God has nothing to do with it.

Sun, 18 Jun 2000 8:05:01 -0700 (PDT)

Do we have free will? What if God knew everything we would do? Could we still be seen as having free will? Imagine that our universe is in a plastic bubble on a pedestal, and God is standing outside it looking in. By definition, nobody inside the bubble can see outside. It wouldn't be the whole universe if anyone could. For God to see inside, the universe would have to be shining from inside the bubble, illuminating God's senses with all the information contained within.

There can be no other setup, for without complete access to our universe, God could not know of everything transpiring within, and only if this observation is strictly one-way can God maintain his own free will.

What's that again? Why exactly must the communication be only one-way for God to have free will? Think about it: If God knew with absolute certainty that I would drop a rock on my foot this afternoon, what could he do with the knowledge? What if he called me on the phone and told me I should not drop the rock? To do this, he would have to communicate with me from outside the plastic bubble of the universe. If I took his advice and did not drop the rock on my foot, then God's original prediction would be proven wrong.

The only way to preserve God's integrity in that situation is to go against his advice and drop the rock on my foot anyway. Thus, whether or not he called me on the phone, God's prediction would come true. God would have to know in advance that calling me on the phone would be a fruitless effort; that nothing he could potentially say or do to the universe would change the outcome. Otherwise he could easily invalidate his own predictions. The only way for God to be absolutely certain in his predictions is to factor himself out of the equation. Therefore, God cannot be able to interfere with the universe he is observing. And so, the communication is one-way.

So the point we have arrived at is this: For God to have absolute knowledge of our future, we must be allowed to act completely independent of God. And so, if God knows exactly what we're going to do, so what? Why should we care about god?

The only way for God to maintain his regal standing is to have been the originator of the universe, the being that created our plastic bubble in the first place. It's sensible to believe that God set everything up just so, and then sealed us in, away from his influence. Over time his careful arrangements have operated perfectly, giving rise to all the stars and planets and the dinosaurs and people, and a person like me who will drop a rock on his foot at exactly the right moment.

Under these circumstances, one could claim that there is no free will, and that we are all slaves to God's initial plan. However, in such a setup, there is absolutely no way to go against God's plan. In other words, we can do exactly what we feel like doing, without fear of mistakes. We cannot be wrong. We cannot be immoral. There will be no higher judgement. Religious folk who claim that God will judge you harshly for your actions are actually claiming that God's initial plan was a mistake. Rather disrespectful. And where do they get off telling you what God thinks? God does not speak to them. He can't, or he would be violating the integrity of his predictions.

All these paradoxes can be avoided if we take time out of the picture. If we say that God did not create the universe at the beginning or the end or the middle, but that he created the entire panorama of existence "all at once" as it were, we can avoid these difficulties. Since Einstein showed that a more accurate view of the universe is one that treats time and space as a single entity, this approach makes more sense anyway. But once we adopt this perspective, terms like "foreknowledge" and things like "predictions" become irrelevant. A discussion of free will cannot make sense in this arena, and we have to abandon it.

So with the issue of free will rendered nonsensical, where does that leave humanity? How can we reconcile our cultural and moral struggles, our desire for a higher order, in a universe that disallows the interference of, or communication with, its creator? Are our morals truly just the transitive, directionless jabbering of apes? It is a popular philosophical trend to explain differences in morality as a cultural phenomena, intentionally confusing the line between what is "right" and what is "popular". To argue that morality is arbitrary and relative contradicts the definition of morality, it's inherent vision of progress, it's ideas of unalienable human rights and solidarity.

For example, one can argue that, in ancient Rome, it was morally correct to own slaves, and, therefore, out of respect, we cannot condemn a neighboring country for doing the same in this modern world, because we cannot assume that our anti-slavery stance is evidence of progress. After all, it's got to be all the same to God, since he set it all up to happen in the first place. It is not, however, all the same to us. This is why we act to refine our own morality. We are, in fact, the primary agents in determining that morality. There is no further justification necessary. Every human that ever lived has contained the ability to participate in and refine society. And it is the recognition of, and respect for, this quality in every individual that we use as an absolute measurement of moral progress. By this reasoning, we can conclude with certainty that murder, slavery, and racism are all absolutely immoral, for all these things make the agents of morality subordinate to the morality. You may have to pause here and think, but I'm going to forge ahead. I'm going to say that, because of all of the above, God is worthless as an agent of morality. If he created you, he could not tell you what to do or he would be admitting he made a mistake. If he made a mistake or changed his mind, he would not be omniscient. And if he is not omniscient, his advice would be suspect. He would not be God, he would be a waffling stockbroker in the bazaar of bad faith. Moral progress is not blasted into our heads from cloud nine, it is built through centuries of anguish, bloodshed, suffering, and oppression. It is built for humans, by humans. God has nothing to do with it.

Economics, on the other hand, has a great deal to do with it. Morality is a structure built into a society, and a society is a group of people, and groups of people need resources. Technological progress has enabled us to amplify the hell out of our resources, and in the pursuit of moral refinement it behooves us to spread the benefits of technology as far and wide as possible. This is, obviously, another absolute moral imperative. A great deal of energy is expended pursuing modernization, and fighting over what is currently available. Clearly, the moral potential of a society is dependent upon the availability of resources. If everyone starves to death there's nobody around to act morally. If you tell John Valjean that stealing a loaf of bread is immoral, and his family is starving, he's going to tell you to piss off and steal the bread anyway. You can't blame him. It is a moral imperative to help the sick and needy, to work to adapt and change economic structures in pursuit of a better standard of living for all, and again, God has nothing to do with it.

A native American once said that "the land does not belong to us, we belong to the land". In a general sense, neither statement is correct - we, and the land, are part of the same biome and ecosystem. The real issue has always been how humans conduct themselves around each other within this environment. If you were the only human alive, surviving deep in the wilderness, and it was less dangerous for you to make a campfire every night despite the air pollution, and it was less dangerous for you to club a seal for a month's nutrition than to scale a cliff wall in search of figs, there would be no moral decision to make. You would do whatever it takes to increase your chances for survival. As the sole surviving agent of human morality, it would be your moral imperative to survive.

Later on, when you've built a house, tilled some crops, or maybe amassed a herd of cattle, you'll consider environmental impact, in terms of the survival of your children. Perpetuating the health and diversity of the earth is in the interests of future generations, and future generations are how people justify themselves, and insure the continued refinement of morality. If no-one could have children, no-one would give a crap about the environment. The actions of an advanced society can be justified entirely within such a humanist perspective.

If a Soccer Mom in midwest America is convinced that her children will have a nutritional deficiency unless she feeds them big slabs of meat, you really can't blame her for slaughtering Betsy the cow in pursuit of a healthy family. However, if you have factual evidence that she could prepare a better meal with beans and oranges, you would be morally justified in an endeavor to change her eating habits. Even if it pissed her off -- though your effort would probably backfire if it did. I suppose you could do so out of a love for cows (which are generally dimwitted and bothersome on an individual basis), but since it takes more farmland to raise cows than to raise fruits and vegetables, you would be doing your part to make more resources available for everyone, and in that way, acting on a definitively moral basis, independent of what animal rights activists or hunting enthusiasts claim. More resources can help make better people.

You have to think in terms of future generations because it's wired into your head. Any organism on this earth that didn't consider future generations has already been stomped into the ground by the children of those who did, by the simple process of natural selection.

So, to recap, in recognizing humans as the sole and primary agent of their morality, we've justified the following: Caring for the sick and needy. Nurturing your children. Fighting racism. Outlawing murder and torture. Reducing environmental impact. Vegetarianism. Technological research. And on the societal level, in the promotion of moral refinement, one can additionally justify education, democracy, art, and the freedom of speech and assembly. And once again, God has absolutely nothing to do with it.

If you face a spiritual crisis, you're looking for justification in the wrong place. You're looking for justification outside yourself, from a higher power, from the cold blank at the edges of the universe. Look at your hands. Think of all the work they can do. Look at your feet, and where you can go. Take care of yourself, and take care of someone else. You'll sort the rest out in the process.