Expounding Upon an Idea for Compatibilism
What I hope to demonstrate in this initial thesis is a possible solution to the age-old problem of how God’s omniscience and omnipotent personal qualities in the Christian faith may be reconciled with the paradox of personal responsibility and, dare it be said, freedom of choice. To begin, we must first acknowledge and establish a few qualities regarding God’s nature.
1.) He is omnipotent. He has within His nature the power to accomplish any course of action which is logically possible. What this means is that He cannot create square circles, or make a statement which is both true and false, since these paradoxes are dependent upon human categorisations without being woven into the overall fabric of reality. Beyond this, God is able to bring about any state of affairs.
2.) He is omniscient. Because spacetime, unlike human categorisations of logic, is an intricate part of our physical universe upon which frames of reference and physical processes depend, it must be rationally concluded that, assuming God exists, and spacetime being His creation, He transcends this quantity as He does matter and energy. This leads onto the implication that God sees no distinction between past, present, and future events, all of which are attributes of a linear, physical existence. This is the kind of existence we inhabit, where we are confined to a particular space and experience a flow of time whereby we only remember past events, experience the immediate present moment, and remain uninformed of future events.
3.) Following from (3), God is ubiquitous, being aware of all spatial points simultaneously in a similar manner to being aware of all temporal points. For the purposes of our argument and the sake of simplicity, we shall state from hereon that God exists within each and every point of spacetime in a perfect, “simultaneous” manner.
4.) God, as depicted in the Christian Bible, is omni-benevolent. He is ultimately loving, and His limitless compassion (at least as we know it in anthropomorphic terms) encompasses a need to see justice served as well as mercy.
Now the problems arise as follows. From the first three points, we acknowledge that the Judeo-Christian God essentially embodies what we limited human beings know as “perfection,” that which we might describe as an ideal state of existence. God is able to do anything, sees all, experiences all, remains unchanging (by virtue of existing outside the dimensions of time and space), and within the intricate nature of this state of being, He experiences love. Many a theologian has written countless books on the subject of God’s love, but it is enough for us to simply acknowledge this embodiment of love for humanity which is intrinsic in God’s “psyche.”
Herein lies the problem: As we see in (4), an essential part of God’s love is that He demands a divine form of justice which we see in the Bible described as “Hell.” All we see explicitly described in the Bible is that Hell constitutes eternal separation from the presence of God. Namely, we all die a natural, physical death, but then we also die a spiritual death as part of the progressive chain of events. This is what would happen in a state of affairs without intervention, but the cornerstone of Biblical faith is that the personage and revelation of God’s nature was fully revealed in Jesus Christ, who, as well as living a life of ministry and preaching the true nature of God’s love and compassion, also died a death once and for all in the hope of saving us from the condition of “sin,” that imperfect state which leads us to ultimately conduct ourselves opposite to God’s idea of goodness and morality, which subsequently leads to our spiritual deaths, the Hell state. This state is necessitated by God’s sense of justice, that no imperfection can come into His presence. Since He wants us in His presence because of His love for us, Jesus provides the perfect sacrifice and atonement for sin, and also symbolises the desire of God to share in our suffering, despair, death, decay, and taking upon Himself the condition of sin in order to demonstrate how all forms of human imperfection have been put to death. This atonement is perfect, needing nothing more, we are told, save that we have faith in Jesus as the Son of God and place our trust in His sacrifice.
And so we are left with a problem. We appear to have been left to choose our faith in Christ, or to reject Him. However, since God, in His omniscience and ubiquity, ought to know which of those people whom He created would ultimately choose Him, and since He brought about a universe by which all of our minds and consciousnesses are subject to well-defined physical laws, the argument exists that God has predestined us, as it were, to have faith in Him. This is the crux of Calvinist philosophies, and others like them, which argue that we do not cooperate in any way, shape, or form with God in order to be saved from sin… His Holy Spirit is the sole author of our salvation, and while some have been specifically saved, others have been deliberately prepared by God for destruction to the Hell state. The main arguments for this idea arise from specific parts of the Bible. The author of Ephesians writes:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
The apostle Paul of Tarsus writes:
For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
So we are struck with quite a startling paradox indeed… on the one hand, it appears to be God’s wish that we should choose Him through Christ in order that we might be reconciled to Him in love. On the other hand, it seems as though God intentionally chose His followers already, and not just this, but also chose those who would rebel to be consigned to their eternal punishment! It would seem quite reasonable to come to such a conclusion if we are to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in all creation, and His transcendence of space and time. It may appear, unfortunately, that we really have no choice in whether we follow God or rebel.
The main argument from those who support the idea of free will comes from the idea that God’s foreknowledge does not preclude our ability to make our own decisions. Such an argument, in simplistic form, might say that God knows that a particular person will take the train in the morning, but that does not make Him directly responsible for that person taking the train. In much the same way, I know a ball will drop to earth if released, but that doesn’t mean I forced the ball to drop to earth.
It might seem reasonable, but upon further scrutiny there are problems. For one thing, I may know that a ball will drop to earth without forcing it, but I am not responsible for the laws of nature which compel it to drop. God, conversely, is the omniscient author of all natural laws, including gravity. Including those which allow me to be born and die. Including those laws to which my brain is subject, which allow me to make my decisions in the first place. From a strict reductionist viewpoint, it is difficult to argue that God, as the supreme foreknowing author, does not map out all of my decisions before I make them. Where, then, lies the argument for personal responsibility? Am I really not responsible for whether or not I choose to follow God? Is it entirely down to His sovereign work?
One thing we must account for, at this stage of our scientific understanding, is that there are two main dynamic collections of laws at work in the cosmos; the laws of relativity, which are deterministic, and the laws of quantum mechanics, which are indeterministic. It is relativity to which large scale structures, such as planets, cars, and all macroscopic structures hold. Similarly, atomic and molecular particles abide by quantum mechanics, which is, by its very nature, indeterministic. Without going into the highly-detailed science of this matter, it is sufficient for us to acknowledge at this point that quantum physics is not indeterministic because of our level of human understanding and measurement, but rather, these laws are inherently indeterministic on a universal scale. No matter how advanced our level of measurement, quantum effects are by their nature unpredictable.
What quantum theory shows (and numerous experimental observations have held its principles to be true), is that the universe, at least on a sub-perception scale, does not run on a clockwork plan. By quantum effects, particles can change direction, position, or even bring themselves into existence from unknown sources of energy for no apparent reason at all. This is in stark contrast to relativistic laws, which we can be observe and predict to great repetitive accuracy. These two main bodies of physics are currently irreconcilable, yet both hold to be experimentally true. In a great cosmic contradiction, the universe is somehow deterministic and indeterministic simultaneously.
The reader may be wondering what all of this science has to do with the philosophical considerations of God, choice, and free will. Well, for starters, it has everything to do with it. Heidegger and others have worked extensively on the notion that human freedom depends upon the ability of a particular state to bring itself into existence. If one state of being simply follows on from another state, then there is an inextricable dependence on the previous state of being and no freedom of choice has been expressed. What quantum phenomena ultimately serve to demonstrate, is that while we live in a universe where perceived events are predictable and non-chaotic, the unperceived behaves in such a manner that each state of existence is essentially coming into being of its own accord.
The prominent mathematician Roger Penrose has been one of a few scientists who have sought to directly attribute quantum effects to human behaviour, theorising (most notably in his book The Emperor’s New Mind) that the human mind does not operate on the same level as computers, but rather displays consciousness as a result of quantum effects occurring within the brain. These effects supposedly combine in a superposition of different quantum states in a macroscopic manner to be able to produce the highly complex and overall unpredictable behaviour of human beings. Now we might all say we have consistent character traits and personalities, but the point is that those would arise from the conditions which have contributed to the relativistic side of our brain… the quantum side, it is expected, would give rise to underpinning characteristics which are less easily definable, such as decisions we might make, what time to eat, whether a life-changing course of action is wise or unwise, how we might perceive a particular situation, etc. Those things which, although determined by our individual personalities, also require some measure of unpredictability.
Now we should see that if quantum effects hold to be true, and they do occur on a level within our brain, then there are a number of factors to consider. We are a product of our environment and we progress in our personalities according to our situations, the immediate people by whom we are surrounded, our education, and our overall environment. We are also equally a product, as it were, of ourselves. The ability of a state of being to bring itself about is hardwired into our brains, or whatever gives rise to our consciousness. Predictable in some respects we most definitely are, but indeterministic in how we compute, decipher, and discern information. It cannot be argued on sufficient grounds, therefore, that our actions and choices are nothing more than products of the previous state of existence if indeed our existence has some measure of in-built tendency to cause itself.
Now while this might indicate that we have some degree of choice, we are still left with the problem that, however unpredictable quantum effects might be, they are such only within the framework of this physical universe. God, as the author of all natural laws, knows how and in what manner quantum phenomena will occur since He is responsible for their behaviour. So an absolute prederminist may argue that, not only are we still slave to quantum indeterminacy, but also since God knows the ins and outs of those indeterminacies, our decisions are still subject to His causations.
However, in light of our acceptance at this point that the universe has a large-scale spatial-temporal structure which God perfectly perceives, and also in light of our acceptance that our universe is on at least some level inherently indeterministic, a new model is proposed which attempts to reconcile the concepts of determinism and human freedom. In this model, the Calvinistic concept that God chooses His followers is held to be true, but with one vital difference; the choices are made due to how existence has unfolded, rather than the other way round.
How this works is explained thus: God, in His omniscience and benevolence, brings about a complete state of existence (our universe, in its spatial-temporal scale) which is structured in the “best” way; that is, because God in His perfect wisdom knows all possible options and subsequently chooses the option that is most loving and is the morally better option by virtue of His perfect compassion. I propose that in doing this, God did not bring about a universe which would operate entirely on His demanded rules, but would operate with some measure of independence based on its own rules. The reason I say “some measure” is for the following reasons:
1.) A universe left to operate entirely on its own independent of God is a deistic worldview, and one which is irreconcilable with the Christian faith. Biblically, God has not only intervened in human history (most notably through Christ), but is also actively involved in sustaining and guiding His creation.
2.) Although God does and continues to intervene, there can be argued a case for extent to which He does so. As an example, there can be considered a difference between His current guiding of the universe and, say, His appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus.
From this reasoning it is argued that because there appears to be a measure to which God chooses to intervene in His creation, there must be a measure to which creation acts independently and also a measure to which God has relinquished His sovereignty over the universe. That is, while He is the ultimate author of creation and its laws, and while He constantly sustains and guides the creation within the confinement of these laws, there is an extent of independence of creation which allows it to shift between partially-independent states of being. It is hypothesised that this conduction results in the presence of both relativism and quantum law within our universe.
Now as to how all this relates to choice and predestination: God, although spatially and temporally ubiquitous, perceiving all points of existence in the universe as one simultaneous “structure” (it is necessary to speak in anthropomorphic terms although it is hoped the reader will understand that such expressions are written for the convenience of discussion), also willed the creation to arise from an initial singularity point of its own linear accord. With partially-relinquished sovereignty over creation, this universe and subsequently this planet spawned sentient life; human beings, whom God foresaw and for whom creation exists. The object of His love, God desires reconciliation with us through Christ, but we come back to the original question: can we choose that reconciliation in and of our own power?
The answer is neither yes nor no, but a mixture of both. Because we human beings have been left of our own accord to develop, grow, learn, and understand, we do so at different rates, different levels, and all according to the deterministic laws of the universe… but also due to those which are indeterministic. God has formed the human conscious mind, that to which we might refer as the “soul,” from a collection of qualities which express themselves in amalgamation as individuality according to how the conscious mind has been left exposed within a partially indeterministic framework. As individuals who each undergo different experiences, in different environments, and in different ways, all according to how creation has been allowed to unfold, we all possess a limited extent of freedom. Now for some more Biblical input:
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.
Numerous passages can be found expressing similar messages, but these two have been selected to serve the main point: God somehow wishes that all might come to Him in reconciliation, yet not only is the number of people who come to this fate obviously limited, but also Jesus chooses those who come to this fate through faith. In light of the model of relinquished sovereignty, it is proposed that the Holy Spirit does not select a limited few to beckon, but rather He reveals Himself in some way of beckoning to all people, in all times, and in all places. Such reasoning is based on the following verse:
For many are called, but few are chosen.
So again we see Jesus reaffirming the idea that He chooses His people rather than them choosing Him, but here also lays the precedence that “many are called.” It is theorised that God’s Spirit, as described above, effectively “calls” all human beings to reconciliation, but among which only a few respond. The conditions of whether they will respond or reject is suggested to be based on the exposure of the human soul to conditions of creation which have unfolded partially due to God’s intervention, and also partially due to the ability of creation to progressively bring about its own independent states. So we are confined according to where in creation we are found to exist, but also are found with a very limited sense of freedom, depending both upon our individuality in the unfolded state as well as how our indeterministic mind will respond to God’s calling. Since God foreknows the ways in which we will respond, He is able to see where those individuals are who are in the position of both environment and individuality to be able to best glorify Him, and therefore He “chooses” those based on those factors. The result is cooperation between man and God to reach our salvation which maintains God’s position as the ultimate author of reconciliation beyond that of our own efforts.
• God foreknows all of creation, including the decisions people will make.
• The decisions that people make are based on their own deterministic personalities as well as an individuality which expresses itself through limited indeterminacy.
• For these indeterminate states to exist, God has relinquished part of His sovereignty over His creation by limiting the extent to which He intervenes in the universe’s function, and instead allows it to unfold according to selected parts of its own laws while sustaining and guiding the remainder.
• The sacrifice of Christ was the final atonement sufficient for all people’s sin, and available to all people as propitiation for their imperfections. The calling of God’s Spirit is therefore made in appeal to everyone who has ever existed, and will ever exist.
• The ways in which people’s individualities find and express themselves according to how they are exposed within the partially-indeterministic universe allows God to see whether they are in a position to glorify Him. These people respond to God’s call, in such a way that He has “chosen” them.
• Because these people have been in a position to respond positively to God’s calling, God’s sovereignty as author of salvation remains intact even though it has been partially relinquished to give people limited freedom.
• Those whom God has chosen will never lose their salvation, since God has chosen them and foreknew them from the foundation of the world.
Five Calvinistic Points Revised:
T – Total inability of humanity to come to God through our own efforts.
U – Universal appeal, extended to all human beings.
L – Limited number of those given grace according to positive response to God’s appeal.
I – Irresistible choice on God’s part of those who are in a positive position to glorify Him
P – Perseverance of believers in their salvation.