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Theological fatalism

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Title: Theological fatalism  
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Subject: Predestination (Calvinism), Theological determinism
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Theological fatalism

The argument from free will (also called the paradox of free will, or theological fatalism) contends that omniscience and free will are incompatible, and that any conception of God that incorporates both properties is therefore inherently contradictory.[1][2][3] The argument may focus on the incoherence of people having free will, or else God himself having free will. These arguments are deeply concerned with the implications of predestination, and often seem to echo the dilemma of determinism.

People and their free will

Some arguments against God focus on the supposed incoherence of humankind possessing free will. These arguments are deeply concerned with the implications of predestination.

Moses Maimonides formulated an argument regarding a person's free will, in traditional terms of good and evil actions, as follows:[4]

… "Does God know or does He not know that a certain individual will be good or bad? If thou sayest 'He knows', then it necessarily follows that [that] man is compelled to act as God knew beforehand he would act, otherwise God's knowledge would be imperfect.…"[5]

Various means of reconciling God's omniscience (possession of all possible knowledge) with human free will have been proposed:

Counters reconceptualizing free will

  • God can know in advance what I will do, because free will is to be understood only as freedom from coercion, and anything further is an illusion. This is the move made by compatibilistic philosophies.
  • The sovereignty (autonomy) of God, existing within a free agent,[6] provides strong inner compulsions toward a course of action (calling), and the power of choice (election).[7] The actions of a human are thus determined by a human acting on relatively strong or weak urges (both from God and the environment around them) and their own relative power to choose.[8]
  • Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has stated that man does have limited free will; he can decide whether or not to surrender to the will of Krishna. All other material happenings and their implications are inconceivably predestined.

Counters reconceptualizing omniscience

  • Molinism argues that God can know in advance what I will do, even though free will in the fullest sense of the phrase does exist, because God somehow has full knowledge of future contingents – that is, knowledge of how agents would freely act in any given circumstances.
  • God's Omnipotence includes the power to set a limit on what can be known, and thus his own knowledge. Moreover, God chooses to know and predetermine some things, but not others. This allows for humankind's free moral choices for those things that God chose not to preordain.
  • "It is not possible for God to know the result of a free human choice". The results of a human's choice is thus not included in God's omniscience (understood here as "knowledge of everything that can be known") any more than the supposed 'knowledge' of what a square circle would look like. Critics maintain that omniscience must include the choices humans will make, or else God could not know anything after the very first human choice ever made.
  • In line with presentism, God knows everything that ever happened, and that is happening, but cannot know the future, because it doesn't exist. Because it is not possible to know something that doesn't exist, not knowing the future does not affect God's omniscience. In the same way, because it is not possible to make triangles with four angles, not being able to make triangles with four angles does not affect God's omnipotence.

"God is outside time"

A proposition first offered by Boethius[9] and later by Thomas Aquinas[10] and C. S. Lewis, it suggests that God's perception of time is different, and that this is relevant to our understanding of our own free will. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis argues that God is actually outside of time and therefore does not "foresee" events, but rather simply observes them all at once. He explains:

An obvious criticism of God being outside of time is that this does not seem to grant free will. Predestination, regardless of how God perceives time, still seems to mean a person's actions will be determined. A logical formulation of this criticism might go as follows:[2]

  1. God timelessly knows choice "C" that a human would claim to "make freely".
  2. If C is in the timeless realm, then it is now-necessary that C.
  3. If it is now-necessary that C, then C cannot be otherwise (this is the definition of “necessary”). That is, there are no actual "possibilities" due to predestination.
  4. If you cannot do otherwise when you act, you do not act freely (Principle of Alternate Possibilities)
  5. Therefore, when you do an act, you will not do it freely.

God's free will

It has also been suggested that this can lead to a "Freewill Argument for the Nonexistence of God" [11] on the grounds that God's omniscience is incompatible with God having freewill and that if God does not have freewill God is not a personal being.

Theists generally agree that God is a personal being and that God is omniscient[12] but there is some disagreement about whether "omniscient" means:

  1. "knows everything that God chooses to know and that is logically possible to know"; Or instead the slightly stronger:
  2. "knows everything that is logically possible to know"[13]

If omniscient is used in the first sense then the argument's applicability depends on what God chooses to know, and therefore it is not a complete argument against the existence of God. In both cases the argument depends on the assumption that it is logically possible for God to know every choice that he will make in advance of making that choice.

The compatibilist school of thought holds that free will is compatible with determinism and fatalism and therefore does not accept the assumptions of Barker's argument.

See also


Further reading

  • Thomas Aquinas. Summa Contra Gentiles
  • Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I, Q. XIV, esp. Art. 13: "Whether the Knowledge of God is of Future Contingent Things?".
  • Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Many editions.
  • Hasker, William. God, Time, and Foreknowledge". Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
  • Molina, Luis de. On Divine Foreknowledge, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.
  • Plantinga, Alvin. "On Ockham's Way Out". Faith and Philosophy 3 (3): 235–269.
  • Ockham, William. Predestination, God's Foreknowledge, and Future Contingents, trans. M.M. Adams and N. Kretzmann. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983.
  • Zagzebski, Linda. "The Dilemma of Freedom an Foreknowledge". New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Luther, Martin: De servo arbitrio, in English: On the Bondage of the Will. In Latin and German 1525, in modern English: J.I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, trans. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1957.

External links

  • Free Will – original article on the nature of Free Will and how it applies to religion
  • The Paradox of Free will – An online discussion
  • Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I, Q. XIV, Art. 13.
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