Are Christians necessarily compatibilists?

Compatibilism is the claim that all events are fully determined by past events, and yet we still have free will. Many people, myself included, have the instinct that compatibilism is pure nonsense. If my actions are determined by my desires, and my desires are determined by my past, and my past is determined by my genetics and upbringing, then I am not responsible for any of my actions – at very least, I am not morally responsible!

But there is a consideration here that we ought to consider. Atheists argue that God – who knew everything in advance – fully determined our actions as soon as He created us. Here is the argument:

  1. God knows all events, from the beginning.
  2. Peter will murder Sally.
  3. God knows, from the beginning, that if Peter exists, Peter will murder Sally.
  4. God chooses to create Peter.
  5. God chooses for Peter to murder Sally.

But then, how is Peter free?

Theists argue, in return, that God’s foreknowledge does not negate free will. In other words, Peter’s actions are determined, but – in context – they are **Peter’s **actions, and no one else’s. Peter had free will.

But isn’t this compatibilism? I got this idea from Mill, who mentions:

The religious metaphysicians who have asserted the freedom of the will have always maintained it to be consistent with divine foreknowledge of our actions; and if with divine, then with any other foreknowledge. We may be free, and yet another may have reason to be perfectly certain what use we shall make of our freedom. It is not, therefore, the doctrine that our volitions and actions are invariable consequents of our antecedent states of mind, that is either contradicted by our consciousness or felt to be degrading.

But Mill doesn’t draw out the consequence, that (apparently) the believer in God and free will MUST believe that a deterministic universe is compatible with free will.

Personally, I think compatibilism is bunk, and I have very little confidence in our pseudo-compatibilist explanations of divine foreknowledge. But I do believe in God and free will. Should I bite the bullet, and become a compatibilist? (I don’t think I can). Or, as I suspect, are many of the arguments about divine foreknowledge missing something?

Quick side note: I know that my summarized version of the Christian response to the atheist argument above is just hand-waving, and entirely inadequate. But that particular argument isn't the focus of my question, so I intentionally glossed over it. :o

I once read a book where an astro-physicist or some such person described his understanding of divine foreknowledge this way: We as finite human beings "invented" time. Time is not a real thing, but a concept which helps us to understand sequences of events and put them into perspective. Because we are finite, time for us is represented by a line, with events being little dots on that line in the order in which they occurred. We live along that line.

God is infinite. Time for Him does not have the meaning it has for us, because God does not live within our timeline. God exists outside of time because He has no beginning and no end. For God, everything essentially happens simultaneously because He is looking at our timeline from without. He can see every point on that timeline simultaneously, every event at once. Because of this, God knows everything that has ever happened and everything that WILL ever happen, but this knowledge of course does not affect our free will, nor does it make our choices any less "ours".

Anyway, he goes on to prove this mathematically and talks about many other fascinating things, including, if I remember correctly, string theory, etc.

I found this illustration to be helpful in my dilemmas with determinism vs. free will. Maybe you will too :)

Having created everything, God provides the material cause for every action that takes place, good or ill. But to say He’s the direct or final cause of Sally’s murder, with or without foreknowledge, would be like blaming Daimler Benz, because he created the first modern automobile, for causing all automobile accidents, wouldn’t it?

And does foreknowledge alter anything? Even though God knew that Peter would freely choose to murder Sally, His creation of Peter still didn’t determine Peter’s choice. Otherwise it would be like saying that, because God can’t help but have foreknowledge, creation of beings with free will is impossible, which doesn’t quite make sense either.

Christians believe in libertarian agency.

We have to remember that God is infinite!

[quote="Thoughtfulone, post:3, topic:207473"]
I once read a book where an astro-physicist or some such person described his understanding of divine foreknowledge this way: We as finite human beings "invented" time. Time is not a real thing, but a concept which helps us to understand sequences of events and put them into perspective. Because we are finite, time for us is represented by a line, with events being little dots on that line in the order in which they occurred. We live along that line.

God is infinite. Time for Him does not have the meaning it has for us, because God does not live within our timeline. God exists outside of time because He has no beginning and no end. For God, everything essentially happens simultaneously because He is looking at our timeline from without. He can see every point on that timeline simultaneously, every event at once. Because of this, God knows everything that has ever happened and everything that WILL ever happen, but this knowledge of course does not affect our free will, nor does it make our choices any less "ours".

Anyway, he goes on to prove this mathematically and talks about many other fascinating things, including, if I remember correctly, string theory, etc.

I found this illustration to be helpful in my dilemmas with determinism vs. free will. Maybe you will too :)

[/quote]

As an engineering student (one who suffered through studying Einstein's special relativity briefly :), these are very similar to my thought on the subject and I'd be very interested in reading more. Can you get me the author name and title of his work?

[quote="Prodigal_Son, post:1, topic:207473"]
Compatibilism is the claim that all events are fully determined by past events, and yet we still have free will. Many people, myself included, have the instinct that compatibilism is pure nonsense. If my actions are determined by my desires, and my desires are determined by my past, and my past is determined by my genetics and upbringing, then I am not responsible for any of my actions -- at very least, I am not morally responsible!

Personally, I think compatibilism is bunk, and I have very little confidence in our pseudo-compatibilist explanations of divine foreknowledge. But I do believe in God and free will. Should I bite the bullet, and become a compatibilist? (I don't think I can). Or, as I suspect, are many of the arguments about divine foreknowledge missing something?

[/quote]

Here's how Saint Augustine reconciled free will with Divine foreknowledge:

"It does not follow, therefore, that the order of causes, known for certain though it is in the foreknowing mind of God, brings it about that there is no power in our will, since our choices themselves have an important place in the order of causes. ...] Our conclusion is that our wills have power to do all that God wanted them to do and foresaw they could do. Their power, such as it is, is a real power. What they are to do they themselves will most certainly do, because God foresaw both that they could do it and that they would do it and His knowledge cannot be mistaken. Thus if I wanted to use the word 'fate' for anything at all, I should prefer to say that 'fate' is the action of a weak person, while 'choice' is the act of the stronger man who holds the weak man in his power, rather than to admit that the choice of our will is taken away by that order of causes which the Stoics arbitrarily call fate." (City of God, Book V, Chapter 9)

Since our choices exist as one cause among the many causes present in the world, they are real, though God has knowledge of all of the causes of the world, without exception, including our choices, so they are foreseen, though not through any properties found in the material world (indeed, QM and thermodynamics are non-deterministic). It seems that there is a hierarchy of foreknowledge and God is at the top of it. Perhaps Augustine would say today that "compatibilism" is the worldview of a weak individual, who feels bound by a causally closed event history (a worldview inconsistent with the known facts of the laws of the universe), while choice is the worldview of a strong individual, who knows that only God has foreknowledge of his/her actions.

-Ryan Vilbig
[email]ryan.vilbig@gmail.com[/email]

[quote="runningdude, post:6, topic:207473"]
We have to remember that God is infinite!

As an engineering student (one who suffered through studying Einstein's special relativity briefly :), these are very similar to my thought on the subject and I'd be very interested in reading more. Can you get me the author name and title of his work?

[/quote]

I can't remember offhand. I will look for it and let you know :)

[quote="Thoughtfulone, post:3, topic:207473"]
God is infinite. Time for Him does not have the meaning it has for us, because God does not live within our timeline. God exists outside of time because He has no beginning and no end. For God, everything essentially happens simultaneously because He is looking at our timeline from without. He can see every point on that timeline simultaneously, every event at once. Because of this, God knows everything that has ever happened and everything that WILL ever happen, but this knowledge of course does not affect our free will, nor does it make our choices any less "ours".

[/quote]

I agree. But, if we leave it there, we have offered a compatibilist argument: that free will is compatible with determinism. To go further, we must understand how God can create me, and not necessitate all my actions (which He foresees). Perhaps this is just a mystery. Or perhaps -- and this is my opinion -- God is capable of limiting His own foresight, within the bounds of providence. But we can't just leave it at compatibilism. Can we?

[quote="fhansen, post:4, topic:207473"]
And does foreknowledge alter anything? Even though God knew that Peter would freely choose to murder Sally, His creation of Peter still didn’t determine Peter’s choice.

[/quote]

But suppose I created an intelligent, sentient bomb. Given certain facts about its creation, I knew that it would explode a city. Aren't I morally responsible?

Then again, I'm not sure this is a problem, because God might have a more privileged view on the large-scale effects of city bombings than I do. Given my limited knowledge, it is wrong for me to kill. But God doesn't have limited knowledge.

(Still, this line of thought isn't exactly comforting...). :o

[quote="rvilbig, post:7, topic:207473"]
Perhaps Augustine would say today that "compatibilism" is the worldview of a weak individual, who feels bound by a causally closed event history (a worldview inconsistent with the known facts of the laws of the universe), while choice is the worldview of a strong individual, who knows that only God has foreknowledge of his/her actions.

[/quote]

I like this, because it reminds me of Kierkegaard. But it does seem to have more than a minor nod to mystery. Which seems to me a good or a bad thing, depending on my mood. :)

[quote="awatkins69, post:5, topic:207473"]
Christians believe in libertarian agency.

[/quote]

Yes, but how? It seems like we offer a compatibilist argument in relation to God's foreknowledge. See the quote by Mill above.

[quote="Prodigal_Son, post:1, topic:207473"]
Personally, I think compatibilism is bunk, and I have very little confidence in our pseudo-compatibilist explanations of divine foreknowledge. But I do believe in God and free will. Should I bite the bullet, and become a compatibilist? (I don't think I can). Or, as I suspect, are many of the arguments about divine foreknowledge missing something?

[/quote]

And your belief is well substantiated. Compatibilism is bunk. It is easy to analyze the problem, and I suggest we do it.

1) First, we know that there are trillions of human (and anaimal) actions every second. (A)
2) Second, we assume that God's knowledge perfectly reflects all those actions. The ways and means of "how" God obtains that knowledge is not known, but God's omniscience is the hypothesis. (B)

Therefore, we have the equivalence of two sets of events. formally we have A == B.

There are exactly four different ways how this is possible, and they are mutually exculsive.

1) The events (A) are the causative factor for God's knowledge (B). Essentially we are free agents, and God has knowledge about our actions, because we act as we do. This brings up all sorts of interesting problems, like how can our "future" acts "influence" God's "past" knowledge, but let's neglect these issues. The usual stipulation is that God is outside time, and it is not sensible to talk about our "future" with respect to God.

2) God's knoweldge (B) is the causative factor for our actions (A). This would contradict our free will, since our decisions are directly caused by God's knowledge. It is possible, but we don't think it is correct. Our assumption that we are free agents may be incorrect, but this concept is too deeply ingrained to seriously contemplate it.

3) God's knowledge(B) and our actions (A) just happen to coincide, while neither of them causes the other. In other words, it is just an incredibly unlikely event that these two sets "happen" to coincide. We could imagine two people, flipping a coin trillions of times (every second) and each coin-toss just "happens" to be the same. Not impossible, but so unlikely that it cannot be taken seriously.

4) Some unknown causative agent causes both our actions (A) and God's knowledge (B). This scenario can be dismissed out of hand. It cosntradicts all our assumptions. It makes us puppets, and it makes God's knowledge contingent upon this agent's causative power.

Now, if left here, most people would select the first scenario. God knows what he does, because we do it. I will stop right here, and ask for your assessment. If and when you reply, I will continue. :)

Sets are only equivalent if their content is identical.

The content of set A is actions.

The content of set B is knowledge.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but... based on everything I've ever been taught, action and knowledge are two different things. The one is an active thing which is done. The other is a passive thing which is possessed. They are not equivalent.

[quote="R_Daneel, post:13, topic:207473"]
There are exactly four different ways how this is possible, and they are mutually exculsive.

1) The events (A) are the causative factor for God's knowledge (B). Essentially we are free agents, and God has knowledge about our actions, because we act as we do. This brings up all sorts of interesting problems, like how can our "future" acts "influence" God's "past" knowledge, but let's neglect these issues. The usual stipulation is that God is outside time, and it is not sensible to talk about our "future" with respect to God.

2) God's knoweldge (B) is the causative factor for our actions (A). This would contradict our free will, since our decisions are directly caused by God's knowledge. It is possible, but we don't think it is correct. Our assumption that we are free agents may be incorrect, but this concept is too deeply ingrained to seriously contemplate it.

3) God's knowledge(B) and our actions (A) just happen to coincide, while neither of them causes the other. In other words, it is just an incredibly unlikely event that these two sets "happen" to coincide. We could imagine two people, flipping a coin trillions of times (every second) and each coin-toss just "happens" to be the same. Not impossible, but so unlikely that it cannot be taken seriously.

4) Some unknown causative agent causes both our actions (A) and God's knowledge (B). This scenario can be dismissed out of hand. It cosntradicts all our assumptions. It makes us puppets, and it makes God's knowledge contingent upon this agent's causative power.

Now, if left here, most people would select the first scenario. God knows what he does, because we do it. I will stop right here, and ask for your assessment. If and when you reply, I will continue. :)

[/quote]

I would also select the first scenario, although -- leaving dogmatic considerations aside -- I see no reason why the fourth scenario should be "dismissed out of hand". What assumptions does this contradict?

To be clear, you set up an equivalence between *actions *and knowledge (of actions). But actions are necessarily determined or indeterminate, and I take it that our set of human and animal actions is determined -- by agents. But human agents ARE "some unknown causative agent", as described in #4. (They are unknown because personal identity is so very elusive to analyze.)

But this amounts to #1, because my claim is that these agents are known fully by God, and I would presume that this is because of the agents' free abilities to, as it were, define themselves. So let's go with #1.

[quote="Prodigal_Son, post:15, topic:207473"]
I would also select the first scenario, although -- leaving dogmatic considerations aside -- I see no reason why the fourth scenario should be "dismissed out of hand". What assumptions does this contradict?

[/quote]

We can keep it, if you want to. I think it is rejected because it assumes some entity that is external to God and external to the universe and still influences (or causes) both.

[quote="Prodigal_Son, post:15, topic:207473"]
To be clear, you set up an equivalence between *actions *and knowledge (of actions). But actions are necessarily determined or indeterminate, and I take it that our set of human and animal actions is determined -- by agents. But human agents ARE "some unknown causative agent", as described in #4. (They are unknown because personal identity is so very elusive to analyze.)

[/quote]

Yes. But our free actions are not external to us.

[quote="Prodigal_Son, post:15, topic:207473"]
But this amounts to #1, because my claim is that these agents are known fully by God, and I would presume that this is because of the agents' free abilities to, as it were, define themselves. So let's go with #1.

[/quote]

Ok, lets go to the second round. Let me ask you about God's simplicity. It is a Catholic dogma that God is simple. God has no parts, God's essence is indivisible. God's essence, God's existence, God's omnimax attributes, God's love, etc... are inseparable. I don't have the passage of the Cathecism at hand, but you probably can find it easier than I could. Is this a correct description of God's simplicity?

[quote="Alindawyl, post:14, topic:207473"]
Sets are only equivalent if their content is identical.

The content of set A is actions.

The content of set B is knowledge.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but... based on everything I've ever been taught, action and knowledge are two different things. The one is an active thing which is done. The other is a passive thing which is possessed. They are not equivalent.

[/quote]

I did not say "identical". Equivalence is a one-to-one correspondance.

[quote="R_Daneel, post:13, topic:207473"]
And your belief is well substantiated. Compatibilism is bunk. It is easy to analyze the problem, and I suggest we do it.

1) First, we know that there are trillions of human (and anaimal) actions every second. (A)
2) Second, we assume that God's knowledge perfectly reflects all those actions. The ways and means of "how" God obtains that knowledge is not known, but God's omniscience is the hypothesis. (B)

Therefore, we have the equivalence of two sets of events. formally we have A == B.

There are exactly four different ways how this is possible, and they are mutually exculsive.

1) The events (A) are the causative factor for God's knowledge (B). Essentially we are free agents, and God has knowledge about our actions, because we act as we do. This brings up all sorts of interesting problems, like how can our "future" acts "influence" God's "past" knowledge, but let's neglect these issues. The usual stipulation is that God is outside time, and it is not sensible to talk about our "future" with respect to God.

2) God's knoweldge (B) is the causative factor for our actions (A). This would contradict our free will, since our decisions are directly caused by God's knowledge. It is possible, but we don't think it is correct. Our assumption that we are free agents may be incorrect, but this concept is too deeply ingrained to seriously contemplate it.

3) God's knowledge(B) and our actions (A) just happen to coincide, while neither of them causes the other. In other words, it is just an incredibly unlikely event that these two sets "happen" to coincide. We could imagine two people, flipping a coin trillions of times (every second) and each coin-toss just "happens" to be the same. Not impossible, but so unlikely that it cannot be taken seriously.

4) Some unknown causative agent causes both our actions (A) and God's knowledge (B). This scenario can be dismissed out of hand. It cosntradicts all our assumptions. It makes us puppets, and it makes God's knowledge contingent upon this agent's causative power.

Now, if left here, most people would select the first scenario. God knows what he does, because we do it. I will stop right here, and ask for your assessment. If and when you reply, I will continue. :)

[/quote]

RDaneel:

I would choose position # 1 with an important codicil. God's existence is a timeless infinity, or, perhaps more precisely, an infinite timelessness. What each of us do, during our lives, occurs in the smallest of all possible instants, a God-Now, for God. Like God's, our Now is not a part of Time, yet we can only "see" our actions in this flow, we call Time, and have a mere sensation of the Now in this progression. By Necessity God cannot slow down our activities, nor can He slow down His perception of them. He views our lives, including our choices, in one exceedingly small and instantaneous flash, where beginning and end are essentially simultaneous, pure sequence.

It is impossible for us to escape the sequence of Time, including the moral affinities of each of our actions. Essentially, we have the Time to make choices. God sees the beginning and end of a choice-sequence virtually simultaneously and in that reference, each of us has Free Will, the freedom to affect an outcome one way or another. For us, this is the best that can be done. But, He knows that if we Love and Obey Him, we will make the better choices during those minute instants. His knowledge of our actions is not some history channel replay. It is Now in flow.

This concept is extremely difficult to describe in merely human words, especially for me! But, if one steps back, for a moment, and views the bigger picture of a single action one can almost picture that minute occurrence. It can clearly be seen that a man is NOT coerced by God. It can clearly be understood that a man has options. God is almost a bystander, except that He gave us a set of commands earlier in our Time.

I did not write these paragraphs to be a proof. But, if I had, at best they would be a sort of poor factual demonstration requiring some presuppositions. As you all know, a factual demonstration, demonstratio quia, is a demonstrative syllogism that works backward from our experience to our conclusion. As such, it does not express a per se cause. It merely expresses why we know a thing. Besides, we have God's Word.

Please forgive my poor compilation of these ideas.

God bless,
jd

[quote="R_Daneel, post:17, topic:207473"]
I did not say "identical". Equivalence is a one-to-one correspondance.

[/quote]

I never said you did. I was merely using the definition of logical equivalence, which requires that the two "things" in question have identical content. But if you want to use the purely mathematical definition of equivalence instead, that's fine.

Mathematical equivalence is two sets with a one-to-one correspondence. One-to-one means two things: each member of A must be paired with one and only one member of B, and no members of either set must be left unpaired with a member of the other set.

You have listed set A as the actions of creatures and set B as omniscience. Omniscience means perfect knowledge, knowledge of all things, the capacity for infinite knowledge.... however you want to describe it, it means more than just knowing what actions will be chosen. Set B will have additional "members" left over after you pair up all the actions in set A with God's knowledge of them in set B. Otherwise set B isn't really omniscience but a lesser knowledge.

Since the Catholic Church teaches that God is omniscient, we are no longer talking about God as defined by Catholicism but God as defined by someone else if we attribute anything less than omniscience to God.

I cannot choose between the four options which you have presented because your argument, while valid, is not sound. It's based on a premise of equivalency between two things which are not equivalent.

[quote="R_Daneel, post:16, topic:207473"]
Yes. But our free actions are not external to us.

[/quote]

Aren't they? They are *our *actions; that I will agree to, of course. But just so, this keyboard is my keyboard, and it is certainly external to me.

If you say, with Locke, and say that "we just are" our memories and our psychological bearings, then our actions would be an essential part of us. This is why I implied that the concept of (sentient) agency can only be understood when you step away from traditional, flawed ideas of personal identity. Locke was wrong about identity, and analytic philosophy knows this, but they haven't provided any better answers. The idea of agency is a better answer.

Ok, lets go to the second round. Let me ask you about God's simplicity. It is a Catholic dogma that God is simple. God has no parts, God's essence is indivisible. God's essence, God's existence, God's omnimax attributes, God's love, etc... are inseparable. I don't have the passage of the Cathecism at hand, but you probably can find it easier than I could. Is this a correct description of God's simplicity?

Side note: It was kind of neat. I don't really understand the teaching about God's simplicity, so I googled it, of course. What do you know? The sixth search result was this very thread! Looks like I've worked myself into a "strange loop" here, in Hofstadterian terms. :eek:

At any rate, I can't make heads or tails of the simplicity claim, at the moment. Except to say this: that God is indivisible, and that God is immaterial. I don't see how this makes all the qualities of God inseparable, however. For example, consider:

  1. God is good.
  2. The qualities of God are inseparable.
  3. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is good.
  4. Therefore, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is omnipotent.

But this is clearly false. Thus, at least one of the qualities of God -- goodness -- is separable. So I'm not sure where you're going with this, but we're going to have to find a definition of simplicity we can agree on first. I certainly won't agree that the qualities of God are inseparable, for madness lies that way. ;)

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