Free Will: Its Essential Nature and Implications


Your brain has always seemed clear and sharp, Paidion! I appreciate the clarity with which you express your ideas and opinions.

I too took philosophy and graduated with a degree in it, and I’ve kept up over the years, reading a lot - but I learned early on to avoid philosophical writing that is incomprehensible; the few works of that sort to which I have devoted an unnecessarily long time for study, well, when I was finished (and I try to put everything into my own words - I’m doing that now as I read Polanyi) - it generally was not worth the ride. Some ideas ARE difficult, and often made inaccessible because of bad writing; my test is to read what I’ve written, aloud to my wife, who is plenty intelligent but is, by temperament, no philosopher - and if she does not understand me, it generally means I don’t understand the subject well enough.

That being said, sometimes just ‘writing out loud’ is a good way to get a better handle on a concept, and then bouncing it off a group of friendly forumites :smiley: helps to sharpen it up.


I’m wondering how middle knowledge and molinism fit in with our understanding of the block universe, and whether that or some other explanation of God’s predestination/ foreknowledge is the best fit for that model. I’ve had the block universe stuff going on in the back of my head through this whole thread, actually…


Let me know when you’ve figured it out Melchi! :smiley:
I was pondering the same thing today in a way. I was trying to figure out how all the apparent randomness (which also is such a big part of quantum mechanics) could be consistent with the block universe which seems so determined—at least at first glance. :confused:


Amen to the moral obligation to enjoy the Oregon sunshine. :slight_smile: As much as I’m mulling over the ‘psychological impossibility’ idea with some of the earlier examples – avoiding going out in the sun here might well indeed be a psychological impossibility.


That’s a great book Paidion! As far as WLC and Molinism - don’t feel bad if you can’t understand it. What is illogical is incomprehensible in the first place!

But what Craig teaches is that libertarian free choices have eternal truth value, independent of the person actually making the choice. God knows “logically prior” to any being making a choice what he or she will do. This knowledge, he claims, does not in any way determine the choice itself.

But to me this is impossible. For how can God know such things? It’s not by observation (for the beings aren’t created yet), and neither from his will making it true (else that would imply determinism and make God the author of sin). Unless we want to posit a sort of Platonic world of truths whose existence is independent of God’s causative power there’s no conceivable way that libertarian choices can have truth value before they are made. (This is the famous “grounding objection”.) There is no answer from Molinists on these points. They appeal to mystery (though it seems to me impossible, rather than mysterious).

WLC and others who hold this view do so because they think it makes most sense of prophetic texts in the Bible - not for any philosophic reason. But they fail to note that although at first blush Molinism MAY make more sense of some passages, it cannot at all deal with others: like God changing his mind, expressing regret, prophecies that don’t come true, etc. I’m convinced Open Theism is superior both Scripturally and philosophically.

But of course there are many who would disagree with me. :mrgreen:


Yes, the Bible portrays good angels/archangels and evil angel/archangels without describing their origin. I see no easy philosophical explanation for the origin of evil archangels and an evil prince of this world. Regardless of the difficulties that I’ll face in the development of my philosophy and theology, my experiences in my personal life and Charismatic Christian ministry along with my biblical studies suggest to me the real existence of evil angels who are intelligent agents.

Alternatively, I understand that some Trinitarians take a Barthian view of demons. I know of no way to completely refute that or similar views while I disagree with it.

In any case, I appreciate that asked me about my current project. I merely mentioned it to explain why I’m not caving in to the temptation to go full force with your topic of free will, which is dear to me.

Anyway, I’m currently working on an analytical theology paper on legal relative identity and the Trinity. Perhaps you never heard of legal relative identity. Well, then, check out my 2014 law journal essay “Natural Unity and Paradoxes of Legal Persons” in THE JOURNAL JURISPRUDENCE 21 (

After I get this submitted, I’ll work on an academic book with the tentative title Trinitarian Theology Without Contradiction: A Brief Philosophical and Biblical Theology. What is the outline you ask? :slight_smile:

Tentative Table of Contents
I: Metaphysical and Physical Models
1: Parallel Universes of Eternity and Successive Time
2. Divine Processes and Theodicy
3: Paradoxes of Natural Legal Entities and Biblical Theology
II: Biblical Theology
4: Bibliology and Hermeneutics
5: Trinity
6: Creation, Humans, Angels, and Demons
7: Old Testament Covenants and Messianic Prophecy
8: Messianic New Covenant
9: Eschatology

Chapters 2 and 6 will tackle free will. Also, chapters 2 and 9 will tackle universalism.


Alec & Melchi,

I’m having a hard time squaring this with a “block universe” too. I’ve actually seen the block universe thing before – there was a film years ago about something similar, but I can’t remember much about it – except that it made no sense to me, what they were trying to demonstrate. There are so many hypotheses out there it’s hard to know who to believe, and of course everyone believes his or her own hypothesis . . . and they all have impressive creds so how do you decide?

I’m not sure I’m buying the block universe thing though. Maybe a person could consider the parts that exist in our future as probability, not solidified until they’re examined. But that kind of sets it up as futurist, really. One thing seems clear to me. The block as described (or as I understand the description) makes any kind of choice moot. Am I missing something?


James, sounds like a great project – can’t wait to see how it comes out! :smiley:


The best example I read from WLC concerning Molinism and explaining counter-factuals (as I understood it, I’ll state first off I’m no philosopher, at all, my background is history and archaeology, and grasp things best through that prism, and have only layman’s understand in scientific matters) was his use of the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as an example. In this he referred to the possible future Scrooge sees with the Ghost of Christmas Future, and sees what his life would be (or not be more to the point) if he did not change his ways, but in the story he does and that future does not come to pass. However it would have come to pass had Scrooge not repented, and the choices both he (and everyone else in that future) were true, and were their free choices which they made and would have made had Scrooge not seen it and repented. And from what I grasped, this is something of how WLC means by counter-factual and God’s knowledge of all the choices we could make in any logical possible situation, of course whether people find that plausible I don’'t know, I personally don’t have a real problem with it, but then I a big Sci-Fi and fantasy fan which is full of parallel worlds, possible futures, alternate dimensions and other realities so I might be blind to more obvious contradictions (like I said, philosophy isn’t my strong suit).

As to the block universe, I think more we or our perception of time is travelling through it, and we do make all our choices from that travelling perspective, they are all true choices and relations and complex multiple interactions, but to God in this view every moment and choice is now and is part of an interactive great whole. All our choices and reactions are now as it were, but to us who travel within it, it is made moment by moment, frame by frame, I think CS Lewis tried to explain something this way, that made sense to me in that it could possibly be this way, but I am uncommitted either way. I also wonder if the uncertain nature in quantum physics, where quarks I think (I could be wrong here) have non-locality until they are observed might better fit into some form Open-Theism or Monilism or such hmmm.

Anyway, those are my amateur observations.

(also on the subject of demons, Robin Parry has done a book recently looking into it, and different views on what it might be, which he did an interview here for those interested: )


James - looking at the proposed table of contents - by ‘brief’ you obviously mean under 1,500 pages or so?? :laughing:

Looks like a great project in scope and intent! I look forward to it.



Thanks so much for explaining counterfactuals to me! And for your (most likely unjustified!) confidence in my abilities. :laughing: I had to read through it slowly, three or four times, but now I think I do understand. Much obliged!


Thank you Cindy and Dave. Also, Dave, this book will be mostly constructive and concise while offshoots might approach the 1500 pages that you suggest.


Well, I think you might be missing something, but I’m struggling to understand it as well. The proponents I’ve read say that block U. doesn’t actually interfere with free will, even though it would appear to. I have yet to understand exactly how this works though. They do say however that it does require us to rethink our definition of what free will is. I think that such a model would inevitably come down to looking something like the compatibilist model of free will, though I could be wrong. If I find something that explains it well, I’ll be sure to pass it on!


I have the feeling that the block universe model is probably largely true but I’m not sure we really understand what it means. :confused: It’s the result of mathematical modeling by non-philosophers and so those implications (free-will etc) probably haven’t been extensively studied by philosophers. The best model of the universe is probably the “block universe” plus something else. Quantum mechanics in its current form doesn’t seem to fit with general relativity which Einstein developed (the basis for the block universe) so there’s some tension there.

Oh, and as far as randomness of subatomic particles, that has to do with “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle” it appears–part of quantum mechanics. Einstein believed “that randomness is a reflection of our ignorance of some fundamental property of reality” while Niels Bohr “believed that the probability distributions are fundamental and irreducible, and depend on which measurements we choose to perform. Einstein and Bohr debated the uncertainty principle for many years. Some experiments within the first decade of the twenty-first century have cast doubt on how extensively the uncertainty principle applies.” (Bohr was a proponent of Heisenberg’s ideas.) Quotes taken from this wiki article:

So I don’t think the physics is set in stone, but I think it’s worth speculating on*** as if*** the “block universe” idea was “proven” despite that. By the way, I have no expertise in this area at all… :smiley:


So, I found this (which I think I’ve seen before somewhere) here: … -universe/

“Free Will in a Block Universe
Some people have suggested that the block universe model is incompatible with any notion of free will. This, they would say, is because the future appears to be set-in-stone in the block universe model, so we are never at liberty to change it by our choices. I would disagree with this reasoning as I believe it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the block universe implies. We will see that the block universe is completely compatible with the notion of free will.
The misunderstanding arises because the notion of free will is so poorly defined. We all think we know what “free will” is, we have a feeling, but it is very hard to write down what the phrase actually means and implies. In the absence of a satisfactory definition, I am going to define “free will” in what I believe is the best and most accurate description:
Free will is defined as the ability to make decisions.
(This appears to be the same definition of free will used by the Compatibilism school of philosophy which states that you have free will if you feel free to make a conscious decision without, for example, someone forcing you to make a particular decision by pointing a gun at your head. Hence, the Compatibilists believe you can have free will even in a deterministic universe. But I am taking the Compatibilist view further by saying that not only can you have free will in a deterministic universe, but you can also have free will in a deterministic block universe).
So what do I mean by “making a decision”? It means the ability to consider a range of many possible courses of action, and to select only one course of action from that range of possibilities. To all intents and purposes, I think that is a reasonable definition of free will.
This definition of free will is completely compatible with the block universe model. The key thing is that only one course of action results when we make a decision. There is only one outcome. There is only ever one stream of events. For example, the sequence of events when we come to a fork in the road might be:
EVENT 1) You walk along the road and come to a fork in the road.
EVENT 2) You decide to turn to the left.
EVENT 3) You continue your journey along the left road.
This is just a sequence of three events, and that’s all the block universe is: a sequence of successive events. So these three events can easily be incorporated into the block universe model.
In the block universe model, events are unchanging and “frozen-in-time”. But that does not mean that those events do not represent the expression of free will. For example, when we look back into the past we consider those past events to be “frozen”, and nothing could change those events. However, we might also remember some of those past events as representing moments when we made decisions, i.e., expressed our free will. So the notion of free will is in no way incompatible with the block universe “frozen-in-time” representation of unalterable events.
In his book The Fabric of Reality David Deutsch suggests that some sort of “branching” multiverse universe is required to account for free will and the human decision process (see the New Scientist article Taming the Multiverse). In Deutsch’s model, when the human comes to a fork in the road, the universe (and the person) splits into two different universes so the person is capable of travelling down both roads. Deutsch appears to think that this is the only way that the human can have free will. But Deutsch is ignoring the fact that a decision can only ever have one outcome, so only one road is travelled after the decision is made (i.e., after the human expresses his free will). This is therefore completely compatible with a single block universe: no branching “multiverses” are necessary.”


That’s very helpful, Tim :smiley:

Edit: The difficulty may be in the idea that the “time” component of time-space was there the moment the universe was created and was already “fixed” at that point. So in a theistic view, it at least implies foreknowledge by the Creator—unless there is more to the physics or I’ve misrepresented the idea…


Guys, I’m enjoying this discussion, but wondering whether we might be derailing [tag]tomtalbott[/tag]'s topic. :confused: I’ll tag him and see whether he’d like one of us to move this part of the discussion over to the block universe topic.

So, expecting to be moving this over to the Block topic soon . . . there is a way to square quantum mechanics and general relativity, but it’s kind of whoo-woo in a Twilight Zone sort of way. The “Many Worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics posits that probability waves do not in fact collapse, but that every variable actually happens. By this interpretation, every time something might happen this way, or might happen that way, a new world splits off. :open_mouth: This way all the possible things (and decisions) that could ever conceivably come to pass – DO come to pass. I think I saw Allen alluding to this a while back, wondering whether the “I” in every iteration of the “self” would in time be reintegrated with all the other iterations to make one complete whole and presumably VERY experienced person. Yeah, well I said it was Twilight Zone . . . but it DOES preserve Einstein’s theory and it does NOT postulate a God who “plays dice” (which was Einstein’s beef with QM). So take it for what it’s worth . . . rampant speculation. :laughing: But interesting.


Thanks Cindy! :smiley:

We probably are derailing the topic a bit so glad you’re tagging Tom and moving the posts if necessary. :wink: I have to say, though, your explanation of the " Many Worlds" idea was excellent and very helpful ! :smiley: Also wondered if Stannard’s book is worth buying?


Thanks, Steve :slight_smile:

It wouldn’t be satisfying to a scientist, but it’s probably the best I’ll ever be able to do. :wink: And it’s only a very few words to describe a very complicated topic.

I’m about halfway through Stannard’s book. It’s okay, but I’m not blown away or anything. It seems to be written to the agnostic/atheist, and he spends a lot of time explaining things I already knew (and you do too). He dumps the miracles of Jesus and the virgin birth, but keeps the resurrection. I don’t regret my seven bucks, though I’d be unhappy if I’d paid fifteen. But maybe it will get more exciting. He isn’t up to the physics yet. So far it’s mostly apologetics. I’ll let you know how I get along.


Thanks, Cindy! :smiley:

Your explanation was great. I appreciate it!

My Nook broke down and I haven’t bought a new one yet. I’ll probably get the book when I finally replace it (possibly with a Kindle.) Interesting that the “Block Universe” has now derailed two threads! (I think that’s a record for a non-violence topic at least) :laughing: