Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the third of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

I can't think of any event in sports where the outcome will have anything approaching worldwide significance. Even though I write this on Super Bowl Sunday, I'm under no illusions that the outcome will have any real meaning outside of the self-referential world of the American version of pro football.
(R) You are trivializing this, but surely you understand the tiniest change in the present might make an immense difference in the future?
(MB) Strangely enough, I'm writing this on Super Bowl Sunday one year after the original response. Denver won last year and I can't say that anything significant came of it. Denver just won again this year and I suspect that the lack of any larger importance for the result will be evident once again. The best you seem to be able to do is ask a rhetorical question. Could you provide a concrete example?

(R) For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost?
(MB) Besides the fact that you've left out a lot of that old story, the point of that story is that one should pay attention to details. It has nothing to do with the importance (or lack of) of the results of sporting events.

(R) I thought you were a science fiction fan?
(MB) I am, but what relevance does that have to a discussion about whether or not sports results have any real significance?

(R) A delay in the game of a few seconds for a penalty might make the difference in someone who played or watched the game dying in an accident or not that evening.
(MB) How? And how can you be sure that it was the penalty and not some other event that was that ultimately caused (or prevented) the accident?

(R) That person might be the future discoverer of a cure for cancer. Even the most insignificant events can snowball to have profound effects. The winner or loser in a sporting event may seems irrelevant, but everything which happens has its effect.
(MB) I'm still waiting for a specific example that clearly shows this effect. Please be sure not to confuse coincidence with causality.

All things at the proper time, my son...*grin* Remember what I've been saying all along in that a belief in God infers certain consequences? The questions of free will and predestination are two of them.
(R) Not believing in God has consequences also.
(MB) Such as? Not believing in God would have the same consequences as not believing in leprechauns, unicorns, or the Great Green Arkleseizure, i.e., none at all.

(R) None of your other arguments are convincing, so I guess this is the proper time for you to try some new ones.
(MB) In the previous paragraph, you agreed that belief in God has consequences. Now, you seem to be claiming that it doesn't. Which is it? Perhaps you could explain why questions of free will and predestination are not consequences of belief in God rather than just issuing yet another blanket and unexplained denial.

The gist of current theory is that the physical laws which govern our universe were established at (or shortly after -- during the first 1x10e-43 second) the moment it came to be. However, since one of those laws is Heisenberg Uncertainty, it is not possible to predict the future of the universe even if one knows its exact state at any point in time.
(R) Afraid you've got it backwards.
(MB) Not a chance. You would know this if you have actually read Hawking's "Brief History of Time".

(R) Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle states simply that the position and the energy level of elementary particles cannot both be known simultaneously. If a particle's position is measured, its energy level can only be estimated. If its position is measured, we can only estimate its energy level. This doesn't mean the future of the universe cannot be predicted if we know its exact state. On the contrary, the relationship is the exact reverse.
(MB) Not a chance. Since quantum reactions occur in unpredictable ways, even if we could know the exact state of the universe at any point in time (which we can't), we could never accurately predict its state at any future time.

(R) The reason we can't predict the future of the universe is because we cannot know its exact state. If we could determine its exact state, we could predict its future with complete accuracy - perfect knowledge leads to perfect predictions.
(MB) Completely wrong. Please explain how any accurate prediction could be made if the time between exact measurement and future state would be filled with unpredictable quantum effects. Perfect knowledge only leads to perfect predictions if the time in between is also completely knowable and predictable. Quantum mechanics makes that impossible.

(R) But it's just limited humans who cannot know the universe's exact state. An all-powerful, all-knowing Supreme Being would know the exact state of the universe from beginning to end, and could not only predict, but control, its future state.
(MB) This presupposes that such a being could actually exist. There are also some logical difficulties with your scenario. I agree that if an omnipotent, omniscient being knows the exact state of the universe from its beginning, he would also know its exact course through to its end. If he also has the ability to control it, he would also possess the foreknowledge that he would exercise that ability at some point and what effects his actions would have. This implies that his control efforts would be an unchangeable part of the one and only possible life history of the universe and must, therefore, happen at a time and place and in a way that he couldn't change. But, since "control" implies a volitional activity, we have a contradiction. It would seem that even an omnipotent being would be limited by predestination. But, if he is limited in any way, he can't be omnipotent. If he doesn't know in advance about everything that he will ever do and what effects his actions will have, then he can't be omniscient. So, we must either discard the notion of omniscience and omnipotence or accept the inherent contradictions I've just described. Either way, your notion of the nature of God is refuted.

That argument is internally inconsistent.
(R) Well no, it isn't.
(MB) Well, yes it is (as I have described in the previous paragraph). Any proposition involving omnipotence and omniscience must inevitably result in logical paradoxes.

(R) As a matter of fact, postulating the existence of God may be the *only* way to grant human beings free will.
(MB) Not at all. In fact, the reverse is true if your God is said to be omni-whatever. As I've already pointed out, the existence of such a God would make free will impossible since nothing would be unpredictable or unknowable in advance.

If such a God exists, then anything that exists and anything that happens would be because he has pre-ordained it. Thus, you could never make any real choices. You would simply always react in a predestined way in all circumstances. That means you could not act "good" or "bad" on your own accord. In fact, it means that God created both "good" and "bad" and that he intends his creations to go one way or the other. If so, how could he hold you responsible for acting as you do? After all, you are only doing what he told you to do - much as how a computer responds to the programs written for it. If a computer is executing a program and it crashes, is the computer at fault or does the blame reside with the programmer?
(R) The question of free will is absolutely the most perplexing problem of philosophy.. And the argument you offer above is undoubtedly the oldest there is on the question. It is certain that 10,000 years ago and more, men were drawing the same conclusions as you (sans any references to computers, of course.)
(MB) How are you "certain" of this? 10,000 years ago, the discipline of philosophy didn't even exist. The argument may be old, but that's only because it's so obvious.

(R) Personally, I first ran across this concept in a Frank Yerby novel some thirty years ago, and I've seen it many times since. However, this argument is basically meaningless, for several reasons.
(MB) The argument is airtight. But, I suspect that won't stop you from disputing it. Let's see...

(R) First of all, it doesn't prove there is no God. It may show that God is capricious, but it doesn't prove He doesn't exist.
(MB) It's not designed to prove that God doesn't exist. It's designed to prove that God can't be omni-whatever.

(R) Actually, all a theist has to do to counter this argument is say, "Yes, you're right, there is no free will, we are all completely subject to the whims of an unfathomable God."
(MB) So, how does that counter the argument? On the contrary, if one actually believes in the omni-whatever of God, he must realize that free will is impossible -- just like I said.

(R) This is what the Calvinists concluded, and to a large extent, the concepts of karma, joss, and kismet seen in other religions use the same reasoning.
(MB) "Joss"? Isn't that a statue of a Chinese god? In any case, Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on poor reasoning.

(R) Secondly, how does eliminating God from the equation make the situation any different? If there is no God, the mechanistic operations of the laws of nature still produce exactly the same result. Heisenberg's principle doesn't change that.
(MB) Sure, it does. Since the effects of quantum mechanics are unpredictable, it can never be said that there will be one and only one particular chain of events that will constitute the history of the universe. It can also not be said that the universe would turn out exactly the same way if it was restarted from the same initial conditions. This is very much different from the case where an omni-whatever God is in charge.

(R) Our actions and fate are still fixed, except now by the laws of nature, by heredity and environment. We're still not able to make real choices, we're still nothing more than robots mindlessly executing built-in instructions. Indeed, eliminating God doesn't even come close to solving the problems of free will and pre-destination.
(MB) If a universe without God is unpredictable, you can't make such claims. The future would be unknowable and anything would be possible. If an omni-whatever God exists, then free will can't exist and everything must be predestined and the one and only possible future could be predicted with complete accuracy.

(R) Finally, there is the inescapable fact that even if we do not possess free will, it certainly seems as if we do. Right now, I can decide to continue working on this response, or I can go and watch TV. Right now, you can continue to read it or not. The decisions each of us will make are already known, they were determined either by God or the laws of nature at the beginning of time. But we are still, right now, making our own choices. This cannot be explained in terms of a mechanistic universe. Only by postulating an all-powerful God, one who can provide for anything, can free will be restored.
(MB) Absolutely backwards and incorrect. As I've already explained, the existence of an omni-whatever God makes free will impossible since there can be only one possible future. This also means that there would be no such thing as real choices. We would all simply act in a predetermined manner at all times -- whether or not we "felt" like we were making any choices.
    Now, it may well be possible that we don't have free will even if God doesn't exist. It is certainly possible that we just behave in response in a hard-wired fashion. However, it is only in an unpredictable universe with an unknowable future that free will could exist at all.

(R) A text on philosophy I have ("Introducing Philosophy," by Robert C. Solomon) defines free will in the following terms:
    "Freedom of Will - actions undetermined by external causes, including the power of God (though how God can leave us this indeterminacy in spite of His power and knowledge over us is and must be incomprehensible to us.)"

(MB) It is only "incomprehensible" since it is logically impossible.

(R) This definition doesn't come from a religious volume, but from a mainstream, introductory-level text on philosophy used by major universities.
(MB) And, works of philosophy can't be influenced by religious belief? Since there's no hint of non-belief in the quoted passage, this is certainly a religious viewpoint. Philosophy and religious belief are not mutually-exclusive.

(R) I don't think there is any other way to look at the issue of free will.
(MB) Of course there is, but that depends on what one's presuppositions will allow.

(R) We can't comprehend how an all-knowing God can grant us free will, we can only say He does.
(MB) If we can't comprehend it, how can we say for sure that it's true? Sounds more like something that you just *want* to believe.

(R) By any measure of human understanding, free will is impossible.
(MB) Not at all. I've already shown how it could be possible.

(R) But if we postulate an all-powerful God - one who can do anything, no matter how paradoxical it seems to you or me - free will (and more importantly, personal responsibility) is restored to human affairs.
(MB) You can't just ignore paradoxes. To do so is an indication that you just want to believe in something no matter how illogical it might be. That's never a good course of action.

If God exists, there is one and only one future since it must already have been pre-ordained. Nothing we might do could ever change it.
(R) Regardless of whether God exists or not, there is still just a single future, one pre-ordained in its entirety by the initial conditions of the Big Bang.
(MB) If so, that provides a conclusive disproof of the omni-whatever nature of God.

(R) Whether God exists or not, we are still all victims of an inexorable and unchanging fate.
(MB) That means there is no point in trying to achieve salvation or convert people to your religion since our fate is already preordained. This invalidates a major doctrine of Christianity that says that people have any control over whether or not they can be saved.

(R) But we have no way of knowing what it is except in the most general and imprecise manner, and to all appearances, the choices we make determine our futures.
(MB) What something might "appear" to be does not, in any way, define what it actually *is*. Whether or not we can ever know the future does not determine whether or not that future has already been predetermined. This also means that there is no reason for you to worry about the consequences of a person's non-belief since that non-belief would also have been predetermined and (if God exists) would exist because God wanted it to exist.

In any machine, all of the parts have one and only one specific, designated function. They make no non-deterministic choices. If the parts are correctly made and assembled, the machine acts exactly as the designer intended. If it doesn't "behave", the designer can disassemble it, but he only place the blame upon himself for the failure of the machine.
(R) Except in regards to each part having one and only one function (which is true only of simple machines) what you say is absolutely true - but only of inanimate machines designed by men. For the phenomenally complex the machine we call the universe, which is divinely designed and made up of animate parts possessing free will, it is most certainly *not* true.
(MB) Why? Just because a machine is complex does not mean that it is not subject to the same rules as a simple machine. Now, if you're going to throw "divine design" into the picture, then you must accept that all of its parts (including atheists) are the way they are because God designed them to be that way. In that case, I'd think that you would be angering God by questioning parts of his design.

Why, then, must we "seek salvation"? If God knows how we'll turn out, nothing we might do will make any difference. If all men are supposed to obey the Ten Commandments, why would God design them in such a way that they could disobey them and then profess surprise or displeasure at their inevitable actions and exact his vengeance upon them?
(R) Why, if God is good and expects us to be as well, did he made us capable of evil and then hold us accountable for it? I don't know.
(MB) Add that question to the ever-growing list...

(R) Probably, no human being can completely understand why....though some come closer than others. In the closing pages of "All The King's Men," Robert Penn Warren gives one of the better answers to this question I've seen:
    "The creation of Man whom God in His foreknowledge knew doomed to sin was the awful index of God's omnipotence. For it would have been a thing of trifling and contemptible ease for Perfection to create mere perfection. To do so would, to speak truth, be not creation but extension. Separateness is identity and the only way for God to create, truly create, man was to make him separate from God Himself, and to be separate from God is to be sinful. The creation of evil is therefore the index of God's glory and His power. That had to be so that the creation of good might be the index of man's glory and power. But by God's help. By His help and in His wisdom."

(MB) This passage does not answer the question of why God holds Man responsible for being sinful when it is the way that God is said to have created us. Man doesn't have to be "perfect" in order to be have been made incapable of sin. Since a physical Man is still undeniably separate from God, Warren's passage really doesn't say much.

(R) I don't think anyone would classify "All The King's Men" as a religious text.
(MB) What exactly qualifies as a "religious text" to you? Do passages from non-religious texts which mention God automatically provide validity for the notion of God? Or, is it more likely that they are just expressions of the author's personal beliefs?

(R) I know you'll pooh pooh this passage, as you always do anything which disagrees with your own narrow views,
(MB) I never do that. I always describe what problems I find with any given argument. You ought to try that yourself.

(R) ...but let me point out that Warren isn't saying this was the only way God could create Man. He's saying it was the way God chose to create Man, so as to make a being worthy of Himself.
(MB) How does an imperfect and sinful Man therefore become worthy of God whereas a perfect and sinless Man would not be worthy? And, this *still* doesn't explain why Man is held responsible for how God created him.

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