In my last posting, I showed that “Darwinian randomness” poses no problem for Christian theology – the inevitability of our appearance can easily co-exist with the contingent nature of evolution.
Bilbo notes that there is some aspect of determinism built into my theology and raises the following objection in the comments section:
Let’s assume that God wanted your blog entry (Z) to exist. So he creates that version of you that chooses to write Z. There were other possible versions of you that would have chosen not to write Z. But God didn’t want those other versions. Now were you free to write Z or not? I’m inclined to say no, you wouldn’t be, and that you could only be free to write Z if you are also free not to write Z. But any version of you that would choose to write Z would not be allowed to exist. You might think you are free to not write Z, but in reality I would say that you are not. Because only the “you” that chooses to write Z is allowed to exist.
Okay, I’m still tying this all together, so allow me to present three lines of thinking that cause me to think what we have here is such a soft and fluffy form of determinism that I think it rather insignificant.
1. Most of us object to determinism because it entails we are puppets, where either God (if theism is true) or natural processes (if atheism is true) is pulling our strings and making us do and think things. But here, there is no string puller. God is a stage setter, not a string puller. And that God knows I would make a certain choice on his stage by definition means I made a choice.
2. I seriously question the existence of these different versions of me. We are who we are because of our choices. In fact, our identity can be viewed as the net sum of all the choices we have made throughout our lives (which is why it may be that choice is so important in Christianity). This can be appreciated from many angles. For starters, if someone loses their memory, the question they ask is “Who am I?” If someone offered you a million dollars and the only condition was that your entire memory would be erased, would you take it?
If our choices and identity are coupled together, can I really retain my identity if I had made different choices? I can easily answer no when it comes to the biggest choice I have made – to become a Christian. If I had not made that choice many years ago, I would not exist. This blog would not exist. And we would not be having this discussion. If I had not made that choice, another person would exist with the same genetic identity/history and a partially shared history of choices. But it would not be me or another version of me.
So I think that a demand for a logical impossibility is somewhere embedded in Bilbo’s critique – there can be no different versions of me. There’s just me. I do not have the freedom to be both me and not-me.
3. When God chooses to create a particular End State, it’s quite possible that there is a certain robustness built into all of reality. That is, perhaps not each and every choice, no matter how trivial, is necessary to reach the End State. There need only be a certain minimal set of choices that are needed. And we, from our position, have not the slightest clue as to which ones are necessary. So when you write, “You might think you are free to not write Z, but in reality I would say that you are not,” that would be true only if Z’s existence was required to reach the End State. As far as I know, I have only made one choice in my entire life that was needed to reach the End State. And I have no idea which one it was.
And if this is the form of toothless determinism we have, I have no problem whatsoever living with it, accepting it, and ignoring it.