Does God Really Know What I’ll Do in the Future?

Does God Really Know What I'll Do in the Future?

If God knows what I will do before I do it, does that mean I do not have free will? Dr. Craig loves these questions he received about Molinism!


Transcript Does God Really Know What I’ll Do in the Future?

KEVIN HARRIS: If God knows in advance what I will do, does that mean I don’t have any freedom – that I don’t have any choice? If God knew that I was going to eat a hot dog but at the last second I changed my mind and ate a hamburger, would that mean that God was wrong? No! It means that God would have said, “You were going to eat a hamburger and you never would have said you were going to eat a hot dog because you weren’t actually going to eat a hot dog.” This is stuff we all think about. I know you do. We are continuing looking at some questions here on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig – questions that keep us all up at night. Don’t get thrown by Molinism. If you are not familiar with that, we have lots of podcasts and material on Molinism. Don’t get thrown by that big term that you may not be familiar with because I bet you’ll find that it includes things that you think about all the time – that is, God’s sovereignty, his omniscience, how God knows the future – does he know the future? - and do I have free will? All of that is entailed in Molinism. Dr. Craig and I were just in the studio and we were looking at these questions for him that he has received from listeners just like you.

Dr. Craig, we can always count on questions about Molinism. We are going to look at two or three today in this podcast. This is fascinating. As I understand there is a new book out on a biography of Molina.

DR .CRAIG: That’s right. Kirk MacGregor has published the first biography of Molina ever to be written. It is published by Zondervan. I am about halfway through it and greatly enjoying it. Kirk reads Latin the way I read English and is making available many of the untranslated materials from Molina in order to tell us about his life.

KEVIN HARRIS: This first question says,

Dr. Craig, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. You’ve been a great inspiration to me and my friends. The resources that Reasonable Faith provides has been a tremendous help to us in evangelizing the lost and strengthening the Kingdom. Now to my questions. Can God have morally sufficient reasons for permitting a Christian to apostatize rather than killing him before he apostatizes?

Would you like to take that one first?

DR .CRAIG: I certainly think that God can have morally sufficient reasons for doing that.

KEVIN HARRIS: For allowing someone to apostatize?

DR .CRAIG: To fall away from the faith, yes. He can have morally sufficient reasons for allowing someone to fall away from the faith. For example, maybe by allowing someone to freely fall away from the faith, it will prevent two other people from falling away from the faith. So he would have morally sufficient reasons for allowing this person to freely fall away from the faith. Now, someone might say, But how could God allow someone to fall away from the faith who, if he had lived a little longer, would have come back and repented? But if Molinism is true and God has middle knowledge it may well be the case that God would only permit a person to apostatize if he knew that that person would not freely come back to faith again. Therefore he doesn’t do anything to seal off that person’s chance at salvation.

KEVIN HARRIS: I don’t want to get into this debate at this time about the security of the believer and so on, but is there any room in Molinism for a security of the believer view – that you can’t lose your salvation?

DR .CRAIG: I am not aware of Molina’s own view on whether or not once a person is regenerate that he will persevere in the faith. That would be a good question for Kirk to ask. So I can’t say.

KEVIN HARRIS: I wonder if you could be a Molinist and also . . .

DR .CRAIG: Well, certainly you could. You could say that God only chooses to save those who he knew would freely persevere in the faith if saved. In fact, I actually wrote an article called “Lest Anyone Should Fall: A Middle Knowledge [Molinist] Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings”[1] in the book of Hebrews against apostasy.[2] I suggest there that what many Reformed theologians are saying about perseverance, how the elect will persevere, is actually Molinism. They are unwittingly adopting a position that the elect could fall away but God gave the warnings, for example, in the book of Hebrews knowing that if they were to read these warnings they would freely heed them and therefore would freely persevere. That is a Molinist view of perseverance which is fully compatible with their freedom to fall away.

KEVIN HARRIS: I think what you just said covers most of what he is saying in question number two. He says,

If so [if God does have morally sufficient reasons for permitting a Christian to apostatize], could you explain what that would look like on your views regarding the doctrine of salvation, God’s omnibenevolence, and Molinism?

Anything we need to cover there?

DR .CRAIG: Only that God gives people the freedom to accept him or reject him, and that he gives sufficient grace to every person he creates to be saved. His will is that they will be saved. If they freely spurn his grace and apostatize that is entirely their own fault. They are freely resisting God’s will and every effort to save them. He gives sufficient grace to persevere to every Christian who comes to know him. So it would only be through human freedom and sin that anyone would fall away from the faith by rejecting God’s grace. Allowing people to have the freedom to believe or disbelieve is consistent with God’s omnibenevolence. He doesn’t treat people like puppets, but treats them as free agents and provides and works for their salvation.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says, “3. Also, if so, what does this say about a single person’s intrinsic worth?”

DR .CRAIG: I think it would say that each person is created in the image of God and therefore inherently valuable in God’s sight, and therefore God wants everyone to be saved. It is not as though he passes over some and refuses to give them sufficient grace for salvation. No, God gives sufficient grace to salvation to every person he creates. Every person is loved by God, and God wants every person to come to know him. But because they are free agents God respects that. He respects their intrinsic worth by not treating them like puppets or coercing them to be saved. He allows them the freedom to accept or reject his salvation. Allowing people to have freedom with respect to how they respond to God’s grace is a measure of the respect of human persons that God has and the intrinsic worth that they possess.

KEVIN HARRIS: Another question here on a related topic. From south India,

Dear Dr. Craig, I’ve been a great admirer of your work. While I’d love to pick your brain about a hundred topics, for today I’ll stick to one. Please forgive my poor phrasing. English is not my native language. I am puzzled by Molinism. Here it is. The only way we humans know how to accurately predict anything is by (1) knowing the present state of the system and (2) knowing the laws that govern the system. If human free will is assumed, there are no laws that govern a given human. How is it possible for God to accurately know what a given human would do in a given circumstance? I wonder, too, if it is logically possible for a being (God) to know the future without it (the future) being fully determined? You have compared it to an infallible barometer in the sense the barometer does not cause the weather but always predicts it accurately because it is infallible. But isn’t this possible only if the barometer has some knowledge of the mechanisms that cause the weather? How can the actions or effects of something that does not have an antecedent cause (like human free will) be known even by God? Wouldn’t that be logically impossible?

Let’s break this down.

DR .CRAIG: OK. First he says, The only way we humans know things to predict is by knowing the present state a system is in and knowing the deterministic laws that govern that system. I think that is false.[3] I think that we often have knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom about how people would freely choose. For example, I know that if I were to offer my wife Jan a plate of liver and onions or a plate of chocolate chip cookies which one she would choose freely as certainly as I know almost anything.

KEVIN HARRIS: Liver and onions!

DR .CRAIG: No! Not Jan! This is a free choice. It is not something she’s determined to do. But I know her so well that I know how she would freely choose in a circumstance like that. I would say that God knows us so well that he knows how we would freely choose in any possible set of circumstances that God might put us in. I would say that there are these true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom – that is to say, true hypothetical statements in the subjunctive mood about how we would freely choose if we were in a set of circumstances. If those types of propositions are true or false then as an omniscient being God must know them. He has to know them because omniscience means to know only and all true propositions. So if there are true counterfactual propositions God must know them as an omniscient being. Perhaps he simply has the innate property of knowing only and all true propositions. There are counterfactual propositions about how people would freely choose in various sets of circumstances, therefore God knows them. I think no more needs to be said than that.

If someone insists, But how is God omniscient? I am not even sure what that kind of question means. That is like asking How is God omnipotent? or How is God morally perfect? There isn’t any answer to those kind of “how” questions. God just is essentially that way. He has just essentially the properties omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, eternity, and so forth. So I don’t see any reason to think that it is logically impossible for God to have an innate knowledge of these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which would give him knowledge of how anyone would freely choose in any set of circumstances.

The problem here with the analogy of the infallible barometer is that he is misusing the illustration. The infallible barometer was meant to be an illustration that knowing something about the future doesn’t determine the future. It is the way the future is that will determine the knowledge about it. The reading on the barometer is chronologically prior to the weather, but it doesn’t determine the weather. Rather, it is how the weather will be that determines the barometer. It is not meant to be an illustration of freedom. No, no. The barometer is entirely deterministic. That’s right. It is just simply meant to show an illustration of how foreshadowing something or foretelling something doesn’t bring that thing about. It doesn’t determine it. The point it is meant to illustrate is that God’s knowing what you will do doesn’t determine that you will do it. Just because he knows what you will freely do doesn’t mean that that brings it about. Quite the contrary, it is because you will freely do it that he has that foreknowledge. That was all the barometer illustration was meant to illustrate. It is not meant to be an illustration of a non-deterministic system because clearly the barometer is.

KEVIN HARRIS: Being fallible humans, the best we can do is forecast or predict something.

DR .CRAIG: Yes, though I do think in some cases, as I say, we have knowledge of these counterfactuals of freedom. That doesn’t mean certainty. But I don’t think we should equate knowledge with certainty. I think we can know them with some reasonable probability or plausibility, and that is enough.

KEVIN HARRIS: Another question here:

Dear Dr. Craig, my question is about your views on divine foreknowledge and human freedom. I have studied up on the subject a little, and I’ve looked at your position. I still cannot get around the problem of fatalism (surprise, surprise). When you break down fatalism, you point out the difference between chronological and logical priority. You say that God’s foreknowledge of what a person will choose can be chronologically prior to him making that choice, and that the choice can still be logically prior to God’s foreknowledge. I see no issue with this. But it does not really solve the problem of fatalism. It seems to me that it is not God’s foreknowledge of what a person will choose which makes his course of action necessary, but it is God’s active creation of a world where that course of action will be taken that makes his course of action necessary.[4]

DR .CRAIG: Let’s stop right there. Here he is admitting that foreknowledge of what a person will freely choose does not make the action necessary. So long as he agrees with that he has repudiated theological fatalism. He is wrong when he says earlier that he can’t get around the problem of fatalism. He already has! What he is talking about is determinism; namely, that the world is somehow so constructed that it makes the course of action necessary. That would assume causal determinism in the world. But if you believe in libertarian freedom (as I do, and as Molina did) then the world doesn’t determine how you will choose in freedom-permitting circumstances. It is indeterminate. So his problem seems to be with determinism, not with fatalism.

KEVIN HARRIS: You seem to be saying there are some subtle differences between fatalism and determinism.

DR .CRAIG: Absolutely. Fatalists will say to a man, We are not saying that God’s knowledge of the future causally determines how the future will be. That is what the infallible barometer was meant to illustrate. The barometer doesn’t causally make the weather what it will be. Fatalists will say, We agree. These choices are causally indeterminate. But they will claim that simply by virtue of knowing what they will be, that somehow makes them necessary. Here this reader repudiates fatalism. But he says, My problem is that it is God’s creation of a world where that will take place that makes the action necessary.

KEVIN HARRIS: So his problem is with determinism and not fatalism.

DR .CRAIG: Right.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He continues,

Because while God’s foreknowledge may not be logically prior to the course of action being taken, his act in creating the universe certainly is. Since he knew every possible world that could be actualized, and he chose which one to create, he is author of that man’s course of action, not the man.

DR .CRAIG: And that would only be true if the world is causally deterministic. If it is an indeterministic world that God has actualized then God has actualized the world so to speak up to the point of decision and then it can go to either X or Y and it is up to the free agent which world will become actual. In that sense we are co-actualizers of the world along with God. God gives us the freedom to determine which world will be possible. What you cannot escape is God’s knowing which way you will choose. He knows which world is actual and will be actualized by your choice, but that doesn’t determine it.

KEVIN HARRIS: Is another way to put that is God allows us to be participants?

DR .CRAIG: Yes, I think so. We are participants in bringing about which world is the actual world. We are co-actualizers of the world along with God.[5]


[1] See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/lest-anyone-should-fall-a-middle-knowledge-perspective-on-perseverance (accessed April 3, 2016).

[2] 5:01

[3] 10:00

[4] 15:12

[5] Total Running Time: 19:42 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)