An Internal or External God?

**Disclaimer** I have been wanting to write this blog post for about two weeks now, but I was not sure how to formulate everything I wanted to say.  I was halfway through writing this post when we ended up discussing many of these points in class.  Nevertheless, I think I have a few thoughts that we did not discuss in class.  All that being said, I will do my best to articulate myself, and I hope that your comments will help me to clarify my thoughts. **

I wish to bring forth the issue of whether or not God is external or internal to the will and how the answer to that affects our story of free will.

Descartes wants to say that actions are free so long as they are “not determined by any external force” (Meditations 40).  Ragland clarifies this point stating that an act is “‘determined’ only if it would have occurred no mater what the will’s inclinations were.”  With Ragland’s interpretation in mind, free actions can be sufficiently caused by internal forces, even if those internal forces are causally determined by external forces from a previous time.  In other words, when external forces directly impact the will, the will cannot be said to be free.  On the other hand, if external forces only indirectly influence the will, the will can be said to be free.

The question becomes first and foremost, is God internal or external to the will?  A follow-up question then becomes: if God is external, does he directly or indirectly determine the will?  Descartes seems to be unclear on both of the answers to both of these questions.

It seems that we can claim that, according to Descartes view, God is external to the will in that sense that “everything was preordained by God” and “the slightest thought could not enter into a person’s mind without God’s willing, and having willed from all eternity, that it should so enter” (Principles of Philosophy 206 & Excerpts from Letters to Elizabeth 272).  It seems clear that God affects the external world to such an extent that it affects the thoughts entering the individual’s mind.  This seems akin to the account of free actions that Raglund interprets of Descartes.  God externally influences the internal thoughts and forces of the individual, and these, in turn, influence the will.  However, if you believe (as Descartes seems to) that God has a direct impact on literally everything (everything being preordained by God), then you might argue that Descartes commits himself to the view that God has a direct impact on the will itself.  If you accept this as Descartes’ view, then it cannot be said that the will is free.  Yet Descartes presents the will as being free.  Therefore, a charitable reading of Descartes could simply claim that, as an external force, God only indirectly impacts a person’s will and any reading of Descartes that seems to violate this is mistaken.  In class we argued that perhaps this can be cashed out as Descartes advocating a specific kind of independence in humans that is distinct from their dependence on God.  How this independence and dependence works or is specifically explicated is beyond the scope of our understanding.  I, on the other hand, wish to look at this dilemma from a different perspective.

Though we spent a lot of time discussing whether or not the external God directly or indirectly impacts the will, we did not spend time discussing whether or not God is internal to the will.  It may be that we did not discuss this because we (as a class) silently endorsed the supposition that “if God is external, then he cannot also be internal,” but I think that this is misguided.  I accept that God is external to the will, but I wish to advocate the view that he may also be internal.  The Christian vernacular commonly includes the claim that God lives within you and me.  At first glance it may seem strange to argue that God could potentially be an internal entity, and one might argue that Descartes wants to make the self distinct from God in a sense that forces God to be external, but this does not have to be the case.  Descartes purports that God is an all powerful omnipotent entity that has the ability to make anything the way he (God) sees fit.  As an all powerful entity, God should be able to exist anywhere, including in the mind/will, and there are many who make such a claim stating that God speaks to them via their internal conscious.  My overall point is this: we should not necessarily rule out the idea that God can be an internal entity.  Though Descartes does not take this move (at least not that I can remember) this idea is not at odds with any of Descartes’ writing.  Could we then say that it is the internal God, living within our volitions, that directly impacts our will?  We could also argue, if we wanted, that the external God impacts our internal forces, and the internal God (as part of our internal forces) impacts our will.  This allows us to preserve the idea that (A) God has a direct impact on everything and that (B) everything is preordained by him.  At the same time, however, we do not have any external forces directly impacting the will.  We can thus maintain that human will is free because it is not directly influenced by any external force.

One might argue that arguing for an internal God still takes away human freedom, but it just does so in a different way.  If God is internal, then my free will does not come wholly from myself, and thus free will is compromised.  This may be true, but I simply wanted to see how the picture changes if we include the idea of an internal God.

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