Monday, January 23, 2012

Free agency and the multiverse

A friend asked me to consider the outcome of a past situation had different choices been made by those involved. I don't think they realized just how profound and interesting a question that was and it got me thinking about all sorts of things from the idea of personal choice to God's omniscience to Quantum Mechanics and multiverse theory.

I'm a bit of a science nut, ever since I watched "Cosmos" as a kid on PBS. I love watching "Nova," The Science Channel, Discovery and documentary films. I'm also a fan of science fiction but "hard sci-fi" absolutely fascinates me... at least when it's done well.

Image CC BY geralt
But this idea of considering alternate outcomes drew my mind to multiverse theory. According to said theory, all of those alternate choices aren't just possible scenarios, they actually happened and they are all playing out in alternate universes. The number of universes is determined by the number of possible choices, resulting in countless outcomes that present countless more choices. It's interesting to consider the possibility that somewhere, there's a universe where I decided to stay in the Navy. I'd be approaching retirement about now. In another universe, perhaps I served a mission. In another, I never moved to Utah. The possibilities are literally endless.

Now, do I personally believe that there are an infinite number of universes out there with an infinite number of Joe Puente's living out an infinite number of versions of my life? No. But this theory does offer us some insight into how God may perceive his own creation.

One favorite argument against the idea of an all-knowing God floated by self-described atheists* from time to time is this: "If God is all knowing, then He knows what choices I'm going to make already and has judged me for it. Therefore, there is no free will so why should I bother believing in God anyway?"

That's a perfect example of linear thinking. That everything is playing out in a predetermined way that we have no control over. But the doctrine of Free Agency—our God-given right to make our own choices—is so integral to the Plan of Salvation that the idea of an all-knowing God seems almost incompatible with the very concept of free will... almost.

Enter the multiverse theory. I suppose it's possible that if there is in fact a multiverse than an omniscient and omnipotent God created it and He is aware of what's happening in it at all times, including the deeds and misdeeds of every iteration of Joe Puente therein.

I prefer to think that God doesn't need to create an infinite number of universes to know every possible situation, choice and outcome. Being omniscient might preclude the need to create all those universes for the sole purpose of observing them to know how every possible choice could play out.

So, does God know what choices I'm going to make in my life? Being omniscient, the answer is a resounding yes. But does that take away my right to make my own choices if God already knows what choices I'm going to make? No.

That last sentence is where most "atheists" probably stopped reading and blew me off as just another addict to the opiate of the masses.

For those of you who have stuck with me, allow me to explain.

It doesn't matter that God already knows what choice I'm going to make because He knows what the outcome would be of all the possible choices I could make. He knows how my life would have turned out had I stayed in the Navy just as He knows how my life is playing out now but the choice was still mine to make about whether or not I reenlisted.

He knows what effect my decisions will have on the world around me before I even realize that I have a decision to make and He doesn't need to create infinite universes—each with a predetermined plan—to know all the possible outcomes of our choices. He just knows us each that well.

To illustrate my point, consider a house. A structure of your own design. You decide to choose how many rooms there are, how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, where to put the kitchen, the living room, the den, the garage, etc. You furnish the house, you stock the fridge and pantry, make it ready to move right into and you decide to rent it out—as is—with the stipulation that whoever moves in must make use of only the things that you've put into it.

Since you've designed this house and have chosen every detail of its design, construction, decoration and even the type of food that's in there, you have a pretty good idea of what kinds of choices a person can make when they move into it. You know that once they enter this house, there are only so many rooms they can go into and use. You know exactly what choices they have when they get hungry and want something to eat. Now, this is pretty abstract because no one really knows a person well enough to be able to consider where they'll go, what they'll do or even what they'll eat when left alone in a random house—or do we?

What if the person placed into this house is someone that you know very well? Extremely well, even. Like your own child. Someone who you've raised and observed for their entire life. Someone that you know so well, you could very well predict how they'll behave and what choices they'll make. Who would know better than a parent what particular foods in the pantry will not get eaten—at least right away. What books will be read and reread in the library and which will be completely ignored. Whether a closed door will be opened or left alone. Whether the attic or basement will be explored or even feared. As a parent, you may know the answers to all of these questions and possibilities but that knowledge has no effect on the ability of your child to make their own choices, even when you know every possible outcome.

Now consider how our Heavenly Parents know each of us better than our earthly parents do. Most would agree that God knows us better than we know ourselves and thus has a perfect knowledge of how we think, how we reason, how we react, how we make our choices AND how we deal with their outcomes. This is how I believe God knows every possible outcome of every possible choice we can make—but the choice is still ours.

*I'm of the opinion that Atheists are just agnostics in denial.

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