A Toothless Determinism?

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.

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5 Responses to A Toothless Determinism?

  1. Bilbo says:

    I’ll have to chew (or gum?) on that one for a while, Mike, though I fear it might be too much for my little brain to handle.

  2. camelhump says:

    Mike, your first reply is pretty much what Augustine said, because the illusion that Gos’s knowledge of the future somehow destroys our freedom was around then, too. Our future choices are determined. By whom? God – No. By our future free choices.

    So what’s the complaint? That we’re not free because we can’t choose to do what we don’t choose to do? We may as well complain that we’re puppets because we can’t change our minds after the events we cause.

  3. Bilbo says:

    Hi Mike,

    In your previous post you wrote in response to me:

    You can make the same argument for any plain ol’ part of history. For example:

    Mike created Z (this blog entry). But it order for Z to exist, Y (Ruse’s blog entry) must have existed. In order for Y to exist, X (Coyne’s blog) must have existed…….

    Then you wrote in this blog entry:

    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.

    I was using your example of what Z might be as a possible End State.

    More later.

  4. Bilbo says:

    Okay,Mike, this present discussion started as a result of your response to Michael Ruse. He maintained that a Christian who wanted to be scientific would need to believe that God created a multiverse, in order to get the one “right” universe, where God’s intervention is never needed in order for evolution to produce God’s desired end product, which presumably are human beings.

    In response to Ruse, you maintained that God would merely need to create the one right universe out of all the possible universes that there are. First, in the universe that God has created, Christians believe (unscientifically, according to Ruse) that God has intervened in human history. So at least as far as the universe since humanity has been on the scene we Christians are very unscientific (according to Ruse). So regarding any talk about God creating the “right” universe where He doesn’t need to intervene in order to bring about His will, this universe isn’t it.

    But what about the universe before humanity showed up? Could God have created the right one without first creating a multiverse? Let’s assume that before human beings showed up there were no natural entities that had what we would call free, conscious choice. But let’s also assume that some form of quantum indeterminacy is true. It’s not at all clear to me that God could create an indeterminate universe that could guarantee to produce the desired End State. Even if God begins by first creating the End State, then it would seem that the past that was needed to bring about that End State would now be determined. Had it been different it couldn’t be the correct past for the End State. And I suspect this determined past would be a rather hard and rigid one.

    But now back to human history: Was it part of God’s plan that each and every human being that came into existence were the one and only ones that God wanted to come into existence? I suspect this would also result in a hard and rigid determinism. Or could God have been equally happy if other, different human beings had come into existence? I suspect this would allow us a great deal of freedom. Has God made it plain and obvious which alternative is correct? I’m not sure.

  5. Bilbo says:

    How I think God could create a universe that is indeterminate which yet achieves His desired Ends: An indeterminate universe in which God interacts with His creation. Things and persons would still have some degree of freedom, but God would interact with them, based on knowing what they would do, given what He does. And that seems to be the Biblical view of how indeed God has arranged His creation.

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