I can understand the Pope, who is old, sick, and reportedly tired of the job, resigning. I can see that it has come as a surprise to many people. What I can’t understand is the reactions that people have to the announcement. It isn’t unprecedented, as Popes have resigned before.
However, some people believe that the Pope is elected for life and that resigning as Benedict XVI has done is close to sacrilege. I believe that the thinking goes something like this: God has chosen a particular man to be Pope. For that man to relinquish the post is for that man to, by his actions, imply that God is mistaken, and that cannot be.
If there is a God, and I’m firmly in the other camp, then He, being omnipotent and omniscient, not to mention omni-temporal, must know that His chosen candidate will resign the post, and has arranged matters so that this happens. In other words the resignation was ordained. It seems that one cannot get away from predestination! (The above description of God ‘knowing’ and ‘arranging’ is of course anthropomorphic).
Put into a religious context, the debate over predestination versus free will comes down to the following:
If God is all-seeing and all powerful then He has control over everything and nothing happens which He hasn’t caused to happen. If there were something that He hadn’t caused to happen, then that would have to (de facto) be caused externally to God. God and whatever outside of God that caused the event would have to exist in much the same sense and such an existence would have to have a frame of existence, a ‘container’ if you like, that contains both God and the other thing. However, I started out by crediting God as being all-seeing and all powerful and that doesn’t seem to leave room for things outside of God as that implies something greater than God. So given the concept of an all powerful God there can be nothing that He hasn’t caused to happen and which he does not know about.
OK, so if God causes everything, then he causes every event to happen. He (ultimately) causes us to make the particular decisions that we make. So the concept of free will evaporates, as God causes us pick the options that we do, even if we think that we make a choice.
Of course God may be a compatibilist – He may believe that if he presents us with a number of options, we have the free will to select an option, even though the selection is in fact predetermined by Him.
Of course, shorn of the religious tones, the above argument still applies, if, for example, you replace the references to God with references to ‘Nature’ or ‘the natural laws’.