Sunday, January 02, 2005

Metagame Theodicy

At the still point of destruction
At the centre of the fury
All the angels all the devils
All around us can’t you see

There is a very old, very robust argument reconciling the goodness of God with the existence of evil, which states that evil arises from the fact that moral agents have free will, and are free to make a choice to accept or reject what is good.
This was a full and complete argument in the days when everyone believed there were moral agents other than humans that took an active role in the universe. But if you want to make your religion more progressive and up-to-date, and cast the upper half of the hierarchy of created beings in the dustbin, your theodicy immediately runs into problems.

The first one is the ichneumon wasp, laying its eggs in living caterpillars so they hatch into little wasplings and slowly devour the caterpillars bit by bit to make them good and religious, as Mark Twain pointed out. And all those other nasty immoral things in the ‘all things bright and beautiful’created world.

The solution to this problem is easy. Accept evolution, and give all living things some free will. They don’t need a lot, just a tiny bit. Allow ‘bad’ decisions to accumulate over billions of years. The natural world becomes locked-in to a morally sub-optimal state. These bad decisions of our ancestors also lock us in to a morally sub-optimal state, which maps exactly onto ‘original sin’ as understood in the 13th century.

The second one is harder, and was demonstrated forcibly last week. The rules by which the universe works are so damn mean. Frequently, because of the way the universe is put together, a perfectly decent person, city, or (presumably) planet will be destroyed by an ‘Act of God’. Which term is a slap in the face for all those glib theodicists out there.

There is only one solution I can think of to this problem, a solution which is obviously derived from wide reading in the works of Stanislaw Lem. The laws of our universe were not made by God alone, but are a collaborative work between God and created entities. I like to think of a big free-form role-playing game with God as the GM and 10180 free-willed players. The rules that arise in this metagame, and are adhered to of their own free-will by these entities, eventually give rise to emergent phenomena like atoms and stars and us. The created world was not corrupted by a fallen Melkor, but was created flawed to begin with, because it was made by committee. This is deep anthropomorphism, I know, but I am not supposing that these entities have any attributes that we would recognise as human, except for the ability to reject good or embrace it.
This solution has the feature (good in philosophy, bad in science) of being unfalsifiable. At least until leptonic confabulators come along...

1 comment:

John McCrarey said...

Found your blog as I scrolled through blogs randomly. I must say this is a quite thought-provoking post. A little over my head perhaps.

Anyway, I enjoyed your unique perspective and thought I would just say thanks for sharing it.