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Are we less free with God?
Posted: 06 January 2012 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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In THIS thread I provided a (very rough) definition of a free act, which I’ve cleaned up a bit here:

—An act is free for X if either:

(1) X does what X wants or

(2) X does the best of N unwanted options in the case that they are the results of blind circumstance and not the forced choice of another agent.

It occurs to me that on this definition, if God exists we are less free than if God does not exist. Why? Because if God exists, then any choice between unwanted options becomes an unfree act, since God is an agent who is responsible for us having to choose between things we don’t want.

Think of it this way (using an example from the linked thread at #1693): if X only has dirty water and doesn’t want to drink dirty water, but prefers dirty water over the worse option of going thirsty, then if God doesn’t exist and no agent is responsible for the lack of clean water, X is free in choosing and drinking dirty water.

But if God exists then in fact God is responsible for there not being clean water (being all powerful and all knowing, he could make the water clean in an instant), and so God is in effect forcing a choice between unwanted outcomes. In that, God would be like the bank robber who forces a teller to hand over the money or risk being shot.

So if God exists then every choice between unwanted outcomes becomes unfree, which is an interesting corollary of my proposed definition.

(It may be that some choices between unwanted outcomes remain free with God, but at the moment I can’t think of any. At least it seems many would be unfree, and that hence we would, overall, be less free).

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Posted: 06 January 2012 09:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Couldn’t I say, though, that the fact that I can choose to drink a clean water (given to me by God) makes me more free? I wish to drink clean water and God made sure that I have access to clean water. He makes my wishes come true. Without him, my chances of having clean water (whenever I wish it) would be less likely to occur, resulting in more limited freedom. If God makes the robber not to rob the bank (which I could argue happens a lot), He is giving the teller a greater freedom to live his life, i.e., not having to choose between getting shot or hanging money over to the robber.

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Posted: 06 January 2012 09:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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George - 06 January 2012 09:11 AM

Couldn’t I say, though, that the fact that I can choose to drink a clean water (given to me by God) makes me more free?

More free than what? Not more free than if God hadn’t existed. (Unless you are proposing that God’s existence is necessary for there to be clean water, or humans, or life, or something).

George - 06 January 2012 09:11 AM

I wish to drink clean water and God made sure that I have access to clean water. He makes my wishes come true. Without him, my chances of having clean water (whenever I wish it) would be less likely to occur, resulting in more limited freedom. If God makes the robber not to rob the bank (which I could argue happens a lot), He is giving the teller a greater freedom to live his life, i.e., not having to choose between getting shot or hanging money over to the robber.

The question is, how would things have been with and without God. My argument (such as it was) held fixed the history of the universe, only asking what God’s existence would change. It would make certain sorts of free acts unfree. As far as I can see on that analysis there are no unfree acts that it would make free. (Though maybe I am missing some).

You appear to be assuming that if God existed he would have made things better than they otherwise would have been. This no longer holds fixed the history of the universe, but instead makes that history another variable in the equation. Then I would say it’s debatable what God would have changed, since we see such pain, hurt and evil around us, and we see no evidence of supernatural interventions, that it’s not clear God is doing (or would do) anything at all.

To put it another way, you are saying that if God existed he would make people happier by stopping criminals and giving people clean water, which is a separate argument.

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Posted: 06 January 2012 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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If you’re saying that God would be responsible for dirty water, then he would also be responsible for clean water. No? Since your definition of free willed action is based on our wishes, and my wishes are to drink clean water, then I would have to give God a credit for providing me with clean water, allowing me to experience freedom.

But I feel I am just saying the same thing I already said before. It is probably more complicated than I can comprehend.

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Posted: 06 January 2012 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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George - 06 January 2012 11:56 AM

If you’re saying that God would be responsible for dirty water, then he would also be responsible for clean water. No? Since your definition of free willed action is based on our wishes, and my wishes are to drink clean water, then I would have to give God a credit for providing me with clean water, allowing me to experience freedom.

Well, you’re right that if there were a God he would be responsible for both clean and dirty water. But my point is that I would freely drink clean water whether or not God existed. If there were no God I would be free in drinking dirty water (assuming there were no clean water around and I needed to drink), but if God did exist then I would not be free in drinking dirty water under the same conditions.

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Posted: 06 January 2012 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I still don’t see how it is your choice to drink clean water if God existed. The clean water is available to you because of God. You are designed to like clean water and God knows it. If he gives you the clean water, he’s making your wish come true.

If two cats, Lion King and Simba, enter my neighbour’s house with two water dishes, one clean and one dirty, and Simba enters first and drinks all the clean water, Lion King has no choice but to drink the dirty water. If, however, it is my house and I like Simba more than I like Lion King and give Simba the clean water, then not only is Lion King less free, but also Simba is more free because he is getting the clean water thanks to me. Simba will statistically always be better off acting on his wishes of drinking clean water when I am around.

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Posted: 06 January 2012 01:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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This doesn’t make Simba more free. It makes him happier or healthier, but not freer.

You have to be clear on what you’re holding fixed. As I said, I’m holding fixed the history of the universe.

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Posted: 06 January 2012 01:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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dougsmith - 06 January 2012 12:01 PM

If there were no God I would be free in drinking dirty water (assuming there were no clean water around and I needed to drink), but if God did exist then I would not be free in drinking dirty water under the same conditions.

I think there is a problem with the definition you are using Doug.

If I were to speak to a person drinking the dirty water and asked if he drank it because he wanted to, he’d say, hell no. If I asked him if he drank it of his own free will, he’d again say hell no.

If the appeal I referred to said the people drink the dirty water of their own free will, firstly that would sound strange, and secondly we would be less inclined to help, after all it’s their choice.

Stephen

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Posted: 06 January 2012 02:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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StephenLawrence - 06 January 2012 01:52 PM

If I were to speak to a person drinking the dirty water and asked if he drank it because he wanted to, he’d say, hell no. If I asked him if he drank it of his own free will, he’d again say hell no.

Sorry, I’m unconvinced. There’s such a thing as doing something freely because you have no other option. So long as no other agent is involved, that is.

StephenLawrence - 06 January 2012 01:52 PM

If the appeal I referred to said the people drink the dirty water of their own free will, firstly that would sound strange, and secondly we would be less inclined to help, after all it’s their choice.

I don’t agree.

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Posted: 06 January 2012 07:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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If god made everything beneficial AND everything harmful, as we clearly have in this universe, what is the difference? It would make god irrelevant.

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Posted: 07 January 2012 12:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 06 January 2012 07:24 AM

Think of it this way (using an example from the linked thread at #1693): if X only has dirty water and doesn’t want to drink dirty water, but prefers dirty water over the worse option of going thirsty, then if God doesn’t exist and no agent is responsible for the lack of clean water, X is free in choosing and drinking dirty water.

But if God exists then in fact God is responsible for there not being clean water (being all powerful and all knowing, he could make the water clean in an instant), and so God is in effect forcing a choice between unwanted outcomes. In that, God would be like the bank robber who forces a teller to hand over the money or risk being shot.

So if God exists then every choice between unwanted outcomes becomes unfree, which is an interesting corollary of my proposed definition.

(It may be that some choices between unwanted outcomes remain free with God, but at the moment I can’t think of any. At least it seems many would be unfree, and that hence we would, overall, be less free).

Some Christians would respond like this. The agent who is responsible for the lack of clean water is X. The reason is that God did provide clean water but X chose to live where there is none.

Stephen

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Posted: 07 January 2012 06:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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StephenLawrence - 07 January 2012 12:48 AM

Some Christians would respond like this. The agent who is responsible for the lack of clean water is X. The reason is that God did provide clean water but X chose to live where there is none.

question  question

‘Being born where there is no clean water’ is not the same as ‘choosing to live where there is no clean water’, to take but one example.

I’m aware that there will be all sorts of bad arguments brought up, but I think we can skip the worst of them.

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Posted: 07 January 2012 08:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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dougsmith - 06 January 2012 02:01 PM

There’s such a thing as doing something freely because you have no other option. So long as no other agent is involved, that is.

Doug, I do not quite get this point. Free will is not just limited by other agents, is it? Quite actual now, here in Switzerland: it has snowed a lot in the mountains. Now there were a lot of people still having a week off, enjoying winter sport there. But now they want to go home, but they can’t. The snow blocks the way down. Don’t you see this as a limitation of their free will? But there is no agent involved.

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Posted: 07 January 2012 11:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I really try to avoid ever posting in the Free Will/Determinism section, but I can’t help myself here. 

Don’t you see this as a limitation of their free will?

Assuming for the moment the paradigm of free will, that’s a really silly question.  It seems quite obvious that free will encompasses only those choices available.  Not being able to do something that is not an available option hardly seems to be a limitation of free will.

If one were to remove that constraint, free will would become a really crazy concept.

Occam

[ Edited: 07 January 2012 11:09 AM by Occam. ]
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Posted: 07 January 2012 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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GdB - 07 January 2012 08:31 AM
dougsmith - 06 January 2012 02:01 PM

There’s such a thing as doing something freely because you have no other option. So long as no other agent is involved, that is.

Doug, I do not quite get this point. Free will is not just limited by other agents, is it? Quite actual now, here in Switzerland: it has snowed a lot in the mountains. Now there were a lot of people still having a week off, enjoying winter sport there. But now they want to go home, but they can’t. The snow blocks the way down. Don’t you see this as a limitation of their free will? But there is no agent involved.

Sure, I see it as a limitation on their possible actions, and in that respect a limitation on what they can will freely. It’s also a limitation on me that I can’t hit more home runs than Hank Aaron or fly to the Moon. But so what?

FWIW I don’t think a person can be any ‘freer’ in the relevant sense than when they are doing things freely, which unless they are being coerced by another agent, they always can do.

The point of the thread is that there are certain circumstances in which the mere existence of a responsible agent (God) makes an otherwise free action unfree.

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Posted: 07 January 2012 01:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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dougsmith - 07 January 2012 12:14 PM

The point of the thread is that there are certain circumstances in which the mere existence of a responsible agent (God) makes an otherwise free action unfree.

,

Yes, fair enough.

However, given all the confusion over defining free will, my feel is to stick with the “common sense” view, which is free will is the (appropriate) ability to do otherwise.

Stpehen

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