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…
7 responses to “Tony the Alcoholic (a case study)”
Thank you for an interesting and thought-provoking post.
Believers in God who are closed-minded about His nature and activity often avoid the conundrums prevailing wherever you look and really see by stating that God has a higher purpose of which we mortals are unaware. I’m not advocating, as Satan is said to have, that we can be “as gods”, an interesting pluralism from Genesis. However, it seems to me that more than any other species on this earth, He probably gave us a greater sense of self-awareness, intelligence, need to socialise with each other, ability to empathise, to feel pain – well-being – ecstasy, curiosity, creativity (e.g.music and art), ability to reason, critical faculty, ability to grow in knowledge of the natural world. If these are illusions, I’m happy to be a part of it.
I’m always fascinated when people change their minds and choose different paths. I’ve done it myself, but I’ve read enough to know that people who present more elaborate arguments to persuade others, are not more likely to be right than those who present simpler arguments. This was explained very well in a book, “How real is real?” An experiment was conducted whereby two groups of people without significant medical knowledge were given a slide show of a wide variety of medical conditions as part of a learning exercise. Group A were given true feedback when they selected answers to questions – they were marked correctly as they learned to recognise different medical conditions. Group B were advised they got it ‘right’ if their answers agreed with those of Group A, even if their answers were wrong. Conversely, they were marked ‘wrong’ if their answers differed with those of Group A, even if they actually got it right and Group A were wrong. When they were allowed to meet and discuss what they had learned, those from Group B were able to persuade those from Group A with more eloquent reasoning how they were able to assess the conditions in the slide show and were convinced they hadn’t learned so well as those from Group B. I don’t think God was playing this game with Himself.
I think the problem with the nature of God is that we have defined Him by assigning qualities He may not have or choose to exercise, absolutely: omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, Goodness and Love. The evidence isn’t there to support this way of describing or defining Him. It is possible that the Cosmic Creator of everything that exists knows all the past and present, but chooses to allow us to improvise rather than follow paths He already knows in advance. God can choose to do this even if He has the capacity to know time and space in totality – to posit that He must always be aware of time and space at all times, is to limit His freedom to choose! As we, all creatures and everything in the universe are likely to be within Him, He can be aware, simultaneously, of everything that happens within Him.
I believe that we are configured to be good and true freedom is behaving according to our innate nature. The story of mankind has unfolded in a way that greed and wealth are the driving forces of those who act like God and control the rest of us, deciding who our world leaders will be and what wars to wage so they can maintain a world system that corrupts us and tempts us to travel paths against our innately good natures, and to make decisions that we regret. This is how I see that our freedom has been breached.
This is a general view, since as you’ve said, ‘Tony’ may have inherited a gene, or through learned behaviour, was made very likely to become an alcoholic. We know that genetic mutations occur because geneticists have found this. We also know that parents who have been abused as children are likely to abuse their own children, so we are not as free as fundamentalists would like us to believe – we are profoundly affected by conditioning.
I realise that my views are not mainstream and I’m not trying to persuade anyone to agree with them.
Peace and love to all,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think that all our experiences as humans are valid and important (they are all part of God’s plan). So I never mean to belittle the experiences of people when I describe certain modes of thought as ‘illusion’. They are only illusory when viewed in the light of what I believe to be ultimately true (that we are all part of God and God is animating us).
Peace and blessings back to you brother!
You state above that God is all there is. Why not just accept this fact and be done with the rest? If you accept this fact, then that also means that what you now consider to be ‘you’, is also God (albeit, unrealised). Learning to realise this as an experienced fact in ‘your’ consciousness, then, is surely the meaning of Responsibility? Such realisation of course brings about a burning of the ego consciousness to ashes. Hence, to go back to our recent discussion, illusion is realised to be non existent, i.e. God is all there is.
Hi Gregg! My belief that all is God raises a lot of questions, and I love to explore those questions. Most people I chat to believe we have free will so it’s important to be able to discuss that in relation to my own beliefs. So I have to find appropriate language to do so. I find the term ‘illusion’ conveys something important about the ‘veiled’ mode of mind that we all experience at times when we are not aware of the God behind our thoughts, words, and actions.
We all function as individuals with our different experiences and spiritual journeys. To just say ‘All is God’ and nothing else would ignore the very real experiences and perspectives of my fellow humans, with whom I love to debate and discuss.
Yes, but to train the child of God to see all as God is to transform the human condition into a divine one.
Yes Gregg, and we shall all feel divine when we are eventually united into His consciousness, as I believe, is His plan for us. All of us shall lose our egos then.
Peace and love to all,
Hi Steven. Do you follow a moral code? If so, why?