by Rebecca Bynum (March 2013)
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. – Revelation 3:20
Material determinists continue to argue that human free will is a weird kind of cruel illusion. Sam Harris, for example, argues that whereas we are not our own creators, and did not create all the myriad factors of our environment, do not control all the factors of influence that go into our genetic and environmental make-up, that therefore no decision made can be said to have been truly free. All the evolutionary factors of our make-up going back to the beginning of life on earth (indeed beyond, since why this planet and not another?) would have to have been consciously decided by us to make our decisions free since all of those factors influence our decisions at least to some degree now. Hence, our decisions are limited; therefore, we are not free will beings.
I would tend to agree with Mr. Harris, if it were true that human beings were merely material constructs with no perception or experience of non-material reality. But that is not true, human beings perceive and act upon spiritual value, we distinguish good from evil, and it is these very decisions which are valuable in and of themselves. Though human beings are built upon an evolutionary animal substrate, and that substrate predetermines many kinds of preferences and desires during material life, yet the most critical moral decisions are made by distinguishing levels of value. In this realm, involving the choosing of better and more moral positions among our fellow men, we are completely free. In the absence of mental illness or serious brain injury, both good and evil are freely chosen.
These are the decisions our lives are built upon. The fact that I like eggs for breakfast, may have been influenced by an omnivorous ancestor in the distant past, but my moral decisions determine my future - what kind of person I will be, what kind of character I will develop and how I will treat others throughout my life. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is not a formula for survival of the fittest. Moral decisions do not confer survival value in the material world, in fact they often do the opposite, but they do enhance survival potential for a life beyond this one in which spiritual value predominates.
Some religious thinkers, most notably Martin Luther, speculated that if God were all-powerful, then human life must be predestined. This formula fails to consider the idea that God may have decided to self-limit his power in order for man to have freedom. The great illustration of this is, of course, the death of Jesus. Though he could heal the sick, give sight to the blind and raise the dead, he did not resist his arrest, trial and execution, but rather submitted to the will of man. God’s will in voluntary submission to human will. A more powerful demonstration of the nature of God could not be found.
Another demonstration may be easily observed in our own experience with the spirit. We must consciously open the door for spiritual experience to occur and when we turn away, the spirit obediently withdraws. The spirit does not dominate or control. It provides comfort, guidance and support, but never coercion. And this must be because the decision was made sometime in the distant past to allow man his free will.
The idea of God being self-limiting is rather obvious. What is time, but the limitation of eternity? What is the finite, but the limited infinite? What is matter, but limited energy? The infinite, eternal and absolute Godhead, must have limited himself in order for creation to begin, for time and space to become real. God may know the end from the beginning, but the getting there may take zillions of different pathways depending on the individual freewill decisions made by his creatures. The Father is probably not surprised by our decisions, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that (within an admittedly limited framework) we made those choices freely. We choose to love God and we choose to love one another; we cannot be forced to do so. To love another person as ourselves involves a perfectly free choice. It is not enslavement to ritual or belief in dogma, love can only be given freely or not at all. Love is spirit. It is not created by material antecedents.
In order to be free to choose the good, we must be free to choose its opposite – evil; we must therefore be free to sin. Without the possibility of evil, there would be no choice and no freedom. So to the unthinking question, why does God allow evil; the answer is, that we may be free and come to him of our own volition. Those who would remove that freedom and make men slaves are in direct rebellion against God’s will and purpose. Muhammad was one such rebel who would enslave men to a ritualistic system, but those who would remove man’s free will choice by convincing him freedom does not exist (just as God does not exist in their thinking) are rebels in the same way. Both destroy human dignity by destroying human freedom. Both offer nothing but bondage to meaningless forms and the return to animal levels of existence. In the one, man is a helpless pawn of an evil deity, in the other, man is the helpless pawn of soulless matter and consequently any degree of human enslavement is justified on the basis of seeking material well-being for the greatest number of people.
Communism, of course, was predicated on atheism, but a still more terrible totalitarianism is sure to come with the spreading acceptance of material determinism and its destruction of belief in the reality of free will.
Rebecca Bynum's latest book is Allah is Dead, Why Islam is Not a Religion.
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