Direct continuation of: TheraminTrees’s Atheism, Part 1: Incompatibility
Recently, I’ve taken a strong liking to a series of YouTube videos by user TheraminTrees called “There are no gods”, that set out to explain what TheraminTrees used to believe about gods, and why he is an atheist now — including which gods he rejects, why, and with how much certainty. Thus I’ve decided to write a blog series of my own detailing his arguments in text, analyzing them, and pointing out where they can be made even stronger. The end result is a comprehensive and cumulative case for atheism.
Currently, I’m still analyzing the second video in his series, which is about the types of gods he can definitively reject because they are logically impossible. He does this by incompatibility arguments, which demonstrate that certain god concepts have logically contradictory properties — just like we can’t have a “square circle”, we can’t have an omnibenevolent god that allows the existence of Hell or an omnipotent god that is incapable of sin.
In this essay, I explore more of TheraminTrees’s incompatibility arguments, looking at some involving omniscience. I also look more deeply into arguments surrounding free will, even developing one of my own.
Omniscience vs. (Libertarian) Free Will
While this Omnipotence Paradox does well when patched up, TheraminTrees is just getting started. He turns his next sites to omniscience, suggesting that it’s incompatible with Free Will.
But what is Free Will? Those who believe in God like to make a stink about specifically libertarian Free Will. This isn’t anything to do with Ron Paul or Ayn Rand, but rather free will that is free in the completely uncaused, contra-causal sense. On this concept of Free Will, people make their own choices as a product of their selves, could have always chosen otherwise, and cannot be predicted. Yet, God is said to predict the future — even to the ability to make biblical prophecies.
Divine Free Will
TheraminTrees takes this in the direction of saying that God has no Free Will, because God automatically knows what it will do, and cannot be wrong about this. Yet, I’m not so sure what’s so incompatible about God knowing his own actions. It seems like God can still choose otherwise, and just know this ahead of time. It’s not like God is forced to only do certain things, he just has always predestined himself to follow certain plans.
Human Free Will
So this doesn’t work for me, but TheraminTrees also takes this to a better direction: that of human Free Will. How can we humans make free choices if God knows what it is we’re going to do? It seems like God would have to know all the choices we make before we actually make them in order to issue biblical prophecies that depend on people to bring about certain events.
Additionally, TheraminTrees provides passages showing that God knows what we do, such as Psalm 139:4 (“Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.”), Psalm 139:16 (“all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”), Isiah 46:10 (“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.”) and Isaiah 48:3 (“I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass”), and Psalm 44:21 (“would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?”).
The Real Contradiction
So I put Libertarian in parentheticals because it’s not the only concept of free will. As I argue in “Free Will That Makes Sense”, I find this concept of Libertarian Free Will completely silly, and am instead a compatibilist — I think the universe is fully determined and people can’t metaphysically choose otherwise, yet we still have free will and complete freedom of choice. Counter-intuitive yes, but I think it’s really the only position that actually works when everything is laid out.
I need not argue for compatibilism here. I just point it out as somewhere theism could retreat, if it wasn’t so bound to Libertarian Free Will already. Thus I think one of these things needs to go: (1) omniscience, (2) human free will, or (3) the idea that free will must be contra-causal. Something like Molinism seems to genuinely ditch (3).
And this is where we reach the real contradiction: ditching (3) seems to have drastic implications for our concept of God. Instead of having a God that can do anything, we have a God that is fully limited by the laws of cause and effect. And this seems bizarre, because God doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would be limited by cause and effect, especially with omnipotence. God is incompatible with the actual nature of free will, which is compatibilism.
Omniscience vs. God’s Surprise
TheraminTrees opens this argument by arguing that if God already knows everything, what’s the point of working to rediscover it? And why does God react the way he does if he knows how things will unfold? Why does he get mad at Satan for rebelling, if he created Satan specifically knowing he would rebel? Why did he create Adam, Eve, and that Tree of Knowledge, knowing it would unfold as it did, and then react angry about it? Why did God create a humanity he knew he would eventually have to drown in a Flood, and then react angry about it?
These questions are interesting, but don’t really get immediately to the main point: God seems to be reacting with genuine surprise, which requires lack of knowledge, to events that he has full knowledge of. For example, stories like the testing of Abraham involve not knowing the outcome of the test ahead of time — and this is confirmed by the Bible, which says in Genesis 22:12: “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” — as if, before the test, God did not know that he was God-fearing.
The same is true for Job where God ends up needing to have Job tested directly (Job 1: 9-12) rather than simply divine the answer. Thus we have omniscience requiring knowledge of the future and the need for testing requiring lack of knowledge of the future, and thus set up a contradiction.
Furthermore, Exodus 32:14 and Jonah 3:10 both have God relenting a once-promised disaster, and lastly Genesis 20-33 seems to have God negociating with Abraham. All of this adds up to divine surprise, emotion, and reassessment that is incompatibile with omniscience.
This contradiction isn’t unescapable — one could postulate that the Biblical God simply pretends to be surprised, simply tests despite knowing the answer, simply negotiates despite knowing the final result ahead of time, and creates humans knowing they will fail ahead of time. This is certainly odd, but not logically impossible.
(On the oddness, there’s much more to be said, but I think the rest is adequately covered in my essay “The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time”, and Adam Lee’s essays “An Almighty Screwup”, “That Fateful Apple”, “Sins of the Father”, “Divine Blackmail”, and “Rats in a Maze”.)
Next, TheraminTrees talks a bit about the Problem of Evil. I find this to be a very contentious topic though, so I’m going to spend the next two parts of this series talking about it.
Continued in: TheraminTrees’s Atheism, 3: Evil
Author’s Note: On June 25, 2012, I split this essay into two parts — one for omnipotence and omniscience. On March 27, 2012, I added a new argument from Free Will that was developed within comments on the previous essay (of which this essay was once part).
I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.