Monday, 24 October 2016

Cynthian Religion? II

See here and combox.

Poul Anderson's fictions encourage philosophical discussions so it is appropriate that the discussions continue in new blog posts as well as in the combox, especially when they become lengthy.

When I agreed with Chee Lan, I did say that I was not basing my argument on the idea of divine foreknowledge. The author of a novel does more than foreknow what the characters will do. He makes them do it. Similarly, an alleged omnipotent creator from nothing of all things other than himself creates intelligent beings with the motivations as a result of which they choose to commit evil acts. An aggressive drunk automatically kicks a dog that bites him whereas a pacifist saint who lives what he believes does not. Both men act freely, which can only mean without any external constraint, yet their actions are not only opposite but also entirely predictable.

God could have created the first man without an addiction to alcohol or with moral beliefs and will power strong enough to counteract his spontaneous impulses or with different spontaneous impulses. With a single proviso, it is unthinkable either that the saint would kick the dog or that the drunk would refrain. The proviso is that, even in extreme cases like the drunk and the saint, we cannot predict a man's actions with 100% accuracy because we do not know all the factors influencing his actions. God not only knows those factors but creates them and could have created them to be different. He could have created a world full of saints or at least with a population whose moral starting point was closer to sainthood than that of an aggressive drunk.

An adult can pull a child away from a fire or, respecting his freewill, warn him of the danger but let him choose. However, God creates:

the fire;
the properties of the fire;
the effects of the fire on a human body;
the child's inclination to approach the fire;
the child's inclination or disinclination to heed a warning;
the adult's attitude of concern or indifference towards the child;
anything else that we can think of that is relevant.

Thus, the child can have freewill in relation to the adult but not in relation to an omnipotent creator.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I certainly agree that the works of Poul Anderson encourages philosophic reflections. Because his knowledge of science, history, and philosophy gave unusual depth and nuance to them. I would also say he insisted on offering his stories simply as entertainments he hoped readers would enjoy.

    My deficiencies in knowledge of philosophy and how to reason logically is one reason why I enjoy reading both your blog and John Wright.

    I am not sure an author always knows what his characters will say or do. Odd as it might seem, both PA and Stirling have said that sometimes they did not know how stories they were writing would turn out.

    While I agree that MOST times a pacifist saint and an aggressive drunk will behave as described, I don't think that will always be the case. I can imagine a saint losing his temper or a drunk behaving reasonably. There remains an element of uncertainty.

    The question of how God's foreknowledge can co-exist with free will has troubled many thinkers. My deficiencies in logic and philosophic knowledge forces me to say that simply, as a Catholic I do believe we have free will.

    I could argue that God's foreknowledge is not the same as Him compelling us to do what he foreknew we would do. For example, I could become aware of a plot to rob a bank by a gang of criminals (but be unable to warn the police). My foreknowledge did not compel the robbers to loot the bank--they CHOSE to do that.


  2. Sean,
    Again, I am not arguing that there is a contradiction between foreknowledge and free will.

    1. Sean,
      I know that characters can surprise their authors and I can cite examples but the author has to be sensitive enough to let the character develop instead of imposing formulaic characterization. The unexpected aspects of the character come from within the author no less than the expected aspects.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      I'm sorry if I misunderstood you as regards the issue of the divine foreknowledge and free will.

      The question of just what makes an author an imaginatively CREATIVE writer is tough to answer! I agree a good author is sensitive about letting his characters and plot develop and refrains from using a rigid formula. Yes, somehow even characters who surprised their creators still came from their author, even if he does not understand how the creative process works.