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Thread: The free will problem

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  1. #1
    I've seen worse. SuperModerator ColoradoGuy's Avatar
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    The free will problem

    The free will problem has been a thorny theological issue for Christians for thousands of years. It is bound up with explanations of evil -- people make bad choices, leading to evil. Yet an omnipotent God by definition knows what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Giving people free suggests that things could go off in any number of ways, depending upon what they choose. Does that diminish God's omniscience? The vexing implications of these questions became a big part of Calvinism and its doctrine of predestination, among other things. He didn't totally discount free will (perhaps because it seems to go against common sense), but the issue tied him in knots explaining it. Of all the early Christians, Augustine was most concerned with what free will meant. You can read a summary of Augustine's view here. (I tried to find a succint, non-partisan discussion of Calvin's views on free will to link but couldn't come up with one, other than his own writings, which are pretty dense.)

    Leaving these dusty theologians aside, the notion of free will is still a problem, and the more you think about it, the more problematic it gets. In a day-to-day sense, most of us these days subscribe to the view that whatever we do (or don't do) is a freely chosen thing. Yet even though Freud is very much out these days, we carry residual notions that there are forces within us that compel us to act this way or that, things beyond our control. Plenty of defense attorneys argue that for their clients. The current self-help culture for all personality ills really posits the same thing: understand why you are compelled to do this, get the insight, and you can act a different way, gaining a corresponding snippet of free will. In many ways we are unknowingly reenacting centuries-old debates.
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  2. #2
    A few scattered responses:


    1) I heard once that free will is sin, since choosing against God's will is sin-- and otherwise, there's no choice. Choosing to obey God's will is one act of freedom.

    2) God's knowing what will happen doesn't take away our freedom to do it. It doesn't need to be pre-written for God to know it will happen... NOW or have the omniscience to see it coming. Why are freedom of action/choice/will and determinism at odds anyway? The only thing we can come up with is that, logically, human "free will" means that the present could have been radically changed by alternative actions taken in the past. While this is true (obviously Butterfly Effect), it's almost irrelevant, unless, of course, there are entire worlds created by the roads we haven't taken, etc. I.e., this is the "best" and worst of all possible worlds, since there are no others to compare to.

    3) The question of free will is difficult because we have so much trouble knowing who the Who is, making all the choices. How many "choices" do we make which are inevitable, natural instinct, or socialized behaviors? How many are really conscious or aware choices? (This is my critical view about original sin: there's much we do that is sinful that reflects neither human nor God's will.) The problem is both tidied up and muddled in mind/body, body/soul hierarchies. The likes of which I needn't explore quite yet.

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  3. #3
    Is me. Monkey's Avatar
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    My first reaction was to say that this problem doesn't exist in most faiths.

    Then I thought of Karma and Dharma, of Fate, of any and all forms of destiny or predestination, and realized that there are a LOT of religions that find a difficult balance between Free Will and some inescapable guiding force.

    Interesting.

    My own view is that our destiny is determined mostly by the needs/desires of our souls (not necessarily the same as our conscious needs/desires) and only partially, if at all, by outside forces of any stripe.
    Last edited by Monkey; 03-20-2009 at 05:40 AM.

  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW RainyDayNinja's Avatar
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    My two cents...

    In a purely naturalistic framework, there could be no true free will, because the operation of our brains would either be deterministic (through classical physics) or chaotic (due to quantum effects). This suggests that free will requires a "spiritual" component to our persons that operates outside of normal laws of cause and effect. This could explain how God can be omniscient and (mostly) omnipotent, yet the world still turned out pretty darn crappy: no matter how he sets things up in the beginning, he just can't control us.
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  5. #5
    It's a doggy dog world benbradley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RainyDayNinja View Post
    My two cents...

    In a purely naturalistic framework, there could be no true free will, because the operation of our brains would either be deterministic (through classical physics) or chaotic (due to quantum effects).
    Just a note here, certainly quantum effects can add to chaotic operation, but I don't see where quantum effects are needed.
    Quote Originally Posted by RainyDayNinja View Post
    This suggests that free will requires a "spiritual" component to our persons that operates outside of normal laws of cause and effect.
    Now we're REALLY diverging. () Even if chaotic operating IS caused by quantum effects, I don't see where free will (if it exists) requires any such spiritual component.

    ETA: Okay, you said "suggests," not requires. This may just be a difference of opinion, but I don't see it.

    Actually, if you can prove that, you pretty much proved the existence of God.
    Quote Originally Posted by RainyDayNinja View Post
    This could explain how God can be omniscient and (mostly) omnipotent, yet the world still turned out pretty darn crappy: no matter how he sets things up in the beginning, he just can't control us.
    And that leads to another point...

    Quote Originally Posted by James81 View Post
    I'll illustrate the flaw in that line of reasoning with an example...

    ... [interesting and gory movie example snipped]

    The point I am trying to illustrate is this...that an omniscient God, knowing all possible outcomes, has obviously established this universe in such a way as to get the outcome HE wants. All he has to do is manipulate the "rules" of the "game" (so to speak) to get a particular outcome.
    This (and the movie description) is a bit reminiscent of the story of Job (which admittedly I haven't actually read, but have read a lot about, including Heinlein's amusing novel "Job: A Comedy of Justice").
    Quote Originally Posted by James81 View Post
    So, assuming an ominscient God doesn't solve the problem of free will at all. It just adds the layer of "manipulative" to his character, which I think is damaging to the idea of a loving God, who truly wants what is best for his people.
    Okay, now here's my big point, that faith (this thread seems to strongly take from Christian beliefs, specifically of the Omniscient and Omnipresent God, but this applies as well to other faiths, even those that don't believe in a God of that particular description) trumps logic.

    According to many or most of the Christians I've heard, God is all those things: omniscient (knows everything, presumably this means about the future too), omnipotent (all powerful, or as it might be said in modern language, infinitely powerful), AND all loving.
    Last edited by benbradley; 03-24-2009 at 09:07 PM. Reason: adding The Other Point
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  6. #6
    Great Scott Member James81's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ColoradoGuy View Post
    The free will problem has been a thorny theological issue for Christians for thousands of years. It is bound up with explanations of evil -- people make bad choices, leading to evil. Yet an omnipotent God by definition knows what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Giving people free suggests that things could go off in any number of ways, depending upon what they choose. Does that diminish God's omniscience? The vexing implications of these questions became a big part of Calvinism and its doctrine of predestination, among other things. He didn't totally discount free will (perhaps because it seems to go against common sense), but the issue tied him in knots explaining it. Of all the early Christians, Augustine was most concerned with what free will meant. You can read a summary of Augustine's view here. (I tried to find a succint, non-partisan discussion of Calvin's views on free will to link but couldn't come up with one, other than his own writings, which are pretty dense.)
    The way to avoid all the problems with this, is to simply stop believing that God is omnipotent and omniscient.

    See? Simple isn't it? lol

    Seriously, I think using words like that actually hinder God moreso than help, and there is really no basis in the bible for us to apply words like that to God ANYWAY.

    It would be so much more effective (and true) if we said that God was MOST powerful and MOST knowing (instead of ALL powerful and ALL knowing).

    Look at it this way:

    The number, say, 5, is a finite, definable number, right? It has it's limits and we know exactly what those limits are because our finite minds are capable of handling a number like 5.

    The number 768,898,987,455,765,923,543,234,456 is also a finite, definable number. It has it's limits, but we, as humans, are fairly incapable of dealing with such a large number. To us, that number is completely and totally beyond our capability to process. Because it's so large and massive and encompasses so much. And, in mathmatics, sometimes we'll deal with a number like that by just calling it "approaching infinity."

    And you can say that the number 5 compared to the number 768,898,987,455,765,923,543,234,456, is essentially zero.

    Imagine that we, as humans, are the "number 5" and God is the "number 768,898,987,455,765,923,543,234,456" and you can say things like "in reference to us, god is omnipotent and omniscient" but you realize that that is just in reference. There are some things God CAN'T do (or WON'T do).

    For example, God could never BE evil, but perhaps he can CREATE evil? For free will to exist, you have to create BOTH options (good and evil) in order to give people a CHOICE. Kind of like we, as writers, could never BE murderers, but we can create them in our novels. Or rather we COULD be, but we would never choose to do so. So, in a sense, God COULD be evil if he wanted to be, but he would never choose to do so.

    Quote Originally Posted by ColoradoGuy View Post
    Leaving these dusty theologians aside, the notion of free will is still a problem, and the more you think about it, the more problematic it gets. In a day-to-day sense, most of us these days subscribe to the view that whatever we do (or don't do) is a freely chosen thing. Yet even though Freud is very much out these days, we carry residual notions that there are forces within us that compel us to act this way or that, things beyond our control. Plenty of defense attorneys argue that for their clients. The current self-help culture for all personality ills really posits the same thing: understand why you are compelled to do this, get the insight, and you can act a different way, gaining a corresponding snippet of free will. In many ways we are unknowingly reenacting centuries-old debates.
    I always imagined free will in this sense...

    Imagine a ship, leaving the shores of America and head toward England. That ship is headed for a single destination--America to England. There's very little stopping that ship from reaching that desination (barring storms and such) in the sense that that ship was designed to go from America to England.

    The people ON the ship, however, can do pretty much what they please WITHIN THE CONFINES AND CONSTRUCTS of that ship. I can choose to eat at the bar, sleep in my room, go dancing in the ballroom, stand out on the deck and look out over the sea. I have free choice to do whatever I choose, but I cannot stop the ship by myself. The ship is so much larger than me, that my attempts at stopping the ship are feeble at best (this is an analogy, so don't just say things like "well you can blow up the ship with all the dynamite you smuggled onto the ship." for the sake of analogy, let's assume that that kind of thing is outside the confines of the "rules" of the ship).

    Free will is very much like that. There are some things you are free to do as you please, and there are some things that you can never change. So in a sense you have free will, within the confines and constructs of the master plan.
    Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. --Carl Jung

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    Thanks to CG for this good topic.

    I've never understood "free will" and alas, the linked article doesn't define it either. Free from what, other than the Abrahamic notion of "God's ordinance"?

    Free from our histories? No. Our statistics on crimes say, show how much history affects our propensity to commit crime.

    Free from our circumstance or environment? No. We know that thefts, frauds and crimes of violence are heavily dependent on environment. We know that everyone is breakable through torture; that everyone is vulnerable to coercion or seduction given the right circumstances. Epidemics of obesity in the developed world show just how much choice we exercise in our daily lives; how free we are from the influences of advertising, custom, habit and the lures of convenience, indolence and excess.

    Free from our genetics or body's chemistry? No. We know that genetics and chemical balances affect our perceptions, our equanimity, our levels of aggression and our propensity toward antisocial behaviours.

    So, free from what?

    Free from absolute predictability perhaps. Because for all our best analyses we can't always know what a person will do in a given circumstance. People can still surprise us, for better or worse. But it's trivially true that we can't predict one another, so why all the philosophy around it? What's the secular stake in the question?

    A secular belief in free will seems to hinge on this notion that, however constrained we are there is a moment of conscious choice in which we make some sort of balanced, informed decision. A moment in which custom, self-interest, compassion for others and a concern for the future weigh against our needs, habits, influences and present exigencies. But I'm not persuaded that we often make decisions in that way, and I've never seen a scientific argument that such a moment exists in every decision. Most of our major decisions aren't wholly rational (think about your home, your car, your life-partner, your job, the clothes that you wear, your hairstyle and any jewelry or body-decorations, the foods that you eat, when you eat them); very few of them are thoroughly informed. So how are we making 'free' decisions when so many of our decisions are influenced by external factors that we barely recognise?

    I don't think that we are. I think that we're selecting consciously from a limited set of choices, filtered by unconscious selection from an even greater set.

    So if our decisions aren't entirely free, then what are the moral implications?

    I don't believe that we need absolute free will to be moral creatures. All it takes is that we reflect on the decisions we make and that this informs our future decisions -- and that I think is what happens to a greater or lesser degree, depending on how important morality is to us. Reflection allows us to make the best uses of the choices we have, and can open up new choices later.

    But if moral character doesn't require something as strong as absolutely free will then why do we so strenuously assert it? It seems to me that it's connected to two things dear to us -- our competitive behaviours and our traditions of justice through punishment.

    All humans compete with their parents, their peers, their children. Believing in free will makes that competition seem more meaningful and compelling -- even when we're competing in predictable and often banal ways. In the West, we've elevated this competition to be our main pillar of social identity. We've rested our Cult of the Individual on the myth that our individuality is entirely free from constraint, influence and present vicissitude. In consequence therefore, disadvantage is somehow earned, and our consumerism -- which is largely about social competition -- is given license to burgeon to grotesque levels. How many breakfast cereals do we really need? If we're to have Free Will, why all of them.

    In other societies, the myth of free will isn't so compelling. In some Oceanic and African societies for example, individual will is seen as subordinate to family, tribe and societal will, and this means that justice and moral responsibility have a very different shape. So let me turn to that next.

    Like most justice systems around the world, a Western justice system depends heavily on punishing transgressors. Under Abrahamic tradition, punishment is deserved -- it's not simply vengeance or setting an example. Under divine autocracy, a perpetrator's suffering is warranted simply for having created divine displeasure, even if the suffering essentially futile -- since it neither compensates for the offence nor rehabilitates the offender. What would be called vengeance in a human is considered justice if it's delivered from a divine platform. This then translates to the same moral framework under a head of state. Absolute power, absolute submission. We don't simply state our guilt or innocence to a Western court; we plead it. Our law-courts still hold the trappings, postures and language of Abrahamic divinity.

    But to accept the notion of earned punishment in a secular sense, we have to believe not only that the offender has made choices that we wouldn't make, but that we wouldn't make those choices even if we had an identical history, circumstance, genetics and body chemistry of the offender.

    But put that way, the proposition of earned punishment seems increasingly dubious. Any of us who has flown into a rage, or fantasised about hurting someone, or not returned change in a store, or neglected courtesy or truth can hardly claim to never do the things for which we punish greater offenders. Indeed, we seem happy to blame circumstance for our non-criminal transgressions while denying that option to criminal transgressions. Too often we're caught, I feel, in an hypocrisy of injustice based on mythic ideals of absolute free will and therefore absolute personal responsibility. The real situation I think, is that we all have the capacity to do appalling amounts of bad, and what keeps us from doing it is as much good fortune and benign influence as innate moral rectitude.

    Over time, I think that the notion of 'earning' punishment is receding as we begin to understand what actually causes our actions. As it recedes, perhaps our focus will be more toward harm prevention and rehabilitation. Or perhaps we won't... perhaps we like autocratic vengeance in our justice-system, and perhaps we need punishments to set examples to others -- even futile punishments. And to support all that from a secular position, perhaps we'll want to retain the myth of absolute free will for a while longer -- though it doesn't really hold up to scientific scrutiny even now.

    Where will it end up? Is there a future in which we can predict what any human's behaviour will be, given history, biochemistry, circumstance and the like? That could make for some compelling science fiction, but I don't think it will happen. Like the weather, we're too complex to observe well, much less model well. Whatever the ultimate truth of how we make decisions, I think we will always seem mysterious to one another and to ourselves.

    But we can still improve morally. We can reflect upon the decisions we make, and learn from them. However our minds function, they are sensitive to their own mistakes, which means regardless of whether they can be held responsible for all they do all the time, they are capable of improving what they do. So hopefully our notions of justice will continue to improve over time, and hopefully too we'll tame our obsessive competitiveness enough that we can stop blaming one another for not having our own good fortune.
    Last edited by Ruv Draba; 03-24-2009 at 12:11 AM.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW girlyswot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post
    I've never understood "free will" and alas, the linked article doesn't define it either. Free from what, other than the Abrahamic notion of "God's ordinance"?

    Free from our histories? No. Our statistics on crimes say, show how much history affects our propensity to commit crime.

    Free from our circumstance or environment? No. We know that thefts, frauds and crimes of violence are heavily dependent on environment. We know that everyone is breakable through torture; that everyone is vulnerable to coercion or seduction given the right circumstances. Epidemics of obesity in the developed world show just how much choice we exercise in our daily lives; how free we are from the influences of advertising, custom, habit and the lures of convenience, indolence and excess.

    Free from our genetics or body's chemistry? No. We know that genetics and chemical balances affect our perceptions, our equanimity, our levels of aggression and our propensity toward antisocial behaviours.

    So, free from what?

    Free from absolute predictability perhaps. Because for all our best analyses we can't always know what a person will do in a given circumstance. People can still surprise us, for better or worse. But it's trivially true that we can't predict one another, so why all the philosophy around it? What's the secular stake in the question?

    A secular belief in free will seems to hinge on this notion that, however constrained we are there is a moment of conscious choice in which we make some sort of balanced, informed decision. A moment in which custom, self-interest, compassion for others and a concern for the future weigh against our needs, habits, influences and present exigencies. But I'm not persuaded that we often make decisions in that way, and I've never seen a scientific argument that such a moment exists in every decision. Most of our major decisions aren't wholly rational (think about your home, your car, your life-partner, your job, the clothes that you wear, your hairstyle and any jewelry or body-decorations, the foods that you eat, when you eat them); very few of them are thoroughly informed. So how are we making 'free' decisions when so many of our decisions are influenced by external factors that we barely recognise?

    I don't think that we are. I think that we're selecting consciously from a limited set of choices, filtered by unconscious selection from an even greater set.
    Exactly. What you are describing is what Jonathan Edwards, America's greatest theologian, called 'bound will'. That is to say, we do have choice. We are always free to do what we want. Within the external constraints of any situation, the human will chooses what it wants to do. It is not free, however, to make a random, undetermined choice (and, actually, why would we want it to be?) The technical terms here are liberty of spontaneity (freedom to do what we want) and liberty of indifference (freedom to do anything at all).

    So, Edwards argues, our will is bound by circumstances, by experience, by character and so on. AND, because he believes in an omnipotent God, Edwards claims that all of these factors are themselves determined by God. Which means that human beings have responsibility, since they always and only choose to do what they want. And it means that our actions are not outside God's foreknowledge and control.

    Where does that leave God and evil? In one sense, it is true that God thus ordains evil actions. But, Edwards argues, God ordains them as good. How so? God sees all things, all consequences, all actions. So although I can do an evil act and intend it as evil and thus bear responsibility for it as evil; God can intend the same act for good purposes. We see this illustrated throughout the bible but most obviously in the crucifixion. All kinds of people intended that act as evil and will thus bear responsibility for it (to different degrees, according to their role) - Judas, the priests, Pilate, the Roman soldiers and so on. But God intended that act for good, since through it he accomplished the salvation of his people.

    Genesis 50:20 is pretty clear on this (with respect to Joseph's brothers actions): You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good, to save many lives.

    Acts 2:23 has something similar about the crucifixion: Jesus, delivered up according to God's certain plan and foreknowledge, you crucified and killed...

  9. #9
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    I used to be confused about what "free will" meant too, until I realized it was at root an epistemic matter that has been exported into metaphysics...

    I don't want to sound Orwellian or anything, but IGNORANCE IS FREEDOM!

    Whatever else the phenomenon called "a free choice" is, it is a movement from ignorance to knowledge: Before one makes a choice one does not know what one intends to do (because no such intention has been formed yet). Whereas after the choice one does know what one intends to do. A choice cannot occur if we already know what we will intend to do -- choice can only flourish in the rich soil of ignorance. Hence we have problems with thought experiments about time travelers from the future giving us video of our future actions, or of omniscient gods giving us inerrant prophecy. Such scenarios seem to destroy our freedom of choice by destroying our ignorance.

    Indeed, so strong is the sensation that knowledge of our future intentions destroys the freedom to choose that many are just as uncomfortable with anyone knowing what they will do, regardless of whether they are told about it. The mere existence of a videotape of our future actions seems to annihilate our freedom of choice, even if the time traveler never shows it to us.

    In fact, there seems to be a tendency among some to project this epistemic issue into metaphysics, and demand that the universe itself be "ignorant" of our future intentions too. "Ignorant" not in the sense of lacking knowledge, but in the more profound sense of there not being any determinant reality about our future intentions at all, or at least not until we have made a decision. If there is a determinant reality about the outcomes of our choices, then it is in principle knowable (by time travelers, omniscient gods, etc), and many cannot stomach even the logical possibility that anyone or anything could know what their future intentions will be.
    Last edited by Mr. Chuckletrousers; 03-24-2009 at 11:27 PM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Chuckletrousers View Post
    I used to be confused about what "free will" meant too, until I realized it was at root an epistemic matter that has been exported into metaphysics...

    I don't want to sound Orwellian or anything, but IGNORANCE IS FREEDOM!

    Whatever else the phenomenon called "a free choice" is, it is a movement from ignorance to knowledge: Before one makes a choice one does not know what one intends to do (because no such intention has been formed yet). Whereas after the choice one does know what one intends to do. A choice cannot occur if we already know what we will intend to do -- choice can only flourish in the rich soil of ignorance. Hence we have problems with thought experiments about time travelers from the future giving us video of our future actions, or of omniscient gods giving us inerrant prophecy. Such scenarios seem to destroy our freedom of choice by destroying our ignorance.

    Indeed, so strong is the sensation that knowledge of our future intentions destroys the freedom to choose that many are just as uncomfortable with anyone knowing what they will do, regardless of whether they are told about it. The mere existence of a videotape of our future actions seems to annihilate our freedom of choice, even if the time traveler never shows it to us.

    In fact, there seems to be a tendency among some to project this epistemic issue into metaphysics, and demand that the universe itself be "ignorant" of our future intentions too. "Ignorant" not in the sense of lacking knowledge, but in the more profound sense of there not being any determinant reality about our future intentions at all, or at least not until we have made a decision. If there is a determinant reality about the outcomes of our choices, then it is in principle knowable (by time travelers, omniscient gods, etc), and many cannot stomach even the logical possibility that anyone or anything could know what their future intentions will be.
    I agree. The minor irritation caused by excessive puzzling over free will (which seems highly contextual -- for example, I don't have the free will to transport myself instantaneously here and there or instantly create a tasty snack out of last night's tired old jello parfait) is the problem of many imaginary collisions of rather dysfunctional mental habits.

    For another example: free will seems to be in many ways a construct founded on the irritating habit of second-guessing one's own decisions and then monitoring the results. I'm not sure how this is supposed to work ideally, but I imagine the problem for many practitioners is that their own memory turns out to be curiously selective and fickle, so that some times X seems like it went well and that was good because Y was a good thing. While other times X seems like a terrible thing because Y was an unfortunate event.
    So...one supposes, it might be nice if somebody was really keeping track for once (maybe an omniscient, ominipotent being because clearly only such a master of the universe could possibly ever keep track of all the trivial crap I've ever done...not me...I have better or worse things to do, I'm not sure which because it is the master of the Universe's job to clean up after my faulty self-evaluations)...and bingo presto changero! I don't even have to feel bad because I not only can't keep it straight which things I did were the righto ones, but there is a tremendous being or chaotic realm of quantum events where such nonsense belongs...and I don't have to worry about it even though I do.

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    A given point in an individual's future could be a collection of various possibilities, where God is aware of all possible outcomes. This reasoning allows for free will and an omniscient deity.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    A given point in an individual's future could be a collection of various possibilities, where God is aware of all possible outcomes. This reasoning allows for free will and an omniscient deity.
    That depends on what you mean by 'omniscient'. In particular, what does it mean with respect to uncertainty?

    Here's one classification of uncertainty.
    1. Variation: events may vary within a predictable range (e.g. throwing a dart onto a map). Arguably, the more you know about the situation, the more precisely you can predict the variation.
    2. Forseen uncertainty: whatever happens will happen in predictable ways (e.g. flipping a coin). Arguably, the more precisely you can understand the situation, the more accurately you can predict a forseeable event.
    3. Unforseen uncertainty: one or more key factors can't be predicted or planned for (e.g. an undiagnosed heart condition). Does omniscience admit this kind of uncertainty? Certainly, human intelligence cannot exclude the unforseen. Our strategy is to 'scan the horizon' for the unforseen.
    4. Chaos: Even the key factors may not be known (e.g. waking up in the middle of a war-zone). Human intelligence fails badly in genuine chaos. The best we can do is to reassess frequently what we think we know.
    When humans try to predict each others' actions, we usually arrive at 1) or 2) and occasionally 3). In complex human systems we sometimes see 4) (e.g. in riots or the like).

    Presumably, a being with a lot more intelligence and information could 'tame' 1 and 2 to near-certainty. Only prophecy could tame 3) (if prophecies actually worked), and I have no idea what can tame 4).

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    This is all, of course, assuming that only one of many possible outcomes can occur. If we're proposing an entity like God, there is nothing wrong with proposing that all possible outcomes to all possible events occur in simultaneity over the entire multiverse.

    But then you start getting into my wild, far-fetched, and base-less ideas.

    Assuming a single universe where only one of these possibilities could occur, and Omniscient and Omnipotent being could easily see the future in possibilities, prepare for every single one of them, and still keep those attributes.

    He could also see the future in possibilities, visit the future to know which one came about, and then go back in time to manipulate it until the outcome was what he wanted.

    In any of these cases, I suspect such an entity's perspective would be so different from ours that his omniscience would not preclude our free will.



    Quote Originally Posted by James81 View Post
    I'll illustrate the flaw in that line of reasoning with an example...

    I don't know how many of you have ever watched the Saw movies (not many people have because of the gore factor), but the basic premise of those movies was a man who placed people into extreme torture-like situations, allowing them to "make their own choice" to live or die based on the rules of his game. At one point in the movies, his "apprentice" asks him why he leaves so much up to "chance" in his games. His repsonse was, "If you truly know people, then nothing is left to chance." Thus, establishing him as an extreme manipulator with an insanely accute sense of human psychology. By placing them in the traps, and setting the traps or the situations up in a certain way, he could ultimately "control" the outcome without taking any responsibility for their choices, because, after all, his games WERE winnable. Everybody he ever placed in a trap could survive. But he was so well aware of how they'd react, they rarely ever did (at this point we only know of one who DID survive...and she failed her second test and died later).

    The point I am trying to illustrate is this...that an omniscient God, knowing all possible outcomes, has obviously established this universe in such a way as to get the outcome HE wants. All he has to do is manipulate the "rules" of the "game" (so to speak) to get a particular outcome.

    So, assuming an ominscient God doesn't solve the problem of free will at all. It just adds the layer of "manipulative" to his character, which I think is damaging to the idea of a loving God, who truly wants what is best for his people.
    Quote Originally Posted by AMCrenshaw View Post
    Bart has a good point. A being that knows all knows the complex causes and effects of even chaos. It might be that your list is a good, humane scale, but maybe number 5 is still pretty simple for an omniscient being. What we see as being uncertain or chaotic simply isn't from an omniscient point of view.

    My trouble with Bart's point, which Ruv illuminates, is that omniscience to a probability isn't really omniscience at all. Since an omniscient being knows the future in exact outcomes, rather than only the probable ones.


    AMC
    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post
    That depends on what you mean by 'omniscient'. In particular, what does it mean with respect to uncertainty?

    Here's one classification of uncertainty.
    1. Variation: events may vary within a predictable range (e.g. throwing a dart onto a map). Arguably, the more you know about the situation, the more precisely you can predict the variation.
    2. Forseen uncertainty: whatever happens will happen in predictable ways (e.g. flipping a coin). Arguably, the more precisely you can understand the situation, the more accurately you can predict a forseeable event.
    3. Unforseen uncertainty: one or more key factors can't be predicted or planned for (e.g. an undiagnosed heart condition). Does omniscience admit this kind of uncertainty? Certainly, human intelligence cannot exclude the unforseen. Our strategy is to 'scan the horizon' for the unforseen.
    4. Chaos: Even the key factors may not be known (e.g. waking up in the middle of a war-zone). Human intelligence fails badly in genuine chaos. The best we can do is to reassess frequently what we think we know.
    When humans try to predict each others' actions, we usually arrive at 1) or 2) and occasionally 3). In complex human systems we sometimes see 4) (e.g. in riots or the like).

    Presumably, a being with a lot more intelligence and information could 'tame' 1 and 2 to near-certainty. Only prophecy could tame 3) (if prophecies actually worked), and I have no idea what can tame 4).
    Last edited by Bartholomew; 07-29-2009 at 10:42 AM.

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    Great Scott Member James81's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    A given point in an individual's future could be a collection of various possibilities, where God is aware of all possible outcomes. This reasoning allows for free will and an omniscient deity.
    I'll illustrate the flaw in that line of reasoning with an example...

    I don't know how many of you have ever watched the Saw movies (not many people have because of the gore factor), but the basic premise of those movies was a man who placed people into extreme torture-like situations, allowing them to "make their own choice" to live or die based on the rules of his game. At one point in the movies, his "apprentice" asks him why he leaves so much up to "chance" in his games. His repsonse was, "If you truly know people, then nothing is left to chance." Thus, establishing him as an extreme manipulator with an insanely accute sense of human psychology. By placing them in the traps, and setting the traps or the situations up in a certain way, he could ultimately "control" the outcome without taking any responsibility for their choices, because, after all, his games WERE winnable. Everybody he ever placed in a trap could survive. But he was so well aware of how they'd react, they rarely ever did (at this point we only know of one who DID survive...and she failed her second test and died later).

    The point I am trying to illustrate is this...that an omniscient God, knowing all possible outcomes, has obviously established this universe in such a way as to get the outcome HE wants. All he has to do is manipulate the "rules" of the "game" (so to speak) to get a particular outcome.

    So, assuming an ominscient God doesn't solve the problem of free will at all. It just adds the layer of "manipulative" to his character, which I think is damaging to the idea of a loving God, who truly wants what is best for his people.
    Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. --Carl Jung

  15. #15
    Bart has a good point. A being that knows all knows the complex causes and effects of even chaos. It might be that your list is a good, humane scale, but maybe number 5 is still pretty simple for an omniscient being. What we see as being uncertain or chaotic simply isn't from an omniscient point of view.

    My trouble with Bart's point, which Ruv illuminates, is that omniscience to a probability isn't really omniscience at all. Since an omniscient being knows the future in exact outcomes, rather than only the probable ones.


    AMC

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    Quote Originally Posted by AMCrenshaw View Post
    an omniscient being knows the future in exact outcomes, rather than only the probable ones.
    Very many religions attribute some form of omniscience to their gods. Omniscient knowledge of human transgression is perhaps the most common attribute. Humans who are going to be judged in the afterlife want to know that they'll be judged fairly. Osiris, for instance, has a Feather of Truth that's used to judge the dead. The god of Abraham can't be fooled about your sins. In Zoroastrianism the dead must cross a thin, razor-sharp bridge over a chasm full of monsters while angels and demons debate the soul's worth -- so presumably they already know everything about you too. In Chinese mythology, the spirits of the dead spy on you and they tell Ch'eng Huang the god of Walls and Moats, who decides your immediate fate on death.

    Lots of deities can prophesy too -- Apollo, for instance, was renowed for it. The god of Abraham has been known to give foretellings. Odin lost an eye but was thereafter called 'All-knowing'. The Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Mayans all had astrology, so presumably their gods knew at least as much as their astrologers.

    Notwithstanding that, a lot of deities can be tricked. Hermes often hoodwinked Apollo and even Herakles managed it once. Set fooled Osiris. Loki and Frigga both tricked Odin on occasion. The gods might prophesy, but for the most part, they don't know everything all the time.

    The jump from omniscient history plus prophesy to eternal infallible omniscience is a difficult one and as far as I know only the Abrahamic religions have attempted it in exactly that form. That jump has caused enormous confusion and disagreement over the years -- disagreements that have never resolved satisfactorily. I doubt that they ever will. Did the god of Abraham know that Lucifer would rebel and if so, why not stop it? Did Lucifer trick the god of Abraham in Eden, or was Lucifer's mischief permitted? Was the prophecy of Peter's triple-betrayal a one-off, or did Joshua ben Joseph know the fate of everyone? The claim of eternal, infallible omniscience puts the morality of any deity to stiff trial. As they like to ask in corruption enquiries: "What did you know, when did you know it, and why did you do nothing about it?"

    Meanwhile, I think that the human determinism question is largely independent of myth. We can measure correlates between stimuli and human behaviour, and they're often very strong. Regardless of what powers our deities have, we are slowly but surely getting better at understanding and predicting our own behaviours. Perhaps the real question isn't a mythological one but a humanitarian one -- as we learn more about ourselves, how should that change how we treat each other?
    Last edited by Ruv Draba; 03-25-2009 at 12:23 AM.

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    ever seeking GeorgeK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post
    The jump from omniscient history plus prophesy to eternal infallible omniscience is a difficult one and...
    You are trying to constrain God by Human standards. Assuming God created the universe, then God must exist outside it, outside our concepts of space and time (except for those times that God chooses to be bound by our physical circumstances). God sees all because was, is and will be are all the same from God's perspective. We choose to do X. God having already seen us having done the X that we intend to do does not alter the freedom of our choice. We are not Schroedinger's cat. God's observing of us does not alter us.


    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post
    Did the god of Abraham know that Lucifer would rebel and if so, why not stop it?
    Yes, and why should God stop it? You are thinking too anthropocentrically. For there to be Free Will. there must be the chance of Free Will for all, including Free Will for Lucifer.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post
    Did Lucifer trick the god of Abraham in Eden, or was Lucifer's mischief permitted?
    Permitted, because of Free Will
    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post
    Was the prophecy of Peter's triple-betrayal a one-off, or did Joshua ben Joseph know the fate of everyone?
    He knew, but Peter needed to be told in a dramatic fashion. Some of us are like that. Or maybe one or more other of the apostles needed to see it? We can't know that until we can ask God, mind to mind.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post
    The claim of eternal, infallible omniscience puts the morality of any deity to stiff trial. As they like to ask in corruption enquiries: "What did you know, when did you know it, and why did you do nothing about it?"
    Not really because we don't see the big picture. God is not bound by our morality. God does not answer to us. God does not need us. There is no ill we can suffer in life that is worse than eternal evil. There is no pleasure in life better than Heaven.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeK View Post
    Not really because we don't see the big picture. God is not bound by our morality. God does not answer to us.
    If a deity's conscience is incompatible with human compassion and ethics, then what makes it worthy of worship? Promises of rewards and threat of punishment? Or just the unprovable hope that it's good because it's powerful?

    And in particular, how can we tell zealous, right-thinking worshippers aspiring to transhuman morality from dangerous, xenophobic psychopaths adhering blindly to misinterpreted rules? Especially when such rules are interpreted differently by different sects of equally-zealous adherents?

    I would suggest that whatever free will means, it should at least encompass the freedom to discover good by rational, compassionate investigation, and not to have such good prescribed by received law, wheedled with blandishments of future pleasures, or coerced by threat of unthinkable torture for its breach.

    Just a personal view.

  19. #19
    ever seeking GeorgeK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post
    If a deity's conscience is incompatible with human compassion and ethics, then what makes it worthy of worship? Promises of rewards and threat of punishment? Or just the unprovable hope that it's good because it's powerful?
    I never said that God demands worship. If God doesn't need us, which would be a requirement for God to be omnipotent, then God would not proscribe any rituals for us other than to be good (and to not worship false gods [you don't have to worship ME, just don't worship THEM]) unless our brains were too tiny to handle anything else. That's the crux of the matter, our mental evolution. God hasn't changed. We have changed. Several thousand years ago we were infants and needed rigid structure and all that was expected is that we survive. As we have grown, our responsibilities have grown. Suddenly it wasn't enough to just survive, then it was also play nice with your siblings. Now it's, ok, clean up your room. Soon we will have mentally evolved that we can maybe play with the other kids in the neighborhood (extraterrestrials).

    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post

    And in particular, how can we tell zealous, right-thinking worshippers aspiring to transhuman morality from dangerous, xenophobic psychopaths adhering blindly to misinterpreted rules? Especially when such rules are interpreted differently by different sects of equally-zealous adherents?
    You can't tell them anything if they aren't willing to reason. God gave us a thinking mind for a reason. I think we are expected to use it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ruv Draba View Post

    I would suggest that whatever free will means, it should at least encompass the freedom to discover good by rational, compassionate investigation, and not to have such good prescribed by received law, wheedled with blandishments of future pleasures, or coerced by threat of unthinkable torture for its breach.

    Just a personal view.
    I agree whole heartedly. There is no clergy anywhere that I would entrust with my soul, not to mention my money or my life or my kids.
    Last edited by GeorgeK; 07-30-2009 at 06:02 PM.

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    As a sort-of separate topic from my last post, here's a writing I've always found fascinating, it's a dialog between a praying mortal and God in regard to free will:

    http://www.mit.edu/people/dpolicar/w...godTaoist.html
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    Open theism, has been a popular theological response to the free will problem. Open Theology eliminates the possibility that God knows for certain the future free-will choices of all beings.

    I think the ultimate truth is a bit more complicated than either Open Theology or Calvinism.

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    Sorry folks, I got carried away! Wonderful discussion going on here;it inspired me to poetry, which I have posted over in critique. Since this is a Discussion Thread, I thought my little poetic response might be construed as inappropriate so I've moved it. Perhaps I will be able to state my position in prose form later!!

    http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/...d.php?t=140881
    Last edited by Magdalen; 05-06-2009 at 03:33 PM. Reason: made a choice of my own free will
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    Last edited by Billytwice; 05-08-2009 at 11:20 PM. Reason: flawed logic in my statement.
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    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin mordant satire's Avatar
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    We are an intrepid group! Taking on the subject of free will at all is a herculean task. When you factor in the limitations that are indigenous to a forum setting... I am impressed with what I have read in the above statements.
    I think one important distinction to make is what is meant by "free will"? I see three possible meanings.
    1) Free will to do whatever you like, whenever you like regardless.
    2) Free will only in relation to the confines of a "Master Plan" The destination of the ship - to borrow from one of the analogies above. (good one - btw)
    3) free will as only an illusion, there by being no free will because EVERYTHING is foreknown and predestined by a divine being.
    I have had many conversations about this with dozens of Christians and Catholics as well. In my experience, it is not a subject most like to engage in. Either because their knowledge of it is limited or because they believe it too difficult to stand behind and defend either way...
    John Calvin's beliefs on the subject were really very basic. Only after he was dead and gone did the Acronym "T.U.L.I.P." and "5 Point Calvinsim" emerge. That basic belief system is that you have no say over where you will spend eternity. Your salvation is predetermined and has nothing to do with you. If you have it, you never loose it. If you are not meant to have it, you will never receive it. God creates all life and then guides that life to the final end. Pretty much everything else is up for grabs. The Bible refers to salvation as being “Born Again” The story of Jesus speaking with Nicodemus is the most poignant example. Jesus tells Nicodemus that “unless a person is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3
    The Greek word used for “born again” means both, “born again” and “born from above”
    In addition to the vast amount of scripture that references predestination, the analogy of “born again” is telling. What involvement did YOU have in your birth? We had no say, no choice, and no option at all. We were born and had no choice. The same principal would apply to Calvinist’s belief of salvation, you are without choice. It is decided and that is that. Likewise once you are born (in real life) you may choose to honor your parents, to a part of family. Or you can rebel. You can emancipate yourself and be your own person, change your name, etc. But you will always be the son of your parents. Again, the Calvinist’s belief mirrors that, you have free will to honor God, to be obedient, etc. or you can be rebellious – salvation is still yours but you will enter “only as one escaping through the flames” 1 Corinthians 3:15
    I don’t see free will as a problem (from the Calvinist point of view) because we have free will. The only thing we have no control over is birth, which we already accept as reasonable, death – we may not like it but we all know and accept that we could go any second and the afterlife, which would come into play after you are already dead. Most would not expect, I imagine, having much control over anything once they are dead. So – no biggie right?

  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW girlyswot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mordant satire View Post
    We are an intrepid group! Taking on the subject of free will at all is a herculean task. When you factor in the limitations that are indigenous to a forum setting... I am impressed with what I have read in the above statements.
    I think one important distinction to make is what is meant by "free will"? I see three possible meanings.
    1) Free will to do whatever you like, whenever you like regardless.
    2) Free will only in relation to the confines of a "Master Plan" The destination of the ship - to borrow from one of the analogies above. (good one - btw)
    3) free will as only an illusion, there by being no free will because EVERYTHING is foreknown and predestined by a divine being.
    You missed one: Free to do anything, wholly undetermined by any other factors, internal or external. That's liberty of indifference.

    Your first option: Free to do whatever you like, is technically known as liberty of spontenaity and represents a bound will. There is freedom to choose to do what you want. But of course 'what you want' is determined by a whole host of factors (genetic, circumstantial etc.).

    So then the question is, what (or who) determines those other factors? It could be that they are undetermined, wholly random. In which case our decision making would be utterly unpredictable - by ourselves, by God, by anyone else. This would be (in the scientific sense) a chaotic system.

    Or, and this is the Calvinist view, those factors could be determined by God. So, he doesn't remove our will - that is, our ability to choose, nor override it. We always choose to do exactly what we want to do (and thus have responsibility for our actions). But nor has God withdrawn from the world, abandoning it to the consequences of our wholly unrestrained actions. He determines all the factors which lead to our (wholly predictable, for him) decision-making. It's not just that he knows what we will choose in advance, he arranges everything so that we will make those choices. But he never makes us choose against our will (properly defined).

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