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Q: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent?
Category: Relationships and Society > Religion
Asked by: nautico-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 16 Nov 2003 06:12 PST
Expires: 16 Dec 2003 06:12 PST
Question ID: 276378
Christian theologians maintain that bad things happen to good people
because God granted humankind free will, the ability and freedom to
make both good and bad choices. The doctrine of free will strongly
implies a policy of non-intervention by the deity. and yet what then
of prayer? Does not a favorably answered prayer constitute God's
exercise of His omnipotence in a way that, for that instant, nullifies
free will?

When humankind was still in Eden, we presumably had no free will,
since theologians describe free will as God's parting gift when He
evicted Adam and Eve from Paradise. If Paradise = no free will, and if
Paradise = spiritual utopia, then why would we construe free will as a
gift and believe that gaining free will is better than Paradise? How
could ANY state of being be better than Paradise?

The Catholic Encyclopedia's explanation of the doctrine of free
will(and its apparent contradictions)is mind numbing. More tortuous
prose I have never read:

Are there any other good online sources on this subject, especially as
it relates to the flawed logic that free will and divine omnipotence
are compatible?

Clarification of Question by nautico-ga on 16 Nov 2003 07:43 PST
Two excellent comments. I was taught in Sunday school that God was
omniscient, omnipresent, AND omnipotent. The last certainly implies
that God has the power to rescind free will and "interfere" on a case
by case basis, or consider this possibility: He awakes one morning,
calls a conclave of senior angels and saints, and says to them "I've
waited long enough. Humans have not exercised their gift of free will
as I had intended. They've made a hash of it. I want all of them back
in Eden for major rehab until I'm convinced they can use my gift
wisely. Make it so." Would God's omnipotence include the power to do

Clarification of Question by nautico-ga on 16 Nov 2003 09:48 PST
Here's a fascinating, albeit convoluted, exegesis on the conundrum
(and, yes, I believe it to be so) of free will, under the heading "Is
there free will in heaven?":
Subject: Re: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent?
Answered By: mvguy-ga on 16 Nov 2003 18:44 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Obviously, I'm not going to be able to give you the definitive answer
on the question you pose, or at least not one that's going to satisfy
everyone who reads it. The question has been discussed and debated for
centuries, and it's still being discussed and debated. The question,
or at least one variation of it, is sometimes known as the problem of
evil, and it has been the subject of countless essays, books,
dissertations and, now, a Google Answer.

What I'll do here is provide a list of arguments and resources on
various sides, then I'll present you with my own personal view. Of
course, since you have free will, you're free to accept or reject it.

The following sources are in no particular order (basically the order
in which I found them). I'll list the page title followed by a very
brief summary of the viewpoint followed by the URL. I'm focusing most
on Christian perspectives, because that's what you seem to be most
interested in. There also are some excellent secular sources at The
Determinism and Freedom Philosophy Website at .

Free Will
A general look at the subject, mentioning various philosophers and theologians.

Finding God in the Garden
A rabbi concludes that God has voluntarily limited God's power so that
people could have free will.

The Free Will Defense
How we define omnipotence is crucial in discussing free will.

Free Will and Omnipotence Don't Mix. Get IT!
This article focuses on the idea that if God knows the future then the
future is predetermined.

The Creator's Omnipotence And Our Free Will Are Compatible
This is a bulletin-board discussion. The first post suggests that God
knows all possible outcomes of the choices we might make because he is
outside time.

On the Free Will Defense against Argument from Evil
The typical Christian response to the problem of evil doesn't hold water.

A New Free Will Defense
It is not inconsistent to say that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God
would create a world where evil exists.  This article includes quite a
few arguments on both sides and is well footnoted.

A good overview of various perspectives on the omnipotence of God.

The Free Will Defense for the Problem of Evil
Some more viewpoints.

Why I Believe in Free Will
It's irrelevant that the concept of free will challenges the idea of
God's omnipotence.

Free Will ... or Is It
A mostly civil discussion on the issue.	

Sermon of Charles Finney
"God is physically omnipotent, and yet His moral influences exerted by
the Spirit may be resisted. You will readily see that if the Spirit
moved men by physical omnipotence, no mortal could possibly resist His

Moral Agency and Accountability
A look at Calvinistic theology as it relates to the concept of free will.

On Free Moral Agency
Arguments that humankind doesn't have moral agency.

Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil
Even God can't bring about human joy without there being good and
evil; the elimination of evil would take away a greater positive good.

Man's Free Will
God has limited Himself so that humankind could have moral agency.

Finitism and the Problem of Evil
An examination of the two primary responses to the problem of evil.

Essay on Theodicy: The Scandal of Evil?
A look at where evil comes from.

Is the Christian God Logical?
An omnipotent, omnibenevolent God can't logically exist.

Healing, Prayer and Medicine -- a Test Case
God acts through persuasion, not compulsion.

Let Us Pray
Prayer is illogical.

And now for my personal view:
I suppose the answer to the question you raise depends on what you
mean by "omnipotence." Most Christian theologians would accept the
premise that God is omnipotent, but they wouldn't say that includes
the ability to make 2+2=5 or to make a rock so big He couldn't move
it. Some things can't be done, even if you're God.

In my view, yes, God is omnipotent. But for me, that means God can do
only everything that can be done. And God can't take away human free
will because it's related to who and what we are as well as to Who and
What God is. There's something in the very nature of our being that
keeps us free and something in the very nature of God that recognizes
that. Just as I can't ultimately take away the freedom of the children
I love (both because I don't have that power and also because of the
nature of love), neither can God take my free will, my moral agency,
away.  Some might say that's because it's the way God is (the
Christian teaching is that God is love); others may say there are some
laws of the universe that transcend even God.

I'm reminded now of the inspiring story of Viktor Frankl, who
recognized that even one of the greatest evils the planet has seen
could take his life but not his free will. Ultimately it was his free
will that made him human.

That, too, is what I believe. To say that doesn't in my view, deny the
omnipotence of God. But it does, quite probably, suggest a different
perspective on what omnipotence is.

I hope this helps. Best wishes in pursuing your questions.



Google search terms used:

omnipotence "free will"

"moral agency" omnipotent OR omnipotence


"free will" omnipotence prayer

"power of prayer" "omnipotent god"
nautico-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Many thanks for an exhaustive answer.

Subject: Re: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent?
From: tibiaron-ga on 16 Nov 2003 07:29 PST
An answer to prayer, or a prompting from Diety can no way be construed
to mean our agency has been taken.  We each have the agency to make
our own choices.  Some people approach Diety in prayer in an effort to
get divine prompting to help them make quality choices.  There is no
inconsistency in that.  Bad things happen to good people because we
live in a mortal world where bad things come to all people.  It's a
learning experience and it has a purpose.

Adam and Eve certainly had their agency in the garden, and they made
their choices.  That's basic doctrine.
Subject: Re: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent?
From: justaskscott-ga on 16 Nov 2003 07:31 PST
My understanding of the Jewish kabbalistic perspective -- for whatever
that may be worth to you -- is that free will and answered prayer are
compatible because prayer allows one to benefit from the energy from
higher levels of existence, and because the individual can choose
whether to pray.

God created a universe that allows humans to bring goodness to
themselves, or -- to put it a different way -- to raise the world to a
higher level.  God is not so much omnipotent as the source of
everything -- including humans, the flawed world, and humans' ability
to redeem the world.

I suppose that you are most interested in Christian -- or especially
well-written Catholic -- perspectives.  But hopefully this Jewish
perspective (or my own imperfect summary thereof) is of some benefit
to you.
Subject: Re: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent?
From: nautico-ga on 16 Nov 2003 07:44 PST
If Adam and Eve had "agency" (i.e., free will) while still in the
Garden, then why is free will usually described as a gift that was
made on their eviction?
Subject: Re: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent?
From: mvguy-ga on 16 Nov 2003 09:22 PST
I have studied several varieties of Christianity in depth, and I have
_never_ heard it said that free will was a gift given to Adam and Eve
(whether understood to be figurative characters or historical people)
upon their eviction. It certainly doesn't say that in the Biblical
account. (Of course, there are lots of things many Christians believe
that aren't in the Bible, but that's a whole other issue.)  It seems
to me that the point of the story is that Adam and Eve did have free
will (or moral agency, a term some others use).  If they had had no
free will, what they did would have had no significance.

The way I would understand the story is that, yes, Adam and Eve did
get a gift out of the deal (to go along with all the pain and
suffering that their eviction would bring). And that gift was the gift
of knowledge. In fact, in Genesis 3:22, the Lord God is quoted as
saying that the man has "become as one of us, to know good and evil."
So it wasn't the free will they gained, but the knowledge of what they
were doing and of whether it was right or wrong. In a sense, they
became more godlike.  Whereas before they had one choice that mattered
(eat the fruit of the tree or don't), now they had any number of
choices to make. Just because they didn't understand free will before
the Fall doesn't mean they didn't have it.
Subject: Re: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent?
From: czh-ga on 16 Nov 2003 13:05 PST
What an interesting question! Philosophers have been discussing it for
hundreds of years. Here are some resources for whoever wants to tackle
the question.
The Consequences of Answered Prayer Or The Butterfly Effect
Lecture Notes on Free Will and Determinism
Society > Philosophy > Metaphysics > Free Will and Determinism
Subject: Re: Free Will and Answered Prayer: Mutually Inconsistent?
From: thehomeland-ga on 12 Jul 2004 10:27 PDT
Knowing the future and allowing free will is not incompatible.  Take
for instance, a movie you've seen before.  If you watch it again, the
characters in the movie are still making choices they decide, even
though you already know what those choices will be.  The clincher is
that the characters haven't seen their own movie yet (akin to us not
knowing our future decisions (or outcomes thereof), although they will
undoubtedly make the same decisions as you recall.  It's not a matter
of predicting, it's a matter of knowing.

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