Why would omniscience and free will be mutually exclusive?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by wynn, Jul 17, 2011.

  1. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Why do some people hold that omniscience and free will are mutually exclusive?

    What are the underlying premises (notably about omniscience and free will) they operate with when they claim that omniscience and free will are mutually exclusive?
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  3. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Free will would be for you to decide on what you choose to do and when. Omniscience is already knowing what is going to happen and when. In other words one is a choice that you make the other is something that has already been planned.
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  5. NMSquirrel OCD ADHD THC IMO UR12 Valued Senior Member

    omniscience= all knowing, does that intone a 'not knowing' for free will?
    humans are great at 'not knowing'..free will = humans, omniscience = God,

    does knowing all things mean one doesn't have a choice?
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  7. RedRabbit Registered Senior Member

    I think it does, because you would also know the answer/result of the choice. You would in effect have no choice.
  8. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    Hmm...so the Christian god does as He does with no choice?
  9. Rav Valued Senior Member

    Any act of deliberation on God's part would imply some kind of fallibility. I think that the closest thing to a choice that God could ever make would be an action that couldn't possibly have been anything other than what it was.
  10. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    So God as an impersonal force, more like a law of physics...
  11. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Lest we forget: omniscience is the "freedom" to know everything (anything), but free will is knowing and acting on the basis of what is known.

    Knowing and acting on the basis of knowledge are different things. Acting is based on knowing (it isn't independent of knowledge), but knowledge is based on observation. So is observing the same as acting (like, passively), and does it change anything?
  12. Rav Valued Senior Member

    If there is any kind of God at all, I feel reasonably certain that it wouldn't even resemble the anthropomorphic conceptualizations that are so common among religious people. Every single time a human-like quality is projected onto God it compromises the perfect state of being that is necessary in order for the whole idea to make any kind of sense. And of course there's also the question of why such a being wasn't so perfect and complete that nothing additional needed to be brought into existence in the first place. In other words, an act of creation itself is also something of a contradiction.

    In the end the idea of a God that "thinks" or makes "choices" based on the analysis of information is nonsensical. What is required is essentially a God who's actions are dictated by it's own perfection, which means that every act is effectively predestined because of that perfection. But then there's the problem of an act being a departure from a previous state of inaction (at least in regard to the subsequent action itself) which again implies a departure from a state of perfection, if we keep in mind that God is supposed to be the embodiment of such. The only possibility that seems to remain, then, is to define perfection as something that can manifest dynamically; to suggest that there is no singular state that is perfect above all others; to view changes in quality and expression as a fundamental part of the nature of all existence. It then follows that anything that is ever acting according to it's own nature (which is everything, all the time) is perfect.
  13. Telemachus Rex Protesting Mod Stupidity Registered Senior Member

    The two are not always strictly inconsistent, but one can easily see how they could be at odds in the typical Judeo Christian concept of God. If free will is the ability to make choices, then imagine two scenarios:

    (1) There is a "first point" in time. God is omniscient at at that moment sees everything that will ever or could ever happen. In that moment, He also decides how he will react to each event that will occur in all of eternity. Here there is no conflict with free will, because God has choices and in fact chooses. If God then writes down every decision, gives the list to the robotic non-free willed angels, and goes on holiday that His decisions are being enacted by rote based on written instructions poses no problem, since He exercised free will back at the start of all things.

    Since God is omniscient there is no need for him to reengage His free will, ever, after that one moment when all decisions were made by Him, since He'll never have better information than He had then.

    (2) Now imagine there is no beginning to God. He has always known everything and has always known every decision He will even make. In that paradigm, when would God ever make a choice? Imagine that God, knowing everything never actually appeared in the universe, but again left the automata angels with a written list if His "decisions," then nicked off forever. Since this God never had to ponder His actions (why ponder when he already knows the outcome?) and certainly his servants won't. God's free will is so irrelevant that you don't even need God to exist in this version, you just need the instructions (i.e. a program) to exist.

    In that case "free will" would mean (at most) a hypothetical ability to make different decisions that God would never have done, because he made the "right" choices the first time (and can a truly perfect being ever take the "second best" option available to him? Why would an truly omniscient being do so?). Is such an extremely hypothetical free will that can never be used consistently with the nature of God the same thing as real free will?
  14. TrendingSideways Registered Member

    If we live in a universe where omniscience is possible, it means that everything is knowable. This means it is possible to know what choice somebody will make. Free will is the ability to make choices without constraints. If you choice is knowable before you make it, you don't have free will.

    I struggle with the concept of free will. I want to believe in it, but I can't even begin to figure out what a scientific definition of it would even look like. Your choices either have a mechanism behind them or they don't. If there's a mechanism behind them, than they are predictable, so they can't be free.

    But if there's not a mechanism behind them, than it what sense could you claim that there is a "will?"
  15. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Omniscience is not "freedom" to know everything - but is KNOWING everything.

    If you are only free to know everything then it means that omniscience is a possible state, but not that anyone is omniscient.

    The key to the mutual exclusivity issue is what one considers omniscience to be... as there are some (some Open Theists, for example) who hold that it is only possible for an omniscient entity to know the moment (and the immutable past) but not the future.
    In a predictable universe this would equate to knowing the future (regardless of what Regular0ldguy might say about what predictable means)
    ... but in a unpredictable universe such an omniscient entity would not know the future.

    Most, I would hazard, consider omniscient to mean knowing everything, including the future - meaning that if the universe allows for such an omniscient being then the future must be written in stone... and thus choice and free-will are non-existent as anything other than a conscious perception (i.e. we might perceive us to have choice / free-will but it is merely a trick of our consciousness).

    But again, if one is comfortable defining free-will merely as a conscious perception that speaks nothing to the actual nature, then such an understanding of free-will is compatible with omniscience, although an omniscient entity itself can not have free-will.
  16. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Yeah, but notice I put quotes around the word. An omniscient being would not need to have a concept of freedom to choose to observe everything, because they would be observing everything. It's a concept we need though (in that we need to conceive of omniscience, which is something we don't have, hence a being who has the "freedom" we don't).
    And of course, if a being is omniscient, is it also logical that they can choose what to observe and how long to remember it for?

    Maybe they only have the capacity to 'store' a very small amount of causal information, and how that information is connected to any other event they "remember"?

    But I agree that knowing everything can mean "including the entire history of events in the universe", and that if they did know everything they would not need to predict anything. This would be true if they did only know "the moment" and not any history, except for an arbitrarily small interval of it.

    And would this omniscient being observe passively so that observing events doesn't affect them in any way? When we observe, does it have any effect on events? QM says yes, it does.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2011
  17. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    Black and white thinking.

    We have choices but within a framework of constraints...

    Sciforums just had a 25-page marathon thread about it...

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    I am officially all argued out about the free will thing.
  18. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    It all makes perfect sense

    The two aren't mutually exclusive. I believe you may be overlooking a factor: omnipotence.

    The underlying premise is that God knows all; the problem comes to a head immediately in the Bible—either God didn't see what would happen when He lied to Adam and Eve, or else, as Jack Blanco theorized in his "Bible paraphrase", the fall of man into sin was part of God's plan.

    The idea that God knows all isn't problematic with free will.

    But the idea that God is all-powerful? Or that God judges? That's where the problems start popping up.

    The classic question of evil arises when one asserts God's goodness. Where does mass murder come in? What was God's purpose with the Indonesian earthquake, with many remaining homeless six and a half years later?

    And here we run into the problem. Either evil is good, or God is not in control of evil.

    For God to then turn around and judge people—especially when, as many Christians will claim, He blesses each conception and birth—the whole thing becomes a philosophical farce.

    The idea that a "good" or "loving" God who is all-knowing and all-powerful is incompatible with sin and condemnation.

    And, frankly, if the faithful just had faith in God, it wouldn't really matter what He knows, thinks, or does.

    And therein lies the answer to the conundrum. The one way around it is to simply have faith in God, and not try to figure Him out. If we argue that God's ultimate purpose is good, then no, it wasn't evil that one's mother was murdered when one was six years old, or that another must suffer through months or years of cancer before finding refuge in death. In that context, what we find evil, abhorrent, unpleasant, sad, tragic, or whatever, is still good insofar as it contributes to God's ultimate purpose.

    In that outlook, we're still tools despite free will.

    When you add it all up, the tears and the marrow bone, there's an ounce of gold and an ounce of pride in each ledger. And the Germans kill the Jews, and the Jews kill the Arabs, and the Arabs kill the hostages, and that is the news. Is it any wonder that the monkey's confused? He says, "Mama! The president's a fool! Why do I have to keep reading these technical manuals?" And the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the brokers on Wall Street say, "Don't make us laugh, you're a smart kid. Time is linear, memory's a failure, history is for fools, and man is a tool in the hands of the Great God Almighty. And they gave him command of a nuclear submarine and sent him back in search of the Garden of Eden.

  19. Fuse26 011 Banned

    What makes you believe that God is omnipotent? The whole reason the world is in such a mess is precisely because she does NOT know everything: she simply has the power to give someone EVERYTHING, and if people possess hatred they kill, and so God has to kill them in return; hence people die.
  20. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    That's all well and good, Tiassa, but the question isn't necessarily about the Biblical deity, or anything about good, evil, and nothing about omnipotence etc - but just about the concepts of omniscience and free-will.
    This is not the religion sub-forum.

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    You say that the two (omniscience and free-will) are not mutually exclusive - but you don't say why you hold that. Care to expand?
  21. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    Hmm well, how are omniscience and omnipotence not mutually exclusive?
    If you already know everything that is going to happen, meaning that everything is predetermined, you are powerless to change anything.
    So, imo, it's 'either-or'.
  22. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Maybe you should start with a being who is not omniscient, but has "ordinary" observer capacity. Then according to the principles of QM, such a being affects the outcome of their own observations by, well, observing events.

    In other words, they can choose when and what to observe--although in a small region of the universe.
    An omniscient being presumably can't choose "when", there is only the universal moment, and they can't choose what to observe, there is only the entire universe.

    Does an omniscient being also require omnipotence in order to know everything? Are they free of the observer interaction that the theory of QM insists is real for ordinary observers?
    So is omniscience truly a passive form of knowledge--there is no interaction "with" the universe, but there is knowledge "of" everything in it?
    If that's true, the omniscient being must be unphysical.

    What about the other way around? Does an omnipotent being require omniscience? What if they act without observing?
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2011
  23. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    This and That

    Application of the concept.

    Forgive me, please, for trying to keep the abstraction relevant to something that (A) happens to be real (e.g., Christianity), and (B) is a common starting point for this question among most people in my culture who bother to ask it.

    Well, it depends on who is omniscient. Since we're apparently playing with naked abstraction, I'm going to need someone to actually establish that we're supposed to be talking about seven billion omniscient humans mucking up the Universe.

    Meanwhile, back in more familiar realms, it doesn't matter what God knows if It that knowledge has no consequence. That is, God's omniscience means nothing to human free will if God doesn't ever do anything.

    • • •​

    I think, as a practical matter, that we make a mistake if we presume that "thought", as such, in the omniscient mode resembles anything we would recognize.

    If the omniscient thought process resembles the workings of the finite mind, then we run into the either-or problem. But omniscience demands some scale of mind equivalent to the whole of everything. The idea of sequence—first this, then that—in an infinite mind is a difficult proposition, since that infinity demands the whole of time.

    For the finite mind moving sequentially through time, free will is free will.

    For the omniscient and omnipotent entity, the whole of everything looks somewhat deterministic. Combine Schröedinger with monotheism: Whatever a free-will choice equals in mundane dimensions, the waveform collapses and the possibilities resolve into an outcome; from the perspective, as such, of the infinite mind, that outcome is not right or wrong in the context of whether a person lived or died. That is, it's not right or wrong as we might argue over right and wrong. Rather, the outcome is what it is, and therefore, it is good. It is, in the end, the only outcome that could be, given the factors contributing to its resolution.

    Even those who reject God tend to anthropomorphize Its attributes. Omniscience itself simply cannot resemble our own thought processes. Your proposition—"If you already know everything that is going to happen, meaning that everything is predetermined, you are powerless to change anything.—erroneously presumes sequence of thought, event, and action. The infinite mind necessarily exists outside of time, and if we want to get really technical with the metaphysics, we might look to Crowley and his explanation of the Naples arrangement, change requires time.

    The conflict between omniscience and omnipotence you describe exists because the concepts are inventions of finite minds.

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