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Can there be free will while God knows all things?


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#1 kstevens67

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 11:42 AM

An interesting discussion in class the other day: The non-believers stand-point: 1. The Christian God is omnipotent and omniscient. 2. If God created us knowing everything 3. He knows who will eventually end up in Heaven and who will end up in Hell 4. If the above are true, then we only have the Illusion of free will since we cannot see the future. 5. The God would then not be moral for punishing us for something He knows we will do upon creation. The believer’s stand-point was the following: 1. Knowing and forcing are two different things 2. God created us to have free will as one of the reasons we are here is learn to love. 3. Love cannot be forced. In the end the discussion was the non-believers would state that both an Omnipotent and Omniscient God cannot coexist with free will. This is a logical contradiction since this God knows what we will do which predetermines are actions and we cannot have free will. The believers would state that this is not a logical contradiction at all as knowing does not equal forcing. I left when both sides just started claiming the other illogical and unreasonable without furthering the discussion. What is the LDS viewpoint on the above? In my view, which is limited I’m sure, our Father in Heaven must know the future as He shows the future in revelations and possibly other areas of the scriptures. What does it mean when we say God is omnipotent and omniscient? Some definitions: Omnipotent - Having very great or unlimited authority or power. Omniscient - Having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things. Going by these definitions does this mean He knows if I am going to sin 10 years from now and there is nothing I can do about it? It would seem so as if He doesn’t than His knowledge would be limited which goes against the definition of omniscient. On the other hand (correct me of I am wrong on this) the LDS views our Father in Heaven as progressing like we are. This may lead to the idea that the definitions of omnipotent and omniscient man is using are different from what God would define them as. I still hold to the idea that God may know the future, but we are the ones determining the future using our free will. Another thought would be that our Father in Heaven has perfect knowledge in all things regarding the best way to live, but does not have knowledge completely regarding our every action we will make in the future. All throughout the scriptures, Heavenly Father is allowing people to change and repent. He has the perfect knowledge of what’s best for everyone. This would possibly require that the definition man is using may not be entirely correct. Just a couple thoughts I decided to throw out there. Does the LDS hold a certain view or is this kind of left open to the individual?

#2 Seminarysnoozer

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 12:14 PM

There must be some value to God in "bringing to pass" the immortality and eternal life of man. I think the important aspect of that description of the work and glory of God is very important. The part, though, that I think many overlook is the definition of "to bring to pass". I think that phrase needs to be pondered to understand the discussion you are trying to bring out. In other words, there is some value in actually completing the process. There is less value then in simply knowing that something will happen. The full value of the thing is not there until it is actually brought to pass. We (LDS) know this is true because we believe that all that are here in this life already expressed their belief and understanding in the plan. In other words, all of us have already stated our belief in Christ as part of the first estate. We believe now we are putting the strength of that belief to the test, to see if we will actually carry out what we said we will do. So, to carry out the plan (to bring to pass) is the test we face and have to pass as part of the second estate. If one only believes we are judged by what we understand or believe, then I can see how this issue you bring up can be a problem. LDS do not see as a problem, in part, because we believe the glory of God is to actualize the things He knows can be done. There is a real benefit in carrying out the plan and knowing that it has been done as opposed to just seeing the potential for it.

#3 Misshalfway

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 12:25 PM

Well, I'm a parent and I can know that if my kid doesn't fill the gas tank, he'll be stranded on the side of the road. But that doesn't mean I have to go fill the tank for him. I can let him learn. I can warn him. Not sure God's position is any different.

#4 ZionsRodeVos

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 12:27 PM

The way I understand the gospel and our Heavenly Father is that just because He knows what choices we will make does not mean we don't have the freedom to choose what we want. He just happens to know us well enough to know what we are going to do. It's similar to parents who know their children well enough to know what they will choose when there is a choice their child must make. One simple example would be that if a child likes yellow and a parent offers the child a choice between many different colored shirts and included in the selection is a yellow shirt then the parent can be very sure the child will choose yellow. Too me, this does not take away from the child's free will to choose what the child wants even though the parent knows what the choice will be.
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#5 Anddenex

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 12:33 PM

Just a couple thoughts I decided to throw out there. Does the LDS hold a certain view or is this kind of left open to the individual?


The non-believer side is an argument from ignorance. A person knowing all, seeing all, doesn't dictate what a person chooses to do, the choice is simply known -- moral agency is not inhibited.

A parent, sticks two toys in front of a child. The parent already knows which toy the child will grab, assuming the parent only allows the child to pick one toy. Does the knowledge of the parent influence or inhibit the choice or agency of the child to choose his/her favorite toy?

The answer is no. Knowledge does not interfere with agency, it simply provides knowledge, while the person maintains their agency.

God's foreknowledge is in accordance with agency, it does not determine the agency of another person.

#6 Misshalfway

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 12:36 PM

I sure like your posts, Anddenex. I understand things better when I read them.

#7 Anddenex

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 12:38 PM

I sure like your posts, Anddenex. I understand things better when I read them.


You are very kind Misshalfway, thank you.

#8 LittleWyvern

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 01:20 PM

I believe that God's knowledge of all things transcends just one sequence of events. If someone were to ask God where I would be in 10 years, I think the proper answer would be entire set of possibilities (or even a superposition of possibilities), some more probable than others. God, being all-knowing, sees the results of all of our possible choices, but there is not one answer to "where I will be in 10 years" because I haven't decided what choices I am going to make. Limiting God to only knowing one possible timeline of events comes too close to Calvinism for my taste.

قُل لَّوْ كَانَ الْبَحْرُ مِدَادًا لِّكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّي لَنَفِدَ الْبَحْرُ قَبْلَ أَن تَنفَدَ كَلِمَاتُ رَبِّي وَلَوْ جِئْنَا بِمِثْلِهِ مَدَدًا


If the ocean were ink wherewith to write the words of God, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than the words of God, even if another ocean was added for its aid.


#9 Vort

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 01:23 PM

An interesting discussion in class the other day:

The non-believers stand-point:

1. The Christian God is omnipotent and omniscient.
2. If God created us knowing everything
3. He knows who will eventually end up in Heaven and who will end up in Hell
4. If the above are true, then we only have the Illusion of free will since we cannot see the future.
5. The God would then not be moral for punishing us for something He knows we will do upon creation.

The believer’s stand-point was the following:
1. Knowing and forcing are two different things
2. God created us to have free will as one of the reasons we are here is learn to love.
3. Love cannot be forced.

In the end the discussion was the non-believers would state that both an Omnipotent and Omniscient God cannot coexist with free will. This is a logical contradiction since this God knows what we will do which predetermines are actions and we cannot have free will. The believers would state that this is not a logical contradiction at all as knowing does not equal forcing.

I left when both sides just started claiming the other illogical and unreasonable without furthering the discussion. What is the LDS viewpoint on the above?
In my view, which is limited I’m sure, our Father in Heaven must know the future as He shows the future in revelations and possibly other areas of the scriptures. What does it mean when we say God is omnipotent and omniscient?

Some definitions:
Omnipotent - Having very great or unlimited authority or power.
Omniscient - Having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things.

Going by these definitions does this mean He knows if I am going to sin 10 years from now and there is nothing I can do about it? It would seem so as if He doesn’t than His knowledge would be limited which goes against the definition of omniscient. On the other hand (correct me of I am wrong on this) the LDS views our Father in Heaven as progressing like we are. This may lead to the idea that the definitions of omnipotent and omniscient man is using are different from what God would define them as. I still hold to the idea that God may know the future, but we are the ones determining the future using our free will.

Another thought would be that our Father in Heaven has perfect knowledge in all things regarding the best way to live, but does not have knowledge completely regarding our every action we will make in the future. All throughout the scriptures, Heavenly Father is allowing people to change and repent. He has the perfect knowledge of what’s best for everyone. This would possibly require that the definition man is using may not be entirely correct.

Just a couple thoughts I decided to throw out there. Does the LDS hold a certain view or is this kind of left open to the individual?


The weak point in the logic is #2, which implies that an omniscient God created us. This is false, at least in the sense stated here. God did not "create" us in the ultimate sense; rather, we are eternally self-existent beings, "co-equal" with God himself. (Joseph Smith was recorded to have used the term "co-equal", though B. H. Roberts and Joseph F. Smith argue that his meaning was clearly "co-eternal". Whatever. In the sense used, I don't see a dime's worth of difference.)

The point being, we are uncreated, just as God himself is uncreated. God did not "create" our decision-making capacity, so is not responsible for it.

That's my current view on the issue, for what it's worth.
As if anyone could knowingly commit sin without being changed both in spirit, body, and mind. Let me say this again, sin changes who we are! --james12
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#10 Just_A_Guy

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 01:33 PM

This may lead to the idea that the definitions of omnipotent and omniscient man is using are different from what God would define them as. I still hold to the idea that God may know the future, but we are the ones determining the future using our free will.

Another thought would be that our Father in Heaven has perfect knowledge in all things regarding the best way to live, but does not have knowledge completely regarding our every action we will make in the future. All throughout the scriptures, Heavenly Father is allowing people to change and repent. He has the perfect knowledge of what’s best for everyone. This would possibly require that the definition man is using may not be entirely correct.


I don't think there's an official Church line on how God's foreknowledge preserves the moral agency of man; but it's worth noting that Joseph Smith described God as seeing all things past, present, and future as "one eternal now". For God, it's not what I will do or what I have done; it's all--from the day I was born to the day I die, and even beyond--what I'm doing.

The fact that He sees my future doesn't mean that He's making it happen, any more than the fact that I see my daughter stealing a cookie means my perception of the act is somehow forcing her to perpetrate it. God's foreknowledge is merely Him perceiving the reality that we have created/are creating/will create.

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#11 Anddenex

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 02:18 PM

@ JAG - Your last sentence is exactly what I was trying to get across, your sentence is much better written than mine:

God's foreknowledge is merely Him perceiving the reality that we have created/are creating/will create.


@ Vort - This statement was insightful.

God did not "create" our decision-making capacity, so is not responsible for it.


@ LittleWyvern - Another thought, as I have pondered God's foreknowledge, in essence he would need only to know one choice in foreknowledge to know an infinite possibility of our choices. In coding I think this would be the symbol 1++.

For example, if God knew my next choice, after I make the choice, the pattern increments. Since the choice he foresees is in the future, the choice as already been made, thus he is able to see my next choice and so on.

Just another thought pertaining to an infinite possibility of choices foreseen, or the existence of our being -- eternal.

#12 Anddenex

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 08:14 PM

In light of this discussion, I feel I recognized more evidence which supports God's foreknowledge doesn't interfere with our moral agency, but actually compliments and provides opportunities for people to change. I believe this is personally part of God's perfect love, and perfect plan, because God is able to see the future, allows him to forewarn. If God's foreknowledge determined our choice, then there would be no reason for him to forewarn, allowing a person an opportunity to use their moral agency to pursue a better path. If God's knowledge determined our agency, then forewarning people of possible dangers (i.e., patriarchal blessings which forewarn of possible decision which affect a person's eternal salvation) would be true mockery. God's warning would mock an individual because they are unable to change their course. The ability God has to forewarn, or warn in the immediate circumstance, proves and gives evidence to his merciful plan providing opportunities to change. Truly, how great is the wisdom of our God. How great is the wisdom of his plan.

#13 Seminarysnoozer

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 08:30 AM

I don't think there's an official Church line on how God's foreknowledge preserves the moral agency of man; but it's worth noting that Joseph Smith described God as seeing all things past, present, and future as "one eternal now". For God, it's not what I will do or what I have done; it's all--from the day I was born to the day I die, and even beyond--what I'm doing.

The fact that He sees my future doesn't mean that He's making it happen, any more than the fact that I see my daughter stealing a cookie means my perception of the act is somehow forcing her to perpetrate it. God's foreknowledge is merely Him perceiving the reality that we have created/are creating/will create.


I think one important point, though, is that even as He can see everything as "one eternal now" there is a difference in value to things that will happen versus things that are brought to pass. I believe God can see future events but still maintains recognition of their future state. There is a value obtained by saying something is completed that isn't there until it is actualized. I think that is the message behind His work and His glory is to actually "bring it to pass" and not just say that He could at some point in the future. The moment God can say, 'He saw it was done and it was good' there is a step up in value for that thing beyond just knowing that it will happen at some point. There is an order to things that requires steps. Even Christ had to go through certain steps, increasing in stature, line upon line. So, even God cannot say something is done until it is actually done. He might say I can see that it will happen but cannot say that it is completed until it actually is. Otherwise, the phrase "bring to pass" means nothing.


I may know and God may know that I will one day die and be resurrected but I think most would agree that He could not say that I am currently a resurrected being and that I have passed through the trial of this life until I actually have passed through it. At the moment of resurrection, I believe there is glory added to my being that is different than its current state. If God treats everything as it will be in the future then why am I not a glorified being right now? Because there is a change that occurs over time that even God cannot affect before it is time even when He can see it happen in the future.

Edited by Seminarysnoozer, 26 February 2013 - 08:37 AM.


#14 rameumptom

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 08:31 AM

In the philosophy realm (in which I am still a novice, but hang out online with some really smart people), there are levels of omniscience/agency that are discussed, some of which allow some agency.

There are some LDS that believe that God knows all there is to know, up to this moment, but does not definitely know the future. Instead, he uses what he knows to his advantage as the ultimate chess player in life. Just as mortal parents can often figure out what their kids will do in certain circumstances, God can know what we will do, as well. A good discussion of this concept is found in Blake Ostler's first volume on Exploring Mormon Thought Blake Ostler's Mormon Publications Site has some of his articles that may discuss these further.

Others, like Clark Goble, believe in a semi-compatibilism form of God's omniscience that also allows agency. Search Results foreknowledge : Mormon Metaphysics

I see pros and cons to the various theories out there, and so keep an open mind. All I know is that God knows a heck of a lot more than me, and I feel like I have agency to choose, so that is good enough for me.
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#15 changed

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 09:41 AM

I'll agree with what some of the others have said.

1. There is a huge difference between knowing something, and causing it. (I can know what will be on TV tonight, but I did not cause it.)



2. Determinism and free will are not mutually exclusive. iow the future can be completely set in stone, and you can still have free will. The point is "who" sets it in stone, not "if" it is set in stone. I personally think free will is deterministic in nature. If it's just some random undetermined future, that is not free will, that is just random chaos. Free will means someone "determined" their actions, it takes will power, lots of thought, pre-meditation, character. If an action was not thoughtfully determined, then it didn't really come from our free will.

I personally believe that the future is set in stone, that God knows how it will turn out for us, but that we are the ones who set it in stone, it is our choices, our eternal character, our will that does it. We are here proving to ourselves who we are, we're not proving anything to God. At least that's how I see it.
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#16 mnn727

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 10:42 AM

The non-believers stand-point:


The obvious question is: What does it matter what a non-believer believes about a God they don't believe in?
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#17 Just_A_Guy

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 12:01 PM

I think one important point, though, is that even as He can see everything as "one eternal now" there is a difference in value to things that will happen versus things that are brought to pass. I believe God can see future events but still maintains recognition of their future state.


I'll try to keep an open mind on that; but I tend to be a little more swayed by Smith's actual "one eternal now" language. I think it's quite possible that the scriptures that invoke concepts of linear time are done "according to man's understanding" because the actual truth is just to mind-blowing for us to comprehend in our puny mortal states.

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#18 Matthew0059

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 01:20 PM

I'm assuming those arguing on the side of the Christian God existing were not LDS.

The non-believers stand-point:

1. The Christian God is omnipotent and omniscient.
2. If God created us knowing everything
3. He knows who will eventually end up in Heaven and who will end up in Hell
4. If the above are true, then we only have the Illusion of free will since we cannot see the future.
5. The God would then not be moral for punishing us for something He knows we will do upon creation.

The believer’s stand-point was the following:
1. Knowing and forcing are two different things
2. God created us to have free will as one of the reasons we are here is learn to love.
3. Love cannot be forced.

...

Some definitions:
Omnipotent - Having very great or unlimited authority or power.
Omniscient - Having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things.

The believers are also making an argument from ignorance. As you wrote it, IMO their argument is inferior and many caring, completely unbiased persons would probably side with the non-believers. There are key facts the believers are missing- some of those facts are what consituted the "plain and precious" parts of the Gospel that were restored with the Book of Mormon. There is also revealed doctrine from the Doctrine and Covenants that sheds light on the situation.

The definition of "omnipotent" and a misunderstanding of heaven and hell is where most of the hangup is. God's actions are subject to laws which He cannot break, or he would cease to be God. Therefore, God is not the "omnipotent" power that some traditional Christians tend to claim that He is- He attained His status by following certain eternal laws, and He could also lose His status by breaking those laws.

"Hell" is also not what is imagined by traditional Christians. It is not the neverending resting place of everyone who failed to believe in Christ while living on the Earth. It is more akin to a temporary imprisonment and punishment from which there is a future deliverance. Except in very, very rare cases, no one's fate is to suffer in endless torment forever. Those whose fate it is to suffer endlessly willingly chooses to do so, and know they are choosing to do so, and as far as we know after making that choice never turns away from that decision. They use their free will to seal their own fate, because it is what they want.

The idea that God is our Father is more literal than traditional Christianity understands. Man's intelligence is made of the same eternal substance as God's intelligence and all men and women are gods/goddesses in some stage of growth. Earthly families are symbolic of our relationship with God the Father: we make mistakes due to a variety of factors (weakness, ignorance, youth, inexperience, rebellion, etc.) and those mistakes have consequences. Ultimately, however, the child learns from those mistakes and grows up. The purpose of earth life is to be tested and be given new oppurtunities to grow.

Traditional Christian doctrine doesn't have enough support or knowledge to successfully prove the existence of free will (agency). If you approach the matter based on reason alone, and narrow the availalbe facts to only what history and mankind is able to learn for itself, the atheist/non-Christian philosophy will usually win, no matter the argument. You have to rely on living revelation and light from God to understand the issue fully.

My $.02.

Edited by Matthew0059, 26 February 2013 - 01:24 PM.


#19 Seminarysnoozer

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 01:25 PM

I'll try to keep an open mind on that; but I tend to be a little more swayed by Smith's actual "one eternal now" language. I think it's quite possible that the scriptures that invoke concepts of linear time are done "according to man's understanding" because the actual truth is just to mind-blowing for us to comprehend in our puny mortal states.


I don't think it would be too hard for my puny brain to comprehend, "the work and glory of God is the immortality and eternal life of man" as opposed to the actual scripture containing the words "to bring to pass". In particular, the verse before it states "as one earth shall pass away..." kind of explains that there is a passage of time.

I think the mistake is to extrapolate that Smith's phrase is about "linear time" as you are suggesting and not the comprehension of all time. "One eternal now" is God's comprehension, not necessarily a state related to linear time. Just because God can comprehend all doesn't mean that the passage of time stops. And it doesn't mean that there is no value to the passage of time.

Everything about our world suggests that God takes value from doing what He says He can and it is not 'good enough' for Him to just say that He could do it. He finds value in carrying out His work ... "to bring to pass". I don't think that is a phrase for our convenience. I think it describes God's nature. His nature is to carry out works, just like He asks us to do as we train to be like Him.

If God's glory is, even in part, based in future, unrealized events then anyone who will one day be like God would likewise have that glory now, they would be Celestial beings now. The passage of time is required to be like God. I cannot take that out of the formula and I think it is strange to do so.

Of course, there are many things we don't understand and can't understand but I don't think God would give us a 'little lie' about His nature so we feel good about it.

#20 Just_A_Guy

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 01:52 PM

Of course, there are many things we don't understand and can't understand but I don't think God would give us a 'little lie' about His nature so we feel good about it.


Perhaps. . .

I don't think it would be too hard for my puny brain to comprehend,


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