Saturday, November 19, 2011

Free will ain't cheap.

Let’s play a little game of logic, starting with two separate premises: that free will exists and that the future can be known.

Free will exists.

Free will requires that we make decisions that can alter the future.

Because the future can be altered, it is not fixed.

Therefore, free will requires that the future not fixed.

The future can be known.

To know exactly is different to guess or predict accurately.

Only something fixed can be known, otherwise it is only guessed or predicted.

Therefore, a knowable future requires that it be fixed.

If free will exists, the future cannot be known. If the future can be known, free will cannot exist.

Example: If I have a vision in which I see you eating eggs for breakfast tomorrow, and my vision is a perfectly accurate representation of the future, then under no circumstances can you eat anything besides eggs for breakfast. Even if I tell you you’re going to eat eggs and you try to prove me wrong, it’s irrelevant: I saw the future with perfect accuracy and you will eat eggs no matter what. You have no choice in the matter because it will happen. If a scenario somehow arises where you don’t eat eggs, then my vision wasn’t an accurate representation.

However, If I visit your home and notice that you only have eggs, butter, and a fry pan, and I know you have no money, then I can very accurately predict that you will eat eggs tomorrow. My knowledge of your circumstances means I can tell what the future will very probably be. However, you are free to try and change it - you might borrow some cereal or some toast. I may learn enough to predict that this too could happen, but regardless of my prediction your breakfast is not set in stone until it happens.

I believe in free will. I also believe in a God who is omniscient. What gives? Well, to me, to be omniscient is to know all that is knowable - therefore, he knows all the facts that exist, and based on that information and his vast experience and intelligence he can with high accuracy predict future events. He can even use those predictive powers to very accurately tell the future of groups and nations, using the same principle that we need not predict the movement of an individual water molecule precisely to know where a wave is moving. Furthermore, God has the power to make his will manifest in future
events, meaning he can influence things to happen the way he wants them to.
So I reject the idea that God or any man can or has seen the future in any certain, absolute, or fixed form, because in order for that to be possible, free will, as I have argued, cannot exist. The future does not exist until it happens - it’s just not a thing; it’s not real. To me that doesn’t diminish God in the least - in fact, a knowable future make him a liar, placing us in a world where we are told we have free will when that is actually not the case, where some of us are doomed to fail or destined to succeed (a very Calvinist belief not becoming of a good mormon).

One counter-argument is that time only exists with man and that God is somehow beyond all that, that everything is an “eternal now” with him. Perhaps I, with my very limited understanding, am putting barriers around God’s power. That might all be so, and I have to accept that I could be wrong. But any talk of an eternal now, or of God being beyond or outside time, is describing something beyond all comprehension and is necessarily a metaphor. Within that metaphor there is certainly room for my belief, that God is the perfect predictor given the near-infinite information available to him (God’s ways are not our ways, and perfect prediction definitely isn’t our way!), so I don’t have to throw out those ideas to believe the way I do.

So, what do you think? Are my premises bad, or is my logic unsound? Sound off! Also, forgive my non-use of the capitalized pronoun for the Lord. I think it looks weird :)