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Monday, April 15, 2013

Does God have Free Will? Veṅkaṭanātha's answer

Can God have free will? If He has free will, then He is above everything, including the cosmic dharma, and the Vedas, which he might have chosen to be different than they are, and this patently contradicts the Mīmāṃsā standpoint. If not, than He is not a personal God, but rather the incarnation of Order (dharma), and this patently contradicts the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta standpoint. How can Veṅkaṭanātha, the eminent Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedāntin who wrote also Mīmāṃsā works, find a way out of this impasse?

Larry McCrea will hold a lecture on this fascinating topic in June in Vienna:

Larry McCrea
Does God Have Free Will?
Hermeneutics and Theology in the work of Vedāntadeśika
When: Fr., 14. Juni, 15 Uhr
Where: Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde (ISTB), Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2, Eingang 2.7, 1090 Wien
Organisation: Elisa Freschi, Marion Rastelli, Marcus Schmücker (IKGA)
Cooperation: ISTB, Universiät Wien

An abstract of the lecture can be read here.

Larry McCrea is Associate Professor of Sanskrit Studies at Cornell University. He received his Ph.D. in South Asian Languages & Civilizations in 1998 from the University of Chicago, and his BA in 1989 from Cornell University and he is among the world's major experts of the Indian scriptural hermeneutics (Mīmāṃsā), especially of its hermeneutical approach. Among his most recent book projects, The Teleology of Poetics in Medieval Kashmir, Harvard Oriental Series (Spring 2009), deals with the conceptual revolution in Sanskrit poetic theory brought about by the work of the ninth century Kashmiri Ānandavardhana. McCrea argues that the most crucial innovation Ānandavardhana introduced in the field of poetics was his application to literary analysis of a teleological approach to text interpretation imported from the discipline of Mīmāṃsā.

What do you think? Can God have free will?

For further posts on Vedānta Deśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā, see this one and this one (in Sanskrit).



Jayarava said...

No doubt the ancient arguments are ingenious and of some historical interest. But in answer to your question, God would have to exist before he or she could have freewill. So the question is like Russell's statement that "the present king of France is bald."

elisa freschi said...

Well, not many people believe that France is presently a monarchy and even for the ones who do, this fact has no impact at all. By contrast, theism is an evergreen philosophical topic, one which human beings seem not able (understood in a neutral way) to get rid of. Thinking that one can wipe Him/Her away is either nonsensical (so Kant) or arrogant or at least deemed to failure. I prefer to take the problem seriously and deal with its consequences.
This clarification has nothing to do with your personal choices (you are probably among the few for whom God is actually a non existing entity, like a unicorn) and is only aimed at explaining why it makes sense to dedicate time and energy to theistic problems.

Jayarava said...

Your question was "What do you think? Can God have free will?".

However point taken.

On the other hand in the census for England of 2011 "No Religion" was 24% of the population (up from 14% in 2001) making it the second largest group after "Christian" @ 59%.

So the few that I am amongst make up a quarter of my neighbours and are the fastest growing "religious" group where I live. Theism is clearly in decline at the same time - Christianity was 71% in 2001.

The figures are different in other places I realise.

अश्वमित्रः said...

[On the other hand in the census for England of 2011 "No Religion" was 24% of the population]

I believe in god but I have no religion. The terms need to be defined more clearly, as in the case of another survey conducted in England that I read about, which showed that a really thrilling proportion of the population considered itself to be vegetarian, and at the same time that a really depressing proportion of the population thought that vegetarians also eat fish, chicken, pigs, and so on.

elisa freschi said...

I agree with Aśvamitra, on the unreliability of censuses in many cases (because of sheer epistemological reasons: the ones who ask the question might or might not be āpta and those who answer them are mostly anāpta). Plus, censuses about religion tend to incorporate wishful thinking about oneself rather than the truth.
Consequently, Jayarava, I am not sure whether "no religion" really corresponds to what you implicitly claim it corresponds to here, i.e., "no God". For instance, you say that you are "among" the "no religion" ones, although you do have a religion (with no creator god, but this is a different problem). Similarly, I suspect that many people with "no religion" could not really wipe god and/or the supernatural away of their lives and thoughts and just do not recognise themselves in any established church/in any existing religion. That they eliminated the question about god + the connected (at least in the West) questions about afterlife/retribution/justice/soul… is something I am less convinced of. Are you?

Jayarava said...

Again points taken. And yes, I got a little carried away in my solidarity with atheists. I still call myself a Buddhist for the time being.

Why not ask god himself? I call god to the witness box to give testimony. Will he please respond to Elisa's question? I await his answer with interest. Only 700 years since Vedāntadeśika asked his (still undecided) question. How long will I have to wait?

elisa freschi said...

As it already happened on this blog (and in common life), I cannot resist the temptation to defend the view which is currently being (intelligently) attacked. I am making this premiss explicit because what I am going to write is not necessarily what I would have said in another debate:

It seems to me that you are assuming that "God" is an entity just like any other. I wonder whether this is the only possible approach. You might have read that I suggested several times that Veṅkaṭanātha's theism should be read as presupposing a non-substantial God.
Furthermore, I wonder whether S/He has not already answered billions of time to whomsoever was willing to listen.

Jayarava said...

It's funny when being the devil's advocate means arguing for the existence of God, even if god is not an entity or substantial.

Don't forget that my assumption is that there is no god. If I don't play the game of "pretend god exists" very well, I might be forgiven.

700 years later (or more like 7000!) we still have no way to resolve this question. We cannot agree even on a basis on which to have the discussion; nor what the central terms mean; nor what information or evidence is relevant to the discussion; nor by what criteria we might make a judgement about it.

I rest my case.

Jayarava said...

Btw you might be interested in this paper that just popped up on my radar

Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory.

The abstract begins: "Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought."

A shorter review article in Wired Mag.

elisa freschi said...

Jayarava, you are right, I felt like playing the devil's advocate while arguing for the existence for god. In fact, theistic beliefs are not common in the academia and, although they are quite common outside it, they tend to be equated with fundamentalistic attitudes. It is as if being "Buddhist" only meant reciting "nam myoho renge kyo" in order to obtain a career advancement…

More seriously, we are back to a discussion we (+Aśvamitra) have been having many times in the past. As you might remember, I tend to think that there are different levels of explanations (different frameworks) and that it does not make sense to ask a question relevant to the one while being in the other. In other words, I feel no sympathy for the fundamentalists claiming that "God created the world in seven days" is a statement relevant for natural-scientific purposes, like the ones by N. Bohr (for instance). Same for "God exists", which I would not test in the same way I would test the existence of proteins in seitan.

As for your second comment…another topic we have been disagreeing about again and again. I see your point re. the fact that reasoning is often an a posteriori activity aiming at justifying what we had decided already. This does not mean, however, that we have an epistemic duty to be aware of this mechanism and to try to think as independently as possible.

Anonymous said...

Hi Elisa,

I just stumbled back on your little blog!

Some musings on this conversation. . .

I recently demanded that President Obama appear before me and defend his use of drone strikes. For some reason, he didn't show up (I am an important guy, after all and deserve a response). He must not exist.

As an aside, our little book, including your excellent article, is in copy editing. . . .

elisa freschi said...

But could not one easily object that everyone is important in the eyes of God?
(You see, I cannot resist playing the devil's advocate's role…)

Unknown said...

Well played!

In any case, this little shloka was on my mind:

samo 'ham sarva-bhutesu
na me dvesyo 'sti na priyah
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya
mayi te tesu capy aham

There are, after all, qualifications to hear and see which are put forth in the theistic traditions.

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