Sunday, June 26, 2011

Free will and God

Early in June I noticed that another blogger had quoted my first post on this site. "Learning to Live Free" is a site for those who have left the Apostolic Lutheran Church and its cousins, and discussion of that. I actually rather like what I see there for the most part. From what I can gather, most people are still Christian on that site, but at least they are no longer stuck in one of the most conservative and limiting traditions in the Lutheran landscape. I was pleased to see someone mentioning me, because I'm not immune to feelings of pride, however small.

Some of the commenters on that site decided to address me directly, and for the most part were very polite about it. There's at least one glaring exception who posted a copy-paste of some stuff from a Ray Comfort site, but you won't see that if you go there, as the site admin deleted all but the link to that site, saying that those who wanted to read it could go there themselves. Well, I've been pondering a few of the things that were said to me, and decided to respond here, as that site doesn't seem the place to comment on my atheism or why the arguments presented are convincing.

First up, we've got Hibernatus:

What Nathan-Lucien really is discussing is why God created free will if giving free will made it possible to choose evil instead of good. Wouldn't it have been better to create only restricted will so it would have been possible to choose only good and not evil? 

In the Orthodox church, we say God didn't want to create slaves but sons who cooperate with him out of their free will and not as machines that have been programmed to always cooperate with God. Man was created as God's image. Would it be possible to call a pre-programmed machine an image of God? 
If you haven't followed the links above, he's responding to my story about first questioning religion through the story of Adam and Eve eating that fruit that gave them knowledge of good and evil, which went against the only "thou shalt not" commandment they had been given. I said that there were various ways that God could have prevented that result, and gave some examples. In other words, omniscient, all-loving, omnipotent God set them up.

Well, I agree that I don't want my children (when I have some) being automatons. I'd like them to know their options and make their choices. I'd like them to be people, in other words. The problem with arguments that God is simply letting us follow our free will is that if we are going to make good choices, we need good information, and the ability to understand that information. Most parents know that you don't just tell a child "don't drink the bleach, it'll kill you." That's good information, but you also make sure they can't get at it until they're old enough to understand the danger.

In the story of Adam and Eve, God said that they would die if they ate the fruit. Funny thing, they didn't die right away, but they did suddenly have a sense of shame, a conscience, if you will. And that brings me to how God could allow free will, or choice, but make it a heck of a lot more effective than it is, and all without turning me into an automaton. He could persuade me.

When I debate with my wife, my friends, or random people on the internet, each person is trying to persuade the other of their point of view. As humans, we have a limited ability and access to information, which means that sometimes we aren't able to put forth the best points or rebuttals. But God . . . if God saw that I was going to do something that he considers unethical, he could step in and actually explain why it would be wrong, perhaps accelerating my perception of time so we could hash it out without interfering with the progression of events. He could use his omniscience to anticipate each and every rebuttal I might make, and demonstrate why those rebuttals fail. He could do this without threats or promises of reward. And then, he could let me choose. He could do this for everyone.

Some might say that this is what the conscience is: the "still small voice" of God. Except that while the conscience might get me to feel guilt or shame, it doesn't tell me why I should feel guilt or shame for a particular instance. God could do that, if he'd actually bother, if he actually cared (and if he was real). As it stands, everyone's conscience seems to disagree with everyone else's at some point. One cop feels guilty for shooting a man in the line of duty, another has no issue with it. This world contains liars, thieves, and abusers, and not all of them feel shame or guilt.

I mean that literally. There are people in this world who have no sense of right and wrong, no conscience, and never have, even as a child. They're called psychopaths. They lack empathy and compassion, key components of any human attempt to be good to one another. They lie with ease, because unlike most of us, it doesn't bother them. The very presence of such individuals in the world says that this whole idea of "God speaks to us through our conscience" is a bust.

I've got one more commenter to respond to, and I promise it won't take as long. Anonymous said:

[Lucien's] statements are immature, showing a huge lack of biblical understanding, and he has made the error of calling God a liar. Yes God created us with free will; yes God allowed sin to enter the world; yes people suffer, but there is a reason for it all. God has an amazing plan that has not been fully revealed to humanity. Who are we to tell God how things should have been done?
We are the ones who are suffering, and thus, we are the ones who have a right to know why. If God is real, and this is all part of his plan, we deserve an explanation, and I for one, demand an explanation.


  1. Hi Nathan,

    You're right --most of the people on the extoots site are still Christian. I think most people who leave Apostolic Lutheranism leave for some kind of evangelical denomination. These folks are often the most vocal posters on that site, and I also think that they are often the folks who feel most strongly that they know "the problem" with that denomination, and "the solution." Often their argument is framed in terms of "Apostolic Lutheranism doesn't really follow the Bible" and "now I am some place that really does."

    A somewhat smaller contingent left for mainline / mainstream Christianity. Denominations like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or the Episcopal Church (I am Episcopalian now, for instance.) These denominations have for the most part made peace with modernity. For example, I have no problem with evolution and other scientific knowledge, nor do I think that the Bible story you're citing above actually happened. However that does not get me off the hook regarding any possible issues of theodicy raised, as mainliners still believe that the story contains spiritual truths and is worth engaging as sacred text. :-)

    An even smaller contingent of people leave the Apostolic Lutheran church for another religion, or no religion at all. I know at least a couple of regular readers who fall into this category. They often don't post very much. One of the reasons I posted your article (aside from the interesting theological questions raised) was that you were/are a voice we don't hear from as often, and I wanted to re-make the point that while people may leave Laestadianism for similar reasons, they often end up in very different places.

  2. Thanks for the demographic info, Tomte, and it's good to see you here. I suspect that one reason you don't, and likely won't, hear a lot from the non-religious who have left Laestadianism is that it's seen as much more than just leaving a particular denomination. For myself, I didn't just leave the Apostolic Lutheran Church, I left Christianity. Given that, when I look for people with similar backgrounds, I'm focused on the "leaving Christianity" part. Those who left for a different religion (rather than becoming non-religious) probably have a similar attitude. Of course, on a broader scope, I, and other atheists, just left religion altogether.

    " I have no problem with evolution and other scientific knowledge, nor do I think that the Bible story you're citing above actually happened. However that does not get me off the hook regarding any possible issues of theodicy raised, as mainliners still believe that the story contains spiritual truths and is worth engaging as sacred text. :-)"

    You're right, you're not off the theodicic hook. :)

  3. I think your comments are not immature and infact are well thought out. That is so refreshing to find in this day and age!

    I dislike when people brush off serious situations with "because there is a greater plan than we can come up with," as is the case with that last anonymous comment you put up. My response to someone like them would be--Explain the GOOD in a child starving to death as is the case in many countries? What PURPOSE does that serve if it is known by a creator?

    For the people I have asked that--they never answer me because they don't want to give thought to the fact that it is either a sadistic sick God that is ok or does not care or that there simply is no good reason for it.

    Love reading your thoughts on here Nathan--thank you for sharing them.


  4. Thanks Amarama. I didn't even know you've been reading my writings.