Monday, January 03, 2005

Determinism and the Blind Watchmaker

A discussion from New Year's about the conflict between an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, immanent God and free will made me think about the blind watchmaker argument. During this discussion, an objection was raised to my argument about the impossibility of free will in a universe with such a God, being that my argument requires a deterministic universe and that God could simply be the blind watchmaker, setting things up without knowing and/or controlling how things will transpire. Without a deterministic universe, the objector claimed, then my argument was nothing more than the classic "God knows the future so it is already written" argument.

I disagree.

God cannot be the blind watchmaker. He cannot create something that runs on its own and that he can step back from and observe.

There is nowhere for him to step back to. God is all and all is God. God is immanent and nothing exists or happens without His will. The universe is part of God and inseparable from God.

A human watchmaker can make a watch and step back because the watch is separate from him, because the universe is separate from him, and because there are independent physical laws that govern the operation of the watch. None of these things is true with God. There is nothing apart from God. God is immanent and it is only by his will that universe exists at all. There is no will apart from God's. The universe does not, cannot exist on its own and run by its own laws, for God is infused in every atom, every quark, and every electron of the universe, and He must will all these things to continue to exist and act as we expect them to act from one moment to another. No electron changes energy states, no neutron is expelled from a nucleus, no photon is emitted when atoms fuse, except by God's will. He decides that all those things will happen.

As such, when the universe moves from one state to another, it does so by God's will. Because He can't just allow the universe to change from one state to another -- that would mean the universe is not contingent upon God but can somehow run without Him -- but rather, God must choose to make the universe change states in accord with the laws he has chosen for the universe, or not, but it does not run on its own. There is no matrix, no medium, no place for the universe to exist and run on its own apart from God.

Therefore, even if God chose to make a universe that was non-deterministic to its inhabitants, He could not make a universe that was non-deterministic to Himself, because He is the one who moves all the pieces on the board. He can make a universe where current conditions to do not determine future conditions, but God cannot make a universe where He does not determine future conditions. When the universe passes from state 1 to state 2, God does it. Whether He decides to base state 2 off the conditions at state 1 or not, He decides what state 2 will be.

God cannot be passive. He cannot allow things to happen or to run on their own. He is the source of all things, including change, and nothing can happen that He not only wills, but that He makes happen.


At 12:27 PM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

This is an interesting observation, but I am not certain I buy it. My objection stems from two, equally nit-picking observations.

First, though I'm a little slow on the uptake, it seems to me you make a lot of assumptions about the nature of [Gg]od(s) here that aren't really justified. Are you claiming that it really must be the case that "God is all and all is God. God is immanent and nothing exists or happens without His will. The universe is part of God and inseparable from God.", or are you claiming that this must be true in the context of modern monotheistic beliefs?

To strip things down to their simplest, to justify the blind watchmaker premise we need only suggest there is a non-interfering, creating [Gg]od(s) that does not have the properties you describe. Among other ways that could be so is the following: the act of creation destroyed [Gg]od(s). While you might argue that forsight is equivalent to kapitualtive action (i.e., it created the Universe knowing what would happen, so it's still an active decision process), that need not be so if we accept that [Gg]od(s) might be limited in power.

Why must [Gg]od(s) be omnipotent? This is certainly not the only Universe that might have been created (I assume) ... but perhaps it was the only one this supposed creator could create (or only one of a limited subset). As an example, there are certain pre-Christian messianic traditions that argued that the Universe was created by a flawed god, not by the perfect one, etc. Of course, we might ask "but, who created it?" But it needn't have ever been created, of course ... just as the Universe itself needn't (necessarily) have ever been created.

Then there's the indeterminism caused by quantum mechanics ... and it may be that the creator couldn't find away around quantum mechanics, and can't pentetrate its indeterminism. Thus the creating [Gg]od(s), neither omnimpotent nor omniscient, may have had sufficient power and vision to get this whole, insufferable pile of dung we call the "Universe" spinning ... but nothing more.

I don't know and I don't think so, but your statements seem strong to me, given that we are talking about something essentially unknowable.

The second objection I have revolves around semantics. What is the definition of "Universe"? What is the definition of "time"? How can we ask "what was before the Universe" when the Universe includes the dimension of time, and there is no meaning to the word "before" outside of that context? Likewise, how can we even ask a meaningful quesiton about what is "outside" the Universe, if we mean for the term "Universe" to apply to all space-time? We cannot. You might be right, there is no "outside" ... at first blush it seems obvious, but on second consideration, I wonder if the question even makes sense at all.

To travel further down this irritating bit of semanticism, I am not sure that is a reasonable definition of "Universe" ... though, perhaps, it is a literal definition. Since we are natural creatures, and perceive things in the natural realm, we may have no ability to sense anything beyond that realm in any way. Thus, there could be all sorts of things other than spatial and temporal elements / dimensions / whatever outside of our perceptive capabilities.

You might argue (and, I believe, you have) that if we cannot perceive any impact of goings-on in those alternative "planes" of existence, they essentially do not exist for all intents and purposes. That is true in the general sense when talking about the relationship between these two worlds (let's call them "nature" and "supernature" for ease of discussion), but it gets sticky when we consider the creation of the natural Universe.

If the two are unrelated, save that the natural Universe was borne out of the supernatural one, is it not possible that there is an "outside" into which [Gg]od(s) stepped after/during the creation process?

I don't know, and I don't really care ... it's just fun with philosophy to me, given that any theoretical supernatural world of this type can have no impact on us (by definition). However, beyond head games and table-talk, I don't think these questions can even be posed properly, much less answered. If we define the term "Universe" to mean the "natural Universe" (that which can be perceived and acted upon by natural means), we cannot even pose meaningful questions about what is "outside" it, or what was "before" it ... since those terms refer to space and time, and those dimensions are of the natural world, really.

All that is to say, how can you be so sure there's not a blind watchmaker [Gg]od(s)? I am willing to agree to this: there is no way for us to determine whether there is a blind watchmaker [Gg]od(s) or no [Gg]od(s) at all, and given that we can neither affect the truth nor know the truth, the truth is irrelevant.

Is that fair?

At 11:56 AM, Blogger mooglar said...


By specifically mentioning the attributes of the "God" of which I was speaking in the first sentence, I meant that to be the definition of "God" for the rest of the post. I am arguing against the possibility of the God postulated by many adherents of the faiths of Abraham (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and free will. I agree with you that a God or god(s) lacking those attributes could potentially be a blind watchmaker. I am simply arguing that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, immanent God could not.

As regards to your question about the limits of the universe and what it means to be outside of space and time, I actually agree with you that these concepts don't make much sense, and, in fact, I believe may be incoherent. However, I am using them in the terms as used by many adherents of the faiths of Abraham, that the universe is all space and time, that God created the universe and is immanent in the universe but somehow exists outside space and time, and that there is nothing greater than, equal to, or apart from God.

My critique was not meant to be a critique on theism in general, but only a critique of the Judeo-Christian Islamic God that many of those faiths believe in.


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