We Have Free Will, Yet The Future Is Set
Today, Christopher Yeater asked me to critique his paper on the omniscience/free will paradox caused by the atemporality of God.
That’s wordy, but it just means that the theory that God’s outside of time causes contradictions. If you’re unfamiliar with the argument, here’s the outline:
- God knows everything that has happened and ever will happen, because he’s outside of time.
- If he knows what will happen, it has in a sense already been determined.
- If it’s already determined, we can’t choose anything else. Therefore, we have no free will.
For instance, you could go to the ice cream shop right now and purchase strawberry ice cream. You think your ice cream flavor is your choice; but God knew you were going to get strawberry all along. His knowledge is ironclad, so you could have chosen nothing else.
I’ve held that both these statements are true, at once:
- That what will happen will happen (we have no free will)
- But we are also the agents of our fate (we have free will).
I’ve rightly been asked how I can believe two contradictory statements, and the only answer I could give is “I know this from experience.”
My experiences with anxiety and panic taught me that trying to control things is for naught, and what will happen will happen — and my experience working hard and achieving my goals taught me that we can affect change in the world.
Until now, I’ve lacked words to back up my view. Today, working on this philosophical essay, I’ve finally put words to how two contradictory things can be true at the same time.
With the atemporality argument (the argument that God is outside of time), people make the assumption that time is still a line, but that God can see the whole line at once. Under this theory all of time is a TV show and God can scrub to whatever moment in it he likes.
But recent discoveries in science are overturning this understanding. Particles can be in two places or once, or pop from place to place in ways they shouldn’t be able to, or be two things at once. In fact, there’s really no reason to think of time as a line.
And if you stop for a moment, that makes more sense. The only moment we ever really experience is now — we never experience the past, or the future. They’re just abstractions in our mind, impressions and memories locked in the configuration of neurons. The only time that is real is the time right now.
We already know that time is not a line — it’s a continuum that is one with space; the space-time continuum. Time slows down near gravitational sources and speeds up near them. It is more accurate to say that time is a dimension that exists all at once, like space, and that we experience it in a limited way. People more eloquent than me have said “Time is the dimension of change.”
This has a big implication on the nature of choices. All of time exists as one, so all choices are being made as one. We’re moving through time one event at a time and so to us it seems as if it’s not the same time, but the reality of it is that all these things are happening, have happened.
We can’t say all of time is ‘happening now,’ per se, because that is a statement of when in time something is. When speaking of time, we cannot say more than that it exists as one.
God, however, does not experience anything in a limited way. His perception is complete; all that can be perceived, he perceives. So God perceives the whole of time as it is; complete and formed.
A brief note on divine intervention: God is still able to divinely intervene. If we understand time as a line, God has to enter this line to mess with the line and then again exit the line, which raises a lot of contradictions. But time is not a line, it is a whole object, and modifying it for God is much like a Sculpter modifying his art; the sum of the object has changed all at once. In this way, for us, the thing which existed before his intervention does not exist anymore — indeed, for humans, the thing it was before his intervention has never existed. We necessarily can only experience it’s final form.
This has a lot of theological implications. We often think of God as having ‘created’ and now he’s waiting for it to ‘end,’ but the reality of the situation is that he can create and do away with this abstraction as he pleases. We can’t say “this is but a moment to him” because his existence is unchanging and timeless. We can’t even say “he has already created and done away with it” because that still is a linear understanding of time.
It’s hard to think about precisely because of our limited viewpoint. This is the sort of thing we can’t study directly; like black holes, we have to study it by examining the impression it leaves, piecing together circumstantial evidence into a picture we can only express in mathematics.
For those who are interested, I’ll briefly address whether or not the Bible corroborates this view. This understanding of time isn’t refuted nor confirmed in the Bible; Revelations speaks extensively about the life after this life, and describes a lot about it, but doesn’t pin down whether or not there will be time. In the life after this one, we are continuously worshiping; this implies an unchanging state, which means there is no time. However, it’s also implied that we have food and drink, and change is necessary to enjoy and process food. With how vague and metaphorical the Bible can be sometimes, whether or not the Bible supports this understanding is up to your interpretation.
If anyone has feedback or thoughts about this, leave them in a comment. Medium is a place to share ideas, and I’d love to hear yours.
Megan is currently 20 year old woman who likes to pretend she’s deep. You can follow her at @MeganEHolstein and find her at www.meganeholstein.com