Well, I’ve been asking that question on BioLogos for nearly 2 years now, and did so again on this recent thread. For the very first time I actually got a reply – even a serious one – from beaglelady, who quoted me a parish newsletter of John Polkinghorne’s in which he cited a sort of free will defence regarding tsunamis: they are the necessary result of regular natural laws, and such interacting laws are (in a manner not explained) necessary for human freedom.
Unfortunately, of course, the issue in question is not human freedom, but the freedom of nature. Another quote from Polkinghorne on Wikipedia shows that he, like other TEs, has more in mind than just human free will:
I have added to it the free-process defence, that a world allowed to make itself is better than a puppet theatre with a Cosmic Tyrant.
Familiar rhetoric, then – but I asked beaglelady (and anyone else around) in response exactly what that word “free” means, or in other words how is it possible to tyrannise puppets, or to free them – granted that they haven’t, like Pinocchio, been magically granted boyhood? But so far … well, if you’ve followed this blog you would be amazed if I had received any coherent answer, wouldn’t you? In fact I have received none at all, though Ted Davis has replied to other points.
In fact, Polkinghorne’s analogy is decidedly odd because it is not an analogy at all: if for God to direct lumps of wood to evolve into, say, the magnolia is to act as Cosmic Tyrant over a puppet theatre, why is it not equally immoral for a human to direct more lumps of wood – a literal puppet theatre – to walk and dance? If designing creation is wrong, then so are Wallace and Grommit. And if Thunderbirds are Go, then God is surely just as good to order creation as he wishes.
But all those guys at BioLogos must mean something by freedom: it’s the word always used, so it can’t simply be a metaphor, or else they’d have said what it stands for. And they’re real scientists and theologians – so it couldn’t be just a meaningless buzzword … could it? In the absence of a helpful explanation I’ve concluded I’ll have to look for the alternatives myself, by recourse to the Oxford Dictionary’s definitions of freedom. I’ve reproduced all the definitions there verbatim, but have replaced their examples with those more suited to the subject at hand (in italics). Have a look and tell me which makes most sense to you in considering “the freedom of nature to create itself in its own way and in its own time”; that is to say, free (remember) from a coercive and tyrannical God.
Definition of freedom
1 the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants:
Nature wants passionately to act with freedom from God.
The exact nature of the freedoms rocks enjoy is a divine mystery.
- absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government:
Creation has gained freedom from the despotic government of God its Creator.
- the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity:
Life has complete freedom from chance or necessity, but determines the outcomes of evolution by its own will.
2 the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved:
The universe blasted its way to freedom in the Big Bang.
- the state of being unrestricted and able to move easily:
The cosmos has roomy black holes for freedom of movement.
- unrestricted use of something:
Molecules have the complete freedom of the universe until God gets back.
3 (freedom from) the state of not being subject to or affected by (something undesirable):
God’s self-giving policies achieve freedom from design for all.
4 (the freedom of —) British a special privilege or right of access, especially that of full citizenship of a city granted to a public figure as an honour:
The stellar disk accepted gratefully the Freedom of the City of God.
5 archaic familiarity or openness in speech or behaviour:
I say, that evolution’s a bit free with the old egregious errors, eh?
I have to say I’m a little disappointed that none of these definitions seems to make any sense whatsoever of what TEs promote so universally. In the past I’ve wondered if TE’s “freedom” might just be a fancy (and emotionally loaded) word for “randomness”. But I see that the dictionary makes no connection between those two concepts at all. Ah well, it’s back to asking the folks at BioLogos, I suppose. You have to live with a bit of mystery.