Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Does grammar help us believe in free will?

Does humanity's instinctive grammar indicate that free will is compatible with God's knowledge of everything?

Consider the words "will" and "must". One use of the modal verb "will" is to "express inevitability" (e.g. accidents will happen) and this is quite close to one use of the modal verb "must" which is to "be compelled by physical necessity" or "be logically inferred or supposed" (e.g. one must eat to live).

"Will" and "must" in these senses are very similar but you can't just have "must". Language needs "will", but "will" is different from "must" in an interesting way. "Will" expresses certainty but implicitly something else could have happened. "Must" expresses certainty but implicitly nothing else could have happened.

For example, you can say, "Sally must go for a walk" and you can clearly see how there is no other option for Sally than to go for a walk. But if you say, "Sally will go for a walk, then you know that Sally will go for a walk, but you don't exclude the possibility that Sally could have stayed at home. There was no "must" about Sally going for a walk - she might not have - it was "will".

So, in other words, our grammar splits predictions into two types: certain predictions where, implicitly, something else could have happened other than what was predicted, and certain predictions where nothing else could have happened other than what was predicted.

So I think that God's knowledge could be of the "will" happen variety and not the "must" happen variety. This would mean that God doesn't know that we "must" choose what God predicts, only that we "will". This helps the idea of free will because it means we don't have to do choose what God predicts, although we will. Think about how that would work for a moment. I'm not clear on it myself.

It might mean that a form of backwards causation happens where God, first, lets us define our character and then, second, His knowledge about that is caused by it happening in the future. So your choice to have a certain character at time 100 causes God's knowledge of it at time 0, rather than your choice at time 100 causes God's knowledge of it at time 100. The choice still causes God's knowledge of it, but it doesn't work from past => future.

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