16 Sep 2012

Brief Post on Free Will and God’s Sovereignty

Religious 70 Comments

I keep putting off this post until I “have enough time to do it justice,” but that apparently will never happen. I have written about this before, but there are a lot of newcomers, and also when it comes to economics posts, I’m certainly not afraid to repeat myself…

The view of God as portrayed in the Christian Bible is that He knows everything that will ever happen in time, before He even created the universe. That isn’t too controversial, though some people do doubt it.

What’s a little more surprising, and only something that I personally have come to realize in the last 5 years or so, is that in an important sense God wills everything that happens, including evil actions.

To justify that last claim, consider that in the Bible, it doesn’t merely say, “God anticipated that Pharaoh would refuse to let Moses and his people go.” No, it says that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Exodus 9:12 captures both at the same time; the New Living Translation does exactly what I need for the point here, but the other translations work too:

“But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and just as the LORD had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen.”

So the way I now view things, it doesn’t even make sense to try to distinguish God’s predictions of what Pharaoh would do, from God’s control over Pharaoh’s actions at the time in question. In other words, I don’t think that Exodus 9:12 is some anomaly; I think that’s what happens every nanosecond of existence. Yes, we can use science to explain why it rains, in terms of the water cycle etc. etc., but it is a true statement to say, “It is raining right now because God willed it to do so.”

(I realize it is pointless for me to try to avoid misunderstanding on this point, but let me engage in futility just on principle: I am NOT saying that scientists should stop what they’re doing, because we can just say, “Hey, your eye is shaped like that because that’s how God designed it. Thanks Jesus, I love my vision, the end.” I am NOT saying that. What I’m saying is that if an omniscient Creator of the universe exists, then I think the “laws of nature” are simply economical ways we’ve discovered to describe His will as it pertains to material objects. And the reason He chooses to act in this fashion, is to make our home comprehensible, so we don’t go nuts.)

OK, what about our consciousness? Well, in addition to creating the material universe, God also created distinct beings, with our own wills or egos. We experience the material universe but are distinct from it. We are not simply a collection of atoms. As C.S. Lewis put it, you don’t have a soul–you are a soul, and you have a body.

From our perspective, it appears that we can influence the material world. For example, I can use my “mind powers” to control my right hand. We take it for granted because we can all do it, but if I could move a rock the way I can move my hand, it would be astonishing. Yes, we can trace the cause-and-effect from the muscles in my hand up to my brain, but nonetheless it sure seems like I am “freely choosing” to open and close my hand. It really looks like I control a small part of the events in the universe, and the only way a strict materialist can really deny that, is to ultimately deny that the term “I” means anything. (That’s why going down the path of materialism, leads to nihilism and drunken Facebook sessions.)

Now the tricky part: I think what happens is that God anticipated what everybody would subjectively want to do, and then designed the laws of the material universe such that it sure looks like we are controlling atoms with our thoughts, when “really” we are just watching a movie unfold before our eyes.

Here’s an analogy: Suppose that a filmmaker could perfectly anticipate where every moviegoer’s eyes would look on the screen. Then he put up each of our names on the screen, and they started moving around. In other words, when the movie started, I would see “Bob Murphy” moving around the screen at the theater, no matter where I looked on the screen. But the guy to my right would see his name up there too, and no matter where he looked on the screen, the letters of his name would perfectly track his line of sight.

If we watched this movie for 10 minutes, and there was never a hitch, we would all be absolutely convinced that we were controlling the movement of the letters. We would think the movie theater had employed some new technology, and that there were sensors in the theater that took our muscle movements as input, and then translated that into commands for the projector, so it would “know” where to shoot the letters for us to see. This, we would convince ourselves, was the only explanation for our apparent control over the letters.

But no, suppose it really were a regular movie, put onto the film months previously. The way it works is that the filmmaker somehow knew exactly who would be watching the film that day, where we’d be sitting, and exactly where we’d be looking, down to the 10th of a second, for the whole film.

OK I’ll stop here. Where I personally am still stuck, is the precise nature of our free will. As the Pharaoh example shows, I think there is a sense in which God even controls what we will, let alone the physical manifestations of our decisions.

For more on God’s control of even evil as players on a chessboard, check out G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.

70 Responses to “Brief Post on Free Will and God’s Sovereignty”

  1. John@EconEngineer says:

    So if we are just playing out a movie of God’s making; why does God change His mind occasionally? Yes, that may be just a phrase given to help best understand the workings of an omniscient being. But it also may be just that God takes in the actions of people and chooses accordingly.

    Course, this last assertion means that God didn’t know for CERTAIN what people’s choices were. Does that go against omniscience? Not if free will dictates that some choices in life are truly unknowns. Omniscience just means to know all knowable things, but it doesn’t imply knowledge of unknowable things.

    For the above to work, God would have to be either in-time, or in a form of time (not necessarily the same time structure that Humans live in) and not “outside of time” or the creator of time. As being outside of time He would see all events at once, our future, past and present. In fact, He would be watching my birth and death at the same time, all the time. He would be watching Christ’s death forever.

    If God has time as part of His being, then it is plausible then that He would make an entity with a Will so apart from his own that it could act in an unknown manner and thus create an array of possible futures that God could work within to create the best possible future for those entities.

    Anyways, not like the composition of God is an easy subject but hopefully my bits and pieces of thought help.

    • ABT says:

      “As being outside of time He would see all events at once, our future, past and present.”

      I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. It is the only consistent way to think of the nature of the creator. Beyond time, time does not apply. So when God says something in the Scripture it is KNOWN not predicted. God isn’t waiting, he is telling you of the nature of things.

      And Bob, this comment is especially correct:
      “but it is a true statement to say, “It is raining right now because God willed it to do so.”

      and the comment actually follows traditional Islam understanding by the Asharites, who had this same nearly exactly conflict with an early Islamic group called the Mu’tazilites. It is not that you throw a ball at a window and the glass breaks, but rather you throw the ball at the window and God “commands” the glass to break (or wills it to break…unfortunately words are limiting but we have to try to be precise about which ones we chose).

      The whole prediction business doesn’t make sense though… so I would recommend not using words about prediction because then you run into issues with such verses as:
      Genesis 1:14 “And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,”
      There is an example of God creating time (as we know it to be limited by light) as well as God commanding something into being.

      or one my favorites:
      “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
      Essentially a time contradiction, I mean can it be both? Well it is illustrative of the timelessness of God. Time doesn’t apply. BOOM!

      • John@EconEngineer says:

        I disagree there. I was trying to give both views, but I side with God having Time within his being. Thus, he doesn’t view the past, present, and future all at once. Instead the only way he “knows” the future for certainty is because he essentially knows the position and direction of every atom in the universe.

        Our free will choices are like me trying to play chess against a grand master. No matter my choice, the grand master is going to win. In fact, he can probably know what I will move before I even know what piece I will move.

  2. integral says:

    His omniscience seems rather unimpressive at this point. It would be like me guessing some lottery numbers and then picking them by hand. Tadaa- I know the future.

  3. Daniil Gorbatenko says:

    But the main problem with omniscience and free will is different. We define free will as something that makes human actions in principle undetermined by past events. Thus, if humans have free will, it is impossible to know their future actions, and if someone knows them, it just means that humans do not have free will.

    The only escape route for teists is to claim that God is somehow out of (the same?) time with our world. This sounds good at first sight but ultimately it is (like other alleged characteristics of the Abrahamic God) just a metaphor because it is impossible even to imagine what it is supposed to mean. And a metaphor cannot explain anything.

    But the metaphor of a filmmaker and his movie is exactly what you are invoking to defend your position. Which begs the question against you.

    • Tim Miller says:

      Free will cannot be confused with autonomy , as Steve Maughan points out. We are not free to do whatever we Will. Often, our wills are subservient to other’s wills. In the court room, the Judge’s will overcomes yours. In life, our will never supercedes God’s will. If God says, let lightning strike Joe. Which of us can will that the lightning not strike him?

      Keeping in mind, there’s two sides to will in terms of language. There is the will which is decreed (orders and causes to come to pass), and the will which represents desires. God desires that all love Him. But he does not decree that all love Him.

      • Daniil Gorbatenko says:

        Tim, did you read the definition of free will in my comment?

        • Tim Miller says:

          I did, however I did not agree with it, or, I did not properly understand it in a way that would lead me to agree with it. So the fault may very well be on my side. But I would say, we can have free will and know the actions someone will take. Since all our decisions are based off of a cumulations of incentives, if one were to know the weight and utility of every incentive for every person, then one could 100% know the decision that will be made in every instance. We all act according to our greatest inclinations at any moment.

  4. Praxeologue says:

    You sound like a ripe candidate for a bit of Aristotle-Thomistic thought… have you come across http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/ before?

  5. Austin GIngrich says:

    I was listening to a lecture being done on relative morality vs objective morality at UC Berkley with Gregory Koukl and he delved into the question of free will and said William Lane Craig has tried to answer that question of determinism or not and C.S. Lewis would be the next person with a major publication on the issue. I used a run on sentence here but I hope I was helpful.

  6. Steve Maughan says:

    A couple of points. The first pertaining to Pharaoh. Recently I heard a sermon by R C Sproul where he made a helpful comment. about this. He said that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was “part of his judgment” i.e. Pharaoh wasn’t innocent before his heart was hardened.

    As for the level of autonomy which we really have – this is clearly complex. Here an analogy. If you go to Niagra falls you will see there is a “point of no return”. If you are in the water and reach this point then you are going over the top. It doesn’t matter what you do, or how good a swimmer you are (or how much free will you have), you *will* go over over the top. Could the universe be like this? God has ordained certain things where we have no control, we are past the point of no return. Everything works to ensure God’s ordained plan comes to pass. We do have free will but only in the context of God’s overall plan.


    • Tim Miller says:

      I agreed, R.C. Sproul does a great job at addressing this. There’s the aspect of life where God may finally gives people over to their evil desires. God didn’t actually force Pharaoh to sin or work sin into Pharaoh heart. Up to this point, God had been restraining Pharaoh. Finally He says, “Fine, I’ll give you over to all your evil desires.”

  7. Nathan says:

    You have to be careful in how you describe God’s sovereignty and free will. Yes, I know God hardened pharaoh’s heart but I’m not sure you can apply that to all things or all people who love or deny him. To some extreme calvinists it almost gets to the point where there is no free will–I know you’re not saying this.

    Think about this: if God created us to have people he could relate with, love and commune with and he wants those people he created to love him back, genuinely love him back. It’d make little sense if those that loved and hated Him had no choice in doing it–that it was always his plan in the first place. Genuine love is not forced, it’s individuals freely choosing to love God.

    1 Timothy 2:3-4– “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”

    • Tim Miller says:

      See my above statement under Steve. To some extent, we are all, by the grace of God, kept from being as sinful as we could be. Even Hitler refrained from kiling his own mother. While man’s desires are evil, God’s hand prevents us from acting on every evil desire we have. As Christians, we realized that even the good works we do are prepared by God ahead of time so that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10).

  8. John Goes says:

    Bob, do you believe that God wills Himself to know everything? That God has no choice but to know everything? How do you rule out the obvious possibility that God chooses to know however much or little He wants?

    You cite places in the Bible where God intervenes and hardens the Pharoah’s heart in order to fulfill his prediction of the future to Moses. But this doesn’t mean that God intervenes in every instance of history. You are making a strange leap.

    • Tim Miller says:

      It is not correct to say God’s choice or will to know everything. God knows everything because it is in His nature to know everything. Just like a circle has all the characteristics of beinga circle becaues it is in it’s nature and impossible to contradict itself, eles it would not be a circle. With God, as sovereign over everything, must by definition know all things.

      As for the second part, God is always intervening by either showing grace or removing grace. His hand is alwaya providing some level of protection from our own desires.

      • Doug says:

        I get what you are saying, but you are defining the nature of God before letting God define the nature of God. Inherent in your definition of sovereignty includes “knowing all things,” but is that how the Scriptures reveal God, as knowing everything? Is it not possible that God is self-limiting exact knowledge (particularly of the future) while retaining sovereignty?

        I think John’s point was to let God define what “God is sovereign” means. It is very apparent that the God revealed in the Old Testament desires us to wrestle with God, to “fight back,” as it were. There is plenty of opportunity to change God’s mind, as Moses and Abram did.

        • Tim Miller says:

          God is defined by how He himself declares in His Word: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”Jer. 32:27

          If there were anything outside of God’s control, God would cease to be God. If one stray atom were outside of his knowlege and control, it could ruin all plans God set in place. It would excercise greater power than God. God could not accuratly predestine all that comes to pass unless he knew and controlled all that does come to pass. Otherwise, God is reduced to a powerful being who simply HOPES His will comes to pass. A God then that I cannot rely on to keep His covenant promise.

          • Doug says:

            Tim, if I may humbly submit to you, I think you are using that verse to say more than it does. God isn’t saying “everything is in my control,” but “nothing is beyond my capabilities.” Those are two dramatically different things. A “stray atom” is only exercising greater control than God if God set it up that every single thing had to happen according to God’s dictates, something the scripture clearly doesn’t state.

            I would further submit that God’s foreknowledge is not necessarily tied the way you tie it to God’s predestining things. If God were to ordain “all that does come to pass,” then God ordains sin, something God abhors, and is therefore in inner conflict.

            I used to believe as you do, for probably similar reasons. But it is faulty logic (and bad theology) to insist that if God has predestined events then God isn’t in control. God is clearly allowing free will (not the illusion of free will) in the Scriptures, hoping that human beings follow God’s will. If God were to predestine everything, that means free will is a sham, and those who love God don’t really do so, making love a sham.

            Also, I’d really challenge your thinking on God’s promises being kept. What kind of God has to predestine every single thing that happens in order to be able to keep promises? I would submit to you that a God who is able to let humanity make truly free decisions while also able to “roll with the punches” (so to speak) is more powerful and sovereign than a God who so OCD that every minute detail of life has to be exactly as God wants.

            I can rely on God’s promises because of God’s power to deliver, not because every life event is finalized before it happened. That would mean God is necessarily culpable and responsible for evil, which the Bible clearly does not allude to.

            • Tim Miller says:

              First off, I’d like to say how refreshing your attitude is. Finding someone to fight about Calvinism is perhaps as easy as finding someone to disagree with politically. Often, in both cases, it becomes a test of who has the strongest lungs. However, finding someone with which to discuss Calvinism is a rare blessing indeed. If I may suggest, from what I can tell, we are both interested in working from God’s Word as our measure of truth and we are both interested, not in being right, but in loving and honoring God the best we can as we see Scripture calls us to. With that said, we can discuss with joy knowing that one of us will be corrected, and therefore be brought closer to Christ and the other will be brought closer to God in a reaffirmation of their belief.

              Before I can go further, I want to make sure we are communicating well. (so often miscommunication undermines two sides) I gather these are your arguments:

              1. God knows all, but does not “ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (good ol’ WCF)

              2. God ordains some things, but never sin

              3. God can be in control without predestining things (a.k.a. God reacts rather than pre-acts)

              4. If God were to predestine all things that come to pass, then that would mean we live under determinism

              5. God can keep his promises without predestinating all that comes to pass

              6. God that is reactive is more powerful/stronger than a God that finds it necessary to pre-act.

              Would this sufficiently sum up your view?

              • Doug says:

                Yes. Good as stated.

            • Tim Miller says:

              Argument 1: God knows all, but does not “ordain whatsoever comes to pass”

              Response 1: Rather than display God as only ordaining particular events, the bible shows God as an individual who ordains even the minor things of this life. Job 36:32 states that where the lightning falls is commanded by God. He appoints some to be born with disabilities, Ex. 4:11.

              Further more, “Jesus teaches that the minutest occurrences are directly controlled by his heavenly Father. It is he who feeds the birds of the air (Matt. 6:26) and clothes the fields with flowers (Matt. 6:28). Not a sparrow is forgotten by God or falls to the ground apart from his will, and the very hairs of our heads are all numbered (Matt. 10:29–30).” (A New Systematic Theology pg. 365)

              Rather than an OCD God, the bible paints the picture of a God that take an immense amount of love and concern in planning every aspect of his creation. He plans so as to recieve the greatest glory from His works. He rules over all and does as he pleases ((Pss. 103:19; 115:3; 135:6). He works all things after the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). He causes all things to work together for good for those who love him, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). It is because of all this that I believe the burden falls to show that God has not ordained all that comes to pass.

              Argument 2: God ordains some things, but never sin

              Response 2: We must agree that nothing happens unless God allows it to happen. God is capable of stopping anything he desires to stop.

              Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

              Proverbs 21:30: “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”

              Isaiah 14:24, 27: “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.… For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?”

              Isaiah 45:7: “I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things”

              God therefore must have allowed Sin to come into existence. Even more so though, we must say that it was God who ordained that sin come into existence. While God in no way is the author or participator in this sin, we know that it brought Him glory to display the fullness of his grace as a result of dealing with sin. There are in fact many instances of God ordaining particular sins. Even the death of our Lord Jesus Christ was ordained by God. There is no doubt that God ordained for Christ to be murdered. (Acts 2:23)
              With Daniel, God ordained for his brothers to sin, but God used it for His own glory:

              Genesis 45:7 “God sent me ahead of you [his brothers] to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

              Genesis 50:20: “You [his brothers] intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

              However, this again does not make God the author of sin. To quote the systematic theologian Robert Reymond “God decreed that all things would come to pass according to the nature of “second causes,” either (1) necessarily, as in the case of planets moving in their orbits, (2) freely, that is, voluntarily, with no violence being done to the will of the creature, or (3) contingently, that is, with due regard to the contingencies of future events, as in his informing David what Saul and the citizens of Keilah would do to him if David remained in the city of Keilah (1 Sam. 23:9–13). Therefore, whatever sinfulness ensues proceeds only from men and angels and not from God”

              I think it would be apporpriate to stop here for now.

              • Doug says:

                Tim, thanks for your time sharing your thoughts. As I might have said before, I used to believe as you do, but over time I realized my perception of the Bible was conditioned by my theology and not the other way around. Obviously the two are unsinkable to a degree, but the Bible really messed up my theology.

                On Point 1: Citing an ancient text that communicates to an ancient audience with zero knowledge of how storms work is not “proof” that God dictates the small things. Jesus’ statement about sparrows was not intended to communicate that God “controls” these things. You insert the word “control,” with its modernistic meanings and implications, where the Scripture itself doesn’t outrightly state it. You may still be right, but you are imposing culturally-conditioned definitions upon a culturally-conditioned text millennia apart. Not a good foundation for a biblical theology.

                #2: Agreed on God allowing/forbidding things to happen. But it doesn’t automatically follow that because God allows it, it was God’s desire. Nowhere in Scripture does it say God wanted sin to exist. Permitted? Yes, of course. Desired? Not a chance! You won’t have a verse for that. Again, maybe you are right, but you can’t back that statement up in Scripture. Speaking of Scripture, none of the verses you wrote declare that God controls things, only that God makes plans, sets seasons, or does what God wants without being thwarted. That doesn’t mean God controls everything as if God were a programmer making sure everything ran exactly according to God’s dictates.

                Again, I would submit that you are reading more into those texts than exist in order to support your theology. We all do it, so I’m only pointing fingers here because I’m likewise at fault for this. I would suggest treating the Bible like the ancient text that it is, communicated to ancient people groups, and start there. Historical context matters, including background and language developments. The Bible is also a product of its time insofar as the authors of any particular text were limited in their worldview, namely, their ancient one where most people assumed that “the gods” (whoever god you happened to worship) were the primary causes of events. So when the prophets of Israel described YHWH, it’s no surprise that YHWH was described similarly in language that fits. But the overarching narrative of Scripture seems to imply and sometimes overtly display a God who is willing to work with the free will of human beings in order to accomplish God’s desires, which will not be thwarted in the end. But God getting what God wants is not the same as God manipulating everything that occurs.

              • Tim Miller says:

                I understand completly in regards to theology and the bible. For so much of the world, their theologies or ideas supercede what the bible says. They practice eisegesis rather than exegesis. On this I love Martin Luther’s quote, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the Popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. ”M/i>

                I think your answer to point 1 is rather dangerous. Whether you mean to or not, you’re implying that the bible can just be plain wrong about some things that it says. I firmly believe that God does indeed cause the lightning to hit its marki. Yes, there are laws of science that we can use to expect lightning (where and when). But is it not God who set up those laws and through primary and secondary causes ulitmatly influence where and how the weather behaves?

                At the very least, you may concede that these seeminly trivial aspects of life are considered worthy of his attention and affection.

                However, I don’t understand how God can lay a plan out for something but not control it. If the bible is correct in saying that His plans cannot be thwarted, then we must assume that he controls the outcome. I’m not sure how to understand a plan if it is not an architect’s blueprint.

                As far as God’s desires go, I was not saying God took pleasure in sin itself, but I will say that it brought God pleasure you use what was evil for good instead. When I say he desired it, I mean that it was his deterministic will that sin should come about so that He can display His glory. It was God’s will/desire for Christ to be murdered on the cross. (a sin on the part of those acting, but not on God willing) To bring this about, God gave the multitude over to their evil desires and did not restrain them.

                It would perhaps be better if I understood where you were coming from in your view of all these things? Particulariyl, I would like to know your view of predestination and what it means for God to make a plan that cannot be thwarted.

                As for the last point, I agree that Scripture must be understood within context. The core meaning of a text cannot mean something different than it did to the original audience. Sure, it may have different practical applications for today’s society, but the theology of the bible has been consistent throughout history, its meaning and truth does not change. I think people give Old Testament authors far too little credit for what we think they did or didn’t actually understand about their own writing of God.

              • Tim Miller says:

                Charles Hodge puts it another way that I find most helpful: “God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do, what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids.” It’s likely that you and I may agree to some point, but not like how either of us are saying it.

                So that, it is God’s good pleasure to allow some sins to come about, even to the point that, He decrees that He will allow it by removing His restraining hand. I still see this as an indirect way of God ordaining all that comes to pass. Either directly causing incidents, such as the ground opening up and swollowing people, to indirect methods such as using the laws of nature to determine when and where lightning strikes.

  9. John Goes says:

    In the comments of a previous post where someone proposes that God be thought of as the simulator, this is clear. The programmer stands outside of the programs internal time (as experienced by its characters). But the programmer need not know how it will all turn out and can expend as much or as little will investigating the matter as he likes.

    A lot hinges on how you are imagining Eternity, which is from our perspective outside of all time. Your view seems rather presumptuous.

  10. Sam Geoghegan says:

    The above is prone to confirmation bias because you can only experience life from a single reference point. The same conditions provide evidence for determinism. Laws exist, cause and effect exists and life prevails in a way one could not conceive of it prevailing any other way. Give a planet oxygen, light, water and stuff, and theoretically, the propensity for life will exist on any planet. You simply can’t disprove this argument because you can’t fathom existence any other way; we’re bound to the limitations of perception.

  11. Doug says:

    Greg Boyd’s book “God of the Possible” explores this in basic detail, though he has written more scholarly works on the matter. Clark Pinnock is also pioneering this area as well. Boyd’s website, reknew.org, has resources on Open Theism, which is what this view is unfortunately called.

    Also, this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2012/09/03/if-god-knows-the-future-why-pray/

  12. Doug says:

    I recently heard it said that instead of thinking in black and white terms such as “In control” (sovereign) and “not in control” (term?), God is constantly influencing creation. It’s not exactly “theological,” but it can help in a way that doesn’t put God in the proverbial box.

  13. Bob Murphy says:

    Some quick responses everyone:

    (1) The more I study extreme Calvinism, predestination, etc., the more I think it is correct, insofar as it goes. However, I still think the people who believe in free will are correct. I.e. I think even some of the opponents on that issue think God can’t reconcile free will with His own sovereignty, but I think He does.

    (2) Yes I view God as outside of human time. That’s also how I evade Mises’ critique of an omniscient and omnipotent actor. From His perspective, God takes one action that achieves His will, but to us it looks like a series of actions unfolding through time.

    (3) Yes I think God by definition is omniscient. However, I think the Bible also confirms this, and that it’s not just a prejudice on my part. I don’t have time to get examples right now, but I gave some to Gene (see the link in the post).

    • Tim Miller says:

      I’m curious by what you mean when you say “extreme Calvinism”. Would that put you in the Hyper Calvinist Box (who believe God actually forces people to sin), or are you just, extremely confident and unapologetic of Calvinism (in that God, in some way, decrees that Sin will come to pass, but He does not actually force the Sinner to Sin or commit the sin Himself. Rather, He removes His will at certain points as to allow sinners over into their dark desires).

    • Doug says:

      Bob, just curious how much you’ve read on the “opposite side” of the spectrum? I used to be a Calvinist, mostly before becoming an anarcho-libertarian (or whatever you wanna call me). While learning more about the reality of free will and its critical nature when it comes to human value and morality, the more I realized my Calvinistic tendencies were in a nice and tidy system, but were incompatible with the God revealed in Jesus and in the Scriptures.

      • ABT says:

        Interesting stuff Doug. And I’m glad you said it was incompatible with what Jesus actually says in the Gospel. I think I may try to dig up the passages that speak about
        I think its simple.

        God is outside of time.

        God knows all that has and will and is happening because happen requires time.

        We have free will because free will requires a time component.

        God’s mercy and grace upon us (and our uniqueness from other creations) is that he permits us to act. And isn’t freedom act the ultimate mercy? Don’t we all here strive to be free to act without a person standing in our way? Pharaoh like all villains in scripture was an oppressor and therefore challenged God’s mercy, but God does not break the promise of free will mercy and permits Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened. God by knowing all is just telling you what’s up (the Known). Lastly, the act of choosing what God has sanctioned as beneficial and rejecting the harmful is the active decision to submit to God and accept God’s will. Just as in the example of Jesus in Luke 4 when tempted by the devil in the desert and replied with:
        “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

    • Daniil Gorbatenko says:

      =Yes I view God as outside of human time.=

      What do you mean by “human time”?

      • Tim Miller says:

        ^ I like this comment
        I think what is meant is that, our perception of time as linear, seconds leading to minutes, hours, days, etc…are only human. God however IS at all moments of time and space. However, He appears to deal with humans using our framework for time. That’s my assumption.

        • Daniil Gorbatenko says:

          =God however IS at all moments of time and space. However, He appears to deal with humans using our framework for time. That’s my assumption.=

          But this response of yours is metaphoric. It’s impossible even to imagine what this means, let alone decide whether it’s possible. And Murphy’s film analogy doesn’t help.

          • Tim Miller says:

            I most certainly agree with you in terms of the impossibility of comprehending something beyond what is natural to us. The same goes for trying to understand the eternal existence of God.

  14. John Goes says:

    Simply because sub specie aeternitatis appears as “one point” to us finite beings , doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have his own analogue of time in which he grapples with his Creation. I think you’re lacking some imagination about this, Bob.

  15. joeftansey says:

    “Now the tricky part: I think what happens is that God anticipated what everybody would subjectively want to do, and then designed the laws of the material universe such that it sure looks like we are controlling atoms with our thoughts, when “really” we are just watching a movie unfold before our eyes.”

    So, when atheists argue against free will, their explanation is that it’s all just a bunch of chemical reactions that are all subject to causality. But what you’re arguing is that we really do have free-soul-will, except when we don’t, it’s just that god has predicted it perfectly and animated the universe to play it out so that we couldn’t tell the difference.

    So this post is less about free will and more about speculating that causality doesn’t have to exist because god could be controlling everything in fine and consistent detail. Sounds… unfalsifiable. In your world, literally nothing could exist that was not god’s precise will.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “Sounds… unfalsifiable.”

      So what? The idea that all sound ideas should be falsifiable is… unfalsifiable. But apparently you like it anyway.

      • joeftansey says:

        >> The idea that all sound ideas should be falsifiable is… unfalsifiable.


    • Bob Murphy says:

      In your world, literally nothing could exist that was not god’s precise will.


      • joeftansey says:

        Well, this is not only abusive because it is predicated on an inarguable “holy” text, but you also won’t participate in a full-fledged textual criticism of the bible because you don’t have the time or expertise. So we either don’t buy your premise, which gets us ignored, or we tell you you’re reading the bible wrong, which gets us the “I don’t really know but there’s some guy I trust…” answer.

        Which means there’s very, very, very little ground for real discussion here. It’s a free will thread, so there will be a large volume of comments, but I there’s no meat in the OP. Like I said, it’s all unfalsifiable.

        • ABT says:

          What the posts don’t ever getting you thinking beyond what you already accept/believe?
          tsk tsk… just here to state your view and not consider something new.

          looks like someone’s heart is hardened 😉

          • joeftansey says:

            Dude. Just accept the premise that everything is secretly controlled by lizard men.

            Now, even though you don’t see any LM around, they must have known about 9-11, which means it was an inside job.

            Please consider my view and do not have a hard heart.

            • ABT says:

              Why do they have to be lizard men?
              why not lizard women?!

              I don’t know what you mean by falsifiable. Do you mean materially falsifiable where observational data can be collected to present evidence for or against one’s premise?

              If thats what you mean then prove to me you love your parents when I don’t believe that love exists? It should be obvious that any evidence you present isn’t going to be taken as evidence and is worthless.

              As for the lizard people analogy, you can provide observational evidence and try and establish your point. But if I don’t believe there is a chance a lizard person exists then your wasting your breath.

              Man cannot live off of observation alone. I believe that is in the Gospel according to Luke

              • joeftansey says:

                “Why do they have to be lizard men? why not lizard women?!”

                Cus that’s my premise dude just roll with it. Or are you “just here to state your view and not consider something new.”?

                “I don’t know what you mean by falsifiable. Do you mean materially falsifiable where observational data can be collected to present evidence for or against one’s premise?”

                Well, since Bob is speculating about material things, in this context this is what falsifiable means.

                Or, not really. It doesn’t have to be possible to collect the evidence. The evidence just has to be… existentially possible. Like if I said there was a teapot on the dark side of the moon, that would be falsifiable cus even if you *can’t* check, it is in principle possible that you could.

                “If thats what you mean then prove to me you love your parents when I don’t believe that love exists?”

                “I love my parents” is not a technically true claim. It is a signal. It has no rigorous content. Bob is trying to be rigorous.

                “But if I don’t believe there is a chance a lizard person exists then your wasting your breath.”

                Well, that’s kind of my point to Bob.

  16. Gene Callahan says:

    “then I think the “laws of nature” are simply economical ways we’ve discovered to describe His will as it pertains to material objects”

    This was very much Berkeley’s view.

  17. Gene Callahan says:

    “G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.”

    Great book!

    • Dan says:

      Dr. Callahan, you might be the right person to ask. I had a question last week about how Christians explain God becoming angry considering He is omniscient and omnipotent. I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around why God would create a situation that made Him angry. Do you know of any good books that discuss the omnipotent/omniscient paradox and things like why God would ever experience anger? Ken B. recommended a book that I bookmarked but since he is coming from an anti-religion perspective I was also looking for a recommendation from someone who is religious.

      • John@EconEngineer says:

        This one may be related. The subject is good and I agree with most bits of the book. The author is a strong Christian.


      • Tim Miller says:

        I can only assume that, it brought God glory to display all of Himself, not just the loving merciful side of Him. We have an accurate description of God because He also shows wrath, jealousy, justice, as well as love, mercy, and compassion.

        • Doug says:

          I would assert, however, that the author of Hebrews tells us that if we want to know who God is, look at Jesus. Jesus isn’t just “one among many” displaying the attributes of God, but is rather the manifestation of God. Wanna know God? Look at Jesus.

          (Bob Murphy should have emailed you regarding furthering our discussion… I’m unable to “reply” to our thread above.)

          • Tim Miller says:

            Ok, I will get to check email after my class tonight. I would agree about looking to Jesus. The same would be true of looking at the Holy Spirit.

            However, Jesus too showed these traits. (Not that you were disagreeing, I’m just elaborating) It was Jesus who overthrew the tables in the temple and used a whip to drive the thieves out. At times he was merciful, at times he delt harshly with sinners. He is both judge and defense attorney. Still, He spoke the truth in love. One can be fierce and loving at the same time.

  18. Butler Stoudenmire says:

    Bob, have you ever looked into Molinism, or middle knowledge? William Lane Craig, the great philosopher and theologian, has some interesting videos and articles about it on the web.

  19. Tel says:

    Has anyone considered that maybe God is not an individual? Maybe God is some sort of committee?

    Just run with me on this, it would neatly explain how God can be simultaneously all powerful, and yet make the apparent blunder of allowing Evil to continue to exist. It explains how God can both know the future, and sit there arguing until it is too late to do anything about it.

  20. Egoist says:

    Well, in addition to creating the material universe, God also created distinct beings, with our own wills or egos.

    Or, in addition to apprehending the material universe (a creative act of the ego), the creative ego also created God as a distinct being, which is really an attempt by the ego to find the ego (itself) in the non-ego (material world).

    You will never find the ultimate if you believe the ultimate is outside of you. If you look outside of yourself, you will only ever find a part of you, the rational part, and hence a part of the ultimate, which includes both rationality and irrationality.

    Does anyone really believe that it’s a coincidence that to experience something close to God (the ego in the non-ego), that irrationality is almost always an integral part of it? God is everything, and is hence the rational and the irrational.

    I am unique. Rationality cannot exhaust me. Neither can irrationality. I am more. The search for God is the search for that aspect of your ego that is indescribable. It is knowing, knowing, knowing, knowing…then a limit, beyond which is absence of knowing, but a potential of further knowledge, which is called omniscience. There is power, power, power…then a limit, beyond which is absence of power, but a potential of further power, which is called omnipotence.

    God is neither omniscient, nor omniscient.

    God is not omniscient because he does not know what it is like to BE me as a mortal, transitory, unique human. The only way that God can know what it is like to experience being this unique me is if God IS me. God may know a lot, but because he lacks the knowledge that is predicated on being me, God is not omniscient.

    God is not omnipotent because he does not take up the space time that is my reality. He is limited by my existence. The only way that God can be all powerful, is if God is the only reality. God may be very powerful, but because he lacks the power that is predicated on my existence, God is not omnipotent.

    Omniscience and omnipotence require nothing external to oneself. If there is an object external to me, such as my house, or my friend, then I am limited in both knowledge and power. I lack the knowledge that only comes with being a house, and I lack the power that comes with there being no house external to me at all.

    The search for omniscience and omnipotence is the search for the indescribable part of the unique self that is not known and not under one’s power. You can look for God outside yourself for the rest of your life, but you will not find Him there. You will not find omniscience or omnipotence in yourself either.

    Men have been searching for God and for the answers you are looking for, for thousands of years. They did not find Him. They were looking. If they only recognized themselves as unique, and not God, then they would have found that the question was the wrong one.

    The correct questions are not where is God, or what is God, but rather WHO is asking questions in the first place? What is this unique being asking questions? This is the answer you’re looking for. If you find this path unfulfilling, or too limited, or not grand enough, or too superficial and mechanical, then it is because you are not satisfied with your unique self. You desire a more fulfilling aspect of your unique self, a more powerful aspect of your unique self, a grander aspect of your unique self, a more deep and spiritual aspect of your unique self.

    All this can be found by making yourself owner over more. You make yourself owner over more by eliminating all self-imposed barriers that prevent you from owning more.

    Waiting for the afterlife before you believe you have the power to own what is yours, is the ultimate self-imposed barrier. Those who wait their entire lives will die a searcher. If you truly believe you will find the answer in the afterlife, then why not swallow poison, and then immediately repent to the Lord and ensure entry into Heaven? If you want to stay on Earth a little longer, then why are you thinking you can find the ultimate as a mortal, transitory being? Why delude yourself into believing that you can unlock a door that not even Aristotle or Aquinas had the key for? I am humble enough to know that these men had minds much more powerful then my own, and by all rights I am considered arrogant and hubristic. Where is the humbleness in Christianity? Where is the acceptance that just like God is not omniscient or omnipotent because He is not you, so too are you not omniscient nor omnipotent because you are not Him?

  21. Matt Tanous says:

    On the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God, I don’t think this is meant literally. Specifically, I believe it to be “metonymy,” that is, the subject is announced, while some property or circumstance belonging to it is meant. Specifically, under this form of the figure, “[a]n action is sometimes said to have been accomplished, when all that is meant by it is that an occasion was given”.

    The Bible is replete with examples that illustrate this figure of speech. John reported that “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John” (John 4:1). In reality, Jesus did not personally baptize anyone (John 4:2). But His teaching and influence caused it to be done. Jesus, the subject, is mentioned, but it is the circumstance of His influence that is intended. In similar form, it could be that God influenced Pharaoh – knowing the outcome, but not forcing it.

    • Matt Tanous says:

      More examples, because I think the distinction is a necessary one to grasp:

      Repeatedly in the book of 1 Kings, various kings of Israel are said to have “walked in the way of Jeroboam…who had made Israel sin” (e.g., 1 Kings 16:19,26; 22:52). But Jeroboam did not force either his contemporaries or his successors to sin. Rather, he set an example that they chose to follow.

      Another instance of metonymy of the subject, closely aligned with the example of Pharaoh in Exodus, is the occasion of the conversion of Lydia, the businesswoman from Thyatira. The text states that the “Lord opened her heart” (Acts 16:14). However, the specific means by which God achieved this action was the preaching of Paul. God’s Word, spoken through Paul, created within her a receptive and responsive mind.

      In like fashion, Jesus is said to have preached to Gentiles as well as to the antediluvian population of Noah’s day (Ephesians 2:17; 1 Peter 3:19). Of course, Jesus did neither—directly. Rather, He operated through agents—through Paul in the first case and through Noah in the latter.

      Similarly, Nathan accused king David: “You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword” (2 Samuel 12:9). In reality, David sent a letter to his general ordering him to arrange battle positions where Uriah would be more vulnerable to enemy fire.

      As can be seen, the use of metonomy to ascribe action to subjects that were not directly responsible, but indirectly in some manner, is all throughout the Bible. To take such statements literally would be a mistake.

  22. konst says:

    I have a great refutation of your post, in part, but it’s late and don’t have time to write it now.

    Regarding your idea that God wills everything to happen every nanosecond even our actions then that means there is NO sin, there is NO guilt, there is NO evil or good,…

    It also means there is no life and nothing is living since it means we are all robots and there is no point in Jesus dieing and resurrected on the Cross (or is that a movie-like thing too?). It also means that Jesus was not the Son of God since he would be part of the same “movie”.

    Regarding free will, it can’t exist unless it doesn’t exist at any point in the future; only if it’s created thereby making an new action/event which changes the future.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      I have a great refutation of your post, in part, but it’s late and don’t have time to write it now.

      That’s funny, because I have a brilliant response, but it’s a secret.

      • Harold says:

        I find the margins too small.

  23. christopher fisher says:

    Per Robert Murphey, “Pharaoh is God”, because God hardens hearts:

    Exodus 8:15
    But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart.

    If only the Bible gave some sort of mechanism by which God hardens hearts. Mr Murphey suggests magic, the Bible suggests Pride:

    Exodus 7:22 And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.

    For the Biblical view of God – 95 Open Theism Verses:

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Christopher Fisher wrote:

      Mr Murphey suggests magic…

      Hey Mr. Fisher, if you’re going to make up views and attribute them to me, at least spell my name right. Thanks.

      • christopher fisher says:

        I do apologize for the name spelling error, Sir. I really love your work on economics, but you seem to be ingrained thoroughly in Platonism.

        We have multiple actors hardening hearts in Exodus:

        Moses: 7:13
        Pharaoh: 8:32
        God: 9:12

        Moses and Pharaoh both are not omnipotent. “Hardening” does not necessitate or even suggest minute control of beings. In fact, the Bible tells us how God hardened, just as a normal person would harden another normal person’s heart.

        The God of the Bible is not one that is depicted outside of time, controlling everything, or even knowing the future. The God of the Bible is one who risks being hurt in order to have a love relationship with his creation. Please read the link I posted.

  24. ThomasL says:

    Probably too late to comment, but you may want to read St Anselm’s “On Free Will” and “On the Cause of the Devil” for another perspective.

    On the “The Man Who was Thursday”, I agree that it is one of the greatest religious novels ever written… but do not forget the subtitle if you intend to draw theological implications: “The Man Who was Thursday: A Nightmare”

  25. jobethian says:

    One of the ways that people confuse freewill, is to think that freedom of thought (imagination) is the same thing as freedom of action (freewill).
    Yes we all have freedom of imagination to believe or not believe anything we want.
    But we do not have freedom of action apart from God’s will and agency.

  26. panduanbolasuper says:

    I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Welll written!

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