Friday, 11 May 2007

Your Free Will

The next two chapters run with the same theme of free will. A problem with free will is presented after one of them said that there must be an omnipotent God.

“If God knows what the future holds, then all our choices are already made, aren’t they? Free will must be an illusion.” (page 12)

I don't think it is like that. God is outside of time, he can see the future and the past at the same time. We don't know what the future holds as it hasn't happen for us, but when it does happen to us we work out what to do. From God's view he has already seen us do it, as past, present and future are all "now" for him. I don't see the connection between God knowing the future means that God is controlling it. God knowing our future doesn't remove our choice in the future, in the same way that God knows the presents and still we are free right now to do whatever.

God's personality is later mentioned in the chapter (as well mentioning the teleological argument but I don't want this post to be any longer, so read the wiki article if you want):

“What sort of arrogance assumes God is like people?” he asked.
“Okay, I can accept the idea that God doesn’t have a personality exactly like people. Maybe we just assume God has a personality because it’s easier to talk about it that way. But the important point is that something had to create reality. It’s too well-designed to be an accident.”(page 15)

I think it is arrogant to assume God is like people if it is reducing God to being only as big or as powerful as people. But if we are to assume God is like a person in the same way that a spider is like a person (they are both alive, they have eyes, can move about, digest food, etc) but they are also very different in other areas (one is far more complicated, powerful, intelligent, etc) then in that sense it wouldn't seem so arrogant at all.

Also, assuming that God did create the universe, I think you would be hard pressed to remove a personality from God. Just the act of creation shows a personality, namely that it is creative and so also maybe imply a personality that is well planned, organised and intelligent.


  1. Today there was an article on fruit flys with free will which Scott Adams has replied to it.

  2. God knowing the future does not imply he is controlling it. However, it does severely limit free will.

    If God can view the future actions detached from events. If we also assume time is linear then there is very little room for free will. From these premises its pretty simple to say that since there is only one future and a being can view it that there is only ever one act a person will take at any given time regardless of the options. We may still go through a process of choice but nonetheless we will always make the same choice and perform the same action if it were possible to have actions performed again.

    So it may not necessarily be God controlling actions but still it removes free will.

    To argue against that you obviously attack the premises. So either you say that God is not outside time or cannot view it as such (which give your ideas about not boxing God would be an illogical way to attack
    the argument) or you attack the idea that time is singularly linear . That idea is interesting most people assume that time is linear... what do you think?

  3. "God knowing the future does not imply he is controlling it. However, it does severely limit free will."

    I must be missing something as I don't see how that limits free will. Eg: For dessert when offered fruit or ice cream, the person generally will know that I will always lean towards ice cream and not fruit. I don't feel like my choice is limited by the fact that the person offering me the choice already knows which one I will chose.

    How does God knowing something, negate our free will? Because he is outside of time, he knows what we do as the future is already Now for him, he sees us do it.

    Perhaps CS Lewis said my thoughts better than I could express them:

    But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call "tomorrow" is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call "today." All the days are "Now" for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday. He has not. He does not "foresee" you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow's actions in just the same
    way-because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already "Now" for Him.

  4. I don't think I have ever disagreed with C.S. Lewis before but here goes.

    If God is experiencing every day of history as 'Now' for Him, does that mean He is right 'Now' pouring out wrath on the second member of the Trinity? Does that also mean He is united with the second member of the Trinity in creating the universe right 'now'?

    How can God be united and separated at the same 'now'?

    Anyway... who said God is outside of time? I'm not convinced...

  5. I see your point about Jesus and the Father been separated while on the cross. CS Lewis once again says:

    You cannot fit Christ's earthly life in Palestine into any time-relations with His life as God beyond all space and time. ...This human life in God is from our point of view a particular period in the history of our world ... We therefore imagine it is also a period in the history of God's own existence. But God has no history. He is too completely and utterly real to have one. For, of course, to have a history means losing part of your reality (because it had already slipped away into the past) and not yet having another part (because it is still in the future): in fact having nothing but the tiny little present, which has gone before you can speak about it. God forbid we should think God was like that. Even we may hope not to be always rationed in that way.

    who said God is outside of time?

    Well CS Lewis, Augustine of Hippo, John Gill, Albert Barnes, Tony Campolo (around the 3-7 minute mark of this he talks about Christ on the cross and being outside of time... (which he might be pushing it a bit)) and those are the ones that come to mind...

    John Gill:
    God only is from eternity to eternity; or rather inhabits one undivided, uninterrupted, eternity, to which time is but a mere point or moment (Commentary on Isaiah 57:15)

    Albert Barnes:
    He dwells not only among human beings, but he dwells in eternity - where time is unknown - in a world where succession is not marked - and long before the interminable duration was broken in upon by the revolutions of years and days. (Commentary on Isaiah 57:15)

  6. Hi &rew - this is something I have been recently thinking about without the consideration of God being out of time.

    I agree with &rew that God's foreknowledge does not limit free will. But I think there are other things in play which effect free will.

    If you knew the future then it would be possible to make prophecies even if people had completely free will. But, if people had completely free will you would not be able to shape the past present or future. In a sense this is what God has done in Romans 1 in that God lets us over to our sinful desires. However, you should notice that as God lets us over and we become enslaved, not free. We just keep on getting deeper and deeper into sin.

    By God letting us over to sin, we have become enslaved to sin. Without God's intervention we would continue in this state forever.

    God does intervene. The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of its sin (jn 16:8), and to transform our lives (Gal 5:22). This is not foreknowledge, but influence. If it were not influence then we would still be slaves of sin. (Rom 8:2)

    It is also worth thinking about how we pray. Regardless of your beliefs about free will, generally all Christians pray asking God to change peoples hearts. We pray that our friends would become Christians, We pray for boldness in ourselves, and the non-Christians acceptance of the Word. If we believed on complete free will - that God did not have influence on peoples will - why would we pray such a prayer. Is it just wishful thinking, or do we deep down know that God has the power to change people.

    We also pray that God would change our own lives and the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters. We want Christians to be changed and made more like Jesus. The work of the Holy Spirit is able to do this. To change our thoughts (or will) from being sinful to being obedient to God; however there is always a war between flesh and spirit. Slavery to sin vs slavery to righteousness. (Rom 6:16)

    Feel free to pull this argument apart - the aim is to know God more, not to prove your point of view or win the argument (discussion).

    Just leave you with a Proverb.

    In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.(Proverbs 16:9)

  7. Hey Ben,

    Thanks for you comment. The article before this one I said that the guy was a free agent, but with some qualifications. I didn't expand on this point and I still haven't figured it out (and probably never will), but two things I think is evident that we are all not free from, those are: (1) being perfect (your Romans 1, 8:2 and Gal 5:22 points) and (2) from death.

    In 2 Corinthians 8:16-17 also has God working on Titus's heart while at the same time Titus was earnest (or willing) to do what God put on his heart. So there seems to be some correlation between God's plan and Titus's free choice (this might also be also your Prov 16:9 point).

    And so now I see a problem with free will, that is: if God has determined/established/decided events(Prov 16:9) then we are not free. I conceded that we need help as we can not be good on our own, but then here is the point that I don't want to give up: we are responsible for our own actions and are judged accordingly for them as God is a good/right judge (Psa 7:11).

    I want both points to be true:
    1. God helps us from sin and death
    2. We are free and so therefore responsible for our own actions

    I guess if I hold too strongly to the second point we all die and so should be grateful for the first...but too much to the first point and we lose our responsibility... ideas? May Romans 3:4-6?

    Prayer is an interesting point. I might be pushing this "God outside of time" idea, but when we petition God for future things, for God it's not the future and He answers the prayer (when it conforms to His will as type of Father to us) as for Him its all the same Now... Just tossing that one out there with nothing to back that up with...

  8. I was going to add a comment to this discussion, but realise I am completely out of my league!

  9. Hehe. Thanks Tiger for posting all the same :)