User:Philip J. Rayment/God seeing the future
One of the arguments sometimes put forward by atheists and the like is that if God knows the future, the future must be fixed and we therefore have no free will. This argument is not an obvious one, and although superficially it seems to make sense, a closer look shows that it doesn't make sense after all.
The critics seem to argue that free will is denied not by the existence of the future, but by knowing the future. In one sense, however, the future is always known—at the very least, the future is known in the future.
In looking at this, let's consider the following scenarios. In each of these scenarios, the following is the case:
- Tomorrow I make a decision.
- "The future" is next week.
The scenarios are:
- A friend in the future (i.e. in a week's time) learns of my decision that I made tomorrow (which is in his past). Does the fact that my friend learnt of my decision after I made it mean that I didn't freely make it? No, it doesn't.
- My friend in the future knows the decision I made tomorrow, then travels back in time to today. He doesn't see me or speak to me, however, until the day after tomorrow. Does the fact that my friend today (having travelled back in time) learnt of my decision after I made it mean that I didn't freely make it? If the critic wants to make this case, he has to show how my friend's knowledge had any effect on me making my decision. There is no apparent reason.
- My friend today travels into the future, learns of my decision after I made it, then returns to today. Again, does the fact that my friend today (having travelled forward then back in time) learnt of my decision after I made it mean that I didn't freely make it? Again, if the critic want's to make this case, he has to show how my friend's knowledge had any effect on me making my decision. There is still no apparent reason.
- My friend in the future learns of my decision, travels back to today, and tells me of my decision. Or, perhaps, unhappy with my decision, tries to influence me to make a different decision. Can I now choose to make a different decision? Or, can it now be said that my friend's intervention influences my decision, and it is therefore not freely made?
This last case does raise a version of the time-travel conundrum, but it's far from clear that this equates to the critic's scenario. Rather, the critic seems to be implying merely that God knowing "the future" means that the future is "locked in", and free will therefore cannot exist.
A likely problem is that the critic assumes God knows "the future" simply by having enough knowledge of the way things work in order to be able to predict it by extrapolating from present events. However, this is not how God knows "the future". Rather, God knows our future because He is present there "now". Time is one of the things that God created, because time doesn't exist for God. God is outside of time; He is timeless, or eternal. God knows what we "will" decide because, being outside of time, He already knows what we did decide, after we decided it. As such, His knowledge of what we decided is similar to scenario 2 above, where my friend travelled back from the future, having learned of my decision after I made it (although with God, He doesn't travel in time—He exists in all time periods simultaneously). There is no evidence that God knowing what I decided (past tense) in any way affects how I will (future tense) make my decision.