Can God be philosophically compatible with free will?

No, that’s not at all what we would say!

I think I would put it this way: God’s act of creation is perfect, with respect to His will. Could He have done otherwise? Sure; but, it would have been out of sync with His will, and therefore, He would not do otherwise.

This does not imply a lack of “freedom” or a lack of “choice”; rather, it merely identifies that God’s will operates perfectly.

Does that help?

This makes no sense whatsoever.

“Freely asserted, freely denied”, I guess. What precisely about it are you having a hard time understanding?

God’s will is perfect.
God’s act is perfect.
Therefore, although other alternatives are possible, they would be inferior. Therefore, God did not choose them.

Not that hard to understand, it seems to me. But, I’ll wait to hear what is making you scratch your head. (Unless, of course, it’s just the generalized “I don’t believe in God”.)

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With all due respect @Gorgias, what you just said cannot be compatible with the fact that God is immutable, it seems to me. For if he could’ve acted differently and we agree it would be out of sinc with his will then what we are therefore saying is that he could have acted out of sinc with his will (other wise known as having a difference in will, would you agree? The same way that if you acted out of sinc with a training regiment, you are acting different from what is in sinc). But the problem is, my good sir, that it does not seem to me, on the basis of conclusion 1 (God is immutable), that he could ever have a possible change, thus he can’t be out of sinc with his will ever. If he can be, you need to explain in it to me philosophically.

Side note, (oncemore) I’d like to clarify that I do in fact believe God has free will, otherwise he couldn’t have created (for if we were to say he had to create then it would contradict the definition of noncontingent being; one who is fully self sufficient).

It’s possible, but not logically consistent with God’s nature. Therefore, it would never happen. (Now we’re playing around with nuances of what “possible” means, no?)

He will not. Yet, that only means that the possibility will never actualize, not that the possibility never existed.

(A similar question is asked with respect to Jesus: “was Jesus really tempted by the devil?” If by ‘tempted’, you mean “was an option present?”, then the answer is ‘yes’. If, however, you mean, “might Jesus have fallen into choosing the inferior option?”, then the answer is ‘no.’ It seems that this is the discussion you’re presenting here, but with respect to God and His will.)

Here then, allow me to clarify my terms; for something to be possible, it can happen, and for something to be impossible, it can’t happen. That be so, if God cannot change due to his immutability, it is impossible for him to make a meaningful choice (for is it really a meaningful choice if you were made to walk down one of two presented doors and one of them ended up glued shut and beyond possible entrance and, as a result, you are left with only one possibly valid option to “choose”?). That be so, it cannot be that he had much of a choice as to whether to create or not to create, or to create our world, or another alternative world.

Something that I’d like to point out is that you seem to make the claim that God could choose to not create the world, but its, at the same time, something that could never actually happen. But does that not seem like a contradiction to you? For, if I were to say I could walk on my legs, but also say I could not walk on my legs that would obviously result in nothing short of nonsense, wouldn’t you agree?

OK. Not sure I agree, though. You’d need to be a bit more precise about “can” or “can’t” happen. Are we talking metaphysically? Epistemically? According to nature?

Based on this observation, I think we differ on the definition of “free will”, as well. I tend to have a foot in the camp that distinguishes between “free will” and “free act”, and asserts that freedom of will / choice is not impinged by a lack of freedom of action.

I think there’s a further problem here, in the way you frame this up: God exists in eternity, not in a temporal framework. Therefore, it is absurd to talk about actions in a temporal way (with a “before” and an “after”).

So, I think that your assertions here fail to hold, if merely because you’re framing them up in invalid ways. :man_shrugging:


Nope, since that’s a different sort of statement. Moreover, you haven’t preserved the “could-won’t” construct. More analogously, we might say “quaestio45 could pull out a weapon and gun down a group of innocents, but he will not.”

So, if it is a more specific definition of “can” or “can’t” that you look for, I would say “can” means something along the lines of “the probability of something occurring is more than absolute zero” whilst can’t is “the probability of something occurring is exactly zero”; were you asking how I apply the words “can” and “can’t”, then I honestly wouldn’t know. I always came in with the idea that its usage needed not change depending on the philosophical inquiry you are engaged in (which I could, obviously, be wrong about). Inspite of that, perhaps I’d say metaphysical, though the consequences of saying that are uncertain to me.

I do indeed agree that there is a difference in definition on this front (along with immutability). The usual response I have to a different definition of free will would always be “well can your definition of free will allow for God to choose to create or not create?” For, it seems to me that once someone allows for a different definition of free will then my own, they use it to justify claims like “God chose to create” when the definition they chose still doesn’t allow for it. I’m more than happy to redefine what I believe to be free will; but if its then used equivocally, to push that God could choose, that’s when I object.

I’ve actually heard this objection quite a few times before and, to be frank, it always confused me. I do believe that the keys to God’s free will lie somewhere in this line of thought, but perhaps it hasn’t been thoroughly enough explained to me for me to understand.

The reason I chose my analogy was because you push, it seems to me, the idea that something both could happen but can’t happen (that God could choose not to create but can’t, instead of won’t), which seems like a contradictive claim in the same sense that saying you can jump but also that you can’t jump is a contridictive claim.

Hmm. Not sure that entirely helps. After all, “I can dance the can-can at Cannes”… but the probability of that happening is pretty much zero. I mean… it’s within the scope of my willing it to happen… and, I have the ability to actualize that willed event… and I could even say that in the context of all the things “in all possible worlds”, it could happen…! And yet, it’s horribly unlikely. As in… not gonna happen.

So… are you really just talking about the likelihood of an event occurring? I’m not sure that this is a rigorous enough way of asking whether something “can” happen. In particular, it seems insufficient in a discussion of the freedom of the will.

Nevertheless, if you’re asking whether there’s a non-zero probability of God creating a different universe rather than ours, I would say that this is pretty much a 0% possibility. Nevertheless, it doesn’t get to the heart of your “can” question. (After all, I could say that there’s a 0% chance that I will be dancing in France any time soon, but I think we’d all agree that I have the ability to make a free choice to do so, no?)

So… perhaps a different way of asking the question might be in order?

Philosophy is an exacting mistress. She requires precise definitions, and asks for insightful distinctions… because without these, it’s impossible to answer particular, focused questions.

So… maybe we should try again? Is there another way of thinking about what you mean by “can” in the context of “free-will choices”?

Well, again… I would draw a distinction between the way you’re framing things up (“could, but can’t” and “can, but can’t”) and the way I framed them up (“can, but won’t”). Your constructs seem problematic. Mine fits situations which occur daily in our lives! So… “contradictive”? Hardly, I’d say!

Beings in time come to know discursively. As time progresses so does the temporal being’s knowledge of things progress. At any moment in time the temporal being’s imperfect knowledge informs the will and he freely chooses accordingly. At another moment in time, the temporal being’s imperfect knowledge differs from its former state and informs the will differently and he freely chooses differently. But if he chooses differently, it is only because he knows differently.

An omniscient being knows all things at once. The state of an omniscient being’s knowledge does not change. An eternal being freely wills all things at once eternally. Because the omniscient being never knows things differently, he never wills things differently. Because he never wills things differently does not mean he does not will freely, only that he wills omnisciently, with perfect knowledge.

Hmm… okay, so let me see if, before I make any remarks, I have everything understood thus far. @Gorgias, your point of criticism lies in two things: the manner by which I use the words possible and impossible, and the manner by which I conclude that God cannot act diffrently, correct? Because the proper way to address it, I believe you’d affirm, is by saying God could act diffrent but won’t act differently, yes?

I ask in response to this the following: does this notion of free will allow God to choose not to create or create differently?

I’m not so much criticizing you, per se, as asking to understand what you mean by what you’re attempting to say. With a bit greater precision and clarity, I think we can come to a mutual understanding!

I’m going to quibble a little (sorry). “Won’t” implies tense, wouldn’t you say? It implies future action. (I’m a bit culpable here, too, since I keep saying “will not”.). Nevertheless, just so that we don’t get off-track: there’s no tensed-ness to our discussion, since God doesn’t act within time. He didn’t create the universe “in the past”, nor will He act (differently or otherwise) “in the future”. God’s will and act is eternal. It’s a single, eternal act, without beginning or end.

With that in mind… yes: I’m trying to say that God is not constrained but nevertheless His freedom does not imply a change in course.

(I’m reminded of Paul Newman’s response when asked about Hollywood husbands cheating on their wives: “why would I go out for a burger when I’ve got steak at home?” – that is, God acts perfectly in accord with His will; the “choice” to act less perfectly to His will exists, so to speak… but why would He choose imperfection when He already wills perfection?)

I certainly hope so @Gorgias; these problems have been bugging me for some time now, and nothing seems better than clarity and understanding, for, believe it or not, I actually really do want to be wrong in my claim.

That being said, let me see if I can somehow find that greater precision and clarity you look for from me before I ask you my own question. When I use the word “impossible” in relation to God, I mean it to say something along the lines of “God can never (not now, not tomorrow, and not in or out of eternity) make something to which we would understand as a choice”. This is in contrast to when I use possible in relation to God, which would be something like “God can make something we understand as a choice”. I assume that’s perhaps not the most adequate explanation you may be looking for, but I hope its one that can allow you to at least track my understanding and usage of the terms.

I’m very much sorry if I wrongly apply tenses in my words subconsciously. It’s a rather difficult thing to remember to stick to, but I very much do understand the why of it and its importance.

This brings me to my question to which I now believe might be the biggest sticking point in this discussion, namely, what exactly you mean by the word “choice”. For, if I were to try to define it as best I can in the way I have been using it, I’d say its the ability to freely (and by that I mean, without complete constraint) commit to one path of action as opposed to another, perhaps even equally valid, alternative; what do you think?

What does it mean to say and act is perfect? Creation, for example, doesn’t appear to be “perfect”.

A temporal example may be helpful. An infant, knowing no better, steals without the pain of guilt. Attaining the age of reason, the adolescent sees the evil in stealing and steals no more. Has this person lost his free will? No, he has gained knowledge of right and wrong. He can steal but he wills not to steal.

As @Gorgias has indicated, if you review your posts and change “cannot” to “wills not” the same clarification holds.

I very much agree with you personally @o_mlly that God wills not to do something and therefore does not do it; however, philosophically, there may be a problem with that small change in language. I suppose I’d ask this next question: does replacing the words “can not” with “wills not” imply that there is a valid possibility for God to choose not to create? which is only eliminated due to his own dedication, perhaps? Or, in other words, is it possible for God to change? For, it seems to me that to make a will based choice and to have the possibility of choosing differently therefore means that he could’ve willed differently; for example, he could’ve willed to create and could’ve willed not to create. But once you introduce the words "could’ve’ in relation to God, theres the seeming implication that he is changeable, which is contradictory of God’s immutability. How would you reconcile with this seeming conundrum?

Freedom may be thought of in three different categories: innate or natural freedom, circumstantial freedom and moral freedom.

Innate or natural freedom is the capability of self-determination. A freedom that in kind we share with God (made in His image).

Circumstantial freedom refers to self-realization. That is, we are circumstantially free when we have the power to do as we will. A person in jail, for instance, is still innately free but not circumstantially free. Our circumstances differ in time and to the circumstances of others. God, being omnipotent, is not constrained in doing as He wills. His circumstantial freedom is eternal and eternally unconstrained.

Moral freedom is the freedom to do as we ought. In mankind, this freedom is an acquired freedom. Moral freedom is the freedom from being slaves to our passions, from acting on our disordered passions. In God, who is Goodness itself, moral freedom is essential to His being. God is eternally and perfectly morally free.

God’s freedom is not constrained (externally). God’s constrains Himself because He is Goodness itself. When we constrain ourselves after acquiring moral freedom we do not lose our innate freedom. Neither does God. God wills freely, perfectly and eternally.

It seems as if you answer yes, correct? For you say:

Unless, of course, you are saying that God is constrained by Himself without something we would consider participation on his part. In anycase, the question still seems to stand; do you believe it is possible for God to choose, in whatever mannet our finite minds may understand? If the answer is yes, than could you perhaps explain how such would be compatible, or at least not in direct conflict, with His immutability @o_mlly?

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