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Friday, February 19, 2010

What is "Freedom"?

Right off the bat, I don't think anyone can really define freedom. Questeruk posed an interesting dilemma, when I stated that "freedom is the absence of absolute knowledge". Questeruk then stated that God is both absolute and free.

I found this response interesting because that is what Ernest Martin said when I discussed the matter with him.

Ernest Martin was a brilliant man, but there were three basic flaws in his conclusion:
1.We can't prove there is a God
2.We have great difficulty in defining "absolute"
3.We have the same problem with "freedom".

This leads to yet another problem: how can anything be both "absolute" and "free"?

If it is absolute, the very absolute itself would provide a limit to what could be done beyond that absolute. If it were free to select otherwise, the limitation of choice itself would not be absolute.

Dr. Martin responded to me then that freedom is like a length of rope or "tether" to which we are bound. To the extent we can move within the length of that tether, we are free, but we are NOT free to move beyond the length of that tether.

I said, "That's all well and good, but now tell me how long the tether is. Can you define the limits?"

There was a man named Georg Cantor who once believed that God would reveal himself to Cantor if he, Cantor, studied into the nature of infinity and was able to offer definitions.

The problem was, Cantor began to realize not only infinity, but an infinity of infinities! Even worse, in trying to list all "real numbers" by the use of a diagonal method, he showed that it was impossible to do so. The list would always remain incomplete.

A "real" number corresponds to what is also called "irrational numbers", like "pi" the square root of 2, 3, etc.

The Euclidean line is said to contain an infinity of points, each corresponding to a number within the infinite continuum. One problem: where is the point corresponding to "pi", and the square root of 2, etc? Not only did there appear to be gaps in the Euclidean line, but the number of gaps seemed to be infinite.

Pythagoras was rather disturbed by this fact when one of his students showed there was a problem with his theorem, A squared plus B squared equals C squared.

Pythagoras's student said, "Sir, what if 'C squared' is '2'? What is the square root of 2?" Legend has it that Pythagoras had the student drowned to keep his mouth shut.

So, in the most formal system of proofs we have, there doesn't seem to exist a process that contains all the other facts within that process which is non-contradictory, or which can be summed up in a "rational" statement(the ratio between two numbers).

So, it seems impossible to define "absolute" as a point beyond which human knowledge cannot go, which would appear to show that we are "free' to choose among an infinite set of alternatives which we can define. But then, if we can't define those alternatives, we cannot choose among them.

Among all the infinity of alternatives, therefore, we can't define "God", because "God" would therefore be the sum of those alternatives. We can't even list all real numbers, much less define God! Any attempt to define God would naturally result in the infinity of alternatives we see around us today.

You can't define a procedure to get from "here" to "God", because you would first have to define limits as to what God is, and that would place God within the measurements of calculus, since calculus seeks to define the number of steps or "decisions" approaching a limit.

Of course, algorithms follow this process by which we define decisions or decision procedures to "terminate" at a certain limit or goal. Regarding truth as one complete, consistent system of thought, might be a useful idea of either "God" or "absolute", but Alan Turing demonstrated there is simply no way by which a computation can prove all such truth(s), as did Godel's theorem.

If you seek to define 'freedom' therefore, you must define it strictly within the context of human definitions. It cannot in any sense be applied to God, since there is no evidence of the existence of God.

That, basically is what Paul told us. If there exists a God, any decisions procedures by which we may hope to get "there" would be completely subject to that God and with "God's" knowledge.

If there is such a decision procedure, that procedure is programmable, which means it can be reduced to human concepts and ideas, which means that "God" is therefore either created by, or creatable by, human ideas. It would necessarily mean that "God" is less than man.

On the other hand, to believe in God is to believe that there does exist knowledge and truth that transcends the knowledge of men. That, in essence, is what Godel's theorem tells us: truth transcends theoremhood. Truth exists as a context of completeness and consistency beyond the power of humans to regulate or measure in one system.

Does truth exist in such a complete and consistent form? If it does, we can't get there from here.
Does God exist as the sum of truth? If "He" does, we can't get there from here.

Paul's statements in Romans 8 and 9 are fully consistent with that fact.


Byker Bob said...

Certainly, words such as "relative", and "personal" come into play here.

A few years back when I found myself being drawn back from my prodigal condition, it dawned on me that mankind, and mankind's best thinking could only take me so far. The only knowledge which could possibly bring about a state of fulfillment for me would, by definition, need to come from beyond mankind.

Science is most certainly expanding, and often at what seems to us to be an exponential rate, but it still has a long way to go before it can detect God.

The Bible is written from the standpoint of man's limited five senses. It does a good job in many cases of making something which is totally beyond our comprehension somewhat understandable. "Need to know" seems to be the basis on which it has been written, and most of us would like to know and understand so much more!


Ralph said...

Yes. But assuming that there is a God who wants us to understand, and knowing how human nature works, it would not be an advantage to simply come down and set down discoverable guidelines.

How can there be moral behavior and moral choice if everything is subject to command? As Ayn Rand points out, there is no such thing as a moral commandment. If we must do it, it is coercion.

It is one thing for humans to understand certain moral behaviors, but quite another to give them the freedom for exploration of those behaviors on their own.

The problem is that each new generation must almost begin from scratch, and leqarn the most basic moral lessons all over again, yet in each generation, we are already committed to rules and laws that are no always for the best, nor do they permit individual moral behavior.

We are told to be free from men, but we can't harm others in seeking that freedom. A hard pat to walk.

But then Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world(age), and if it was, then my servants would fight".

If there is God, and if the bible is truth, then the "kingdom of God" must be a kingdom of the mind, and yet we can ask for it to be recognized here on earth.

My experience says its noyt about gathering collectives or developing PACs and power blocs to change the world, since "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

It's in you, and me, and in our lives and personal efforts every day. To fnd truth as an individual is the hardest choice you can make , and yet it is the only correct choice you have.

Byker Bob said...

Yes, it is a difficult process.

And, yes, to maintain purity in choosing the right things, you can't just be doing them as a result of ritual commands. In my opinion, that defines the difference between the Old Covenant and the New.

Basically, the process is what many of us refer to as our personal adventure with God. Often it is difficult and confusing because all we really know is that God is looking out for the long term spiritual good of all His children.


Ex-Android said...

The Byker Bob opined:

"...all we really know is that God is looking out for the long term spiritual good of all His children."

Hah! And you don't even "really know" that. You believe--you don't know. This is a common error among many theists.

Ralph said...

Ex-Android, you are correct. If, by any measure of logic, we wish to subject another person to our belief, we are guilty of a form of idolatry.

Byker Bob said...

Jesus seemed to indicate that there was a degree of personal responsibility associated with belief. In fact, at one point, he chided Jerusalem, saying that if Sodom and Gomorah had witnessed the things that Jerusalem had, they would have believed and repented long ago!

So, belief is a personal choice, and it is also a door opener. Jesus even indicated that He could not perform personal miracles for people in environments where the people did not believe. Many of His miracles were preceded by questions regarding the belief of those about to be healed.

This is hardly a binary topic, however, because Paul speaks of people who have been blinded, and the Old Testament makes many references of people's hearts being hardened or softened. So, it becomes a very complex issue, sbject to any number of modifiers, and I would humbly submit to all readers that final outcome is largely a function of the interplay between God's will and human will, which is basically what the so-called fall of man was all about.

All of us are what we are because of three three basic factors: 1) Genetics 2) The environment surrounding us, and 3) The personal choices we all make.

Belief is a door opener. It's been my experience that if we ask our atheist friends to take the ultimate challenge, and to ask God to walk with them, invariably excuses will be made as to why this is either ridiculous or unpalatable. I'm one former atheist/agnostic that accepted that challenge, and my life and personal happiness or joy quotient have been trending upwards ever since. Sadly, since this does not conform to Randian "objectivism", apparently it is seen as being imaginary or even delusional by some of our atheist friends.


Ex-Android said...


You drew a contrast between Ayn Rand's view of objectivist thinking and your present walk which she identified as "subjectivism."

In the interest of understanding a bit more of Objectivism I would like to quote from the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

"[S]ubjectivism is the doctrine that feelings are the creator of facts, and therefore men's primary tool of cognition. If men feel it, declares the subjectivist, that makes it so."

Ralph said...

Two things about interplay of human will and God's will:

First regarding faith, we see in Ephesians 2:8-10 that by grace are ye saved through faith, and even the faith is not of yourselves.

In fact, the whole discussion of acts involving faith are not about "salvation" since Paul makes it pretty clear that is a free gift, both in the scripture above and in Romans 5:18.

Decisions we make in day-to-day decisions would be in regard to choices based on that which we can know and which we experience, i.e., subject to logic, environment, and our experiences with others.

However, either in belief or no belief, we are forced to use our ability for logical thought and logical conclusions.

The second point has to do with personal choice and salvation, and Paul has pretty much eliminated such choices in Romans 8 and 9.