God, the Doctor, and Free Will

God, the Doctor, and Free Will October 13, 2014

The blog Whovian Theology takes the Doctor Who episode “Kill the Moon” as a jumping off point for critiquing the widely-held view of God as one who doesn’t intervene to right the wrongs in our world, even though God could, in order to make room for our free will.

One could easily substitute “Jesus” for “Doctor” in Clara’s speech, and find how clearly the point comes across.

Clara's speech

And for a related theme in a comic book which is now becoming a focus of a TV show (HT Fred Clark):



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  • A good post at Whovian Theology for which I am in complete agreement. There is no sense to a free will explanation of humanity’s suffering. A God who is all-powerful and all-knowing, yet fails to step-in to relieve suffering is a monstrous concept. Even if (for some unfathomable reason) such a God felt it necessary to allow human evils, what of all the suffering that results from nature and not human evil – disease, disorder, natural disaster?

    I’ll be interested to see the post in which he explains differing conceptions of God.

    • John MacDonald

      If there was a loving, caring, personal God who watched over us and had a plan for our life, there wouldn’t be 3 year old children in cancer wards. That isn’t love. Dr. Bart Ehrman is quite correct that the problem of suffering is a powerful argument against the notion of a loving God.

      • Yes, Ehrman has stated that it is the classic problem of evil that led to his deconversion, rather than his historical NT research. Of course, not all Christians subscribe to the “free will” answer to the problem of evil, so I’m interested to see where the Whovian Theology blog goes next.

  • Shared to http://www.facebook.com/PeterCapaldi Doctor Who Fan Club.

    • Thanks!

      • No problem. I made comments before this Season even aired about Peter’s Catholic background and how it might negatively influence the show. A small number of rabied Christians attacked me ofcourse. That’s the nature of brain dead religious types. I said that my only concern with Peter was his religion as he’s an exceptional actor. Steven Moffat is to blame ofcourse. He’s an atheist but likes controversial topics. I stopped watching after episode two. All the constant references to heaven, dalek souls and other crap have turned me away from my favourite show. I’m just hoping the plummeting ratings get Moffat sacked before Season 9. He is scientifically illiterate. Doesn’t even know that parallel universes and timelines are the same thing. Hopefully he’ll take his wibbly wobbly level of knowledge with him when he does finally clear off. Scientists make the best science fiction writers. Even kids can see through all the myriad plotholes in Moffats paradox infested stories. Paradoxes are only abstract concepts for explaining why time travel in the classical sense is impossible. Somebody should explain to Moffat what the Multiverse Theories are. Clearly he has never heard of them.

  • Bethany

    Though I notice that when people talk about how God needs to override free will and step in to force people to do or not do something (presumably with some sort of mind control) it’s generally OTHER people the writer/speaker thinks need to be mind controlled. Rapists, murders, Hitler. You know, those other people, people NOT us.

    But of course murder isn’t the only harmful thing people do and not murdering people isn’t the only thing God wants from us. When I walk past a homeless person and don’t give them money, should God take over my mind and body and force me do so? When I go to buy food or an iPod or other products that were made by people in sometimes quite poor working conditions, conditions of which God certainly does not approve, should God put the mind-control whammy on me to stop me? If I’m about to say something hurtful in an argument, should God step in and control what I say?

    How confident are we that a mind-control interventionist God would draw the line for mind-control intervention at exactly the point we personally would like to see it drawn at? And at what level and frequency mind-control by God do I cease to be an actual autonomous being and become essentially a not-as-buxom-or-skinny Barbie doll being played with by God?

    (I read the article but have never seen Dr. Who so maybe I’m confused… it sounded like the woman was upset because Dr. Who withheld important relevant information from her, not because she had wanted Dr. Who to step in and to mind-control her into making the correct decision. Whatever one thinks of the information God (assuming there is a God) has made available, it’s certainly not the case that the main reason people murder each other is that God neglected to mention that we’re not supposed to.)

    (The child-parent or bystander analogy seems weird. I think a better analogy would be if we all had mind control devices implanted that some authority figure could use to take over our minds whenever they felt we were behaving inappropriately… which frankly to me seems quite creepy and not at ALL a good idea, but then that’s also how I feel about the idea of us all being mind-controled by God. Obviously, this is something mileage varies greatly on.)

    • There are two problems with your mind control argument.

      The first is that most suffering is not the result of evil human choices; it is the result of natural processes such as disease, disorder, and disaster. An omniscient, benevolent God could step in to relieve most suffering without the need for any mind control whatsoever.

      The second is that you are presenting mind control as an all or nothing proposition. If mind control were required to relieve suffering, there would certainly be gray areas in which human control would go too far, but does that make mind control the wrong option in ALL cases of human-caused suffering. I certainly would not be averse to a God who momentarily takes over the mind of a suicide bomber.

      But really, why does it have to be mind control even in the cases of human-caused suffering? Why can’t an all-powerful God simply remove the ability of a human to commit evil for a moment: diffuse the bomb, empty the gun, weaken the abuser. Surely, an omniscient, benevolent God could make well-informed choices that protect, while still preserving free will. This God could even allow just enough harm to educate humans about avoiding harm themselves – while still shielding us from the most atrocious suffering.

      You called the parent analogy “weird”. Your mind control devices are far, far weirder! Parents don’t use mind control when they remove the scissors from the hands of a rambunctious child. Why would God have to use mind control? Are you suggesting that an all-powerful God is incapable of affecting the world in any way other than mind control? That he wouldn’t even have the simple, physical power that human parents have?

      • Bethany

        I’m not pretending to be presenting a foolproof theodicy. :shrug:

        Why mind control? Because it seems like the only interventionist technique that doesn’t obviously require altering the laws of physics. (It still MIGHT require altering the laws of physics, but it seems to me any other technique clearly does.)

        Emptying the bullets from a gun, for example seems like it would require temporarily and locally overriding E=MC^2, one of the fundamental laws of the universe. As I’m not a physicist it’s not clear to me what the other ramifications of that would be and thus whether it’s actually a good idea or whether it would simply create far worse problems than it solves. The same with non-human causes of suffering: preventing someone from falling to their death would presumably require temporarily and locally overriding gravity. Again, it’s not clear to me that would actually be a good idea even if possible — gravity is actually pretty important, you know?

        I guess basically I *do* think that God doesn’t have the simple physical power to intervention that human parents have, because the physical intervention of human parents doesn’t require a violation or alteration of the fundamental laws of the universe, whereas the physical intervention of God would. I don’t actually see that a limitation on the powers of God so much as a on the nature of the universe: everything we know about the universe suggests that the universe doesn’t work that way. (The admittedly not-necessarily perfect analogy I usually use is asking whether God could make a human being that thought, saw, tasted, spoke, and was in every other way exactly like a normal human except that they had no head. Personally, I think no, again, not because of any sort of fact about God, but because of facts about humans: we’re the sort of being that requires heads.)

        • Mind control isn’t an alteration of physical laws? Neurons in the brain function according to the same fundamental physical laws as every other part of the universe. We see this effect when brain damage changes a person’s personality in fundamental ways (as it did in my uncle).

          I didn’t expect a full theodicy. I just don’t see how “mind control” even begins to answer the problem of evil. If God cannot act on the universe in any way that alters the fundamental laws of the universe, then there are only two alternatives:

          God is a part of the universe, like a human, in which case he could act on the universe in the same way that humans do (granted, that would be a very finite God).

          God is not a part of the universe, and does not interact with it, in which case, what’s the difference between a universe with God and a universe without God.

          Most religions posit a God that does interact with the universe by way of miracles, which do circumvent the laws of physics. You may not subscribe to the miracle stories of the Old and New Testament, but mind control is not an alternative to miracles. The brain is just as physical as the rest of the universe.

          • Bethany

            This is why I said mind control seems like the one way God could impact things for which it isn’t totally clear it would violate the laws of the Universe (I should add, as we currently understand them) because there are aspects of thought that aren’t explicable given our current understanding of the Universe (by which I mean not that we don’t currently have the solution, but that it’s not at all clear how it’s even possible it could be explained at all or what the solution would look like — the so-called Hard Problem).

            Certainly it’s entirely possible that mind control isn’t possible given the laws of physics either, but if there were one place where intervention could or would happen, I think that would be it.

          • So, no miracles in your worldview? (water into wine, loaves and fishes, healings, resurrections, etc.)

          • Bethany

            In terms of things like water into wine, etc., no. I am inclined to believe that people can have perceptual experiences of God, the sacred, or whatever you want to call it. So it seems like there’s a potential source of influence (falling well short of something like “mind control”) in that way).

          • Well, even though I can’t bring myself to be a liberal Christian (the claims about the divine just seem vague and unconvincing to me) I do appreciate and share many of the social aims of liberal Christianity.

        • One more problem.

          As I’ve said, I don’t see any difference between mind control and brain control, which is a physical part of the universe.

          However, even if I were to grant that God could affect us through mind control without altering the physical laws of the universe, (you’ve already said you don’t think God has the power to alter physical laws), then you are left with a God whose only interaction with the universe is through mind control. And you’ve already said that you consider mind control “creepy”.

          If you believe that God doesn’t have the power to intervene with the universe in ways that alter physical laws, and if you believe that God intervening through mind control is creepy, then you are left with a God who doesn’t intervene in the universe at all. And that brings me back to the question. What’s the difference between a God that doesn’t interact with the universe, and no God?

          • Bethany

            As I said, I don’t claim to be the one human in all existence who has solved theodicy. I’m saying what I believe, not saying that’s what everyone should believe.

            I will say, though, that I don’t agree with the latter argument… that if something isn’t intervening in day-to-day human life in ways that appear to violate the laws of physics, it may as well not exist. For example, one theological view of God is as the ground of all being: that God sustains the ongoing existence of the universe, meaning that without God there would be no universe. In that case God vs. No God certainly does make a difference even if God can’t in fact vaporize bullets from inside the barrel of a gun because that’s not how the universe works.

          • Yes, I’m wondering if the Paul Tillich, “ground of all being” approach, is where the Whovian Theology blog is going next. I’ve been trying to read some Tillich lately, but I can’t say that it is any clearer to me what a “ground of all being” is supposed to be; I am trying to honestly read and understand Tillich, but so far, it just seems to be that he tosses out a lot of vaguely defined terms and concepts. If God is simply “that which sustains the universe” and there is no other perceivable effect on the universe than the sustaining of it’s “being”, why not just package it all together, the universe and it’s “ground of being” (whatever that is), and call it the universe.

          • Bethany

            Well, galaxies and stars and people and ants are all part of the same universe but we call them different things. You could call the universe+God the “universe” but in that case I think you’d mean something different than what science means by the universe.

          • I could only concede that point if I knew what the heck a “ground of all being” is, and how it could be separate from the universe.