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Are we less free with God?
Posted: 07 January 2012 10:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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dougsmith - 06 January 2012 07:24 AM

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).

Given the assumption that God is omnipotent and omniscient, this seems correct.  It doesn’t rule out X freely choosing to drink dirty water if God is simply a Creator who intiated the universe and the life within it, but who does not have omnipotence to effect how things turn out. So perhaps the corrollary should be amended slightly to:

If (an omniscient and omnipotent) God exists then every choice between unwanted outcomes (for individuals) becomes unfree.
or, more succinctly:
If we have free will when faced only with unwanted outcomes, there is no omnipotent God.

Other possible corollaries:

If there is an omnipotent and omniscient God, She/He/It must not want us to have free will except in circumstances that She/He/It provides wanted outcomes.

Or, perhaps: She/He/It wants us to want the unwanted outcomes that She/He/It provides. So a devout person might say, “Clearly, God wants me to drink dirty water, so that is what I want. Thank you God for this dirty water.  I am truly blessed to know and do Your will.”  So God may want us to have free will, but, to learn to subjugate our wants to Hers/His/Its. (That doesn’t seem very “free” to me, but as they say “God works in mysterious ways.)

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Posted: 08 January 2012 03:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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dougsmith - 07 January 2012 12:14 PM

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.

I do not agree. In the first place I draw another conclusion from your Aaron and moon examples. If you really would be capable to do these, it would mean an increase of freedom: you have more options to choose from. Having more options contributes to freedom of the will.

Secondly in a situation I feel my freedom is restricted, I might not even know if it is due to an agent or not. E.g. I have parked my car in a parking garage, I have paid my fee, I stand in front of the crossing barrier, put my card in the slot, but the barrier does not open. So I am restricted in my will to leave the parking garage. Now it can be that the system has just broken down, so there is no agent involved. But it also could be that an employee that works in the parking lot who does not like me intentionally keeps the barrier closed. There is of course a difference in my feeling and behaviour at the moment I discover what the real reason of the closed barrier is. In the first case I might easier accept the event, because I know technical systems sometimes break down, in the second case I would make this employee responsible, and be very angry, it really was coercion, there was a conscious intention behind it.

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Posted: 08 January 2012 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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GdB: ...In the first case I might easier accept the event, because I know technical systems sometimes break down, in the second case I would make this employee responsible, and be very angry, it really was coercion, there was a conscious intention behind it.

I think the point in this thread is that if God is omniscient and omnipotent, then God intended for you to be faced with the barrier system breaking down, and thus was the causal agent that left you with no wanted options, and thus restricted your free will.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 08 January 2012 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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TimB - 07 January 2012 10:28 PM

Given the assumption that God is omnipotent and omniscient, this seems correct.

OK. Well, I always use the classic theological definition of God as the omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good person who created and/or sustains the universe.

Other theoretical gods are not ‘God’ by that definition, and typically they are of less or of no potential religious importance.

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Posted: 08 January 2012 06:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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GdB - 08 January 2012 03:53 AM

I do not agree. In the first place I draw another conclusion from your Aaron and moon examples. If you really would be capable to do these, it would mean an increase of freedom: you have more options to choose from. Having more options contributes to freedom of the will.

Well, it may just be that we disagree on this, but I will have to think about it more. At any rate this wasn’t really the point of my OP.

GdB - 08 January 2012 03:53 AM

Secondly in a situation I feel my freedom is restricted, I might not even know if it is due to an agent or not. E.g. I have parked my car in a parking garage, I have paid my fee, I stand in front of the crossing barrier, put my card in the slot, but the barrier does not open. So I am restricted in my will to leave the parking garage. Now it can be that the system has just broken down, so there is no agent involved. But it also could be that an employee that works in the parking lot who does not like me intentionally keeps the barrier closed. There is of course a difference in my feeling and behaviour at the moment I discover what the real reason of the closed barrier is. In the first case I might easier accept the event, because I know technical systems sometimes break down, in the second case I would make this employee responsible, and be very angry, it really was coercion, there was a conscious intention behind it.

Yes, that’s precisely the point. Being free is an objective matter, not necessarily something of which one is consciously aware. Knowing more facts about a situation (e.g., whether or not God exists, whether or not the employee was responsible) can change one’s opinion of a given event from ‘free’ to ‘coerced’.

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Posted: 08 January 2012 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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dougsmith - 08 January 2012 06:51 AM

Yes, that’s precisely the point. Being free is an objective matter, not necessarily something of which one is consciously aware. Knowing more facts about a situation (e.g., whether or not God exists, whether or not the employee was responsible) can change one’s opinion of a given event from ‘free’ to ‘coerced’.

I am still not convinced. (Or I don’t understand your point). Don’t I feel ‘coerced’ by the closed barrier anyway? I am used that I can leave the parking garage, it is a ‘freedom’ I am used to. But now this thing blocks my road, whatever the reason. My freedom is limited, if there is an agent behind it or not. Or do you restrict the meaning of ‘coercion’ to ‘intentionally forcing’ (by an agent)?

If we are not clear about an agent in general, then it is difficult to talk about god. I assume you do not mean an ‘agentless god’. Then I would have difficulties to understand omnipotent and omniscient.

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Posted: 08 January 2012 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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GdB - 08 January 2012 10:23 AM

Don’t I feel ‘coerced’ by the closed barrier anyway?

No, you don’t, and your use of “scare quotes” around the word “coerced” is the tip-off. You can only be coerced by an agent.

GdB - 08 January 2012 10:23 AM

If we are not clear about an agent in general, then it is difficult to talk about god. I assume you do not mean an ‘agentless god’. Then I would have difficulties to understand omnipotent and omniscient.

An “agentless God” is a contradiction in terms. (Note that I am using the word God with a capital “G”). God is supposed to be a person, and my argument in the OP takes that as a given.

If we don’t begin with precise definitions of terms we’ll get into the weeds. I’ll reiterate the definition: God is the omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good person who created and/or sustains the universe.

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Posted: 08 January 2012 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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dougsmith - 08 January 2012 06:39 AM
TimB - 07 January 2012 10:28 PM

Given the assumption that God is omnipotent and omniscient, this seems correct.

OK. Well, I always use the classic theological definition of God as the omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good person who created and/or sustains the universe.

Other theoretical gods are not ‘God’ by that definition, and typically they are of less or of no potential religious importance.

It might be important to religious persons to learn that they don’t have free will when faced only with bad options unless god is only an architect or intelligent designer of the universe, who has no or little ability to effect how things play out after originally setting things into motion.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 08 January 2012 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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TimB - 08 January 2012 12:54 PM

It might be important to religious persons to learn that they don’t have free will when faced only with bad options unless god is only an architect or intelligent designer of the universe, who has no or little ability to effect how things play out after originally setting things into motion.

Well, yes. Though if God is not omniscient or omnipotent (or not perfectly good, which is the other alternative) then he does not merit the same sort of reverence that religions typically heap upon him. He’s not perfect; he’s just a sort of fallible strongman. Religious obeisance depends upon God’s perfection.

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Posted: 09 January 2012 12:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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dougsmith - 08 January 2012 12:01 PM

An “agentless God” is a contradiction in terms. (Note that I am using the word God with a capital “G”). God is supposed to be a person, and my argument in the OP takes that as a given.

OK, that is clear.

dougsmith - 08 January 2012 12:01 PM
GdB - 08 January 2012 10:23 AM

Don’t I feel ‘coerced’ by the closed barrier anyway?

You can only be coerced by an agent.

I really do not agree. Standing for the barrier, that unexpected does not open, my freedom is limited. It objectively is, my wish to drive out is frustrated. It is one option less in my action spectrum, even the most important option at that moment. This is independent of the reason why it happened: if I am forced, due to a system error, or coerced by the employee. The difference is that with the employee is that, if I discover the fact that he did it, £I can make somebody responsible.

So with God and the dirty water, the difference is that he is responsible for the dirty water, but not that I am less free because an agent caused my problem.

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Posted: 09 January 2012 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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GdB - 09 January 2012 12:34 AM

I really do not agree. Standing for the barrier, that unexpected does not open, my freedom is limited. It objectively is, my wish to drive out is frustrated. It is one option less in my action spectrum, even the most important option at that moment. This is independent of the reason why it happened: if I am forced, due to a system error, or coerced by the employee. The difference is that with the employee is that, if I discover the fact that he did it, £I can make somebody responsible.

So with God and the dirty water, the difference is that he is responsible for the dirty water, but not that I am less free because an agent caused my problem.

So then on your account you never have free will when you are deciding between options that you don’t want. (E.g., drinking dirty water or going thirsty).

I just think that doesn’t capture our normal use of the term.

Asked of the explorer in the desert: “You freely drank that water in the pond? But it was so dirty.”

Responds the explorer, “Of course. I had no other option; it was that or die of thirst.”

Contrast this with:

“Did you freely drink the water in that cup?”

“No, the man pointed a gun at my head and told me he’d kill me otherwise.”

We discussed this difference in the previous thread.

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Posted: 09 January 2012 05:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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dougsmith - 09 January 2012 05:04 AM

So then on your account you never have free will when you are deciding between options that you don’t want. (E.g., drinking dirty water or going thirsty).

I just think that doesn’t capture our normal use of the term.

Asked of the explorer in the desert: “You freely drank that water in the pond? But it was so dirty.”
Responds the explorer, “Of course. I had no other option; it was that or die of thirst.”

Or does the explorer responds: “No. But it was that, or dying of thirst”.

dougsmith - 09 January 2012 05:04 AM

Contrast this with:

“Did you freely drink the water in that cup?”
“No, the man pointed a gun at my head and told me he’d kill me otherwise.”

Or is the answer: “I had to choose: drink the water, or be killed.”

dougsmith - 09 January 2012 05:04 AM

We discussed this difference in the previous thread.

Yes, but I did not want do the others a favour of seeing 2 compatibilists discussing about free will… tongue wink I left the point just for that moment.

Maybe here is a difference between us: one can only speak of coercion when there is somebody who at least is able to act freely in principle. I reduce his options in such a way that even a bad option is still the best (dirty water). So a billiard ball is not mere not free. As it cannot be coerced (as I understand the meaning of the word correctly now), the category ‘free vs. coerced’ does not even apply. This is the reverse of what you said before: that physical circumstances do not count as restrictions of free will. I would also say that I cannot coerce a billiard ball to fall (“Now you fall down, or I’ll break you.”). I can make it fall of course just by physically pushing it.

If I understand your OP correctly, you are saying that when there is a God, then, by being an agent, we are less free. I still think it is nor correct. But there would be somebody responsible.

[ Edited: 09 January 2012 05:47 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 09 January 2012 05:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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GdB - 09 January 2012 05:43 AM

Or does the explorer responds: “No. But it was that, or dying of thirst”.

Or is the answer: “I had to choose: drink the water, or be killed.”

I don’t think these are answers one would expect to hear. They sound forced, as though you’ve decided on the theory and then constructed the data, rather than listening to the data to inform the theory.

GdB - 09 January 2012 05:43 AM

Maybe here is a difference between us: one can only speak of coercion when there is somebody who at least is able to act freely in principle. I reduce his options in such a way that even a bad option is still the best (dirty water). So a billiard ball is not mere not free. As it cannot be coerced (as I understand the meaning of the word correctly now), the category ‘free vs. coerced’ does not even apply. This is the reverse of what you said before: that physical circumstances do not count as restrictions of free will. I would also say that I cannot coerce a billiard ball to fall (“Now you fall down, or I’ll break you.”). I can make it fall of course just by physically pushing it.

I don’t understand any of this.

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Posted: 09 January 2012 06:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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dougsmith - 09 January 2012 05:53 AM

I don’t understand any of this.

That’s a pity… It seems that you have decided on your theory, so that you cannot follow what I write…

[ Edited: 09 January 2012 06:09 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 09 January 2012 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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GdB - 09 January 2012 06:04 AM
dougsmith - 09 January 2012 05:53 AM

I don’t understand any of this.

That’s a pity… It seems that you have decided on your theory, so that you cannot follow what I write…

I should clarify: it’s not that I read what you wrote and disagreed, it’s that I didn’t understand what you were arguing.

To take an example, it’s plainly true that “the category ‘free vs. coerced’ does not even apply” to billiard balls. That goes without saying. But I don’t see what it has to do with the other sentences that surround it.

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