Monthly Archives: January 2011

Too much knowledge can destroy the will.

Just moved my blog from blogspot to here (mostly because my other blog is a coder’s blog and the syntax highlighter is better here–it exists) and I was browsing some of the others. I’m a philosophy nut and so that’s the tag I was browsing when I ran into someone talking about one particular area that I’ve spent a LOT of time reasoning about:

Thoughts: On Time

In short it’s a defense of free-will in the face of God’s omniscience. I do not actually argue against their thesis; I instead argue that God’s omniscience means he had no choice in giving us free will.

I’ve decided to go ahead and post my response here as well as over there in comment form.

Note that I’m using the word “God” here only in the sense that it was used by the author. Could be any word, and in fact may as well be since it’s one of those few words in the English language that don’t actually seem to mean anything in particular. Consider “God” a proper noun for some being or entity that has the attributes being discussed.


There are some implications to this line of reasoning that you’ve almost certainly not thought of.

The first thing that has to be agreed upon before beginning is that the words we use have their usual meanings. For example, the word ‘time’ must be agreed to mean a linear construct that keeps everything from happening at once, or to be more specific it is the linear progression of causality (event A happens, B is caused, one follows the other in that order, always).

If we aren’t using words in their usual meaning then we need to define them. If we can’t do either then the constructs we create with them are meaningless in the true sense of the word: they have none.

There are words you used in your treatise that cannot be made sense of with regard to a being that doesn’t progress through time. The use of the word “plan” for example. A simple perusal of the dictionary gives us a reasonable definition that most people agree to:

“a scheme or method of acting, doing, proceeding, making, etc., developed in advance”

This works equally well in the context of how you use it when you say that God has a plan for us. You intent must be considered to imply that God designed a predetermined outcome for our lives before we existed.

And there’s the problem. God might not be under any authority but he is what he is and is not something else. In fact, it is clear that God CAN NOT be anything else for if he where to be then he is not God. God must be God to be God. If one of the attributes of being God is that you exist such that you experience all time at once then this is what God is, and he can’t be otherwise or he is not God.

To say that God exists out of time, that he experiences all time “at once” is to actually say something very strange. The result of such a statement is a lot less intuitive than you seem to believe. “For him all times are the present.” To really get down to it and define what it would mean to be such a creature you have to realize that God is in one, solitary state and that this state permeates all instances of time. Trying to consider what this would be “like” we must try to consider ourselves only in the moment and then remove time from consideration such that the “moment” is always THE moment, there are no others, and there is never any change because there isn’t even an ever into which to change to.

What would it mean for such a being to have a “plan”? Well, you say that God exists in all times at once. Thus God has SEEN all times at once. So he knows what we’ll do.

But that’s not really a plan, is it. That’s just knowing what we’ll do. We could argue that we have free will, and yet will never deviate from what God has seen, but to call that a plan is really a stretch of words. In order for it to have been God’s PLAN instead of just his experience, God must be able to CHANGE what he’s seen.

And there is where the whole thing just falls apart. God is a single, static state existing in that state during all time. For God to change anything he must be able to change from one state to another (more actually but we can make this easy on ourselves), namely he must be able to desire something and change to a state of having achieved that desire. Unfortunately, such a change in state requires there to be two distinct, non-coexisting states: before, and after. Once we have before, and we have an after, we have time. Since God is not IN time there is no before and after for God…God can’t change.

Now “can’t” here seems to imply that there is something stopping God and therefore you’ll think I’ve placed some sort of authority above him. That’s simply not the case though. We’ve agreed already that God is outside of time, and that God IS God and not something else. We’ve placed no extra burden on God that stops him from doing anything. There simply exists no such actions. To say that God “can’t” in this case is to say simply that God is God and not something else and by BEING God, he has the attributes that God has, and by having such attributes there simply exists no path by which God can change. There doesn’t even exist a path by which God could cause such paths to exist.

“God is God,” is the operative phrase here.

You might be tempted to reword yourself and say that no, God doesn’t exist in all times, he’s AWARE of all times and everything that happens there. There’s a few problems here, not all of them insurmountable:

1. You’ve said that God is omniscient. In order for God to not exist in all times he must not have experiential knowledge of all times (experience being a different kind of knowledge than expectation). Thus we have to define omniscient to lack certain kinds of knowledge.

2. IF God, as you say, knows what happens in all times…and he CHANGES something that happens during one of those times (without which we can’t say the plan is “his”) then God was wrong! Think about it. God KNOWS that event X will happen at time Y. God says “nah, I’d rather event Z happened,” now God KNOWS that event Z will happen BUT, when he knew that event X was going to happen he either had to be in error (because actions now that change the future create the future) or he has to be wrong now that he knows event Z is instead going to happen.

We might be tempted here to say, “Well, God knows that event X is going to happen in the sense that if he does not change it then it will, but if he does change it then it won’t.” Unfortunately this is trying to get both sides and you just can’t have it that way. If God knows that event X is going to happen then he knows that’s what is going to happen. If he knows that event X is NOT going to happen because he will act in such a manner as to cause event Z to happen instead, then God knows that event Z is going to happen and is no more able to change the actions he is going to perform that cause this than he is able to change the future in any other way.

Thus, you’ve actually rendered God completely impotent BECAUSE of his omniscience. God knows what he knows because that’s what God knows and God cannot be wrong about ANYTHING. Since God cannot be wrong, God also cannot do anything he didn’t already know he would. God’s a puppet of his own knowledge completely helpless to cause anything of his own. God may have given us free will, but lacking any of his own…it wasn’t anything he could have helped.

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