[asa] Contemplations on Chance & Free Will - Comments?

From: Christine Smith <christine_mb_smith@yahoo.com>
Date: Sat Jan 10 2009 - 20:32:05 EST

Hi all,

Our local ASA chapter met today and discussed Dembski's article about chance in the latest issue of PSCF. From that discussion, I gained a few, very rough insights that I wanted to put into words and get some feedback on...

When it comes to determinism vs. chance (and by extension, predestination vs. free will), the question basically boils down to this: Does God's sovereignty REQUIRE God to be fully knowledgeable about the future? As represented by Dembski (I haven't read the book he's critiquing, so I give him the benefit of the doubt that he's representing the author's viewpoint faithfully), Bartholomew is arguing an open theism position in which chance--true chance, in which God Himself does not know the outcome of a random event--exists and is used by God to achieve His purposes--in effect, Bartholomew says "no", full knowledge of the future is NOT required for God to remain sovereign. Dembski, representing the more traditional viewpoint, argues that yes, for God to be sovereign, He must have full knowledge of the future, and therefore true chance doesn't exist; he articulates the rebuttal to open theism by writing "In particular, strict uncertainty about the future
 means that God cannot guarantee his promises because the autonomy of the world can then always overrrule God. Of course, to say that God can always step in when things get too out of hand defeats the whole point of openness theology."

In contemplating this, and the whole question of determinism vs. chance (and predestination vs. free will), neither one has totally made sense to me. Surely God must be sovereign. Dembski's first critique is a valid one--for God to be God, He must be able to bring about His will and fulfill His promises. Yet at the same time, it has always seemed to me that determinism and predestination were inadequate solutions, because implicitly it draws the questions "well why bother if everything's already foreordained?" and "how can evil exist in a world in which God has predestined everything and everyone, except to say that God ordained the occurrence of evil itself?

But then, going back to Dembski's critique, two things struck me. First, why would he assume that strict uncertainty means that God can be overruled? Second, why does He assume that God's intervention defeats the purpose of open theology? Keeping these two questions in mind, a brief digression is in order, which will tie in later...

...going back to Genesis 1, we are told that in the beginning was chaos, with everything being formless and void, and that God imposed order on this chaos. What if, just like the world being created "good" but not "perfect", creation was made "ordered" but not "perfectly ordered" ...in other words, the order in the world that we see (which I'm defining to include true randomness as well as natural laws) is not totally reflective of His will, but unconsciously defies it in ways that we call "natural evil". Similarly, at the beginning, no "will" existed, yet we believe that God wanted a people who would *freely* love and serve Him. So what if he created a world in which true, free will exists, but it is not yet "perfect free will" -- it is not yet a free will that completely corresponds to God's Will. In short, what if both natural order (including chance) and free will exist in this creation, but both are imperfect, waiting to be perfected in the new
 creation. In the meantime, the corruption of each -- natural evil and sin-- exist simultaneously alongside the good, in defiance of God.

How does this relate to the two questions I posed earlier? If God's purpose is to take a will-less, chaotic beginning and transform it into a perfectly ordered, perfectly willed creation, I tentatively propose this undermines Dembski's critique.

Specifically (taking question 2 first), if God intervenes in the world, it would be for the purpose of correcting the problems that arise as a result of imperfect order and imperfect free will, in order to redirect creation towards the proper goal. Through this process, God is essentially "teaching" creation how to properly use the gifts endowed to it, from which God will bring forth the new, perfected creation. In intervening then, God does not eliminate order and free will, anymore than a professor who intervenes to correct a student is eliminating that student's innate intelligence. Rather, God is ultimately improving it. As the preservation of true free will and true randomness is, as I understand it, the philosophical impetus for open theism, this would seem to undermine Dembski's second assumption.

Likewise, going back to question 1, the lack of knowledge about the future does NOT equate to a lack of power to bring about His will, if one asserts that His will is the perfection of creation in a manner that retains true freedom. This is for two reasons: first, there is no set timetable regarding the perfection of creation -- the goal is a qualitative state that is independent of time, therefore the lack of knowledge of the future has no bearing on whether this goal is achieved. It simply happens whenever this condition is met, whether tomorrow or 50 billion years from now. Second, because God is the only one who has the power to perfect creation by bringing forth the new creation, creation itself can not withhold this power from Him; it may resist this power through rebellion, but creation cannot escape the fact that within it lies the seeds of the new creation that God is constantly nurturing and pruning it to ensure it's eventual growth and
To summarize and conclude my thoughts...I would tentatively suggest that true randomness in nature and true free will in humanity do exist. God self-limits His knowledge of the future to make room for each of these to exist, intending to take what is now imperfect, and to make them perfect in the new creation, so that ultimately, a perfectly ordered, perfectly willed creation comes into being. In the meantime, God retains His sovereignty and guaranteers His promises in spite of His lack of knowledge of the future, by interacting with creation along its journey, responding to errors and countering resistance with measures that keep creation on course and help us to better understand how our gifts are to be used. Though the old creation can never perfect itself, we see in Christ the inauguration of the new creation which emphatically asserts that God's will will be done, and that the final destination will be reached.

Anyway, this is sketched out pretty roughly, and I'm sure it has pitfalls in it that I haven't thought of yet, so have at it :) Thanks ahead of time for your comments, questions, and critiques.

In Christ,

"For we walk by faith, not by sight" ~II Corinthians 5:7

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Received on Sat Jan 10 20:32:30 2009

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