Mr. Novak cheerfully and tolerantly predicted that I might not follow his analysis of how free will coexists with God's omniscience and omnipotence. Alas, he was right. I feel like a primitive still trying to figure out the decimal system, when what is required is a leap into the realm of quantum physics. I do not understand how by "permitting" human choices that in his "simultaneous present" he has already willed, God passes responsibility for tragedy onto fallible humans... I understand even less how humans "choose" to become victims of natural disasters or accidents wholly outside of their control.
I am not up to the intellectual challenge that Mr. Novak presents. I take some solace, however, in the fact that after his sophisticated treatments of human time and divine timelessness, of human choice and divine permission of human choice, he returns to the principle that I have always assumed underlies the Christian concept of God: that He has absolute power over the world and could make it otherwise in an instant.
This is so horribly distorted as to be hypnotic. It is like looking through a prism where natural form is slanted and you acclimate yourself to a new shape for everything. When every word is dead wrong, it actually creates an illusion of cohesion.
Let us follow again our system of breaking the misrepresentations down into points:
1) She says she is bothered by the contradiction between God's omniscience and human free will. This is a classic question posed by philosophers: if God knows in advance what you will choose do you really have a choice? Personally I never got why that's a problem, but since Saadya Gaon (10th Century) and Maimonides (12th Century) troubled to answer it, I guess they consider it a valid question.
But for someone arguing as an atheist, a question like this is a total fraud. It is a question against a particular Jewish and Christian tenet, namely that God knows the future. What does that have to do with an atheist deciding if there is a God?
If the question bothers her, let her decide that God has no foreknowledge. That does not alter the basic structure of belief, which says there is a God who set up life as a testing ground for humans and will reward and punish their free choices.
If you can't see free choice coexisting with foreknowledge, then drop foreknowledge. How do you get from there to dropping the basic principle that your choices of right and wrong matter?
2) Take that from another angle: does she believe she has free choice or does she SENSE her choice is circumscribed? Of course she believes she has choices. That is her intuition; it forms the premise of her argument.
So if she feels she has a choice and the idea of God creates a presumption that the very choice she senses is the purpose of life, then she has no innate quarrel against theism. If anything, her intuition rebels against the idea of foreknowledge BECAUSE she feels she HAS a true power of moral choice.
But foreknowledge plays no role in the moral demands of religion on the individual. It is a theological detail that serves mainly to create confusion for believers. So why should that concern her at all?
What she ends up doing, in essence, is using a flaw in the irrelevant idea of foreknowledge to impugn the ultimately relevant issue of humans having real choices of right and wrong - and being accountable for those choices.
3) Her saying she is not sophisticated enough to figure it out - a clearly snarky bit of disingenuousness - is presented as a reason why she cannot accept God.
This a totally fraudulent argument. Can she understand the idea that a God created the world and man chooses between right and wrong? Clearly, yes. So what can't she understand? How other aspects of God comport with this scenario.
Fine, so you don't understand. Work harder at pondering. But how does your not understanding that detail relieve you of your duty to the essential task of choosing right over wrong? You have no piece of evidence undermining that construct.
4) I think it's pretty crazy to say that humans "choose" to become victims of natural disasters and if Novak really said that, I join her in disagreement.
However, there is no philosophical reason on the theist side to say that natural disaster has to be a choice. (If Christianity says such a thing, it is not to answer a philosophical need essential to the principle of belief in a God who grades us on application of free will.)
There is no reason natural disaster cannot be natural. Just as the body is designed to run out of life at some point, there can be various movements within the nature of the planet that cause death if encountered. Why is a world that has periodic avalanches harder to understand than a body made of cells that sometimes become cancerous?
5) Indeed even the word "tragedy" is a loaded word designed to obfuscate logic. That is to say, tragedy is itself a subjective construct. From a standpoint of reason, my mother's death at age thirty is no more a tragedy than her mother's death at seventy-five. The sense of tragedy is created by the expectation that people live to an age between seventy and eighty. What if all people lived to thirty? Would we sense tragedy in that? Certainly not; thirty years would become the standard unit.
Had my mother known in advance she could only live thirty years but they would include a happy marriage for eleven of them and four healthy children, would she have refused that life? Hardly: she had a wonderful, though abbreviated, life.
In fact, her soul might have known before birth and made that choice; what do we know about such things? The point is that the tragedy is only relative to an erroneous hope we had that hers would be a seventy-five year life. God does not need to pass the blame for her foreshortened life onto anybody. He reserves the right to deliver a thirty-year life to the world. Would we prefer she was not born?
How does death at thirty militate against a Creator more than death at seventy?
6) She wriggles like an eel to get to the juicy premise she hopes to demolish. "That He has absolute power over the world and could make it otherwise in an instant." This sets up the potential for all sorts of complaints.
But this itself is not really true. Well, it is true, but not in a sense that has any reality. Technically, He can. But for all practical purposes He can't.
Let me explain. If GM makes a certain car model, it confirms two preexisting decisions. One, to make cars as a business. Two, to make this car as a model. Can they stop it? Yes, if they eliminate a well-thought-out product, essentially vetoing a prior decision. Or by shutting their business down completely, vetoing the entire business concept. If you come with a complaint about the windshield wipers, should they junk the car model? No, they should fix the wipers.
God already decided to make a world, and He decided to make it with earthquakes and hurricanes built into the design structure. Is that negotiable? Definitely not. If every believer on the planet prayed simultaneously for earthquakes to disappear forever, no rational religion would expect that prayer to be considered. God CAN'T do that because He won't. That decision has been made and built in; it is beyond the purview of 'possible' change short of shutting down the whole world.
Any idea of changes in policy effected through human behavior or through prayer must be limited to details outside the basic formula of the world's existence. It might be possible to pray the earthquake should occur only when so-and-so is out of town, for example.