Free will, rocks, and Camus

Since we are all in an uproar regarding free will (see here, here, and here), I’ll toss my idea into the mix. Hypothetically, I am a compatibilist.

In this I mean that, hypothetically, I could see the material aspects of our selves and the world in which we find ourselves as sufficiently influential as to determine some or all of our actions. I am willing to see this as being the way that the God has established the world (or that this is the way it is always set up). In this, I am suggesting that the material world may be designed to bring people to a point wherein they have to make a decision regarding their interaction with God.

In my mind, Camus’s famous essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, is quite helpful. Although Sisyphus has no control over his fate, he is allowed control over his own will. The will is Sisyphus’s alone and, in the essay, he chooses to make his fate his choice, creating an existential hero.

I am saying that it is possible to be a compatibilist if you allow people this one act of free will: whether or not they will submit to the will of God. That act, in similitude of Christ’s act of submission, may be our one true use of free will.

14 Replies to “Free will, rocks, and Camus”

  1. Isn’t that cute little boulder rolling graphic the best? Love that page…

    Do you have a view of God that leans towards the punitive way that the gods deal with Sisyphus?
    Does his fate really represent such a fixed future for ourselves?
    Is submission to the will of God truly a one time thing?
    Or am I missing your compatibilist intentions here?

  2. “In this I mean that, hypothetically, I could see the material aspects of our selves and the world in which we find ourselves as sufficiently influential as to determine some or all of our actions.”

    Then do you reject the idea that it is easier to change ourselves while here in our mortal probations? The idea is not scriptural that I can see so maybe it isn’t correct but I’m not convinced. And doesn’t giving our will to God mean that we will consciously change our actions? None of this sounds very predestined to me.

    Geoff J. at NCT argues that if God knows the future, which is set, then it must actually exist already and therefore all of our actions, including God’s, are fated and predestined. Two things about this, because it appears to be close to what you are saying you believe John, one: why does a foreknown future have to exist already? I don’t know that this follows. Two: why do we use the words “fated” and “predestined”? Why can’t God’s actions be predetermined? These aren’t the same things. He has predetermined how he will act in any given situation. And I think that that is the point of this life for us.

    The problem I have with what you are saying John is we really only have control over one choice in out entire lives: follow God or not. Is this a single event where everything before and after then is predestined? It seems to me that we make this choice everyday, in any confrontation with the temptation to sin. We submit to God’s will or not all the time. I would call that a robust free will. I guess I’m just not quite grasping why the two sides (God’s forknowledge and our agency) have to be mutually exclusive.

  3. Tea,
    I think that the story of Sisyphus is instructive not for what it tells us about God (in whom, after all, Camus did not believe), but rather for what it tells us about us. Essentially, although Sisyphus is not in control of anything tangible in his life, he could control his own reaction to it. I don’t think that we should be motivated by scorn for “fate” as it were, but it is useful to understand that we can accept God’s will, no matter what. Nor, for that matter, do I believe that the submission of the will is a one-time event (Sisyphus, after all, has to keep making his choice over and over again). I am trying to say that the choice is internal and therefore does not necessarily have any influence over our earthly fate.

    I would argue that earthly life makes it easier for us to turn our will over to God because we suffer more here and, eventually, it becomes evident how little control we have over our own fate. I am somewhat Kantian in this; it is the will that matters, not the results. In fact, the reason I propose this at all is to maintain a free will in the face of infinite foreknowledge.

    I don’t see the necessity of Geoff’s views on an already created future, although I can see where it comes from (it is, too some degree, the “really knowing your children” argument). I suppose that what you are asking is whether God has a free will with the “predestined” vs. “predetermined” idea. I think that that is a matter about which we know very little. It involves the nature of divine unity and God’s relationship with beings who are wholly outside of our sphere. So, I dunno. I would say that if you make the planet and the rules, what you have predetermined may seem an awful lot like fate to those who populate the planet.

  4. The thing I curious about is why everybody gets so “fixed” on that one verse in the BoM.

    How about the rest of the canon?

    How about some diachronic perspective? Did that verse in the BoM just spring from God’s forehead?

    Interpretation in isolation is scary stuff.

  5. John: I could see the material aspects of our selves and the world in which we find ourselves as sufficiently influential as to determine some or all of our actions.

    “Some or all”? Which is it? If “all” then you are a compatibilist. If “some” then you are using libertarianism assumptions. If only some of our thoughts, words, and deeds are determined then the rest must remain unfixed until the moments of choice. If so then they cannot be “known” – even if they could be predicted on a fairly consistent basis.

    I actually think Tea’s point is a very good one. Giving our will to God is no one time event. Rather I believe it is the ongoing choice to grow in a closer and closer personal relationship with God until we eventually become one with God.

    Essentially, although Sisyphus is not in control of anything tangible in his life, he could control his own reaction to it.

    You need LFW assumptions to make this position tenable. Are you actually just a Libertarian who doesn’t want to face up to the actual entailments of LFW? (I suspect most Mormons would fall into this category, actually).

    Mogget – The LFW issue is not based on any one verse. I’m not sure why you would think it is. The issue is one of paradoxes and logic mostly. If we agree that God can’t create a round square then why not agree that he also doesn’t use other paradoxes to accomplish his work?

  6. LFW issue is not based on any one verse

    Hm, well, all the talk seems to be about that one verse. I am, however, a latecomer to the issue so I may be seeing just the last stages of a much longer thread.

    I’ll get one more thing done here, then see what I can shake out.

    we agree that God can’t create a round square

    Logic and consistency are not usually the canon’s strong suits in these sorts of things, but I could be wrong. Logic is so…Greek.

  7. “Logic is so…Greek.”

    So, so true.

    I may have misread your quotes from the Wiki. I thought that compatibilism meant some predetermination and some free will. I am there. I just don’t believe that libertarian free will is really what God is after. If I did, I would like Nietzsche more and Kant less.

  8. One of the problems I am seeing with Geoff’s idea, I’m sure it’s not his alone but he is championing it here, is he is holding really strictly to Lehi’s words about our agency and interpreting, rightly I think, to mean that we have a great degree of agency. However, isn’t he ignoring all the verses in the same BoM that testify to God’s omnipotence? Are we playing favorites? And I’m still not convinced that claiming God knows everything equals an already real future. And I certainly don’t agree with the idea that God is playing the odds with all of our agency.

    In all seriousness, could this be like the physics problem where the exact position and momentum of an electron cannot be known at the same time? (ironically, I know, it’s called the Uncertainty Principle) It would mean that we have truly free will and God has a perfect knowledge even though we cannot ascertain exactly how.

  9. What an interesting godawful problem. I have to get ready for tomorrow now, but here’s where I am at the moment:

    1) Is this LFW business even found in scripture? If so, which one(s)?

    2) Running parallel to the above, what “sorts” of free will are in various scriptures?

    3) And finally, the question of whether or not LFW is compatible with God’s foreknowledge.

    Here’s Ben Sira 15:11-20. Now you may say, “Mogget, who cares about that bogus deutero-canonical stuff?” And I would answer, “Well not too many, just the authors of the NT is all.” And then I would have to repent for being sarcastic. So anyway, it’s not a good idea to ignore the misogynist old boy:

    Say not, “It was God’s doing that I fell away”;
    for what he hates, he does not do.

    Say not,”It was he who led me astray”;
    for he has no need of the wicked.

    Sounds like free will, eh?

    Abominable wickedness the Lord hates
    he does not let it befall those who fear him

    Ah oh. Sounds like God’s in charge, so stuff won’t happen.

    It was he, from the first, when he created humankind,
    who make them subject to their own free choice.

    If you choose, you can keep his commandment;
    fidelity is the doing of his will.

    They are poured out before you fire and water;
    to whichever you choose you can stretch forth your hands.

    Before each person are life and death;
    whichever he chooses shall be given him.

    Copious is the wisdom of the Lord;
    he is mighty in act, and all-seeing.

    The eyes of God behold his handiwork;
    he perceives a person’s every deed.

    No one did he command to sin,
    nor will he be lenient with liars.

    There’s Paul, who’s got a whole lot to say about freedom, but it may boil down to the idea that we are slaves to either sin or God, so there’s at least (only?) one choice there. Have a look at Rom 6:12-7:25. But I’m not sure this is pertinent to LFW, although it would appear to be critical to the larger issue of free will in general.

    And then there’s the whole business of “vessals of wrath” and “hope” and the election and predestination of Israel in Rom 9-11, concerning which Caird wrote:

    “Augustus, Aquinas, and Calvin have found in this passage of the main supports of their doctrine of double predestination; Origen, Chrysostom, and Arminius have used it to confirm their belief that man’s destiny rests on his own free response to God’s grace; and the universalists have seized on it as one of the few Biblical texts which give grounds for belief in universal salvation. The irony is that all have been sound in their affirmations, though grievously at fauth in their failure to appreciate the strength of the other two positions. For Paul actually contrives…to hold all three beliefs at the same time.” (ExpTime 68(1956-57): 325.

    And there’s a couple of articles (actually about 80) which will pop right up if you search “free will” and “bible” in ATLA:

    “Human Free Will and Divine Determinism: Pharoah, a Case Study,” by Pierre Gilbert in Direction 30/1 (2001) (Full text ATLA)

    “Free Will and Determinism in First Isaiah: Secular Hermeneutics, the Poetics of Contingency, and Emile Durkheim’s Homo Duplex” by Jacques Berlinerblau, Journal of American Academy of Religion 71, pp767-797. (Full text, ATLA).

    That YAHWEH seems to have a whole raft of plans…

    And finally, there’s Rev 13:10

    “If anyone is for captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone with the sword is to be slain, he with the sword will be slain.”

    Looks pretty deterministic, I’d say, but then I’m no theologican or philsopher so I could be over-reading it for this purpose.

    At the moment I have to say that it looks like there’s not much consistency on the matter.

  10. J. Watkins: And I certainly don’t agree with the idea that God is playing the odds with all of our agency.

    Why? Do you think he is not up to the task? That unless our future is fixed (and thus fore-knowable) God is unworthy of worship?

    I’ve decided that is why most people settle for the anemic “hypothetical free will” of compatibilism.

    For a full primer on the subject see a whole series of posts and lots of ensuing debate here.

  11. Mogget,

    Thanks for the interesting quotes from Ben Sira. Looks like a resounding endorsement of robust free will (aka libertarian free will) to me. The one verse you wondered about seems to be pretty clearly talking about things that happen to people not what they choose. God can control things happening without violating free will (or foreknowing the future).

    Also, Joseph Smith openly sympathetic to the Arminians (libertarian free will crowd) and critical of Calvinists (fixed future and predestination crowd).

  12. Thanks for the interesting quotes from Ben Sira

    I’m glad you like the evil old boy! He’s one of my favs, too, but he hates women.

    Anyway, we need to find out more about what that couplet means. Here it is again:

    Abominable wickedness the LORD hates, he does not let it befall those who fear him.

    Now here’s the deal. To OT folks, there are two kinds of sins: things you do knowingly and things you do unknowingly. In our world, we usually don’t think about things we do unknowingly as sins, but they did. This means that Ben Sira may be saying that the God will not allow the righteous to unknowingly commit “abominable wickedness.” That sort of protection would have been of great comfort to the Wise. So let me poke around a little more and ask the local Ben Sira weenies what they think.

    But it is a great statement on free will, yes! Only overt citation in the OT, I think.

    Also, Joseph Smith openly sympathetic to the Arminians

    As am I, to the extent that I know or care much about the issue. But that won’t matter when it comes to deciding how, for example, Paul feels about it. I can’t stop everything now and check it out, but long about the end of May, I’ll try to post something on the intersection of free will and Pauline theology, with some particular attention to this sort of thing.

  13. Ben Sira’s position holds a place for both human free will, in the sense that we can choose for or against sin, and God’s foreknowledge. He apparently sees no contradiction between our ability to choose and God’s foreknowledge. At the moment, I don’t see anything on that couplet in any detail.

    This seems to be the position of every canonical author I’ve looked at yet. But we shall see…

    For a critique of free-will theism that lets you in on both the contended scriptural citations in the biblical canon and the wider literature, see:

    Robert A. Pyne and Stephen R. Spencer, “A Critique of Free-Will Theism, Part One,” in Bibliotheca sacra 158 (Jul-Sep 01) 259-86. It’s in ATLA.

    First, these guys are evangelicals, so the “inspiration” of scripture is an issue for them. Second, there’s a very interesting argument about Judas, which will probably be part of the narrative of the Gospel of Judas, coming soon to a computer near you.

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