Motto:

"There are none so blind as those who will not see." --

Google+ Badge

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How Free is God's Will?

One of the main reasons we can have for believing in God is that, If God exists, we have a good explanation for the existence of an orderly and relatively life-friendly universe such as we find ourselves in. But this is only true if God’s will is not completely free. To see why this is so, let us consider two sets of possible worlds: The first is the set of all possible worlds, and the second is the set of all possible worlds where God exists.[1] Now, my question is this: Does God’s nature impose any constraints on which possible worlds He can actualize? Of course, if God exists, it follows that God cannot actualize any possible worlds where He does not exist, and so in this sense the answer to my question is surely “yes”. But are there any constraints besides this? Or is the set of worlds in which God exists, apart from His existence, exactly the same as the set of worlds in which God does not exist? To clarify: Is God’s existence compatible with possible worlds which are disordered, hostile to life, and which perhaps contain no sentient beings at all? If it is, the existence of God cannot explain the order and life-friendliness of the universe because those characteristics are no more likely if God exists than if He doesn’t. But if God’s nature does impose constraints on which worlds God can actualize—constraints which, as above, rule out possible worlds which are too disorderly to accommodate life or sentience of any sort—then there are significant constraints on what God can will, for then God cannot actualize just any possible world. God’s will would not be completely free. This would not mean that God is “forced” to actualize only orderly, life-friendly worlds against His will, but rather that those are the only kinds of worlds God could desire to actualize. The upshot of our considerations is this: On the one hand, if God’s will is completely free, there are no constraints on which worlds God can actualize, and hence God’s existence does not explain the existence of an orderly, life-friendly universe. One of the main reasons we could have for believing that God exists would be undercut. On the other hand, if God’s nature does impose constraints on which worlds He can actualize, there are significant constraints on His free will, which may be considered unorthodox by many theists. Thus, if they wish to uphold the complete freedom of God’s will, they cannot endorse teleological and/or cosmological arguments for God’s existence. For such arguments presuppose that God’s existence would explain the existence of an orderly, life-friendly universe, but we have seen that this would not be so if God’s will were completely free.



[1] I am supposing that God does not exist in all possible worlds (assuming for the sake of argument that He exists). If you disagree, consider two different ways of envisioning the space of all possible worlds: One in which God exists in all, and another in which God exists in none.

4 comments:

Steve said...

I'd be interested in hearing a theist's response, of course. Here's a couple of my thoughts.

Is God’s existence compatible with possible worlds which are disordered, hostile to life, and which perhaps contain no sentient beings at all? If it is, the existence of God cannot explain the order and life-friendliness of the universe because those characteristics are no more likely if God exists than if He doesn’t.

Right. I would say the implication is that design or fine-tuning arguments for God have no advantage (on their own anyway) vs. positing a multiverse.

But if God’s nature does impose constraints on which worlds God can actualize—constraints which, as above, rule out possible worlds which are too disorderly to accommodate life or sentience of any sort—then there are significant constraints on what God can will, for then God cannot actualize just any possible world.

Here, I think a theist would try to say that God's choices are free in the sense that while they're understandable given his nature, one shouldn't think they follow deterministically from his nature. So, he's free, but we can still say his nature helps explain our world.

I would just say that the personal God hypothesis has no advantage over the multivese option when considering the design or cosmological arguments. It may be more attractive if you have independent objections to positing a multiverse. On the other hand, it has a disadvantage in that we seem to need a model of God's will, reasons, intentions, etc. and I'm not sure how we have any basis for figuring that out.

Jason Zarri said...

Hi Steve,

You said:
"Here, I think a theist would try to say that God's choices are free in the sense that while they're understandable given his nature, one shouldn't think they follow deterministically from his nature. So, he's free, but we can still say his nature helps explain our world."

I agree that a theist could make such a response. However, I wasn't trying to argue that constraints on God's will would would mean that God doesn't have free will, only that God's will would not be *as* free as has traditionally been supposed. As far as I'm aware, most Christians(I'm not that familiar with Judaism and Islam)have thought that God was free not to create anything at all, and that if He did create, He could create whatever He pleased. I'm sure there may be many Christians who would dissent from that view, especially nowadays, but I think that historically it's been the majority view, and it's that view that I was targeting in my post.

As for the multiverse...I'm not sure. I don't think we have much evidence either way at the moment, so I think I'll wait until we have a well-confirmed theory of quantum gravity (or whatever else may ultimately replace general relativity and the standard model) to come to a conclusion.

Michael Matye said...

One thing is a bit unclear to me in you argument. What do you mean by possible world? Do you mean "all that there is" or just worlds that are inaccessible to one another? If you mean "all that there is" then I agree with you that God couldn't possible create a world in which he does not exist. If you have the other view of possible worlds, then I don't see why God can't just cause a world (i'm thinking deism here) and not be present ( i.e. exist) in it.

Leaving that issue, I will follow your model and see what I come up with - -

I believe that God's existence is compatible with a barren wasteland world, disordered and hostile to life. God could do that if he so desired, forever or for a finite period.

Am I then committed to the notion that God's existence cannot explain the order and life-friendliness of the universe? Presumably, my reason for thinking God exists would be that if God didn't exist, the world would not be so orderly and friendly as it is. I'm not sure why I would be committed to the idea that these characteristics are no more likely if God exists than if He doesn’t.

Couldn't I just say that there are many more life-abounding possible worlds if God exists than there would be if God did not exist?

So the basic idea would be that (for simplicity's sake) there are say, 100 possible worlds regardless of whether or not god exists. If god exists, there would be more life-friendly worlds than if he didn't. Does that make sense? So I can still claim the "order exists hence god is more likely" thing.

Interesting post, got me thinking,

thanks,

Michael

baduin said...

I give you 100 dollars. You now have 100 dollars and try to deduct from that whether I exist.

It would seem that it is improbable that 100 dollars materalized by itself in your pocket. Therefore, it was given to you by someone, perhaps by me.

But there is no reason for me to give you 100$. Therefore the hypothesis that I do exist do not explain 100$ any better than the hypothesis that I do not exit.

Therefore, using Occam's razor, you should assume that I do not exist, and 100$ materialized due to random heat moves of paper molecules.