The Theosophical Forum – September 1944

FREEWILL AND ORDER — Henry T. Edge

The object of this article is to help those who may be laboring under the idea that the existence of order in the universe is somehow inconsistent with the freedom of the will. Such a notion is contrary to the teachings of the Theosophical Leaders and also to the views of the leading thinkers of today in the ranks of science. With such an array of authority against them, the holders of this view may feel that their belief is due to their not having considered the matter deeply enough.

WHAT THEOSOPHY TEACHES

That the universe is composed, not of a host of dead atoms, but of a host of living beings, monads, sparks of the universal Life-Consciousness. This makes all the difference in the world. For even the lowliest of these Beings must (by definition) be endowed with some degree, however limited, of consciousness and volition; while among the Beings higher in the scale we shall find greater degrees of consciousness and volition, greater degrees of freedom. Hence freewill must be, in this view, at every point in the universe. Yet this universal freedom does not mean chaos — and why? Because the universe has laws. Whence these laws? As far as our conduct is concerned, it may be enough that we should recognise their existence; but if we wish to dig deeper —

"First come the SELF-EXISTENT on this Earth. They are the "Spiritual Lives" projected by the absolute WILL and LAW, at the dawn of every rebirth of the worlds." — The Secret Doctrine, II, 164.

Man has relative freedom, according to his environment and the degree of his evolutionary attainment. As long as he is on the physical earth, he must recognise (at his peril) the laws of physical matter. But this does not prevent him utilizing those laws. As long as he dwells in the halls of illusion and follows personal desires, he will be more or less the servant of lower influences. But he can emancipate himself; and the whole Path is a path of progressive self-emancipation, until the final freedom is achieved.

Tis from the bud of Renunciation of the Self that springeth
the sweet fruit of final Liberation.
The way to final freedom is within thy SELF.
     — The Voice of the Silence.

We cannot set our own will against the laws of the universe, and against all other wills — unless we feel able to start a little universe of our own — which might be lonesome.

WHAT SCIENCE SAYS

Christopher Caudwell, in his recent book The Crisis in Physics (reviewed in THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM, April, 1940), has a chapter on "The Collapse of Determinism," on which the following remarks are largely based. Scientists have been forced to become philosophers and to question the very foundations of their world-view; the doctrine of Determinism is seen to require restatement. The problem of causality has to be reconsidered. In the 19th century the basis of determinism seemed to have been settled by 17th century philosophy; but this view is now becoming chaotic, and a principle of Indeterminism is taking its place.

Heisenberg established this principle when he found that it is impossible to ascertain both the position and the velocity of an intra-atomic particle; and, commenting on this, Caudwell says:

The importance of this principle is that it states an absolute or intrinsic uncertainty as a law of Nature. This has been interpreted by many well-known physicists as meaning that Indeterminism is a law of Nature.

It presumes a fundamental discontinuity in Nature, which had hitherto been supposed always continuous. It upsets the differential calculus; immutable laws have now become only high probabilities. We can analyze masses into molecules, molecules into atoms, atoms into still smaller particles, but then we reach a point where we can no longer calculate. We have reached the confines of physics, and can no longer summon its laws to our help. It is important, however, to observe that this uncertainty does not apply only to the very small, but also to the very great; and that our calculations as to the workings of the stellar universe carry us equally beyond the sphere of terrestrial physics, so that we are confronted with incompatibilities and alternative theories.

Eddington points out that Causality and Determinism, so far from being equivalent are incompatible. That is to say that the sequence of Cause and Effect does not imply predetermination, but does imply freedom. This proposition is the opposite of that held by some people as mentioned at the beginning of this article. Yet it is justified by this eminent man of science, who shows that:

The relation of cause and effect involves a flow of power from the cause to the effect, and therefore a certain freedom on the part of the cause. But if every event is completely and necessarily determined, then how can any event be regarded as a cause, since it is absolutely determined from the start by prior events? It is not in that case the cause, but the cause is shifted back, and there is an infinite regress.

The following quotation from Caudwell is eminently in accord with what we have been so often told by Dr. de Purucker:

Into every effect all the previous events of the universe flow as a cause, and, lacking any one of them, the effect would be in some measures slightly different.

CONCLUSION

The essence of human nature, we are taught, is the Divine Monad, a spark of Cosmic Divinity; and this manifests itself through a series of vehicles, so that its presence and influence are always active in greater or less degree. Man's real will (and destiny, which is the same thing) is to fulfil the laws of the Universal Harmony, and he achieves the highest freedom by self-identification with the SELF. Karmic law may determine our experiences, but cannot determine our acts, because at every moment we have this Divine source to draw upon. Every moment is a beginning. Karma is not a rigid chain, like that imagined by physicists or philosophers at one time; it is a chain of cause and effect; and, as we have seen, these two are not alike and interchangeable, but essentially different; for Cause implies volition. Let us throw off this nightmare of determinism and act.


The Theosophical Forum

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE