Widely held is the assumption that God’s foreknowledge and free will are incompatible. Determinism suggests every action and decision are predetermined by nature’s laws, making free will an impossibility.
However, some religious groups believe that an egalitarian view of free will can be upheld through modern modal logic.
Table of Contents
What is free will?
As its name implies, free will is the power to control our choices and actions. Philosophers have traditionally understood it in various ways – most frequently as the capacity to choose or not choose certain behaviors – often linking this concept of power with moral responsibility; it may even serve as an ideology supporting rewards-punishments schemes for behavior.
At first glance, free will appears incompatible with determinism; this is one of the major points of contention in discussions over it. Libertarians – those who believe human choices do not follow predetermined paths – are among those who support this view of free will; John Duns Scotus in medieval Europe was known for espousing such beliefs by asserting that will was by nature self-determining and that external powers cannot dictate its actions; other medieval proponents included Chrysippus Augustine and Spinoza.
Many modern philosophers, however, are skeptical of this view and believe that truth of determinism does not preclude moral responsibility. John Martin Fischer has asserted that causal determinism would preclude the control needed for free will but would not rule out moral accountability.
Most modern philosophers agree that there are ways of creating an incompatibilist account of free will that does not require rejecting determinism, typically by employing models of mind that do not reduce mental events to physical neuronal processes; this concept is known as non-reductive physicalism.
Some accounts of free will based on agent-causation provide accounts of such free will. For instance, an agent can be said to possess free will in her action when she can choose whether or not to act on their 2nd-order desire – such as brainwashing – without external influence being involved.
How does God know the future?
God knows the future in multiple ways. One is through studying its causes; another way involves God knowing it intrinsically or via his creatures’ actions; while yet another method relies on divine omniscience alone. All of these methods of knowing are available to Him without any risk to His divine omniscience.
Some have argued that all these ways are unsatisfying because they require God to interact with the world in some form or fashion. For instance, if He knew someone was planning on murdering someone in 1935 and warned them, He could intervene with history by warning the murderer ahead of time; but doing this would violate free will. That is why some have chosen what’s known as an “open view” of God’s foreknowledge instead.
The open view holds that while God knows all truths, some truths regarding the future cannot yet be known – as it has yet to materialize and can only be discovered through actions taken by people and things in it. Therefore, He only knows those truths which will arise through their actions in time.
The classical view assumes that God knows everything that will occur in the future as though it had already occurred, because this requires Him having some type of perceptualist cognition system in which He “sees” what’s to come – yet biblical texts don’t actually support this view – they only support that He knew about what would come at some point in time in the past.
William of Ockham does not accept this argument, however. He argues that Boethius and St. Thomas misread Aristotle; according to him, all knowledge for God consists of what is determinately true – so He would not know of future contingents since they have yet to become determinately true – however this does not undermine His divine simplicity and immutability or His omniscience; rather it can be likened to an infallible barometer which predicts weather changes without specifying exactly when.
Why does God know the future?
People often assume that when hearing that God does not possess absolute foreknowledge, this makes Him appear smaller and less capable. However, this is an inaccurate perception. An analogy could be that of a football coach who knows each play the opposing team will run before gameday is more capable and deserving of praise than one who just guesses which plays they might run; such coaches can anticipate strategies of their opposition more quickly, thus helping to win games with ease.
St. Thomas asserts that God is unconstrained by what happens and therefore can see events as they unfold without having to change His plans or come up with alternatives; He always moves toward his appointed endpoint. Scripture supports this position: God remains unchanged no matter what arises in this life or any future life may bring; therefore His plans always advance toward their appointed ends as intended by Himself.
Geach is a twentieth-century analytic philosopher commonly referred to as a Thomist. Although he holds great respect for St. Thomas, on many issues he disagrees significantly – particularly concerning God’s knowledge of future contingents where Geach differs greatly with him.
Geach agrees with Boethius that God’s knowledge can only be inferred from what he already knows; thus he doesn’t possess absolute foreknowledge of what will occur in the future. Geach asserts that knowing what will occur does not require learning about each event as they occur; rather it forms part of how He knows Himself – thus eliminating God’s knowledge as a problem for Christian Aristotelians like himself and Boethius.
Ockham differs from Boethius by not following his Aristotelian-Boethian-Thomistic line of reasoning and instead suggests that this view of God’s knowledge poses problems for Christian Arminians who believe divine foreknowledge can coexist with free will. According to him, such an interpretation is incommensurate with biblical teaching on predestination and God’s nature – making such positions incomprehensible for Arminians who hold this viewpoint.
What is the difference between free will and predestination?
Predestination, as defined in Scripture, refers to God choosing some individuals for salvation before their birth (Ephesians 1:3-5). At first glance, predestination seems incompatible with free will but upon closer consideration it becomes apparent that it does not contradict it as much as might first seem.
Religious theologians have for some time attempted to address or at least lessen this difficulty through various means. Some have sought a balance between free will and predestination; others attempted to understand that for God time as we know it does not exist, meaning He can see events before they take place without predestining them; Augustine held that since God exists outside time as it exists on Earth His decree or foresight regarding salvation cannot be taken as forcing anyone into doing bad deeds.
Reformed theologians take a different view on this matter. They assert that fallen man is bound by sin and therefore is incapable of choosing or believing freely in Christ’s gospel; hence he does not possess true freedom but only power against himself to choose good. Yet Reformed theologians maintain that freedom does not necessitate coercion – therefore necessary acts decreed by God can still be performed freely.
Calvinists emphasize that while God knows exactly which decisions people will make, His knowledge does not limit or take responsibility for those decisions that each individual is responsible for making.
At any rate, what matters is that Christians can freely decide to accept or reject Christ’s salvation; similarly they can freely choose whether or not to keep sinning against their bodies through sinful acts or turn back towards God through the power of the Holy Spirit.