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Do we have free will, or is everything already planned for us?

If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby Yummy Yummy » Wed May 24, 2017 4:43 pm

If God is omnipotent and beyond the bounds of time, then humans cannot have free will.

One response I have seen to this statement is that God's omniscience does not include knowing with 100% certainty what our free will choices will be in the future. However, a timeless (beyond the bounds of time) God effectively does know our free will choices before we make them.
Think of our universe as a book that God has opened to page number 2017. While it takes us 1 year for God to flip to the next page, it takes exactly 0 seconds of God's time. After all, he is omnipotent and timeless. If it took him even a fraction of a millisecond, then he would indeed be constrained by some kind of time. (It would beg the question of who constrained God with time, yadda yadda yadda...)

Being omnipotent, God has the power to jump forward and backward in the book at his leisure and rewrite things along the way. Granted, rarely does he affect our free will. (For example, there was one instant where a pharaoh was going to release the enslaved Jews, but God decided to harden his heart and then punish the firstborn sons of Egypt.) Obviously, the bible doesn't discuss God jumping forward and backward in time because it is written as the one timeline that actually occurred and is actually occurring.

Therefore, although God may change something in the intro section of the book (we generally call them the BCE section), he can flip forward at any moment to see how it all plays out without affecting our free will choices (except for the pharaoh's and perhaps anyone he has revealed himself to along the way). In fact, "moment" is the wrong word because it is instantaneous for God. Indeed, while making any revisions to the book, God instantly knows how every future page will play out because it takes him zero time to flip the pages of the book.
In summary, just as many Christians have stated time and time again, everything plays out in God's master plan. Our supposedly free will choices have been affected by God's writing and revisions to the book to ensure that the book reads exactly as God wants and, therefore, are not really free will choices at all.
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby jimwalton » Wed May 24, 2017 4:44 pm

Yes, God effectively does know our free will choices before we make them, but knowledge is not causative. Because I know something doesn't make anything happen, and never can. Suppose you and I were good friends, and I knew you loved chocolate, and every time we go somewhere you order a chocolate dessert. Every time. My knowing that never causes you to order chocolate, or to order something else. But supposing I was 100 times smarter than I am now. Nothing changes—my knowledge of you causes nothing in you. Knowledge isn't causative. But suppose I'm omniscient? No different. Knowledge isn't causative, knowledge isn't determinative.

But what about omnipotence? Well, we all know 2 things: (1) God's exercise of his power is selective, not necessary. There are times he withholds his power, times he only uses a tempered expression of it, etc., and (2) God doesn't exercise his power to interfere with the free will of individuals. It's like free will is a barrier he won't cross. This is not to say he is not omnipotent, because his omnipotence cannot be defined to mean he can do anything and necessarily does do everything. His omnipotence doesn't mean he can act in contradiction to himself, do things that are logically absurd, etc. And despite that God may not see time linearly, his omnipotence doesn't interfere with time past (he never uses his power to change the past).

So though he can see all of history simultaneously, and is not bound by linear time, his 100% knowledge of our free will choices neither makes us determined nor devoid of free will. His knowledge doesn't negate our free will, nor does his power. Therefore, our choices are really free will choices after all.
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby Wolfman » Thu May 25, 2017 10:01 am

The original poster's idea here must be something like: "Free will requires alternate possibilities, God's foreknowledge logically entails that you do not have alternate possibilities and are therefore not free."

To maintain that Divine foreknowledge is compatible with free will, seems to require that we deny that free will entails that there are alternate possibilities.

It seems for me that the idea of Divine Foreknowledge is problematic as it seems to entail "omnitemporalism" or the idea that the future already exists. Again - if free will is construed such that there must be alternate possible futures, this cannot be the case if omnitemporalism is true. (This is not just a problem for God and divine foreknowledge either, there are naturalistic worldviews which also entail omnitemporalism.
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 25, 2017 10:11 am

> "Free will requires alternate possibilities, God's foreknowledge logically entails that you do not have alternate possibilities and are therefore not free."

Thank you for this clarification, but this is not so. I agree that free will necessarily requires alternate possibilities, but there's nothing in the Bible that says that God's foreknowledge is deterministic. As I said, knowledge is not causative. If for God time is not linear, then he can know without having dictated a distinct direction of behavior. In other words, alternate possibilities are always in the mix, but God see all and knows which possibility any given individual will choose without having determined it.

> omnitemporalism

I think the real problem is that we perceive time as linear but time may not be linear, i.e., "the future already exists." But you construe knowledge of the future as determining the future, but this is not necessarily the case. Suppose I know that the sun will rise tomorrow—not just assume it, but suppose (for the sake of argument) that I know it. That doesn't mean I caused it. Knowledge is not causative. There are truly alternate possible futures, but an omniscient timeless being can see all simultaneously—and that capability doesn't require that he made those decisions himself, robbing free agents of their alternatives. Free will and omniscience are not mutually exclusive if the divine being is omniscient and timeless, and if time is not solely linear.
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby Dwight » Sun May 28, 2017 5:10 pm

Now imagine that you are an omnipotent god. You created your friend, and you did it in a particular way. You also made the universe, and you made it in a particular way. Because you are omnipotent, you knew ahead of time all the possible choices that your friend could face as he navigates through this universe which you created. Not only that, but you also knew ahead of time exactly which specific choices he would actually face. On top of all that, you also knew ahead of time exactly what choice he would actually make in every situation that he will face throughout his entire life. As an omnipotent god, you could tweak the makeup of the universe, or the makeup of your friend, and you would know ahead of time exactly how this would change the course of your friend's life. The moment that you settle on a particular makeup for both your friend and the universe and create them, with full knowledge of how every moment will play out, you have predetermined the course of their existence.

So do you really believe, given the above, that your friend was free to chose anything other than that which his omnipotent creator knew with absolute perfect certainty that he would chose? A god who determined the exact nature of your friend, and every aspect of the environment in which he would spend his entire life?
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby jimwalton » Sun May 28, 2017 5:20 pm

It's your analogy that is flawed. Therefore your conclusion ("given the above..." is misguided.

Have you seen "Interstellar" with Matthew McConaughey? I know it's just science fiction, but it has some interesting perspectives on time. Given Einstein's theories that time is not constant, is relative, and possibly isn't linear, let's back up your analogy to a more realistic one.

Imagine you are an omnipotent God. You created the universe in a particular way, but that particular way is to operate by cause and effect. You created the world in a particular way, but every time there is a birth, the genes align because of a cause-and-effect progression; God doesn't create each person in a particular way.

Not only that, but God has a back door, so to speak, of the dimension of time (think back to the movie). God can see all times and events as present, as easily as looking through a window. It doesn't mean he has determined the course of everything, but can see everything play itself through, living in one large eternal present. He doesn't have to determine anything to see exactly how it will play out.

As an omnipotent God, you could tweak the makeup of the universe, but that would just create a different set of variables to play out in a different way, still without determination. In His back door to time, He could see those, too. It doesn't matter which "reality" plays itself through. The realities take place by cause and effect, by the personal choices of free agents (free will), and by circumstance (the serendipitous alignment or collision of cause and effect and personal choice). But God can see it all, drifting as He does in a place where time isn't linear but is relative.

Therefore God hasn't predetermined life. Life plays itself out, free agents make their decisions, and yet God is omniscient and omnipotent. That's a more accurate analogy to what the Bible teaches.
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby Dwight » Tue May 30, 2017 2:34 pm

Oh, I must have missed that part of the bible: The book of McConaughey. Very illuminating.

I don't pretend to know how God perceives time, and I would suggest that you give it up as a line of argument. It's very unconvincing, and also irrelevant.

The simple facts of the matter are that God is omnipotent. He created us and our universe with perfect knowledge of how every moment will play out. He has control of all the variables and has made a choice to allow a specific and known series of events to unfold. How is it not his responsibility in the end?
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby jimwalton » Tue May 30, 2017 2:41 pm

The problem is that you have said the simple matter is that God is omnipotent, but then you proceeded to talk, not about omnipotence, but about omniscience. It's true that his omniscience gives him perfect knowledge of how every moment will play out, but knowledge is not causative, and there is no biblical teaching that he has control of all the variables, and that's where your argument loses its punch. God does not have control of all the variables, and he has not made sovereign choices of how events will unfold. That's how it is not his responsibility in the end. His omniscience is not causative, and his omnipotence is not deterministic.

His omnipotence only says that God is able to do all things that are proper objects of his power, and that he can realize what his power his at realizing. He uses his power sometimes, and restrains from using it at other times, which tells us that he explicitly does not control all the variables and has not made incontrovertible choices of how events will unfold. Jeremiah 18.1-12 is clear about this. Humans are free agents who control their own decisions and directions, and so the responsibility for their actions falls to themselves, not to God.
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby Dwight » Wed Jun 28, 2017 2:43 pm

Omnipotence encompasses omniscience. If you are all-powerful, then you by default have the power to be all-knowing. I never understood why people feel the need to mention both separately. Maybe to drive home the fact that you are being watched.

Knowledge on its own is not causative, but if you set events in motion with absolute certain knowledge of the outcome then that puts responsibility for that outcome on your shoulders. He designed and created the system. He designed and created you. He did so with perfect foreknowledge—I mean, we're not talking about a hunch, or a pretty good guess as to what's going to happen. We're talking about absolute and perfect certainty. He has the power to make any changes he wants to get any desired outcome. There is just no getting around the fact that whatever you do in your life, it's because God wants it to happen.

I also find this idea of absolving God of responsibility because he uses his powers selectively so that we can have free will problematic. If that's true, then it's a clear cut case of God knowingly choosing to allow evil and suffering, and that rules him out as all-loving, just, and good. There is simply no reason why an omnipotent God would need to allow an innocent child to be raped or suffer a horrifyingly painful death unless he wanted it to happen.
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Re: If God is God, humans can't have free will

Postby jimwalton » Sun Oct 29, 2017 5:14 am

> Omnipotence encompasses omniscience.

This doesn't work in logic. Power and knowledge are separate entities and separate expressions of my person (or any person). What I know and what I do are not the same. Though sometimes they are intersecting sets, one doesn't encompass the other, nor is one necessarily dependent on the other.

> If you are all-powerful, then you by default have the power to be all-knowing.

To me this is a non sequitur. Power and knowledge are not related this way, and if you think they are, I guess you need to prove it rather than just state it. Even God's all-powerful-ness doesn't mean that God can do anything. No one defines omnipotence as the ability to be self-contradictory (God has the power to be not God), the ability to do absurd impossibilities (to make a square circle), or the power to go against his own character (God has the power to sin). NO one defines it that way, and so it doesn't logically follow that an omnipotent being has the power to be all-knowing.

> but if you set events in motion with absolute certain knowledge of the outcome then that puts responsibility for that outcome on your shoulders

This would be true, but this is not what the Bible teaches. You have left out some important steps that change the meaning. The Bible teaches that God set events in motion with billions of variables subject to cause and effect relationships and the free-will decisions of sentient beings. Your first sentence made it sound like it was a closed, deterministic system, which is not what the Bible teaches. Now, just because God has a back door on time (maybe like Matthew McConaughey in "Interstellar") doesn't mean he determined everything. It just means he can see it, but his seeing is not causative.

> He has the power to make any changes he wants to get any desired outcome.

This is wrong also. God's omnipotence doesn't give him a place to interfere in the free will decisions of men. That's not what omnipotence is or does.

> I also find this idea of absolving God of responsibility because he uses his powers selectively so that we can have free will problematic.

If we didn't have free will, we wouldn't have the ability to reason, because reason necessitates the ability to weigh options, consider alternatives, and make choices. There would then also be no such thing as science, because science requires reasoning. Without reason, science, and therefore intellect, we would lose our capacity even to survive. It's necessary that God restrains his powers so as not to interfere with our free will. Therefore, God allowing a certain amount of evil and suffering, as part of our free will, doesn't negate his character as good, loving, or just. As any parent knows, sometimes you have to let your children learn hard lessons to teach them to hardest truths.

> There is simply no reason why an omnipotent God would need to allow an innocent child to be raped or suffer a horrifyingly painful death unless he wanted it to happen.

There is nothing true about this, but it's a much longer discussion about God and the existence of evil. Allowing evil is not contradictory to the existence of a good God any more than a surgeon causing pain to bring about a greater good. There are sufferings that are necessary to achieve a greater good, as any oncologist will tell you. As a matter of fact, if any good can come from any suffering it negates the argument that God knowingly allowing any evil and suffering rules him out as all-loving, just, and good. What you must prove to make your point is that ALL suffering is unjustified and that no good can EVER come from ANY of it—something I know you can't do. We don't have the space to go into this here in its fullness, but we can talk about it in a separate post if you wish.


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