God is commonly believed to be an omni-god, possessing the qualities of omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and sometimes omnipresence and omnitemporality. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, and simultaneously present at every place and time in the universe.
This presents a couple of problems… but I think I’ve got them solved.
Free Will and the Problem of Evil
Why would an all-powerful, all-good God allow for the existence of evil? And how can we be said to have free will if God is present across all of time and knows exactly how our future will unfold, with us powerless to change what he knows will happen?
Some argue that some evil is necessary so that we understand good by contrast. There is no cold without hot, for instance. So bad things must happen to you in order that you understand pleasurable experience. But this doesn’t seem to explain the need for genocide, widespread famine and natural disaster.
Free will meanwhile presents even more of a problem. If God knows all, then He knows our future actions, the universe is deterministic and we don’t have true free will. If we are always going to make the same choice in the future, then it can’t be said to be free. If we can make a free choice in the future, then it cannot be known.
On the surface, the omni-god appears to be impossible.
Fortunately, theologians are quite happy to do away with omnibenevolence. The Old Testament demonstrates that God isn’t all that good, really, but is instead vengeful, spiteful and aggressive.
An all-knowing, all-powerful God could allow evil out of indifference or anger.
That fixes the problem of evil, but not the problem of free will.
But hard free will is a lousy concept anyway, indistinct from randomness. We can instead consider that we have the freedom to think and act in certain ways based on everything that we’ve learned and experienced. Our experiences influence our decisions in such a way that we can always describe why and how a decision came about, but even though the outcome is determined and can be known it is still sort of free.
Except it isn’t. If the how and the why we make the choices we make are largely down to external factors that can be measured and predicted, then it isn’t free. The world itself is acting, and we are a slave to the whims of fate.
In classical philosophy, you either have to do away with God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence or you have to claim that natural disasters are good and do away with free will.
You’re left with a God that’s simply all-powerful but fallible and indifferent or petty, or you’re left holding irrational, potentially harmful beliefs; bad things are somehow good and you have no personal agency. That’s a recipe for disaster.
This is a problem, but it’s one I think I have a solution to. We just need to rethink our understanding of reality at a really fundamental level, perhaps the most fundamental level: we need to somehow do away with cause and effect.
In the November 2017 edition of New Scientist, Phillip Ball discusses Quantum Bayesianism. Also known as QBism, this is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that puts a conscious agent’s actions and experiences as central to the theory and the weirdness of quantum mechanics.
Effectively, QBism describes a sort of reality constructed out of conscious consensus. The probabilities of outcomes are assigned values by the observers themselves, and their experience of the results is an expected result that then forms a part of that consensus on reality.
In that same article, we are introduced to Markus Müller who suggests that QBism doesn’t go far enough. “It assumes that there is this one external world out there which is ultimately responsible for our experiences.”
Müller argues that this external world, and any form of natural law therefore applying to it need not exist. Instead, only the experiencers need exist and their realities may well differ.
Of course the trouble is we do have consensus about reality, we have shared knowledge and ideas about it. How could we have produced this consensus if we weren’t talking about something real, something that is actually there to be observed?
Müller ran a simulation in which incidents of experience were represented by 0 or 1 in a computational string. Importantly, new experiences were informed by all of those that had preceded them. At first, one might expect an equal chance of a 0 or a 1 being entered into the string, but if it came up as a 1 the experiencer then might give more weight to another 1 emerging. Then, on a fluke of probability a 0 emerges despite the current string “11” and that alters the probability of what’s expected next.
Over time, not only do patterns emerge that one could ascribe natural laws too, but so does consensus on those patterns between multiple experiencers. The result is a construct of a reality that appears to be governed by natural law but actually was created by experience and expectation. There is no objective reality, but subjective reality appears deceptively similar.
It’s a mind-first interpretation of quantum mechanics that puts the responsibility for constructing reality squarely in the experiential realm of the conscious observers.
So how does this help us reconcile the issues with an omni-god? Let’s revisit.
An omni-god should at least be omniscient and omnipotent. It is commonly also thought to be omnibenevolent, omnipresent and omnitemporal.
An important characteristic according to some is that God is a personal god, and he is present in all of us. This is both bolstered and contradicted by his being omnipresent if we accept a classical interpretation.
But we’ve just looked at Müller’s hypothesis and at QBism, where we accepted conscious agency in the formation of reality. In this sense, we’re creating the world and God could be said to be acting through us constantly to do so. Not only that, but because the world being created is made in accordance with our expectations, we have a certain degree of agency or free will.
Another important point: Though consensus can be arrived at, we aren’t talking about one, objective reality and so the ultimate construct is one of many realities the majority of which largely agree but some of which differ wildly. We have the agency to create our own worlds, something that is influenced by our expectations but because this is an internal factor it’s largely a part of our free thinking and free choice.
The outcomes here can be free and known. The idea suggests that we have agency but also that God knows how that agency will act, which would be expected of a personal god having intimate knowledge of us.
God then can know everything, be everywhere and at every time. He also has the power to do anything, but allows people’s wills to construct reality instead, not intervening. Natural disasters then are a result of personal expectation and God is absolved of the problem of evil. Hence, he can be omnibenevolent.
And so we arrive at a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnipresent and omnitemporal, that allows for free will but can still - without too much contradiction - know all outcomes (or all subjective worlds).
It’s just that now instead of an objective reality starting with a BIG BANG, we have a set of subjective realities starting with a BIG IDEA, where mind and consciousness precede material reality.