CHAPTER THREE

GOD AND FREE CHOICES

But this doesn't address the difficulty arising from the fact that God knew from all eternity that the crucifixion would occur, and even inspired the prophets to predict beforehand that it would occur; and Jesus himself predicted that events connected with it (such as Judas' betrayal) would have to occur "to fulfill the Scriptures"; and after the Resurrection explained to the students on the road to Emmaus how all these things "had to happen."

None of this, however, necessarily implies that we are talking about anything other than the necessity of a fact. If I look back at what I wrote above about my typing-while-not-typing I recognize now both that (as a fact) it had to be what it was, even though (as under my control) it didn't have to be that way.

So the statement of Jesus after the Resurrection is easily explained as that same kind of statement. This is the way it was. Since it was this way, it couldn't have been any other way.

It would seem, however, that the prior prediction of what would occur would have to preclude freedom. But this actually involves a different version of the same confusion of the two kinds of necessity. We tend to think that, since the future has not occurred yet, it has no "necessity of a fact," and is in reality indeterminate (and therefore under our control), whereas the past has happened, and so cannot be otherwise than it is and cannot be affected by what we do now. I have heard even intelligent philosophers speak this way, trying to justify freedom on the grounds that the free choice determines what was before the choice indeterminate (the future); but that the past can't be affected by a choice. because it is already determinate.

There are actually several confusions here. Let us clear them up one by one. In the first place, what in fact will happen will in fact happen. That is, it is not the case that I will both get up at six o'clock tomorrow morning and not get up at six o'clock. The future is not "indeterminate" in the sense that somehow both of those statements are true, nor in the sense that both of them are false. Only one of them is true, and one of them is false. I do not now know whether I will get up at six o'clock tomorrow morning or not; but I do now know that I either will or I won't; so what I don't know is which of the alternatives will be realized in fact.(1)

So the future is "indeterminate" only in the sense that it is now unknown by me which of the alternatives will occur, not in the sense that (a) both are somehow "there," or that (b) now it is possible that neither will occur. If I don't get up at six tomorrow, then it is necessarily false that I get up at six tomorrow; one or the other of the alternatives must be realized, and the other must not be, because tomorrow the fact will be the fact, and A is A, whether in the past, present, or future.(2)

Hence, the future is determinate in itself. What will be will be. It is determinate with the "necessity" of a fact, however, and not with the necessity of inevitability. I will or will not make the choice to get up at six o'clock, and I will or will not carry out my choice. If I choose to get up and if I carry out my choice, then my actual getting up will be contingent upon my choice, which (as free) could have been different from what I actually chose.

But this is exactly the case with my getting up this morning. I chose to get up at six thirty this morning, and actually got up at that time; and as it happened, I lay in bed between six fifteen and six thirty, contemplating whether I should get up or not (I could have waited until six forty-five and still got to work on time). So it was a fact that I got up at six thirty, and that I freely got up at six thirty. The fact that I now know what actually happened does not alter the contingency of that fact in the least. It could have been different from what it was; it was not in fact different from what it was. Similarly, the time I actually get up tomorrow morning could be different from what it in fact will be, but it will not in fact be different from what in fact will happen. The time, whether past, present, or future, has no bearing on the determinateness of the event, nor on its contingency.

But if God knows what will happen, doesn't that knowledge make the event inevitable? Not in the least. It can be shown that God knows events as they actually exist. If the event is a free event (such as choosing to get up), then if God's knowledge of it made it inevitable in the sense that the options open to me are not real, then in the first place, no choice is ever free, because clearly God knows every single choice of every supposedly "free" being, and God's knowledge of the choice removes any real option except the one which he knows is a fact.

But in the second place, this means that I am essentially deceived about my free choices, because I cannot in fact choose any of the options except the one which God knows is a fact. In that case, I can't help my choices any more than I can help my height or the color of my skin; and so I cannot be held responsible for my choices any more than I can be held responsible for my height or skin color. In that case, it is unjust for God to punish me for any sin I commit, or reward me for any virtuous act I do, because there was no alternative open to me; it only seemed to me that there was an alternative. And since I can't be undeceived from my notion that my free choices are free, then this deception is built into my nature and inescapable; and so God has created a creature in such a way that he as creator has deceived him in the very essence of what he has created.

Clearly, that line of reasoning creates more difficulties than it solves.

Far more sensible is to say that God can make the same kind of distinction that we finite creatures can make: he knows (eternally, to be sure) which option I in fact choose at any given moment in time. But he also eternally knows that this option which I choose could have been a different option, because I had the power to choose any of the known options--and therefore that the option I chose is dependent on my choice for its specification, not dependent on God's knowledge of it. Hence, God knows what my choice is, and that I am the one responsible for the choice.

This also applies to God's creative activity. God creates the whole universe in one single act, since God is nothing but one single act (see Modes of the Finite Part One, Section 4, Chapter7 ; and this "creating" means "causes every act in the universe to occur as the finite act which it is," because each finite act depends on God--the non-finite activity--for the fact that it is finite, as I point out in The Finite and the Infinite, Chapter 8, Section 1.2.

But this does not mean that finite acts don't also depend on other finite acts; God causes them to exist as they are, and they exist as really dependent on other acts. For instance, the words you see on this page exist as dependent on what my fingers are doing at the moment--which means that if my fingers were doing something different, the words would be either different or nonexistent. But the words as finite realities depend directly on God, because nothing else can cause them to exist as finite existences. But God causes them to exist as they are, and as they are, what sort of finite existences they are (the specification of their finiteness) depends on my action.

Now then, God eternally causes my free choices to exist as free, and hence as dependent on themselves for their determination. His causality does not determine them, because then they would be externally determined and not self-determined; and so they would be a contradiction in terms: self-determined acts which are determined by something other than the self.

Still, he obviously could prevent them from occurring if he did not exert his causal activity. That is, just as I could prevent your free choices from occurring if I knocked you unconscious, so God's causality on the free act (making it finite) means that the free act (which, to be sure, is specified by the choice itself) can't occur without it; and so if God withholds his contribution to the act, he can still prevent its happening (should he want to do such a thing). In that sense, God has control over the self-determining acts of his creatures, without meaning that his control determines what the act is to be. There is more to it than this, but for a more complete discussion, see The Finite and the Infinite,Chapter 8, Section2.1.

The upshot of this, however, is that neither God's knowledge nor his causal contribution to the free choices of his creatures makes those choices inevitable; if the choices are free, they are self-determining, and this entails precisely the opposite of inevitability. God's control over them (supposing, as one must, that he wills free choices to be free and not determined from outside) would be exercised in manipulating the non-free elements of the situation by putting a person into circumstances in which the person in fact will freely make the choice God wants him to make.

That is, God's control over our free choices could be exercised in a way differing only in degree from the way we ourselves manipulate each other: if you know a person's character and you want him to do something for you, you present him with "an offer he can't refuse." You know he can refuse it; but given his character, it is unlikely that he will in fact do so. The only difference between this and what God can do to control our choices is that he knows that it is not only unlikely that the refusal will occur, but that it will not in fact occur, because he knows every event that in fact happens in this world.


Notes

1. I might point out that those who want to hold that the future is indeterminate because it is future run into difficulties with Relativity Theory when talking about events at a distance, at least; because what is future from one standpoint is past from another, and there is no absolute standpoint from which it can be decided which is objectively correct. Hence, the same event would be both indeterminate and determinate. Obviously, there is something fishy here.

2. As I read this over on the morrow, I can now report that I got up at six fifteen, and so it is false that I got up at six o'clock. This, of course, means that "I will not get up at six o'clock" was in fact the true statement when I made it yesterday, even though yesterday I had no way of knowing this fact.

Next