1. Joined
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    07 Mar '08 06:50
    Probably many of you are familiar with theological fatalism, which roughly claims that the existence of human free will (of a libertarian sort) is precluded by some aspect of God's nature. The purpose of this thread is to foster discussion concerning the soundness of such arguments. I have come to believe all such fatalist arguments I have seen are unsound, but maybe somebody here can convince me otherwise. To start the discussion, I will informally develop forms of the argument that are common to forums such as this, and I will try to explain why I don't find these arguments convincing.

    The basic argument is roughly along the following lines. Suppose that God exists and that He is omniscient. Then, He knows the content of all your willings before they occur in advance. But then all your willings are determined and you cannot will other than what you do, in fact, will. Thus libertarian free will cannot exist if such a God exists.

    This argument seems to me to be very weak. First of all, what does it really have to do with the subject of God? As far as I can see, from the idea that there exists an omniscient God it doesn’t necessarily follow that He knows our future willings. I think this requires the additional premise that statements about our future willings have determinate truth values (as opposed to, say, probabilistically indexed ones). But, if we are going to assume that statements about future willings have determinate truth values, then I fail to see how this argument really has anything substantively to do with the premise of God. Retaining all the same impact, one could simply say that statements about the contents of your future willings have determinate truth values; thus, your future willing are determined; thus you cannot will other than what you in fact do will. This doesn't seem convincing to me. To preclude libertarian free will, I think we need to establish a certain necessity about our willings (in a sense that they could not be otherwise). But from the fact that you will choose to A tomorrow at time T (let's suppose this is in fact the case), how does it follow that your choosing to A at time T is in any sense necessary? Obviously the following is necessarily true: if it is true that you will A at time T, then you will A at time T. But this sort of argument for fatalism seems to me to rest on something completely different that is generally false: that if it is true that you will A at time T, then you must A at time T (or if it is true that you will A at at time T, then it is necessary that you A at time T). I see no reason to accept this, and thus I don't find this sort of argument convincing.

    The fatalist can counter that the critical idea is not just that God knows our future willings; but rather that God knows infallibly our future willings. I would say that I fail to see how this improves the argument. I would say infallibility just has to do with the epistemic process: to say that God infallibly knows P is to say that He knows P in a way that is free from even the possibility of epistemic error (or, I guess, to say that God knows P and that God's knowing P requires His satisfying some condition, such that it is not possible for God to satisfy this condition while P is false). But how would that establish any sort of necessity about P itself? If, say, God knows infallibly that you will A at time T tomorrow, this means it is true that you will A at time T tomorrow and that God knows this in a way that is free from the possibility of error. How does that establish that your choosing to A at time T is itself in any sense necessary? Per the discussion above, I still fail to see the connection.

    Ideas?
  2. Standard memberSwissGambit
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    07 Mar '08 07:06
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    Probably many of you are familiar with theological fatalism, which roughly claims that the existence of human free will (of a libertarian sort) is precluded by some aspect of God's nature. The purpose of this thread is to foster discussion concerning the soundness of such arguments. I have come to believe all such fatalist arguments I have seen are unso ...[text shortened]... necessary? Per the discussion above, I still fail to see the connection.

    Ideas?
    There's no mention of omnipotence in this post. Doesn't the fatalist argument usually include this? The idea is that God has both the power to set things up however he wishes, and the ability to see all causal chains emanating from any initial setup. I'm still not sure if it helps, though.
  3. Joined
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    07 Mar '08 07:402 edits
    Originally posted by SwissGambit
    There's no mention of omnipotence in this post. Doesn't the fatalist argument usually include this? The idea is that God has both the power to set things up however he wishes, and the ability to see all causal chains emanating from any initial setup. I'm still not sure if it helps, though.
    All the fatalist arguments I have seen rely on omniscience (more specifically, most of them really just rely on foreknowledge or infallible foreknowledge) and are silent on the matter of omnipotence. I don't really see how omnipotence would help the fatalist any.**

    Here's another way of stating the common fatalist argument that gets the basic point across, and it is all in terms of God's foreknowledge (this is Plantinga's summary of Evodius's (Augustine) argument):

    1. If God knows in advance that S will do A, then it must be the case that S will do A.
    2. If it must be the case that S will do A, then it is not within the power of S to refrain from doing A.
    3. If it is not within the power of S to refrain from doing A, then S is not free with respect to A.
    4. Hence, If God knows in advance that S will do A, then S is not free with respect to A.

    My challenge is against Premise 1.*** I don't see good reasons to accept it.

    ----------------------------
    **One thing to note, however, is that omnipotence implies the capacity for omniscience; thus, the assumption of omnipotence in conjunction with the assumption that statements about the future have determinate truth values should serve the same purpose for the fatalist as the assumption of foreknowledge.

    ***I guess for full disclosure, I also have a problem with Premise 3. But, despite the fact that I think all libertarian conceptions of freedom are ridiculous to the point of absurdity, I'm going to leave that out of the discussion. I'm just going to work here within a framework of libertarian free will.
  4. Cape Town
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    07 Mar '08 08:42
    My thoughts on the matter are as follows:
    1. It is not clear from my knowledge of physics whether a) we live in a single timeline or b) a universe with infinitely branching timelines of which our past is only one and our future is an infinite subset.
    2. The existence of God, external to our universe and its timeline(s) tells us something about the nature of our universe.
    3. If God is capable of knowing the future then there is only one future and therefore an a. Type universe. If we live in a b. type universe then it is incompatible with much theist theology (infinite variations of souls going to heaven and hell etc).
    4. I think the real problem is we think along Newtonian lines and find it very hard to understand and deal with quantum mechanics and its implications (live and dead cats simultaneously existing etc). If God can tell you that Schrödinger's cat is dead then he has effectively killed it himself by his very observation.
  5. Standard memberSwissGambit
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    07 Mar '08 19:18
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    All the fatalist arguments I have seen rely on omniscience (more specifically, most of them really just rely on foreknowledge or infallible foreknowledge) and are silent on the matter of omnipotence. I don't really see how omnipotence would help the fatalist any.**

    Here's another way of stating the common fatalist argument that gets the basic point ...[text shortened]... he discussion. I'm just going to work here within a framework of libertarian free will.
    I would reject premise 3, not 1. Is there a counterexample for premise 1?
  6. Joined
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    10 Mar '08 09:372 edits
    Originally posted by SwissGambit
    I would reject premise 3, not 1. Is there a counterexample for premise 1?
    I would reject Premise 3 as well. As a compatibilist, I would reject Premise 3 for what are (I think) a host of good reasons. But, again, I'm insistent on leaving that out of this discussion. The fact seems to be that a vast majority of people have a libertarian view of freedom. We see this again and again in forums such as this where, more or less without fail or an extra thought, the default conception of freedom is a libertarian one. The fatalist challenge is commonly brought against such a theist who holds both a notion of libertarian freedom and a notion of an all-knowing God. In such cases, rejection of Premise 3 simply isn't going to be material to any forthcoming rebuttal. So my intent here is to show the following: that even working under an assumption of libertarian freedom (thus basically ensuring the acceptance of Premise 3), the fatalist argument still doesn't seem to have any force.

    Regarding Premise 1, we have to first understand what it's even saying because it is, frankly, ambiguous at the surface. In particular, what exactly is meant by the inclusion of "it must be the case that"? Of course it is completely obvious that if God knows in advance that S will do A, then S will do A. That's obviously true because the consequent follows with necessity from the antecedent (since the truth of a proposition is necessary for knowledge of that proposition). But so what? That's trivial, and I submit that isn't what Premise 1 is trying to say in this context. What seems generally false -- and what this fatalist argument actually seems to rest on -- is the idea that a necessity of the consequent follows from the antecedent (which is decidedly different from the idea that the consequent follows with necessity from the antecedent). That is really the idea behind this Premise 1; and why should anyone accept that?

    Again, what the fatalist needs to show is that S's doing A is, in at least some sense, necessary. What is the manner of the necessity here? It's clearly not logical necessity because no contradiction follows from that S refrains from doing A (of course, a logical contradiction does follow from the conjunction of "God knows in advance that S will do A" and "it is not the case that S will do A" -- that's certainly not what I am disputing; what I'm disputing is the idea that this consideration establishes that S's doing A is necessary; or, in other words, I'm disputing that God's knowing about the event entails that the event itself is necessary). It's not metaphysical/ontological necessity either unless the fatalist wants to make some claim like S's doing A eventuates in any and every possible world, which seems ridiculous. So what is the necessity here?

    One possible counter here is to argue along roughly the following line (which is usually coupled to some correspondence theory of truth), where the "necessity" takes the form of something like an "inevitability". If God (or anyone for that matter) knows now in advance that S will do A, then the world is already as such to make the claim S will do A true; that, coupled with the idea that whatever is necessarily is when it is could be thought to establish that S's doing A is in a similar sense necessary. This line seems less bad to me than the previous fatalist argument, but I'm still trying to sort out what I make of it. My first instinct is to point out that we can maintain a correspondence theory of truth and yet deny that true claims about the future have to correspond to current fact(s). For instance, one could say that it is sufficient for a claim about the future to be true if there will exist fact(s) that make it true at the future time in question. In that case, from that "S will do A" is true it doesn't follow that the world is already as such to make it true. Also, I'm still not sure what exactly the manner of necessity supposedly being established is. Again, it's not logical necessity and it doesn't appear to be like an ontological necessity. What is this putative necessity of present events? Is it like an "accidental necessity" that some think is enjoyed by past events because they are now outside the realm of causable events?

    At any rate, you see the basic fatalist argument a lot in this forum. For example, some theist mentions God's omniscience. And then someone else counters that if God is omniscient, then He already knows all our future decisions; if He already knows all our future decisions, then our futures are already determined and freedom doesn't exist (where obviously a libertarian freedom is just automatically assumed; again, a compatibilist need not be fazed by any of this); etc. Again, even though I am a compatibilist, I've thought a lot about this sort of argument, and I think it just doesn't work as is. It might work with some ancillary considerations, but I don't yet see how. Also, for anyone who disagrees and thinks this argument succeeds, then my question (other than why you think so) would be: what exactly is the manner of necessity that it establishes about our future willings?
  7. Cape Town
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    10 Mar '08 11:14
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    ... what exactly is the manner of necessity that it establishes about our future willings?
    What do you think of my concept of a static universe, complete with a time dimension in its entirety. Think of it as a computer program which has been run and the complete execution sequence is recorded on tape. When we look through the execution sequence we may not be able to determine the later steps without checking the actual record, but they are nevertheless already set and therefore 'necessary'.

    The interesting think is that a computer program can never generate truly random numbers without external input. So if you know the program, and there is no external input, you can predict its future with 100% accuracy.
    Does this mean that if true randomness exists in the universe then there is some external input going on?
  8. Territories Unknown
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    10 Mar '08 20:521 edit
    When we look into outer space using a telescope, we are able to see upwards of millions of years into the past by virtue of the speed of light across a vast universe. If some distant star explodes before the end of this sentence, it could be years before we get the news. Any probes we have out in space closer to the source will know of the explosion proportionate to its distance to the same.

    When we look into inner space with a microscope, we are able to see entire life spans before any measureable evidence is made known to the naked eye.

    For us, the past is somewhat perspicuous--- limited only by our ability to gather and store information accurately. We've improved our predictive abilities in many fields, as well, even to a fair degree of accuracy in some highly specialized fields. However, we haven't achieved the same accuracy of perspicacity toward the future as we have toward the past.

    To God, the future is just as clear as the past: He sees both, He sees all, perfectly. In our consideration of the weather, for instance, we are able to say within given parameters that we 'know' what's going to happen tomorrow... unless something unknown or unforeseen occurs. God, however, sees all of it as a whole: the past, the present and the future are all the same in terms of His comprehension of events--- nothing is unknown, nothing is unforeseen.

    In the same way that we know it's going to rain tomorrow, God knows what we're going to think tomorrow. Our knowledge of cloud and wind patterns doesn't impact or alter their eventual ruining of planned yard work. Obviously there is a difference between free will agents and the elements, but the principal is the same: knowledge of an event doesn't necessarily impact the same.

    God's whole knowledge in no way compromises, alters, or impacts man's willing on any level.
  9. SubscriberAThousandYoung
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    12 Mar '08 13:50
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    When we look into outer space using a telescope, we are able to see upwards of millions of years into the past by virtue of the speed of light across a vast universe. If some distant star explodes before the end of this sentence, it could be years before we get the news. Any probes we have out in space closer to the source will know of the explosion prop ...[text shortened]... whole knowledge in no way compromises, alters, or impacts man's willing on any level.
    So God is hazy and uncertain about what individuals will think and do in the future? That's how we are with the weather.
  10. Cape Town
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    12 Mar '08 14:30
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    In the same way that we know it's going to rain tomorrow, God knows what we're going to think tomorrow. Our knowledge of cloud and wind patterns doesn't impact or alter their eventual ruining of planned yard work. Obviously there is a difference between free will agents and the elements, but the principal is the same: knowledge of an event doesn't necess ...[text shortened]... od's whole knowledge in no way compromises, alters, or impacts man's willing on any level.
    But how does he do it. The laws of physics make it impossible to accurately predict the weather. The weather is a chaotic system and therefore large scale changes are subject to the random effects of quantum dynamics.

    If God is, as you claim, able to know the future, then it tells us that what we believe to be quantum randomness is not in fact random, and it therefore does - considerably - impact on our free will.
  11. Territories Unknown
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    12 Mar '08 17:23
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    But how does he do it. The laws of physics make it impossible to accurately predict the weather. The weather is a chaotic system and therefore large scale changes are subject to the random effects of quantum dynamics.

    If God is, as you claim, able to know the future, then it tells us that what we believe to be quantum randomness is not in fact random, and it therefore does - considerably - impact on our free will.
    But how does he do it.
    Uh, He's God, remember? How did He create something out of nothing?

    The laws of physics make it impossible to accurately predict the weather.
    The uncertainty principles of life make it impossible to know anything.

    If God is, as you claim, able to know the future, then it tells us that what we believe to be quantum randomness is not in fact random, and it therefore does - considerably - impact on our free will.
    What appears random is in fact just the unknown seen from the blinded perspective.
  12. Joined
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    20 Mar '08 20:49
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    What do you think of my concept of a static universe, complete with a time dimension in its entirety. Think of it as a computer program which has been run and the complete execution sequence is recorded on tape. When we look through the execution sequence we may not be able to determine the later steps without checking the actual record, but they are neve ...[text shortened]... ean that if true randomness exists in the universe then there is some external input going on?
    Sorry, I'm not trying to ignore you. I'll return to this thread when I get some free time. Thanks for your responses. Cheers,
  13. Hmmm . . .
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    25 Mar '08 06:261 edit
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    All the fatalist arguments I have seen rely on omniscience (more specifically, most of them really just rely on foreknowledge or infallible foreknowledge) and are silent on the matter of omnipotence. I don't really see how omnipotence would help the fatalist any.**

    Here's another way of stating the common fatalist argument that gets the basic point he discussion. I'm just going to work here within a framework of libertarian free will.
    1. If God knows in advance that S will do A, then it must be the case that S will do A.

    If knowledge is being construed here in the standard sense of “justified true belief”, then I think your statement of premise 1 is tautological. But I am not sure how you are using the word “must” here—so let me rephrase a bit:

    1a. God knows in advance that S will do A.

    1b. Therefore, it is true that S will do A.

    —I have substituted the phrase “it is true that” for “it must be the case that.” 1a. can be further parsed:

    1a(i) God believes that S will do A;
    1a(ii) God is justified in believing that S will A; and
    1a(iii) It is true that S will A. [G’s belief is a true belief.]

    1b. Therefore, it is true that S will A.

    _______________________________________________

    All of that may belabor a triviality, but the point is just that to say that “G knows that S will A” really only says: (1) S will A, and (2) G knows it. I don’t see how G can know X and for X not to be the case, by definition. If it is true that X, then it is the case that X. To add “must”—or “it is necessary that it is the case that...”—seems to just be redundant.

    You've already stated that you're not arguing that G can know X, but X not be the case. Are you simply arguing against the improper use of certain philosophical concepts, like "necessity"? But, see below--

    ________________________________________________

    It is not generally offered simply that G knows that this or that event E will occur, or even that G could know that any E will or will not occur if G happens to think about it—but that G knows every E that will occur, and all the causal connections involved for every E that will occur. That is, G’s omniscience I think is generally offered as being total and universal.

    Further, it is often described as if G sees everything from some privileged place transcendent to (“outside of” ) time. I have difficulty understanding what that means, but it seems to mean something like G is always at a point T(0), at which point all that ever (from our point of view) has happened, is happening, will happen is (from G’s point of view) happening instantaneously at that point. For G, there is no T(1) ... T(n), but only T(0).

    Now, at this point, I want to throw up my hands and ask: “From whomever’s perspective, what the hell is actually going on in the universe?!” Are past-present events [say T(0) or some T(0-t)] not “fully determined”? Is G’s perspective accurate and our’s delusional? Does not a universal and total omniscience at point T(0) represent something like the “unchanging situation” that undermines libertarian free will?

    __________________________________________________

    One other point: in Christian theology, God is creator—omnipotent or not. Therefore, time T(0) generally represents the inception of the created cosmos. The real view seems to be that God knew/knows every future E at some (“eternal”?) time T(0-t),* and then created/creates the cosmos such that that perfect foreknowledge is realized. Therefore, I find it hard to see, under that model, how everything—including what I will and will not will, and whether such willing is efficacious in this or that case—is not determined, precisely by God’s act of creation (rather like knuckling over that first domino).



    * From G’s perspective, of course, there is no differentiation between T(0) and T(0-t) either.
  14. Subscriberno1marauder
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    26 Mar '08 12:151 edit
    Originally posted by vistesd
    [b]1. If God knows in advance that S will do A, then it must be the case that S will do A.

    If knowledge is being construed here in the standard sense of “justified true belief”, then I think your statement of premise 1 is tautological. But I am not sure how you are using the word “must” here—so let me rephrase a bit:

    1a. God knows in advance tha From G’s perspective, of course, there is no differentiation between T(0) and T(0-t) either.[/b]
    Great post.

    As I have pointed out, the type of 3 O God posited by certain theists here is incapable of free will himself as all the actions he ever will do are set in stone from the very "beginning". This makes him a curious automation.
  15. Hmmm . . .
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    26 Mar '08 17:58
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    Great post.

    As I have pointed out, the type of 3 O God posited by certain theists here is incapable of free will himself as all the actions he ever will do are set in stone from the very "beginning". This makes him a curious automation.
    Thanks, man: how ya doin’?

    As I recall, your argument is something like—

    (1) An omniscient god would know what is the best of all possible worlds.

    (2) An omnipotent God can create the best of all possible worlds.

    (3) An omni-good God will create the best of all possible worlds.

    (4) God is O-O-O.

    (5) God is the creator of the world.

    (6) Therefore, this is the best of all possible worlds.

    And the reductio:

    (7) God could have created some other world.

    But (7) contradicts premises (1) – (4). Hence, an O-O-O God could not have created some other world. Perhaps more to the point for libertarian free will, God could not—if returned to the original moment of creation—decide to create some other world. Hence God does not have (at least libertarian) free will.

    By the same logic, God can only intervene in the world in the single “best possible way”. Again, God’s actions are not open to free-will choice. (Although why would God need to intervene in the best of all possible worlds?)

    Does that pretty much get it?

    ____________________________________________


    Notes:


    —The best of all possible worlds I am defining here as entailing that everything that happens in that world is for the highest good, which entails that any deviation from any event that has happened or will happen in that world would make it somehow less good. That is, one less holocaust victim would have resulted in a worse world; if Adam and Eve had not sinned, that would result in a worse world; if no one were condemned to eternal hell, that would be a worse world; etc., etc.

    —God’s omniscience also refutes any argument along the lines of, “Well, God created the best world, but humanity screwed it up”—since an omniscient God knew exactly what humanity would do in any world.

    —I am making no assumptions about what is “good” per se. Notice that I replaced the usual “omnibenevolent” with the broader “omni-good”. If some theist wants to argue that God’s omni-goodness entails malevolence, fine.
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