Skip to comments.(Vanity) God, Free Will, and Chess
Posted on 05/20/2011 9:06:00 PM PDT by grey_whiskers
One topic which has been the center of a great deal of controversy in Christian doctrine is that of free will. It has been discussed in various forms in St. Paul s epistle to the Romans, Chapter 9:
Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand not by works but by him who calls--she was told, The older will serve the younger. Just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will? But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-- even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
These verses have been used (in conjunction with some others, such as Jude 1:4, Romans 11:7-8, John 17:12) to help define a doctrine known as predestination which was espoused by various Protestant teachers during the Reformation. The broad-brush picture is that God has already chosen those who are going to be saved, and they are going to heaven: All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned. -- Martin Luther
(There are two different flavors of predestination, single and double, but that distinction is not nearly as important for our purposes as the doctrine of predestination as opposed to free will.)
So much for ones eternal destiny. But there is another kind of Win the Future event recorded in Scripture, that of prophecy. For example, consider the anointing of Saul to be King of Israel by the prophet Samuel, in 1 Samuel 10:
Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, "Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance? When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel's tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, 'The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, "What shall I do about my son?"' Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them. After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do. As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul's heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.
In the New Testament, we have the account in Mark 11 and in Matthew 19 of the preparations for the Last Supper:
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'"
Or there is Jesuss prophecy to Peter that this evening before the cock crows, you will deny me three times. (Matthew 26:34, 75)
How is it then, that we can be said to have free will? If our salvation is already determined, and if God already knows what we are going to do?
C. S. Lewis gave one answer to this question in The Screwtape Letters:
...creation in its entirety operates at every point of space and time, or rather that their kind of consciousness forces them to encounter the whole, self-consistent creative act as a series of successive events. Why that creative act leaves room for their free will is the problem of problems, the secret behind the Enemy's nonsense about "Love". How it does so is no problem at all; for the Enemy does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man doing something is not to make him do it.
This answer always seemed unsatisfactory to me, and I was never quite sure why -- I had even heard the analogy that to people, going through time is like standing behind a fence, looking through a peephole at a parade going by in the street: you can only see what is right in front of you; whereas God would be like someone sitting on top of the fence, who can look left and right and take in the entire parade at once.
I finally figured out what was so unsatisfactory about this: if God is watching the parade unfold, it is true that he can see more of the parade: but the contents of the parade are still fixed, independent of God. If there is a marching band, followed by a helium balloon of Bart Simpson, God could see Bart Simpson before us, and tell us in advance that he was coming -- but he still couldnt do anything to change Bart into Barack Obama, any more than we can.
Another approach to the problem of free will and prophecy is given in another work by C.S. Lewis, Perelandra. In the book, the second in C.S. Lewiss science-fiction trilogy, the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, is transported by an angel to the planet Venus, which is home to a still-unfallen Adam and Eve of an alien race. Shortly after his arrival, he meets a fellow human, a scientist who has perfected a space ship. The scientist, in the midst of a debate with Ransom, invokes a Satanic spirit to possess him, and under possession, attempts to effectuate the temptation and fall of the alien race. Ransoms job is to stop him. At one particularly poignant passage, Ransom is commanded by the Lord to challenge the Enemy in a way which is quite likely to result in his own death.
He begins to protest that he cannot, when he is assured by the voice of the Holy Spirit that about this time tomorrow you will have accomplished the impossible. Ransoms reflections at this point provide some insight into the relations between prophecy and free will (for those prophesied about):
The thing still seemed impossible. But gradually something happened to him which had happened to him only twice before in his life. It had happened once while he was trying to make up his mind to do a very dangerous job in the last war. It had happened again while he was screwing his resolution to go and see a certain man in London and make to him an excessively embarrassing confession which justice demanded. In both cases the thing had seemed a sheer impossibility: he had not thought but known that, being what he was, he was psychologically incapable of doing it; and then, without any apparent movement of the will, as objective and unemotional as the reading on a dial, there had arisen before him, with perfect certitude, the knowledge about this time tomorrow you will have done the impossible. The same thing happened now. His fear, his shame, his love, all his arguments, were not altered in the least. The thing was neither more nor less dreadful than it had been before. The only difference was that he knewalmost as a historical propositionthat it was going to be done. He might beg, weep, or rebelmight curse or adoresing like a martyr or blaspheme like a devil. It made not the slightest difference. The thing was going to be done. There was going to arrive, in the course of time, a moment at which he would have done it. The future act stood there, fixed and unaltered as if he had already performed it. It was a mere irrelevant detail that it happened to occupy the position we call future instead of that which we call past. The whole struggle was over, and yet there seemed to have been no moment of victory. You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had [been] delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical. He could no longer see any meaning in the many arguments he had heard on this subject.
In other words, (in particular with regards to the prophecy), one is committed to do one particular act: but in return, one is given the assurance that no matter what ones other actions, that act remains fixed, regardless.
Another, fuller exposition of this idea comes from Dorothy Sayers, in her essay Oedipus Simplex, in which she draws on her experience as an author(a) to make an analogy to the role of God as creator, interacting, as it were, with her characters to produce a cohesive story. (As the author, she can write whatever she wants, whenever she wants; but she cannot, without ruining the story, make her cast suddenly act out of character, against their nature. Peter Wimsey might well quote Shakespeare or Boccaccio; he would not even have heard of South Park.) As Sayers put it:
But note that the author, though his is the only ultimately effective will and the only real time or causation concerned, is to some extent bound by the laws he has made for his own creation. He must not reverse or confuse the time sequence within the story; neither must he make his created people behave otherwise than in accordance with the natures he has bestowed upon them. Even in an imagined story the characters have a certain simulacrum of free will that the author must needs respect; and this encourages us to suppose that in the actual created universe a measure of free will may be compatible in the creature with the infinite authors knowledge of the pattern. I say knowledge, not foreknowledge; to the author, human or divine, there is neither before nor after; each event is known in its own place. It is only in the creature that we can speak of foreknowledge, if any such knowledge is available to him -- as, for our purpose, we must assume that it is.
This tends to get around the difficulty of God on a fence -- and the accompanying difficulty, that if God sees you doing something, by definition, then, you will not have been doing anything else...and doesnt that limit your choices?
Sayers continues, with a description which dovetails nicely with Ransoms thought processes on predestination and free will:
Let us then picture the totality of things as a web spread out in as many dimensions of time and space as we may find it easy and convenient to imagine. We shall observe in it certain fixed points; these are the nodes of necessity, through which the lines must pass in order to make the pattern. The nodes are determined by the artist, but the lines are self-determined and may take any direction they choose, subject to two limitations: 1) However they bend and turn -- even if they start to go off in the opposite direction -- they are bound eventually to go through the fixed points. 2) Every movement they make modifies and is modified by the movements of the neighboring lines. The will of the maker readily submits to all of these modifications, since the necessity laid upon the lines to come to the nodes means that all the possible modifications can only in the end produce a conditioned necessity of their own -- just as, in a game of croquet, the path of every ball, however wildly it may diverge under the impact of a bad shot, or the disturbing shot of the adversary, is governed by the absolute necessity imposed on both sides alike of going through the right hoops in the right order.,sup>(b)
Hear that? ...however wildly it might diverge...is governed ...by the necessity imposed on both sides alike of going through the right hoops in the right order. Sounds a lot like He might beg, weep, or rebelmight curse or adoresing like a martyr or blaspheme like a devil. It made not the slightest difference. The thing was going to be done.
Now what is most interesting in Sayers later passage, is the idea of the course of events, though limited by necessity, is still at the will of the participants, who have to knock the croquet ball through the fixed hoops. This is in marked contrast to the analogy to the novel, where the creatures have no true free will and exist only in the mind of the maker, until instantiated or incarnated in the written word. (c) And of course, since we ourselves indignantly object to the idea of being the figment of someone elses imagination (I think, therefore I am), it is perhaps a better idea to consider the latter analogy more strongly. Is there a situation in which we have freedom, conditioned upon rules, but also conditioned strongly and directly upon the will and the actions of others? And then it hit me.
The answer, and a very good answer, is the game of chess. Each player starts out with a known set of pieces, whose movements and attacks are governed alike by fixed rules: the number of squares they can move, the topology of the movement upon the board, constraints on remaining within a horizontal / vertical stripe or a diagonal; these are all fixed and constant. But there are other restraints, too: those imposed by the other player, who is moving his pieces alternating with ours, and whose motions we must try to anticipate. Even grandmasters only see a few moves ahead, and play instead by working to gain a generalized position of strength, from which they can react in the short-term to any opportunities presented by their opponents, since we cannot know in advance exactly what their opponents moves will be.
But there is an improvement upon this paradigm. IBM introduced the improvement -- a computer--in the famous matches between Deep Blue and Kasparov. A computer cannot reason, think, know, learn, or feel; it cannot choose. But it can be programmed with rules and execute brute-force searches. Combinatorics and limits on CPU speed and storage keep computers from being infallible. But they do not limit God! If God is infinite, He could play chess by playing out in His mind every possible move, every possible branch off of every possible move, before the game even began. (Before you were formed in the womb I knew you, predestined before the foundation of the world.) Predestined? Yes, not according to force, but according to the rules of the game. If God sees ALL possibilities equally, then he knows in advance everything that is to happen: yet without that foreknowledge impinging upon our freedom in the least.
And this would apply to real life as much as it applies to a mere game, like chess.
Blessed be God forever, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(a) Among her other works, Sayers wrote the mystery novel Murder Must Advertise which has been dramatized by Masterpiece Theatre
(b)There are one or two other ideas which struck me as I read this passage. First, the phrase a web spread out in as many dimensions of time and space as we may find it easy and convenient to imagine. That reminded me of expansion of a function in a basis set--hopefully a complete set, of course (my doctorate is in quantum mechanics applied to molecular physics). This comparison was heightened by point 2) above, that every movement they make modifies and is modified by the movements of the neighboring lines. That just reeks of molecular orbital theory, in particular, Hartree-Fock self-consistent field theory, in which each electron moves in the average field of all the others. Lets leave configuration interaction out of it for the moment. :-) On a happier note, if one wants to hearken back to the medievalists and their notion of God as the unmoved mover, one could consider God as a nucleus and the rest of us as mere electrons, and invoke a kind of theological Born-Oppenheimer approximation...which brings up one last off-the-wall consideration. One of the conundrums of quantum mechanics is the wave-particle duality, (e.g. the double-slit experiment), in which a moiety reveals itself to act either as a particle, or as a wave, in humble conformity to the conditions of the experiment set up for observation. Could it be possible that there is a similar relation to destiny vs. free will, to law vs. grace, where BOTH elements are eternally present, but the choices and situations extant manifest first the one, now the other aspect of our spiritual condition?
(c) At that point, they may find residence in the mind of the reader, see J. R. R. Tolkiens essay Tree and Leaf:
If a story says he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below, the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but especially out the The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.
Thanks for the ping!
Interesting as I was just thinking along these lines today.
A weighty issue.
Thx for the ping.
The only being in existence with absolute free will is God Himself.
Every other being ever created has varying degrees of free will... from animals to human beings.
The degree of free will we possess is based upon the factors of intelligence and self awareness.
The choices we make in life further restrict or expand the degree of free will we will possess in the future.
The most important choice of all being what we do with God.
Please check FreepMail.
In reality, free will is more like a dimmer switch, as successive choices harden into character, one becomes less free (to commmit sin or license) but more free -- you are not trapped by evil habits.
Or it is like (to quote singer/songwriter Margaret Becker) "like a banner, anchored yet free" -- some things are fixed, but like a flag on a flagpole, it can fly in any direction, even though it is fixed to the flag.
Thanks for pointing that out!!
Thanks for the ping; post/thoughts.
If election is predicated on God's observation of future events rather than on his active interference in those events, then God is reduced to a mere passive observer who is basically irrelevant in our ultimate destiny.
The FACT of the matter is that without God impinging on our freedom "in the least", we are all eternally lost.
Your theory reduces God to a mere observer of his creation. Taking away the veneer from your premise here, it would appear that what you are preaching is some kind of Pelagian Deism where Man is in control and God is ultimately irrelevant.
My FRiend, unimpinged free will is not a blessing, it is a curse. IF you are a Christian it is because God interfered in your free will. God is not merely an observer of his creation, God is in control of it.
A step too far, let's back up here to the chess game.
Do you agree that there are fixed rules to chess? That therefore, one can enumerate every possible choice for the next move on the board?
If so, one can (for each possible move listed) figure out all possible choices for the next move; and so on, and so on. (In principle there are an infinite number of choices due to unresolvable stalemates; but you can think of them as an "equilibrium" situation where there is no gross change over time.)
Let's say you had a super-duper êber-computer that could do 10100 calculations per second, or whatever, so that within ten seconds of any move on the board, the computer would have neatly calculated and catalogued all possible moves to the end of the game. The computer wouldn't *know* which move you were about to make, but it could "see" ALL of them in advance.
But doing so would not make the computer a passive observer, would it?
And so with God, except that instead of chess, one has the entire real world, and everyone's mind and heart, and all of their myriad choices, moment by moment. (And, if you want to get picky, every tree, animal, molecule, atom, electron, and elementary particle, down to Planck's length and whatever infinitesimal division of time you want.)
God knowing in advance everything that could possibly happen, does not preclude him from interfering -- any point at which he acts, and his actions have effect, that state of the universe is one which he can use as a starting point now and see all interactions possible, until the end of time.
super-duper êber-computer = super-duper über-computer
Your point was that God does not interfere in our free will. My point is that unless God interferes with our free will, we cannot be saved. Hence our salvation is not dependent upon our free will, but upon God changing our will to conform to his.
God doesn't simply know your destiny, he has chosen you in him from before the foundation of the earth.
That is the premise upon which you must build your answers to any perceived paradox between your alleged Free Will and God's determined will. To state that God's election is determined by his response to your free will is to render God irrelevant to your salvation.
God chose you in him before he even formed the earth. Start from there.
Now rethink your reasoning, only this time take dimension time to be a volume rather than a stream, for that is the perspective which God has since He isboth inside and outside of the spacetime universe. Which perspective He chooses to take is His purview, and even Jesus taught this, and He is God with us.
Thanks. For later reading.
Actually even God does not have the libertarian free will men claim for themselves .
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