4) The struggle the determinism and free-will will never be ending because it's constructed within the presupposition that Nature and Freedom are diametically (and dialectically) opposed. This presupposition is rooted to the greek framework of philosophy.
The bibilical presupposition shows that there is an organic and lively relationship between control and freedom.

5) Law, in a popular worldview is viewed as something constraining, determining. But we can see otherwisely that law is something enabling us to exist, to live and to be free. How can we be free to shout if the law of physics in our body especially in our throat not function well?

So, I see that we don't need to oppose these two issue since they are different perspective in nature and yet they are having an organic and unified, interwined perfectly.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Niko,

Thank you for commenting. I have only one question after reading your comments, how do we validate whether is a presupposition is true?

NikoS said...

I think, it's 2 aspects:

1) rational and empirical way: check whether a presupposition is consistent with the nature or structure of reality. Can it be expanded consistently to 'contain' the whole reality and experiences? or it will be cracked when it's facing the reality and experiences?

Also check its religious root. Religious root has a determinative role in presupposition formation.

But here goes another question: by which valid presupposition we may validate a presupposition? The answer may be two. the most valid presupposition is the one which is most consistent with the structure of reality, and the word of God and our experiences.

Then we come to the 2nd aspect:

2) subjective way: every human has a basic commitment which is beyond the rationality. it's just there is. We take it intuitively. Thus it is innate in us. And basically, we just cannot theoretize it perfectly. It has a subjective grasping which always has a slippage with our rationality. Faith seeking understanding.