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If a tri-omni being knows what you're exactly going to do, then you can't do anything other than what he already knows you'll do. Further, if a tri-omni being created this reality in which things unfold the way they do, then it would follow that he not only determined, but also chose what our actions would be. Because, although he could've chosen anyone of infinitely different universes with different realities, he chose this particular reality in which things unfold in a precise sequence of events. Thereby actually choosing what sorts events will happen.

Are there any logical problems with this argument? Couldn't it be said that God just happens to know I'll do X instead of Y. And if I'm actually going to do Y instead of X then he would know that instead?

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    As worded, this sounds somewhat "am I right?", but I think there's a good question about whether omniscience poses a problem for free will. Within Christian philosophy, key terms are "molinism" and "open theism". – virmaior Oct 21 '16 at 15:39
  • The positive answer is known as theological fatalism. SEP has an article on responses to it, Foreknowledge and Free Will – Conifold Oct 21 '16 at 16:01
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As worded, I'm not sure if this is a great question, but there's a good deal of very recent literature on the precise question you seem to be raising.

Worded at it's simplest, the question is 1. Assume there's a God 2. Assume this God is "omniscient" 3. Assume "free will" means that individuals can make choices that are not wholly determined by prior influence.

Then the question becomes does "omniscience" refute the possibility of free will?

At least among different groups of Christians, there's four ways that I'm aware of in which people resolves this debate (There's a somewhat older volume from IVP called Four Views on Divine Foreknowledge):

  1. Paul Helm and many "Calvinists" resolve the debate by rejecting this definition of free will. They are fine with our choices being only "compatibalistically" free -- that is to say they think we "choose" them but what we will choose is determined in advance ("would you like the chocolate cake or the azuki bean cake?" --> in my case, chocolate every time).
  2. Open Theists deny that "omniscience" includes knowledge of future choices, because it denies that such things are knowable. Ergo, they would not be included in the account of knowledge. So God is "omniscient" on these views because he knows everything that is knowable which would not include the choices of free individuals.
  3. Molinists has a rather sophisticated (=complex) view of how this works. They maintain that what God has is counterfactual knowledge of all possibilities. God knows what would happen if you were to make certain choices and what would follow from that. If I understand the view correctly, God even knows all of the dominoes that will fall but God doesn't pick any expect insofar as God chose to create a world that leads to all of that -- but does not know them factively.
  4. Traditional Libertarian theism maintains that God knows what will happen but that knowledge is not determinative. On this view, the main idea is that you're still making choices but God has access to what you will choose.

A separate and related issues is theories of time and their relation to theism. In general, views 2 and 4 are committed to an A-theory of time for God and the world whereas view 1 is committed to a B-theory of time. (See McTaggart's theories of time for more).

  • But what about the "God choosing our actions" part? – Aar Gaboodyo Leh Oct 22 '16 at 22:46
  • I believe I addressed that in my answer. Views 2-4 don't believe God chooses our actions. In view 2 this is because God does not know at least some future actions. In view 3, this is because God does not choose our actions except counterfactually -- we still choose them. In view 4, it is maintained that God's choice is not our choosing. You seem to be assuming that God choosing with knowing is determinative which would limit you to views 1 and 2 -- but not everyone accepts the thesis that knowing is determinative. – virmaior Oct 23 '16 at 2:26
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Omniscience doesn't negate free will. Best representation about omniscience and free will relation can be found in Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, book 13.

As a short long answer: Omniscience gives to the deity the power to know everything, but not to influence anything. It's like a chess game, where the players know every possible move from point A - start of the game to the point B - end of the game. So, the deity knows every possible "move" you can make, but is the free will, that you possess, that chooses the path to walk on.

So you are responsible for your actions and the deity knows all your possible actions from A to B, from birth to death.

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    Knowing all the possible moves someone will make is not omniscience. Knowing exactly what move someone will make is omniscience. And the only way one could know the future is only if we live in a causally determined world. Since he created the universe and set the stream of causes and effects into motion, I would say he is responsible for everything that happens in this universe. – Aar Gaboodyo Leh Oct 23 '16 at 16:02
  • He is responsible but he is not choosing for you. Even if he knows everything and knows how the pieces fit and how you should put them side by side to have a "good" life he is not forcing you to do so. You have freewill and you choose for yourself. And the causality of a world governed by a deity is not the causality we understand, it's more complex and more subitle. – samca Oct 24 '16 at 3:40
  • And even more, for an omniscience deity there is not past, present or future, there is the moment of now of an continuous evolution of a complex mind that governs everything changing and developing itself, letting the free will to be the free will also. – samca Oct 24 '16 at 3:40
  • Samca says that Omniscience gives to the deity the power to know everything. Add Omnipotence and the deity can construct a riddle so hard that even he can not solve it ... or cant he? – Sigurd Vojnov May 24 '18 at 0:37
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Omniscience does not negate free will.

The reason for this conclusion is that having a given "power" is not the same as no choice in using it!
God also has free will, he can chose how much or how little he wants to use any of His powers.
I agree that if God chose to know everything about everybody, he would have to force everybody to do His will.
Although He knows the best "path" for our lives, He allows us to chose otherwise (gives us free will). If we chose not to follow God's plan for us, we go out of His "radar" and He will not know what we are doing.

Although God can be very persuasive, He has never forced anybody to do His will. Also, the Bible has many instances that demonstrate that God does not know what a given person is going to do/choose.

  • When you mention the Bible in this discussion, please be aware that the whole plan of Jesus'es death and resurrection (and salvation of humans) would collapse if numerous peaple weren't doing exactly what god wanted them to do. Pontius Pilate could have decided not to crucify Jesus, because there was no reason. And so on and so on. The story would end up with old Jesus dying because of natural reasons. You can find more examples in the Bible, but this is exactly the book which states that at least some people strictly follow god's will. – ElmoVanKielmo Apr 13 '18 at 9:34
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God is not Omniscient!

Proof:

He cant know the answer to question (1):

(1) What is god's answer to my next question (2)?

(Let x be god's answer...)

And then let the next question (2) be:

(2) What was not god's answer to my first question.

And THAT is a question that CANT have x as the answer!

So ANY answer given to my first question will be false.

Because it cant also be the answer to the second question. (QED)

  • What is your "first" question? Is it "God is Omniscient?" He could say that the answer he does not give to that question is "No". I don't see how that would affect omniscience. Perhaps I misunderstand. – Frank Hubeny May 18 '18 at 18:33
  • I edited my post a little to make it clearer. So theres no doubt as to what is the first question. – Sigurd Vojnov May 18 '18 at 19:04
  • When I ask my first question I cant see into the future so I cant know for sure what my second question will be ... All Im sure about is that god cant give me his answer because then either I will by my free will prove god to be mistaken or I have no free will and its god who decides what my next question will be! This is a strange situation isnt it? – Sigurd Vojnov May 18 '18 at 19:43
  • Would the only way out of that for God be to give no answer? – Frank Hubeny May 18 '18 at 19:57
  • Doubtful ... because that could be seen as an answer, and giving the same answers to both questions is inconsistent! But this is a rather weak argument, and I wont press my advantage here. ;) Thats why I formulated my argument without using the option to be informed by god ... the moment he sees my first question he should know his answer ... IF HE HAS AN ANSWER! Cant god imagine himself in my place and ask himself my two questions? Can god for sure know the answer to his next question? – Sigurd Vojnov May 18 '18 at 20:15
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In your question, it is not God's omniscience which negates free will it the causally determined universe which must exist in order for an omniscient being to be possible. If such a universe were the case, we would not have any free-will as you describe it, whether or not a being existed who knew the outcome. The outcome is already present, known or not. This is essentially the problem of free will as defined by determinists, compatibilists and libertarians, religion or omniscient beings do not really add to the issues.

Modern scientific investigation has limited the strict libertarian argument (simple experiments with sub-concious reaction show that at least some of our actions are outside of our concious control). At a quantum level, scientists are finding difficulty in defining a completely deterministic universe, so it would seem rational, given the current evidence to accept a compatibilist position, that our actions are governed by pre-determined impulses and rational thought processes, but that these seem to us to offer a sufficiently broad range of options as to constitute something we could refer to as free-will.

The only way in which it might be possible for knowledge of this pre-determined action to have any direct impact on the outcome itself would be if the uncertainty of a universe not completely determined was in deed carried by quantum scale particles and such knowledge caused a wave function collapse changing a previously undetermined state into a determined one. This would, however, require a supernatural being as ordinary observers can only have such an effect at a quantum level, scaled-up, the effect disappears.

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Good question. I would suggest that omniscience is not compatible with freewill as we usually think of it. This would explain why such large areas of religion deny the fundamental reality of (our usual idea of) freewill and see it as a deceptive feature only of the mundane world.

It is a useful thought-experiment to study what freewill would mean for a limitless God because as you say, it is not a reasonable idea. God may have complete freedom in a certain sense but only in the sense that He is free to be Himself, and He has no choice about this.

He gets around the problem by manifesting as a human being and imagining He is a self-willed agent acting with freewill and asking questions about it on internet forums. Or, this is the proposal of the esoteric kind of religion.

But 'omniscience' needs careful definition. It need not include knowing the future or being able to predict how people will behave.

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