Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Free will and omniscience

I’ve written the following dialogue that outlines the common interaction I see between theists and atheists when discussing the doctrine of free will. What do you think? Is the skeptic’s argument valid?

A short discussion about free will . . .

“God allows evil,” says the apologist, “because he has given us the ability to choose him or reject him. He has given us free will. God is not responsible for evil; we are responsible for evil through our choices.”
“Okay,” replies the skeptic, “but let me ask you a question.”
“Sure,” says the apologist.
“If you were a character in a book,” asks the skeptic, “would you, as a character, have the ability of free will?”
“Well,” replies the apologist, “if I was a character in a book, I wouldn’t really exist. I would just be a figment of the author’s imagination.”
“Fair enough. But let’s say, for sake of argument, that you and I are conscious beings but are also characters in a story. Our very dialogue, the words that I am saying to you right now, has actually been written down by a writer. However, we don’t know that this is the case. Would we have free will?”
The apologist answers: “No, I don’t think we would.”
“Why?” asks the skeptic.
“Well,” replies the apologist, “once the story is written, it can never be changed. Whenever the story plays itself out in the eyes of the reader, it will always follow the same path.”
“Well done,” says the skeptic. “Let me now ask you this: does God know the future?”
“Yes, the Bible clearly states that he is omniscient.”
“So God knew, from the beginning of the universe, every little detail that would happen in the future?”
“He knows everything,” replies the apologist.
“Let me explain the problem with that,” says the skeptic. “If God knew everything in the future, then he would know all the choices that you and I would make in our lives – including the choice of choosing or not choosing him. The universe would be like a story already written, and the normal sequence of events playing themselves out would be like someone who is reading the story. If God knew from the beginning of the universe that I would not choose him, then how can I have free will?
“Even if God knew,” replies the apologist, “he still left the choice up to you.”
“But how can that be?” says the skeptic. “If God knew – from the beginning of time and with absolute certainty – that I would reject him, then no matter what I do in my life, there will be no way in which I can choose otherwise. As humans, we don’t have free will. However, God, as the author of the universe, had a choice what to include in the story. He chose that suffering and evil would be a part of this world.”

61 comments:

Dave said...

Good thoughts. There are several theological circles that hold a view called Openness Theology. Which basically states that...the future does not exist, therefore, God doesn't know it because He is continually creating it. And we have input into future events because He allows our input. For more information on this view refer to the works of Clark Pinnock and John Sanders.

Arizona Expositor said...

I don't think God knows the future either because if he did it would take away our agency. To me life is a multiple choice test, at every turn in my life I have choices and it's up to me to make them and nobody else. That smacks right in the face of foreordination, but how could it be otherwise?

tichius said...

Thanks for this dialogue, Kevin. A few thoughts: Isn't possible for God to know the future, and still allow us to make our own choices? Love is not love if it is coerced. God created us in His image, for His pleasure. He wills us to love Him; Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." But, we have a choice.

If we look at your story example, if the our choices and actions have been written down by God, there is still free will. You are right that God already knows the outcome, but you do not know the outcome. So, you are making the decision you would make in any circumstance.

Mike said...

Hi Kevin and all,

Many people share your reasoning Kevin, but the argument you make can be shown to be logically fallacious. Philosopher William Lane Craig explains this in his book "The Only Wise God." Here is the explanation:

Let's take any choice that someone can make and call it X. Your argument boils down to this:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen.
2. God foreknows X.
3. Thus, X necessarily happens.

The first premise says basically that if God knows something, then he can't be wrong. The second premise says that God foreknows some event X which can represent any and every event, including free choices. The conclusion then is that the event must happen by necessity - it is impossible for X not to happen. But this conclusion does not logically follow. What does logically follow is this conclusion:

3* Thus, X will happen.

In other words, X does not happen by necessity, it just simply happens. It is not an impossiblity for X not to happen. Another event/choice Y could have happened, and if Y would have happened then God would have foreknown that!

If the second premise was:

2* God necessarily foreknows X.

Then conclusion (3) would logically follow. But (2*) is false. X is not necessary. Something else could happen. God could have created another world - the possibilities are endless.

Is this some kind of logical trick? No, but I know I need to keep explaining because this is hairy! The difference between conclusions (3) and (3*) is the difference between what MUST happen by necessity (i.e., it's impossible for it to be otherwise) and what simply WILL happen (i.e., it's NOT impossible for an alternative event to happen). Your free choice X simply will happen if God foreknows it, but God's knowledge has no metaphysical causal connection to your will. How can mere knowledge CAUSE someone to do something? Where's the connection in reality? Think about it. God just knows that it will happen, but something different COULD have happened (you could have chosen otherwise), and if it WERE to happen then God WOULD have known that. (Sorry for the all caps but they are just meant for emphasis not shouting :) I can't italicize here.)

Let's look at a similar argument of the same form:

1' Necessarily, a bachelor is an unmarried male.
2' Tom is a bachelor.
3' Thus, Tom is necessarily a bachelor.

But it is not impossible for Tom NOT to be a bachelor. Tom could get married. Unless Tom is a complete dolt of course.

There is a marvelous theological account of this whole issue of free will and foreordination, and it is called Molinism, named for the Spanish Jesuit who originated it in the late 16th century. It has been resurrected over the last 30 years by Christian philosophers. Try "google"ing it or looking it up on the Catholic encyclopedia. It's fascinating.

I'm sure we have just begun this discussion lol...

Mike said...

oops... The Tom argument should go like this:

1. Necessarily, a bachelor is an unmarried male.
2. Tom is a bachelor.
3. Thus, Tom is necessarily unmarried.

marc said...

I have come to believe that God has our lives mapped out but we have a choice to follow his plan or not dependant on how much we want him involved.

I think if we ignore God then we go off on our way, if we try to follow God he will nudge us in the right direction.

But predestination has no answers...anyway I knew you were going to blog about this:¬)

Rodolfo said...

The god that I was taught to worship as a child seems very human to me these days. I just don't understand how the cosmos would shake up because I choose to excercise my "free will" by not putting any faith in religious books.

Jason Hughes said...

I've never heard a book analogy before, and I like it.

In regards to whether god knows the future or not: If god doesn't know the future, then he is not omniscient. If he does know the future, and he knew that billions of his creations would perish in supposed eternal flames for their rejection of him, then he is callous and uncaring, despite what his followers profess and there is no such thing as free will. If he only knows all the possibilities, but none of what will actually happen, this speaks of a powerlessness that god cannot control anything that's going to happen; if he can influence the possibilities to work in his favor, but still billions will perish, he is still not only callous and uncaring, he is ineffectual in his influence to make all choose him and thus reach his goal that "none should perish."

And then, of course, there is the argument that there is no god and all of this is moot, but that leaves some without a sense of purpose or self-abasing narcissism, thus rendering life meaningless for them...

Yep, it's a conundrum...

To use Mike's equation:

1. God knows X will happen
2. Thus, X will happen
3. So, man has no choice but to do X as God forsaw it happening...
4. A great deal of men perish for eternity

or

1. God knows X will happen, but leaves Y hanging there for sake of free-will argument
2. Man chooses X, wondering why he didn't choose Y
3. God claims it was free-will when it wasn't...
4. Man perishes...

Then there is:

1. God thinks X or Y will happen
2. Y happens
3. Man has free will, God couldn't influence which would happen, and is a little upset that he lost the bet with Christ, and so goes double-or-nothing on our next equation.

1. God thinks X or Y will happen, and is answering prayers and influencing man to do Y
2. Man chooses Y
3. This doesn't necessarily negate free-will, but it doesn't bode well for it, as
4. Man changes his mind to Y and goes instead to Las Vegas
5. God's influence was powerless, free-will remains intact, but God is a wimp; Jesus now has enough money to stay at Caesar's palace for another night...

or 4*. Man stays with X, but redecorates with Hawaiian flowers
5*. God;s influece, while having worked, wasn't preordained as Man switched it up and made it his own, thus keeping intact free-will but rendering God a side-liner and not a predestinator.

or

1. God has no idea what the possibilities are
2. Man chooses Z
3. God is blindsided, goes broke.

or

1. God knows X will happen, and being all-powerful and wanring X to happen...
2. Man does X without even thinking about what Y could have been
3. Man perishes, God blames his parents for a rotten upbringing, and Jesus runs away to marry Keanu Reeves... The Holy Ghost is in rehab...

Yep, that clears it up.

Dar said...

Maybe "Tom" is gay and can't get married due to social idiocracy, therefore he is unnecessarily unmarried.

Jason, don't be dissing my hot & sexy dim-witted Keanu. He would run off with Buddha before Jesus anyway, but I'm staying single as I hear he's looking for a wife. LOL

Jason Hughes said...

Maybe you didn't hear, Dar, but Keanu is my man, and I simply thought he deserved a little R&R away form me for a while--LOL! :)

Really? He's shopping for a woman to hang on his arm? Damn, I thougth for sure he would fiod me first... Oh well!

marc said...

Jason - the trouble with your arguement is that you judge God from human values and of course he is not human.

Lui said...

It could be that the very concept of God is logically incoherent. Theists assume that God himself must have a choice in the matter, but if he is omniscient, then he knows everything that even he will do, but in that case he's not omnipotent because he couldn't have anything other than what he knew he would do. If he can do other than what he knew he would do, then he's not omniscient. Is God himself on a deterministic trajectory, imprisoned by this contradiction? (or apparent contradiction; I almost always discover there's more to something than I initially think. So if someone takes issue with this train of thought, then do say so)
If God is a perfect being/entity/force, what need there for imperfect humans to worship him? What need there for a universe? Was there a "disturbance in the force" that made God initiate the universe? If perfect, why create imperfection?
And I'm not really swayed by the idea that God is necessarily a moral agent. Is it not possible that God might be amoral and indifferent to us, especially with all the cruelty in the world? Psychopaths are people who are apparently incapable of feeling sympathy towards others. That's bad enough, except that presumably psychopaths also have souls. But what a curse to be assigned a phenotype that has the faculty of sympathy so woefully dysfunctional. Or if you're gay, many people will say, "What you're doing is against God's will." But since God assigned the "self" to that body, which has a biological predisposition towards homosexuality endowed by the genes/maternal influence in the womb, what could God expect? The gift of life is meant to be a GIFT, not a curse. If we're meant to be grateful to God, then he should at least give us something to be grateful for to begin with. If life were just a cruel test, then I would argue that God is just having fun tormenting his creation. HE doesn't have to answer to anyone higher. As he is "outside" the universe and "above" everything human, then he is also "above" morality. There seems nothing "inevitable" or "ncessary" about God's moral sense, as that would mean he is himself constrained, and therefore not above that constraint, and therefore not omnipotent. I appreciate that he might still CHOOSE to do the "right thing"; I only want to say that goodness needn't be inherent in God as that would entail a condition on his existence.

marc said...

My head hurts:¬)

Skywolf said...

That kind of sums up a question I remember often asking as a child. I was taught that God could only do 'right' - that he was incapable of sinning. Yet I couldn't integrate that with the teaching that God is omnipotent. If God can do anything and everything, why can't he do wrong? Because certainly, if God is the embodiment of all things good, then logically it must be impossible for him to do evil. But he's omnipotent, so he must be able to do evil...

So the only logical conclusion to that argument, in my mind, is that God is not necessarily the embodiment of good. He must have an aspect that allows him to do wrong... or he wouldn't be all-powerful, and we, as humans, would be able to commit acts God is physically incapable of committing. And surely we can't outdo God...?

Mike said...

Hi gang,

Lui, Skywolf and even Jason (humorously) bring up some interesting questions, but I believe your arguments do not succeed.

Lui, your thinking on the incoherence of God... Your thoughts about God's foreknowledge of his own actions is addressed by the argument I presented above. Mere knowledge does not constrain free will. Where is the actual connection between knowledge and a decision? Just because I know that I will do something does not mean that I am not free when I choose to do it. I encourage you all to really think through the argument above, I know it's difficult, but it's worth it.

Omnipotence... Omnipotence is not understood by philosophers as "being able to anything." Omnipotence is understood as "maximal power" - i.e, the greatest possible power. God cannot make a square circle. God can't make 1+1=3. This does not mean that he is not omnipotent. It's only if your idea of omnipotence is "able to do anything" that you run into trouble.

God can't sin... Try thinking of this as "God will not sin" rather than "God can't sin." God sees no good reason to sin, and because his character is so great, he will never sin. Certainly this is no limitation to his greatness... If he did do evil then this would be damaging obviously. Free will does not entail that you are capable of doing anything - probably all of us are incapable of committing murder because our character will not allow it, but this does not mean we are not free.

Why God created us... Lui you're right that God does not need us to worship him. But that is why we are so thankful to him for making us! He made us not to fill a void in himself but to share himself with us. Worship of God is for OUR benefit, and I have personally experienced this joy. You can liken it to the joy you experience when you admire something here on earth, like a beautiful sunset. Admiring something gives us joy.

God creating an imperfect world... According to the Christian worldview the world is thrown into chaos as a result of our rebellion against God, and this chaos permeates everything (even our genes) like a virus run amuck. So why did God allow this to happen? To give us a chance to enjoy Him for eternity. What?!?!

Okay, bear with me. We often here the complaint that it's not fair for God to create people knowing that they will reject him and live in awful agony forever. But have you ever heard someone complain about why a perfectly good, holy God would allow imperfect, messy, twisted, evil people into heaven? I haven't heard this, but it's as much a logical problem as the problem of hell. That God would be so forgiving, so gracious, as to let people who have hated him, spit at him, flipped him off, etc. into his eternal home, to be his child, his friend - that's astounding.

But why couldn't God have created a world where EVERYONE chooses him? This is the real question right? Well, perhaps that world would not have that many people in it, given free will. Remember, if free will is really FREE will, then God can't guarantee someone will choose him. And this isn't a flaw in his omnipotence, given what I said above. Free will is FREE will. And without free will, you can't have true love. God wants people who really love him, not robots who do what he commands. But back to the question... In this world we find millions of people who have chosen God who may not have existed in a world where everyone chooses God. Think about our ancestry, how we would not be here had it not been for our ancestors. I think God chose to fill heaven with as many people possible, and the awful price is the filling of hell as well. But keep in mind, we often assume that hell will be a lot more filled than heaven, but the exact opposite could very well be true. Think of all the miscarriages, abortions, babies/children lost in one way or another... and then think of all the people around the world who may actually know God but we put them in Non-Christian categories, and then think about the future... we don't know how many people will choose or reject God.

Well, there's my thoughts. I'm sure I left many questions unanswered, so please let me know and we'll discuss it.

Jason Hughes said...

I'm willing to concede that foreknowledge doesn't equal pre-ordained... When I am prone to thinking there may be a god, I think it is outside of time, looking at what we have done, what we're doing, and what we will do all at the same time, much as when we look at a timeline of the history of the world up till now, but including what the future holds...

The issue, though, really comes not down to "free will" and "predestination," although these are worthy things to ponder, for sure. The true issue that people have isn't whether or not they had a choice or not to love and accept this over-simplified, marketable god that most present to the world--the issue is, "Why doesn't God choose us?" Why must there be a hell? Why is there eternal punishment for 40 to 90 years of short life on earth? Shouldn't a perfect god be capable of unconditional, perfect love? (apparently, the god who created hell paid too much attention to the "tough love" seminars of the nineties!!)

While I am free to choose to accept and love this god, any god who could not accept flaws and incorrect decisions and decide to punish them for eternity is a god I actively choose to ignore, perhaps even spite. (And, as a side note, if it turns out that this god does exist and will punish me for eternity, I will accept that fate and spit on him at the same time!)

Now, I know we cannot allow murders or what-have-you running free on earth, which is why we sometimes imprison them for life, and sometimes we sentence them to death (the biggest fallacy of which is that it is a deterrent--but that's for another time, I think!). We punish them for the rest of their earthly lives for a stupid, stupid decision. But we know there's an end to their incarceration, whether through overcrowding and release, or death. Death, ultimately, is nothing more than an escape and end to life. But to actually believe that, after death, there is a great "omniscient, omnipotent" being that will punish you for eternity when, the odds of getting the full picture and getting it right!!! are so extraordinarily small and infinitesimal, to expect even a percentage of humans to get it right is not only absurd, but simple-minded and narrow-minded for a supposedly omniscient god...

You said above I was thinking of God in a "human value context," and I challenge that thought with "How can a human judge god by anything but a human context?" Whether it be from a standpoint of our values, our sense of good, our sense of right and just--our versions of god have always reflected that! Zeus, Ganaesh, Buddha, the Sun of the Aztecs, the River of ancient Egyptians, the Volcano's of Hawaii--all their reflections and thoughts of their gods have consistently and without fail reflected their cultures values and sense of justice.

Now we like to think our society has evolved past such flimsy and nonsensical ways of viewing a higher being... But it never will. Every concept we come up with, every notion we have, every thought we think and imagine is based on a value or advancement in our society that we then take and apply to this higher being. God didn't even care about civil rights until we thought he did, which is why we could use the bible to justify slavery--our god reflected our values...

Now you could argue that god always did value civil rights (or whatever topic you would like to use for an example) but only told us what we could handle at that given time in our development as a society; or that it took us that long to realize that the perfect being would want us to care about human rights and abolish slavery--but one only need to read the Old Testament to realize god didn't hold a philistines life, or a Canaanites life in as high esteem as a Hebrews life, so the whole argument falls apart if you use this christian deity--and I dare say, no other deity of the past would hold up either (but I'm willing to say that I might be wrong... but I doubt it.)

You cannot think outside of any human context to understand a being that is not human. We can surmise, observe, study, and experiment on animals--with god we have no such luxury. He is not visible, he doesn't affect our physical realm in such a way as to leave proof or evidence, and he even allows "choice" and "free will" as a cop-out to staring him in the face...

Of course, then you argue, with proof there is no faith, and without faith, god is nothing. And if one were to argue that, they would be right--god is nothing.

Hmm, this is getting long, and I'm sure I, like you Mike, left a lot unanswered and unexplained in full to such an extent that perhaps one might misunderstand my stance. Also let me know! :)

I have one last thing I'd like to cover, though. Mike, you said: But have you ever heard someone complain about why a perfectly good, holy God would allow imperfect, messy, twisted, evil people into heaven?

Is he not our father, our creator, the reason we exist? Even forgetting preordination or foreknowledge, if I have a puppy I bring into my home, could I truly justify sending it to be executed if he pissed on the floor? The puppy didn't know I would find it wrong! And to a dog, there still isn't anything wrong with pissing on the floor-that is us imposing our human values on a creature that isn't human! So the dog learns to pee outside, knowing that if he doesn't, he will incur the wrath of his earthly god, the human. But if he does piss on the floor (whether through medical condition, ignorance, or a brain-issue that prevents the dog from learning like mental retardation, or even age or missed opportunity), we still, as a human with a heart and conscience, not put that dog to sleep! We punish briefly to get a lesson across (a very unnatural lesson for a dog!), then we clean up the mess, and a few minutes later he is our slobbering, gushing, playful property. One which we are accountable for, one which we forgive, one which we will still love. Hell, even if the dog were to bite one of my nephews (and the scenario is most likely my nephew has antagonized him, but I digress!), maybe then I would have the dog either put down or adopted away--but I would not love that dog any less! And if I can get that dog adopted, or if I can muzzle that dog while a child is around, those are the options I would choose--an eternal punishment like death would be a supremely last resort, and even then, I know the dog isn't suffering (or at least I hope!!). I find the most loving way to deal with the issue, the most forgiving way possible to let him go--and hopefully I find an option which allows my misunderstood and antagonized dog to live a full and happy life!

I hope this make sense. Perhaps you'll take issue with my analogy. Either way, I look forward to your thoughts on this.

Jason Hughes said...

Actually, Marc said the above in bold and italic--not Mike... You guys need to spiff up your names or something--maybe like Supermarc and Tremendousmike...

These little four letter, all lowercase, all-black names run together!

My apologies, though!

Jason Hughes said...

Ahh! I give up!! Marc said about "human values." Mike did say the bold italic phrase I quoted...

Good god, make it stop!!!!!

I promise, this is my last post this evening!!!

My heads hurts also, like someone with an all-black four leter, all lowercase name!

Bishop Rick said...

God can make 1+1=3.
Haven't you heard of Synergy?

odaoywz

Bishop Rick said...

Personally, I like the thought ae made that the future doesn't exist, therefore God doesn't influence it, thus leaving our free will in tact.

All other comments make no sense, and make mark's head hurt.

dazexauf

marc said...

You're right Jason - twas not me!!

and my head still hurts:~)

Mike said...

Hi Jason,

Your thoughts on the reasons why people go to hell are simply not accurate. It's not because of a mistake someone commits, it's not because someone pisses on the carpet, it's not because someone lacks certain knowledge... Quite frankly, it's because someone hates God and does not want to be anywhere near him. One of your paragraphs is telling:

"While I am free to choose to accept and love this god, any god who could not accept flaws and incorrect decisions and decide to punish them for eternity is a god I actively choose to ignore, perhaps even spite. (And, as a side note, if it turns out that this god does exist and will punish me for eternity, I will accept that fate and spit on him at the same time!)"

So even if you find out that there is a God, you will spit in his face for eternity. Now I don't know if you are being serious here or not, but this actually helps us to understand hell. Hell is the place for people who hate God. They don't want him.

If you don't want God, God is not going to force you to stay with him. Hell's doors could very well be locked FROM THE INSIDE. It could be that God would open up heaven to the people in hell, but the people refuse. This is just the reality of free will. We see people making really foolish decisions all the time, choosing something worse over something better.

Believe or not, God tolerates your mistakes. ANY mistake. ANYTHING. The only thing he wants is your love. He loves you NO MATTER WHAT. But if you don't want to be with him, he's going to respect your decision as an adult and not hold you hostage in his house. It's either this or he can just shut off your free will and kill you. And you know, some Christians believe this, in theological terms it's called annihilationism - there is no hell, just complete annihilation.

But back to God's love and his view of you... How freeing it is to realize the unconditional love of God. He knows how messy I am. He knows all the stupid and selfish things I do. He sees me when I question him and doubt the goodness of his ways and get downright angry with him, but I know that he's never going to throw me out of his family. He's not going to throw me out of the house when I piss on the carpet - and I am far from being potty trained! I can talk to God about anything, I can have any emotion I want with him, I can be my completely honest messy jacked up selfish whining self, and he loves me no matter what. And it's this unconditional love that drives me into his arms every day, and makes me a better person.

It is our FALSE views of God that drive us away from him.

Rodolfo said...

"It is our FALSE views of God that drive us away from him."

That is exactly why I'm skeptic of religious books. I think books like the bible presents a FALSE view of many things we don't understand about ourselves and our universe. Ironically I feel like I have a much better understanding of the human experience and the suffering we perceive in this universe because of my disbelief in the bible.

Mike said...

Perhaps you might want to explain rodolfo.

Rodolfo said...

Take Adam and Eve. When I was around six or seven years old I read that there was an actual Adam and Eve that lived and they were the first "humans" to have walked Earth. I was taught that my original ancestors lived approx 6-10,000 years ago and that some god created them in his image. This account can be found in any popular bible book and I was taught to believe everything in it by my culture because they claimed that it is the official word of god. Well after careful research over the summer I now know (based on mountains of physical evidence) that our ancestors evolved over millions of years and there were more than one "adam and eve" that lived approx 100-200,000 years ago in Africa of which we all descended from. Now my numbers might be off more or less but what makes more sense to me is evolution because the collection of facts seem to work well together.

I've only recently started questioning the validity of the bible because all my early life I was taught to trust my faith instead of listening to my inner voice. What would popular god be if we didn't have the bible-koran-torah? I have no idea. I'm sure there will always be people trying to exploit that mystery for their personal benefit in one form or another. Even those that convince themselves that they are doing good by spreading these religious claims around the world are simply lying to themselves in my opinion. At least science doesn't stop at faith. But most people are raised to get the quick and easy answer. It's easier to believe in one book (and not read it!) instead of actually doing research on many books and conducting physical experimentations and observations. So if the bible is proven wrong about my past why should i trust it at all for my future?

Anonymous said...

Free-will vs (fore)knowledge:

What amazes me is that people speak of omniscient/omnipotent God and yet still try to bind Him with time. Everyone agrees omniscient/omnipotent God is not bound by height, length, or width, yet they attempt to constrain him with the human measurement for the passing of our lives.

God is not subject to time. Past, present, and future have no impact on God. God is timeless and, as such, He, as well as His knowledge, spans the human concept of time. God is in our past, in our present, and in our future all at the same "time", so to speak. God's knowledge isn't fore or aft, His knowledge is. The term foreknowledge can only apply when both the doer and the knower are bound within the same cage, ie time.

Human actions aren't determined by God's (fore)knowledge but rather, His (fore)knowledge is determined by our actions.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that free-will does co-exist with God's knowledge because His knowledge is only (fore)knowledge in the human concept of time.

Rodolfo said...

Hi anony,

Based on what?

Francois Tremblay said...

As a compatibilist, I must duly object to such an unsubtle conversation.

Mike said...

Hi rodolfo,

You don't have to interpret Genesis in the fundamentalist way that you were taught. There are many many Christians who believe in the evolutionary process, but they believe that God is the originator and providential driver of the process. Genesis does not have to be taken as a literal description of actual historical events. There is so much information that Genesis leaves out, so we simply cannot formulate a full-blown scientific account of origins from it.

I would also seriously think about your statement: "At least science doesn't stop at faith." Do we have faith that the natural laws will continue to be the same tomorrow? Do we have faith that what we observe is actually real, and not some illusion? Do we have faith that we can mentally grasp and accurately represent a real world out there? Do we have faith that other scientists are telling us the truth and giving us accurate reports of their experiments? Do we have faith that we will discover natural/physical explanations for all phenomena we observe? And do we have faith that these explanations provide a complete, exhaustive explanation? Science is certainly a wonderful, reliable avenue for knowledge, but when we make it the ONLY avenue, that is simply mistaken. If science is the only avenue for knowledge, how did we come to know that? By science?

Also, faith does not mean "blind faith." True faith has an evidential basis. Faith is best understood as trust based on good evidence.

You also said: "But most people are raised to get the quick and easy answer." Actually, we all have this tendency if we are honest. Let's all stop thinking "I have intellectual integrity but my opponents do not." This is just naive and arrogant, but it's really easy to do isn't it? I have found myself thinking like this a lot of times. But then I must tell myself, "Have I really read the best from the other side? Am I really aware of the best arguments from the other side? Does my opponent make some points that I need to really think about?" Intellectual integrity/openness is a moral virtue that must be developed within us all, and it takes time.

One more thing. If the Bible/Koran/any other religious book gets in the way of your idea of God, toss the book aside. Start with the idea of God. If there is a God, what should God be like?

Anonymous said...

Hi rodolfo.

Based on widely accepted definitions of terms.

Omnipotent means infinite in power.

Omnipotent God is not bound by seconds, hours, and days any more than He is bound by inches, feet, pounds, meters, grams, etc.

The very attribute of the eternality of Omnipotent God means he exists outside of time and He is unlimited and unmeasurable in extent of space, duration of time, etc. (Again, widely accepted definitions of eternal and infinite.)

As mentioned earlier, God's knowledge isn't before anything or after anything. His omniscience exists separate from the human measurement of time.

Everything that was to us, is to God.
Everything that is to us, is to God.
Everything that will be to us, is to God.

Our future actions that we will choose to take, allowed by our free-will, is what determines God's knowledge now. Not his knowledge now determining our future actions.

Rodolfo said...

Thanks for the replies to my comment

"There is so much information that Genesis leaves out, so we simply cannot formulate a full-blown scientific account of origins from it." (So why should I bother with the bible then?)

The beauty of science is that it is open to challenge by other scientists. Am I comfortable with the idea that our origins will be explained differently a hundred years from now? Different from the theory of evolution? Heck yea. If new evidence proves otherwise and it works then I'm all for it. I don't know of any other good way to solve the mysteries of our universe than by using the scientific method. What else do we really have?

"Start with the idea of God. If there is a God, what should God be like?" (you got me on this one. I don't know but if I did shoot me if I try start a new organized religion)

so i guess we ALL can sound pretty arrogant in commentworld. Trust me I don't care much for arrogance either but I can't change the words I write in here. But the theme of this blog is called "memoirs of an ex-christian" so I can only relate to the knowledge of god through my christian/catholic upbringing. bible god said some really dumb arrogant things in the bible but I acknowledge that bible god did say compassionate things also. But that doesn't make the bible or the bible god special to me because you can find the same kind of stories in almost every ancient/modern mythology. In my opinion there is no need to separate the torah-bible-koran books into a separate category from mythology.

anony, you simply defined words that begin with omni which I could do myself. But I don't know of any good evidence for the bible god to exist so I can't claim that he's any of those things. In fact some would argue that bible god is the complete opposite. The reason I asked "based on what?" is to inquire you get your idea that god is this this and that about free will? From the bible? If so then I'm skeptic of your claims about who, what, where, when, why, and how god is.

Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
--Epicurus

kevin-great blog!

SocietyVs said...

I find all the intellectual wrangling about pre-destination and 'free will' a real farce (I mean how can you prove anything either way which is out of your hands?) It's almost like asking the question 'I know what my brother or sister will do with the rest of their life?' What would be the basis of your prediction? Past choices? Psychology? Statistics? Comparison? Would you still get the right answer with that prediction? No.

The argument could be we are not omniscient, omnipotent, and the beginning and the ending of it all (so we are limited). Then we have to go by that in this argument to have any realism, at the least. We all live by the choices we make on a regular basis and nothing more. None of us know what tomorrow holds, sadly enough. But your choices on said day will make said things happen, that much you do know. To argue against 'free will' or 'choice' makes no logical sense...in the reality we have been given.

Even if God knows the beginning and the ending, what's that have to do with anything? Facts are we don't. We live by choices, decisions, our will, etc. This philosophy supposes such things as 'what God knows'...and there is no way we can know the mind of another, nevermind the mind of a God. If you really think about it, it gets a lot more simple than this.

Jason Hughes said...

Well, to use a Douglas Adam's phrase, "That about wraps it up for God."

Mike said...

Hi all,

I think that believing that this free will/predestination problem can't be solved is a copout not to think hard about it. There is a very interesting reconciliation of this problem in my opinion in the writings of Luis de Molina, a 16th century Spanish Jesuit, and his system is called Molinism. Check it out.

I also do not think that a timeless God helps this issue, because timelessness is fraught with problems. How can a truly timeless God interact with a temporal world? A timeless God experiences no time whatsoever. And isn't the passage of time real - i.e., there really is a past, present, and future? I think that most people who conceive of God as timeless are really thinking of God existing in another timestream, call it "God time" or "meta-time," which flows independent of our timestream, but this to me is difficult to imagine. Plus, the Bible seems to teach that God is everlasting, not timeless... although Jude 25 seems to say that God was timeless "prior to" creation - or you could say timeless "without" creation - and everlasting with creation. Philosophy of time is probably the most difficult area in philosophy, so I will stop talking about something I have so little understanding about :) If you want to believe that God is timeless go right ahead, but I think Molinism takes care of the problem without need for timelessness.

Rodolfo said...

Mike, Isn't everlasting and timeless the same thing? I guess my problem connecting with your insights is that I can't come up with a good enough idea of god. When I was being indoctrinated into the Christian faith the bible god that i "prayed" to was some old bearded white guy in the clouds. Ever since I threw that concept out of the window I haven't been able to even fathom who, what, where, when, why, and how god is. And I've tried. But even when I was little my skeptic nature always showed and I started to believe that what people understood as bible god is really mysterious and unknowable. So maybe this is a copout not to formulate a god in my mind simply because I'm agnostic but I don't think it's a weakness. I'm probably gonna sound arrogant when I say this but I feel more enlightened as opposed to when I was struggling with my faith. But more importantly I feel I've found inner peace and I value that more than belief in books, priests, or heaven. But with this new perspective I naturally gravitated towards science and I'm more at ease learning(and re-learning) some of the major accomplishments made by our modern prophets. I just don't find any satisfaction from listening to religous talkers or reading bible books anymore.

Mike said...

Hi rodolfo,

"Everlasting" refers to neverending time, whereas "timeless" refers to a state completely devoid of any flow of time.

You mentioned that you were "indoctrinated", and I believe you. Unfortunately there have been way too many Christians with a view of God that is way too small, and they have inflicted this view on way too many people. I'm sorry this happened to you, but I hope you can find some different views of God that are gloriously coherent and beautiful.

Let's talk about inner peace. Honestly, I don't know how anyone can have true inner peace with a belief that your life will come to a complete end. This life is it. Blink, it's gone. I have heard many argue that you can still have a meaningful life now knowing that this is it (and Kevin I have read your thoughtful article on this), but I do not know how anything can be truly meaningful when it will be completely gone and forgotten. Poof. It seems plain to me that each present moment is meaningful because it has eternal significance - it will be remembered and will thus have lasting impact.

Science has shown us that the most likely scenario for the universe is a slow, cold death. The sun will burn out one day, and so will every other star in this universe. Please tell me how one can have real, satisfying inner peace with oblivion staring us in the face. And if you think it's courageous to live with gusto knowing this fate, I would like to know how this courage is different from lunacy.

Rodolfo said...

Based on some observations of death when I die life on Earth continues on. That's fact. I'm always at a loss of words when I tell myself that but I can assure you it gives me inner peace. I may be the young and robust of today but in 50 years (if I'm lucky) I will be old and weary...and I'm okay with that. The most rational explanation for the fate of my conscious mind is to cease to exist and that's what reminds me that life is a gift and I should live every minute of it with gusto. The inner peace that I feel is similar to what some religious people feel after praying to an imaginary person. I'm not searching for Nirvana or anything like that but I am content knowing that I don't struggle to have faith in religious books. That's the inner peace that I get from not believing in religious books. But you're right it is kinda depressing to think that this all there is but I don't think of it that way. My genes and memes will live on. I don't have any kids right now but you can bet that I will be passing down my understanding of the world down to my nieces and nephews. Aviation for example. The longer I live the more I realize what a dream it would be for humans to explore space. It makes me a bit sad to have been born in a time period when civilian space travel is only at its infancy but the idea that future generations will one day achieve this dream is very exciting. I was not lucky to have been born into a family of pilots or nasa engineers but despite my late introduction into the world of aviation I will now do my best to ensure that the work of early aviation pioneers continue on through our children. But I was lucky enough to be alive and celebrate the centennial of powered flight and that's another huge consolation.

Exploration goes back even further than the Wright Brothers. It goes back to early human migration. I believe that we are all ultimately trying to get back to space. It's only a matter of time. But don't worry we'll have the technology to travel to Pluto waaaaaaaaaaaay before the death of our sun. And even when our sun dies you can take comfort knowing there will be many many other stars that we can adopt as our new sun. There's plenty of stars out there from where I can see.

"Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Back to you, Tom."
--Bill Hicks

Lui said...

What we want to happen after we die has no bearing on what's true. If there's no heaven and we don't like it, that's too bad. Since there's no evidence that heaven even exists, the default, rational position is to "live life with gusto knowing this fate". Deviations from this are what we should class as "lunacy", or at least delusion.

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

No evidence that heaven exists... What will you allow as evidence, and why? Apparently you won't allow the deep desire that the vast majority of people have for eternal life. Now certainly the presence of this desire is not a 100% "proof," but it is a piece of evidence that must be looked at. And just because it is not a 100% proof does not mean that the opposite conclusion is true - that our desires have "no bearing on what's true." Is your naturalistic explanation for the presence of this desire within us a 100% refutation of the existence of heaven? Certainly not, so I would not assert so strongly that there is "no evidence that heaven exists." Plus, the case for/against heaven is directly tied to the case for/against God, and unless you are ignorant of what's happening in contemporary philosophy the evidence for God is being hotly debated among the world's top thinkers on the subject.

C.S. Lewis once argued that if a creature is hungry it doesn't guarantee that there is food around the corner, but it does say something about the creature doesn't it... for it would be an odd world if there existed nothing that could satisfy this hunger. Our hungers must be taken seriously, and we have many strange hungers - hungers for unconditional love, hungers for lasting relationships, hungers for peace, significance, joy, wonder, etc. This is the human condition, and a worldview must provide a good explanation for our condition in order to be taken seriously.

If there is no heaven, how do you arrive at the conclusion that the default rational position is to live life with gusto? Why is this rational, since life would be ultimately meaningless? Wouldn't suicide be equally rational? The question of how life can be meaningful with oblivion as the inevitable end MUST be addressed. How can it be rational to believe that life is meaningful AND that it ends in oblivion? I would like to see an argument for why suicide would be less rational than living out your life if oblivion is our inevitable end - and I would like to hear something more than someone just deciding to make life meaningful, since this is clearly a subjective decision. i.e, I want to know how the objective facts of this universe SHOULD lead someone to find his/her life worth living within a naturalist worldview.

Now I just happened to see the most amazing baseball game I have ever seen as I was writing this. For those of you who are interested (perhaps no one!) it was the Dodgers beating the Padres 11-10, coming from 4 runs behind twice, hitting four straight home runs in the 9th - which hasn't happened in 42 years - getting back into first place over the Padres... the crowd was going nuts, the players were going nuts... Is this game meaningful if no one remembers it tomorrow? Poof.. it's gone. Erased.

Lui said...

Hi Mike,

responding to your reply. "What will you allow as evidence, and why? Apparently you won't allow the deep desire that the vast majority of people have for eternal life. Now certainly the presence of this desire is not a 100% "proof," but it is a piece of evidence that must be looked at."
Desire by itself never becomes evidence for the something being desired. You state clearly "it is a piece of evidence that must be looked at." No, it isn't. It must be looked at when someone provides something other than people's desire to believe in that thing. Pending that evidence, I see no reason to take the notion of heaven seriously, anymore than I’m obliged to take seriously the claims of hollow-Earthers or astrologers.

"Is your naturalistic explanation for the presence of this desire within us a 100% refutation of the existence of heaven? Certainly not, so I would not assert so strongly that there is "no evidence that heaven exists." "

I wasn't attempting a 100 percent refutation of heaven's existence: it might exist and it might not. What I said was perfectly neutral: that's there's no evidence for heaven. I made no commitment to the notion that there must necessarily be no heaven.

"C.S. Lewis once argued that if a creature is hungry it doesn't guarantee that there is food around the corner, but it does say something about the creature doesn't it... for it would be an odd world if there existed nothing that could satisfy this hunger. Our hungers must be taken seriously, and we have many strange hungers - hungers for unconditional love, hungers for lasting relationships, hungers for peace, significance, joy, wonder, etc. This is the human condition, and a worldview must provide a good explanation for our condition in order to be taken seriously."

The comparison to a creature's hunger is ill conceived as it actually works against your argument. The creature is hungry because of a sequence of chemical events taking place in its body that was selected for during the course of evolution because such interactions aided its ancestors' survival. What of religion? It turns out that it's likely that humans are hard-wired to seek supernatural explanations for phenomena. The evolutionary algorithm holds true even for this. It is possible that our ancestors were selected for religiosity because such beliefs helped hold a community together by encouraging team spirit, enforcing a moral code, curbing cheats etc. Or it could be that the tendency to religiosity is something that is a side effect of our other cognitive faculties, and that religiosity just happened to get dragged along with the other things. Religions had their beginnings in pre-state, pre-scientific times, when phenomena were difficult to explain through naturalistic explanations. Nobody knew about atoms or gravitation or alleles. Humans are pattern-seeking animals: this is clearly adaptive, but the cost of it is that we often see order or agency where it doesn't actually belong. Our sense of pattern seeking can overstep the mark and take us down avenues of belief that aren’t necessarily true. It is perfectly rational to be an atheist and STILL believe that humans may be hardwired for believing in the supernatural, because such a tendency may have aided survival or it may be part of a larger repertoire of cognitive predispositions. It is when we STUDY these tendencies and the possible processes that gave rise to them that we gain real insights about our condition. It is not enough to take them at face value and assume that the things we tend to believe are themselves real insights. We can and do get fooled, all too easily. That’s in our nature, and if we’re to understand our condition, we need to rise above that and look at things as objectively as we can; otherwise we just dig ourselves into a conceptual hole.

"If there is no heaven, how do you arrive at the conclusion that the default rational position is to live life with gusto? Why is this rational, since life would be ultimately meaningless?"

Ultimately meaningless, yes, in that we're all products of a mechanical process (evolution) which itself has no sense of awareness. But that's different to derived meaning. There are things I enjoy doing, just as there are things you enjoy doing. These things mean something to me because they give me pleasure/joy/awe/a sense of wonder. Look at the face of a beautiful woman. There's nothing "intrinsically beautiful" about her; it's that you find her proportions to be visually pleasing because they set off a series of events in your visual cortex and other areas of your brain. Natural selection wired your brain in sch a way that you would likely find such stimuli arousing/pleasing.

"Wouldn't suicide be equally rational?"

No, because that would be a tremendous waste of our good fortune of being alive. Since I believe that I only get one shot at life, that to me increases the worthiness of living. It's all the more reason to live knowing that it will only be done once. I confess having moments of anxiety; sometimes I truly want to be immortal, but I never believe that this entitles me to think that I'm meant to live forever.

"The question of how life can be meaningful with oblivion as the inevitable end MUST be addressed. How can it be rational to believe that life is meaningful AND that it ends in oblivion? I would like to see an argument for why suicide would be less rational than living out your life if oblivion is our inevitable end - and I would like to hear something more than someone just deciding to make life meaningful, since this is clearly a subjective decision. i.e, I want to know how the objective facts of this universe SHOULD lead someone to find his/her life worth living within a naturalist worldview."

The answer is, the objective facts CAN'T lead someone to find his/her life meaningful. I enjoy life not because I know that billions of neurons are firing in my brain, I enjoy life because of the RESULT of these neurons firing. There are stimuli that I seek because I have been programmed by my genes to seek them, as they aided the survival of my ancestors. (that's the "reason" I seek them. There's no higher purpose, and to me that's all the more astonishing) If anyone wants to commit suicide because they can't stand living in such a pointless universe, that's their choice. (and a tragic choice it is, but not because there’s some realm where the concept of “tragic” exists as a real entity) But given what they'd be missing out on, it might be more "rational" still to at least live their lives before dying.

"Now I just happened to see the most amazing baseball game I have ever seen as I was writing this. For those of you who are interested (perhaps no one!) it was the Dodgers beating the Padres 11-10, coming from 4 runs behind twice, hitting four straight home runs in the 9th - which hasn't happened in 42 years - getting back into first place over the Padres... the crowd was going nuts, the players were going nuts... Is this game meaningful if no one remembers it tomorrow? Poof.. it's gone. Erased."

The game is meaningful because it meant something to the people who enjoyed it. And "unfortunately" that's all there is to it. There was a time in the universe when there was no such thing as morality or "meaning". With the advent of humanity, that changed. But it wasn't something that, when it appeared, "hung from the sky" like an independent object, it was something that emerged from a process indifferent to our whim. To be human is to want for there to be something else, but the universe just doesn’t care. We, however, do, and that’s reasons enough for me to live.

Casey Kochmer said...

Heh: I might as well add the Taoist point of view, especially since strangely I just wrote one up a few weeks ago and posted it here: Empty Space.

A quick summary is we do have free will, free will is the ability to shape our own form. Free will is why you can never define the meaning of life as the meaning must shift for each person according to how they shape their own life.

The funny thing is people think if the universe is predetermined, then free will cannot exist. Strangely thats not true. Even knowing the outcome doesn't force a path or shape of a life. Many paths exist to a single outcome.

As a result a Taoist doesn't care if the universe is or isn't predetermined. It doesn't matter, what matters is we do have the ability to shape our lives. (again ... even if thats an illusion, well we possess the illusion so why not live it) So no matter how you argue this a Taoist smiles, and goes on, shaping their life and enjoying it for all the contradictions it does reveal.

Peace :)

Kevin Parry said...

I’m still working through all the comments that have been made here, so forgive me if this has already been mentioned.

Mike wrote:
How can mere knowledge CAUSE someone to do something? Where's the connection in reality?

This is a good argument, and I will do more reading up on it. At this present time, I accept the conclusion that God’s foreknowledge has no affect on the decisions that humans make. However, I just want to ask the question: does God himself have free will in this scenario? Not only does God make choices, but he has also known, from the beginning of time, what choices he himself would make. Humans might have free will, but has God got himself tied up into some predestined knot?

And I wonder if Christians will have free will in heaven; will they have the potential of sinning against God when they are in paradise? Satan did.

Rodolfo said...

Suicide struck a chord with me when the artist Kurt Cobain shot himself in the head back in 1994. It took a long time for me to accept that because in my opinion his music resonated throughout my fragile senses. The voice of my "slacker" generation. His music consisted only of three or more chords but they were constructed together in a way that was soft and pretty for one verse and then loud and powerful the next. Classic verse chorus verse and many musicians employ this technique but at the time I felt like Cobain did it the best. I still wish he didn't do it though. Supposedly he was suffering from stomach pains and the only way he felt to get rid of the pain was to commit suicide. You know I can see the rationality behind that. If I have physical pain that makes life unbearable then I just might go ahead and choose to kill myself. Will my life be any less precious for doing so? Was Kurt's life any less precious now that he's dead. I think anyone that has the mental capacity to "know" he or she is alive is one of the most precious epiphanies we can experience in life. I wonder about Cobain's daughter. Is she suffering because she lost her father? Did Cobain think about her suffering when he decided to blow his brains out? I'm sure he did. Did he care? I hope so. The only logical explanation for everything was that he really had a sick stomach and if that was his main excuse then I guess I can sorta respect that. Does it make it right? I don't know the answer to that. I bet if we learned that Osama Bin Laden committed suicide most of us in here would probably be rejoicing in the streets though.

What's the meaning of life? As a recovering "believer" I often asked that through the book because I was told everything and anything I needed to know about life was in that book. Well the book didn't do much for my basic questions. When I chose to define life specific to my own life that's when it got much easier. What's the meaning of MY LIFE? I define MY LIFE to be precious and sacred and I wouldn't want to commit suicide because that goes against the definition of MY LIFE. Besides I wouldn't want my friends and family to suffer at the thought of me dead.

“Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is Whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.”
--Joseph Campbell

Casey Kochmer said...

Kevin: you ask

does God himself have free will in this scenario?

depends on the definition of God. If God is a mechanic within the scope of the universe not the sum of the universe. Then God has free will, but if God measured the universe. ie determines the end, then that was the choice of free will and forfeits the actual free will of then choosing his/her path by the act of measuring the future. (hope that makes sense)

If God is everything the sum of the universe, then God is not a conscious being in the sense of what we are, and wouldn't have free will as God is determined by the summation of every action of free will made by the whole.

If god is us, then yes god has free will since its expressed in our own free will.

etc

you can dance around this question with so many different answers.

Dar said...

Ditto to what Lui said many comments ago:

"What we want to happen after we die has no bearing on what's true."

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

Regarding the desire question you said,

"Desire by itself never becomes evidence for the something being desired. You state clearly "it is a piece of evidence that must be looked at." No, it isn't. It must be looked at when someone provides something other than people's desire to believe in that thing. Pending that evidence, I see no reason to take the notion of heaven seriously, anymore than I’m obliged to take seriously the claims of hollow-Earthers or astrologers."

Did you notice that at the end of the paragraph I said that the question of heaven is tied to the question of God? So if you bring in evidence for God than this can be the other evidence that you are talking about. Plus, there is evidence of people being conscious in the absence of brain activity.

But even in the absence of other evidence, why would you dismiss desire altogether as a piece of evidence? Where is the argument for this strange methodology? Perhaps we have different ideas of what we mean by "evidence." I am not saying that "evidence" entails the conclusion, only that evidence requires some kind of explanation. It seems clear to me that the presence of desires prompt us to find satisfaction for these desires, and if there exists no possible satisfaction for them than the obvious question we face is “Why? Why do I have these desires?” And you in fact do feel the need to provide some kind of explanation for “religious” desires because you gave an account of their presence through the process of natural selection. But this explanation leaves us with a whole lot of other problems… If religious beliefs help humans survive and thrive, then shouldn’t we have these religious beliefs? You argue that we should not have them because they are not true. But what does natural selection care about truth? Survival is the goal, not truth. Survival takes primacy over truth. If truth does not help survival then toss truth aside. And in your view, your views on what is true would actual hinder your reproductive chances, because most people want real, genuine hope for the future. Just observe how most people react when loved ones die. Almost always they say with tears, “I will see them again some day.” Now whether or not this is true is beside the point, because in your view if this belief helps people find life worth living and if it helps survival, then this belief is what “should” (or will) be selected in the evolutionary process.

Your thoughts on the meaningfulness of life interest me because of what I see as a clear conflict within your mind. On the one hand you say that there is no objective meaning to life, and on the other hand you say that life is meaningful because it’s the only life we have (and we’re lucky to have it) and so we should make the best of it. This appears to me to be some kind of argument for why people should find life meaningful, call it the “I’ve only got one life so I’ll make the best of it” argument. The problem with this argument is that it assumes at the outset that a temporary life is valuable, but this is the very question under debate. The question is how a temporary life can be valuable, what this value is based on, and whether this value is great enough to motivate us to live out our lives. "Making the best of it" is not a clear choice of action given the premise. Starting with the same premise – that this is the only life we have – the person contemplating suicide can say with equal force, “If this is the only life I have, why prolong the inevitable? If my actions and thoughts are here today and gone into oblivion tomorrow, what’s the point in playing out this life? Nothing will last, so there’s no point in doing anything.” You said that someone who commits suicide will have “wasted” the life they got. But the concept of “wasted” assumes that what is wasted is valuable in the first place, and it implies that what is wasted should have been preserved. But NOTHING will be preserved. If oblivion is the end, there is no difference between the person who lived out life and the person who ended life prematurely. No one will be around to make any kind of judgment on who wasted their time and who did not. Remember, according to our best scientific theories today the universe itself will die out. Every star will burn out, everything will stop. But even if this is not the future, even if the universe continues on for eternity, will anything that happens now be remembered, say 1,000,000 years from now? How much of what happened 100 years ago is remembered today?

Consider the most meaningful times of your life. You remember them. You don’t remember almost all of the other uneventful times – what you ate for breakfast two years ago today, what you were thinking about as you were going to work 4 months ago, etc. The meaningful times we hold onto with care in our memories, and we tell stories about them, and we relive them in our minds with pleasure. We wish we can go back and relive many of them. But you are saying that our lives can be meaningful without any memory of them left at all. They just happen, and they’re gone forever. This idea of meaningfulness just flies in the face of what we consider meaningful times in our everyday lives.

Finally, you said:

“To be human is to want for there to be something else, but the universe just doesn’t care. We, however, do, and that’s reasons enough for me to live.”

I really don’t think you have come face to face with the absolute bleakness of this view, the hopelessness. I don’t think people with your view take the importance of hope seriously enough. Psychologists and sociologists have known for years that hope is the driving force for life, and without it people tend to give up and quit. People need hope to keep moving on. Maybe you don’t, but still my question remains, “Why?”

Mike said...

Hi Kevin,

I admire your openness in considering arguments that oppose your conclusions. Thanks for a great blog!

You asked: "does God himself have free will in this scenario? Not only does God make choices, but he has also known, from the beginning of time, what choices he himself would make. Humans might have free will, but has God got himself tied up into some predestined knot?"

I believe that the original argument above addresses God's foreknowledge of his own choices too. Just because God knows what he will do, this knowledge is not constraining his will, because he simply wants to do what he does. He knows it, but he wants it too. I am inclined though to investigate this question more. Thanks for bringing it up.

Jason Hughes said...

While I can't speak for others, just because one doesn't believe in an after life doesn't mean they don't have hope.

I hope I get a chance to do everything I want to do while I am still alive--become a father, see Europe and the Great Wall, see lions in their natural habitat in Africa, see my nieces and nephews start families of their own, spend lots of time with friends and family, care for my parents as they age, and all through it, as I live this life I never asked for, I hope that the people I share in this journey with also try to be good and decent folks, to help one another, to care for one another...


Not because they fear eternal fire, not because they try to perceive a life beyond conscious thought and hope in some way to be rewarded. But because we're all just trying to do the best we can. Some are failing, some are doing great, and most of us hit average, but in one thing we all have in common--

None of us asked to be here. None of us have the answers. None of us will ever know until we die.

My hope lies not in what might be after this life is gone... My hope lies in what I can do for myself and my fellow man today, even if its something as simply as holding open a door for a stranger, and telling the cashier at Wal-Mart to have a nice day.

I don't need the false hope of after this life. Because the truth is, you don't know. Most only believe so they have their fire insurnace policy paid up before the inevitable end. Some because apparently they can find nothing on this plane of existance that equates the dream of another life somewhere past this one. And some because they were told to.

I believe in now. I hope in now. I live in now. I didn't ask for it, but as far as I know, this is it--my only shot. And I'm going to do what I want, when I want, how I want, and hopefully, along the way, I get to make others lives on this earth just a teensy bit better. Notr because I have to--not because I was told to--not because I fear and must--but because I am human. And so are you.

Mike said...

Hi Jason,

You said:

"While I can't speak for others, just because one doesn't believe in an after life doesn't mean they don't have hope."

You then proceeded to share some of the things you hope to exerience and see in your life. But what about when you are on your deathbed, with hours left to live... What hope will you have then? Let's actually face the facts and go from there. Writing eloquently about the joys of life now is just completely avoiding the issue.

And the "Christians do good out of fear of punishment" argument really needs to stop because it is just simply not what Christians believe. Christians believe that they no have absolutely no fear because they have accepted God's unconditional love, and they do good out of an immense gratitude to God. The New Testament teaches in several places that Christians can live life without any fear of punishment.. "There is now no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1)... "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, for fear has to do with punishment" (1 John 4:18).

Jason Hughes said...

"There is now no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1)...

Why do you think a lot of kids become christians? Most persons who identify as christians became so before they even reached the age of twenty... I'll see if I can find the study later, but fear is a driving force behind people "coming to christ."

And as to when I'm on my deathbed? Being that I have already died almost twice in my life, both times from medical conditions, I can honestly say I have no fear about what may or may not be in the afterlife... The only things I could think about were the facts that I never have sen Europe yet and I haven't become a father yet... Now is what counts. Not the maybe if's of the future. I could care less about then, and I say that with complete honesty. Of course, a lot of people haven't had the "luxury" (LOL!) of almost dying, so who knows what crosses their minds? I dare say, a lot of people not only don't know what they're going to think, but some maybe won't have that chance to lie there and contemplate death (aneurisms, strokes, head-on collisions...).

As I've stated previously, and which is not an avoidance of a psuedo-issue, life is now. Hope is now. And it's silly ( in my opinion) to base your whole present on something unknown like a heaven or hell. And as I've also said before, if when I get to the so-called judgement seat and your god says to me, "Go to hell," I'll be fine with that. But I'm at work and have to cut this short, so I'll be back later to clarify if needed...

Lui said...

What does it mean to be a "God-fearing Christian"? If God doesn't want us to be scared of him, why create Hell (and hence necessarily the fear of punishment)? And will I, an atheist, go to Hell for not being a follower of Jesus? But what if I do become His follower. Will Allah send me to Hell for not converting to Islam? And what of the many other religions? Why does God have to be the Christian God rather than a generic God that no one really knows about, but whos nature can be somewhat decuded from logic and facts about the world? I willl address your latest response to me Mike, but right now I don't feel too sharp.

Rodolfo said...

I look at life now as if I'm already dying. I was born with a disease called death. It's inevitable. As far as I know no one has escaped death permanently so there is no hope for me to believe that my physical body will continue living the way I know how forever on Earth. I hope that the last thing on my mind before I die is the comfort knowing that my family and friends (heck, even all of humanity) will be okay. My only hope for my consciousness after this life on Earth is the dream of surfing the galaxy as space dust. But I'm not counting on it. If the claims made by religious books turn out to be prophetic in my after life then rocking out with all my fellow non-believers in hell for all eternity would not be so "hellish" for me. I'll be laughing at the irony.

Mike said...

Hi Jason and Lui,

The "fear" issue... You and others make out fear of God as if it were only a fear that God will punish me for making a mistake, perhaps each and every mistake. But like I said, Christians have no fear of this. God is not a slave driver demanding our perfect obedience or else we get whipped. Not at all. He puts up with any mistake we make, and it doesn't affect his infinite love for us. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less.

Sure a lot of people and kids are scared of hell, but this is not the motive that God ultimately wants from people - to love Him because you're afraid of hell - God wants people to grow out of that, to see his goodness clearly, to see that he is worthy of our love and profound adoration. God may need to get some people's attention by showing them how scary and meaningless life is without him, but he doesn't want people to remain as infants in their thinking. God wants people to grow into adults. And remember, hell is simply a place where God is not, a place where people want to live because they hate God, so God leaves them alone - it's not God's torture chamber.

Fear is often understood in the Bible as profound respect. It's a realization of how powerful God is, how our lives our completely in His hands. This is what fear refers to in the term "God-fearing Christian".

Lui said...

Hi Mike,

in response to "God may need to get some people's attention by showing them how scary and meaningless life is without him, but he doesn't want people to remain as infants in their thinking. God wants people to grow into adults."
With respect to the first part, I hadn't realised how "meaningless" life is without him, so he needn't get my attention. As to the second part, I think that if we're to live as adults in the real world, we need to grow out of God. The universe might be big and scary, but if that true then tough. It's still true. And it's all the evidence has given us warrant to think.

Mike said...

Hi Lui,

Well all I can say is that your idea of where the evidence points is different than mine. I still would like to hear from you an account of why life should be lived if there is no objective meaning. So far all I have heard is that you have chosen to make things meaningful, but why make that choice? Why find certain things meaningful and not others? If you have no answer, and all you can say to people is "Life is scary and ultimately meaningless. Tough. Deal with it", then you might want to take another look at all the evidence...

You wrote: "I hadn't realised how "meaningless" life is without him, so he needn't get my attention." Maybe God is trying to get your attention right here.

Lui said...

Even the word "should" is grounded in overtones of subjective. Why "should" God oppose the poisoning of orphans? I would like to hear HIM give an objective account of why he thinks such acts are immoral.
The reason (I don't claim it to be objective, so hold your fire) is because I am awestruck by the beauty of nature, by the intricacy of living things, because I want to experience the sensations that make life worth living to so many people. I don't think about what's going to happen when the universe supposedly ends. That's inconsequential on the scale we live our lives. You're asking why we should live OUR lives, not why God should live his. We live on an altogether different scale.
I believe I have given an answer to why we find certain things meaningful, and I didn't say, "life is scary". I said the universe is scary. It's up to us to keep ourselves safe so that that universe is less scary. For that we need science and technology. We've also invented religion.
I don't know what evidence you're referring to when you ask me to take another look at it all. As Richard Dawkins said: "Our conceptions about what's comfortable have no bearing on their claim to truth."
I believe that God is indeed trying to get my attention. But by this I do not acknowledge that God is a being who exists; God is an idea that is transferred from one mind to another. That idea contains within it the component idea that it should be transferred to other minds because of its inherent merit. I would still need to see evidence to take seriously the notion that the idea actually contains some truth.

Anonymous said...

Your argument is exactly one of the reasons (out of many) why I, as a Christian, don't believe that free will actually exists. We have some "appearance" of free will- just like the ignorant characters of a story.
Some might ask, then, why would we pray for God to change anything, if He can do what He wants? I say, simply because God asks us to, and this is the way He requires us to work. And as for the people, who are convinced -not- to do anything with their lives because of this argument, their reactions to knowing this are all predetermined anyway, so therefore don't really prove evidence against the no-free-will argument.
Others argue, "If such is the case, what justifies God in sending people to hell?" and I say, He has no justification. He is God, and He really does what He pleases.
Some Christian might see this as wrong, because it violates their picture of a God of love. The Bible has said that God doesn't want us to suffer, and He wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth. This makes God appear rather masochistic. Why would God make Himself suffer, instead of saving everyone?
In order to avoid answering these questions, Christian apologists (thank you for calling them so accurately) argue for free will.
Some might ask, "If you believe this, why are you a Christian?"
Atheists- like you yourself- don't disbelieve God out of a hatred of Him. Then you would actually believe in Him, but would be ignoring Him purely out of spite.
As a Christian, I don't believe in God, because I think He's the best god, or because I love Him so much-I simply believe in His existance. Why, I won't go into at this time.

~gip-k

Deacon Barry said...

An omniscient god can see the outcomes of every decision ever made, as a bifurcating tree of possibilities, so she knows all your futures. Which future you end up at, is up to you.

Anonymous said...

If God does not want us to worry about hell, or to fear him then why did he make it? Why does he threaten us with it?
We have a choice huh? To follow him or go to hell...oh yeah it is free will alright. SO easy, can't understand why people cannot understand how simple this is. He made hell. He made the rules stating you are going to burn there forever, with gnashing of teeth too, your torment will never end. But you do have a choice really. You are free to walk away from God and live your life, if you don't mind burning in hell that is. That is a THREAT masquerading as a choice.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin, I'm Ash

I'd like you to read my old blog on this:

God the risk taker?

..So, if God is truly ..above.. taking risks, then we must accept that things such as sin, child mutilations, and people going to hell are all in accordance with God..s will...
(Boyd 200:58)

Open Theism, viewing the future as partly open and partly settled only to the extent which God deems it so is a very refreshing theosophical perspective which seems to answer with precision the great theological questions which for many years, probably many still to come, have been the subject of debate amongst academics. However warm and fuzzy the feelings open theism brings with it, such a controversial view needs to be looked at with a critical eye. Let us become conversant with Gregory Boyd on the topic of Open Theism.

Anybody who says that God regrets, God changes his mind and that must face a partly open future will no doubt come under the scrutiny of the conservative body of believers but perhaps Boyd who merely presents this school of thought makes a good point that, after reviewing the great wealth of evidence in Scripture one can only conclude that to deny the openness of the future, this theology of possibility , is to be given over to one..s philosophy of God rather than to the whole view as represented in the text.

There is something of value in Open Theism, which I would hope will not be overlooked by the greater body of believers, is that it presents to us a very relational God, one who responds to his people. After reflecting upon the thought of a God who changes his mind, the divine reversals and the testing of believers, I..ve come to see something really amazing. The God of the classical theologian may be proclaimed as a relational God, yet with such a deterministic view and a future exhaustively settled it makes God somewhat aloof and removed from society. Perhaps classical theology has become the inspiration of modern thought which sings the song ..From a distance, God is watching us... When we compare the Open Theist..s view of God with a real person to person love relationship, there are many insights to be gained. Why is it that responsiveness in a love relationship is is seen as a positive trait yet we find it difficult to see it in the same light with our relationship with God? What kind of relationship do we have with God then? Perhaps a repainting of our faith and understanding of God is necessary, and maybe Open Theism paints such a picture, let us continue to examine this view.

Freedom, an integral part of our relationship to God.He gives us the freedom to enter into relationship with him or to deny him; such freedom is the basis of genuine love. It is this very freedom which in itself would suggest a partially open future, anything less would imply either a coercion to love God or a tyrant God who creates people who are damned to hell. God becomes very insecure and irrational the moment we say that everything is exhaustively settled.

I..ve always struggled personally with God testing his people..why? Open theism provides a very convincing answer as to why God would find it necessary to test his people. Our choice and our will is not certain to God, he knows all the possibilities and he hopes that we will respond to his grace by choosing the best option the one of greatest possibility to him, yet we remain free agents. Our love for God is something that we choose, and if it is chosen, God wants to find it out. The first argument against this is that it makes for an insecure God, why does he need to go through such great lengths just to be sure that we love him? Yet, upon reflection, and considering the desire to know which a lover has for their partner I see open theism..s view of God in the same manner. God wants to be involved with his people, he wants to know how they love him, such a God is somehow more real, or much closer than the one who watches from a distance and who already has the future of the world worked out. Perhaps this is partially settled and partially open future is one of the ways in which God chooses to tie himself to his people.

Open theism brings together the paradoxical realities of future determinism and future openness. Such paradox is mirrored in Science when we see how at a subatomic level there exists a realm of unpredictability and possibility, a realm which coexists with our visible realm which is governed by the laws nature. Though seeing the future as partly open places on us a great responsibility, we can still thank God for his grace, and the very fact that the future is left partly open allows room for what Boyd calls ..the flexible potter.. (Boyd 2000:75) to work. Regardless of our choices and decisions, God is still able to work things out according to his will.


I've been reading much into this new view, which I think balances the ideas of free will and predestination. I'd like to chat more with you, we can both learn a little I think :)

if you're on myspace:
www.myspace.com/ash_at_thebean

or email: ashvis@telkomsa.net

At no point do I want to try to convince you to become a christian or whatever...

Kaze said...

lol what a hot philosophical topic but the skeptic has a fatal flaw in his/her argument. they are not proving whether or not we have free will. since their argument is that we do not have free will, then god is responsible for evil and therefore is not omnibenevolent. yet people worship someone who is not good?

very few philosophers have flawless arguments for why god exists.
if you decide to be christian at least use plato's principles in just giving yourself a reason to believe in god, but not rule out the possibility of his non-existence.

<3