Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Existence = Freedom? Discuss.

Every Christmas in the UK we have a highly publicised competition for the Christmas Number One (equivalent to the Billboard Number One). The winners have traditionally been saccharine but perfectly pleasant. Then a couple of years ago along came Simon Cowell and his tedious creation 'The X-Factor', which has changed British music into a vacuous talent contest, the final of which coincides with the Christmas charts. The unwritten rule was that to win 'The X-Factor' you would be assured the Christmas number one. That changed in 2009.

A Facebook group was established which recruited hundreds of thousands of people to buy ‘Killing in the Name’ by Rage Against The Machine. It was designed as a protest against the manner in which the marketing men actually ruled the charts and who better to carry that message than RATM? The movement was branded as cynical and pathetic by Cowell, who egocentrically viewed it as an attack on himself and appealed to the nation’s heartstrings that to be Christmas number one had been his stable boy’s dream forever and a day. RATM won and it was declared a massive triumph for freedom – a great moral victory had been won against the man. Then it turns out the real winner was Sony Music who own both artists which made me wonder what is freedom? Does it exist?

Clearly I won’t answer this question given the Copenhagan’s protestor’s nightmare that is the great swathes of trees culled for the answer but some thoughts have entered my head recently. Neuroscience is rapidly approaching the deterministic conclusion-du-jour that that there is no such thing as free will or choice. Our neurophysiological mechanisms determine our actions and behaviours in a long causal chain of which we have no control. Now this is a very broad stroke and I hope to be able to get into this subject a bit more in the future, but the triumphal harrumph from some parts of neuroscience is “Forget freedom. There is no such thing.”

Logically this does make sense: freedom as we know it is limited and therefore no freedom at all – please stay with me on this one! The issue these statements raise is that of ontological freedom – what does it mean to be an entirely free being, absent from any constraint? We are part of creation, yet we are limited by it. We cannot perform any action we choose as we are limited by the laws of nature. Think about it on the most fundamental level: we did not choose to be, that decision was made for us! Even the very nature of creation is limited: it relied on something outside of itself for its existence. Now this is not an appeal to God, this is fact. Dennett speaks of how the universe existed in a half-existent-half-not state prior to the big bang ignoring the fact that matter either exists or does not (from 'Breaking the Spell' quoted from 'The Future of Atheism' page 75); cosmologists offer multiverse’s and never-ending sequences of expansion and contraction. Either way the universe does not seem to exist as an ontologically free substance and because of this it imputes its rules to us we therefore are not free either.

Ontological freedom requires therefore a being that exists outside creation, one who is free from contingency. God is such a being. He exists eternally and entirely free, choosing to create or to not. He is not limited by nature and demonstrates true freedom in His love: His love gives rise to Creation and of course mercy through Christ. True ontological freedom may therefore be found in God’s love – through Christ – which we may share. The interesting practical point that comes from this is that to love other Christians as God and Christ do is to transcend nature itself. So perhaps existence does not equal freedom, but God and His love does: freedom from our created selves and the sin that brings. Ever see Christian brothers and sisters as key to our ontological freedom? Nor did I.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall . . ." Didn't we already know this? I love it when we think really hard for a long time only to realize what God told us so long ago.