Posts Tagged 'The Way'

Chuang Tzu, Quantum Physics, and Predestination: a mash-up

I read a lot, and broadly… I find that I am interested in almost everything that’s in print, and I read as one under compulsion. That by itself might not be a problem, but my mind starts to see connections between disparate topics where they might not actually exist. Be warned: this post is about one such “connection”…

Point 1 – Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher from the fourth century BCE, wrote about the intersection of the “I” and the “Not-I”:

There is nothing that cannot be seen from the standpoint of the “Not-I”. And there is nothing which cannot be seen form the standpoint of the “I”. If I begin by looking at anything from the viewpoint of the “Not-I”, then I do not really see it, since it is “not I” that sees it. If I begin from where I am and see  it as I see it, then it may also become possible for me to see it as another sees it. Hence the theory of reversal that opposites produce each other, depend on each other, and complement each other. (The Way of Chuang Tzu, pg 42)

Point 2 – Wigner’s Friend thought experiment, an expansion of the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment from quantum physics. This explanation of the Wigner’s Friend experiment is from David Saltzberg, writer of the Big Blog Theory:

Wigner’s Friend is a  gedankenexperiment proposed by the great physicist Eugene Wigner to explore the roles of consciousness in the quantum measurement problem.  It can be discussed as an added layer to the Schroedinger’s cat experiment.  Suppose Wigner leaves the room with the cat of unknown status  in the box while his friend looks in the box.  Typical theorist, he exits the room leaving the dirty work of cleaning up dead cats to an experimentalist friend.  He asks to be told about the experimental results later.   If it is Wigner’s friend’s consciousness that forces the cat to be 100% alive or 100% dead, then even for Wigner, who is out of the room and does not know the result, suddenly lives in a world where the outcome is 100% determined.

Point 3 – Predestination, the concept that God knows (and has in some fashion determined) the future:

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions. (Westminster Confession of Faith, III, 1-2)

From Point 1, I gain the insight that I recognize that can be two simultaneous points of view that are mutually exclusive and yet both are viewpoints of the same truth. From Point 2, I gain the insight that a deterministic state does not necessarily depend upon one’s own observation. From Point 3, I gain the insight that God does not determine the actual outcome of choices made within the scope of free will, although God knows the results of those choices before we (who make the choices) know their outcome.

How is this a mash up? Because when I consider these three concepts from disparate sources, I gain a different insight about how God’s foreknowledge and my free will intersect. I understand that even though those two concepts seem to be diametrically opposed, they in fact inform and define each other. I am not God; I do not have the ability to see as God sees, to know as God knows at the level at which God possesses knowledge. God is truly “Not-I”, to use the term of Chuang Tzu.

I also understand, using the Wigner’s Friend thought experiment, that my observation of the events which happen in my own life determine their status; when I make a choice of A over B, then A becomes true for me, and B does not. The Lord, however, is like Wigner: God is “out of the room”, so to speak, and is not influencing my ability to choose either A or B. God knows the outcome of my choice, but does not cause it in any way.

This helps me grasp how the Infinite Sovereign Creator of the Universe interacts with me, a created part of that universe. God knows my name; God knows my choices; God desires what is Good for me, but does not force that Goodness upon me (which would render it Evil – more Chuang Tzu, I’m afraid). This means that if there is any Goodness in me, that it is a reflection of God’s own character; “to the praise of His glorious grace”. In my mind, the goodness that may be manifested in my life is like a quantum reflection of God’s goodness; I am merely trying to live my life in connection with God.

Sola Dei Gloria!

The “Way”

For many years, I’ve self-identified with “Follower of the Way” instead of “Christian” in regards to my spiritual walk. I recognize that “Christian” means “little Christ”, and I know that there are days when I am so UNlike Christ that I wouldn’t want to bring same to His name.

So… when I stumbled upon Acts 24:14: “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets…” (ESV), I thought I’d found a very good descriptor of my spiritual life.

Imagine my interest when I ran across a book called “The Way of Chuang Tzu” by Thomas Merton. (Click here for the Amazon link). I picked it up at Half Price books for about a buck, and it’s been one of the best dollars I’ve spent in a long time.

Let me give you a quote from the introduction:

For Chuang Tzu, the truly great man is therefore not the man who has, by a lifetime of study and practice, accumulated a great fund of virtue and merit, but the man in whom “Tao acts without impediment,” the “man of Tao.” (p. 25)

As a follower of the Way of Jesus, I read this introduction with a profound sense of “aha… here is truth!” For Chuang Tzu describes the Tao, a Chinese concept of “Way” as having two aspects: “that which cannot be named” –  the Eternal Tao; and “the Tao’ that can be named’, which is the ‘Mother of all things’.” (p. 20-21) This is strikingly similar to the Biblical concept of God the Father being the source of all that is created, and Christ being the agent through which all things were created.

I found that I could not get away from imposing my understanding of God-as-Ultimate-Creator in my reading, every time the word “Tao” was used.With that in my mind, the quote took on a whole new meaning:

The truly great person is therefore not the one who has, by a lifetime of study and practice, accumulated a great fund of virture and merit, but the one in whom “God acts without impediment,” the “person of God.” (my variant)

What was driven home to me this morning was not that I need to be righteous for righteousness sake; and not that I needed to be righteous because it would make God happy; rather, that through my connection with God, the Lord’s righteousness would come to be IN me. This is a different thought about my walk with Christ than I’ve had before.

I will be interested to see how Chuang Tzu’s “Way” will interact with the “Way” described in Scripture. I’ll post more insights as I have them.

Blessings! KFJ – Ed

Pastor Ed Backell

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