I Have Always Been A Rebel: Freewill and Omnipotence

Black Widow Spider
I have always been a rebel.

Ever since I was young I wanted to figure things out. I always asked why. I was inquisitive about everything, but I was especially fascinated with nature. I wanted to know what everything was. I have a bookshelf full of nature fields guides and natural science books I collected as a kid. Knowledge felt powerful to a powerless child.

I caught a black widow spider in a jelly jar when I was in first grade. I caught lots of animals as a kid. I made a traveling zoo with my red wooden wagon by filling it with jars full of all the creatures I could catch. I took it around the neighborhood and asked people to pay me to see it. So yeah, I thought every black spider I caught was a "black widow."

But one fateful day in first grade, while lifting up the paving stones in my mother's garden searching for specimens, I was able to catch a small shiny black spider that actually made my dad take a second look. We checked my Golden Guide, and the real spider in the jar looked pretty much like the painting of a female black widow in the book, but we needed to go to the public library to make sure. I showed the spider to the librarian, she helped us find a book to look it up, and soon my dad took possession of the jar.

My parents supported my love of discovery when I was a kid. The sent me to live with my Granny every summer so I could take nature classes at an arboretum. In morning and afternoon classes each day I was taught ecology, botany, dendrology, ornithology, entomology, geology, paleontology, and more. I just loved knowing things. I felt like I knew every bird, every tree, every reptile, every insect. If I didn't know it, I would catch it in a jar, or a net, or a trap, and take it home and look it up in one of my books. I do all right now when those categories come up on Jeopardy.

But my passion to know stuff also got me in a lot of trouble. I wanted to know stuff that I was too young to know. I wanted to know stuff that I wasn't allowed to know. I wanted to go places I shouldn't be and do things I shouldn't do. I wanted to know why I shouldn't. I experimented with everything. If it was taboo or off limits, I was trying it out. And I soon began to understand the meaning of authority.

I don't remember my first spanking. I remember getting spankings from my dad my entire childhood, as well as from elementary, middle, and high school authority figures. I don't consider the routine spankings I received to be abuse, although my ex-wife and I only gave one or two spankings to each of our sons growing up, and they probably don't remember them either. I don't remember my first beating. But I remember getting those my whole childhood too. I don't remember many bruises. But I remember the disproportionate rage and my resulting terror.

I was plagued by recurring nightmares and sleepwalking as a child. Every nightmare had the same theme, escape and capture. I dreamed I was in my bed at night, and I would get up to go to the bathroom or something, and a monster would appear by my bed, and a long tongue would come out of its mouth and grab me and throw me back. Or sometimes in the dream I would make it out of my bedroom, but the monster would appear from a dark doorway in the hall and grab me. Or sometimes I would feel the presence of the monster chasing me all around the house and even outside (sleepwalking) until my fear was so great that I had to lay down where ever I was, turtle up, and play dead. As a child I could never walk normally past a dark doorway at night. The anxiety would build up too strongly inside me, and I would have to run for fear of the monster inside. I still get that feeling sometimes.

This theme of escape and capture would materialize in all sorts of ways. As a toddler I was constantly leaving the house unannounced to go exploring. We lived near a forest with a stream and I was too young to play there by myself. So I did it every chance I could. I wanted to run away from home. I would day dream about escaping to live in the woods as a hermit. I would make plans for what to bring, where to go, the shelters I would build, the animals I would hunt... I bought a small library of wilderness survival books and headed to the woods to build fires and play with knives. In elementary school I shared my plans with a friend. He was also an abuse victim and wanted to run away too. We staged a burglary of his garage so that I could hide his dad's rifle in my closet at home without my friend getting blamed for it (since we would need the rifle to survive in the wilderness). That was the first time the police ever came to my house. I hated my family sometimes. I hated the abuse. I wanted out early. Ever heard of a bug-out-bag? I've had one since third grade.

I don't remember when I first learned about hippies. I learned a lot from reading about music. I would read interviews of my favorite musicians talking about their musical influences, and there was a lot written about the music of '60s. I immediately identified with those stories in a personal way. I was inspired to hear about young people fighting injustice, resisting authority, and changing the world. I was inspired by the music they wrote about it. I dreamed that my biological parents must have been hippies, because my adoptive parents didn't understand me and seemed nothing like me.

Beginning as a small child I questioned my biological parents. Why did they give me up? Why didn't they keep me? I questioned my adoptive parents. Why did they adopt me? Why do they hurt me? Why don't they give me back? I acted out. I tested boundaries. I misbehaved. I questioned myself and my own authority. Why can't I be good? Why do I keep being bad? What's wrong with me?

I remember inventing cost benefit analysis. I think I was no older than twelve years old, based on the bedroom I remember doing it in. I concocted this whole formula on a piece of graph paper where I would identify a bad thing I was tempted to do, rate it by how much reward I thought I would get from it, identify what punishment would come if I got caught doing it, assign that punishment a number, then rate the chances of me being caught, subtract that number from the punishment value, subtract all of that from the original reward value, and then see if it looks worth doing or not. I think I was trying to figure myself out. Why do I do these things? I was hoping it was some mysterious math process in my subconscious mind that I couldn't control. That would at least make sense.

By the time I was in middle school, I was so angry about my life that it didn't matter to me anymore why I got in trouble. It didn't matter to me what I did or didn't do. It didn't matter if I deserved punishment or if I didn't. Authority had been wrong and done me wrong too many times in the past. I refused to respect it. I had no use for listening to it any more.

I am struck by my understanding of myself at that age, that I was aware of a lack of control or a lack of understanding within myself that led to poor decisions, and that I wanted to try to learn how to make better decisions... I guess, upon reflection, in order to avoid beatings.

But later in life, when faced with the difficult question of how humans have freewill while God maintains control, I imagined that the stormfront of the problem was again, at the point of human decision making... Where do these decisions come from? How do we make them? When faced with temptation (an opportunity to make a poor decision), how do we decide?

And I imagined a God who was in control of every dust mote floating in the air, and I thought even smaller, every atom... even smaller, every particle... every direction... every operation... to the nth degree... each opportunity for change in state, motion, whatever... a 0 or 1. Change or not. And then I imagined the anthropomorphic hands of this God appearing through the clouds. And I saw quintillions (and more!) zeros and ones pouring like water from those hands onto the path before me as I navigated through them all, making choices as I went.

This God, I thought, was omniscient at least by historical observation with regard to both my outer and inner life and experiences, which included my tastes and preferences, my life history, my tendencies, my predispositions, and everything else. Because this God even knew my own understanding of all the opportunities and challenges that have ever or will ever face me (how I see and calculate all those zeros and ones for myself), this God knew with unfailing certainty what free choice I would make in any given scenario.

So, a God with perfect control of the zeros and ones that make up the path of my life, and perfect knowledge of which zeros and which ones I will freely choose along the way, can thus have perfect knowledge of my future.

So, a God with perfect understanding of my past can have a perfect understanding of my future, and I can remain independent and free, as long as this God also has perfect control over everything else.

And, obviously, this God can control my behavior, and the behavior of all people, through this same process. And so yes, this God controls everything, even free creatures.

Picture of Luis de Molina
Luis de Molina
And then I heard about William Lane Craig. And then I heard about Molinism. And then I learned that someone else thought of it first.

Today, just think how little time it takes for Amazon to be able to predict some of your shopping habits with little more than historical observational data. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what an omniscient God could predict, even if only omniscient with regard to the past.

But the question I am struggling with now is the omnibenevolence of God. I have another post coming up that tackles that one a bit more in depth with regard to the problem of evil. Stay tuned!

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