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Cogito ergo sum

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Time, Omniscience and Free Will

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  • Time, Omniscience and Free Will

    If God is omniscient and omnipotent, would He not exist outside of time?

    If God exists outside of time, He can no doubt see the future as easily as seeing the present and the past. Correct?

    Many an atheist has argued that if such a deity exists then "free will" does not. That if anyone can know the future with certainty then no one has "free will".

    I never understood the argument. Anybody here care to explain it?

  • #2
    The best argument from the Metaphysical Naturalism is that the nature of our physical existence, and the nature of humanity is simply natural as it is including the nature of human will whether free will exists or not.
    Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeareís Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

    go with the flow the river knows . . .

    Frank

    I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
      The best argument from the Metaphysical Naturalism is that the nature of our physical existence, and the nature of humanity is simply natural as it is including the nature of human will whether free will exists or not.
      I don't understand how that addresses the question.

      Just suppose - suppose - an entity exists that can see the future with certainty. Do you then have free will or no? And if not, why not?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Ronson View Post
        I don't understand how that addresses the question.

        Just suppose - suppose - an entity exists that can see the future with certainty. Do you then have free will or no? And if not, why not?
        Well, ah . . . I gave the best Metaphysical Naturalist response. 'Many an atheist . . . ' is not a good beginning of an argument as to what atheist may propose concerning free will.

        The problem is from the Theist perspective. There are a number of proposals from various theist perspectives. One, of course, is that humans have the delusion that they have free will, but in reality all events are predetermined by God. Another view is that humans have libertarian free will but they may not exercise it, ie all humans know God exists, but many do not admit it and claim to deny that God exists. Theist have the biggest conundrum to explain the nature of human will.

        Simply from the atheist perspective they appeal to natural causes that determine the nature of human will. To some atheists it is that determinism rules from natural laws to human behavior, because of many determined influences from natural laws to the chain of cause and effect events, and survival instincts predetermines decisions that controls most decisions and over time those that don't make the right choices loose. What is becoming more fashionable is forms of compatibilism that proposes a degree of free will or possible choices within a limited range.
        Last edited by shunyadragon; 07-08-2020, 10:48 PM.
        Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
        Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
        But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeareís Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

        go with the flow the river knows . . .

        Frank

        I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
          Well, ah . . . I gave the best Metaphysical Naturalist response. 'Many an atheist . . . ' is not a good beginning of an argument as to what atheist may propose concerning free will.

          The problem is from the Theist perspective. There are a number of proposals from various theist perspectives. One, of course, is that humans have the delusion that they have free will, in reality all events are predetermined by God. Another view is that humans have libertarian free will but they may not exercise it, ie all humans know God exists, but many do not admit it and claim to deny that God exists. Theist have the biggest conundrum to explain the nature of human will.
          Predestination would obviously make my point moot, so I am not going there.

          A comparison I've encountered a few times is that of a river. I can see the length of a river. I know exactly which way the water will twist and turn, so it isn't making decisions but simply following a predestined path. To counter, even if I can't see the length of the river the water still has no free will. My observance/knowledge makes no difference.

          I realize this isn't your argument but it was a frequent example I've encountered.

          Simply from the atheist perspective; To some atheists it is that determinism rules from natural laws to human behavior, because of many determined influences from natural laws to the chain of cause and effect events, and survival instincts predetermines decisions that controls most decisions and over time those that don't make the right choices loose. What is becoming more fashionable is forms of compatibilism that proposes a degree of free will or possible choices within a limited range.
          That's probably where I am going to ultimately land on this. When one considers genetic predispositions, "survival instincts", and individual conditioning through environment, there isn't a whole lot leftover.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Ronson View Post
            I don't understand how that addresses the question.

            Just suppose - suppose - an entity exists that can see the future with certainty. Do you then have free will or no? And if not, why not?

            have or not?...would depend on the starting premise of the paradigm one constructs.

            If the premise is a linear time-line in which there is only a singular past present and future---and if this future is determined from the start---then human "free-will" is an illusion. It seems we are exercising choice when we actually have none.

            but....

            If the premise has multiple time-lines with each decision/choice leading in multiple future directions , then "free-will" has real impact on the type of pre-determined possible futures (plural) to be expected.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Ronson View Post
              If God is omniscient and omnipotent, would He not exist outside of time?

              If God exists outside of time, He can no doubt see the future as easily as seeing the present and the past. Correct?

              Many an atheist has argued that if such a deity exists then "free will" does not. That if anyone can know the future with certainty then no one has "free will".

              I never understood the argument. Anybody here care to explain it?


              Can we not say that it is possible that 'God knows (infallibly) what you will freely choose to do'? I don't see any necessary contradiction there. We, although not omniscient, can know what someone will freely choose to do. Think of a parent that knows a child very well. They can predict (perhaps that's a better word than know) what the child will do in certain circumstances. The child, however, is still free to choose.

              I think the problem, if there is one, turns on what precisely one thinks free will is - is it 'being able to act without external constraint', or is it something else. Some atheists (Jiml, IIRC) seem to think that if it can be 100% accurately predicted ahead of time what one will do, one is not free.


              I just don't see an actual conflict there between freely choosing at time Z what you will do, and some other agent, at earlier time X, then knowing what you will choose at Z. The argument seems to be that if it is known that you will choose at Z, you are not free to choose something else, ergo, not free.

              I just don't see how that works. If at Z you freely chose something else, then at X God would have known that instead. God knowing ahead of time what you will do doesn't necessarily have a causal effect, IMHO, on what you will choose to do.
              ...>>> Witty remark or snarky quote of another poster goes here <<<...

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Ronson View Post
                If God is omniscient and omnipotent, would He not exist outside of time?

                If God exists outside of time, He can no doubt see the future as easily as seeing the present and the past. Correct?

                Many an atheist has argued that if such a deity exists then "free will" does not. That if anyone can know the future with certainty then no one has "free will".

                I never understood the argument. Anybody here care to explain it?
                If someone outside of time was able to look at the world of time and see it all, see the past, the present, and the future, then that would mean that all of time, past, present and future, has always existed and there is no paasage of time for that which has always existed. In other words if the future exists coextent with the present and the past, then time is static, passage through it is an illusion and so to would free will be an illusion.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by JimL View Post
                  If someone outside of time was able to look at the world of time and see it all, see the past, the present, and the future, then that would mean that all of time, past, present and future, has always existed

                  for them, or from their point of view.

                  But (crucially) not for the people in the world of time.

                  Originally posted by JimL
                  and there is no paasage of time for that which has always existed. In other words if the future exists coextent with the present and the past, then time is static, passage through it is an illusion and so to would free will be an illusion.
                  If that was true, then action would also be impossible, since change over time itself would be impossible. Not just an illusion, but impossible. Since change over time is possible, then your model has a flaw.
                  ...>>> Witty remark or snarky quote of another poster goes here <<<...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by JimL View Post
                    If someone outside of time was able to look at the world of time and see it all, see the past, the present, and the future, then that would mean that all of time, past, present and future, has always existed and there is no paasage of time for that which has always existed. In other words if the future exists coextent with the present and the past, then time is static, passage through it is an illusion and so to would free will be an illusion.
                    Someone outside of time = Observer (...or God)

                    Someone inside of time = Traveler (...or human)

                    To the Observer there would be no "experience" of "time" (as measured on earth = days, years..etc) but to the Traveler all experience would be bound by time. Therefore, insofar as the Traveler has no knowledge of the (time-bound) future, the "illusion" of free-will is a real experience (If the paradigm is of singular linear time-line)

                    If the presumption is of multiple time-lines---the Observer is still "outside of time" therefore unaffected---but for the Traveler, the experience of free-will has an effect on the time-line.

                    While either paradigm has no repercussions on the Observer, for the Traveler it has ramifications for the construction of the laws/rules of morality/ethics. A paradigm that has "Karma" or concepts of Judgement-day...etc requires a level of responsibility on the part of the Traveler for the choices and decisions taken in the time-period available (existence)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      "Neighbor, how long has it been since youíve had a big, thick, steaming bowl of Wolf Brand Chili?Ē

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        There are a half dozen separate issues here. Iíll just name two, and that will probably still be tldr.

                        1) What is free will? Itís easy to analyze free will into absurd nonexistence, but is that valid? Namely, every choice is either caused by internal and external agencies or itís uncaused. If itís uncaused then itís random. A random choice might be free, but it canít be called will, because itís undirected. Itís flipping a coin and then having no choice but to do what the coin toss decided for you. On the other hand, if a choice is caused, it is either an external cause, which we didnít choose so the choice it caused us to make canít be free will, or an internal cause. An internal cause is either nature or nurture. Nature is what we were born with; we didnít choose it, so to the extent it causes us to make the choices we make, we have no freedom to go back and choose a different inborn nature. And nurture is just a mixture of how that unchosen nature and various unchosen external agencies have molded us unwillingly into who weíd be and what choices we will now make. No freedom is possible except by injecting random, utterly uncaused and undirected influences into our decision-making. Free will is meaningless.

                        I think there are two ways out of that conundrum. One is to say that free will is an emergent quality in which a) itís more than the sum of its parts and b) there is a point beyond which you simply can not validly dissect your choices or your nature without losing the substance of what youíre trying to analyze. You make your choices. They are what they are. No amount of analysis of the causes will get you any closer to the heart of free will.

                        The second way is to invoke the soul. Much of who we areĖour personality, memories, mental abilities and tendenciesĖis natural, hardwired or softwired into the circuitry of the brain. But the soul may be the conscious spark that is responsible for making moral choices based on all the data and programming the brain feeds it. Itís the umpire who can and must override the natural and nurtural propensities that an unconscious automaton would follow. And because the soul is non-material, it is not bound by the same logical concepts of cause and effect. It has no moving parts, so it has no cause to its choices but itself. The soul is a tiny sliver of the image of God that gives genuine freedom of will and choice in a world of clockwork pre-determinacy.

                        (A third way out is to just say that free-will from a biblical and spiritual perspective does not actually mean unrestricted freedom, but only that one acts according to one's nature, and one is morally and legally responsible for that action to the extent that it is internally directed and not externally forced. It's not how we prefer to think of free-will, but if that's the way it is, God in his sovereignty would have every right to judge us accordingly, just as a potter has every right to judge a pot malformed and destroy it, even though the pot didn't choose to be malformed. The pot never has any right to judge the potter, ever.)

                        Secondly, what is freedom? If freedom requires contingency and uncertainty, then freedom itself is bound up in time, and it has no meaning outside of its brief temporal moment of leeway. That is, every choice youíve made was free until you made it, and then the freedom ceased to exist. You canít change the past, so the past isnít free. If the future is set in stone, whether by a B-theory of time or by Godís omniscience, then the future isnít free. But in its moment in time, the choice was free, whether past, present, or future. Inside time, itís free. Outside of time, it doesnít lose its freedom; it just loses meaning to still describe it in those terms. I would argue that the B-theory of time doesnít mean that time doesnít really flow, it just means that, from a position outside of time according to which the concept of flow loses its meaning, the flow can only be seen in its entirety, not in its real but temporal contingency. And I donít know what Godís view of time is like, but being outside of time does not mean God is frozen like a snapshot, unable to move, but that he is freer than those of us who are trapped in a single time-stream. And if freedom can exist within a B-theory of time (though not from its external perspective), it can certainly exist within the much freer nature of God.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by MaxVel View Post
                          Can we not say that it is possible that 'God knows (infallibly) what you will freely choose to do'? I don't see any necessary contradiction there. We, although not omniscient, can know what someone will freely choose to do. Think of a parent that knows a child very well. They can predict (perhaps that's a better word than know) what the child will do in certain circumstances. The child, however, is still free to choose.

                          I think the problem, if there is one, turns on what precisely one thinks free will is - is it 'being able to act without external constraint', or is it something else. Some atheists (Jiml, IIRC) seem to think that if it can be 100% accurately predicted ahead of time what one will do, one is not free.


                          I just don't see an actual conflict there between freely choosing at time Z what you will do, and some other agent, at earlier time X, then knowing what you will choose at Z. The argument seems to be that if it is known that you will choose at Z, you are not free to choose something else, ergo, not free.

                          I just don't see how that works. If at Z you freely chose something else, then at X God would have known that instead. God knowing ahead of time what you will do doesn't necessarily have a causal effect, IMHO, on what you will choose to do.
                          Agreed. My comparison was that a vantage point should make no difference.

                          If I was omniscient and could see past and future (linear) equally from any vantage point, both directions should be equal. The past and future being equally fixed. So if I look LEFT and see every decision person X made in his lifetime, that would not negate his free will. He made those decisions and I can see those decisions. Now I look to the RIGHT and see every decision person Z made in his lifetime that does not negate his free will.

                          The difference being that we are not omniscient and can only see one direction; LEFT. Does our knowledge of the past negate the free will of those in the past? We know their decisions and they can't be changed. No free will?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by JimL View Post
                            If someone outside of time was able to look at the world of time and see it all, see the past, the present, and the future, then that would mean that all of time, past, present and future, has always existed and there is no paasage of time for that which has always existed. In other words if the future exists coextent with the present and the past, then time is static, passage through it is an illusion and so to would free will be an illusion.
                            So you are saying that an observer changes everything? What if there was no observer but everything else you describe remains the same?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by MaxVel View Post
                              for them, or from their point of view.

                              But (crucially) not for the people in the world of time.
                              It's a logical contradiction to say that all of time exists from an outside perspective only. If all of time, which means all actions in time, exists from any perspective then all of time exists period. It may not seem that way from an insiders perspective, but that doesn't matter because again, if all of time exists from any perpective then all of time exists period. The insiders perspective of the passage of time would needs be an illusion.


                              If that was true, then action would also be impossible, since change over time itself would be impossible. Not just an illusion, but impossible. Since change over time is possible, then your model has a flaw.
                              Well, first off it is not my model, Max. It is the B-theory of time. The so called block universe. The "Block" meaning that its all there to be seen from an outside perspective. Time, all of time, would exist as a dimension running through the block. All of time, and so all the actions of an individual in time would exist in stasis at their specific locations along the time line dimension. There would be no actual change just the appearance of change at each location in time. That would be why an outside observer could see all of time, because all of time exists. The experience of times passage, the experience of change from one location in time to the next from the insiders perspective would be an illusion of some sort with respect to the block universe where all of time exists. But it is illogical to argue that time is both all there from one perspective but not all there from another. Time either exists in its entirety or it does not. It can't be both.

                              Comment

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