Jim Benton on Divine Free Will
Now, guest blogger Jim Benton of Brooklyn, NY has sent me some really good observations on the logical consequences if someone believes in a god that's omniscient (all-knowing).
Prup's Paradox -- God and Free Will[More blog entries about religion, god, theodicy, omniscience, philosophy, theology, atheism; filosofi, religion, teologi, gud, ateism.]
By Jim Benton
No, this isn't about the old questions. Yes, I believe we have free will, or at least have to act as if we believe we do. And yes, I will concede that the believers are right that it is possible to accept free will and an omniscient god -- even though I don't accept the latter.
It's a matter of different "frames of reference". Thus, tomorrow it is possible that PZ Myers would get a donation-seeking letter from a Creationist Institute, Orac would get one from the Institute for Historical Revisionism, and I would get one from the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. Each of us would be acting totally "freely" in deciding whether or not to send money. (Yes, our experiences, knowledge and beliefs would affect our choice, because we aren't total "blank slates" but I don't see that this would make our choices unfree.) Yet anyone who knows us would be able to state to a high degree of certainty that we would not send the groups any money. (Anyone who knows me, and my own finances, would know I don't/can't send money even to causes I believe in.) Different frames of reference, no conflict.
No, the question I am raising is different.
Does God -- an omniscient God -- have free will?
Believers talk a lot about the "Will of God". But is this, given what they believe about their own deity, sensible?
Free will is about choices, between two or more courses of action, or between action and non-action. But we are free to make such choices because we don't know the results of our actions.
Thus, I can choose whether to check the "Scratch and Match" card the daily newspaper sends me or not, because I don't know if it is a winning card or not. If I knew, somehow, that it was a winning card, I would be considerably less free to choose not to scratch the numbers off. I can imagine very unlikely situations where I would choose not to, because such an action would not go along with some plan of my life, but they are unlikely.
God -- your favorite monotheistic omniscient deity -- knows, along with everything else, the results of his own actions. And he/she/it/they has a "plan for the Universe." (It isn't reasonable to assume that such a deity is just a spectator, watching to see how things turn out because "he" -- let's make things easy -- knows the answer already.)
But this means that at every "decision point" he knows which choice is the one that will better move this plan to fruition. Answer a prayer, don't answer a prayer, perform a miracle, don't perform a miracle, reveal himself to this Arabian businessman or another one two towns down, cause or don't cause a tsunami. In any of these choices, one is more favorable to the Plan than the other. The difference might be very slight, a matter of the twentieth decimal place (hello Gilbert Gosseyn) but it exists, and God knows it.
Given that, he doesn't have a choice which choice to make. He has to make the choice that favors his plan, unless we see him as totally capricious and insane. But that means he doesn't have free will.
An omniscient god is a pre-programmed automaton, totally helpless, totally unable to change anything, since his choices were made when he first made his creation. In fact, you can argue that the choices were part of the creation, that any omniscient god must be a "deistical" rather than a "theistical" god.
(It is possible to argue, in fact, though I'll save this for another time, that there is no "operational difference" between a deistical god and a self-existent universe, that there is no way of differentiating between them.)
So, the next time a theist argues about the "will of God," just point out that what they are talking about, if he exists, is the Great Robot in the Sky.