Free Will and God

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    Rounak Contact

    Are free will and God’s omniscience mutually exclusive? If we have free will, that means we can choose an option from a host of other options. If God is omniscient, then He probably knows what choice we are going to make. If He knows the choice that we will make, then how are we free in making the choice? How do we understand this apparent contradiction?

    Ashish Dalela

    We are free to will, but we depend on God for abilities and opportunities. Without the abilities and opportunities, our desires can only be frustrated. God is omniscient and He gives the abilities and opportunities based on the will. So He knows what you are willing and He fulfills that will by giving you abilities and opportunities. For example, you might want to eat tasty food, but that will is not good enough. You need cash in hand and then a restaurant where you can eat. Cash in hand is an ability, and the restaurant is an opportunity. If God doesn’t agree to this, then you won’t have cash and you will not find a restaurant. You can keep desiring.

    If we have free will, that means we can choose an option from a host of other options.

    Your question is based on the assumption that you are randomly seeing different things and then you are choosing. In other words, you are the master and decision-maker. This is an atheistic idea. The truth is that God knows what you want and He shows you and then you say “I’m attracted to this thing, and I want it.” If God did not know what you want, then you will see lots of random things, and you will say, “What a horrible experience, I never want it again.”

    You have to realize that the possibilities are infinite, and what you will like or choose from those possibilities is so minuscule that the chances of you finding what you will like out of the infinite possible things are next to zero. The fact that you find so many things that you like is itself the grace of God. He knows you and He shows you that which you will like. This is His kindness. If He did not have kindness and omniscience, then everything you see, you will dislike.

    Sai Saurab

    @ashish But the problem is that God’s omniscience contradicts my free will. If for eg., there is such a thing as misuse of one’s free will, it implies that there is a right use of it i.e., going back in time to the same situation X, one could have acted/chosen differently.
    But God’s eternal omniscience implies that the choice that I was going to make in situation X was known to God long long before I actually encountered situation X, which means that my choice in situation X was fixed long long before too (because if I choose differently, that would contradict God’s knowledge). Hence, the conclusion that my will is not free.
    Isn’t this a contradiction?

    C S Begu

    @sai This is indeed an interesting question.
    Like Ashish said, the encountered situation is in fact arranged by God (or His Energy, Shakti, which is all the possibilities of choice). Whether God knows or wants to know all the future choices you will make from the possibility I think is intriguing. From the theory exposed by Ashish so far, God pays attention to the material world sequentially, whereas He pays attention to what happens in the spiritual world simultaneously. That is because God wants to know what He is (His internal energy) all the time, while He wants to know what He is not (Maha-Maya) only one sometimes.
    So the question is does God wants to know your future choices in the material world? Because if He doesn’t, He won’t know them (I think). @Ashish, please correct me if I’m going on a limb here…

    Ashish Dalela

    God knows what will happen, but not who will do it. The universal drama has a script that is decided by God’s will and then who wants to play which role is decided by the soul.

    You can understand this in terms of economics. The market size is fixed but the actors in the market are free. The market size is simply the total number of transactions of giving and taking. Just like someone will borrow money from a bank and some bank will lend. The total amount of money borrowed and lent is fixed. But that doesn’t mean which bank will give to which borrower is fixed. God’s omniscience and control are about what will happen, not about who will do it. In terms of history, you can say that there will be someone who will do bad things and someone who will do good things, and the count of these good and bad deeds are fixed. But actors are not.

    There is a scientific basis for this answer which I have discussed in a paper entitled “Choices in General Relativity”. The universe of events is fixed but the actors are not fixed.

    You are basically posing the free will vs. determinism problem but you are giving it a theistic color by saying determinism is God’s foreknowledge. This is making things seem more complicated. You can remove God from this, and then you are plain and simple talking about determinism. Once you understand how free will is compatible with determinism the determinism created by God’s will be compatible with the free will of individual choices.

    Danakeli Dasi

    I would like clarification on the following…
    You wrote, “God knows what will happen, but not who will do it…. God’s omniscience and control stretches to what will happen, not to who will do it.“ How is His “not knowing” not against His omniscience?
    What can’t we say He does know how we’ll use our free will in choosing our role in the drama but that He isn’t causing our choices or decisions? I fail to see how His knowing beforehand & our choosing are mutually exclusive or how His knowing demotes the system as determined. Just like a parent can know beforehand how their child will choose when offered some role options in the school drama, but that doesn’t mean the parent interferred w/ or caused the child’s choice.

    Ashish Dalela

    How is His “not knowing” not against His omniscience?

    Omniscience means that when it happens God knows about it. He is not ignorant that something is happening so He is fully aware that something is happening. He is the Supreme observer and not the instigator of those choices. The question you are asking pertains to knowing the future, not the present or the past. If omniscience is defined as all that is happening or becoming an actual fact, then God is omniscient. If the question is — Can God predict what will happen in the future? — again God is omniscient. However, if the question is — Can God predict what I will do, there is limited omniscience; limited by the fact that I can change my decision.

    What can’t we say He does know how we’ll use our free will in choosing our role in the drama but that He isn’t causing our choices or decisions? I fail to see how His knowing beforehand & our choosing are mutually exclusive or how His knowing demotes the system as determined.

    Knowing amounts to a cause in the sense that if I can predict my actions in the future, and these predictions can never be wrong, then the future is predetermined, and hence there is no choice. Basically, my succession of choices forms a predetermined trajectory and I cannot deviate from that trajectory. If I cannot deviate because it is known beforehand, then I cannot choose.

    Just like a parent can know beforehand how their child will choose when offered some role options in the school drama, but that doesn’t mean the parent interferred w/ or caused the child’s choice.

    The parent’s ability to predict what the child will do is not perfect. The reason is that the child’s personality is changing. Today the child may like ice cream and dislike vegetables, but tomorrow his or her preferences may change. So, unpredictability comes from the fact that our personality can change. To the extent that the personality is fixed, we can predict that this personality will behave in this manner, and there is no choice because choices are decided by personality.

    You can say that the choice is ruled by personality, but sometimes choice rules personality and chooses a new personality. You can think of it in the following way — I can choose to play the king right now, but after some time I will get bored of it and want to play the knight. We cannot say when a person will get bored and decide to switch; that switching is occasional, which means our free will or choice operates occasionally when we switch. In between these switches, there is a predictable path, which is why the parent can predict the child’s behavior most of the time.

    However, even when the personality changes it changes slowly and you can then predict what is going to happen. For example, as a child is growing up, suddenly he or she may become more interested in studying as opposed to playing and that is a surprise for parents; they will say that I am pleasantly surprised by the change. So ignorance leads to surprise, and that surprise can be pleasant or unpleasant. The surprise is not a bad thing; it is unpleasant surprises that are bad.

    For the most part, God is pleasantly surprised, especially in the spiritual world. There are changes and novelty but it is constantly improving and expanding the pleasure. Sometimes, however, He is also unpleasantly surprised, which occurs when the soul falls down. There may be impending signs of a fall down when the pleasant surprises have ceased, and you could predict that someone is going to fall down because he or she slowly becomes averse. But there will always be incremental and small surprises, and that element of surprise is essential to novelty.

    In essence, knowledge is only one part of God — the chit. What about the other part — namely ananda or happiness which rests on being surprised? The contradiction is not between God’s omniscience and the soul’s free will, but between God’s knowledge and happiness. Emotionally, knowledge of the future creates peace, security, and stability. However, you would have noticed that when everything is peaceful, secure, and stable, then people seek thrill and novelty and jump from that stability into the abyss of the unknown. Why?

    In the book Emotion, I have discussed this paradox, and the basic point is that the soul is not internally consistent. We are driven by inner contradictions. When this contradiction is reconciled, then Brahman is attained and we remain stable. But this contradiction has to be celebrated as it leads us to thrill, surprise, suspense, anticipation, and excitement. Knowledge is boring! It makes everything so clear. The thrill is in the unpredictable. So, the main point is that instead of seeing non-omniscience as a ‘limitation’ of God, we have to see it as a feature of God, the feature by which He is thrill-seeking, exciting, unpredictable, and surprising.

    Danakeli Dasi

    This response is very satisfying. Thank you!
    For many years I’ve been dissatisfied w/ the answer that God’s omniscience about what I will choose in the future does not contradict my free will, yet I’ve accepted it due to not being able to put my finger on what exactly is wrong w/ this picture which is causing my dissatisfaction deep down inside.
    Now here’s the answer: misplaced contradiction. The contradiction is between God’s chit & His ananda! I suppose due to the impersonal conception of God fed to us for so long we consequently wrongly over-emphasize God’s chit while ignoring or deemphasizing His ananda.

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