Metaphysics 101 Part 3

(Part 3 of Ten)

(continued from Part 2 of Ten)

Determinism and Free Will

There are two chronicles, one from the Old Testament, the other from the New Testament of the Bible, each of which implicitly demonstrates a metaphysical enigma that pervades the Bible and many other oral or written chronicles of the world’s religions. I submit these two chronicles as examples of determinism, a major topic of philosophy.

The first is the chronicle in which God asks Abraham to prove his fealty to Him by sacrificing his son, Isaac. As the story goes, just as Abraham is about to comply, an angel intervenes and Abraham sacrifices a lamb instead of his son.

The second is the chronicle of the Crucifixion of Christ. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray Him. He also tells Peter that he will deny his association with Jesus three times before the cock crows. Of course, all this comes to pass.

In the former event, we have God asking a man to sacrifice his son. In the latter, God’s plan is to sacrifice His Son, Jesus. Why the sacrifice of Isaac or Jesus—or, for that matter, why the sacrifice of a lamb, or the intercession of an angel at the moment when Abraham was about to strike the fatal blow? Were these events predetermined?

A free will theist might respond that the actions of Abraham, Judas (who betrayed Jesus), and Peter were perfectly compatible with free will because God knew what was to happen in each chronicle only because of His omniscience, but that the choices made by Abraham, Judas, and Peter were made by their free will. However, I can’t help wondering why Abraham was required to show his fealty to God when God already knew what Abraham would do. Or why God, omniscient and omnipotent, created a world in which sacrifice and betrayal are possible in the first place. If God were omniscient and omnipotent, why would He create a world in which the crucifixion itself was inevitable, with or without free will?

Also incompatible with the absolute prescience of Jesus, is His cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Why would Jesus ask a question for which He already knew the answer—a question about the essence of His sacrificial mission on earth?

Millions of people have asked that same question through the centuries as they’ve been crushed under the hoofs of the four horsemen. In light of this, the theist has an insurmountable burden to prove the existence of a God. The atheist has a much simpler task of presenting his case against the existence of God, let alone a benevolent God. He might merely cite the Bubonic and Ebola Plagues and rest his case.

Those two chronicles from the Bible pale when we contemplate the Aztec practice of cutting the heart out of a living human being as an “offering” to their god (religions, like politics, are big on sacrifice). No religious practice can excel the horror of Aztec “piety,” but the following examples come close.

Hinduism is a potpourri of five basic divisions. Its origins can be traced to sacrificial Vedic scriptures and the Máhabhárata and Rámáyana epics. The central Hindu premise is the transmigration of souls, a concept usually referred to as “reincarnation.”

Some Sikhs brush away insects as they walk so that they might avoid stepping on an ant that may be the reincarnation of their aunt who still has a long way to go toward Nirvána. Most Hindu sects believe that all life is precious—unfortunately, some lives more precious than others when we consider the Hindu treatment of Untouchables. For example, two young “untouchable” men (Ramprasad and Ramlakhan) “will never…forget the day they dared fish in a pond used by upper cast villagers in Utta Prades” [India]… “A mob doused the two Untouchables with acid.” (see: National Geographic, June 2003, Page 29) Ramprasad’s facial disfigurement, shown on that same page, exceeds that of any Hollywood horror make-up creation. Ironically, the Untouchables themselves practice Hinduism.

The Caste System was tacked on to Hinduism 1,500 years ago. Disguised as a religious practice, it is designed to provide upper class Hindus with slaves. What is pertinent to this article, however, is the Hindu notion that people are born “untouchable,” another example of deterministic dogma.

Predetermination is basic to the Caste System. Even one’s line of work is predetermined! And, to add misery to injustice, only menial work is assigned to Untouchables. This is particularly inhumane in a country where sewers are cleaned by the lowest class of Untouchables (Bhangis) who, with no more than a brief tunic, immerse themselves in excrement, blood, and other bodily fluids: This, while being derided by the “clean” citizens of India whom they serve.

Unlike anti-theists, I don’t express my views about religions with the intention of “railing against God” or taunting theists. That is not my purpose at all. I have religious friends and atheist friends: we have no problem respecting and loving each other. I also note the absurdity of anti-theists railing against a god in whom they do not believe exists!

But since religion is virtually always an integral part of metaphysics, which in turn includes a discussion on determinism vs. free will, I think it appropriate to highlight the subject here. Of course an extensive discourse on religion is far deeper and more complex than what I’ve presented here. For example, St. Thomas of Aquinas was an ardent advocate for free will!

(to be continued in Part 4 of Ten)

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