On free choice and omniscience

Prairie Cinema 02A recent conversation on one of my Yahoo groups has brought up an old issue for me, one that goes back to my university days. Ever since my early days in my first philosophy class, and even before, I’ve been fascinated by issues of free will. Though I’ve never been particularly religious, the discussion of the interaction between free will and Christian omniscience is one of the “classic” issues in early philosophy classes, something of a clash of opposites. The classic line in answer to the problem tends to be that fore-knowledge of an event does not predestine the event.

I’ve always had some difficulty with that idea. God’s knowledge is different than what we usually think of as knowledge. One of the examples often used is the idea of a train schedule. “If you know the train will arrive at 4PM, that doesn’t pre-destine the result.” That is right, of course, but we aren’t talking about me, and a train schedule. I don’t KNOW the train will arrive at 4PM … I expect that it will, but in an epistemological sense, I don’t really KNOW it. Epistemological knowledge is certain knowledge … there is no other thing that can happen. If you know something in an epistemological sense, then it isn’t an expectation … it is a logical necessity.

God’s knowledge isn’t like ours. To be truly omniscient, he can’t “expect” things will happen … he needs to KNOW they will happen. If he knows the train will arrive at 4PM, and it doesn’t, then he isn’t omniscient, clearly. I’m not making an argument about cause in any way … I am not saying God’s knowledge of the future CAUSES it to happen … I am saying that God’s certain knowledge of what WILL happen means no other thing can possibly occur, assuming God is omniscient …

Now, lets talk about what free-will means in a practical sense for a second. Given a choice between A and B, in a world of free-will, either outcome is equally possible to happen, depending on the choices I make. In a pre-destined world, while it may LOOK like I have a choice, the fact remains that one of the options has been pre-destined, and no REAL choice exists for me. So getting back to God, if I have an apparent choice between A and B, but God KNOWS that I will choose A, then what REAL choice do I have in the matter? Its all window dressing really … its not an issue of God’s knowledge CAUSING me to do anything, but a simple realization of the fact that if God IS truly omniscient, then any apparent choices I have are already known in advance and therefore do not constitute any REAL choice, since only what God KNOWS will happen, can happen.

Its not about cause … its about certain knowledge of future events. If a truly omniscient being KNOWS things will go a certain way, then there is no other way for them to go, and any choices faced by people involved are pre-destined in advance, and as such are illusory.

There are more esoteric possibilities … one is a “super-state” that God exists in that is “quantum” in nature in that choice A or B is not a choice at all, but something where both choices are ultimately taken on a level higher than humans can perceive … that still doesn’t change the fact that from the level of our conscious participation in the world, the choice we end up perceiving as having happened is the choice God KNEW we would “perceive to have happened” … and for Him to be omniscient, there must be no error at all in his knowledge, meaning thats the only choice, in reality, we could perceive.

Perhaps I am missing something fundamental. As I’ve said, I’m not making a case on cause, more one on necessity. We have a conscious experience of life that includes only one choice, once we make it. For God to be omniscient, it seems to me God must KNOW which one it will be, through all time. I can accept that God exists outside of temporal concerns, but to be omniscient about the universe we live in, it must also be omniscient in temporal matters. That knowledge doesn’t cause a us to make a specific choice, but if it exists, it makes only that specific choice necessary.


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