[Please forgive another free flow of thought prompted by life events.]
The recent death of Benjamin Libet, a neurophysiologist whose pioneering studies of the human brain included an exploration of the nature of free will pushed my mind into overdrive with memories of the age-old debate that extends into academia, philosophy and ethics, theology, metaphysics, and psychology.
Some of Dr. Libet’s experiments involved using electrodes to measure the response times of the brain, and he found, in one case, that when a volunteer was instructed to move a finger, the brain unconsciously initiated the movement even before the volunteer was aware that the finger had begun moving. This might be construed as an indication that “free will” might not exist in humans. However, Dr. Libet’s experiments showed that if his subjects were told not to move a finger, or to stop moving it, the conscious mind will could maintain complete control. As he described it, the conscious mind “…could veto it and block performance of the act.”
The simple idea of retribution, in this world or an afterlife, belies the idea of predestination, or at least rigid predestination, and supports the concept of free will. The thought of retribution is deeply rooted in all religions of which I have knowledge and almost always coexists with teachings that God holds absolute rule over human will through His omnipotence and omniscience. This gives rise to the common idea that “We can’t know God’s plan.”
But why can’t we know God’s plan? Perhaps it is better to ask “How is it that we can’t comprehend an infinite being’s plan?”
In this world we live a linear life. We are born, we live, we die. Within the linearity of our understanding of the universe lies the root of our freedom. We are presented with conditions. Within those conditions exists choices. In free will we are left to make those choices, seemingly on our own. Each choice leads to and defines the conditions of the next.
Assume an omniscient being can know all at once. In such a condition, God would exist outside of time. The future and past alike are simple knowledge. Not memories or foreknowledge; they simply are.
Accepting the idea that God knows all invariably leads to questioning the need for God’s intercession or even the concept of grace (defined as a supernatural help of God for salutary acts). Why would intercession or grace be needed? I would suggest that with infinite knowledge comes the knowledge of what truly requires intercession, returning us to the idea that “We can’t know God’s plan.”
Maybe we humans are simply predestined to choose based on the conditions set upon us.