Monday, June 27, 2005

Manipulation, Free Will, and God's foreknowledge

Basic Thesis:
If God knows the future and uses this knowledge in his actions then we are not free.

Many people believe that God has complete knowledge of the future and hence knows what we were going to do in any given situation. They believe that God uses this knowledge of how we will act to set up the world how he wishes it to be. This is a widespread view, not merely Calvinists, but virtually everyone who denies the Open View of God's foreknowledge would hold such a view. I suggest this amounts to God manipulating us for his own ends, and as such, is inconsistent with free will.

Defence of said thesis:

Premise 1. The above stated view of God effectively says that God manipulates us.
("Manipulate" = control to one's advantage by artful or indirect means)

Allegedly, God uses his sure and certain knowledge of how we would act in different situations in order to create the "best possible world", by putting us in situations such that the outcome is as he wants it. It appears to me that this view portrays God as manipulating us.

Premise 2. Manipulation to the degree depicted above is inconsistent with free will.
("Free Will" = The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will.)

It appears to me fairly obvious that if someone else is manipulating us in order that we act according to their desires, we are not really free. Now I think there are definitely degrees of manipulation: eg I could try and make someone who I liked to like me back by being extra-nice to them or giving them presents. This sort of low-level human manipulation doesn't really override free will because it's far from certain that we will actually succeed. But when God does it, it is alleged, he has sure and certain knowledge of exactly how people will act in different situations he might put them in.

Conclusion. The belief that God uses his foreknowledge of how we will certainly act in different situations is effectively saying that God manipulates us, which is inconsistent with free will.

In short, to preserve free will one must hold the open view.


Blogger Katherine said...

Hehe, Mike and I were debating this issue over lunch today. We (or mostly he) came up with something similar.

Could you clarify, however, what you mean by God 'using this knowledge of how we will act to set up the world how he wishes it to be'? i.e. what's an example? Do you mean things like directing us to situations in which He hopes we will grow? If so, that's not really manipulation is it? In fact, it's giving us the opportunity to exercise our free will. He may be directing us in a certain way, but that is not the same as forcing us. Furthermore, free will is not the right to choose what is right; it's the rather unhelpful right to not do the right thing when one knows it to be right, if one is inclined to be stupid. So just because He directs us towards a point where we are seemingly forced by sheer reason or conscience to act in a certain way, doesn't mean He is impinging upon our freedom. It just means He's showing us how to use it best.

Blah. I ramble. Not sure if I'm making sense.

Blogger Andrew said...

An example, hmmm, well I was thinking particularly of:
1. God saving people and how God can use his foreknow to manipulate people into being saved or not
2. God just generally controlling you, say you are talking to someone, God can make you say basically anything he wants (within reason) by setting up the situation properly. Whenever you're confronted with a real choice such that you're close to choosing one way or the other, God knows exactly what's needed to make you choose one way or the other. We can imagine God sitting there before the beginning of time plotting out our lives, deciding which decision he wants us to make for every single decision throughout our lives.

Do you mean things like directing us to situations in which He hopes we will grow?
Um, if God has complete and certain knowledge of the future then he doesn't "hope", rather he would direct us to situations knowing exactly what will happen if he does.

Personally I think God doesn't have such knowledge and does direct us to situations in the hope that we will grow, and I don't think this impinges on free will.

Blogger Jonathan said...

Where does it say that we have free will??

Blogger Andrew said...

I didn't claim we HAD free will, I said IF we have free will THEN the open view must be true.

The idea that the Bible doesn't support free will is one I find quite amusing, but I'm not interested in debating it here.

Blogger Katherine said...

It doesn't say outright but it's implied by the fact that we're held responsible for our actions, that choices are portrayed as being genuine, and that God is said to be just.

Blogger Scott said...

If humans have the type of Free Will that you speak of, i.e. their decisions are completely unrestrained by any outside divine influence, then Open Theism must be true.

But if our will is not ultimately self-determining, then this doesn't necessarily imply manipulation, because manipulation suggests being led against your will. I guess it ultimately comes down to your view on divine sovereignty - everything springs from this, you can't go the other way.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes I do manipulate the world, only because, I have the knowledge, understanding, and means to do so ........

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember God knows all, and loves all, and will never hurt one she loves, so why worry about being manipulated


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