Saturday, December 03, 2005

Are We Really Free?

Charlie is concerned that the Christian definition of free will keeps changing to fit the needs of the argument. If people are free, and God does not interfere, then they are free simpliciter. If God chooses which world we find ourselves in, then our choices are determined.

Charlie, I think I might be getting the idea here. Imagine world F (free) where God gives people the free choice of either choosing evil or good. Now, in F, God foreknows their choices, and I think you agree that this does not determine their actions. Similarly, their actions are NOT determined by God's choosing to create world F (out of all the feasible worlds). For instance, my choice to have cheerios and not rice krispies today was known by God. He could have created world F', where on this day I had no cheerios in my cabinet, but rather had froot loops, and freely chose them over the rice krispies. So, did God determine which cereral I would eat today?

I think our intuition is to say, "no, God didn't determine the choice, but he determined the parameters." OK? So am I truly free today, even though God de facto limited my choices to only cheerios and rice krispies? Yes, I am, because there were at least two live options. Does this seem right so far? This discussion is really helping me get some clarity.

Now, I think we can say that God determines the parameters of Eve's choices, but not the choosing itself. She is not free to do anything. She can't fly, nor can she have froot loops for breakfast. God gives her a range of limited choices, but they are real choices. In circumstances GS (being in the garden witht the serpent), she is free to either eat the fruit (E), or not eat it (NE). (Remember: God's foreknowledge does not determine this choice.) So whatever she chooses, E or NE, it is a free choice.

Now imagine a world F*, where God orchestrates it so that Eve never finds herself in circumstances GS, or in any circumstances where sin is a live option. She is free to choose from any of the live options available, but none of these options include sin. She is simply never tempted. So, the question is, has she freely chosen God? This is a hard question, and not rhetorical. Her choosing has not been fiddled with, as with a puppet. But the parameters have been so severely limited that her freedom seems to be a mere illusion. In one sense, she freely chooses God, but the word 'chooses' seems to be without meaning when you do not have alternatives. So, Eve does not "fail" a test. From her vantage point, she is free. But from ours, si she really? Again, this is not an open and shut case. What do you think?

Before you answer, imagine a child who grows up in a fundamentalist Christian home where he is sheltered from every temptation and is never exposed to other ways of thinking. He has never heard of atheism, or hinduism or Islam. He has never seen a philosophy book, or read Camus, or seen Contact. Has this child freely chosen the Christian way of life and beliefs? I'm not really sure he has.

6 Comments:

Blogger general said...

No, that child hasn't truly made a choice...yet. One can't obey without the opportunity to disobey.

I like how you've phrased things here...thanks!

11:00 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

Great post. And no Charlie, you didn't offend me in anyway. Geez, I've had guys practically screaming in my face before and it didn't really bother me; I enjoy the dialogue :) Chris puts things really well here. It's as I said before: it is a contradiction in terms to say that someone is free to do A or B, but that they can only choose B. If you limit their opportunities to only one legitmate choice, then they really don't have a choice at all.

Imagine that Bob is standing by and watching the top stories of a skyscraper burn. I am come up to Bob and say, "Bob, you have two choices: either you can run and call the F.D. or you can leap to the top of the skyscraper and save the people trapped inside." Now it appears that I gave Bob 2 choices, but did I really?

And btw, Plantiga does say that God could have created any possible world, but a world in which a logical contradiction exists (i.e. a world in which a circular square or "free" agent with no freedom exists) is not a possible world, and God could not have brought it into existence.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Curtis said...

Well, I’m not a theologian or philosopher by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a Christian. Hopefully I don’t dig Josh and Chris a hole with my remarks. But I thought I’d throw my two cents in and see how much change I get back.


Let’s consider this scenario:

When I was in a particular high school class, my teacher gave me an exam to test whether I had learned the knowledge of trigonometry that I was expected to learn in his class. If my teacher had given me an exam consisting of kindergarten arithmetic, I would have easily passed the exam without difficulty. But my teacher would not have had anything to gauge whether I understood the trigonometry material. If my teacher had given me an exam consisting of advanced calculus, I would have without doubt failed the exam because it was too much over my head. In this case, the teacher would have gained nothing by which to gauge my knowledge of the trigonometry material. Instead, my trig teacher gave me an exam that was above the level that I would have passed with ease, but below the level of material that I could not possibly pass. Only by giving me an exam with material in this “band” was my teacher able to gauge my progress in his trigonometry class.

From God’s perspective, the relationship He wanted in man (and woman) was one where man would love Him out of his own free-will. But I believe the decision to follow and love God is only meaningful if it has been tested. So, bring in the idea I discussed with my trig class. There is a level for each person where temptations above that level are challenging, and temptations below that level are insignificant. This is the lower level of this “Band of Meaningful Temptation” (BMT). The upper level of the BMT is the level in which temptations above the band are impossible to resist, and temptations below this level are possible to resist. (The BMT’s upper and lower levels are of course different for each individual.) Although each of us go through temptations below this band, only temptations in the BMT are significant to God. These temptations are our real test. (btw temptations above this band do not exist because scripture says that we will not be tested above what we can handle.)


So, to meld this scenario with the current discussion… What has been so eloquently defined as Gadsonian free-will (GFW) covers any choices that are made by man. God foreknows our decision made out of “real, libertarian freedom,” but He only foreknows what we have decided. (Not the other way around.) What wiploc defined as Plantingan free-will (PFW) are choices made below the BMT. These are meaningless decisions. Just as a trig student passing a simple arithmetic exam tells nothing of the trig abilities of the student.

God could have feasibly created a world in which every man made every right decision. But this world would have not have tested any man in the BMT. And so our following of God would be meaningless, as Chris suggested of the sheltered kid in his post. Because of God’s desire and goodness, He created the best possible world in which every man was tested in this band. But being the kind of people each of us is, there was no such feasible world in which every man was tested in his Band of Meaningful Temptation and any one man picked the right decision every time.

4:23 PM  
Blogger wiploc said...

Chris wrote: Now, in F, God foreknows their choices, and I think you agree that this does not determine their actions.

Foreknowledge alone does not remove PFW, that requires also the power to change things.



Chris also wrote: If God chooses which world we find ourselves in, then our choices are determined.

The choosing (or even the power to choose) with foreknowledge, does remove PFW.



Chris wrote: If people are free, and God does not interfere, then they are free simpliciter.

This one's a bit harder. Suppose god was a bystander rather than the creator. Suppose he never does any act of creation or interference. And yet suppose he has all knowledge and all power. Shall we say that people have PFW, in this circumstance? I think not. God chose, he made the decision not to interfere. He determined what choices we would make before we made them (with foreknowledge) by not interfering.

I think that's the logical way to think about PFW.



Chris wrote: Imagine world F (free) where God gives people the free choice of either choosing evil or good.

An omniscient omnipotent god can't give anyone Plantingan free will, so we must be talking here about Gadsonian free will.



Now, in F, God foreknows their choices, and I think you agree that this does not determine their actions. Chris wrote:

It denies them PFW if the foreknowing god is powerful enough to affect their choices, but they can still have GFW.



Chris wrote: Now imagine a world F*, where God orchestrates it so that Eve never finds herself in circumstances GS, or in any circumstances where sin is a live option. She is free to choose from any of the live options available, but none of these options include sin. She is simply never tempted. So, the question is, has she freely chosen God?

My understanding of sin is that it consists of doubting and/or disobeying god. I don't see how that can not be a live option. But, since sin seems arbitrary and perverse anyway, and since any god should be able to define what he considers a sin (not that I see why anyone cares whether gods think sin is bad) god could define sin as morphing into Godzilla and destroying Tokyo. That way, sin wouldn't be a live option.

In which case, (in a world in which becoming Godzilla is sin and Eve cannot become Godzilla) did she freely choose not to sin? I'm not sure. I’m reminded of this question: Is it true that unicorns have horns if unicorns don't exist? The answers to such questions may involve philosophy of language more than they involve unicorns or sin.



This is a hard question, and not rhetorical. Her choosing has not been fiddled with, as with a puppet. But the parameters have been so severely limited that her freedom seems to be a mere illusion. In one sense, she freely chooses God, but the word 'chooses' seems to be without meaning when you do not have alternatives. So, Eve does not "fail" a test. From her vantage point, she is free. But from ours, si she really? Again, this is not an open and shut case. What do you think?


I think you are introducing a third catagory. Plantingan free will is absent if god has power and foreknowledge. Gadsonian free will is absent if you don't make choices in your own head. And now actual freedom is if they let you out of jail and you can go either home or to the mall. Neither sinful Eve nor sinless Eve is actually free with regards to turning into Godzilla, but they both have Gadsonian free will.


Before you answer, imagine a child who grows up in a fundamentalist Christian home where he is sheltered from every temptation and is never exposed to other ways of thinking. He has never heard of atheism, or hinduism or Islam. He has never seen a philosophy book, or read Camus, or seen Contact. Has this child freely chosen the Christian way of life and beliefs? I'm not really sure he has.

I'm not sure either, but Christianity seems so inherently doubtful that I can't see anyone not being tempted to doubt. Christians say they have to work on their faith, and I wonder why they bother. It's obvious that logic isn't on their side, but I don't see what the emotional appeal is. Why do they want to believe that stuff? I think that any Christian is constantly bombarded with opportunity to doubt, regardless of how well she is isolated within Christian propaganda.

But, not to duck your question, if a child could be raised so that it would never even occur to her to doubt, then did she freely choose to believe? Once again, this seems to be a philosophy of language question. It's like deciding whether zero is positive or negative. We have to decide whether to call that choosing. We can call it choosing if we want to. If you don't want to, that's fine with me.

It seems to me that we've drifted off point. Plantinga's free will defense consists of two-stepping between PFW and GFW. Discussions of actual freedom have no place here. No one is suggesting that Eve will only remain sinless if she never has actual freedom. There are possible worlds where Eve is sorely tried, tempted again and again, but she never Falls. An omnipotent foreknowing god could have created one of those worlds.

wiploc

10:36 AM  
Blogger chris said...

Curtis, I really like what you've said here. I've replied to Charlie et al. with a new post.

1:01 PM  
Blogger wiploc said...

How do we find the new post?

wiploc

2:10 PM  

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