"Christianity continues decline in America" - continues

Continuing the discussion from Christianity continues decline in America:
@Aztec_Cardiologist - it appears this is how to continue a conversation after the original posting closed.

I presume you mean in essence that there can’t be free will if the future is already determined. Which would also seem an argument against the possibility of future time travel. But to the point: How could God know our future (much less “predestine” it) if we have free will?

Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life” (the short story the movie “Arrival” was adapted from) contains a fascinating take on how free will and a predetermined future can both be different views, equally valid, of the same complex reality.

Apparently there’s a curious physics principal, Bell’s Theorem, that suggests similar conclusions. I don’t pretend to quite understand it, but apparently there are experimental phenomena that, by one possible way of resolving certain conflicts, requires foreknowledge by a particle in a random quantum event.

It could be argued (though I am not aware of anyone who does argue this point) that god is omniscient with regard to the past and present, but created a universe of randomness such that even he/she/they/it does not know the future.

This would make sense in light of the fact that god expresses disappointment in the Bible.


That’s certainly the kind of imaginative openness of thought that I try to apply, and weigh alternatives against what else I think is knowably true or possible.

But my preference is to imagine omniscience as sort of a view of our 3-dimensional universe’s 4th dimension timeline from outside them all, in some other direction. Like viewing 2-dimensional Flatland (Flatland - Wikipedia) from above.

Or drawing the analogy more finely, as if time for one-dimensional Lineland is a second dimension that describes a plane. As beings in Lineland move, grow, etc, their linear universe is moving through time to trace out patterns in a plane. And we as “omniscient” beings who can perceive 3 dimensions and who live within 4, can see the entire plane of Lineland’s eternity, and move about above it to examine parts in detail.

Where I fit free will/choice in this is a bit hazy, but I think it works out. Just because from my perspective, Lineland’s entire history is already traced out, does not have to mean that at every point a being within its timeline cannot be exercising fully free choice. The action of those choices is part of what determines the result of its trace throughout its time.

From an outside view, everything in Lineland has already happened and is set. But from inside it, if we can indeed “see” an entire plane at all, then all of Lineland’s past and future all “currently” (to our time view) exists. Thus at any point in its time, the entities there are experiencing a present, remember the past, and have a to them not yet knowable future.

And the ways of resolving the Bell theorem’s inequalities seem to be understood by some (who really understand the theorem - unlike me) to provide a way in which both free choice in the moment, and preexistence of the future are just two ways of looking at the same reality.

Just because the past that I can remember is already fixed and unchangeable, does that mean the me in that past did not/does not have free will? Why can’t the same be true about my future that I can’t yet perceive?

1 Like

How exactly are you defining free will, then?

If a creator created you while having an overview of all of the lines, then all of those lines were already determined at the moment of your creation, and the creator could have tinkered with you in just such a way that you would make other decisions. If god created you with foreknowledge of the future, then god created you in such a way that you would be destined to make all of the decisions that you have made and will make. Of all of the possible yous that god could have made, he/she/they/it made a version of you that would invariably follow the lines already existing at the moment of your creation.

If that is the case, then god chose those decisions for you.

I don’t think I could define free will exactly - I’m not philosopher enough. But I’m satisfied enough with I know it when I see it in about the same sense as I think, therefore I am. I’m not sure what concrete and precise definition could stand up to certain suppositions of omniscience, omnipotence, and predestination vs illusory freedom.

Suppositions which can logically be made, but that I would tend to deny. Yes, admittedly, somewhat because I want to believe that I have real freedom. But mainly because I don’t think the idea of free will really must be logically incompatible with the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient creator deity.

A thoughtful Christianity can suppose that our omniscient, omnipotent deity CHOSE to create us with free will and forever continues to choose to give us that freedom. That it/he chooses to limit application of his omnipotence in such a way as to allow us certain spans of freedom sufficient to give us the dignity of agency and humanity. Created in the image of God. Not equal to, but similar in some important characteristics.

We don’t have the freedom to violate natural laws. We can’t magically defy gravity. (Though with enough research and cleverness, we might be able to learn surprising exceptions and corner cases that exist in the laws of nature. I’d definitely say we have done so and continue to.) We can choose whether to step off a cliff. But we can’t choose whether we will fall if we do. We don’t get to choose whether our bodies will tend to age and die.

But we do get to make meaningful and morally significant choices in what we do and how we live our lives. That moral significance has to do with a kind of “law” different than physical, natural law. It’s a “divine” law that allows for freedom of choice to obey or disobey. But those choices come with consequences. Not all of which are immediately (temporally) evident, but which we are taught are nonetheless real and significant. The law is not really “Thou shalt not kill”. In reality it is “If you do kill, there will be moral/eternal consequences as well as likely temporal ones.”

Let’s say hypothetically that a man chooses to commit adultery.

If god knew when creating said man that said man would commit adultery, then god had the option to alter said man’s character in such a way that said man would not commit adultery. At the time of said man’s creation, god created said man specifically in such a way that said man would commit adultery. Even if we are born as blank slates and are the product of our circumstances, if god knows the future, then god would know in advance about all of the circumstances that would shape said man to become an adulterer. In either case, god chose to make said man as an adulterer. The man may have made the choice to commit adultery, but the real choice was made long ago, at the time of his creation.

That is why I say that god cannot simultaneously 1) know the future, 2) create us and 3) give us free will.

Any god that claims to love us and to have given us free will and allowed that free will to wreak havoc on the world, killing and harming innocents, isn’t a god worth worshipping or even acknowledging. After all, if we are all created just as god wants us, then god creates murderous dictators and allows them to do what they will.
If a bit less free will would have avoided the killing fields and the gas chambers that would make a better world.

1 Like


No. God created EVERY person with the moral responsibility to CHOOSE to commit adultery or not. The idea that in our future he already knows what we will choose today doesn’t have to be incompatible with the idea that he left leaves choice up to us in the moment. I suppose you could say in that sense he allows us to be part authors of the future.

Perhaps the genius of his plan is to create a structure that allows the composite result of all our free choices to lead to the intended overall outcome of eternity. In a similar sense perhaps to how the quantumly random gyrations of a vast cloud of zillions of tiny atoms creates the solid surface of a piece of wood that a carpenter has cut and made into a table.

This is getting to ideas of determinism in the operation of the universe. Did God create a clockwork that has only one possible outcome given the initial conditions? That’s more or less what classical physics envisioned prior to quantum mechanics.

But quantum theory shows that outcomes can truly be fully indeterminate until some interaction collapses a probability function to a single outcome. And no amount of foreknowledge about the nature of that interaction still can predict in advance what that outcome will be. It’s not just that the mechanisms are too complicated for us to work out in advance. It’s that the outcome really is at best statistical, and not absolutely determined in advance.

I realize that in itself doesn’t fully resolve the conflict of an idea of foreknowledge of the future. But it puts it in a light I think is more compatible with an idea of free choice. And yes, I’m glossing over the idea that indeterminacy itself isn’t necessarily the same thing as free will. I’m OK with that for now. I do think it would be an important element of will though.

If we are human, if we have free agency at all, then our will has to be something more than the illusory, clockwork result of all past influences. Humanity is more than a machine. Part machine, for sure. But more than that. I think, therefore I am, dammit! :fist:

I’m looking for where that free will can exist. And it seems like down inside that quantum indeterminacy is a good place to look. In physics, it’s about the only place left at present.

And actually, the problem of freedom vs determinacy exists without supposing existence of a creator deity. Nothing in natural law is going to PROVE the existence of God. I think believing or disbelieving that is another choice that God chooses to leave to us. If God could be proven, then there would be no moral responsibility for faith. Not having faith would only be ignorant or obstinate.

It seems morally self-evident that we can only be responsible for faith if we freely choose it. Another reason God would want to give use free choice. So we can be free moral beings, responsible for right and wrong in our choices.

ROFL!!! Disagree, but good joke. ROFL!

Evil and suffering are unfortunate consequences of our freedom and our imperfect nature. We are not as good as God. Freedom does potentially have terrible cost. But also great possibility for good as well.

If God intervened to prevent all evil, then we would no longer be free and responsible. We might as well be clocks.

Yes, for us. But we are talking about a purportedly omniscient being. Regardless of whether the outcome is random, an all-knowing god would know the outcome in advance. Further, because god is also omnipotent, god created that outcome directly.

ETA: If god is both omniscient and omnipotent, then the only possibility is that god willed that outcome, even if just by setting it into motion with foreknowledge thereof. Many religions have posited gods who are neither omniscient nor omnipotent, and I do not get why so many other religions cling to this point. I rather liked the take the Greeks had on gods - gods who were just as fucked up as we are.


How do you know this?

1 Like

We’re going in circles now I think. My view is that omniscience and omnipotence are more complicated than this. No I don’t fully understand just how, but I can well enough imagine that all these ideas are not mutually exclusive. Enough for my satisfaction. You don’t have to be convinced though.

It’s certainly possible to argue ad absurdum for example that an omnipotent being should be able to remove its omnipotence. It starts to fail the Monty Python test: “Stop that! That’s silly!!” LOL Peace, my friend!

Indeed, it is an ancient debate that has been going on and on and going around in circles forever. I get it.
I get that faith is not understanding just how, but accepting that it is so. You believe that there is a higher power that can square this circle with ease. And that is fine with me.

I realize that this debate will not get us anywhere, but I feel that it is important to keep this debate alive. For faith untested is a flimsy thing indeed. And even us athiests want to understand what faith is all about.

Big thumbs up to that brother, I totally agree! And I do love a good discussion. I’m not dropping this one. It’s just getting late. And I think there are other interesting directions to explore as well. Later.

“Thinking out loud” in print helps me to articulate and work out just what I think and believe sometimes. It’s all still a work in progress.

This topic was automatically closed 30 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.