Monday, 18 July 2011

Omniscience and free will

Among the religious, these are two oft-made claims - that their god is omniscient, all knowing, and also that he has granted us, made in his image, free will.

These two concepts are so deeply at odds that it always shocks me to see believers making use of both of them. They're mutually exclusive, on a fundamental level.

If your god knows everything that has ever happened and will ever happen, that means that events will follow a predictable course. We may not know what this course is, but that doesn't mean that it's not pre-determined. If, thousands or millions of years ago he knew I'd be sitting here writing this, and here I am, then what choice did I have in the matter? It had to happen. I had to be here, this morning, typing away.

If I had free will, then perhaps this morning I would have gone for a walk or something, and wouldn't have been sitting here typing this, at odds with God's knowledge that I would be sitting here typing. In this case, free will is real - but God had to be wrong for that to be true. I had to deviate from God's knowledge of the future - and he's therefore not omniscient.

You might argue that he knew I'd try to foil his plan, and in choosing to go for a walk instead of writing, I would actually have been following his plan all along. That's fine - but then we're back at square one. He knew I'd decide to try and foil him, and take that walk. If he's known I would do that, and I did it, it's the same thing. I'm still following his thread - with nothing but the appearance of being able to choose.

You can't have it both ways. If he's omniscient, then our lives are following a known, unchangeable thread. If we have free will, then he can't know everything. Simple logic.

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