Friday 14 June 2013

Free will is not exactly God-given but, ultimately, a product of us being eternal autonomous beings


My current understanding is that each person has existed eternally as an autonomous (but not, initially, personal) essence - and that at some point in Time we became Sons of God, which made us into persons.

(God shaped us into personhood when we became his spirit children, before we entered mortal life.)


Our free will is rooted in our eternal autonomous existence, but was made effectual - choices were made possible - by our having become Children of God.

This is what made The Fall possible.


On the one hand, our personhood comes from God and the reality of our situation is that we are in a profound relationship with God since He is our Father and made us persons; but on the other hand we existed as essences before we had a relationship with God; and this pre-existence is what enables us to reject God, and to deny the primacy of our relationship with Him.


It is because our free will derives from eternal agency that we are able to choose (to have the divine attribute of being unmoved movers, or first causes).

And it is because our free will derives from eternal agency that we must choose to acknowledge God's Fatherly love for us, and our child-like love of Him - because we cannot be compelled (not even by God - it is vital to recognize this) to acknowledge God's love, nor can we be compelled to love Him.

To be Christian is a choice because it must be a choice.


Therefore, Satan could not and cannot remove the ultimate (metaphysical) autonomy of persons, nor can Satan control free will - although he can of course enslave the body and compel actions.

Satan can influence autonomy only indirectly - principally by demoralization and corruption of the will - so that a person will choose to use his autonomy to deny his autonomy; and deliberately, repeatedly, systematically choose to sin and to destroy Good - while denying at every moment that he could choose otherwise.

And this is, of course, the great triumph of Satan in this modern era: to have so deeply confused and corrupted modern man that he uses his eternal and indestructible freedom of will in actively-denying the reality of his own freedom.


[Note: The above schema is the only one that (currently) seems to make sense of free will to me, therefore I present it for consideration. It leaves intact all core Christian doctrine, but modifies the metaphysical back story - so that some things are re-explained. It is, I think, pretty much identical with the implications of Mormon theology as I get it from Sterling McMurrin and Terryl Givens - but there are quite likely aspects which go beyond, or conflict with, what many or most Mormon theologians seem to say - so far as I can tell - which is not very far.] 


imnobody said...

Interesting. I am reading "A Survey of Christian Epistemology" by Cornelius Van Til. It seems to me that you and he are in the extreme positions of the Christian spectrum.

Van Til is calvinist. To solve the problem of evil - the seeming contradiction between divine omnipotence and goodness, Calvinism rejects goodness so it emphasizes omnipotence. The origin of evil is in God Himself because it is God who makes evil people to be evil.

In contrast, you reject omnipotence - a view I am more sympathetic to. Although I also think this problem goes beyond our brain's ability

About thinkers who think souls are as eternal as God, Van Til label as antitheistic. He considers any ideology that claims that something does not come from God as anti-theistic. In his own words:

"We are forced to maintain that any position that is semi-theistic is completely anti-theistic. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon"

Bruce Charlton said...

@I - Calvinism is not a coherent Christian answer - if there is no real free will, then this negates almost everything in the Bible.

Given that we must choose which simplification to emphasize - God's power or Man's choice - I find it peculiar that to emphasize the all-powerfulness of God and man's utter vile wormlike insignificance is regarded as acceptable and mainstream - although it leaves us with nothing but a numb fatalism and blind obedience; while to emphasize free agency and God's practical limitations is usually condemned as if heretical - although it encourages a dynamic and active attitude.

I do think this emphasis is a major, major problem for mainstream Christianity, such that it tends to collapse back into non-Trinitarian monotheism - and it was a significant factor in moving me towards Mormon theology, which seems much more coherent (and much more true to the Biblical spirit and letter - when these are taken at face value rather than through the lens of Greek philosophy).

Bruce Charlton said...

@I - "extreme positions of the Christian spectrum" - you may be correct in practice - but the intermediate positions are incoherent, that's the trouble. In parctice there is some kind of 'balance' - but this cannot rationally be defended when there is a strong belief in absolute omnipotence and absolute goodness of God and also free will - something, in practice, has to GIVE.

josh said...

Did God create the "pre personal" essences ex nihilo?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Josh - No, they are eternal.

Kevin Nowell said...

This makes no sense to me. How could something exist eternally uncreated, and not be God?

Peter said...

“Calvinism is not a coherent Christian answer - if there is no real free will, then this negates almost everything in the Bible.”

On the contrary:

“.…the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them…”

There is both real free will and real omnipotence.

The omnipotence of God and the free will of man are not contradictory descriptions of the world itself but different possible vantage points. Omnipotence is when we take the vantage point of God; free-will when we take the vantage point of man.

If you are being pragmatic, though, which of the two inclinations, God’s limitation or his omnipotence do you think the best Christians of history tended to emphasize? I think that they tended to believe in an omnipotent God as well as free will.

There seems to be one exception to every preference you have for the Christian religion (limited God, concrete rather than abstract theology, etcetera): the puritans, and the various extensions of the term. The puritan-type believes almost the exact opposite of everything you say, and yet seems to me a very successful species of Christian.

I know the average Mormon emphasizes God as a father, but what do they say about his omnipotence?

Peter said...

Also, I think I found a church that addressees all of your concerns with Christian belief: Ethiopian Orthodox.

Bruce Charlton said...

@KN - What I have written makes snese alright - but I think you mean you disagree with me, and think what I have said is not true.

@Peter - If you are happy with that formulation, then fine. I certainly don't think incoherent metaphysics makes people bad Christians (or else there would hardly have been any Christians ever), indeed this blog always argues completely the opposite, and favours a very inclusive Mere Christian definition of Christianity.

But phrases like "Omnipotence is when we take the vantage point of God; free-will when we take the vantage point of man." seem to me to evade the point by throwing up inexplicable and incomprehensible mysteries - I want to know what is the *reality* of the situation?

If you search Free Will on this blog you will see several previous postings on this theme.

About 'the average Mormon' - who knows what this means, or what such a person might think? (especially bearing in mind taht almost all men are priests and there are only a few full time officials in the LDS Church).

But Blake Osler seems to the the premier Mormon theologian at present (outside of the authorities) and he feels that to deny God's omnipotence to the extent of arguing for a 'limited' God - while perhaps strictly correct in the sense that God must work in Time and with Free Agency and cannot do absolutely anything - creates a very false impression of the incomprehensibly vast and qualitatively unmatched power of God.

But the Mormon concpetion of God (and mine) is of a personage within the Universe and Time - and this is what is somewhat distnctive in the modern context (although probably this is the normal view of God for most Christians now and throughout history, and probably dominant in the early years of the Christian church, before theology was philosophized).

Gnecht said...

"But the Mormon concpetion of God (and mine) is of a personage within the Universe and Time..."

How about thinking of the Universe and Time as a creative work contained within God?

Sort of like "Macbeth" and "Hamlet" were creative works contained within William Shakespeare?

Kevin Nowell said...

So, in this understanding, did God create angels and the devil?

Bruce Charlton said...

@P - Orthodox theology has never tried to be watertight, and always uses mystery a lot. The main problem with Orthodox theology is a purpose for mortal life - why not die ASAP and get on with it?

@G - Because there would be no free will if Men were entirely of God's doing.

@KN - All agents with free will were eternal in essence, but God created all personages.

Adam G. said...

I am a little disturbed to find that your theology is more Mormon than I am. I don't reject your position, but I have also concluded that it is possible that God could have created us an little First Causes. In other words, I think independent and free existence as an agent that is a true first cause of the choices the agent makes, but that is still created, is possible. The only incoherent position is a combination of God as our complete creator and compatibilist free will.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - I got this from Terryl and Fiona Givens - I am convinced by this argument: