Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The God Who Risks

Having finished reading large chunks of Greene's exploration of string and m-theory cosmology, I find myself now turning my attention to some related theology.

The book that's been in front of me the last several days is John Sanders' The God Who Risks, one of a couple of works I've got in the holding pattern on my nightstand that delve into a recent evangelical controversy.   It's a bit odd, finding myself reading evangelical intellectuals...and no, that ain't an oxymoron...but they seem more prone to writing books about God, and less prone to talking about "being church" or "moving towards a transgendered Latina little-person's theology of place."  

Front and center for Sanders is the theological dynamic between free will and determinism.  In that debate, Sanders is what might be fairly described as an Open Theist, someone whose emphasis on free will overrides pesky concepts like divine omniscience and omnipotence.

The essential concept underlying Open Theism is that while God knows the past and the present, God's grasp of the future is limited.  Though he knows what's in my fridge, God ain't got a clue what I'm going to have for breakfast tomorrow.  Waffles?  No, wait.  Maybe eggs and fakin' bacon?  Hmmm.

Open Theism has never really worked for me, although I understand the good-hearted Christian earnestness of that position's desire to get around narsty hyper-Calvinist constructs like double-predestination and the assumption that Your-Baby-Died-Because-It-Was-God's-Will-From-Forever-So-Suck-It-Up-Sinner.   I just can't connect it effectively either to my own experience of God or to the full narrative of YHWH in the prophets and the Torah.

There's that, and that the God of open theism is just a teensy little bit emo and vulnewable.  I mean, Sweet Mary and Joseph, look at that cover.  Sigh.

Still, I feel there's some interesting potential in that thinking.  Open theism's willingness to explore the presence of probability in the structure of creation seems to offer some opportunity for dialectic with the wildly entropic structures underlying the M-Theory universe.  The title of Sanders book alone resonates harmoniously with the whole playing dice with the universe thang.  

Plus, he's introduced me to the word "pancausality," which he probably, like, totally made up but is nonetheless awesome.

So...I'll see how it goes.

4 comments:

  1. It's hard to see how a God who does not know what we'll have for breakfast is compatible with M-theory. In a thesistic M-theory, doesn't God create all the universes in which we have all the breakfasts? It seems to me he knows and has intended all the possible breakfasts.

    Unless he doesn't exist. Which he need not in M-theory, being superfluous to it. Which is a far more elegant way to get him off the hook for all the bad stuff in the M-theory "creation."

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  2. Yup. You're right. The somewhat wan and clueless deity that's suggested by open theism isn't the YHWH of M-theology.

    I'd be interested in your definition of "superfluous" in a cosmology that requires the actualization of all probability. Let His Noodly Appendages scratch your head for you on that one. ;0)

    And the bad stuff? Remember, according to both Deutsch and Greene, quantum mechanics means free will is completely preserved. Those Calabi-Yau manifolds may look a bit like gears and cogs, but they ain't. If sentient beings retain the capacity to influence the direction of existence, then "evil" cannot be blamed on God.

    Unless, of course, the only God worth believing in is the God of linear deterministic fundamentalism.

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  3. "I'd be interested in your definition of "superfluous" in a cosmology that requires the actualization of all probability."

    Authors make choices. If everything possible is actual, then there's no role for an author. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, but no one needs to write the set of all possible combinations of sounds and letters. It can just mindlessly be. The typical theist response to this is "yes, buy why is there anything instead of nothing?" But this question is nonsensical. It carries the concept of causation past the point that it makes any sense. One might just as easily ask it of God. Why does God exist? The theist answers, "Who can say? He just does." Well, that answer applies equally well to "the actualization of all probability" in an M-theory multiverse, much moreso than it ever did to a single classical universe in which there was the illusion of an author making choices. "Why the sun? Why the ocean?" Because everything.

    "Remember, according to both Deutsch and Greene, quantum mechanics means free will is completely preserved. Those Calabi-Yau manifolds may look a bit like gears and cogs, but they ain't. "

    This is overstated. No. The gears are all still there. There are just more of them, and on a quantum level they connect to switches that exist simultaneously in both the on and off position, meaning that they can't be flipped. They are predeterminedly set at both positions so that every possible state of every possible Newtonian machine exists. Quantum mechanics in a multiverse seems to leave some cognitive room for the possibility of free will that is compatible with determinism. It's not clear that it actually does leave room, or, more importantly, that it leaves room enough for the kind of free will needed for a just theistic cosmology. In fact, it seems obvious to me that it doesn't do that second thing, for reasons that I'm about to get to.

    "If sentient beings retain the capacity to influence the direction of existence, then "evil" cannot be blamed on God."

    Yes, it can, because in your scenario God is necessarily the author of those possibilities, and all possibilities are necessary. If you look at the multiverse as a whole, all possibilities are inevitable. They will actually happen, and no mortal can prevent them from happening. Every sin I refrain from committing is merely a branch in a vast tree, created by God, in which every sin is actually realized, thanks to his predetermined vision of whole the multiverse should look like. He made the world this way, replete with every possible horror, and there is nothing any finite being can do change that, much as I might wish to. I can and would blame him for making sinful versions of me, if I thought he existed. But thankfully there's no reason to think he does. In a multiverse there's neither evidence for him, nor need.

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  4. Hi David, I always enjoy and read your blog posts. Thanks.

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