Monday 28 November 2016

The Silence of God

Posted by Eugene Alper
Perhaps God is so silent with us for a reason.  If He were to answer, if He were to respond to even one question or one plea, this would spell the end of our free will.
For once we knew His preferences for us, once we could sense His approval or disapproval, we would no longer exercise our own preferences, we would not choose our actions.  We would be like children again, led by His hand.  Perhaps He did not want this.  Perhaps He did not create us to be perpetual children.  Perhaps He designed the world so we could think about it and choose our actions freely.

But mentioning free will and God's design in the same sentence presents a predicament—these two ideas need to be somehow reconciled.  For if we believe that God designed the world in a certain way, and the world includes us and our free will, its design has to be flexible enough for us to exercise our free will within it.  We should be able to choose to participate in the design or not, and if so, to which degree.  Should we choose to do something with our life—however small our contribution may be—maybe to improve the design itself, or at least to try to tinker with it, we should be able to do so.  Should we choose to stay away from participating and become hermits, for example, we should be able to do so too.  Or should we choose to participate only partially, every third Tuesday of the month, we should be free to do so as well.

This thinking smacks of being childish.  We want God's design to be there and not to be there at the same time.  We want God to be a loving father who is not overly strict.  This is how we created His image in the Old Testament: God is occasionally stern—to the point of destroying almost the entire humankind—but loving and caring the rest of the time.  This is how we created His image in the New Testament, too: God so loved the world that He sent His own Son to redeem it.  Maybe all we really want is a father again; whatever beings we imagine as our gods, we want the familiar features of our parents.  Maybe we are perpetual children after all.  We want to play in our sandbox—freely and without supervision—and build whatever we want out of sand, yet we want our father nearby for comfort and protection.

There is no need to reconcile anything.  This is how it works.  Our free will fits within God's design so well because it is free only to a degree.  Time and space are our bounds.  We have only so much time until we are gone, and we have only so much energy until it runs out.  Gravity will assure that we can jump, but not too high, that we can fly, but not too far.  We cannot cause too much damage.  Sitting in the sand, we can fight with other players, we can even kick them out, we can build our own castles or destroy theirs, but we cannot destroy the sandbox itself.  Maybe this is the secret of the design. 


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

This is a very interesting subject -- to many. Most people on the planet think of course that God has spoken. But that is what we call 'special revelation', and this is 'general revelation'.

This is a very interesting approach. I am not sure I have come across it before, and I have done a lot of theology. Let's just hope we don't destroy the sandbox.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Dear Eugene,

How is an idea of the sacred used between something prosaic, literal and something poetic?

Gravity will assure that we can jump (quote), is a scientific statement. But, quote, our free will fits within God's design so well because it is free only to a degree, is not. In the sense that I turn to poetic abstractions to grasp meanings within that phrase that in principal cannot be prosaically understood. Now I think between this interplay, ascribing poetical features to prosaic understanding, lots of damage is done when it touches subjects of the sacred.

For example: A man declares God has spoken to him. This is 'scientific' belief in religion. When things are made into prose, that are not, we loose the sense of the metaphors we are using. What I might read in your essay is a search in this sort of manipulation in regard to a sense of responsibility we are willing to uptake between a recognition of what belongs to the irrational and what does not, and that in this sense there cannot exist a reconciliation between the two. But then, what I do not understand from your essay is the limited harm in the idea of the sandbox when that sandbox is properly used for distortions between poetic and prose understanding?

Keith said...

Fascinating post. Among the many words that grabbed my interest were these: “We cannot destroy the sandbox itself.”

Perhaps, instead, the ‘sandbox’ has self-destruct mechanisms built into its cosmic genome.

A reminder that we don’t have the sandbox in perpetuity; our lease has a nonnegotiable(!) end date.

Given the timelines of these events—billions of years—nothing to spur hair-on-fire panic or to fling ourselves into revising our ‘estate plans’.

Nonetheless, all occurrences are a tad ‘inconvenient’—for us, and for our far-flung cosmic cohabitants. In many cases, the science is settled; in others, less so.

If the metaphor of a ‘sandbox’ is Earth, that’ll be handily dispatched as the sun morphs into a ‘red giant’, reaching out to much of the solar system with an unwelcome fiery embrace.

(Hopefully humanity would have figured out how to hightail it from Earth, and homestead elsewhere, long before then.)

If the metaphor of a ‘sandbox’ is the Milky Way, it and the Andromeda galaxy are on course to ‘collide’, in some cases tossing stars into different regions of the nascent joint galaxy.

If the metaphor of a ‘sandbox’ is the universe, the closing act depends on stuff like ‘dark matter/energy’ and acceleration rate of universe's expansion: ‘heat death’ (‘big freeze’); or ‘big rip’ (tears apart); or ‘big crunch’ (collapse of space-time), followed by ‘big bounce’. Each to a very different degree of probability.

All in all, kind of head-scratching that our and other civilisations were dealt this hand. (The word ‘dealt’ unintentionally implying design.)

Perhaps here is where the post’s reference to ‘silence’ matters. No temporary suspension of the laws of physics by a supreme being, however defined, to fix things long set in play.

If nothing else, these occurrences may be spun as the ultimate in cosmic ‘recycling’. And recycling is good, right?

Of the three ‘sandboxes’, the one we can take it upon ourselves to destroy (before its cosmically allotted time) is Earth. Unless, that is, we choose to do otherwise, and handle our environmental affairs wisely.

docmartincohen said...

Thank you Eugene for this attempt to 'square' the anceint philosophical problem of freewill/ Thank you commenters too - it seems you are indicating that you are not quite convinced by with the reassurance offered. As I see Eugene's core argument, it is that an individual has only a set lifespan so their 'freewill' is limited too. But let us take a person who for example exerminates all the dodos. They then die - but the dodos are gone forever...

Or from the point of view of another individual, perhaps tortured and murdered by one of these 'time limited but nasty people' - they do not have the luxury of a universal, cosmic perspective to reset the perspective of the unfairness and injustice.

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