Topic: Do We Have Free Will or Not?
For. Dr. L James
Spring 93, March 22, 1993
Generational Curriculum Copy
What is Rationalism?
Rationalism was a discipline of psychology that perceived the human mind as an active entity that contained innate abilities to understand abstract concepts without having had the 'experience' of those concepts. For example, although we have no possible means of experiencing the universe as a whole, We are capable of conceiving of the oneness and unity of it.
Also, the rationalists believed that not all truths or proofs could be found through experience alone, and that some had to be found via rational argument. Since Plato, we have been involved in ontological arguments (an argument for the existence of God fashioned in a priori - cause to effect - form and therefore valid independently of observation) in the attempt to prove the existence of God. We accept these arguments as powerful and valid even though they lack empirical support. It is my opinion that the rational mind is one of the human attributes that separates us from the other animals; it serves as an identifying aspect of what it is to be human.
There are many forms of the ontological argument, but they all essentially assert that: As existence is a perfection, and as God is described as the most perfect being, it follows that God must exist. From this, it logically follows also that God must therefore be omnipotent and omniscient. Part of being omnipotent is to be in possession and in control of all knowledge across all time and space.
In class, We discussed the notion of free will, that is, each person's freedom to make their own choices and decisions in life. In Hergenhahn, however, we see that Baruch Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher believed that 'it makes no sense to view God as the cause of all things and, at the same time, to believe that humans possess a free LUHI'. (Hergenhahn p. 162)
This postulation agrees with the notion of God's inherent and necessary perfection and therefore creates a paradox between the idea of free Will versus pre-determinism. In my mind, it is clear that God knows every choice that we are going to make before we make it. He also knows the consequences of our choices and is, in fact the cause of all decisions and consequences. Free Will then is merely an illusion. When faced with a decision, We see a variety of paths and speculate about a variety of consequences. The decision making can be a long and difficult process and to us, We experience the act of exercising our free will, when in fact the choice and the consequence are pre-determined by God. Not only does He knows what we will do, but He is in fact the cause of it or else it would make no rational sense to say that He is omnipotent.
Virtual Free Will
I recently bought a computer which has a characteristic called 'virtual memory'. It functions and appears as memory, but in reality it has no real memory abilities of its own volition, however real that memory may appear to the user. Consequently, after our discussion in class, it occurred to me that I am comfortable the notion of 'virtual free will'. We experience life as though we are in control of it and we do in fact have the experiences of making choices and living with the consequences, but this does not change the fact that everything is known by God before it happens. Webster's defines 'predetermined' as anything that has been settled or decided in advance. Is this not the case with the course of our lives and God's prior knowledge of it?
Truth and Love Demand Free Will
The problem created by this paradox becomes a very difficult one to resolve. If God is omnipotent, then how is it that we have any choice in who or what we love and in who or what we believe? If all is already determined by God, the choices laid before us are mere illusions that give us the feeling that we have a choice. If God already knows that you will love a certain person, where is there any real choice or freedom involved? Doesn't life then become the acting out of the creator's script with the players never knowing their roles in advance, but the director seeing to it that everyone follows their correct and predetermined path?
Spinoza accepts that we have no real free Will - "The murderer is no more responsible for his or her behavior than is a river that floods a village". (Hergenhahn p. 162)
To me, this casts a completely different meaning on life than does the view that we do have free will. Perhaps this life is merely a training ground and in order to serve God's purposes, we must follow a certain path, but must also have the experience of making choices?
Following the above quote from Hergenhahn, Spinoza then concludes that " I f the causes of both were understood, however, the aversive events could be controlled or prevented". (Hergenhahn p. 162). How can Spinoza possibly say this with any rationality given what he said earlier? If God is omnipotent, then all consequences are also known by Him and therefore no aversive events can be mitigated. Also, if all events are known by God ahead of time, how then can He intervene and change things in an active way on this earth? He cannot, for He would already know of His interventions and they would then become part of the pre-determined scheme.
I must conclude at this point that neither explanation succeeds in explaining the issue of whether or not we have free Will. The closest I can come to understanding the issue to this point is if I think of 'virtual free will' rather than free will. God must be omnipotent and therefore He must be the cause of all things. He must also be greater than time and space because they are also His creations. Therefore, if He knows in advance, that constitutes pre-determinism. Our free will is merely an illusion.
Dr. J., I have been examining this issue in depth and I cannot logically see my way out of it. At this point, it seems more rational to accept God's omnipotence and therefore His knowledge of all events before they happen for indeed He is the very cause of them. Rationally, I must conclude that free Will is an illusion. However, it functions and serves the same purpose perhaps to those experiencing it. At the same time, it makes no sense at all for it eliminates justice. He who is evil will live and die in a hellish state of mind, as caused by God, and that certainly is not fair. I conclude that I'm confused.
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