The Apple and the Multiverse

Last time we looked at the framework against which the traditional view of the Atonement is set.  Now I want to dig a little more deeply into this framework.

Recall the schematic of the Atonement in orthodox thought:

1.  After creating the Pleroma and the physical cosmos, God, at some point, creates the human race.

2.  Humans are initially innocent and free from sin.  Humans, like the angels before them, and like all created intelligences, have free will.

3.  The human race is given a test of obedience, mythologically symbolized by the command to Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

4.  Humans fail the test through the abuse of their God-given free will.  Mythologically, this is depicted as the temptation of Eve by the Serpent (interpreted as Lucifer/Satan), who eats the Forbidden Fruit and gives it to Adam.

5.  As a result of this, they and all their descendants are stained with Original Sin.  Among other things, this means that future humans are not innocent, and even under the best conditions tend towards wrongdoing and evil to some extent.

6.  Also as a result of this, the human race is alienated from God, and incapable, on their own initiative, of pleasing Him or being in communion with Him.

7.  To remedy this, God sends His Son, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, to take human form.  Christ becomes incarnate, is born, lives, teaches, and ultimately dies on the cross.  Three days later, he rises from the dead.  Through this death and resurrection, he atones for the human race and makes it possible for humans to be reconciled to God.

As I said last time, there are problems in steps two through five here.  In this post I want to look at these problems in terms of how free will relates to this framework.

Typically it is said that God created intelligent beings with free will because otherwise they would have been mere puppets.  Creatures that could not freely choose would not be truly individual beings, but automatons.  God wished to have beings that would freely love Him, not puppets; therefore He gave His creatures the ability to choose freely.  To choose freely implies the possibility, at least, of choosing wrongly; thus, freedom implies the freedom to sin.  Since God wanted creatures to love Him freely, and to be, in a sense, icons of Him–after all, “in the image and likeness of God” implies both intelligence and freedom of will–He was willing to take the risk, so to speak.  I have no issue with any of this.

What interests me is this:  God is omnibenevolent, so He desires only the good, in general and for His creatures.  He is omniscient, so He knows everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen.  He is omnipotent, so He can do everything that can be done.  Thus, it would seem that He would want to make things the best for His creatures; would know how to do so; and would be able to do so.  This is the classical statement leading up to the “problem of evil”, which ends with the observation that things don’t seem to be so great in the universe–since evil exists–and so questions God’s existence.  I’m not interested in that, however, but in a narrower application.

God wants free creatures–I take that for granted–and He wants the good for them.  I take that for granted, too.  How do these two criteria interact?  Typically the Fall is described as if it were an unfortunate side-tracking of God’s original plan.  The Atonement thus becomes the Divine Plan B.  However, if we assume God to be all-knowing, He must have known in advance what would happen.  “In advance” isn’t right, actually.  As we’ve discussed before, God is atemporal, outside of time; everything to Him is present.  Thus, it’s not a matter of God anticipating that mankind would fall; rather, He knew man would fall as He made him.  The questions is how giving humans free will constrained God’s choice.

Traditionally, God’s omnipotence is not considered to mean “ability to do anything at all”, but, as phrased above, “ability to do anything that can be done”.  Even God cannot do things that are logically impossible.  He can’t make a rock so big even He can’t lift it, or create a married bachelor, or make 2 + 2 = 17.  Thus, we have to consider what true freedom for created beings entails, and if it results in such a logical constraint.

To say I’m free to do something does not seem to imply that I will do it, now or ever.  I could jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, or shave every bit of hair from my body and paint it fluorescent purple if I wanted to.  However, I have so far reached the age of 49 without doing either of those things–or a lot of others, as well.  I do not anticipate, if I live to 100, that I ever will do those things–or a lot of others as well.  Logically being able to do something, and being inevitably  bound to do it, are not the same thing.  In fact, the latter would seem to contradict the former.  Note:  Since writing this I’ve revisited the mysterious connection between being able to do something which one refuses to do and free will at much greater length.

So, theoretically, Adam and Eve (to speak mythologically for convenience) could have chosen never to eat the Forbidden Fruit.  However, they did; and God knew they would.  This is rather puzzling.  If God knows all, He could have presumably created truly free creatures whom He knew would never sin, never fall.  Obviously, He did not do so.  If we want to assume that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, then this implies one of two things.  Either it is impossible in some logical way for God to make free creatures who will never fall, in the same way that He cannot make a married bachelor; or He has deeper motivations in allowing the Fall in order to bring about a greater good.

The first possibility implies a sort of Molinist view.  Without going into extreme detail here, Luis de Molina was a Jesuit who believed that the way God’s infinite knowledge can be reconciled with human freedom is through His “middle knowledge” or knowledge of counterfactuals.  Simply put:  God knows, for example, that under certain circumstances, I will freely choose to do certain things–e.g. on a rainy day I’ll stay home rather than going out to dance in the rain.  He knows of every being what that being would freely choose to do, given certain circumstances.  Thus, if He wants a certain outcome, He merely creates the universe out of all possible universes that contains the circumstances under which humans (and angels, presumably) will freely make the choices that bring about the result He wants.

Example:  If, as part of the Divine Plan, God wished that I make homemade cheese pizza for lunch today (which I did), then He would have used His omniscience to see what necessary set of conditions would result in my making that choice; then that is the universe He would actualize.  Thus, He gets the result He wants, and I freely choose to do what I want.  On the macroscopic scale, God does this for everyone and everything–He scans through the potential multiverse to see which universe within it will have the results He wishes, and then actualizes it.

This gives a useful way of looking at logical impossibilities, too.  By definition, there is no universe in which bachelors are married, or in which parts of a finite object are greater than the whole, or in which 2 + 2 = 17.  Since there are no such universes for God to select, none of these things can be actualized.  Thus, God is “unable” to make a married bachelor, etc.

So, for our consideration here:  Is there a conceivable universe in which free creatures never sinned, and never, ever do?  To speak mythologically, is there a possible world somewhere in the multiverse in which Adam and Eve, while maintaining their freedom of will, never ate the apple?  There doesn’t seem to be a clearly logical reason why not.  In principle, one can have the ability to do something but freely choose never to exercise that ability, as we discussed above.  On the other hand, it is obviously the case that if such a possible world exists, in theory, it sure wasn’t the one that was actualized.  I should point out, by the way, that the Molinist perspective has been the object of substantial criticism, and I’m not necessarily endorsing it.  It is merely a useful framework in which to view the questions we’re posing here.

It seems, anyway, that either, for some reason we can’t quite fathom, a free being necessarily sins sooner or later, in which case God had no choice in making a world in which the Fall occurred; or that such beings are possible, but that a world containing them would be less good than the one in which we live.  It doesn’t seem possible to confirm or disprove the first possibility, although I may come back to it at a later date.  The second–that this world is better than an unfallen one–is intriguing; and while I’m not advocating the views of Doctor Pangloss, I think this possibility deserves a closer look.  I’ll save that until I’ve developed some other ideas in coming posts, but I will return to it.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.




Posted on 22/09/2012, in Christianity, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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