Tags: Alfred North Whitehead, Former Toronto, Freedom Fighters Exploring, Jian Ghomeshi, Rob Ford
The concept of free will is the central feature of our constitution, our judicial system, our press and other various forms of media. Our political ideals imply that we are not puppets on strings manipulated by the hand of God, but free agents who are subject to moral responsibility, blame, punishment and our own guilt. Even our medical system argues for personal care of our bodies and psyches. Our society in general claims that without the concept of free will we are undermined and diminished, simply the playthings of celestial forces.
But let us ask for a moment whether the human will is, in fact, free or determined or whether there are other possibilities. If we subscribe to determinism we are convinced that we lack control over our behaviour and are not responsible for it. Actions are believed to be fixed by God and by earlier events and conditions that took place before we were born and therefore are outside our control. We are not drivers in a driver’s seat. We are simply a link in a chain originating long before our time. Or at worst, we are droplets in a very old river of determined flow and activity.
But many libertarians have said that free will allows us to blame parents, politicians, or bureaucrats for our lot in life. Free will allows human beings to consciously impact each other and form our world, they argue.
But is it possible that we might exercise freedom in some situations and be controlled by Divinity in others? Can God’s influences and urges be characterized as either strong or weak? Are we sometimes controlled by other forces or energies such as spirits, angels, demons or devils? Moreover, are all human beings the same? Are some of us quite limited in our thoughts and activities while others free to think and choose their path? We can examine some people with bad childhoods and learn that they turned out to be decent, while others criminals. Perhaps we are not all operating under the same parameters. It is possible, too, that we are tested by God regularly and are rewarded or punished according to our responses. These Divine interventions would no doubt affect the course of our lives and of those in our midst. Belief in past lives might also suggest that we are disciplined for old sins and are placed in rigid situation in order to heal ancient tendencies and even evil behaviour.
But process theology, a philosophy based on the writings of Harvard professor Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and taught at the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology in southern California, addresses none of these hypotheses. Instead, he claims that God offers us a way of becoming uniquely ourselves. God presents limited possibilities of transformation and hope. Human experience involves moment-to-moment choices with regard to how we will react to the immediate past.
One of the other major objections to traditional free will arguments and newer philosophies is that nature is governed by a set of laws, mainly the laws of classic physics. We are also controlled by these laws for we are basically more complicated versions of similar material substances, argue scientists.
But if modern quantum theory is accurate the position and speed of micro-particles demonstrate randomness. This behaviour might be conceived as the metaphysical foundation of free action, though different than the freedom required for moral responsibility and the political ideals many of us support in contemporary governments and in the media. Today, persons who appear not to uphold these could be publicly vilified by social media. Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and ex-CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi are good examples.