Consider this scenario, if you will. An alcoholic is in court owing to a drunken rampage he went on where he threw a dustbin into the window of a local store, smashing the window and injuring a young lady who was restocking the shelves near the window at the time. The young lady wishes to press charges, but the man is denying responsibility.
You might naturally wonder, how can this man deny responsibility for his actions? Well, let us explore a possible line of defence. The man (let’s call him Tony) has been an alcoholic for many years and has been in and out of rehab, has attended counselling and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but has been unable to break the habit.
Additionally, Tony’s father was an alcoholic, and his grandfather on his father’s side too. The defence, which Tony and his lawyer are arguing, is that he is not responsible for the alcoholism which led to the incident involving the young lady in the store. His defence rests upon some evidence that was presented showing that there is a gene in Tony’s DNA that is linked to alcoholism.
The question at the heart of the matter is obvious: To what extent are we responsible for our actions, and to what extent are our actions determined by prior events or our genetic makeup? And I want to add another, perhaps less commonly discussed but crucial question to our discussion: What is God’s role in all of this and how does that affect the debate?
The idea of determinism, which is popular in modern science, leads us to sympathise with Tony and conclude that his drunken actions are the result not of his own free will, but of a tendency which he inherited. This leads us into murky waters, as responsibility can’t then be placed on Tony’s father or grandfather for the same reasons; they all simply inherited the troublesome gene. It is difficult, then, to apportion blame to anyone.
Many people would argue that determinism and free will are compatible and are both important components which contribute to our behaviour. But anyone who wrestles with where exactly we should draw the line between the two would have to acknowledge that it is a highly problematic task. Judges and jurys in court rooms naturally have to mull over such dilemmas all the time, and I can imagine decisions of this nature must be agonising as the arguments can be compelling from both sides.
In a similar vein, theologians argue about the distinction between God’s will and human free will. This is the same problem, and raises the same questions, only it is framed slightly differently: Where does God’s responsibility end and human free will begin?
In my latest book, entitled Ultimate Truth: God Beyond Religion, I present arguments to the effect that God is in control of everything that happens in existence. I suggest that God is omnipresent, which means that nothing exists outside of Him (or put another way, God is all there is). Following this line of argument, we would have to say that God is in control of all activity in existence, including all human action, whether we would consider that action to be ‘good’ or ‘evil’. The Bible contains ample evidence that this is true of God, as I discussed in a recent article on this blog.
Returning to our discussion of Tony the alcoholic, might we then say that because God was in control of his thoughts, words, and actions on the night of his drunken rampage he is off the hook and not liable? If God is always in control, can we ever really hold someone responsible for crimes they are supposed to have committed?
These critical moral and theological questions get to the heart of my own philosophy, as presented on this blog and in my books. Rather than elaborating in depth here on what I have expounded elsewhere, I will instead link to a few articles, so that if you are at all interested you will be able to better understand my perspective on the issue of divine omnipotence versus human free will, and how that relates to moral discussion:
If you would be interested in a more thorough exposition of my thought in relation to God and morality please check out my books which are available via Amazon worldwide and most major book retailers in the UK. If you can’t afford to buy one of my books, drop me a line via the contact page and I would be happy to send you a copy free of charge.
Is Tony responsible? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below…