Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Universal Basis For Science and Religion, Part 2

Universal Basis, Part 2 - Free Will

Aside from a lack of imagination, there would be no reason not to assume that we have free will. We certainly feel like we have free will because we are upset when we can't do everything we want. We certainly act like we have free will because we make choices whenever we are allowed to by circumstances. We act like other people have free will because we expect them to take responsibility for their actions. The only reason to assume that we don't is because we have a primitive religion with an omniscient God that has the same perceptual limitations that we do. A more sophisticated religion has no trouble accommodating free will and omniscience.

Consider a sequence of events that represents the life of an individual. At each point that represents a decision, there will be different sequences that represent the repertoire of choices allowed by the circumstances. The next point on each of those sequences that represents a decision will have its own repertoire of choices. But there is no reason why an omniscient entity (who we will call a "Deus ex Machina" or DeM) can't be aware of all of them. We can also look backward at all the paths that connect the initial point to the various past point that might precede it in a sequence. Finally we can consider all the points in the life-sequence of anything that has a life-equivalent, like a pebble that gets worn down as it rolls down the bed of a river. If we combine all of those sequences for everything that has suffered, is suffering or will suffer any changes, we can call that the history of the universe. A DeM with omniscience will perceive that history as something static. If we can imagine a DeM with that kind of perception, surely God, if a God exists, must have at least that extensive perception even if God may perceive other things that have no relationship to us or our universe.

However, that level of perception makes other powers irrelevant. Omnipotence, for instance, would be exhibited by making a change in the history of the universe. But if a DeM already perceives everything that represents a possible event in that history there is no point in the DeM changing something in such a way that it results in something that, to the DeM, already exists. It is like rotating a perfect sphere: no matter how you hold it, it looks the same. No matter what a DeM might do to the History of the Universe it always looks the same; so there is no point in doing it.

The effect that this has on religion is that if there is no point in a DeM (or God, if a God exists) doing anything to change the history of the Universe that it perceives, there is no point in our doing anything in particular to try to manipulate the DeM (or God) into doing anything. No acts of behavior like prayer or ritual is going to manipulate the DeM (or God) to do anything that will change the history of the Universe.

However, there are plenty of actions we take that can have an effect on us, some of which will affect the particular life-sequence that we perceive. The trick is to figure out what actions to take that will be the most effective.

The best way we know to do that is to seriously apply the methods of science to what choices we make, i.e., to invent a science of human behavior, which is to say create a model of human behavior that is self-sustaining and beneficial.

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