Free Will, Determinism, and Foreknowledge (Philosophy Heavy Question)

Just like to add a question here and maybe someone has a thought. Just because God foreknows a choice that a person is going to make does that mean He is making them do it?

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@Kevin_Hurst No, otherwise God could not reasonably hold anyone accountable for their actions. We’re beginning to get into these topics in our book discussion. Feel free to join in :slight_smile:

An essential part of what it means to be mature human beings (so discounting here both infants and the severely mentally ill) is the freedom to choose between A and not-A, such that we are morally responsible and hence accountable for our actions.

Secondly, if one is going to behave morally, one must not only be aware of the difference between moral good and moral evil; one must have sufficient freedom of will in order freely to choose to do good or to do evil.

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Thank you Sean. I should have waited but I have actually just about finished that book myself but I would love to hear others thoughts on it.:grinning: Looking forward to it.

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May I offer a thought @handres?

I’m in a study group on this topic with a group of computer science folk, mathematicians and physicians. With prayer, research and time, I offer these thoughts:
There is significant difference between naturalistic determinism and the determinism discussed in Christianity. Here’s a shot at that.

CS Lewis came to Christ rejecting naturalism/determinism as a possibility. If naturalism is “the way things are”, as C.S. Lewis’ mentor Barrow posed to him, and our thoughts are nothing more than “a collection of atoms colliding in the skull” - which is to say in Richard Dawkins’ words “mindless, pitiless chance” - then naturalistic determinism is chemicals, DNA, stuff and time all sloshing toward entropy. No free will exists. You must “dance to your DNA”. And worse, your thoughts are not logic, they are static electricity passing through brain gas, randomly.

Sovereignty and determinism often get twisted round: That God is “up there playing dice with people’s eternities” (no free will of man, God determining each person’s destiny).

So, here’s a Sovereignty mind bender from the Reformation…
We, each, freely choose, beginning with Adam, to rebel against God. Then we each, individually, predestined, chose, determined, elected ourselves to live in enmity with God. This results in what Paul illustrates as us freely choosing to be dead to God. We hate, we lobotomize our minds toward God, we are dead spiritually and we die physically eventually. We chose that course freely, not God. That is determinism, but writ large on the human. We determined our own destiny.

Sovereignty established a creation where math, orbits, electrons and logic function intentionally, not randomly.

Sovereignty allows men to freely choose, and unfortunately, our free will (I will be god, God cannot be God) always breaks bad, freely.

God’s determinism is that Jesus Christ has overcome what we did to ourselves, if we believe in Him.

God’s determinism is we are told to go as God’s “modality” - his objects, to use your word broadly, to place the gospel before people who are rebelled, lobotomized, dead to God’s grace. And God expects us to tell them the news.

People wake up from deadness, and see clearly what is before them in eternity with God and, well, the deal is just “irresistable”.

Is this answering your very deep question?

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Hi there! I feel everyone added wonderfully, so I won’t add too much on.

Knowing something doesn’t cause something. Like @Kevin_Hurst mentioned.

If you are on a mountain, sitting in your car, enjoying the views, and in the distance you see a car driving full speed in one direction and another car in the other direction, you know there is going to be an accident. It doesn’t mean you are the one who caused it.
I believe it is in this sense God knows the future. We are free because God isn’t making us do anything.

If I say I know you are going to reply to this, that doesn’t mean I’ve made that an object now, and you have no free will to respond. You either can, or you don’t.

I think the question you posed mainly deals with God’s knowing and how we can have free will within that, if at all.

The idea of discerning truth can only be there if that faculty was bestowed upon us by God. If it was just naturalism and natural processes, there’s no reason to believe it produces truth. It produces survival. In fact, if all you are is atoms and molecules swishing around, just neurons firing, you’d have no reason to believe in truth. And if there’s no reason to believe in truth, there’s no reason to believe you are even made of atoms molecules and neurons. You see the flaw with naturalism? And this isn’t even taking into account determinism. Truth has to do with more than that.

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@handres, great question! It’s always encouraging to see someone working through these issues carefully, and coming up with what can always be better, more articulate answers to theologically hard problems.

I’m no philosopher of time, but I’ll try and break down a few things you’ve said and let’s see if we can make some headway. But before that, here are two book recommendations that can help you wade into some deeper philosophical waters:

So, your original question is this:

As I think someone already pointed out, I am not sure that a future conditional state of affairs is properly called an ‘object.’ It doesn’t exist in any ontological sense. However, if God can know conditional states of affairs (e.g. God knows what Anthony would do in situation X in possible world, W) then it seems that God can know things that are not real, but potentially real. God can know counterfactual truths.

If God can know counterfactual truths, then we might say in a fairly coherent manner that God knows what you would do tomorrow if you were put into situation “X” in this actual world “Y”. Thus God knows what Hunter will do tomorrow since he knows what the state of affairs, X, Hunter will be in tomorrow in this actual world, (Y) he created, but that doesn’t equate to God coercing your will to do action “Z”.

Now, I think there is an objection to this view of Middle Knowledge, namely, that God has created this actual world Y in which the state of affairs X obtains and you are inevitably going to find yourself in X. Therefore, one might say that in creating the actual world, Y, God determined what you would do, since He could have created a different world W in which you did otherwise.

But, I believe if we think even more carefully about this we can see that regardless of whether God creates Y, or another possible world, W, in which you choose otherwise, that there is not an equivalence here since in both worlds, Y or W, it is exactly the case that you do Z freely in relation to X (the state of affairs in Y) or X* (the state of affairs in W). God knows what you would choose in Y or in W when presented with X or X*, but He does not generate your actual choice to do Z. Thus, if something like Molinism (Middle Knowledge) is true, one might say that God creates a world in which the maximum number of people when presented with a set of conditions, S, that is conducive to coming into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, freely choose S. What God has done then is provided the right states of affairs (X1-Xn) in Y for the greatest number of free human agents to chooses S.

With regard to naturalism you say this:

I’m not entirely sure what you mean here. Maybe you could explain a bit more what you mean by the notion of free will being “equivalent” on naturalism? Also, we might want to be more specific about the term ‘naturalism.’ Do you mean a view where there is only physical stuff (e.g. mass-energy). If yes, then I think free will does become something like an illusion, since it is incredibly hard to even know what consciousness is on a physicalist view of reality. Without real conscious experience, I have no idea what we would make of “free will.”

Hope this helps. Again, great question.

Peace,
Anthony

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Handres,

It can be frustrating to dialogue over several days or weeks, I plan answer as my schedule permits

I now better understand your stance since your background is in math, which is very helpful for logic, and you are dabbling in philosophy.

Currently you are asking if the God’s foreknowledge of our future decision, makes them an object, and if this is the same type of object that is created by time + matter + chance in nature.

The really short answer is no.

I will plan to lay out the full answer later

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This is such a fascinating topic! I have often pondered this idea of God’s fore knowledge and our free will.
I’m a simple man and I try to understand some of these most profound and deep subjects in concepts that I can grasp.

My understanding is that time is linear. It flows from a beginning towards an ultimate destination. God, who is creator of all things, also created time and He is outside of His creation. So, from His advantage point, He can see the beginning and the end. There is no past, or future; there is only present. In order for me to attempt to grasp this, I use the freight train, or parade analogy. I know this isn’t a perfect concept, but I think it comes close. So, in these analogies our perspective is that from being on the ground seeing only what is in front of us as it goes by. God’s perspective is one from high up. He’s able to see the locomotive and the caboose at the same time, or if you like a parade, He sees the first float and marching band to the last float and marching band. In like manner, God sees from the beginning of all things to the end of all things. So, God knows what we will do before we do it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice.

Incidentally, I also believe that our future events are something tangible, or has essence. The future is the present to God, so I would think the future would have to have essence. This probably an over simplification, but I think it is close enough to help me grasp this fantastic concept as well as I can.

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Hi there @handres ,

I love discussions like this, because ultimately it points to the glory of God. Let’s try and do that.

Your first proposition I agree with, but I do not agree with your argument - the “how can the future then be known” part. I believe possibilities are essentially different and can be distinguished . I can know and distinguish between them, and they can be measured, for example potential energy in science. So in essence, all the possibilities exist without instantiation. Instantiation occurs essentially within time, foreknowledge occurs outside of and independently from time.

So yes, free will exists, God knows all the possibilities, but ultimately they don’t suprise Him, and He knows how to bring about His intended ultimate purpose in every variation. Each variation existing potentially, but only one version will become instantiated through time.

Isn’t God amazing, the “multi-verse” existing in His mind!? Wow. At least, that’s how I understand it. Hope it helps. God bless.

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Hello all,

Thank you so much for your insightful responses! I was very busy yesterday, so I was unable to reply then.

Your responses have allowed me to refine my statement and perhaps answer my own question. What are your thoughts on this?

My original statement was questioning whether the future is determined since God foreknows what we will choose in the future.

I typically like to think of the past, present, and future of the universe to be the same universe – that is, the geometry of the universe is spacetime, and the temporal component plays a vital role in understanding the geometry of our universe. This is a result of my dabbling in Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity as well as string theory. Thus, the entirety of the physical universe becomes a 4-dimensional manifold, or space, in which time is a real geometric dimension (though not necessarily spatial).

When someone like me is somewhat biased towards such a view, the past, present, and future must be well-defined objects in the sense that they are definite – or, from our perspective, determined.

One could think of “what I will do tomorrow” in one’s own mind as a mental object which has no causality and merely exists in my mind. However, God’s foreknowledge and perfect knowledge of the current world’s conditions mandate that the future is determined (however, this does not necessarily infringe on free will, for God only foreknows what I will choose – I still choose and hence still have free will). As such, the mental objects of God’s foreknowledge are in an entirely different class of mental objects, for they will exist physically in the future. However, if one views the universe as already determined, then what real danger is there in considering God’s mental objects dealing with the future of our universe physical (i.e. instantiated)? They may not exist at this point in time, but they do exist in another point in time. Perhaps this is really clunky and weird to do, as most of philosophy seems to consider an object’s existence subject to time. I, however, am proposing that if the future is determined already, in spacetime, the future already exists in a way so similar to instantiation that the only difference between the future and the computer I am typing on is that the future exists at future point in time, and the computer exists right now – yet both have a definite existence at a definite point of time. We just can’t see the future yet, because we don’t have access to the correct time. Perhaps I am advocating for a bird’s eye view of objects and their instantiations, instead of an observer’s view – which is subject to time. Such an idea probably has some no-so-great consequences… haha

My central question was thus: what is the difference between the determinism of naturalism and the determinism in Christianity? How can I have access to truth statements within the Christian worldview but not in the naturalistic one? (naturalism = materialism + assuming that materials are well-behaved – that physical laws hold).

My initial reasoning:

  1. Although on the surface, it does not seem like naturalism allows for free will, if one considers that the self is completely encapsulated by the materials in one’s own brain – thus in harmony with naturalism – then the self still has free will in the sense that they physical self still chooses option A or option B.
  2. Since the “self” of naturalism has free will, what then keeps the naturalistic self from making truth statements?

Here is where I think I went wrong:

  1. If we reframe the self in terms of naturalism – that the self is entirely physical – we completely strip the self of being able to cause things. The self becomes merely an effect of the initial physical conditions of the beginning of the universe.
  2. For this reason alone, the self ceases to exist in the normal philosophical sense. The self cannot make truth statements – not because it is determined (for the Christian self is also determined), but because the naturalistic self no longer exists. The self is no longer an outside observer of the universe. It can cause nothing, and its thoughts and abstractions are just the effect of brain chemistry.
  3. Moreover, objective truth cannot exist, because the only truth which physically exists is the truth in our own brains – which disagree about what is true and what isn’t. Hence, only subjective truth can exist under naturalism.
  4. Thus, as Ravi Zacharias concluded, the naturalistic observer is not free to ask questions, because they aren’t truly an observer. They are a product the very universe they try to observe.

New Questions.

  1. Does not naturalism then become self-contradictory? That it claims to be a truth yet then concludes that only subjective truth exists?

  2. What happens if one allows the existence of abstract (in the platonic sense) objects within a material universe? Does this make no difference since the naturalistic observer still has no access to the abstract objects?

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Hunter,

Wow, great stuff. Again, what a good discussion to have here on Connect. I’ll try and answer with some more of my own thoughts later, but I would strongly recommend taking in this video debate from a few years ago on exactly this topic. You’ll see here that William Lane Craig and Peter van Inwagen (two of the top Christian philosophers in the world) simply disagree on the existence of Abstract Objects. This might help you clarify some of your thoughts, hope it helps:

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I have nothing to add this discussion except for this video on Alvin Plantinga’s view on this topic that makes sense to me:

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There are many definitions of human free will with a plethora of nuanced interpretations by each of us. Many Christians look at human free will as a gift from God to be treasured. It seems to be almost worshiped at times right along with the Trinity.

Why is that and does human free will as many commonly think actually exist?

I think not.

Let me explain.

I make choices. I choose. I do it all of the time. Some are good. Many are bad.

The cause of the choices I make is my nature. I always make choices in accordance with my nature. My choices are always what I perceive in my best interest as well. I do not have any freedom to choose against my nature or against my perceived best interest. That just does not happen and would be absurd. Who would say this is a bad choice and against my best interest and I am going to make it anyway. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian or non Christian, either. We make choices the same way.

That is not to say that from someone’s else viewpoint my choice was a good one, but to the person making the choice it was the best choice. I am also responsible for my choices, because I am the immediate cause of them.

How many times after a bad choice was made have you heard the person say “it seemed like the right choice at the time.” So to them it was right and in their best interest. Tiger Woods, the world’s greatest golfer, destroyed his life for a while by poor choices, but certainly he did what he thought was right at the time and in his best interest. From our view it was dumb, but from his it was right. It is crazy to think he would intentionally destroy his life like he did. He, like us, was acting in accordance with his nature and making choices in his perceived best interest.

Some of my choices are very limited. I cannot choose to do what is physically impossible. Others are limited by external powers. Once I tried to go see the federal courthouse because I heard it was quite beautiful, but I was not allowed to enter.

I wanted to choose to buy a Corvette a couple of years ago, but I did not have the money. My choice was limited there, unfortunately it seemed.

There are constraints everywhere affecting my freedom to choose. Often I am not happy about that.

Sometimes there are constraints that hinder making a good moral choice. Sometimes the constraint is within myself, my unperfected nature. I could elect not to help someone because I may get injured. Because I am selfish and make choices I perceive to be in my best interest I may not risk myself.

There are many times where I am not constrained by an external power in making choices. I make the choices without external coercion. I am certainly responsible for those decisions.

God can certainly influence my decisions by guiding my thinking and emotions even though I don’t realize He is doing that. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord, He turns it wherever He will.” Proverbs 21:1. Therefore, I believe God can control my choices. He has both that right and that power. But I am still responsible simply because God can hold me accountable for my choices even though at the same time He can cause my choices. "But who are you, o man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to it’s molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Romans 9:20 But fear not for God says in James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself tempts no one.” So when God controls and influences your choices rest assured those resulting choices are not God coercing your choices by giving you an evil nature.

Let me say this. I would rather be conformed to God’s will than have what I have now. I would rather not have the ability to choose poorly like I do all the time. Wouldn’t that be true freedom? The freedom to do what is right. There would be no ability to do wrong. Would we then be angry that God had removed our ability to do wrong, thus, to some, limit our human free will?

When answering someone with a question about human free will, determinism and foreknowledge, I think I would above all else tell them about Jesus, with love and respect, of course. He is infinitely more interesting. If, after you tell them about Jesus, they still want to talk about human free will, determinism, and foreknowledge, you can probably deduce they are not yet saved, because who would choose, according to their nature, to talk about human free will, determinism and foreknowledge when you could talk about Jesus instead.

I will pray for those hung up on human free will, determinism and foreknowledge.

‘I love to tell the story for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.’

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hah, I love these videos! This is the new medium of scholarship :smile:

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Hey it works for me! :shushing_face:

Partly, this may depend on how you are thinking of events being “determined” (past tense). For us, only the past is determined in the sense of being knowably ‘this’ rather than ‘that’. If all events are that way for God, we could say that all events past tense for God, but I think that would be a kind of figure of speech. It also begs the question what it means in the Bible when it describes God “repenting” or “regretting” as though there is a “when” to these activities by God.
Comparing to naturalism, I think that it may be important to speak of determined events in terms of what (or who) has determined them. If one thinks of all events as having been willed by God (depending on what one means by that of course) that may have a similarity to the issue with naturalism. If one instead conceives of our world history as a collection of events existing in 4-dimensional space-time, and God as the Observer seeing all of it at once, in that sense there is objective truth available to God about all events. That said, does God’s throne exist outside of our space-time? If it does, then does God occupying a throne mean that His Heaven has spatial dimensions of a sort (where a thing can be here rather than there)? Similarly, in what sense does God experience things if He does not order His activities along dimension(s) of time (even if they are incomprehensible to us)?

The problem of inaccessibility of objective knowledge reminded me of this thought about "anti-expertise" in connection to the Surprise Exam Paradox.

I love this question. And doctor who gives a great answer, so does c.s. Lewis in mere Christianity. I have just got off a long shift and I will reference it later but the best I can say at the moment is God does all things for my good I just don’t always know what my good is.

@handres Hey, good question and discussion! Let me help define some key terms. An “essence” is the form of something in then presence of a rational agent, otherwise known as a "quiddity’. The “form” is simply the metaphysical principle by which an act of existence, with or without matter, is made into some one individual particular or kind. Thus, the foreknowledge of God and all that he knows is what you have called a “mental” object and is by nature well-defined to God. God knows all essences. Hope this helps! Let me know if you need anything else!

Blessings,
Clint

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