William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Does God's Certainty About Our Choices Deprive Us Of Agency? Yes.

The rhetorical comment was made:

"How does knowing the outcome of an event change how you desire the event to happen?
When you watch Romeo and Juliet you know that they are both going to kill themselves by the end of the play. Does this mean that you don't want Romeo to meet Juliet? Or that you can't desire that Juliet wake up before Romeo drinks the poison, even knowing that she won't?"

To which I responded:

You are suggesting, by this analogy, that God sits by desiring that we will make one choice but knowing that we will make another, bad choice. I think there is at least one point of Mormon theology which I believe is irreconcilably inconsistent with that (at least when taken in conjunction with the idea that some people will not ultimately attain salvation), namely this:

If God knows that someone will make their bad choices, and wind up in hell or some similar eternally unhappy predicament as a result, why engage in the futile exercise of calling them to repent or to command them to live righteously? I for one cannot accept that God engages in any acts which are certain to be futile, and I believe that he would only tell us to repent if there were some possibility that we would heed the call. But if he KNOWS that no matter what he does, we will make our bad choice anyway, then he may as well send us to where we will ultimately end up and dispense with torturing us with the prospect that we have the potential to attain salvation. In my younger years, I took a certain amount of unhealthy pleasure in surrounding an ant with a ring of honey. From above, I would watch the ant, probing the honey ring at random trying to find a way out. No matter how many times he would turn back from the wall, determining that the selected route was impassible, he would continue trying, indefinitely. From the ant's perspective, it was not a foregone conclusion that he was stuck in that circle. He would keep trying and trying, believing there must be some way to get out. I, of course, knew secretly that there was no way, and that the ant would try thousands and thousands of times to get out, and would eventually die. Now, if there is no possibility that the ant will escape, isn't it cruel for me to simply sit by and watch it be tormented by the illusion that he might actually escape if he tries enough places in the honey wall? Certainly.

If God knows for certain from the outset that we will not attain salvation, then his choice to place us on Earth is like him putting us ants in that circle surrounded by honey. If our future is a foregone conclusion of eternal misery, then there is no purpose for the present existence.

I have been around and around with people on these arguments, people who believe in the absolute omniscience of God. I think they need to reconsider whether it is actually even necessary that God be omniscient. Isn't it OK if there are some things, including certain future events, that he doesn't know in advance?

It may feel to us like we are exercising our agency, but in reality if God knows for sure what we'll choose, then our perceived choice was predetermined from the outset by forces and mechanisms which we are simply unable to perceive.

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