The idea of perfect human liberty has been a topic of philosophical and theological discussion for centuries. I do not by any means expect to solve the mystery of free will with this little essay, but perhaps my system of understanding will advance the discussion one small step forward. I am not concerned with the ultimate debate between the seemingly conflicting ideas of a prescribed destiny and a destiny that is free for our choosing because I do not believe they are incompatible ideas. Instead I strive to present a reconciliation for examination for those who accept a God and at the same time accept the notion of free human will. This reconciliation, however, is not a new idea. Theologians like C.S. Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, and Boethius presented non-temporal solutions as I am about to do, but their solutions only categorize God to be transcendent of time. I will attempt to show that humans are also transcendent of time though we are unaware of it. It is my hope that this new perspective, which strives to incorporate modern physics, will strengthen the school of theological compatibilism.
For the purpose of this essay, the definition of God needs to go no further than this, viz., an infinite, intelligent, and deliberate creator of the universe with the attributes of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience. The universe is defined as the world in which we exist and can measure with scientific tools and/or strict mathematical abstraction. Although the universe may also exist beyond the one timeline in which we are subjects, it is prudent to iterate the fact that we can only ever observe and measure a singular timeline. The nature of human consciousness permits nothing more. Now allow me to define free will, or human liberty, as the ability to act independently of all external and internal forces; as the Will acts, velleity always reserves itself to become manifested into action as well.
By defining these terms the paradox becomes more clear. If our very nature confines us to experience and perceive only one destiny and we also accept the omniscience of God, then how is it that we can act freely from the knowledge of God? If God knows what we will do and is also our creator then, by deduction, He created or prescribed our actions as well. However, it is not beyond God’s omnipotence to create beings who can act freely. So is it possible for God to create something so free that it is also free from His own knowledge? This is the very essence of the paradox at hand.
Paradoxes are the doors of Heaven, locked to all except those with keys of reconciliation. Truth unlocks truth and refined truth unlocks refined truth. Therefore when your truth is unrefined it shall not unlock a truth more refined. I seek the truth between human liberty and the omniscience of God yet I arrive at a locked door which philosophers have arrived at and knocked upon in ages past. When one arrives at a paradox, logical protocol calls for a re-examination of the axioms which led to it. Stubbornly, I will not dismiss God’s omniscience nor perfect human liberty; therefore, I am forced to re-examine my definition and assumptions of the universe.
It is my hypothesis that the paradox arises due to an unrefined idea of the world in which we exist. So the solution that I pursue does not involve changing my definition of the universe, rather it simply refines it. Of course, other hypotheses and methods of reconciliation may exist without needing to refine the aforementioned definition of the universe. Perhaps other thinkers would rather refine the definition of God or of free will to arrive at different solutions. However, I do not believe those solutions would be as coherent and as compatible as the one I am about to present. It follows that if one attempts to refine their definition of God, then they are further collapsing the idea of God and are doing themselves a disservice; the God that can be named is not the Eternal God. If, on the other hand, one adds caveats to their definition of free will, it necessarily becomes a definition of imperfect liberty. This is why I have chosen to refine the definition of the universe, though it will be worth returning to other possible solutions to test their integrity under proper scrutiny.
It is self evident that events in the universe can only be perceived to unfold in one objective fashion. Simply put, what happens is what happens. Nonetheless I reserve the idea that the universe as a whole is far more complicated than what human awareness can perceive. The idea of parallel timelines is a fairly new concept in the school of philosophy. The term “multiverse” dates back to 1895 when it was used by a man named William James, however, he did not use it within the context of modern physics. But I must protest using such a word because it implies multiple universes, which is totally nonsensical since anything that is defined to exist must be defined to exist in the universe. That is to say, the universe is the whole of existence. Henceforth I shall default to using the term “timelines” instead of “universes.” These multiple timelines have been hypothesized in conjunction with the discovery of quantum mechanics in the 20th century marking the beginning of proper philosophical discussion of the topic, though the esoteric nature of quantum physics makes the discussion difficult. Oversimplification can lead to preposterous conclusions such as the idea that consciousness has a direct effect on the state of matter. In this example, quantum mechanics simply illuminates the principle that the act of observing such small particles fundamentally perturbs them; after all, the act of visible observation is nothing more than perceiving the photons which carry information about what they previously interacted with. I can observe a billiard ball by showering it with a billion-billion photons per second because, despite the incomprehensible number of photons which bombard it, the billiard ball is of such larger magnitude that it remains virtually unchanged. But when you must observe an electron, which is of similar magnitude as a photon, problems arise. It would be as if you were in a dark room and had to find the position of a ball on the ground by throwing another ball at it. If you throw your ball and it connects with the ball you wish to observe you will have successfully determined its position, but by doing so you will, at the same time, change its position. This is the conundrum of quantum mechanics; Newtonian physics is not refined enough in the quantum realm.
Simply put, what happens is what happens.
The classical model of an atom is a gross misrepresentation of how quantum theory defines it. The idea that matter is mostly empty space is nonsense because I can strike my hand firmly upon a table and I can sit in my chair knowing that I shall not simply slip through it. It is now accepted in modern physics that the electrons which orbit the nucleus exist in a superstate of all possible positions; a probability cloud if you will. This cloud is what matter is comprised of, not of singular electrons in singular positions. Thus one may posit that the continuous spectrum of all probable positions of all electrons in the universe gives rise to an infinite number of possible timelines which exist simultaneously in a superstate cloud of differing probabilities. So I ask, if the very fundamental particles of the universe can exist in multiple states at once then is it too much of a stretch to conclude that the whole of matter and events themselves also exist in multiple states at once?
If we assume the omnipotence of God went to a truly lavish extent in structuring our free will and the universe, then I argue that it is not a far stretch to conclude that all possible actions and reactions which the laws of nature allow of all objects exist simultaneously in the present instant. In other words, if a rock tumbles down a hill on one path it also tumbles down that hill along all possible paths simultaneously in an infinite number of varying timelines, each path prescribed by all possible placements of that rock by the forces of the Earth and the cosmos. So too do all the objects in the universe simultaneously traverse all possible paths before them. This idea permits the possibility that in another timeline, all events could be identical to the events in this timeline, only delayed by one second, or one minute, or 50 years. Perhaps the key to time travel is not to move backwards or forwards, but to move perpendicularly into an identical timeline which is simply offset. However, I admit that time travel in this sense is quite fanciful and creates many violations regarding what science and mathematics tell us about space-time. Nonetheless, infinite timelines simultaneously permit both a fully determined universe and a universe whose destiny can be experienced and changed in infinitely varying ways. If God were to place His conscious creations within this soup of infinity, on the one hand He would know all possible outcomes simultaneously and on the other, be allowing His creatures the freedom to experience all possible destinies but only perceive one destiny at a time. Perhaps this is the heart and soul of the aphorism, “nothing is impossible.”
Human awareness only observes a cross section of the universe and consequently cannot fundamentally comprehend the nature of this idea. The reason for this is the same reason we cannot envision a sphere with a fourth spatial axis in our mind. Conversely, we can simply envision a sphere with two axes (i.e. a circle) or draw a square because they exist in one lower spatial dimension as we do. In other words, we are transcendent of two spatial dimensions. Such is how we can begin to understand God’s omniscience; He understands the whole of the universe easier than we can understand something as simple as a line with one spatial dimension. Therefore, the Will of God is not confined by the idea of multiple timelines because He is an infinitely transcendent being. This implies that some events in the universe might be utterly unavoidable in all possible timelines by decree of the Divine Sovereignty. Perhaps the crucifixion of Christ is one of these events, but let the proper theologians determine such things, like A.W. Tozer,
An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty. On board the liner are several scores of passengers. These are not in chains, neither are their actions determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined point. Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each other. So it is, I believe, with Man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began.
I ask then, what of the man who chooses to jump overboard?
How then does this solution to the paradox stand above other possible solutions? My dear wife has presented to me the following explanation: God knows us so well that even though we are free to choose what we want, He will always know what we will do. But that is to assume the nature of choice resides within the body and mind; that by measuring all that a man is, one would be able to determine all of his actions. What more would God do to “know” a man? This solution therefore implies that a man’s destiny is determined and that his Will depends on internal forces which, by definition, is not perfectly free. In this case, a man would still feel as if he were free, but it would be a mere illusion since his singular experience would be known. How, you might ask, does this idea of God’s knowledge differ from the idea of multiple timelines? It differs because the latter implies that a man exists in an infinite number of timelines at once even though his perception can only experience one. It is the difference between God giving a man a radio and knowing by determination which station he will turn to verses giving a man a radio and letting him choose freely which station to turn to knowing that in the whole of the universe the man has selected them all simultaneously. You might object and say, “but God would know the path a man’s awareness takes through the timelines!” This objection arises from a misunderstanding of my solution. It is not the case that a man travels from timeline to timeline in order to manifest his destiny, rather he exists in all timelines at once; all destinies exist at the same time. Why then does a man only experience one timeline? Is it a choice of his Higher Self which timeline to perceive? I shall answer by saying I am likely asking these same questions in many timelines thinking that the one I am in the is unique one where my perception resides. I must remind myself that my seemingly singular perception and awareness exist in all timelines at once, fooling the inhabitant there that he is the true Adam Steeber when in fact the true Adam Steeber is the total sum of my singular perceptions across an infinite number of timelines. The consequences of being such a sum cannot be elucidated herein; such a topic deserves an essay of its own.
Another possible solution might be that true freedom does not exist and that knowledge collapses the illusion of freedom until the point of complete enlightenment. This would imply the only free being is God Himself due to His omniscience. In this case Man would always have the illusion of free choice in the universe because quantum mechanics implies fundamental uncertainty; the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that the more precisely you measure the position of a particle, the less you know about its velocity and vice-versa. However, this solution is borderline heresy since it implies that Man exists solely in the physical universe. Man was made in the image of God which touches all echelons of existence, from Heaven to Hell. Even though Man is a lesser being than God, Man’s Soul and Will are connected to the Soul and Will of the Lord. If these fundamental spiritual attributes of Man are confined to physical laws, then Man would not be a true image of God.
A friend once told me that God is merely a timekeeper, or a spectator to His creation. This does not violate any aforementioned attributes of God, it only emphasizes the attribute of omnipresence. This idea also allows Man to be free from God since it is God’s choice not to intervene with the affairs of Man. However it does not solve the paradox because it does not address His omniscience. Even if God chooses not to intervene in the affairs of Man, He would still know how the course of mankind would play out and thus the will of Man would not be free from God’s knowledge.
The key to my solution rests in the infinite nature of the timelines described. Choice is a continuous spectrum and though God might know all infinite variations of the universe, Man still experiences them all at once, chooses them all at once, and knows them all at once in his Higher Self which resides with God. What God knows, the Soul knows, forever inseparable. This is the essence of perfect liberty; for the Soul to be on par with the perfect liberty of God while the body experiences only one finite lifespan of choices. However, one might give the ultimate objection that Man’s Higher Self is still confined to a “lesser” infinity of choices which are defined to be all possible paths in the universe we exist in. Why is it that Man’s Higher Self cannot choose to exist outside his existence? The answer is a simple one, viz., the choice to be something you cannot be is the choice to not exist, and something that does not exist cannot choose. Also, it is impossible to make the choice not to choose because that, in and of itself is a choice. This is a consequence of existence; it is the basic inseparability from God. In other words, you cannot choose to jump off the ship because there is no end to the ship.
The only temporal thing to exist is the present moment; the future never comes and the past is always behind us. Therefore, the whole of the universe must be contained in the instant of existence which is called, “now.” What will happen is merely a projection and what did happen is merely a reflection, both existing solely in the present. Intuiting the Living God is to live timelessly and eternally for His freedom reigns forever in the present. It is with God that we are free and by nothing less are we free. So go and be with the Lord to frolic freely in the infinite meadow of life, for this was His design and intent. Amen.