The confusion on free will

Despite Augustine having satisfactorily settle this issue 1600 years ago, some people, some of whom even comment this blog, still believe that if God knows what I am going to do, then I must not have free will.

I think I have identified the source of this confusion: if you or I know with 100% certainty that X will occur, then it must be necessary that it will occur. That is because we are beings embedded in time, and we can never know with certainty what contingencies will arise in the future.

But for any sophisticated thinker who has held both divine omniscience and human free will to exist, that is not at all the case for God: God exists outside of time, and sees the past, present, and future all at once. So all contingencies are know to Him at a glance. That fact that He knows with certainty that, say, a butterfly will land on my nose tomorrow in no way means that the butterfly could not have done otherwise. God simply sees what it actually does do.

23 comments:

  1. Gene, let me start off by asking you this: what is the difference between believing that something was going to happen and happening to be right about it, vs. knowing with 100% certainty that something was going to happen? I claim that the difference is that in the first case, you happened to be right but you could have been wrong, whereas in the second case you could not have been wrong. Do you agree with that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have just illustrated the confusion perfectly: interview like Augustine's, God does not "know something is going to happen": past present and future are all before him at once.

      Delete
    2. By the way, I was listening to a lecture on Avicenna's views on contingency and necessity, and I thought of you, and realized what confuses you on this point. You keep thinking of God as a being IN time who is "predicting" the future. That is not Augustine this or Avecenna's view at all.

      Delete
    3. Dictating: please excuse Siri's weird interpretations of some words above.

      Delete
  2. I think the confusion comes from the typical constellation of a belief in omniscience AND omnipotence. If all power comes from God, so does the "power" for the butterfly to land on your nose come from God. You have to address the confusion coming from these twin beliefs to get to the heart of the matter, I think.

    I'm curious what you think of Bruce Charlton's ruminations on the subject of free will, omniscience/omnipotence, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have kind of a hard time with this. (I've heard the 'outside of time' thing, but have not really read Augustine). It's hard to reconcile God knowing what you'll choose with you actually being able to choose for yourself. It sounds too much like Calvinism & predestination.

    Have you read Dune, or much by Frank Herbert? I know it's sci-fi, but he seems to have put some thought in it, and he talks a lot about the ability to see through time as though you can't really know what will happen next. He uses an image of the 'second sight' (seeing the unfolding of time and history) as being like sitting at the top of a swell on an ocean, and being able to see clearly to the 'stable' tops of other swells, but unable to necessarily understand the turbulence and the chaotic currents that separated the swells. So as you went down one swell, you could not necessarily know/control which way you (history) would be tossed. The 'turbulence' was the uncertainty of passions and drama of human choice.

    Anyway, that's how I read it. I guess the point is he sounds like Eric Voegelin criticizing the 'denial of drama.' If the outcome is known, how can the drama have meaning? What is the point of going through it, if nothing turns on it?

    Further reading, if you like --

    www.oreilly.com/tim/herbert/ch05.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am just explaining the view of people like Augustine and I have a Sena, not trying to argue for it. But I guarantee that once you understand their position, you see that these things are not contradictory. If I watch you right now to strawberry ice cream, do you think the fact that I now know you chose strawberry ice cream means you really had no choice in the matter?

      Delete
    2. I have two Senas. Top that!

      I think free will is really only usefully defined in contrast to other causes. Why am I falling? I fell out of the plane and gravity is pulling me down. Why am I reaching for the ripcord? Because I hope it will open a parachute and save me. Am I falling by free will? No. Am I pulling the ripcord by free will? Yes. EVEN IF MY DESIRE TO PULL IT IS CAUSALLY DETERMINED.
      Not trying to shout, just emphasize my key point. Which is about how the phrase free will is properly used, not about any attempted definition.

      Delete
  4. Gene: I thought that you viewed God as existing 'inside' time in some way, as most of the open theists say. I vaguely recall you saying that God doesn't know the future because it doesn't exist anymore: only the eternal present can exist in experience.

    Have you changed your view?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am just explaining Augustine's view. As for me, I don't know what the heck to think!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Gotcha. Hmmm... interesting stuff to think about.

    ReplyDelete
  7. But Gene, couldn't God simply tell a human being what is going to happen in the future? And in that case wouldn't the human being also know with 100% certainty what's going to happen (assuming that the human were to somehow ascertain with 100% certainty the reliability of what he's hearing from God)?

    So we're still left with the question, if a human knows with 100% certainty that X will occur, regardless of how they came to possess this knowledge, then does that imply that it is necessary that X will occur?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "And in that case wouldn't the human being also know with 100% certainty what's going to happen (assuming that the human were to somehow ascertain with 100% certainty the reliability of what he's hearing from God)?"

      Since the second can't happen, the first can't either.

      Delete
    2. And "regardless of how they came to possess that knowledge" is wrong: if they really somehow were 100% certain it came from God, and that is how they know, then no, it is not necessary that X will occur. God knows contingencies.

      Delete
    3. "if they really somehow were 100% certain it came from God, and that is how they know, then no, it is not necessary that X will occur." OK, that's what I assumed you were going to say.

      So now let me reiterate what I asked you above (and to be clear, this is a question about humans, whether they're in communication with God or not): what is the difference between believing that X was going to happen and happening to be right about it, vs. knowing with 100% certainty that X was going to happen? I claim that the difference is that in the first case, you happened to be right but you could have been wrong, whereas in the second case you could not have been wrong. Do you agree with that?

      Delete
    4. "And "regardless of how they came to possess that knowledge" is wrong: if they really somehow were 100% certain it came from God, and that is how they know, then no, it is not necessary that X will occur." OK, that's what I assumed you were going to say.

      So now the question I asked you above is still relevant: what is the difference between believing that something was going to happen and happening to be right about it, vs. knowing with 100% certainty that something was going to happen? I claim that the difference is that in the first case, you happened to be right but you could have been wrong, whereas in the second case you could not have been wrong. Do you agree with that?

      Delete
    5. Nope, absolutely not. You are ignoring the knowledge was transmitted by God. God knows with 100% certainty not only necessary truths, but contingency as well, in this view of the matter.

      Delete
    6. This sounds like question begging to me. If god knows it, why should Keshav say it was ever "contingent"? The question is at heart, *can* there be "contingent truths" if god knows them?
      You seem to be just saying "yes, god can lift the rock so heavy he can't lift it, what's the problem?"

      Delete
    7. Gene, I'm just trying to nail down definitions first. Let me approach things from another angle: do you agree that if there's a nonzero probability that you're wrong about something, then you don't know it with 100% certainty? So for instance, if there's a nonzero probability that that the sun won't rise tomorrow (perhaps some bizarre astronomical event may happen), then you can't know with 100% certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow?

      Delete
    8. I agree, but that is irrelevant to the point here: when viewed from outside time, probability has no meaning. In other words, you are once again trying to look at Augustine's God as a really, really knowledgable human.

      You keep on dragging time-bound categories into the discussion.

      Delete
  8. The case, as stated, does not sound like Calvinism. Calvinism is what you get if you misunderstand it and see God as a preemptive micro-manager.

    Have-s-Sena: Does Siri know about Harry Stottle?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right Joe.

      Have a Sena: what is weird is Siri had that right, and then changed it! I just saw the correct word pop up and then posted.

      Delete