Doctrine of God (part 14)

May 23, 2010     Time: 00:31:57


I. C. 3. a. (2) (b) Two Problems of Omniscience i. Compatibility of Foreknowledge and Freedom.

1. Attributes of God
Lecture 14

Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom

We have been talking about divine omniscience, and we come now to two problems raised by the subject of divine omniscience. The first one is the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. The difficulty here is, if God knows everything in advance that is going to happen, then that means that he knows every free choice that you are going to make. But, if that is true, then isn’t everything fated to occur? If God knows in advance, for example, that Peter will deny Christ three times, as Jesus predicted he would, then when the time comes around, isn’t it necessary that Peter deny Christ three times? Since God cannot be mistaken and God has already predicted and foreknows that Peter will deny Christ three times, then it follows that Peter must deny Christ three times. In other words, divine foreknowledge of the future is said to lead to fatalism – that everything that happens happens necessarily. Everything is fated to occur.

Some Christian theologians have actually agreed with this point of view. Martin Luther, for example, thought that simply in virtue of God’s foreknowing everything that will happen, everything was fated to occur and would happen necessarily. These theologians equate divine foreknowledge with divine foreordination. If he foreknows it, then in virtue of foreknowing it, it is foreordained and therefore must come to pass. Thus, even the fall of man, on this view, would be something that was foreordained, since God knew in advance that Adam and Eve would fall into sin. It follows that they were fated to fall into sin necessarily, and therefore the fall of man was foreordained as well as foreknown.

This argument for theological fatalism is a mistaken argument – it is a fallacious argument. Here’s basically how the argument goes:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen (where X can be any sort of event that you want to imagine in the future).

2. God foreknows X (God foreknows everything that is going to happen, so he foreknows X will happen).

3. Therefore, necessarily, X will happen.

But if X happens necessarily, then that means that everything is fated to occur and therefore there is no freedom.

This argument for theological fatalism is fallacious. Before I explain why, I would like to make a general observation. This argument has got to be fallacious because fatalism posits a constraint upon human freedom which is completely unintelligible. God’s knowledge is not thought to be the cause of what will happen in the future. The claim is not that God’s knowing about something causes that something to happen. The event itself may be entirely uncaused – it could be a free event or it could be some quantum event that is completely causally indeterminate. The fatalist is not saying that God’s foreknowledge of some event is the cause of the event. But in that case, if the event is causally indeterminate, then how can God’s knowing about it in advance constrain it in any way?

Imagine that X is some uncaused event in the future.1 We are to think, apparently, according to the fatalist, that if God knows about it in advance, then somehow X, even though it is causally undetermined, is going necessarily to occur. It is constrained to occur. But now suppose God doesn’t know about X. Let’s imagine God does not have foreknowledge about X. What has changed? X is still the same uncaused event, God doesn’t know about it, and now all of a sudden the constraint is supposed to have vanished. It happens contingently. It doesn’t happen necessarily. But whether God knows about it or not is just causally irrelevant to whether X occurs. What is this mysterious constraint called “fate” that God’s knowledge puts upon the event? I can’t see that there is any sort of constraint. The argument itself has to be fallacious because fatalism posits a constraint upon events which is completely unintelligible, being non-causal in nature.

And in fact this argument, as it stands, is fallacious. It commits a fallacy in modal logic. Modal logic is the logic of necessity and possibility. You see that that is what is operative in this argument: “Necessarily, if God knows that X will happen, then X will happen.” Then the second premise: “God foreknows X.” And then (3): “Necessarily, X will happen.” This has the logical form:

1. Necessarily, P implies Q.

2. P.

3. Therefore, necessarily Q.

The problem is: this commits a fallacy in modal logic. From the two premises (1) and (2), it doesn’t follow that (3) is true. That is just fallacious. What does follow from premises (1) and (2)? All that follows from “Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen” and “God foreknows X” is: “X will happen.” But it doesn’t follow that “X will necessarily happen.” Thinking so commits a fallacy in modal logic. So from the fact of God’s foreknowing X, it follows that X will happen but not that X will happen necessarily. X could fail to happen, and if it were to fail to happen, then God’s foreknowledge would have been different. The argument as it stands commits a fallacy in modal reasoning.


Question: Can you explain modal logic?

Answer: Modal logic is the logic of possibility and necessity – having to do with what is possible and what is necessarily true.

Question: When you say that it would have happened differently if God foreknew it differently, is that in any way a confirmation of the B-Theory of time, where tenses are just illusions?

Answer: No, I don’t think this is dependent on your theory of time. Whether you think that all events in time are equally real or you think only present events in time are real is irrelevant to this fallacy. The argument is just modally fallacious, and if X were not to happen, then God would not have foreknown it. He would foreknow something else. What we want to say is that though God’s knowledge is chronologically prior to the event foreknown, the event foreknown is logically prior to God’s knowledge. First God foreknows it, then the event happens. So God’s knowledge is chronologically prior to the event. But the event is logically prior to God’s foreknowledge. Whichever way the event goes, God’s foreknowledge will follow it. If X happens, then God will foreknow that X will happen. If X were to fail to happen, then God will foreknow that X will fail to happen. God’s knowledge is sort of like an infallible barometer. An infallible barometer will tell you with infallible correctness which way the weather will be. But the barometer doesn’t determine the weather; the weather determines the barometer. From the barometer’s reading, you can know how the weather will be, but the barometer won’t determine the weather, it is the other way around. Such is the case with foreknowledge, too. It is X that is logically prior to what God knows. It is not that what God knows is logically prior to X. What God knows is only chronologically prior to X.2

Question: In regard to Calvinism, it seems they are looking at God as the Maker, Manufacturer – it would be like planned obsolescence or something that is built long enough to last for the length of its assigned mission. So divine omniscience is paired with this divine Manufacturing aspect that makes things happen in the future. Can you comment?

Answer: That’s absolutely correct. The strong Calvinist does not say that foreknowledge equals foreordination. The Calvinist does not say just because God foreknows an event, therefore that event is foreordained to happen. Rather what the Calvinist says is that foreknowledge is the result of foreordination. It is because God makes it happen that he foreknows that it will happen. So the Calvinist bases foreknowledge on God’s causal foreordination of events. God is the one who is the cause of everything that happens in the world – he has decreed what will happen – and that is how he knows it will happen. The Calvinist is not a fatalist. Fatalism posits a constraint on human freedom which is non-causal and therefore unintelligible. There is no such thing as “fate.” But the Calvinist isn’t guilty of that because the Calvinist does posit a causal constraint on what happens in the world – namely, God is the Manufacturer, God is the cause of everything that happens. That is how he knows it will happen. I think we can set the Calvinist view aside for now. We can talk about that when we come to the doctrine of providence and how it is that God causally interacts with the world. What we are dealing with here is not the Calvinist; we are dealing with that person who is a theological fatalist, who thinks that if God foreknows everything that will happen, that just in virtue of knowing about it, there is some kind of mysterious constraint that makes everything happen the way God foreknows it.

Question: About Joseph saying, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good” – seems to me that it validates the B-Theory of time. He is not necessarily looking forward, he is outside of time and he knows everything I am going to do, even though he doesn’t control my actions or cause me to do things.

Answer: What this points out is that some people would try to escape theological fatalism by denying that God literally foreknows things. Namely, God is timeless, beyond time, and so he doesn’t literally know about things in advance – that would presuppose that God is in time.3 But if God is timeless, then God doesn’t literally foreknow things, and therefore premise 2 (“God foreknows X”) is literally false, because he doesn’t really foreknow anything. I do not think that that really gets around the argument because even if it is true that God is timeless, you can still generate an argument for theological fatalism by saying something like, “It is now true that God timelessly knows that Peter will deny Christ three times. If it is now true that God timelessly knows that Peter will deny Christ three times, then necessarily Peter will deny Christ three times.” You can’t get around it just by putting God outside of time. Indeed, if God is outside of time and knows that Peter will deny Christ three times, and a person in advance of that event knows that that is true, then it looks as if Peter’s decision is just as fated as it would be if God’s knowledge were in time. I don’t think that postulating divine timelessness really gets at the heart of the problem. The real heart of the problem is this logical fallacy that this argument makes.

Question: In modal logic, what do you mean by “necessity”?

Answer: Let me give you some examples of necessary truths. “2 + 2 = 4” is necessarily true. “It is wrong to torture a child for fun” is a necessary truth. “If it is raining, then it is raining” is necessarily true. “If something has a shape, it has a size” seems to be a necessary truth. There are all kinds of truths that aren’t just contingently true but seem to be necessarily true. The statement “It is raining” is not necessarily true – that is contingent because sometimes it is not raining – but the tautology, “If it is raining, then it is raining” is necessarily true. That just says “If P, then P.” Tautologies are necessarily true. There are things that are true that, by definition, are necessarily true. “If Jones is a bachelor, then Jones is unmarried.” By the definition of what a bachelor is, it follows that that is necessarily true. What the argument does is it posits a necessary truth, namely, “Necessarily if God foreknows X, then X will happen” – that is necessarily true – and then a contingent truth, namely, “God foreknows X.” Then it infers from that a necessary truth: “Therefore, necessarily X will happen.” That commits a fallacy – you cannot infer a necessary truth from these two premises. All you can infer is the contingent truth that “X will happen.”

Question: An argument you might give someone who holds this view is I might foreknow a football team is going to lose 100-to-0 and it happens. What about that foreknowledge caused that to happen? It doesn’t seem like it does. The only retort to that I could see is that the knowledge was only 99.99% sure, but not sure with 100% certainty.

Answer: Certainty is simply a property of persons. It is not a property of propositions. Propositions are either necessary or contingent. But it is people that are certain. So whether you have certain knowledge is just a psychological state; it is not a property of the proposition itself. So you are right – your illustration shows the point that merely knowing the outcome of the game doesn’t do anything to make it happen. That is my point about this fatalism’s just being unintelligible. The argument has to be wrong because the constraint that it postulates on events is unintelligible, being non-causal.

Let me make this addendum. Theological fatalists know this.4 In the literature they are well aware of this. So what they try to do is to amend the argument to make the second premise necessarily true: “Necessarily, God foreknows X.” From that, then it does follow logically and correctly that “Therefore, necessarily X will happen.”

But then the question is, “Wait a minute! Why think now that the second premise is true because it doesn’t seem that it is necessary that God foreknows X? He could know something else instead of X – he could know that not-X will occur instead.” What the theological fatalist will say is, “The necessity that I am talking about is not logical necessity. It is the necessity of the past.” We have a grasp of this when we say, “Don’t cry over spilled milk” or “That is water under the bridge!” There is a sort of sense that the past is necessary and it is that sense in which it is necessary that God foreknows X because God has known about it from all eternity. The problem is that no philosopher has ever been able to give an adequate explanation of what this peculiar type of necessity is on which it turns out that God’s foreknowledge is temporally necessary. In the most adequate accounts that I have seen of this so-called temporal necessity, it turns out that God’s foreknowledge is not temporally necessary, even though it is in the past. It is not true that necessarily God foreknew X. We have the ability to act in such a way that if we were to act differently, then God would have known differently, even though that knowledge is in the past. So although theological fatalists are aware of this logical mistake, their attempts to amend the argument and to make it valid have been unsuccessful. Nobody has ever been able to explain a sense of temporal necessity according to which God’s beliefs about the future turn out to be temporally necessary.

[Q & A: Just asks Dr. Craig to redraw and reiterate the two arguments using modal logic symbols]

Question: Regarding Open Theism – that solves the problem by saying that God does not foreknow human actions. It attempts to preserve omniscience by saying that it is not possible to foreknow free actions before they are made. I know you have a dim view of Open Theism, but do you think that is a possible solution or does that forfeit orthodoxy?

Answer: I do not think that Open Theism does solve the problem. Let’s understand what the Open Theist says. The Open Theist thinks that theological fatalism follows from divine foreknowledge. So he will deny premise (2), that God foreknows X. He says that it is not true that God must know everything in the future. So he offers a revisionist definition of omniscience. You’ll recall we argued that if God is omniscient, then he must know all true propositions. That is what omniscience means – to believe and know only and all true propositions. But the Open Theist says, “No, to be omniscient is not to know all propositions. God only needs to know those propositions that it is logically possible to know. And it is not logically possible to know propositions about the future. Therefore it is not an inhibition upon God’s omniscience if he doesn’t know these.”5

What you can show (which is what I try to do in my little booklet What Does God Know?) is that, even if you give the Open Theist his revised definition of omniscience (that is, God knows everything that it is logically possible to know), it turns out that it is still logically possible to know future contingent events like human choices. They are still logically possible to know; therefore, on their own definition, it turns out that God doesn’t know everything that it is logically possible to know (since they say God doesn’t know future events, even though future events are logically possible to know). It does represent an attenuation of omniscience that is unacceptable. It means that God is not a perfect being, that he is not omniscient – even on their own definition, which I don’t accept anyway (because I think it is wrong). But even given their definition of omniscience, it is logically possible to know future propositions; therefore, it turns out that their view denies divine omniscience, which I take to be unacceptable because it means God is not a perfect being. I lay this out in more detail in the booklet What Does God Know? and also in the chapter on omniscience in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

Question: [Asks if this relates to determinism. Does God deduce what is going to happen in the future based on the present?]

Answer: Clearly, it is not a deduction from what is present. If God deduces the future from what is present, that would lead to some kind of causal determinism. If his knowledge of the future is based on knowing, “Here is the present state of affairs and causes,” then that would mean everything is causally determined to happen. The question of how God knows the future is a quite different question than the one we are concerned with here. What we are concerned with is just the idea that if God knows everything that will happen, then does everything happen necessarily? What I am suggesting is that there is no good reason to think that that is the case. Quite the contrary, things can happen however the causes (in this case, human free choices) want them to be, but whichever way they go, God will have foreknown that because the events are logically prior to what God foreknows, even though his knowledge is chronologically prior to the events.

Question: How does all of this tie into with the concept of prophecy? The example I am thinking of is if you take Jonah. Jonah intentionally went away from God’s plan, but because God had foretold it, it almost necessarily came into being.

Answer: Actually, that is not true in the Jonah passages. We said earlier that Jonah was commanded to preach, “Yet 40 days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” But what happened was they all repented, so the prophecy didn’t come true. So, in fact, that is a case where just the opposite happened – where it seems that what God gave through Jonah was not foreknowledge of the future but just a forewarning about what would happen if they did not repent. A better example would be the one I gave, Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denying him three times. This has very peculiar implications. What this means is, as Peter stood there in the courtyard of the high priest, he had the ability to do something such that, if he had done it, Jesus would not have made that prophecy. He doesn’t have the ability to falsify Jesus’ prophecy, because Jesus is infallible. But as he stood there in the courtyard, he had the ability to do something, namely, affirm Christ, which was such that if he had done it, then it would never have been true that Jesus made that prophecy. So it is kind of like time travel. Foreknowledge and time travel are very similar to each other. The time traveler has the ability to do something such that, if he did it, the past would have been different. Similarly with foreknowledge, we have the ability to do things such that, if we were to do them, God would have foreknown differently and not given the prophecy – the prophecy would have been different. That is why I say the fatalist has never been able to enunciate the sense of the necessity of the past on which God’s knowledge and prophecies turn out to be temporally necessary. They are like events that are dependent on the time traveler’s activities. The time traveler has the ability to act in such a way that the past would have been different. Similarly, we have the ability to act in such a way that if we were to act that way, the past would have been different with respect to what God foreknows and possibly prophesied.6


1 4:59

2 10:50

3 15:04

4 19:57

5 25:06

6 Total Running Time: 31:57