In the paper, “Science and Religion” as published in Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium (1941), Albert Einstein wrote,
That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?
Now, I am hardly going to purport myself smarter than Albert Einstein nor wiser than all of humanity which has struggled with issues of God and man’s role in a larger plan, or even that such a plan exists.
But I am going to say that I differ from the conclusion above because it results from assumptions that are, in my opinion, incorrect. I think anyone who ascribes to scientific method and the application of logic might follow my thinking in this.
First, let me say that while I believe God to be all-powerful, that He is capable of making real anything He wishes, but I also believe that He doesn’t necessarily do so. All-powerful doesn’t mean all-doing. God may, at God’s whim, simply choose to say, “Interesting idea but, no, I don’t think I’ll do that.”
Similarly, while God may be omnipotent, He may also choose to not be so. He can, if He wishes, create a Universe that abides by certain rules and laws which act in predictable manner but which also includes things — we will call them “humans” — to which God has given a special ability, the ability to choose.
That ability is also known as Free Will.
Rocks don’t have it. Atoms don’t have it. Plants don’t have it.
To be precise, I believe that God gave humanity — and other sentient creatures, for that matter — the ability to choose for themselves what they will and won’t do.
God gave us reason and logic to help make choices. And He gave us feelings of compassion and love to also help us make choices.
God chose to forgo His omnipotence of knowing everything and all futures — how boring would that be — in exchange for variety, unexpected developments and surprise!
Because He is all-powerful, that is something He could grant.
And in His omnipotence, He would then know that He wouldn’t know.
And that would make it “interesting.”
Pretty clever, eh?
At the large scale where man’s actions have little effect such as on the orbits of planets and stars, God “knows” what is going to happen. As we move up to the cosmic scale, God’s certainty about the future becomes more and more accurate of the large scale happenings in the Universe. The rocks and planets, stars and galaxies all work by the immutable laws He set forth.
God knows the ultimate fate of the Universe. It is, in a galactic sense, a clockwork.
Things are simply gonna happen when they’re supposed to happen. Period.
But at the small scale, down at the level of what are you going to do in each of the next five minutes, He doesn’t know. He can guess, He can hope, but He doesn’t know.
Because He gave us Free Will, each of us truly does have the choice of doing good and doing evil, or maybe doing something that isn’t particularly good or bad, or maybe just sitting in a hammock on a summer afternoon and doing nothing at all.
An important requirement to having Free Will is having a choice. If there is no choice, well then there’s no choice. But if you get to choose, then you need some alternatives to choose from.
If the choice to totally arbitrary, if it doesn’t matter what you choose, then there are no consequences. You might as well flip a coin and it’d be a crap shoot. Win some, lose some.
Until “good” and “evil” enter the picture.
Once you have those, now those choices really start to matter. Make the right choice and good things — life, for example — happen. Make the wrong choice and — Boom! — you’re dead, thank you for playing.
Good and evil are what we use to make decisions. They are what we use with the tools of reason and logic, and with compassion and love to figure out how to foster life if we choose to do good. And if we choose to do evil, then those same four tools are what we use to figure out which alternatives are evil.
God created a complex Universe with a fairly simple set of laws. There are the physical laws of mass, energy, gravitation and so forth. And there are the abilities to reason and so forth that He gave us to then choose between beneficial and harmful alternatives.
Good and evil.
God had to make both “good” and “evil” possible.
I know this flies in the face of much Biblical writing. In the Bible, God is good and Satan is evil. But that pretty much equates Satan with God and starts us down the road of good and bad angels, of a hierarchy of angels and a whole host of complexity that, to me, has all the hallmarks of a bad guess made worse with rationalization after rationalization.
The Heavenly scene is just all too complicated.
I prefer to apply Occam’s Razor and choose a simpler solution.
I think that God may have thought something like this:
“I think I’ll create something over which I have only limited control and see what happens. I will create it with a set of physical laws to govern much of what happens and the eventual presence, through the workings of those laws, of sentient life forms that can decide, for themselves, what they wish to do. They will be able to choose to create more of their ilk, but they will also be able to use the powers of the Universe that I start to utterly destroy themselves if they so choose. I will give them a sense, an understanding that “good” promotes more sentient life and that “evil” tends to be bad for it. And in the sense that they can then choose what they will or won’t do, they will be like Me. They can choose. This should be interesting!”
From that, all that we see and know, has come about. The Universe is housed in Space and Time, with Matter and Energy that follow physical laws set forth by God. And those laws, crafted by Him, guide the Universe into certain possibilities, certain probabilities, and even to eventual certainties that we call sentient life. And that sentient life, through an enormous stretch of time, evolved into what we know today. And along the way its sense of good and evil was passed on, refined, polished, but then sometimes tarnished and damaged over the millenia. Some of this “chewing” on the concepts of good and evil is recorded in works we know today as the Bible, the Koran, the works of Confucius, the religions of Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Some of them got a lot right, some didn’t get quite as much as others. And some of the things they got are naive or just plain wrong.
So, at a large scale, God knew how things would go. And at the day to day scale we live in, God planned the presence of sentient beings with the abilities you and I use every day as we go about our lives.
Those aspects were, I believe, planned from the beginning.
But personally, I can’t leave it solely at that. I don’t believe that God set it all in motion and then sat back to watch the dominoes fall. I’m with Einstein in that such a Universe would, to a large extent, become boring if completely left on its own.
Because I see no explanation for the Universe other than God’s hand, I also see it as inevitable that the creator would wish to remain a creator. Having created, I believe He would like to stay connected and maybe even occasionally put in His hand and give something a little push.
For a lot of very personal reasons, I am quite convinced that God has an active role in my life.
And I believe that prayer works, but that sometimes the answer may be a simple, “No.”
Exactly how that works, I don’t know. But I do believe it.
Here’s a thought.
Maybe God is able to predict the outcome of an unimaginably (to us) long and complicated sequence of events such that, if He touches His finger at some tiny quantum level, maybe He know that, ultimately, the result will be that the walls of Jericho will tumbling down at the sound of trumpets.
That would be awesome!
But if the trumpet players had decided not to blow, well then the walls would not have come tumbling down. God made it possible but left it to men to choose.
“What will they do?” He may have wondered.
What about prayer?
Does God “hear” our prayers even if all the sentient beings in the Universe get down on their knees (or whatever) simultaneously with their prayers?
Again, I don’t know.
But I think so, and I think yes. How does He do that? I don’t know. I guess you’ll have to ask God that one.
By why? Why do I think He listens?
Because creating the Universe but then just (figuratively) walking away is as silly as thinking that everything that’s going to happen was known to God when He created it.
If it was completely predictable, there would have been no reason to do the actual creation. And having created a Universe that isn’t completely predictable, then God is gonna stick around to see what happens.
There is no other possible answer.
So, at some level and in some way, God is still very much a part of each of us.
I believe — because I’ve felt Him interacting in my own life — that He is involved with us, watching, hearing, feeling what we feel and, from time to time, giving things a little push.
Maybe, just maybe, down at the sub-atomic scale of muons and quarks and all those incredibly tiny and short-lived particles, maybe this is changing things that eventually affect us.
Maybe that’s exactly the level where, through Gods ability to predict across an enormity of interactions, He operates on the physical world. Maybe that’s where the bricks of Jericho’s walls started to come apart when the trumpets blew.
And sometimes maybe what he pushes is us, perhaps with a thought that comes to mind in the neurons wriggling about in someone’s brain who says something that inspires us, or perhaps through an opportunity in the physical world that originated in sub-atomic perturbations a few minutes or a thousand years ago that results in a slight stumble, a spilled cup of coffee, a late arrival at work, a late arrival at a meeting with not enough coffee and an angry remark slips out with all the consequent events that follow.
God can choose.
And I believe He lets us do so as well.