Wednesday, October 6, 2010

M-Theology, Free Will and Determinism

One of the most longstanding issues in Christian theology is the tension between divine sovereignty and free will.  In one corner, you have Presbyterians like my bad self.

We Calvinistas have argued...quite logically...that in order for God to be God in any coherent sense, the Creator must be all knowing and all powerful.  Nothing whatsoever can happen without God having a hand in it somehow, because to imply that would suggest that God is not either omniscient or omnipotent.  Predestination, with it's assumption that God has foreordained those to be saved, is one of the necessary theological results.  Double predestination, which takes that and flips it to the hell-side, is another rather less pleasant result.

Then there's the "everything is God's will" correlate argument.  If God is completely sovereign, and all actions flow forth from God, then I'm just doing God's will when I down my sixth single malt whiskey of the evening.  If God is all powerful, then there's no way I could even raise it to my lips without his say-so.    So...cheers!

It also means that God wills all sorts of far deeper narstiness.  Like, say, the killing fields of Cambodia.  Or the Holocaust.  Or Jeffrey Dahmer.  All part of the plan, baby.  All part of the plan.

On the other side lie those pesky, pesky Baptists and possibly a Methodist or two.  They argue...quite logically...that a God who created human kind absent free will would not be a God we could meaningfully worship.  Without our free and unfettered assent to God, coming into right relationship with God would be meaningless.  What's the point of repentance and the transformation of our life if we're just a puppet?  How can we be in relationship with God if that relationship involves no choice on our part? 

So what matters is that we assent, that we repent, that we wander up weeping to the altar for the twenty-seventh time this year to renounce that demon-whiskey.  We have to choose to be baptised, or it has no meaning.  But...if our will is what matters, and it is for us to choose whether we follow God or not...then God is powerless over us.  And if we can choose against God's will, then God is not all-powerful, not the Almighty, not the font of all being.

We have us a little conundrum.  Or, rather, we had.

Hawking and Mlodinow, along with the other theoretical cosmologists who posit a multiverse, may have accidentally resolved that argument.  The presumption of M-Theory is that the real nature of creation is the actualization of every possible thing.  This quantum-theory presumption is important, but not only because it gives a place for heaven and establishes that God is a likely aspect of the multiverse.

It also means that the God who created all things can do so without in any way limiting our free will.  Within the infinitely manifold providence of M-Theology creation, we may choose to act however we wish.  God sets us into an M-theory creation fully and completely free.  We are given the right to follow any path we choose, while the story of what happens to us as we set our feet down any of those paths remains known to God, even before we've taken that first step.

A theology that integrates this view of creation into itself lifts the dark weight of deterministic horrors that seem antithetical to God's nature.  It also retains free will, as fully and meaningfully as it can be retained as a concept.  It does that while fully affirming God's creative and sovereign power, and the deep significance of our response to God.

This, as I have said before, is non-trivial.   At a bare minimum, it's one less thing to pointlessly fight over.

So does this mean where the rubber hits the road?  How does this speak to our day-to-day lives as moral and ethical beings, given the choice of figuring out how to work our way through the fuddliness of an incredibly complicated existence?

Further up, and further in...