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Gods Knowledge and Man’s Free Will

Objection 1: The Quran, on many places, tells that Allah decides everything – absolutely everything (f. ex. the time of your death is decided even before you are born – when the foetus is 4 months old actually). But the Quran also tells that man has a free will. These two are not possible to combine. (Muslim thinkers have not been able to explain this through 1400 years).

Objection 2: The Quran states that Allah is omniscient and knows everything also concerning the future. But the Quran also states that man has free will. These two statements are not possible to combine as mentioned above, because if man has free will, his actions will change the future – and it will not be possible to foresee these changes if man’s will really is free, this even if the will only is free to a miniscule degree. Is Allah really omniscient? – man can always change his mind once more if he has free will, and what then about what Allah thought he knew? See the chapter about predestination and free will.

http://www.1000mistakes.com/1000mistakes/index.php?Page=001_003_001_001 (Retrieved on Thursday, March 12, 2015)

Response

The concept, the way 1000Mistakes.com (Th.M.) has described it, is definitely incomprehensible. In fact, such over simplifications can render anything unintelligible. For example, “I have prepared today’s meal”. At the same time it is also remarked that “I wasn’t home today”. Apparently, these two statements are contradictory but that may not be the case. We ourselves have assumed that to prepare food one must be at home or that today’s meal must be cooked today. The apparent contradiction is removed if the meal was either cooked yesterday or at some other place.

Similar is the case with the two propositions Th.M. has pointed to. That “Allah decides everything” and “Man has a freewill” seems contradictory because we have assumed that God’s decision curbs Man’s freedom. And that God can’t make decisions that do not deprive man`s freedom. It is definitely possible: a good example—to comprehend this possibility — could be a computer game; the programmer has decided everything, even then players follow different courses and win different scores through it. A similar but better programmed world has been coded by God where His decisions are controlling each and every thing. Meanwhile, we also keep exercising our freedom.

  • Th. M’s statement that this question could not be answered by Muslim scholars until now is not very accurate. The scholars have responded. Mu`tazilites, Ash’arites, Shia and those adhering to Sufism have given different answers. Had he said that no answer acceptable to all has been given then he could have been right. The reason no consensus could develop on them wasn’t that they were illogical. Instead accepting Mu`tazilite opinion would violate Ash’arites theological principles and vice versa. Therefore, a consensus could not develop on any answer.
  • Now, let’s see how two apparently contradictory statements; Man has a freewill & God decides everything; can hold simultaneously. They have the same type of ‘contradiction’ that we mentioned in the example above. It arose because we took Man to be free in absolute sense. On the contrary, he should be free only in the area where he is to be tested. Even in this area, he needs only that much freedom which is required for a fair test. For example, to take a school exam all a child needs is the freedom to prepare for the exam, to read the question, to understand it freely and write its answer willing on the paper. For such an exam the freedom to eat or drink is not required. On the same principle, God has given man freedom according the trial he is in. If we, like Th.M., take ‘Man has a free will’ to mean freedom of every possible type then the two statements will definitely contradict each other. If we take it in restricted meanings then there will be no contradiction. For example, has Man the freedom to use nitrogen to breathe in? Is he free to choose father and mother of his choice? Obviously, it is not so. Therefore, things get distorted when we oversimplify them.

The trial in which God has decided to put us requires three categories of freedom:

  1. the freedom to think/desire anything or action,
  2. the freedom to decide to do it
  3. the freedom to attempt

The real freedom we have pertains to these areas only. For example, I thought to start a business. This belongs to the first category. Then I firmly decided to pursue it. This belongs to the second category. Now, I started preparing for it. e.g. to look for a shop, to buy merchandise etc. This belongs to the third one. God’s decision comes after that. For example, if God has decided that I may not open that shop, He will create some hurdles e.g. I may not be able to find an affordable shop etc.

Now, the question remains whether that much freedom is sufficient for the trial. Yes, it is! The whole Muslim community understands from the Quran and Sunnah that if a person tries (freedom of third category) to do something with good intention but he could not, even then he will get its reward. For instance, a person leaves home to offer prayer in congregation but fell into a manhole. He got out of it and went back to home to wash himself. Meanwhile the time for congregational prayer passes. Though he could not join the congregation even then he will get its reward. The same principle has been mentioned in the Quran for the Pilgrimage (The Cow 2:196). In other words, the person was to free to do ablution and leave home for prayer. God’s decision about him was that he would not offer his prayer in congregation, because of any wise reason, and then offer prayer individually. Thus, the person was not free to accomplish his desire, practically, but only to try for it. This is how God`s decisions works without spoiling the freedom of the test. He earned his points in his test, even if he did not join the congregation.  Another instance, to clarify my position, a person decides to kill someone, and shot him, but he missed his target due to any reason. That means that God`s decision acted here. The killer was not free to kill that man. He was free just to try for it. If Gods decision and killers attempt were in agreement, he would be successful in his attempt. In both cases his is criminal in God`s eyes. Because reward is assigned on attempts (See Quran chapter 53, verse 39).

  • There always remain many things in the world which Man does not understand. It does not necessarily mean that these things are wrong. As man`s knowledge has been evolving. For example, in ancient times man has been believing in that the Earth is stationary and the Sun revolves around it. Due to this human error, we cannot say that the Solar system is wrong. Similarly, if men are not able to comprehend any metaphysical matter, it does not mean that matter is wrong. If you try to make a toddler understand the working of TV then it will definitely be incomprehensible for him but will it be wrong as well? In many matters our situation is like that of a toddler.

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