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2.8b The more we know . . .
Our predictions are sometimes wrong, but only because our knowledge is limited. We think we know someone's personality, but we only know what they show us, not the emotions they keep hidden. We think we know how the stock market will react, but we aren't aware of all the economic indicators in every company and in every nation. It doesn't look like rain, but there's a sudden depression moving in from the south. And so on.
If we did know everything, we would be able to predict the future. We could predict the girl our son is going to meet and fall in love with ten years from now if knew that on a certain date he will be downtown; it'll start to rain and he won't have an umbrella so he'll go into Starbucks and find himself sitting beside an attractive young woman who apologises for dripping water on him. We would know about the rain if we knew everything about global weather systems. We would know he will be downtown because we would know the job he is going to get. And we would know he would get that job because he will stay up late one night writing out the application and we would know that he would be offered the job because his interviewer will be in a good mood because she has put more sugar than usual in her coffee. And so on.
We would know all this because we would know the whole chain of circumstances underlying each event that preceded their meeting. And if we had total knowledge - omniscience - we would know exactly how their married life would proceed, how happy they would be, how many children they would have. And so on.
2.8c God knows
2d We are not free
The fact that God knows everything means that human beings have no free will. In our minds we are free - but the freedom is illusory. We think we are free because we do not see or understand all the influences on our personalities and lives - our parents' attitudes towards us, the viruses lurking in the air, airline timetables, bank crashes, friends' emotions, a shop window display. And so on.
But for God, we have no free will. He knows already every influence, past, present and future on our lives. He knows how we behave - and will behave - in every situation. He knows whether we will worship or abandon him. It makes no difference what we do, whether we pray and worship or sin and blaspheme; God knows, even before we are born whether we will enter Heaven or Hell after we die. Our free will is an illusion; our lives are forever fixed in the amber of God's mind.
Some believers accept this principle, known as predestination. They accept that God knows who will be saved and who will not and nothing anybody can do will change that situation. Within that group, some believe that they have been saved, which means that it doesn't matter how badly they behave because God has reserved a place for them in heaven. You can work out for yourself the fault in their logic...
2e God or free will
If God exists, we can only come to one of two conclusions:
a. If God knows everything, we have no free will - and he lies when he tells us that we have it
b. If we have free will, God does not know everything - he is not God
The second conclusion is unacceptable to monotheists, who believe that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. (A God who is not omniscient is possible for Deists.) The logic of their own position means that Christians (and Jews and Muslims) have to accept that we have no free will; it doesn't matter what Church leaders tell you or whether you live your life as a sinner or saint, God knows already whether you are going to Heaven or Hell.
But we do not have to be pushed into either of these conclusions. There is a third possibility: that God does not exist at all. So, our final choice is between an omniscient God that makes a mockery of the idea of free will, a God that does not know everything (and that therefore may not be all-powerful), and no God at all. Whichever we choose, we cannot avoid the conclusion that we can have either free will or an omniscient God, but we cannot have both.
If God doesn't exist, does that mean we really do have free will? Yes and no. Much of our lives are determined by things over which we have no control - we don't decide whether our parents will copulate, as infants we cannot choose the food we eat that will determine our life-long health, as children we are subject to myriad influences that determine our personalities, and even as adults we are subject to events much more than we control them. From that perspective, our free will is limited.
In fact, following that argument to its conclusion - that every aspect of our lives, from our personality and our emotions and our health to our actions and the people around us and the day to day events that take place around us - we could argue that each individual's life is predestined by a near-infinite combination of physical and chemical reactions that began long before we were born. If we knew everything that had happened so far, we could predict everything that will happen, right down to the last crumb of bread we will eat and the amount of rain that will fall on our heads on any given day. From that perspective, we have nothing more than the illusion of free will.
Ultimate reality, therefore, is that we have no free will, but in our every day lives illusion is reality: if we have health and moderate wealth and live in a society where our movements and speech are not restricted, we are free to determine much of our lives - who to live with with, where to live, whether to have children, what to eat, how to spend our time and so on. We are even free, if we wish, to believe in the folly of a God who denies us free will . . .
Chapter Two: Section 9 Miracles and prayer
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If God existed, he would...
admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create
recognize that eternity is meaningless
deny both heaven and hell
disown all men and women who speak in his name
denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"
help the human race to thrive without him
If God existed, he would be an atheist.
What is the difference between science and faith?
science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything
faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing
Which do you trust?
"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"
Check the answer