Does God Have Free-Will?

Questioning a Holy Man

When I was a child I once asked my grandfather why God chose to drown the whole world and kill everyone except this Noah character. His answer was that people were wicked and sinful. But when I continued, stating that the question was not about what people had done but rather why God chose to use such a cruel method to punish the people, he was at a bit of a loss. The old fallback is always, “God works in mysterious ways”, and that’s pretty much where that conversation ended. After all, I was just a kid and my grandfather has been a minister nearly his entire life, so surely he had a greater insight than me on the matter. But as it turns out, there was no insight to be gained there because he has always simply accepted the idea that he can’t understand everything God does, and even if God does something that seems horrible God is still always righteous in his actions because God is perfect.

As an adult I’ve explored this idea in much greater depth and I’ve come to some conclusions. First off, I’ve come to the conclusion that saying one can’t know the mind of God is absolute rubbish. My reasoning for this is simple – if God behaves like a human and thinks like a human and has emotions like a human, it is reasonable to judge God in the same way we would judge any human. If you’re going to tell me I can’t judge God by human standards, then you’re going to have to offer a God that doesn’t act like a human. When you say God is jealous and prideful and vengeful, you’ve described nothing more than the most ignoble of human traits – and quite frankly I think we all understand those far too well and can judge those traits accordingly. Most importantly however, I’ve come to the conclusion that anyone who has the ability to make a choice has the ability to make the wrong choice.

“Thank you for flying city airlines. We know you have a choice in airlines, and you chose the wrong one.”*

At the heart of the matter is this idea that God, as described in the Abrahamic religions, is a very humanistic character who exhibits very human characteristics and traits. One of those traits is that God has the same freedom of will that human beings supposedly have, and in point of fact this is such an important part of Christian dogma that it is the entire basis for why Christians believe humans are superior to all other animals on the planet. This gift of “free-will” is something that we are said to share only with God and it is a gift that is meant to set us apart.** But in reality the idea of free-will simply means the ability to make choices based on your own thoughts, and it would be absolutely asinine to assert that God can’t make choices based on his own thoughts if you also assert that God is omnipotent and omniscient.

So here we have this character in the form of God who clearly has the ability to make choices and even more amazingly has all the power of the universe to do anything that He wants – and what God chooses to do with this unfathomable power is to drown stupid humans, murder babies, and be an all-around asshole to people in general. All the power of the universe, and he decides he wants to act like a kid with a magnifying glass burning ants because one bit him. Sounds legit to me! Where do I sign up to worship that dude?!

The truth here is that the vast majority of Christians try to avoid the God of the Old Testament like the plague. They know that there really aren’t any excuses for the actions of that God, and the New Testament offers a version of God given by Jesus that says “God is love”, and Jesus runs around supposedly doing miracles in God’s name – so that is the God that most Christians think of as “their God”. But we all know what this is; it’s a little thing called “cherry-picking” and it’s a hallmark of the religious world. In point of fact, if most people didn’t cherry-pick their religious doctrines they’d likely all be put in prison or the whole planet destroyed by now.

Incompatible Assertions

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So this is the point where some theist is snickering and saying to themselves, “Look how foolish this guy is. Doesn’t he know God is omniscient and so doesn’t have free-will and can’t make mistakes?” – And this is where I show that theist to be a fool themselves.

The crux of this problem is that free-will and omniscience are mutually exclusive ideas, meaning that it is impossible to have both at the same time. I can’t possibly know the exact outcome of every single action ever taken and still make independent choices because I already know everything that’s going to happen. This is what the theist says about God… but wait a minute… if that’s the case, then how can humans have free-will? You see when you say that God is omniscient, you’re stating a position in favor of determinism in which mankind has no choice whatsoever and therefore all people are predestined to go to heaven or hell. You can debate it all you want, but if God knows exactly what’s going to happen in the past, present and future then we have no choices at all – and in point of fact, neither does God, which would almost imply that God himself is subject to a greater will than his own which precludes him from making choices. Oh the paradoxes which arise!

But what if God doesn’t know exactly what’s going to happen? You see, omniscience can also imply that one knows all potential outcomes which does not preclude free-will at all. This is something that many fictional writers and comic book writers have dealt with often. In many of those stories we have precognitive and telepathic individuals who can see the future, but what they see is not set in stone but rather a myriad of possible choices and outcomes. They know everything that can happen, but each choice creates even more potential outcomes. If you want to see this played out, I suggest watching the movie The Butterfly Effect or Donnie Darko to see this idea in action in a fictional sense. If this is more in line with what the bible means in talking about God being omniscient, then God still has free-will and is still accountable for his choices. If we are going to say that God’s omniscience is that which precludes his own free-will, then we must admit that it precludes our free-will as well and that some people were simply made by God specifically for the purpose of going to hell and being tormented for eternity and there was nothing they could have ever done to stop it.

What Are You Willing To Accept?

In the recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, Mr. Ham said that he couldn’t prove anything that he asserted and that in the end it comes down to what you’re willing to accept. I couldn’t agree more, and I think it applies to the whole gambit of religion, philosophy, and even science. The fact is, I’m unwilling to accept that a God with unlimited power is incapable of making choices. That very idea sounds like the most idiotic tripe I’ve ever heard. I don’t believe that God exists because I’ve never seen any sign of a raging cosmic psychopath terrorizing humanity. I have however seen a hell of a lot of raging psychopathic humans who think the idea of a God that’s just as sick and depraved as they are is “the bee’s knees” – and quite frankly, that doesn’t speak well for the human race.

So what are you willing to accept?

*this line is from an episode of Southpark
**this is theologically debatable because many theologians also state that angels have free-will as well as humans, hence the fall of Lucifer

Photo Credits: Krzysztof Poltorak

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