I read a book about determinism and free will that argued an all knowing / all powerful God and free will are incompatible, because if God knows our future then our actions are determined, hence no free will possible.

My question, however, is this. If an omniscient being (God) creates a deterministic world. Then, this god already knows what is going to happen. But then knowing how it will all turn out makes it kind of worthless to create since the god already knows what will happen right? In other words, doesn't omniscience preclude the value of such creation?

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    According to the Advaita Vedanta there was/is no creation, there is no free will. Nov 5, 2015 at 10:13
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    That's a silly argument, because you can completely discredit it without needing God in the picture at all. Imagine you have a kid, or a close friend, who you know really well, well enough that you can accurately predict what they will decide when given a choice. It's absurd to say that this means that he did not have a choice, simply because you were able to accurately predict what choice he would make. Now if we introduce the concept of a god who knows each of us well enough to be able to accurately predict all our choices, the absurdity of that argument remains intact. Nov 5, 2015 at 15:48
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    If you're talking about true omiscience, then it is definitely relevant. Omniscience would imply knowledge of everything at all levels of detail, which would include the quantum realm. Otherwise, you make a very good point.
    – Almo
    Nov 5, 2015 at 19:48
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    @MasonWheeler: Although on the surface it seems a silly argument, I don't think you should dismiss it so quickly because your analogy does not actually work so well. Despite you being able to predict accurately what your close friend chooses, that is not at all the same as knowing exactly what he will choose. In one case you can never be sure, and almost always will get it wrong now and then.
    – user21820
    Nov 6, 2015 at 1:50
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    @MasonWheeler: What you are doing is predicting based on past experience, but for a truly omniscient being, he has knowledge of all future choices and never gets it wrong. The distinction is not between high and low accuracy but between possibility to change the future and impossibility to do so, the latter implying completely no free will. People never believe in complete free will anyway, since you cannot choose many things like where and when to be born. The issue is almost all the time about whether people have completely free will in at least some choices.
    – user21820
    Nov 6, 2015 at 1:52

8 Answers 8



One has to define "omniscient" (knowing all things) and "omnipotent" (being all powerful) properly, otherwise one runs into trouble without even considering your question.

Let's deal with "omnipotent" first.

Omnipotence 1

If by "omnipotent" you literally mean "being able to do everything", then consider the following fact:

It is impossible to create an uncreated object.

This is at least one thing that no being, not even God, can do. You may then object that this is irrelevant, but at least you will have to admit that it just makes absolutely no sense to talk about "omnipotent beings" that can do everything because there isn't one.

Omnipotence 2

If you restrict "omnipotence" to "being able to do every possible thing", then you still need to define or axiomatize "possible". One way is via consistency, where we define something to be possible if and only if it can be true without being inconsistent with what are already true. (If you know first-order logic, in a first-order theory possible sentences are simply those whose negation is not provable. But my definition here is not restricted to a particular logic.) If we define "omnipotence" this way, then there is still the following fact:

It is impossible for anything to make it so that nothing ever existed. (English does not have the capability of conveying this accurately, but by "ever" I do not intend any connotation of time but simply actuality.)

This needs some thought, but is undeniable, because even if anything could make everything disappear, he cannot change the fact that something did once exist. Again, I intend this to be not restricted to time-based existence. This has the following implication for any God:

It is impossible for God to make it so that nothing ever existed.

This does not contradict omnipotence of such a God, if we use the restricted definition of omnipotence. But it already tells us one logically irrefutable way in which God is necessarily restricted. However, consider the following:

Is it possible for God to make it so that he/she/it is not omnipotent?

If you say "no", then you would be saying that God is forced to be omnipotent. If you say "yes", then you would be saying that God can choose to become not omnipotent, in which case there can be free will.

Omnipotence and free will

Thus the necessary conclusion from the above reasoning is that the standard argument that omnipotence is incompatible with free will is invalid if the above definition of omnipotence is used. If another definition for omnipotence is used, what would it be? Under most alternative definitions, it's no longer important whether God (if he exists) is omnipotent. So far almost all writings on God's omnipotence do not precisely specify what they mean anyway, so their arguments are not well founded.

Free will

I'll use the definition that "free will" means "ability to choose the future". This of course depends on your definition of "future", but it suffices for our argument later. This is also a very weak kind of free will, but it avoids the problem of defining what choices are involved. This also depends on exactly what "choice" means, which cannot really be defined. I'll just say let's use our intuitive meaning for now.

Omniscience 1

If by "omniscience" you mean "knowing the truth value of everything", then of course any omniscient being will know the future of everything. This applies even in the case that you assume that there is one world for every possibility. In any case, existence of an omniscient being implies non-existence of free will in the sense that we cannot choose the future if it is already something that is known by this being. You cannot say that we can make choices that can change this knowledge because by definition an omniscient being knows the final result of all choices.

Also, a being that is once omniscient cannot choose to become not omniscient, because while omniscient he already knows everything including when he is not omniscient, unless he also can make himself forget what he knew before. But indeed an omnipotent being can become not omniscient and make himself forget what he knew before, so even if there is a God and there is free will we cannot conclude that this God was never omniscient!

Omniscience 2

Another possible definition of "omniscient" is "being able to determine the truth value of any thing". This is strictly weaker than the above definition of "omniscient", for the same reason that mathematical induction does not imply the existence of an infinite collection. An omniscient being of this kind can still be compatible with free will for choices which he does not attempt to determine until they are made. Again, I intend no time connotation here but English forces my grammar. But most people do not even think of such kind of omniscience, not to say believe that their God (if any) is of this sort.

Omniscience 3

Some who believe in the existence of a God simply believe that God is omniscient about people in a weaker sense of "knowing what people would do given their choice of virtues". In other words, people have the free will to choose virtues that they desire, but based on those choices their lives are essentially determined. One variant of this is found in the Jewish psalm:

A man's heart devises his way, but YHWH directs his steps.

Different people interpret its meaning differently, but it is consistent with belief in a limited form of free will with a limited form of omniscience.

Reason for creation?

Question: Why would an omniscient God create anything if he already knows what is going to happen? Knowing how it will turn out to be, one does not need to create anything, since creating it is a waste of effort.

Firstly, "waste of effort" may mean two different things to a human and to a God. Even more so, if a God really exists, who created the world and living creatures, and humans can appreciate the (natural) world for its beauty and not just for any material benefit, so also it is reasonable to expect a powerful creator to also be able to enjoy creating and his creation even if he knows how it will turn out.

Secondly, the reasons for doing things usually are much more important than just to find out how things will turn out. We eat food not so that we can find out how they taste, but because we need food. On a higher level, we institute laws and live by them not to find out anything, but because we want to preserve peace and order (social stability). And we want to find out how the natural world works not for curiosity alone, but often also so that we can learn from it to be able to do things better, including feeding ourselves and those around us, and maintaining peace and order.

Thirdly, by the previously mentioned considerations, it is not necessary that belief in a God entails believing in omnipotence or omniscience in the usual sense that people talk about. If for example we have limited omniscience and limited free will in the specific form mentioned above, it is reasonable for God to want to create the creation in order to allow people's choices to be played out, because then choices made would have real consequences that (usually) coincide with the intentions, because the laws governing the world are not chaotic but predictable. So far from predictability being useless, it is in fact extremely meaningful because it gives our choices meaning. Of course, in this view not everything is predictable, such as our choices and those of others.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – virmaior
    Nov 5, 2015 at 13:18
  • While there were some somewhat interesting things in the comments; comments are not for discussion. If people want to raise questions about bias for God-questions, that sounds like a good topic for meta. / I didn't read the comments carefully enough to have an opinion (and I haven't read the answer carefully enough because it's very long -- the part i read was well-written but perhaps too long to be ideal)
    – virmaior
    Nov 5, 2015 at 13:21

One could argue that knowing, that something will happen, and experiencing, that and how it actually happens, are two different things. And the latter could be even motivation for creation.

But apparently these and other speculative answers - as well as the question itself - are based on an anthropomorphic conception of god. We try to put ourself in gods position.

Aside, I consider the god concept highly problematic. Hence I doubt whether it is suitable for any philosphical investigation. - Of course I know, that such investigations are just the point of Christian philosophy.

  • Thanks for your answer Jo, indeed I am making assumption that God is supposed to behave logically - which he doesn't necessarily have to do, this is a very valid point. Nov 5, 2015 at 7:58
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    @MatasVaitkevicius: You made another assumption, namely that humans behave logically. That is historically rather false. Anyway Jo's point is that you cannot talk equate "waste of effort to God" (if one exists) with "waste of effort to some humans" (like yourself), among other more subtle errors.
    – user21820
    Nov 5, 2015 at 8:28
  • @user21820 A very good point indeed - If one is omnipotent then 'effort' does not necessarily exist nor the difference between thinking and creating. Could you post this as answer please. Thanks. Nov 5, 2015 at 8:31
  • @MatasVaitkevicius: Sure. But please give me some time as I have much more details on the other points in your question.
    – user21820
    Nov 5, 2015 at 8:33
  • Jo, do see my answer, where I try to show that it is possible to ask and answer some questions concerning potential concepts about God from purely logical perspectives. At least, the assumptions made are clear, although I did not write everything in completely formal logic.
    – user21820
    Nov 5, 2015 at 9:55

Matas, In one of your comments to the original question, you wrote, "why create something when you know what it will be like by thinking of it anyway?" I really like that way of expressing your question.

So you are making a distinction between the thought and the creation... a valid distinction in our own experience. But in what sense would a being that is omniscient and omnipotent really need to "create" anything anyway? Isn't it just as likely that we are the thought? The act of creation implies that God did not know in advance that it would create our experience, or that our experience did not always exist somewhere in God's infinite "mind."

Even the idea that God had a thought seems counter-intuitive to me. These kinds of temporal limitations are for us.

But the more I go down this line of reasoning, the more convinced I become that God cannot change at all. It is at the beginning & at the end exactly as it always was, and our universe, being a subset of God, is as well. Then how does all this (looking around) come from something that is completely "static" in some sense?

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    I don't follow your reasoning when you say that creation implies that God did not know in advance that it would create our experience. Why so? He could know but go ahead anyway, or even because he knows what it would be like for us. Indeed as I and HopelessN00b hint/say in our answers, knowing the outcome can be a possible reason for doing it! Anyway it is possible to envision the universe as simply a thought of God, but that doesn't mean anything much different, because such a creator would be apart from space-time (whether in his thought or not), and so he being unchanging doesn't matter.
    – user21820
    Nov 6, 2015 at 1:43
  • In particular, for God both thinking and creating would be independent of space-time, so if you assume that he 'always' knew the entire outcome of his creation, you should also consider it possible that his act of creation was equally 'always'.
    – user21820
    Nov 6, 2015 at 3:16
  • For some context, see the first comment above (to original post): "According to the Advaita Vedanta there was/is no creation, there is no free will. – Swami Vishwananda." That comes pretty close to my view of God, meaning only Unity is real. Duality is manifest. God cannot experience any "state change," it cannot "decide" to do something new, including create. I don't think God is "independent" of space-time, as you say. Space-time (as we experience it) is a subset of God, material is immaterial to God. The "thought" of creation (as the creation itself) did not occur, it always was. Nov 6, 2015 at 3:35
  • That's my point. If you view God as static, then the act of creation always was too, and does not imply anything about what God does not know!
    – user21820
    Nov 6, 2015 at 5:18
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    There's some interesting things tangled with some things I don't follow in this answer. I don't follow the argument for :"The act of creation implies that God did not know in advance that it would create our experience." But the idea of god you're proposing is one that might make Plato or Aristotle happy insofar as they do propose a god whose does not change and therefore whose thought is invariant (thought they don't do it by having it not think).
    – virmaior
    Nov 6, 2015 at 6:23

Conway's Game of Life provides one solution to this paradox. It is a mathematical algorithm with extremely simple rules that leads to arbitrarily complicated outcomes. Much like "real" life.

When you run a Game of Life, you are:

  • Omniscient. You know all the rules by which the universe moves. You know the exact location of every particle in the universe.
  • Omnipotent. At any time, you can add, remove, or modify any object anywhere. You can stop everything, turn back time, and try different paths. You also can change the rules.

Nevertheless, when you create a wholly new pattern and set it in motion, the only way to determine the outcome is to run the algorithm, step by step, turn by turn. There is no shortcut.

By analogy, assume our universe was created by a sentient being in a higher level of existence, who knows all the laws, sees everything in perfect detail, and can do anything (in our universe). It is still possible for that being to not (yet) have the exact details of how our future interactions will change the universe.

Humans can (and do) create questions so complex that they don't know the solution (or even if it is possible to find out whether or not a solution exists). A being with infinite knowledge and infinite power should be able to create questions that are infinitely more complicated. I like to think that this universe is one of them.

A Note on Omniscience

Based on the Game of Life, incompleteness, et al, I posit that a being with set of knowledge A can construct questions of complexity k^A (where k > 1). Hence, an omniscient God with infinite knowledge ℵ(0) might have an ℵ(1) level question, which is my personal belief about the nature of our universe.

Nevertheless, even if you posit a God whose omniscience is not just ℵ(1) but ℵ(x) (where x is arbitrarily large), who understands not just our future but all possible futures for all possible combinations of natural law, with so many levels of knowledge and meta-knowledge that we cannot comprehend the scope of it... such a God can have a question of complexity ℵ(x+1), where our universe is a tiny but essential subcomponent.

  • Interesting example, but you actually have made an irreparable logical error. Certainly as controller of an instance of Conway's game of life you are omnipotent, but you're not omniscient. This is because this game of life is Turing-complete, and the halting problem is unsolvable assuming a relatively weak system such as Peano Arithmetic. So even humans cannot even in theory know whether a given game will ever change a certain cell or not, assuming PA is consistent. If you don't accept PA, however, then what do you accept? It is not eventual knowledge. It is impossible to know under Con(PA).
    – user21820
    Nov 5, 2015 at 13:54
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    It depends on your definition of omniscient. Perfect knowledge of now and the past is aleph null omniscience, but knowledge of the future is aleph one.
    – Foo Bar
    Nov 5, 2015 at 14:02
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    @user21820 that's not entirely accurate. There are instances of the game of life where humans can tell whether some cell will ever have a certain value. It is only not possible in general.
    – user2953
    Nov 5, 2015 at 14:27
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    @FooBar you're talking about a different kind of omniscience. In religious contexts, omniscience usually means not only to be able to deduct everything, but really to know everything - no reasoning required.
    – user2953
    Nov 5, 2015 at 14:28
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    @user21820 "So even humans cannot even in theory know whether a given game will ever change a certain cell or not" - this sentence is missing an "in general", in my reading. No worries.
    – user2953
    Nov 5, 2015 at 14:32

I have many terabytes of digital media at home on a media server that I "built." It amounts to thousands of hours of TV and movies, all of which I have watched, and most of which I remember.

However, even having watched them all before, and "knowing" what's in any given movie or TV episode, I still watch them again. (Why else would I have them?) Knowing what's going to happen is not the totality of the experience; seeing it, even seeing it again, has some value or worth above and beyond the simple knowledge of what the experience entails.

I could say the same of games I've played repeatedly, or computer code I've written, or really anything else I've done. There is more to any given experience than simply knowing what will happen, and so, even if I know with absolute certainty what will happen from repeating an enjoyable experience, there is value in repeating it.

I would assert that an "all-powerful" or "all-knowing" being would not necessarily be different from us in that regard, and so could or would find value in an experience beyond the mere knowledge of what will happen. I like to watch reruns of the Simpsons I've seen a thousand times before... perhaps God creates universes for the same reason. I have to imagine that seeing supermassive blackholes collide is an incredible experience, even if you've seen it before.

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    Yes this is one possible answer that I hinted in mine, although it is just pure speculation since we cannot assume that a being much more powerful and different from us has the same desires as us. To be specific, here you appeal to your desire for your enjoyment of the experience, but to a God who created desires, how do we know he actually has the same desires (or any desires at all)?
    – user21820
    Nov 6, 2015 at 1:35
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    @user21820 Indeed, but by the same token, anything and everything anyone would say about about such a being is pure speculation, and ultimately, we can only comprehend things that we can relate to our experiences and ourselves. In that vein, since knowledge is not the totality of an experience for people, I see no reason to assume that knowledge is the totality of an experience for other beings as well, and that is the implicit assumption underlying the question. I probably should have focused more on that implicit assumption being unfounded than on human behavior, as I did. Nov 6, 2015 at 8:11

As Apologist to the Arts?

Perhaps these questions could clarify the issue: Is omniscience relevant, or is this a question about valuation? If you create something you intend, say a painting, is it less valuable for your having done it as intended? What made it valuable in the first place? If you are omniscient (or think you are), how does that change the value of your output? How does it change the process of creation, or the experience of creating? Do any of these inform value (and to whom)? How is a painting different from a world?

I think the short answer to your question is that, while the point of a creation (reason for being) may be, or seem to be, novelty (to someone), the point of the act of creation (reason for doing it or expected outcome) may not necessarily ever be novelty. Certainly we can imagine our artist feeling compelled by the artist's vision (known or unknown) to place each brushstroke exactly as it must be placed to fulfill the vision. The nature of the compulsion is not (necessarily) to make something whose future (or outcome) is uncertain (to surprise the artist), but simply to do the thing which comes next (even if the purpose of the outcome is to surprise someone else).

You might contend that in the analogy, having a vision is the act of creation, and the act of painting is the deterministic process. In this case, still, the point of having a vision may not be to produce novelty, but simply to have (or want) it made manifest.

Thus omniscience may be irrelevant to the point of creating. (Although perhaps it's absolutely necessary to be some kind of omniscient to create a deterministic world!)

There are other concerns--(im)mortality (duration) comes to mind. But within the scope of your question as stated, I think all we need to do is identify another reason to make things (other than novelty), if having a reason gives creation the (relatable, implicit) value you require.

Answer: the same as the point of creating for a non-omniscient being (if there is such a point).


I agree - what is the point? My conclusion is that for this Omnipotent and omnipresent being to still go ahead and create me in all my flaws - even knowing how I am going fail his standards - they must have still wanted me despite these facts and outcomes.

Seems to me the real question is what do they want with us?

Example - So as an adult, I chose to create children. These kids of mine do the darnedest things. They can drive me crazy - push me to the brink of heart break. But would I choose to have lived life without them? Just cause they caused pain? Even if I knew they would cause me pain - if I knew their future? NO! I love them! they are my all - my heart! Even if the eventual outcome of their life is not what I desire for them - I still love them!

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    The question being asked is not "Why create beings you know are going to fail?". That's easily chalked up to the creator's malevolence. The question is bigger: "Why create a universe at all?". An all-knowing creator could run through the universe and know everything about it from start to finish without ever creating a single particle. So what makes it worth the trouble?
    – cHao
    Nov 5, 2015 at 20:43
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    This appears to be answering a different question that integrates the existence of evil.
    – virmaior
    Nov 5, 2015 at 22:40
  • I understand the point you are making - however : A man plows a field and inadvertently finds a treasure chest buried in it. He goes and buys the field so that he can be the legitimate owner of the fields contents - the treasure chest being one of them. He could have stolen the chest without buy the field but his nature did know allow it. He had to buy the field (Create the universe) in order to be just. Personally, I dont think you can seperate the "creation of the universe" from the "problem of evil".
    – user566095
    Nov 6, 2015 at 19:17
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    @user566095: Not sure if you realize just how badly your field analogy breaks. If a god has to do anything in order to be just, and can't just be just because he says he is, then there are externally defined laws and justice. If you're a monotheist, that position is self-defeating, as it means there's an authority greater than your god.
    – cHao
    Nov 8, 2015 at 3:35
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    @user566095: I've witnessed such mental gymnastics as well. But i'm actually trying not to get specifically into the mess of Christianity. Where i was going is that the two problems aren't the same. The problem of evil is only one of the paradoxes that spring directly from typical monotheist definitions of omniscience, and is only a problem in the context of a universe where evil exists. The question of "why create at all?" is a different problem, independent of evil. In order to appeal to justice here, you'd have to go into why creation is more just than not.
    – cHao
    Nov 9, 2015 at 6:32

Your reasoning is wrong: God - from the past - could maybe have the power to DIRECTLY OBSERVE in the future what happens. His knowledge of the future - and omniscience - could be obtained also by means of this power. This kind of observation has of course no influence whatsoever on one's actions. If free will exists, it certainly remains unaffected by a God's observation, it remains free.


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