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If you were God.

A friend recently emailed this:

The South Carolina Shooter’s Free Will or the Will of God?

The well-established facts about human birth mechanism includes a tremendous amount of knowledge about the incomprehensible chances against any specific person (p) ever being born.

The p sperm is just one of millions. It must win the race to the egg and must find a p egg — and  there are big chances against that too — for p ever to be.

After that, fertilized eggs in the millions are naturally aborted. There is more too, as Richard Dawkins explains wonderfully in one of his books.

Add to the improbability of p the staggering fact that all this is required for each of p‘s parents and grandparents all the way back to “Adam” for there ever to be p.

The Creator knew all of this before the Charleston, SC shooter and each victim was born. Any deviation anywhere along the line all the way back to “Adam” for the shooter would have prevented this shooting. Any deviation for each victim would have prevented that victim from being shot.

All of this exactly as it was, was absolutely required in order for the shooter’s “free will” to operate.

In fact, everything that has ever happened at the hand of man requires all of this too — Hitler-Stalin-Mao — and each of us.

Still God sometimes intervenes to save someone — often in the old times but even still — and when the saved have children, that alters the final destiny of all humanity!

I haven’t thought through all the implications I think may be here. But it sure seems like we are  all “merely players” enacting a prescribed course. and free will is the chimera we think it is.

Anything here?

There is certainly something there!

As I have included in a draft version of a chapter on free will I have been asked to write for a forthcoming anthology by John Loftus:

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (Jonah 3: 10)

God gets involved rather a lot in the Old Testament, and he also knows exactly what he will do in the future. These appear to manifest themselves in the popular mechanism of prophecy. Prophecies coming to pass, say, six hundred years later mean that the world must be micromanaged, or entirely determined, in order to allow for the prophecy to come to pass as predicted. For example, there was a king of Judah, a man called Zedekiah, who is told that God has destined his city to be captured and burnt to the ground; he will be captured and taken to Babylon, where he will die peacefully. But he shouldn’t worry too much, as people will surely be sad about his death (Jeremiah 34:2-5). The implications here are that no matter what Zedekiah might do, no matter what stroke of military genius he might have, and despite the fact that his people are supposedly the chosen ones, Zedekiah was going to lose his city, and many people would lose their lives. One assumes that this was destined to happen by God, because it all fits into the larger jigsaw puzzle of his intentions for Israel, and as such, the world.

Let us look at this episode in real-life context. God is decreeing that, no matter what happens, no matter what decisions are made, a good many people will die, and a whole city will burn to the ground. Perhaps God is not actually saying this, perhaps it is not a case of no matter what decisions are made, but is more a case that God knows exactly what decisions will be made. This then could potentially lead us to predestination, or determinism. In other words, God has either determined in advance what he wants, and has set all the variables up to achieve these ends, or he has set all the variables up with no particular design for the outcome, but can compute what the outcome will be. In either of these scenarios, there is left no opportunity for any of the protagonists to exercise anything that resembles a conventional form of free will as set out already here. If Zedekiah had suddenly wanted to go on holiday to Egypt… well, he couldn’t, since God had decreed exactly what was going to happen to him, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

This has moral implications for God himself, since this is not just simply a case of determining what I am going to eat for breakfast—toast with homemade raspberry jam—but it is a case of determining that tens of thousands of people are going to die horrible and painful deaths. Is this the behavior of an omnibenevolent God? Could God have done otherwise? One of the classic defenses that theologians use for the problem of evil (the problem of death and suffering in the world), and of why God shouldn’t just simply make there be fewer deaths, is that he has given us free will, and the suffering and deaths are a result of our mismanagement of that free will. Evil and suffering come from humanity. However, in this case, the death and suffering come from our lack of free will; God has determined that this will take place. The only way that this can be justified is by arguing that this is all for the greater good. I would have to argue that I am sure that God could achieve this greater good by setting up things a little more benignly, that the tens of thousands of people did not have to die so that Zedekiah would go into Babylonian captivity. Free will is simply not allowed to be exercised here. The future, for this corner of Judah, is in the hands of God, and no one else. If it is in the Judeans’ hands, then their hands are tied, and they are acting in the only way they can—and that is a way that results in the sacking of the city, and the capture of their king.

As for the many supposed prophecies concerning Jesus, for him to be prophesied, God has to ensure that he has the right parents, who have to be, for prophetic reasons and reasons of Jewish authority, in the lineage of David. This is no small organizational feat—the family line must be kept alive throughout the years. In fact, the order is taller than you might think since it is often not a case of ensuring things do happen, but ensuring that things don’t happen. Mary, for example, cannot be bitten by that poisonous snake when she was twelve, must not have injured her uterus when the plough skewed into her abdomen at fourteen, must not have slipped off the wall she was walking along a week later, must not have starved due to a poverty stricken lifestyle, must not have been miscarried, must not have contracted an early form of cancer, must not have… the list is tremendous.

And that is just for Mary in her short life. One has to map out the entire history of the world to ensure the rest. It has to be ensured that Jesus doesn’t die in some way before his time of preaching and atonement. The entire ancestral line of (one of) his parents must be maintained. The Egyptians must not have been allowed to kill their Hebrew slaves, the surrounding empires must not have obliterated the Israelites in a major conquest, a volcanic eruption must not have wiped out the Middle East, a meteorite must not hit earth, man must have evolved in a certain way from the original life-form. So on, and so on, to the point that, in order to ensure that Jesus would come down in the fashion predicted, some 600 years later, God has to micro-manage the entire universe, and this smacks, just a little, of determinism. In order for something to happen with any kind of certainty later down the causal chain, God, pretty much literally, has to make the butterfly flap its wings.

Of course, it is not as if this recent murderer was prophesied or that God “wanted” him to do that, but stopping him must have invalidated a greater good…?

In other words, God was “using” those victims to bring about a greater good. God is, yet again, an instrumentalist, a consequentialist who uses people to further certain ends.

He had ample opportunity to stop this, but omitted doing so. Go explain that to the relatives of your churchgoing victims, praising your greatness.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...