God and Quantum Mechanics, Part 3 – Free Will
“I refuse to believe this is just a test” – Dr Gregory House
If God can do anything God wants and stay within the laws of physics, why doesn’t God make this world a better place?
Here are a few possible reasons:
- God has a plan for the best, but we don’t see it
- God and Satan are fighting over us, and sometimes Satan wins
- God is punishing us for being bad
- God doesn’t care about us
- There is no God
- God cares but respects our free will
The truth of each of these is logically undecidable, but let’s look at them anyway to see how they might affect our decision making.
#1 and #2 are uninteresting because they remove all responsibility from us, so no decisions to make there. #3 gives us only the responsibility to please a God that we don’t understand and can’t possibly know how to please. No matter what sacred texts you follow, or how inspired they may be, human interpretations are always ambiguous at best. That’s not logically interesting either because we have no reliable basis for decisions. #4 allows God to randomly intervene for reasons that have nothing to do with caring for us. That is pretty much the way the Greeks and Romans viewed their gods. That means we can do everything right, and God might take it all down like a bully kicking over a sandcastle. Also not interesting or useful.
Only #5 and #6 put us—life on Earth—in a position of responsibility for ourselves with a clear incentive to learn how to live sustainably, here and now, with some expectation that if we get it right, we’ll be rewarded with survival and perhaps even with satisfactory lives. Now we can make decisions that matter.
So what’s the difference between #5 and #6? If there is no God, we’re on our own and make our own decisions knowing that only the laws of physics and our own personalities are our boundaries. If there is a caring God determined to respect our free will, well…if God isn’t a helicopter god who will swoop in and save us when we screw up, it’s pretty much the same situation.
But not quite.
First, with God there can be the promise of paradise, that we’ll be OK after we die. Maybe, but that doesn’t really help us here. I agree with Dr House. This isn’t a test. It matters here and now what we do if we want to live well. So what’s the difference if there is a God?
The difference is that a caring God suggests, directs, leads, nudges, comforts, maybe even occasionally speaks or points, giving all the help a parent nudging a fledgling out of the nest can give, without ever directly intervening to make us do better or to protect us from the consequences, bad or good, of what we do. By us, I mean life on Earth.
That means all of us. If some of us do bad things to others of us, it’s still us, and God will not intervene. We are all connected, and evil done to others is evil done to ourselves. At some point we have to learn that the reason our hand hurts is because we’re touching a hot stove, and the way to stop the pain is to stop touching the hot stove. The “hot stove” is causing or not relieving the suffering of others.
I guess it’s clear this is the way I see things. I can’t prove God exists, but I feel God’s presence in the world in exactly this way. The actions that will improve our world from this point of view are exactly the same actions that secular humanists embrace. Reasons #5 and #6 lead to exactly the same conclusions. Actually, reasons #1 through #4 sometimes do, too.
So if we all basically agree, what’s the problem? You know as well as I do. Human imperfections, pride, fear, etc, get in our way.
We really do need to take care of each other and see all of life on Earth as one family. I think God wants this for us and knows we have to learn it on our own. As my mother said, “The hardest thing about being a parent is learning when to stand back and wring your hands.” In this scenario, no matter how much God cares about us, we may fail, and God will let us, with no rescue from the consequences. But if we don’t fail, our success is real, and it is God’s success too, because not only have we averted some particular disaster, we have learned things that can guide us through future challenges without always running to Mama God to fix our messes. Isn’t that what any loving parent really wants?
To all the loving secular humanists out there, don’t worry about your “foxhole moments.” If God gives you comfort and restores your strength, it doesn’t change at all the fact that it’s your strength that’s being restored and it’s your actions that are making a difference. The God I know neither wants nor needs the credit. The God I know just loves you.
To a lot of people of all beliefs this is a little lame for an all-powerful being given all the ugliness in the world. As a friend of mine observed, “Not even God can make the deuce beat the ace of spades.” Even if God can do anything, God won’t break God’s own rules. If God set up the world so that we are in charge of our own lives, God will not take that gift of freedom away from us, no matter how badly we handle it or how much we suffer because of that.
Of course, if any of the first 4 options above are actually true, none of this matters. Until God clarifies this, I will continue to ignore them.
But that’s just bad human actions. What about diseases? Why do children (and others) suffer and die from malaria, dengue fever, Ebola, cancer, etc? That isn’t the fault of humans. Why doesn’t God do something about those? Spoiler – I don’t have a great answer. In the last essay I will try to give a larger context to the question. Maybe it will help, maybe not.
April 5, 2022