I recently got “The Giver” from the library. I remember quite enjoying the book but admit I haven’t read it in… well over a decade so I didn’t remember it hardly at all as I watched the film. I enjoyed the movie and have taken the time to reflect on it here. There will be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows.
One thing that humanity in this apparently post-apocalyptic world lacks is freedom. They take drugs to prevent emotions, demand “precision of language” that eliminates the use of words like “love” from the vocabulary, and live under a set of rules in which sameness is not only encouraged but enforced. It is only “The Giver” and “Receiver” who know what humanity used to be like, with all the joys and sorrows that accompanied it.
Perhaps the most prevalent theme throughout the movie is the notion that this loss of human freedom, though it apparently ensures survival of the species and eliminates much evil, is itself doing great harm to humanity. People commit infanticide and euthanasia without even having knowledge of what they are doing. A kind of blissful ignorance surrounds acts that would be considered morally barbaric. But the people’s ignorance means that it is more sad than appalling at first.
The film asks us to reflect on our own nature and think what we have done with our freedom. How have we used our freedom of choice to bring about good or evil? Is it worth sacrificing this freedom in order to have a facade of civility and “ending” of suffering.
A theme that is extremely prominent in the movie is the notion that freedom leads to suffering. This is not because freedom is inherently evil or painful, but rather because humanity so often uses freedom to bring about suffering. As noted above, the society in which people live seems to be free from evil, but has real atrocities being committed even without knowledge of the magnitude of the actions.
The movie itself is a kind of exploration of the problem of evil and the “free will defense” to this problem. Supposing that our world was created by a benevolent being, why is there evil? The answer in “The Giver” seems to be that we have used our given freedom to bring about great wrongs. Even when we attempt to create our own perfect society, that society remains inherently corrupt. We have squandered our freedom.
What “The Giver” paints is a picture of humanity as being inherently good; not in the moral sense in which we are perfect, but in the sense that humanity as created–along with the freedom of the will to use for good or ill–is a good thing. At once this hearkens back to the notion of a “very good” creation by God in the beginning and also looks forward to a day of hope.
Jonas’ actions to bring back emotions and memories to humanity is a quest of salvation. It is salvation from a kind of hell that humanity built for itself, putting up walls around the very things that could be used for good. The answer to the problem of evil is a solution from the “outside.” From beyond the capacity of the humans themselves, salvation was brought to them in the restoration of their free will. Yet the ultimate hope remains fleeting: the hope for a world in which suffering can be brought to a final end.
“The Giver” has a kind of eschatological scope in its study: a human-made utopia has failed. Can there be better waiting for us? With questions of free will, the problem of evil, and more in view, it is a worthy movie to watch and discuss.
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I’m continually frustrated when the concept of freedom of the will comes up among people, even in Christian circles, because it seems that inevitably people start to deny that freedom of the will is incompatible with the God of Classical Theism. I am a firm believer in human freedom of the will and I believe it is fully compatible with omniscience. (Though I do not deny that our human will is corrupted by the fall into sin and that salvation is the act of God, not a work of man… These things are most certainly true.)
Generally the objection is something like this: If God knows everything and is all-powerful, then everything is pre-determined.
I still have not seen any solid argument for why this should be the case whatsoever. The key, as I understand it, is the connection between foreknowledge and causation.
I don’t see any reason to believe that if a being that is omnipotent and omniscient knows that x will happen, that being somehow causes or determines that x must happen. Why should this be the case? Simply knowing with certainty what will happen in the future does not somehow mean that this being has somehow made a causal link between its knowledge and the future, rather, it just means that this being knows what any other being is going to do.
What connection is there between knowledge of an event in the future and determining it? I’d like any kind of analytic argument to try to deny that human freedom and omniscience are compatible.
I’ve argued elsewhere that these concepts are compatible, and I’d like to make this point more clear now.
Take “P” to mean “God [in Classical Theism–i.e. omniscient, omnipotent, etc.] knows in advance that some event, x, will happen”
Take “Q” to mean “some event, x, will happen”
3. Therefore, Q
I wanted to draw it in symbolic logic to make my point as clear as possible. It is necessarily true that if God knows x will happen, then x will happen. But then if one takes these terms, God knowing x will happen only means that x will happen, not that x will happen necessarily. Certainly, God’s foreknowledge of an event means that that event will happen, but it does not mean that the event could not have happened otherwise. If an event happens necessarily, that means the event could not have happened otherwise, but God’s foreknowledge of an event doesn’t somehow transfer necessity to the event, it only means that the event will happen. It could have been otherwise, in which case, God’s knowledge would have been different. The problem many people make is that they try to make the syllogism:
3. Therefore, □Q
This is actually an invalid argument. The only thing that follows from □(P⊃Q) is that, “necessarily, if P then Q,” not “if P, then, necessarily Q.”
It is true that “necessarily, if God knows that some event, x, will happen, then some event, x, will happen”… but then it doesn’t follow from this that some event, x, happens necessarily. Thus, the event x is not predetermined simply by God’s foreknowledge of an event.
The objection is sometimes simply put forward as: Necessarily, God cannot error in his knowledge. If God knows some event x, will happen, then x will happen. Therefore, necessarily, x will happen.
Take P and Q as above
Take R to be “God cannot error in his knowledge”
Again, this simply is an unsound and invalid argument. Simply stating that □R doesn’t show that for every event x that God knows, □x. It simply means that □R. R does not have a causal link to x (or Q above). It is true that □R on Classical Theism, but this does not mean that □Q or □P. There must be some argument to make P or Q necessary in order for there to be some kind of predetermined future, and I have no idea how an argument like that might go.There are ways that I can think of to formulate it, but it involves simply assuming that □R means that □P or □Q, so it would then be question-begging.
Perhaps I could take an example. Let’s say that I’m going to go to classes tomorrow (and I do hope I will, I don’t like missing classes!). God knows in advance that I’m going to go to classes tomorrow. His knowledge of this event means that it will happen, but it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t choose to stay in and sleep for a while, or play my new copy of Final Fantasy XIII, or do something more useless with my time. If I chose to, say, play Final Fantasy XIII (a strong temptation!), then God simply would have known that I would play FFXIII. His knowledge does not determine the outcome, His knowledge is simply of the outcome.
I’m open to hearing any analytic argument that manages to show how necessity can be transferred to events simply by God’s knowledge of them, but I’m skeptical as to the prospects of whether it can be done.
This argument can be seen in William Lane Craig’s writings like The Only Wise God and also in his podcast episodes on the doctrine of God.
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Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom is a topic I have written on in the past. Initially, I wrote a post that was derived almost entirely from William Lane Craig’s The Only Wise God. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a second post that expanded slightly on the ideas. These garnered much discussion, though perhaps more on Facebook than on here.
In all of these discussions, I had a nagging feeling. I believe the viewpoint I hold is fairly well defended, but I felt as though I wasn’t defending it correctly. Questions kept arising that I was on the verge of having answers to, but was unsure of how exactly to explain. But as has often been the case in my life, I read more, learned more, and want to discuss more.
In my first post I outlined an argument that basically stated that while:
1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. If God is omniscient, God foreknows x.
3. Therefore, x will happen.
“1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. If God is omniscient, God foreknows x.
3. Therefore, x will necessarily happen.”
The problem was in how to explain the fallacy in the second statement. After reading Plantinga’s The Nature of Necessity, (my review here... ever the shameless plug for my site!) however, I started to figure it out. It was only today that the idea kind of sprung on me (divine providence?).
The fallacy is in confusing de dicto and de re necessity. The first syllogism grants de dicto necessity, but not de re, while the second argument unjustifiably concludes de re necessity from de dicto.
Of course, a definition of terms is necessary (pun intended):
De dicto necessity is: “a matter of a proposition’s being necessarily true”
While de re necessity is: “an object’s having a property essentially or necessarily” (Plantinga, V)
Here’s an example:
I am sitting on a chair (a comfortable one, I might add) as I write this. Thus, it is necessarily true that I am sitting (for x=x necessarily, I am sitting, therefore I am sitting). But this kind of necessity is de dicto. It does not follow that I am necessarily sitting in the de re sense, for if that were true, I could simply not do otherwise. I could never get up.
But let us return to freedom and divine omniscience. The first syllogism states de dicto necessity: If God knows x will happen, x happens. But the second syllogism argues for de re necessity: if God knows x will happen, necessarily, x will happen. This is the fallacy. There is no de re necessity here. God’s knowledge of x does not assign x any essence or property. Rather, God’s knowledge that x will happen simply means x will happen. God’s knowledge of x does not assign any kind of necessity to x, but merely means that his own knowledge is true. God’s knowledge of x does not mean that x could not have been otherwise, only that it will not be.
Thus, we can reveal a few errors. The first is the error that God’s knowledge of some action x somehow makes x itself necessary. The second is the error of tying God’s knowledge of x in with his causation of x. Oftentimes, one can read works where people write believing that God’s knowledge of an event x somehow determines or even causes x to occur, and it could not be otherwise. While God may indeed choose to cause x, just because God knows x doesn’t mean it follows that x is necessarily true.
Perhaps another example might help:
Let’s consider the moon. God created the moon. He also knows exactly what interactions it has with other objects in the universe. But it seems quite obvious that God could have done otherwise concerning the moon. The moon could have been created with a smaller mass, a different color dust, an atmosphere. But to say that, as some would, Argument B is true would mean that the moon exists as it does, and because God knows this it could not have been otherwise. But this seems obviously false. There is nothing inherent in the moon itself that means it is necessarily true that it looks the way it does or has the mass it does. Rather, the only necessity, if any, that can be assigned to the moon is de dicto, not de re. (I realize there are some problems with this example, such as using an object rather than a proposition, but it is to illustrate a point.)
Thus, those who believe God’s foreknowledge of some action x determines x necessarily have committed the de dicto – de re fallacy. It is quite an easy error to commit, but on further examination it can be demonstrated fallacious.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.
Note: The following argument is largely directly derived from William Lane Craig’s “The Only Wise God”
How is it that we have freedom if God already knows our action before we do it?
The main thing to understand here is that the so-called problem here is based more on fatalism than anything else.
The premise is this: If God is omniscient, then anything He knows is true, by necessity. So, if He knows the future, then we do not have free choice because we cannot make something He knows be wrong. Therefore, if He knows, say, that I will post this, then I MUST, I simply cannot do anything else, because God cannot err.
The simplest way to answer this, is to address the argument itself and prove that this argument is actually a logical fallacy.
The syllogism can be stated as follows (Craig):
1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. If God is omniscient, God foreknows x.
3. Therefore, x will necessarily happen.
Now this seems like common sense. But, let’s look at another syllogism that is based on the same logic.
1. Necessarily, if I am a bachelor, than I am unmarried.
2. I am a bachelor.
3. Therefore, I am necessarily unmarried.
So now we see the logical fallacy, for it is obvious that I, as a bachelor, am not unmarried BY NECESSITY, but because I simply have not chosen to marry yet. In fact, I hope to marry someday, but according to this syllogism, which is constructed exactly the same as the first, I would not, by necessity, EVER be married.
It should then be obvious that there is a complete logical fallacy in asserting the former syllogism.
In this brief discussion, I have only one more point to make. That is this kind of theological fatalism, which asserts the first syllogism, is no different from Greek philosophical fatalism. Adding the “omniscience of God” into the equation is just a substitute for knowledge in general.
For example, there is no difference in saying that “If God is omniscient and has foreknowledge, then what He knows MUST happen” and “If there is a true statement about the future, that statement MUST happen.”
Substituting God for a true statement about the future is just a way to add another layer of confusion into this fallacious assertion of fatalism (Craig). In a syllogism, I could put it as follows:
1. Person A knows that it is true that Person B will do X.
2. It would be a contradiction to say that “It is both true and false that Person B will do x”
3. Therefore, person B must do X.
Plugging God into the equation is, in my opinion, more of a scare tactic for fatalism than anything else. A logical fallacy is a logical fallacy, no matter who is involved. The syllogism could also be:
1. It is true that person B will do X.
2. It would be a contradiction to say that “It is both true and false that person B will do x”
3. Therefore, person B must do X.
These statements fall to the same fallacy as the one with God’s knowledge being necessarily true. The point is that ANY true statement is true, so it can’t be false.
Therefore, human freedom IS compatible with divine foreknowledge, because knowledge of something’s factual status does not determine the fact.
This is already longer than I wanted it to be, if anyone wants more I’d be glad to expand on it.
Craig, William Lane. “The Only Wise God.”