At the discussion at John C Wright’s, I didn’t get to discussing my thinking about what I think free-will is. Because the discussion was couched in terms of Wright’s religious stance, I ended up at this point a lot quicker. I won’t repeat what I said there but I’ll rephrase and explain.
A divine being which is both all-knowing and all-powerful is incompatible with free-will.
I think this is obvious but there were friendly requests for explanation and it seemed to puzzle some people.
Firstly my point here is not to attempt to demonstrate the non-existence of god(s). A divine being need not be wholly omniscient or wholly omnipotent. More importantly, a divine being might be both but transcend logical inquiry. This last notion of a god being beyond logic is an old one but it is also one at odds with the perspective of Thomas Aquinas.
Of course omniscience and omnipotent create their own logical conundrums but I’m not addressing those either. My point here is just about free-will.
Firstly, while omniscience looks like a challenge to free-will, I don’t think by itself it makes free-will impossible. The first meat-robot post described some kinds of extreme knowledge from a non-theological perspective and those did not repudiate the kind of free-will I have in my mind. A god who knows everything you are going to do but NEVER TELLS YOU could be compatible with what I called free-will.
Some limited kinds of omniscience also seem compatible with free-will in general. For example, a being at the end of the universe who knows everything that happened prior could be said to be omniscient but as all our decisions are in the past our free-will could still be intact.
We can also imagine a god who is potentially omniscient – i.e. there is nothing that they cannot know – but which is not actively omniscient as there are things they choose not to know.
Likewise, omnipotence is not, by itself, at odds with free-will. An omnipotent being could make you do something against your will or even make your will something different but it does mean that they will do so. Indeed the power to override free-will implies the existence of free-will (otherwise what is being overridden?)
Put the two together in the conventional notion of god and I believe you have an issue. A being that knows everything and can do anything has by action or inaction DECIDED everything. It ceases to be a god that knows what you are going to do and becomes a god that has chosen that is what will happen.
In our lives or politics, we might make an ethical distinction between action and inaction. We may see inaction as simply not interfering in a natural course of events and hence ethically different from action. While that is an interesting discussion at a human level, it makes no sense at the level of a divine, omniscient and omnipotent being. For such a being there is no ‘natural course of events’ that is bigger than they are, there are no unintended consequence.
If we also accept that such a being is also the creator of the universe then even the distinction between action and inaction becomes moot.
NOTE: omniscience,omnipotence and creatorhood don’t all HAVE to go together. I’m discussing a straw-god here to some extent. Reader’s own gods may differ in notable ways from this one.
So where am I going with this? I can see many paths a theist can take to accommodate free-will and a belief in god. However, I don’t think any of them are simple. Of course, the atheist and the agnostic don’t have simple solutions to free-will either – and neither does this atheist meat robot. My point is simply that god, gods and faith simply change the nature of the philosophical problems around free-will. As a meat robot, I prefer the philosophical problems I have with free-will in so far as I at least have a decent entry account of what I think I’m dealing with but I can appreciate that other people may prefer a different approach which involves spirituality or theology (or both).