Friday, September 07, 2007

Sunrise and Sunset on Free Will™

I want to talk about our perspective as humans. But I want to travel back in time several hundred years. I want to talk about our common sense and what that sense tells us about astronomy. When we watch a sunrise we see the sun coming up over the horizon. Then, later, it goes down beneath the horizon. This is a common experience we all perceive. Clearly, the sun goes up and down. This is common sense.

Ok. Now we can come back to our current time. (Unless you are reading this in the future, in which case only set your time machine to 2007.) Our common experience of the sun rising and setting remains the same. The commonsense mechanic is incorporated into our parlance. We don't call it 'Earth rotation'. We call it 'Sunrise'. But we have been told by those scientist folk that the sun doesn't actually go up and down. Most of us believe these scientist folk despite the overwhelming appearance that our senses receive. They tell us we are rotating at 1000 miles per hour. My common sense disagrees. They say our planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. I've held my hand out a car window that was going 70 miles per hour. My common sense says we can't possibly be spinning at 67,000 miles per hour. I have to repress my common sense with these ideas about gravity and atmosphere and other such theories. It seems the more advanced our science gets, the more I have to repress my natural observations. What this teaches me is that there are times where we have to suppress our instinctual, observational sense, and go with a theory that accounts for more than our perspective on things can account for. If we insist that the way things appear to be from our vantage point is the way things must be, we will not be able to explain a great many things. If we in the northern hemisphere insist that the winter is always cold, we can't explain how the southern hemisphere gets hot in the winter. If we insist that the sun must go around the earth we just can't account for any number of astronomical occurrences. We say that - despite all appearances to the contrary - the truth is different than we thought.

When I try to contemplate the sovereignty of God I have two options. I can put limits on it to account for the things that I see that don't seem to jive with the concept. Or I can accept that, like the sun "rising", my perspective on the situation may not be the definitive watermark that I'd like it to be. My common sense may be commonly wrong. I was brought up in a family and denomination that is adamant about Free Will™. The term is bandied about as though it were a biblical phrase. As though Paul had written a book about it, or David made a Psalm about it. It's our fallback position when we have to defend our religion from heathens who use the Problem of Evil attack.

Well I don't advocate using that defense any more. It doesn't hold up, and worse, it degrades God. However, I have no qualms with speaking as though we do have Free Will™. Why? The same reason I don't correct people when they use the word "sunrise". It's common parlance. It speaks to our perceptions and makes sense in our context. In that sense, we do have Free Will™. That is, our thinking takes place within the suppositional framework of Free Will™. Paul writes about our choices and the results of them. David sings about his will, the freedoms and responsibilities he has. What do I care if most people erroneously slip the word "free" before "will"? Just like the sunrise, it is our intended perception. Intended by a sovereign God. Only by reasoning beyond our 'common sense' experience (What act can we do that is totally un-caused? How can an omniscient God create beings who can surprise Him? -and no, saying "Free Will™" doesn't actually answer the question.) can we determine that our wills are not free from every possible cause and effect. And when we come to that conclusion we have to defy our contrarian disposition that screams about control and love and robots and puppets.

So will the sun ever "set" on this mental construct we call Free Will™? I don't think so. It's the way God designed us to think and to interact and most importantly, to love. It's how we process responsibility, good and evil, etc. I think it's just an oversimplification. The same way Darwin thought that cells were just little bags of fluid. And the way geologists pictured the inside of the earth until recently. When a thing is uncertain or hard to study we make overly simple interpretations of it. Microscopes showed us the incredibly complex machinery and variety of cellular life. And new studies of the earth are showing us that the simple onion-layer model of the planet is woefully insufficient to explain our findings.

And so it is with Free Will™. The billions and trillions of factors that go into making our decisions are simply too complicated to mentally digest. So we have made a working model of what we think drives us and our wills. We say, "Death is the only inevitability. Everything else is a choice." And I agree with this. I just say that there is a far more complicated explanation for our choices than a Free Will™. But that ultimately it can be traced back to a very simple explanation: God's will. We may not perceive it. It may befuddle our small minds. But those factors can't make it any more or less true. The fact that we still call it a sunrise doesn't change the course of the heavenly bodies. The fact that we think our wills are free doesn't change God's omniscience or our predestination.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, please, please write more about your life. Its so much more interesting to read. I beg you!

12:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you're "free" to do what you like, of course, but I beg to differ with anonymous. Not that your life isn't interesting, but your contemplations and musings are what I come here for. Good stuff.

9:32 PM  

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