Free Will, Justice, and Predestination under God

Consider the following three arguments against free will and justice in Christianity and similar religions:

Argument 1

Imagine that God, an omniscient being, has just appeared and told you what you will do 30 seconds from now.  Suppose that it is something trivial and thus easily avoidable, e.g. you will eat a sandwich.  Now assume that you have the desire to exercise your free will and change the future.  There are only two possible outcomes:

1.) You eat the sandwich.
2.) You do not eat the sandwich.

If you do not eat the sandwich, you have proven that God does not know the future.

If you do eat the sandwich despite your stronger desire to prove your free will, you have proven that you do not actually have free will.

Therefore, human free will is incompatible with God’s omniscience.

The only way around this problem is to claim that omniscience refers to total knowledge of the past and present, but not the future, which has not yet occurred.  This is perhaps akin to adjusting omnipotence to mean “the power to do anything that is possible” instead of “the power to do anything.”  However, if God is ignorant of the future, then religions in which God’s knowledge of the future is essential cannot be true.  

Argument 2

Premise 1:  The human lifespan varies from individual to individual.

Premise 2:  Humans grow up in different conditions and with different genetics.

Premise 3:  Humans develop different standards for truth.

Premise 4:  An individual has no control over premises 1 and 2 and has only limited control, if any, over premise 3.

Premise 5:  Christians often claim that humans can only find salvation through faith in God.

Conclusion 1:  Therefore, it is not fair that human lifespans, conditions, and standards for truth vary.  (Some people die much earlier than others, who therefore have more time to find salvation.  Some people are born into conditions where the Bible is absent or even criticized while others are born into conditions where the Bible is present or even praised, which makes it easier for them to find salvation.  Some people have a higher standard for truth than others, who therefore find it easier to accept the Bible and thus to find salvation.)

Premise 6:  God has control over these factors.

Conclusion 2:  Therefore, God is not just.

Premise 7:  Christians claim that God is just.

Conclusion 3:  Therefore, Christians (and those who share such beliefs) are wrong about something.  Either God is not just or there are other means of finding salvation.

Argument 3

Premise 1:  It is only really fair if God gives each individual enough time and the right conditions to find salvation.  (One man might have found salvation if he had just lived one more day.  Another might have found salvation if he had been born in a different country.)

Premise 2:  God is fair.  (A common Christian claim.)

Conclusion 1:  Therefore, God gives each individual enough time and the right conditions to find salvation.

Premise 3:  People who can find salvation would find salvation if given the time and conditions that would lead to salvation.

Premise 4:  Some people do not find salvation.

Conclusion 2:  Therefore, some people could not have found salvation in any amount of time or under any conditions.

Conclusion 3:  Therefore, some people are predestined to be punished.

(I can imagine challenges to premise 3, but not good ones.)

Implications for Ethics

If humans do not have free will, then it is unjust for God to reward or punish some, but not others–or to punish anyone at all.  This should be indisputable even among the religious unless they believe that God also lacks free will, in which case justice cannot apply.  Without free will, the entire project of ethics is a sham.

If God is unjust or does not know the future, then God is not fit to deal out eternal reward and punishment.  Some of the religious may argue that God is fit to do so by virtue of being Creator or omnipotent, but this is a very unsatisfying answer for those of us who do not define what is good by the imperfect or even arbitrary decisions of a single being.

I credit John Myste with the inspiration for and contributions to arguments 2 and 3 through his recent post, Sunday Inspiration.  I also credit him with any logical inconsistency found in this post.

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4 Comments

Filed under Bad Religious Ethics

4 responses to “Free Will, Justice, and Predestination under God

  1. If you do eat the sandwich despite your stronger desire to prove your free will, you have proven that you do not actually have free will.
    Therefore, human free will is incompatible with God’s omniscience.

    Solely as a Devil’s advocate, I would say that the implication is that I will do what God, not what I, want. However, I know that if I punch Martial Artist Rampage Jackson in the nose, he will punch me back, even though he has free will. I just happen to know what he will do with that free will. Whether I see it in a crystal ball or intuit it does not change the fact that I know.

    This, a most familiar assertion, reminds me of the question, if Joe claims to be lying, is he lying?

    There are many variations to this puzzle.

    Zeno of Elea proposed that motion is impossible. In order to traverse the distance from point A to point B, you must first traverse half the distance. After you traverse half, the halfway point becomes the new Point A, as this half still remains, and you must traverse half of it before completing it. So as long as you are only traversing half the distance before you complete the entire distance, you can never traverse the entire distance. If you traverse half, half remains, ad infinitum. From this puzzle it follows that motion itself is not possible, since we would have an infinite set of things to do before moving from point A to point B and we have a finite amount of time to accomplish them.

    Puzzled, I approached my math instructor in college with this question. He informed me that it used to bother him but it troubles him no longer, because we do move. He did not avoid the question, as I thought at the time. I now understand that he simply avoided the puzzle.

    Therefore, Christians (and those who share such beliefs) are wrong about something. Either God is not just or there are other means of finding salvation.

    I completely agree. In fact, if their God exists, He discriminates. Also, if He exists, He is utterly emotional in His feeble need to have others belief in Him without evidence.

    Therefore, God gives each individual enough time and the right conditions to find salvation.

    We know this is not true. Whole groups of people never hear of him, no matter how loud Bill Graham shouts.

    Therefore, some people could not have found salvation in any amount of time or under any conditions.

    This is probably true, but some scientific theories in quantum physics may suggest otherwise. However, once we bring the multiverse into the discussion, it will get complicated. Obviously if people are given extra time to do something, it is more likely they will do it. For example, if I want to learn to play the piano, and I have only one week, I will probably fail. If I have 90 years, I will probably succeed. As it is, I do want to learn to play the piano, but I probably never will: priorities. However, if I were to live for 1000 years, I probably would learn to play. More time usually means more likely.

    It would seem that if some versions of the Christian God, the one you describe, exist, then some people are pre-destined to be punished.

    If humans do not have free will, then it is unjust for God to reward or punish some, but not others.

    I would go a step further and say it is unjust to punish them whether or not they have free will. If their free will drives them toward evil, then perhaps that is there nature, their proclivity. I would be more evil with such proclivities egging me on, also.

    If God is unjust or does not know the future, then God is not fit to deal out eternal reward and punishment.

    Amen, brother Ryan.

    I credit John Myste with the inspiration for and contributions to arguments 2 and 3 through his recent post, Sunday Inspiration. I also credit him with any logical inconsistency found in this post.

    Ahahahaha. That literally made me laugh out loud.

    • Solely as a Devil’s advocate, I would say that the implication is that I will do what God, not what I, want.

      1.) It is not established that God desires that you eat the sandwich. That may be the case, but I do not know. It would be strange for God to desire what it knows will happen.

      2.) Why do what God wants? Is it because God is a compelling force? I think it is enough that the possibility of defying God exists. If not, we can replace “God” with “omniscient being,” thereby avoiding all of God’s other qualities. In that case, the problem does exist, so we can say that it holds for God as well.

      However, I know that if I punch Martial Artist Rampage Jackson in the nose, he will punch me back, even though he has free will. I just happen to know what he will do with that free will. Whether I see it in a crystal ball or intuit it does not change the fact that I know.

      Let me nitpick: What you expect him to do is not the same sort of knowledge that God, as an omniscient being, would have. There is always the possibility that your prediction is wrong, whereas God has seen the future.

      But this issue was on my mind when I wrote this post, so I used the thoroughly trivial example of eating a sandwich. I could choose to eat something else, wait another few seconds to eat the sandwich, or just eat the sandwich now if it’s available. There is no seemingly unconquerable desire to eat the sandwich.

      if Joe claims to be lying, is he lying?

      No.

      Puzzled, I approached my math instructor in college with [Zeno's paradox]. He informed me that it used to bother him but it troubles him no longer, because we do move.

      That is usually my “answer” to the paradox, but I think that there are real conceptual/linguistic problems with the paradox itself. I am not the first. Sir Wiki of Pedia has a number of fine responses.

      Also, if He exists, He is utterly emotional in His feeble need to have others belief in Him without evidence.

      I like Mr. Deity’s take on all of this.

      Ryan: Therefore, God gives each individual enough time and the right conditions to find salvation.

      John: We know this is not true. Whole groups of people never hear of him, no matter how loud Bill Graham shouts.

      Right, so premise 2 (God is fair) is false. That was pretty much Argument 2. Argument 3 exists to bother people who don’t accept the conclusion of Argument 2.

      This is probably true, but some scientific theories in quantum physics may suggest otherwise.

      Quantum physics will have to pry my logic from my cold, dead brain.

      I would go a step further and say it is unjust to punish them whether or not they have free will. If their free will drives them toward evil, then perhaps that is there nature, their proclivity. I would be more evil with such proclivities egging me on, also.

      I agree to a point. Of course, as we both acknowledge, eternal torment is a wholly inappropriate punishment. But those who are aware of the implications of their evil actions yet follow through with them anyway should be punished in some way in order to adjust their behavior and make up for the harm they have done. This is probably what you meant anyway.

      Ahahahaha. That literally made me laugh out loud.

      I’m glad to amuse. After Burr Deming called the beginning of my last post on fallacies dry, I thought all was lost.

  2. Damn, it’s hard to get a comment to post on WordPress. They really need to fix that.

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