Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The mining ship Red Dwarf
The first episode of Red Dwarf went out in the UK in 1988. It’s set on a mining-spaceship in the 23rd century, and in the first episode Rimmer gets killed by a radiation leak. Holly, a super-computer, scans Rimmer’s body, brain and memory in intricate detail and, creating a hologram of him, runs an exactly-calculated computer-simulation of how he would have behaved if he hadn’t died.

Arnold Rimmer
“But it’s not me,” protested Rimmer in the first episode, gesturing down at his molecularly-pixelled holographic body, “it’s a computer-simulation of me!”

I was in awe. Rimmer’s soul had gone to Heaven, Hell or wherever, and here was this soulless copy of him running around carrying on his life for him back in this world.

He had no soul, no feelings to hurt (only the physical simulation of how Rimmer would have behaved if he had felt them) and absolutely no human rights whatsoever.

Rimmer was as alive as a toaster.

Indeed, subsequent episodes saw his nemesis Lister rewriting his memories, threatening to switch him off, and watching on a TV monitor what Rimmer would have been dreaming, had he not died.

I was 17 when I watched this, and absolutely fascinated by this idea’s implications.

My reasoning went like this:

1 + 1 = 2.

As far as we know, God will never change this. Of course, God can do anything, so it is entirely plausable to suppose that we could all wake up tomorrow morning to find that, if God wants it to be so, then 1+1 from now on will unexpectedly equal 3.

Or 1. Or 0. Or &. Or a penguin. Or beige. Or a beyond-infinite number of bigger-than-God universes. For sake of argument though, let’s all just assume that God will never change (and never has changed) the laws of maths. 1+1 has, and always will, equal 2. It’s nice of Him to keep it so simple for us.

And physics, biology and chemistry, let’s assume that all the actual laws of science haven’t, and won’t, change either.

So, for example, the position into which a line of dominoes will topple can be exactly mathematically calculated beforehand. So can the position of each individual domino. So can the position of each atom making up each domino.

Cause and effect.

We know how atoms will behave, so we can therefore calculate how everything will behave.

So, if all my thoughts at 17 were electrical impulses going through a binary computer called my brain, and my brain was also a physical object made up of atoms which are governed by calculable mathematic and scientific laws, then the behaviour of the atoms that made up my brain could be exactly mathematically calculated beforehand too.

So my thoughts, like Rimmer’s, and like the falling dominoes, were all predetermined, down to the finest atom.

And so were everyone else’s.

Therefore if everything had only one possible outcome, we could make no choices, and therefore had no free will.

Even the supposed freedom of my thoughts was in fact a domino-style series of earlier thoughts triggering-off new thoughts, which would in turn trigger-off other predictable thoughts. Any claim to be able to think or do what I wanted was nonsense. Everything I thought was, in fact, the result of everything that I had already thought, done or experienced so far in my life.

So I tried to disprove this by thinking of something different, but even making that decision was the consequence of all my previous thoughts on this subject.

So I would try to think of something random, but I would always find a reason for whatever I had thought of. Try as I might, every random thing I thought of was from my past. So I tried to think of something random and new, but even these thoughts were built from my past experiences, as I believed there was some deep subconscious reason why I was inventing those particular things.

It seemed that there really was no such thing as a new idea.

So for years I believed that there was no such thing as free will.

Somewhere along the way, however, I changed my mind and decided that actually there was, probably because I wanted there to be.

Yeah… yeah, that felt like a better thing to believe.

This belief gave me a different problem though.

If everyone really does have free will, then barring the rare supernatural miracle, God’s does nothing. We do it all.

Even if someone thinks they are giving their life to God, they are in fact, every day, just doing whatever they personally choose to believe that he wants.

“I did it because I felt it was what God wanted me to do.” That’s right – you did what you felt.

After all – you only follow God’s will when you decide it is right.

So we have must have higher authority over our lives than God.

As Buddhism puts it “With our thoughts we make the world.”

On September 22nd 2003, although I’d always been a Christian anyway, I gave up trying to follow God and asked Him to just do everything from now on. Well actually I sarcastically had a go at Him to. I was pretty angry at the time. I was trying to cajole Him into actually answering some of my prayers.

I still have no complete trite answer from Him to this challenge yet, but I mention this story because, if I meant what I said, I had to try subscribing to this belief that God controls everything, even though it completely contradicted mankind’s free will.

For example, if I went to a job interview and was given the job, I would now have to believe that that was God's will, leaving no room for the choice of the interviewer.

As usual, God’s life-changing answer to my challenge is S-L-O-W A-S.

I have, however, replaced my usage of the word co-incidence with God-cidence.

Whenever something happens, I either find a cause for it, or I attribute it to God.

So when I can see no causes, and therefore can foresee nothing in the future, then it’s time to expect God to do something instead.

After all, everything God does was once unexpected. I guess that’s where new ideas actually do come from.

So if everything in my life was once unexpected, then everything must originally come from God.

So it’s really all God’s life, not mine.

But if my decisions are all the result of God’s work, do I have free will?

Was my decision to ask Him to run my life my choice or his?

Well, I can only tell you the conclusion that my thoughts have come to…

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2 comment(s):

At 1:34 am, Blogger Rhett said...

Ouch... my head.

At 4:34 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Don't blame me - I had no choice about writing this! :)


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