Monday, April 14, 2014

God Offers No Choice

God's judgment, as seen by most theists, can only be just if those judged choose to sin or be saved. I believe we are not free to choose anything if our present and future is known by an omniscient being. Allow me to show my work by analogy.

Just before his death, Lincoln seemed to have made a choice to go to Ford's Theatre. From the President's perspective he felt he had a choice, but look at it from our perspective. Lincoln's action is an historical event which is known. Lincoln, essentially as a character in a history book, has no choice but to go to Ford's Theatre because any action on his part has been acted. Even if we went back to Lincoln's time, armed with our fore-knowledge, Lincoln would still be bound to the actions that we know he will make (providing we don't interfere, of course.) This means that Lincoln's perceived choices, and our own, are an illusion if a being is capable of viewing us as history either in the present, future, or independently of time.

Set up a camera on someone. They will do a variety of things that you probably wouldn't be able to predict in the moment if you were there. However, if you watch the video later, then watch it again, upon second watching you will be able to predict perfectly their every move. The person on camera, while acting, perceives free will from their perspective. However, the recording of the person, from the perspective of the omniscient video watcher, is not free to act. To anyone who knows our future, we are essentially a recording.

A being with all-knowledge of an event, whether it be God or a well-studied time traveler, would view the present as a history or recording. There are no surprises to this being because there is only one way for the events to unfold. Each person involved follows only one path. No choices are made because choice deals with the availability of options and there are none.

If choice is only an illusion of our limited perspective as this shows, then a god's sentence of eternal reward or eternal punishment is exacted upon helpless people with no ability to change their fate. It is exactly as fair and just as arbitrarily and immediately sending newborn babies to heaven of hell.


  1. I enjoyed the Lincoln history. I am sure however, there is some apologetic way to get around this. From my perspective I get it completely, but how can I separate my logic to get around it. Probably, by saying Time Travel is only possible for God.

    1. Even if it only possible for God, if it is possible at all, then this still holds.

  2. The apologetic "get around" would be something equivalent to: a mother watching her small child walking home on a rainy day, sees her child eye a mud puddle, and although she lets her daughter make "the choice" she knows the child will jump in the puddle. This seems harmless, but when the consequence is life or death, a benevolent, omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful being would be forced to intervene on principle. If that being does nothing then he or she is not benevolent, as he or she is unable or unwilling to help. Apparently "free will" is as much of a burden and a curse upon us as it was supposedly a blessing, from the theist perspective. If you follow the Genesis story as literal, then Yahweh set the world up to fail, because life would never have been able to sustain itself on Earth without "the fall of man" and the exile from Eden. It would seem then that humans have never had free will, as it goes against the original design plan and Yahweh would have known this as He is supposedly supreme in all respects.

    1. It's different form the mother because the mother is making an informed prediction, not armed with certain knowledge. I can think my kid will hit the puddle based on years of puddle jumping, but there is a chance they won't unless I'm already aware that it happens.

  3. ^ The apologetic get-around always fails because of one key difference: it's possible that the mother is wrong. She may "know" in the colloquial sense of "having a high degree of confidence in the probability of a given outcome", but God would "know" in the literal sense of "no other outcome is possible, because God cannot be wrong."

    I've seen similar arguments for God's own (lack) of free-will, and I find them pretty convincing. I also find that apologists tend to shy away from them.

    p.s. to Grundy – You ought to consider using Disqus instead of Google's default comment system. It's much easier to track comments, manage spam, organize threads, and isolate discussion.

    1. I tried Disqus. Had some problems with it. Thanks for the tip, though.

  4. If Lincoln would go to Ford's theater, knowing that he will be killed, then Lincoln would choose suicide.

    Jesus knew that he will be killed, so he has committed suicide. But he knew that he'll resurrect, so he committed a farce.

  5. Grundy,

    I believe free will is mostly an illusion. However the argument you've made about the camera set up on someone seems inadequate.

    To make it easier, I'll name the filmed person Bob, and the omniscient cameraman is John.

    You have concluded: " the recording of the person, from the perspective of the omniscient video watcher, is not free to act"

    Well, that's because Bob's action took place in the past and John has seen it. The reason why Bob had no free will at the time of his actions can't be because John will be able to predict them afterwards, at the time of the video replay.

    On the basis of John's omniscience alone, Bob had no burden on his freedom whatsoever.

    For the same reasons I couldn't say that if I watch a replay of a football match, the football players had no free will during the actual match simply because I've seen them live and I know what happens next in the replay.

    The reasons why free will is an illusion are more complex than that.

    I believe it is possible that an omniscient being doesn't have to interfere with free will, should it choose not to. However this would make that being malevolent.

    Because an absolutely benevolent and omniscient being would work out how to become omnipotent in order to be able to interfere with people's free will, in order to save them from their own lethal actions.

    This leads us to Epicurus' argument, so old yet so brilliant - I'm sure you know it.