Thursday, March 16, 2006


Free Will and an Omniscient God

Most Christian and Islamic sects believe in an omniscient God who knows every future event. If this is true, can our will be truly free? And if we do not have free will, then how could we be morally responsible? Why would God punish us if we were bad, as he does throughout the Old Testament.

Theologians like Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204), St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) believed that God is outside of time and can see all history at once. It is from our own limited perspective that we are making choices. But still, they are choices. However, if an omniscient God sees all time at once, does the future exist even now for him, and do you think our decisions are truly free?

I have no answer...but a good question. Needs so much thought and may go unanswered for ever (or atleast as ever as ever could be)
We know we have free will because we experience it.

Scientists or theologians might prove that, at a more fundamental level, our free choices are the result of chemical processes in our brain or of the will of God, but they are still, at the same time, our free choices.

You can show that the tiredness in my legs is due to a buildup of lactic acid, but that doesn't make my leg less tired.
Maybe one should consider Tennyson's epic poem the "Charge of the Light Brigade"... "Ours is not to reason why, ours is just to do and die"
It's an interesting problem. The philosopher Hume also found that if our actions are indeterminate, then we can't have free will. When I first recognised this it seemed that it was impossible to have free will. Though now I believe that freedom is like most other learned skills: it starts with an awkward transition period, but then learning is achieved and the skill becomes a part of you. Of course, due to genetics and society, some people find it harder to achieve this freedom, and they end up on the couch. To say that freedom is any more than making informed choices about your values is in my view delving into the fantastical, but of course I'm not saying you can't :-)
As the child goes to school, is he not challenged by one who already knows the answere? Is he not taught by those who already know the lesson?
You may want to look into a Christian thought known as "Open Theism"...It deals with the idea that God allows free will, and thus has a LIMITED amount of knowledge, that he imposes on himself to allow us free will. It is very controversial and got one of my favorite professors fired from an Evangelical Christian college...

The God Who Risks is an interesting, but heady read, by John Sanders
God does not punish us like the Old Testament. That is man's age-old tendency to ascribe a spiritual cause for an event. Rather, we must take the results of our actions. So we, ourselves, punish us if we do wrong. God set up the rules and we must abide by them or face the consequences. If we smite another he or someone stronger smites us. If we smite the earth instead of tilling it and keeping it, it smites us back. Our conscience tells us when we need punishing and if bad things happen we look for a cause. Look no further than a mirror but also realize that free will allows us to do bad to each other and the mirror reflects us all.
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Thank you and God Bless.

yes !

or, quite simply, a very good argument that there is no omniscient god
The paradox is obvious, isn't it?
What is the point in doing something if you know the result? A lesser being, like a human, does things to survive, and likes it more if things are predictable. But humans also get bored very quickly. If God existed, and knew everything, imagine the boredom. I would rather be dead.

It is the courage of ignorance that allows religious pple to make unqualified assertions about God. The fear of death is also a big factor. Have you noticed how humans get more religious as they get older? There may be God but is very difficult to understand. I like T.T.Chings observation;

"The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name."

Maybe the mainstream religious pple should stop and think, if they can. All mainstream religions are corrupted by the worldy pride of the ignorant masses. Look how they like to boast (in shiny robes and buildings) their religion and also allow themselves to be used by the capitalists and politicians. Have they properly apologised for the crime they inflicted on Galileo? What right do they have to ban the display of all natural female face and body? Don't they support wars and send missionaries to brain wash indigenous pple? I had enough of the mainstream religions. A religious person should try and understand how science works, before anything else, because it is all about the "real" creation. Obviously God loves science. A preacher who doesn't practice science is ignorant of the creation and does not qualify for preaching. It is simple as that.
God's omniscience to know my future actions does not affect me. An analogy I use is the video tape one. If god watches a video of my actions during or after the events there is no free will issue, observation of me does not affect my free choices. Nor should there be (in my opinion) any effect if god sends the video back in time and watches scenes that haven't happened yet like in spaceballs.

God's omniscense only affects the free will status of one thing - God. Does God have free will knowing what god is going to do? This is the far more interesting question to me, and also the one that never seems to be brought up.

I'd say no free will is the trade-off for omniscience BUT only for the individual with the omniscience - not everyone else. This is something people are not burdened with. At best people never see enough of the future to make a difference.
You (the posters) have collectively missed the point. I'll use the VCR example of the last poster before me to explain.

Let's not say that there is an "omniscient god" but rather simply that there is a VCR tape, of your entire life, birth to death. Every decision you make is visible on this tape. (For argument's sake, ignore decisions that are not visually distinguished.)

Do you have free will? If you "choose" to do something, but that "choice" has already been recorded, did you choose to do it? No, you are simply following a pre-determined path, even if it feels as if you are choosing your own path.

Oh and as to "We know we have free will because we experience it." Hogwash! Have you never seen an optical illusion? Never taken a mind altering drug like alchohol? Your senses and mind are frequently duped and deceived.
nooo .. we do have free will .. but see God already knows what choice we are going to make (based on our free will) and hence everything is pre-written .. the key point here is .. God already knows what choice we are going to make ..

it's very simple !!
True freedom in the sense desribed amounts to "an effect without a cause." This concept of freedom is only a concept of chaos.
True freedom that the human heart yearns for is freedom from some thing, not from everything.
Christian freedom is freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from deception. It is also has to be bondage to truth, and even bondage to Christ. That is where the concept of "freedom in Christ" comes from. What is often considered the central passage of the new testament (Romans 8:1,2) says that men have been set free from the law of sin and death by the law of liberty in Christ Jesus.
We can observe that the rebel who wants to be "free" ends in bondage. His use of drugs leads to addiction. His behaviors leads to jail. His fun leads to poverty.
Life itself teaches us that if we want absolute freedom we will end in death. So, the concept of freedom in the Bible is not only consistent with an omniscient God, but this is as well a necessary condition of God for freedom to exist, that is at least freedom which is anything other than total chaos. This is the sense behind that seeming contradiction: "bondage to Christ is freedom from the world."
I see that another "anonymous" has claimed that others have missed the point regarding the VCR tape.

On the contrary, no one has claimed that the VCR tape exists within our time. Therefore, the use of "already" should raise eyebrows.
Because serio killers, sex addicts and
our ongoing pc aided sped up evolution
means humans have free will and choice

It has always been up to us collectively or indivisually to enlighten and darken our lives.

Which we have done from century to century. Hopefully we are in enlightened times after this four years of grey time at present.
The new physics, by most interpretations I've read, states that the past, present, & future exist simultaneously either through probability or multi-universes.

Either way, free will can be allowed. Religiously, it is allowed.

What mainly bothers me are two things. First, when do we make our decisions? At the moment they become real, they were already made, perhaps an instant before, but nevertheless they are historical.

Second, considering you are your memories, experiences, & emotions built over a lifetime, how many decisions are really "free" & how many are determined by your past?

It is possible that most of your so-called "free will" is pre-determined unconsciously & under conditions you are unaware of.
"My friends from the prison
they ask unto me,
"How good, how good does it feel
to be free?"
And I answer them most mysteriously,
"Are birds free from the chains
of the skyway?"

-Bob Dylan
If you believe that you can make choices you believe in free will.

In order to have free will you must have choices. Choices imply options. Options must be something something other than all or nothing.

A slave does not have options if his/her choices are death/punishment or the direction of captors.

If all choices are purely life or death you have no choice, as most living things out of necessity usually seek life or the avoidance of pain and dismemberment. Salmon to be sure sacrifice their lives to perpetuate their species, this is the selfish gene in action. Ultimately even humans largely obey this urge.

However we are the first I am fairly and reasonably certain to actually contemplate it and seek out other avenues and choices within that frame work.

Much of what we do seems to be impulse or reflex response, even scratching our nose has been demonstrated to be seemingly unconscious. But these are learned responses. witness a dancer or martial artist. Their moves seem reflexive, and they are, but unless they had made the conscious choice at one time to learn the form or move they would never be able to do it reflexively. They had to make the free will choice to learn it.

However if one were to say that our choices were already known, every thing we do could be considered to be purely reflexive. A mouse that is hungry is put into a tube that they can not turn around in. At one end is food. As we can in this instance for practical purpose be said to have infinite knowledge, we know that the mouse will go to the food. This is of course an allegory, but it is sufficiently limited enough to show what infinite knowledge could be and mean.

Should a God decide to compartmentalize his knowledge, seal it off from his awareness at one point, we must remember, that he did at one time realize this knowledge and any action he takes is a consequences of his prior level of knowledge, and so to is ours.

We can say that "God" exists outside of time. To some extent this is the same as saying "God" is un definable. An undefinable being is arbitrary and can not be said to exist as no one knows or can agree what he is.

Also if we say he exists out side of time he can not choose to limit or take any action. Taking action implies cause and effect. In order for a cause and effect to happen one has to precede the other, this implies that time must flow. Therfore he also could not compartmentalize his knowledge to do so implies action, which implies cause and effect which implies time.

To be Omniscient and Omnipotent is to say things exist and are because I think it and for no other reason.

This totality limits the power of every other entity to zero even if in the future I as a "God" were to limit my power enough to allow free will it would not matter as I had already determined what would happen by thinking that I would limit my power to know in the future. Even so I knew before I limited my power and knowledge what I was going to do and what my human creations were going to know and do.

This limits the power of an antagonist. A devil or Satan could not exist , nor could it take any action without without a "By your leave" from the supreme being. Infinite anything precludes everything else.

Here is the conudrum. I believe I have freewill. But if an all-knowing all-powerful being exists I can not have freewill. But whether I do have free will or not does not matter as long as I believe it. So to with the existence of a god. But at the same time as this all knowing all powerful being knew before he/she/it created me that I would have these views, by the virtue of total actualization. If I do not have freewill and such a being exists I can not really be blamed for not believing in such a being as it created me this way.

The only way a being can exist to create the universe and have something of the "properties" of a god is to have limits. Omniscience is therfore thrown out the window, as well as Omnipotence. At least for an ultimate closed system.

It is potentially possible to have a limited being that is the creator of everything, but then it must now be subject to natural laws, or have a creator itself. But that leads into an infinite progression of the chicken and the egg type.

To explain things in the past we created gods. When one tribe or people conquered anothe we said it was because our god was better than theirs, more powerful. This has continued until we have come to the practical limitation I have outlined above. Now maybe we can get beyond the "philosophical" argument of whose "God" is better and realize that we do have freewill and are not bound to believe some apocalyptic prophesy and stop trying to fullfill it.

God is an ultimately unworkable and cowardly solution to life, if taken to the extremes we see in this day and age. It is good for answering to a 3 year why the sky is blue, but little else.

Maybe instead of praying for the "End Times" we should be working to improve our overall conditon.
(Philosopher professor talking in his office - University of Texas: Austin philosophy professor David Sosa)

In a way, in our contemporary world view, it’s easy to think that science has come to take the place of God. But some philosophical problems remain as troubling as ever. Take the problem of free will. This problem has been around for a long time, since before Aristotle in 350 B.C. St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, these guys all worried about how we can be free if God already knows in advance everything you’re gonna do. Nowadays we know that the world operates according to some fundamental physical laws, and these laws govern the behavior of every object in the world. Now, these laws, because they’re so trustworthy, they enable incredible technological achievements. But look at yourself. We’re just physical systems too, right? We’re just complex arrangements of carbon molecules. We’re mostly water, and our behavior isn’t gonna be an exception to these basic physical laws. So it starts to look like whether its God setting things up in advance and knowing everything you’re gonna do or whether it’s these basic physical laws governing everything, there’s not a lot of room left for freedom.

So now you might be tempted to just ignore the question, ignore the mystery of free will. Say "Oh, well, it’s just an historical anecdote. It’s sophomoric. It’s a question with no answer. Just forget about it." But the question keeps staring you right in the face. You think about individuality for example, who you are. Who you are is mostly a matter of the free choices that you make. Or take responsibility. You can only be held responsible, you can only be found guilty, or you can only be admired or respected for things you did of your own free will. So the question keeps coming back, and we don’t really have a solution to it. It starts to look like all our decisions are really just a charade.

Think about how it happens. There’s some electrical activity in your brain. Your neurons fire. They send a signal down into your nervous system. It passes along down into your muscle fibers. They twitch. You might, say, reach out your arm. It looks like it’s a free action on your part, but every one of those - every part of that process is actually governed by physical law, chemical laws, electrical laws, and so on.

So now it just looks like the big bang set up the initial conditions, and the whole rest of human history, and even before, is really just the playing out of subatomic particles according to these basic fundamental physical laws. We think we’re special. We think we have some kind of special dignity, but that now comes under threat. I mean, that’s really challenged by this picture.

So you might be saying, "Well, wait a minute. What about quantum mechanics? I know enough contemporary physical theory to know it’s not really like that. It’s really a probabilistic theory. There’s room. It’s loose. It’s not deterministic." And that’s going to enable us to understand free will. But if you look at the details, it’s not really going to help because what happens is you have some very small quantum particles, and their behavior is apparently a bit random. They swerve. Their behavior is absurd in the sense that its unpredictable and we can’t understand it based on anything that came before. It just does something out of the blue, according to a probabilistic framework. But is that going to help with freedom? I mean, should our freedom be just a matter of probabilities, just some random swerving in a chaotic system? That starts to seem like it’s worse. I’d rather be a gear in a big deterministic physical machine than just some random swerving.

So we can’t just ignore the problem. We have to find room in our contemporary world view for persons with all that that entails; not just bodies, but persons. And that means trying to solve the problem of freedom, finding room for choice and responsibility, and trying to understand individuality.
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