Wednesday, October 26, 2016

God Does Not Have a Wonderful Plan for Your Life. Sorry.

A lot of well-meaning but sadly confused religious folk have been walking around thinking this:

God has a wonderful plan for your life.

And our cartoonist from the last blog post has been suckered in by this, as follows:

Our lives are predetermined, so it's not our fault if we do crappy things to each other, and so hell isn't really fair.

That is, God has this wonderful plan, but we, um, aren't interested since sex, drugs and rock&roll are so much more fun (or partying or getting drunk or being a hedgefund manager or a dictator or a serial killer or a rapist or a drug dealer or just your garden variety very nice kind to others giving and generous atheist), so we miss the plan and go to hell. Dang. Doesn't seem right. The last one, I mean.

But our religious folk are confused.

God does not have a wonderful plan for your life.

Your life is not predetermined by God.

Nobody's is.

You get to make decisions. And the decisions add up to being the life you create.

You can make God-ish decisions. Feed the hungry. Care for the homeless. Fight injustice and oppression. Don't be a jerk.

Or you can make not-God-ish decisions. Pretty much the opposite of all of those. Basically, be a jerk.

Religious folks somehow got the idea somewhere along the way that God had everyone's life entirely planned out, start to finish, and you just had to figure out what his plan for you was, and then all would be peachy.

Only he doesn't tell you what the plan is.

Which is kinda nasty.

So you have to guess a lot and hope for the best. And pray. There's lots of praying.

So, the assumption goes, every minute is planned out. And you have to guess right. And he's not telling.

That's not the way it works. Nothing is predetermined. Nothing is planned out. Things might go well. They might go really really badly.

But. Regardless of what choices you make in your life, you're supposed to do the same thing all along the way.

Don't be a jerk. Love God. Love your neighbor. Be nice.

Now. Since God is God (if he exists) and can do anything he wants, he surely might have a plan for someone every now and then. There are examples.

But for most of us, and when I say most, I mean statistically pretty close to all of us, there's one plan.

Live your life. Make good choices. Do the right thing. Don't be a jerk.

That's free will. Take whatever job you want. Marry whomever you want. Live wherever you want. Do whatever you want to do. Live your life. Make good choices. Do the right thing. Don't be a jerk.

Here's what I'm telling you. God doesn't have a job, a spouse, a house, or anything else planned out for you. I'm not saying he doesn't care, but it's not planned and waiting for you.

You get to choose. It's a free will thing.

If you assume that God has planned it all out, and all you have to do is figure it out via prayer and fasting, then there would be, it seems to me, only two types of decisions.

Perfect ones.

Crappy ones.

That's it.

But life doesn't work that way.

Because there are no perfect choices.

Jobs - every job is going to be crappy at some point or another.

Spouses - every spouse is imperfect, and that includes both sides of the spouse coin.

Living here, living there - there are no perfect places to live, and I'm a good source, because I've lived in Zurich, Geneva, Pebble Beach, Monterey, and Colorado, which are pretty danged spectacular places to live.

But not perfect. Spectacularly not perfect, in fact.

Maybe you think God wants you to go to Africa or the inner city or China.

It would surely be fine for you to go there and do whatever it is you think that you are supposed to do.
No offense.

But there stands an excellent chance that it will surely not be perfect when you get there.

You'll be lonely. Bored. Lusty. Frustrated. Scared. You'll hate the locals and the local culture at some point, maybe at all points.

And if you think that you might not have done better to have stayed where you were, well, you easily might have.

Going, staying. Either is fine. Either is a good decision. Both come with good, bad and ugly parts.

It may be that the only real free will decision you get to make is kind of Hamlet-y. To be a jerk or not to be a jerk. Wherever you are and whatever you do.

That's worth thinking about.

BTW, I think it's useful to make the more challenging choice sometimes. Pain and suffering are good for you. Up to a point.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Now It Gets Confusing

So. Here's what we are saying.

In a universe with a starting point where things are not always predetermined (because of quantum uncertainty) or predictable (because of Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect), then it is possible that both God and Free Will exist.

That's because thinking types back in the 18th Century said that if the universe is predetermined by the laws of physics and totally predictable and infinitely old, then 

1) you don't need God to do anything and 

2) you can't have free will. 

The laws of physics make everything happen, they've always been there, nobody made them, nobody made anything, and they make you do everything you do.

But since the universe is not infinitely old and the laws have not always been there because they came into existence with Big Bang, and quantum uncertainty is the Way Things Work, then 

1) you might need God to make everything happen and 

2) you might have free will.

Nice. God and Free Will got thrown out together, so they get to come back together. Sweet.

However. There are some skeptical types who say things like this:

If God already knows everything that's going to happen, then you can't have free will, since he already knows what you are going to do.

That is...

if God exists, then free will can't.

Or, if God exists, then HE predetermines everything, not the laws of physics.

Hm. That is a problem.

Because now we're in a place where free will only exists if God exists, but if God exists, then free will can't.

That cartoon right there says it just like some folks want it to be said.

So what you gotta do is look at assumptions and conclusions and see if they are good physics. Since if God exists, he made physics that way that it is.

Here we go.

"If God knows the future"

OK, that works. If God exists, he made space and time (which bounced into existence with Big Bang, so that's good physics). If he made space and time, then wherever or whenever he exists, it's not in space and time. He's outside of space and time. 

(Make sure you get this part. God doesn't exist in a where or a when. He does not occupy a point in space and/or time.

(That's the way we [who exist in points in space and time until we don't exist anymore] understand existence.

(So if someone asks the question, does God exist?, the answer is, what do you mean by existence?

(If he exists, he does not exist in the same way that we do. He created the way that we exist.)


Since he's God (if he exists), then, well, he's God, and he can see all of space and time together. Now since to a photon traveling at the speed of light, all of space and time are one point, then clearly God is at least as cool as a photon, so since he can see all of space and time, then he knows the past, the present and the future all at once. He sees it all. But not like a movie that he has already watched. Everything is a point to God, so he sees it all at once.

That's just physics.

"The future must already be determined, and if the future is already determined, we have no control over our future actions."

You wanna take a shot at this one? Go ahead. I'll wait.

(clock ticking. background humming. toe tapping. very large claw tapping.)

Time's up. Let's see how you did.

Problem the first: our cartoonist, and all the thinkers and philosophers who derived their thinking and philosophy from this cartoon (or maybe vice versa), is/are fooled by time. S/he isn't thinking about God outside of time, but God inside of time, as though the place God hangs out is just like the time and place we hang out, and, well,

it isn't.

We don't know what it is, but it's not time and space the way that we experience it.

So trying to catch God in a space-time trap isn't gonna work.

Problem the second: our cartoonist et al is blissfully unaware that this universe, the universe that if God exists and created it, is quantum. And it's chaotic.

And thus, nothing is predetermined. None of our lives, our decisions, our actions, anything we do is predetermined by anything except maybe behavioral conditioning, and we don't know where that starts and stops.

And that's the way God made it, because 1) if he exists 2) he made it and 3) intended for us to find it 4) the way that it is.

Now you might say, as my atheist friend Trevor once said, well, just because we can't know all of the forces that cause things to happen chaotically, doesn't mean that they can't be known by someone (in a God-like sort of way). And thus, things are predictable.

To which I responded, those forces might be capable of being known, but they get smaller and smaller until they become quantum, and then

they cannot be known anymore, because at the quantum level, nothing is predetermined. Ultimately, everything is quantum, and nothing is predetermined.

So here's the answer. God knows what you are going to do. No, that's not right. God knows what you did, what all of us did, because he sees all of time at once. But what you are going to do is not predetermined and is up to you. He sees the beginning and the middle and end game all at once. But you get to ride the ride and make the decisions yourself.

If you like, it's a quantum thing. He both knows and does not know, depending upon how he is looking. It's all in the observation. And you, as the observer yourself, have a choice to do, or not to do.

Time is not seen by God as a movie. It is a photo. Even though you, and I, and everybody else lives it as a movie.

At least, that's what the physics of the universe tells us.

Problem the third: S/he (the cartoonist) has been fooled by an unfortunate misunderstanding of God's interaction with humans, created by well-meaning but sadly confused religious folk.

We'll talk about that next.