Friday, August 30, 2013

Omniscience

Hey, I'm trying to be better about answering people's questions! Here's a comment that C left on Monday.
Some people argue that if God exists, there cannot exist free will. God is omniscient. He knows everything.

Say that tomorrow for breakfast you will choose between toast or a banana. God knows you will choose the banana, because he knows every single thing. If instead you choose toast, then God would have been wrong, and thus not omniscient, which he is. If God knows you are going to choose the banana, then there is no possibility of you choosing toast, thus you don't have free will.

There are two problems with this argument.

1. It confuses God's foreknowledge with necessity.  Take the last sentence.  If God (or anyone else) knows that that you are going to choose a banana for breakfast, it does not necessarily follow that you lack free will.  That's because your decision to eat a banana is completely isolated from God's knowledge. Unless you consulted God ahead of time, God's foreknowledge did not affect your decision; therefore, it took nothing away from the decision.

Let's use a non-divine example.  I know with 100% certainty that the US Congress is not going to have a balanced budget this year, or next year. My knowledge of this in no way hinders the free will of the congressmen.

2. God necessarily exists outside of time.  From my perspective, "what happens tomorrow" is knowledge of the future. To God, it is knowledge of the present, because he is equally present then as he is now.

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I kind of breezed through the argument; there is honestly a lot more that can be said about this.  A really thorough answer would explain about the nature of time, knowledge and free will.  When all is said and done, though, the possibility of free will not existing is merely a thought experiment.  Our current society is formed around the idea that free will exists, and people are responsible for making their own choices.  America is a pro-choice society, in more ways than one.

11 comments:

C said...

disclaimer: I did not come up with this point, I only recited other people who have; and I said very directly in my original comment that this was a weak argument.

just so people don't start jumping on me =\

GameOverTown said...

It was a weak argument.

C said...

It was a devil's advocate thing.

Anyway, regarding your second point: what does it matter what God's frame of time is? I agree that if God exists, then he exists and is aware everywhere at once in time and space, but how does that change the argument? It's still our future, and God still knows it. You'll have to explain more, because otherwise I don't see that having any bearing on the argument.

And I don't see how you can give a non-divine example. The whole entire point is that God is divine; that's what the argument rests on.

C said...

Your first point is the sticky one, and is the main problem with the argument I presented. Logically, it does make sense that knowledge does not have any bearing on action. I fully agree with that, which is why I both find this argument ridiculous - but also am tripped up by it ... because of God's total infallibility.

God CANNOT be wrong. He KNOWS what you did yesterday, are going to do today, and will do tomorrow, because, as you said, it is all one and the same to him. For him, it is all happening now, it all has already happened, from his point of view.

" God's foreknowledge did not affect your decision"
Except it does, in an indirect way, because God has to be right; it cannot be any other way. It precludes all other outcomes there might have been.

It's different than our knowledge of toast or bananas or majors in college or career paths, because we cannot claim infallibility.

Even if we know the outcome of a choice someone will make, and they make it, there was always a chance, however minute, that they would have made a different choice. We are not omniscient, and we are infallible, and we are limited by our sense and frame of time.

Athena said...

Free will is, in it of itself, a moot concept as we have no proof it even exists, let alone that an omniscient God is responsible for its creation. Humans have debated the issue of free will for millennia, and we are no closer to a concrete answer then our ancestors were. At this point in time, it’s impossible to prove one way or the other if we have free will, or if everything we do is predetermined by whatever force you choose to believe in (a god, the universe, etc.) Philosophers’ ruminations have given rise to such considerations as cosmological determinism (the notion that everything proceeds over the course of time in a predictable way, making free will impossible), indeterminism (the idea that the universe and our actions within it are random, also making free will impossible), cosmological libertarianism/compatibilism (the suggestion that free will is logically compatible with deterministic views of the universe), and of course, that we have free will and nothing else.

Another school of thought, Newtonian determinism, states that the universe is like a big clock, which was wound up at the beginning of time, and has been ticking ever since according to Newton’s laws of motion. So, what you are going to eat 10 years from now on January 1st, has already been fixed--it’s already known. One of the biggest proponents of this idea was Albert Einstein, who was a determinist. One of his most famous ideas is that he believed mass murders to be predetermined to be mass murders, billions of years ago, but regardless, they should still be held accountable for their actions.

Heisenberg then comes along with his uncertainty principle and says Einstein is wrong because there’s always an element of uncertainty--you don’t know where the electrons will be at, thus resulting in randomness. They could be a Point A, Point B, or both points at the same time. Einstein absolutely hated this idea. This quote is taken out of context a lot to prove Einstein was a theist (which is a whole separate discussion), but he said in response to this, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” To their dying days, Einstein and Heisenberg bickered over free will versus determinism, just like countless of people before and after them.

Now, that said, even if we can’t prove one way or the other, as a society, we have to choose one, and in that regard, free will is the better choice in my opinion, if an un-provable one. Free will states that if drink, drive, and kill someone, you are responsible for that death because you choose to drive drunk. Determinism says that if you drink, drive, and kill someone, that was always going to happen, no matter what you did. Here, and this is the one area I disagree with Einstein on, there’s no accountability. How is it fair to punish someone for actions they were always going to do? That’s like punishing someone for having red hair: they had no control over that. As a determinist, Einstein tried to have his cake and eat it too. That is, everything has already been decided, but you are still responsible for what happens. It’s a paradox.

However, this doesn’t mean I agree with Heisenberg either. Randomness and uncertainty are hardly intelligent arguments for free will. If our futures are the products of randomness, then how is free will involved at all? At a subatomic level, there is no free choice. It’s random, but its randomness is what determines the outcome. Nothing is actually decided on. It’s like throwing a dart at a board and hitting the number 9. Did you decide to hit 9? No, it just worked out that way. You throw again, and you hit 3 this time. At minimum, it proves diversity, but not free will.

What is interesting is that for a determinist, Einstein had a lot of regret about helping to build the atom bomb, that his genius was used to hurt others. But, according to Newtonian determinism, which he supported, he shouldn’t have been. He was always determined to help build the atom bomb. It was an unavoidable fate for him.

Athena said...

Christianity, more or less, takes the cosmological libertarianism/compatibilism approach: that we have free will in some areas, but predetermined by a force in others. For example, Adam and Eve had the free will to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Jesus’ whole life on the other hand, was entirely predetermined. If you read the Gospel of Judas, Jesus tells Judas that it’s God will for him to die, and it’s God will for Judas to help in that matter. Jesus tells him that he will be hated for what needs to be done, but it’s part of God’s plan for humanity. That’s predeterminism. If you choose not to believe the 30+ Gospels that were written that didn't make it into the Bible, and only stick to John, Matthew, Luke, and Mark, the Last Supper is predeterministic too. Jesus tells his followers their time together is coming to an end, and one of them will betray him. He's telling them of actions that haven't been done yet.

So, in short, we can’t even prove conclusively that free will exists in the first place, so you can’t use it to determine if an omniscient God does too. Prove free will or determinism or both happen, and then tackle how they relate to the concept of a deity or deities. Buddhism doesn’t address the concept of a god or free will because according to the Buddha, those are questions impossible to prove or disprove, so pursuing knowledge you will never obtain only causes suffering. Seeing how much Einstein and Heisenberg fought over this issue, and never coming to an infallible conclusion, he might have had a point.

Sammy said...

The Bible says that God knew us before time. He knew what our lives would turn out to be long before the world was created. So yes, God does know how we are going to live our lives. He knows if we are "going to chose "fruit over toast," before we make the choice, but he doesn't make us chose one or the other. It's still free will, but since God knows all, he knows what we're going to do before we do it. It's confusing, but still simple. ~Samantha

Anonymous said...

but again, if god knows, that means there cannot be and never was any other option.

I guess it depends on how you define free will.

God is not putting a gun to our heads. God is not holding anything hostage. God is not bribing us. God himself is not whispering in our ear, saying "choose this".

Thus in our heads, we feel as if we have weighed all our options, considered all circumstances, and explored all outcomes. For all intents and purposes, we feel we have free will, even though there was never any option of choosing differently. We don't know which option was the inevitable one until we have made it - but we were never going to make the other choice.

I don't see why it matters if we don't have free will, as long as, to us, it feels and plays out that we have free will.

Our loss of free will only matters if we feel we are being forced one way or another - since we don't feel that way - not by a deity, at least - then who cares?

And if we do have free will, then how do Christians justify saying "God has a plan for everyone" and "everything happens for a reason" and all that?

William D said...

Meh ;-;
I think of it as will I have a fried egg or poached egg? God knows Ill choose one of two. He knows Ill choose either or, he gives me the choice, he knows all the POSSIBILITIES, not what I WILL do, that choice is mine, but he knows what will happen if whichever one I choose. (Did I make any sense? DX)

William D said...

Also, I ain't going to try to argue ip with Athena or C things will end badly for my brain XD

William D said...

At Anonymous above meh: Well, God has plans for us, but its up to us if we follow them or not (free will) everything does happen for a reason, because its all part of his plan, again it's up to us wether we want to obey him or not. (Sorry for putting so many comments in a row DX)