Free Will & The Constitution denies God's Omniscience

We are not tied to fortune`s wheel

I suggest that a belief in God and the Constitution are mutually exclusive unless we are talking about a watered down concept of god. The Constitution clearly contradicts God's omniscience or the idea of any all-powerful god. And Christians who accept the Constitution have accepted a relatively powerless god, whether they acknowledge it or not.

The US Constitution can be regarded as a statement about a belief in free-will; inherent is the notion that no god has the ability to interfere in the affairs of either people or the world – guaranteeing rights to individuals is based on the believe that they have the ability to freely choose. And if we believe we have free-will then it is difficult to argue that any god is omniscient without having to torture our understanding of what we mean by "free" or "free-will".

Christianity, free-will and the rise of the individual

The notion that free-will has had a crucial role in the development of Western Culture hasn't been properly acknowledged. The development of modern democracies was based on the notion of individual rights, and this concept of an individual was very much entwined with the idea of free-will. Democracies are based on the theory that we individuals are able to exercise a certain amount of free-will when we vote and generally go about our business. It is this thinking that is at the heart of the American Constitution.

The Wheel of Fortune Card is modeled after the goddess Fortuna`s wheel. This image is a 1909 card scanned by Holly Voley (http://home.comcast.net/~vilex/) for the public domain, and retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot
The Wheel of Fortune Card is modeled after the goddess Fortuna`s wheel. This image is a 1909 card scanned by Holly Voley (http://home.comcast.net/~vilex/) for the public domain, and retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot | Source

Christianity, like all religions, is criticized for many things but some credit must be given for its unwitting part in the notion of the individual and, eventually, individual rights. The idea that a serf, knight or king would ultimately be judged by an even higher authority than any on earth helped encourage the idea of the individual – even though the often terribly unfair treatment many received on earth was rationalized by the belief that they would be properly compensated or rewarded in an afterlife.

The problem of an omniscient God, fate and free-will

However, the Middle Ages presented Christianity with a number of philosophical problems including wrestling with the notion of an omniscient God and free-will. And, in addition to free-will, the Church had to deal with the problems of Platonism, astrology and alchemy. Each presented separate and unique challenges although all had some similarities - mainly it was necessary or convenient to accept each of these beliefs and philosophies. But, on the whole, they all blended well into the Church's beliefs of the time and were used to strengthen arguments for the Church's own legitimacy.

Are we tied to Fortune's wheel? From an edition of Boccaccio's "De Casibus Virorum Illustrium" (Paris, 1467) MSS Hunter 371-372 (V.1.8-9). Image (vol. 1: folio 1r)
Are we tied to Fortune's wheel? From an edition of Boccaccio's "De Casibus Virorum Illustrium" (Paris, 1467) MSS Hunter 371-372 (V.1.8-9). Image (vol. 1: folio 1r) | Source

Some beliefs were difficult to reconcile, however. Free-will was particularly troublesome. Not only did the notion of free-will challenge the idea of an omniscient god, astrology also presented similar problems since its beliefs and philosophy had been embraced by the Medieval Church. If the stars and planets write our fate, how could we maintain that we have free-will?

The Church was able to deal with the problems presented by astrology but never properly dealt with the question of free-will and an omniscient god. (To be consistent, if we have free-will, Christians would have had to admit that the future could turn out other than God expected, hence making him fallable.)

The Christian God of the Middle Ages was interpreted in a number of ways but he was not regarded as fallable except by some in obscure sects who met quick ends. In fact, not only were Medieval Christians worshiping a god whose attributes included omniscience (infinite knowledge) but a god who had omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence, as Wikipedia tells us.

Some still believe in fate

An omniscient god appears to contradict the idea of free will; humans resemble actors acting out our fate rather than behaving as free agents or individuals guided by free-will in a world where the future is unknown. The tension between fatalism and free-will does not seem to have ever been properly worked out by the Church.

Boethius, certainly one of the most influential of the Medieval philosophers, suggests that we rather passively accept our fate with arguments that are still as eloquent and appealing today as they were when written. It is as if we are tied to the wheel of fate – and the wheel turns. The metaphor itself appeals to clever minds open to a little melancholia and appealing archetypes.The idea of accepting or even embracing our fate is certainly still with us. It was made popular by the Stoics and is frequently embraced in story and myth. And the image and even meaning lives on for some as symbols on our Tarot cards and in other forms and art.

Free-will and responsibility chips away at an omniscient God

The view of most branches of Christianity has been that we have free-will, although in the omniscient Christian God's view of things our actions were predestined. St. Augustine and many theologians have offered various arguments to reconcile the contradiction between an all-knowing god and free-will. But the notion of God as an all-knowing being has been chipped away over the years. Islam and other religions have had to wrestle with the same problem of the contradiction between free-will and an all knowing and powerful god. Today, there are far fewer Christians who believe in an omniscient god because they accept that free-will is a contradiction to a belief in predestination. Some cling to the idea that the two beliefs are not incompatible and have even argued that God understands the paradox whereas it is beyond human understanding.

The wheel of fortune from the Burana Codex; The figures are labelled "Regno, Regnavi, Sum sine regno, Regnabo": I reign, I reigned, My reign is finished, I shall reign
The wheel of fortune from the Burana Codex; The figures are labelled "Regno, Regnavi, Sum sine regno, Regnabo": I reign, I reigned, My reign is finished, I shall reign | Source

Certainly Christians have shown through their actions a complete rejection of the idea of fate perhaps in much the same way they saw Jesus exercising his free-will in clearly choosing his fate opposed to merely accepting it. The two may amount to the same but the former endorses a picture of God in a human form clearly going through the process of exercising freedom of choice while the latter makes Jesus little more than a pawn playing out God's will. The Three Temptations whether read literally or metaphorically, among other things, show Christ going through the agony of trying to make a right decision in much the same way as we all do when tempted to behave in ways we believe to be wrong.

A more distant god

The explosion of knowledge and love of learning that occurred following the Reformation was often utilized by the Church as well as the various monarchies to expand their influence, wealth and power. Christianity was not a passive religion; its history is built on many certainties including its own sense of superiority. Somewhat ironically, its survival will depend, like Darwin's subjects, on its ability to change and adapt. The recognition that God must be a great deal more distant and willing to leave us to our own devices than we previously believed is part of the new reality in which churches try and find their way.

Many of the ideals that were the foundation of Western Civilization have lost their authority. The majority of Christians no longer believe in an omniscient god. The child-like belief that God is omnipresent taking an interest and willing to intercede in sporting matches or even at times of illness and tragedy seem naive to many believers of the 21st century. The best that is hoped for by most is that some comfort results from their beliefs – they no longer see a world where God constantly intercedes.

As children, many of us thought that God would be far more willing to follow our wishes if we believed and prayed hard enough. We saw any failure for the materialization of our wishes as a reflection of our own imperfection. Maturity persuaded most of us that it is the egoism of youth that makes us prone to the idea that we are more important that we really are in the scheme of things.

The Constitution`s challenge is to those who would be free

It seems that Christian thinkers are left with a series of dilemmas and one of the most troubling and interesting is reconciling the old idea of an omniscient god with free-will. If gods allow mortals to make their own choices then they can only watch and wonder as we may gaze upon a stage and guess what the next act will bring. And know it is not our fate that propels us to our decisions and actions, it is our human condition; to paraphrase Shakespeare`s Cassius:

The fault, dear reader, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

And the Constitution seems to be somewhat of the same mind; individuals` fates are not written by gods or in the stars, nor are we bound to fortune`s wheel since only the free are in the position to pursue the most tantalizing but illusory of`goals – happiness.

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Comments 26 comments

Tony DeLorger profile image

Tony DeLorger 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

Beautiful Sem. Brilliantly researched and written. I'm certainly no fatalist, and as far as free-will goes. We definitely have it- we decide 'who' will screw us!

If God were indeed an omniscient being, he'd be covering his eyes rather than see what's happening down here on earth.

Great hub. All the best.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Thanks Tony; and I agree that it is hard to take any pride in the behavior of our species. I sometimes feel like an anthropologist picking over the entrails of a failed culture as I write and try and make sense of the vague landscapes of our time.

In earlier times I felt ashamed of myself and my behavior on occasion - and I still do; however, I now find myself being ashamed of my species as well as myself. Democracy has made most voters in Western democracies party to the collective guilt of the selfish post-war decades when we have indulged ourselves at the expense of many present and those yet to come. And, it seems, we are happy, (the very wealthy in particular), to continue to indulge ourselves at the expense of those who are to come.

Well, it is May and I suppose our hope must be born again in some measure.

As ever,

Sem


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

This is a well written article. It would take me a piece just as long to answer what I find as many inconsistancies. (Such as assuming Darwin's Subjects had any choice in how they changed or adapted). However, it makes us think (a process feared and avoided by many these days) I am looking forward to going through this hub again when I have more time. Voted Up and Awesome...Bob


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Thanks for your comments Bob. And you are quite right about your criticism of my rather flippant reference to Darwin that was intended to interject a little humor into the piece. And I am sure that there are other errors since I cover a lot of ground in a few words. I think it was Baghot who said something similar to it being necessary to exaggerate a lot to make a point.

I would be very interested in hearing any objections to the main argument since I am sure there are many otherwise others would have made the same argument before. However, I have thought a fair bit and still feel the central thesis has something to be said for it. I hope to hear your objections and those of others to find the weaknesses in the argument.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

As I understand it God is all knowing and omnipotent. God could not be God, unless he had these characteritics. There is no conflict with the fact that we have free-will. He ultmately knows the outcome of your choices, what choice you are going to make. Just because he knows does not mean he interferes in my selection. We are all given a choice for a time as to which way we choose to go

Thanks, Sembj there is plenty of room for debate on this topic.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Hi Credence2 - thanks for your thoughts. Part of the problem for anyone who accepts an action as being predestined also has to accept that the action is not a product of free-will. Even Christians have long recognized that if an action was both predestined and occurring from free-will, it would be a paradox. The best argument that Christians have been able to make is that it is a "paradox of free will". It requires a leap of faith, not logic, to believe that such a paradox can exist. For a Christian, I see nothing shameful in admitting that you believe something because of faith rather than logic. It seems strange to want to argue that beliefs are built on logic when even the Christian God attaches so much importance to believing through faith.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Nice to hear from you Sembj, Religion's very foundation is faith. It is the only topic in the universe that people profess to but no one can prove without reservation. That is why there are so many of them. I accept the fact that there is a great deal that I do not know. There are many things that exist that are outside the realm of my rather limited senses to know or understand.

I have reached the point where failing to acknowledge a string of very fortuitous coincidences as not having some kind of pattern is just as unscientific as blindly believing in a deity to explain everything.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Hi Credence2: I am still looking for an argument against the notion that the Constitution contradicts the idea of God that I put forward in the article. To believe in the Constitution is to accept that there isn't an omniscient god unless it is to resort to a ditching of reason and logic. And if that's what is required, why not admit it?


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

(To be consistent, if we have free-will, Christians would have had to admit that the future could turn out other than God expected, hence making him fallable.)

The US Constitution can be regarded as a statement about a belief in free-will; inherent is the notion that no god has the ability to interfere in the affairs of either people or the world – guaranteeing rights to individuals is based on the believe that they have the ability to freely choose. And if we believe we have free-will then it is difficult to argue that any god is omniscient without having to torture our understanding of what we mean by "free" or "free-will".

----------------------------------------------------

What cant we freely choose, an omnipotent God knows what you choose but doesn't interfere with your choice

I do not see anything inconsistent between the Constitution/ the idea of free-will with an Omniscient God

Christians do not need to admit this. Yes, you have free-will but God knows the outcome. He know what choice you will make, you decide but He knows in advance how will you decide. You're not being manipulated or left to some fatalistic circumstance. I guess I have to say that I don't see any conflict between free will and God's omniscience from the viewpoint of the Constitution.

I am missing something that I did not explain well?


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

I think you explain a certain scenario well but the scenario has been explained by others in a different way, namely: "If God made the game, its rules, and the players, then how can any player be free?"

Let's strip things down and look at the argument as it exists aside from the Constitution and God so it is not affected by our emotions; simply it is usually accepted that predestination and free-will are incompatible. You are arguing that you feel predestination is not incompatible from free-will. Am I misunderstanding you?


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

"If God made the game, its rules, and the players, then how can any player be free?"

---------- Sembj

I really do not subscribe to that premise. In biblical history, as part of the Adam and Eve account, while God set the stage, the planet, life and surroundings, Adam and Eve were able to make a conscious choice as to whether to obey and avoid the forbidden fruit or not. There were consequences for the decision that they made. From their propective there was not predestination, although from God's persepective there was a plan in place to redeem mankind from the penalty of disobedience. Adam and Eve were not automotons as nobody forced them make the choice that they made. That's free-will, you choose to turn on either the hot or cold water spigot. Only God can know in advance whether the tub will be full of hot water or cold at the end of the day, but that has nothing to do with your choice of which spigot to turn. Christianity has as many off-shoots as stars in the heavens. I don't pretend to be a theologian or scholar. That is just how I understand it.

You are arguing that you feel predestination is not incompatible from free-will. Am I misunderstanding you?

----------

Predestination is found throughout Christian scriptures but I see it applied to larger events regarding the present state and future of mankind. You and me and others exercising free will will see prophecies come to pass. The outcome is made up of the choices you willingly make, as He knows the both beginning and the finale.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

I am arguing that predestination and free-will are mutually exclusive, i.e., if someone believes in predestination, they believe in fate. For instance, their lives will unfold in a particular fashion and end in death in much the same way as it would as a scripted story. This is usually viewed as contradicting the idea of free-will.

There is also a religious view of predestination that you must be referring to when you talk of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve - but there are a number of strains of thought. They seem to all suggest that some are destined for salvation and others not - sadly the die is cast for those who are not destined for salvation before they are born.

The idea of God's omnipotence along with the Christian view of predestination seem to share a logic that most philosophers and theologians have found troublesome. Thomas Aquinas and many others since then have spent a great deal of time wrestling with something that you don't regard as a problem.

(We all understand free-will in similar ways and the term is probably not so troublesome.)

Aquinas and others felt that they had to try and make a rationale argument given the contradiction of an omniscient God and predestination versus free-will.

It seems that you don't see the problem that has confounded many great minds - you might be right. I would encourage you to investigate the problems I am doing a poor job of articulating since they do seem to be one of those interesting debates that still take up time and energy to those who try and reconcile their beliefs with reason.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

For instance, their lives will unfold in a particular fashion and end in death in much the same way as it would as a scripted story.

Sembj: Which one among us mere mortals know what that script is? How do they know that there is a script or just choices they choose to make ending in a certain outcome.

I am certainly not in a position to challenge men of such stature in Philosophy as Thomas Aquinas. I did not know that most philosophers and theologans were wrangling with this question.

Believe me, I do strive to reconcile my beliefs with reason as I have pondered this area of study for many years. The conclusions I come to are not colored by emotionalism, insecurity or fear.

There are many reasonably competent people that see no conflict, to each his own. Your assessment is as individual as a fingerprint, who really knows?

God, to be God has no limitations in His ability. In the face of this sometimes human reasoning is futile or at least comes up short.

I will look into more of your hubs and determine what other great philosophical questions that are posed to us as a focal point to further thought.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Thanks Credence2 for your always interesting and sometimes challenging correspondence. It seems that we are respectfully agreeing to disagree at this juncture. And I do have respect for your views and how you have presented and argued them since, among other things, you have treated both me and my views with dignity.

I have been reading one or two of your articles with enjoyment and I am sure we will continue to communicate - that's my hope, anyway.

Stay well, my friend,

Sem


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Well, Sem, the things we discuss have befuddled great minds throughout the ages, and will probably continue to do so into the future. I have enjoyed our discourse here and it certainly makes you think as to the basis of your belief systems. Yes, Sem, that is a big 10-4, we will speak again....


Yahaboobay 5 years ago

"God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, [ie., everybody.] to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who *smiles all the time*."

-Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens


bgamall profile image

bgamall 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

There is one other way of looking at this. Christ said his kingdom was not of this world. Therefore, separation of church and state is actually more aligned with his view of the world than a sacralist state which is opposed completely to the other worldly nature of Christ's kingdom.

Of course, the danger now is that unscrupulous men void of any conscience will come to power. But that replaces men in a sacralist state coming to power who have are evil and think they are doing God's work while burning people at the stake who don't agree with them.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Yahaboobay - thank you for the comment. I am delighted with Gaiman and Pratchett's take on the situation. Most characterizations of God's ways seem rather pedestrian and unimaginative - it has always seemed highly presumptive for anyone to know the mind of God since I would have thought one of its properties would be unknowable from a human perspective. The description from Good Omen seems to capture the absurdity of contemplating the mind of a god.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Thanks for your comment bfamall. I take it you have the following in mind: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

And I think a good case may well be made that anyone looking to Christ for guidance may well come away thinking that that any advice given on that score does endorse the separation of church and state.

In any event, I think that it is an excellent point and thank you for making it.


Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA

You come highly recommended. Credence2 suggested that his followers start reading your articles. I am glad he did! This is the first that I chose, and he is right! You come to some very thought provoking (true) conclusions. I especially love your final statement:

And the Constitution seems to be somewhat of the same mind; individuals` fates are not written by gods or in the stars, nor are we bound to fortune`s wheel since only the free are in the position to pursue the most tantalizing but illusory of`goals – happiness.

So true! I am anxious to read more!


 5 years ago

Hi Jillian Barckat: First, it is most kind of Credence2 to have recommended my hubs; I enjoy both his writing and some exchange of comments we've had. It is one of the more pleasant things about HubPages striking up such, dare-I-say, friendships.

And thank you for your kind critique of this hub. I look forward to checking out some of your writing. At present I am trying to teach myself to build a website - I go through periods of total despair, pessimism and convictions about by stupidity which makes me all the more determined to persevere.

I am determined to have something up in the next week so plan not being as active as usual "hubbing" in the next little while. However, I look forward to doing a little reading and I am sure I will be leaving you some feedback soon.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and also to Credence2, a scholar and a gentleman indeed!


Wil C profile image

Wil C 5 years ago from United States of America

This is basically the stance I take when someone tells me that god is omniscient. Logically you can not say we have free will while simultaneously saying god knows what you will do. However omnipotence is not necessarily challenged, since he allows us to have free will. I believe that god could fix everything for us, but he wants us to go through the full range of trials to gain knowledge. Who knows, maybe he waiting to see something unfold that he has not seen yet. I know i'm always on the look out for original plots in movies. Excellent article sembj.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Hi Wil C: Some fascinating thoughts but if god is "waiting to see something unfold that he has not seen yet," then surely that god is not omniscient?


Wil C profile image

Wil C 5 years ago from United States of America

Funny you would say that. Let's think about that logically. If he hasn't seen it, then it hasn't happened, then it isn't something he could have known, so If he knew everything before it happened he would still be all knowing. But maybe I'm the chicken or the egg still haven't cracked that one.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Hi Wil C - I think one of the definitions of a god that is omniscient and omnipotent is that creation holds no surprises.


Wil C profile image

Wil C 5 years ago from United States of America

I assume that is what most would think is the definition of being omniscient. I just can't imagine always wanting to know what is going to happen before it happens for eternity. I think that is why free will is such a debated issue. Maybe even god allows himself to be surprised every once in a while. But I really don't know.

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