Tough Questions Answered

A Christian Apologetics Blog

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Some people get hung up on the idea that God can know, for sure, what I will freely do in the future.  Their argument goes something like this:  if whatever God knows will certainly occur (as virtually all Christians agree), then either I am not free to act or God does not know what free acts I will perform in the future.

Some Christians take one horn of the dilemma and claim that humans are not really free because human free will would spell the end of God’s infallible knowledge and sovereignty over all creation.  They severely throttle back the meaning of free will to the point that most people would not recognize it any more.  These folks understand humans to be far more similar to animals, operating on instincts, impulses, and desires – all properties that God exercises direct control over.

Others grab the second horn of the dilemma and claim that God does not really know what free creatures will do in the future.  At best, he is making educated guesses, but he cannot know, for sure, what humans will do.  The future free acts of humans are unknown, even to God, until they are actually executed.

I, and most traditional Christians, reject both of these positions.  The Bible seems to clearly teach that God does infallibly know the future, including all free acts that will be performed, and that humans possess a robust free will.  Admittedly, it is difficult to hold these two concepts without tension, but Christian theologians have always done so.

Do we know precisely how God’s infallible knowledge of future free acts coordinates with human free will?  No, I don’t think so.  We always run into the intractable problem of an infinite being interacting with finite creatures.  God knows everything we will do and we are free to do those things, but I don’t think we can ever explain exactly how it works.  There is a mystery to it, but there is no contradiction.

It isn’t just Christians that have had to deal with this issue.  Throughout history, great thinkers have struggled with the seeming paradox of fate and freedom.  If all things are decreed as part of an unchangeable fate, then how is it that we humans are free to do anything?  Rather than toss one of these notions aside, many thinkers have proposed solutions to retain both realities – that some sort of divine fate exists along with human free will.  Two viewpoints – atheism and pantheism – have found other ways around the problem.

Check back tomorrow to see if their worldviews better deal with this problem.


About The Author

Comments

  • Pingback: Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 2 « Tough Questions Answered

  • kay

    Key word is “future”. To me it is so simple — God sees into the future, so He knows what we will do with our free will. Sometimes even parents know how a child will react without being able to see into the future, because they know their child. Well, God knows us.

  • I love Jesus

    I belive that cause GOD knows what you will do does not take away from your free will.

    Just shows that he is Mighty GOD all knowing,
    You do have free will and just because he knows what you will do , does not take away from your free will now if he dictates what you do then it would be a problem but in this case he knows all as he is GOD but you as a person have the right to choose what you you do if someone needs a helping hand and you do not give to him thats your choice him knowing that you would do it does not mean you do not have free will.

    GOD BLESS

  • I love Jesus

    I had to re write. sorry.

    I believe that just because GOD knows what you will do does not take away from your free will.

    Just shows that he is Mighty GOD all knowing,
    You do have free will and just because he knows what you will do , does not take away from your free will now if he dictates what you do then it would be a problem.

    But in this case he knows all as he is GOD but you as a person have the right to choose what you do.

    If someone needs a helping hand and you do not give it to that person thats your choice.

    GOD knowing that you would not do it does not mean you do not have free will just means he is all knowing.

    GOD BLESS

  • Boz

    “There is a mystery to it, but there is no contradiction.”

    Your response is merely evasion and contradiction.

  • Adrian Nielsen

    What does free-will mean? If someone can affect my will, is it free? What about God’s free will? One mark of a cult is that it makes man more powerful and God less powerful. The Bible never appeals to “free will.” It does appeal to predestination.

    If a will is truly “free,” then responsibility is gone. Actions become based upon chance, luck, and carelessness since it is truly “free.” If choices are not determined by a person’s nature, then they are truly “free.”

  • David

    Our God has plans for each of us but its our free will to let God take control of our lives. I think if God chose us from the beginning we should just accept it and enjoy what he has planned for us

  • Benwilly86

    Hey Bill I’m pretty sure you’ve come across William Lane Craig’s proposal reconciliation of these highly featured doctrines in the Bible known as Molinism which affirms that God in His divine middle knowledge knows what every human being would freely do in any particular set of circumstances that God might place him in. So far in my own thinking, I don’t see any other better doctrine that Molinism which has successfully brought these two together without compromising either. I think compatibilism is false but I also am not persuaded by Open Theism (the view that God doesn’t know the future because the future hasn’t yet happened). What do you think of Bill Craig’s argument in this setting?

  • Alex

    If a person can erect a set of conditions which they know with 100% certainty will cause another person to think, believe, or act in a certain way – then they can control the other person’s thoughts in that way. In human life we can never be 100% certain that of the outcome of our our “mind control” tactics.

    But, if God were to perform a miracle, knowing 100% the resulting mindstates of those who witnessed it, then this miracle is an act which results in mind control. In other words, a miracle is an action which takes us beyond the simple “God knows what we will do think, etc.”

    It takes us into:
    “I think this way because God did x,y,z thing, and I could not have thought any other way after having experienced that thing. God (in his omniscience) knew how I would think as a result of this experience he forced on me (I was just walking down the street. I did not “choose” to see a miracle today. It was an accident on my part – but God knew I would be there.) He forced this experience on me. And I reacted according to plan.” This means that God caused me to think this way. This is a violation of so-called free-will. The bible is filled with such miracles, which must have affected everyone, indeed the entire course of human history.

  • Benjamin Williamson

    Alex a fundamental categorical error your argument commits is diffusing a property of mind with a function of one’s will or control. The fact that God knows that X will happen no more determines X’s choosing to do what he does any more than God being ignorant of what X will do. God’s knowledge of X’s action just has no causal effect on X’s choice.

    Moreover there is another clue to God’s foreknowledge you’re forgetting or maybe weren’t aware of. The *extent* of God’s foreknowledge might be necessary but the *content* of His foreknowledge isn’t necessary. For example, God could have refrained from creating this particular world. He could have actualized a different world or simply not actualized any world at all. Theologians believe that God’s initial act of creating the actual world is an example of selecting a feasible world for Him to create.

    But to press this even further, you’ve already built your conclusion into the conditional premise:

    “If a person can erect a set of conditions which they know with 100% certainty will cause another person to think, believe, or act in a certain way – then they can control the other person’s thoughts in that way”

    There are a few things to notice here:
    1. The set of conditions were not necessary because a *different* set of conditions could have obtained (i.e. the person does not perform action A/God chooses not to create that set of conditions)
    2. Certainty is a property of persons; necessity is a property of propositions. You might object that God’s knowledge of future propositions is necessary and hence obscures the contingency of those future proposition. But that’s absurd. As I said before, God wasn’t constrained to actualize this set of conditions because He was free.
    3. Because you implemented the word “cause” into the antecedent of the conditional statement, that already presupposes the conclusion you’re seeking to arrive at, and hence is question begging.
    4. The consequent is a bit murky because it could either mean God can control what a person thinks or He can control the conditions in which a person decides to think about a certain thing. I think the latter to be true as opposed to the first choice.

    But even moreover Alex, I think you implicitly gave rise to Middle knowledge which I think makes better sense of reconciling divine foreknowledge with human freedom. Middle knowledge, in case you don’t know, is the knowledge God has in which He knows what each person would freely do under any set of circumstances God might place him in. These are *freedom permitting* circumstances in that they are left up to the person to choose.

    This comes between God’s natural and free knowledge. God’s natural knowledge involves only and all necessary truths and these are truths God has no control over. Truths pertaining to logic, possible worlds, mathematical truths, etc would be examples of that.

    His free knowledge is knowledge based on His divine decree to actualize a world. In this case God has control over this kind of knowledge.

    Middle knowledge, however, involves counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which God has no control over because they are contingent.

    I think Middle knowledge helps understand how God’s foreknowledge interacts with human choices.

    Let me know what you think. I think a book “The Only Wise God” by William Lane Craig is a really great help for understanding this problem.

  • Alex

    Thanks for the response. I think that that this is the part of your response which goes most directly to my point “Middle knowledge, in case you don’t know, is the knowledge God has in which He knows what each person would freely do under any set of circumstances God might place him in. These are *freedom permitting* circumstances in that they are left up to the person to choose.”
    I understand Middle knowledge as you explain it. I disagree that it allows freedom. In other words, the PLACING with full knowledge of requisite choice, negates true choice.
    It is like saying a man has 100% knowledge that a woman will have sex with him if he slips her a certain pill (ie. puts her in a certain situation.) He slips her the pill, and has sex with her. Then he claims his “middle knowledge” of the situation allowed her to freely choose to sleep with him. Don’t buy it……
    Perhaps we can just disagree on this concept.

  • Alex

    By the way Benjamin, I do not suggest that God’s foreknowledge alone is enough to violate free-will. I suggest that foreknowledge that that a miracle will result in the particular change in a person’s mental state, and then subsequently causing this miracle, is to effectively ensure that change in said person’s mental state, whether that person desires this change or not. This is non other than mind control. If I know with 100% certainty that I will cause you to believe Jennifer Lopez is the most beautiful woman in the world by showing you a particular picture, and then I show it to you – I have controlled your mind. I don’t see any other alternative. If you do – enlighten me

  • Benjamin Williamson

    Middle knowledge Alex isn’t designed to serve as an argument *for* human beings having genuine libertarian freedom (one’s choice not being causally determined by outside factors) but rather serves to explain *how* God’s providential control over the world would be reconciled with human freedom since most people would think both are true but give – in my opinion – implausible resolutions to their tension in contrast to Middle Knowledge.

    Could you define what you mean by *requisite* choice?

  • Benjamin Williamson

    Let me put what you said in a syllogistic form to make better sense because I’m having trouble understanding your train of thought (You let me know if I have correctly stated your points or not):

    Premise 1: If a certain change in a person’s mental state obtains, then a miraculous event will occur.

    Premise 2: God’s causing the miraculous occurrence is inferred by the effective change in the person’s mental state regardless of the person’s desire for this particular change or not.

    Conclusion: Therefore, God has controlled the person’s mind.

    I’m not asking for a critique because this isn’t my *response* to your argument but simply an attempt to correctly state it.

    If I have correctly stated it, then let me know and I’ll give my response. Thanks

  • Alex

    Ok. Now I see why where the confusion is. Let me attempt:

    Premise 1: God, in his infinite knowledge, knows 100% that
    performing a miracle (!) will affect a person’s (A’s) mind, attitudes, and
    resultant behavior in a specific way (x,y,z).

    Premise 2: God chooses to and performs miracle (!)

    Conclusion: By performing miracle (!) God has ensured that a
    person’s (A’s) mind, attitudes, and resultant behavior (x,y,z) will be what God
    foreknew they would be before God chose to perform the miracle. God has controlled person A’s mind,
    attitudes, and resultant behaviors (thoughts, etc.)

    Explanation: God, in his free-will, did not have to perform
    a miracle (this point is only somewhat relevant.) But, God knew what would be
    the direct result of his miracle, as it relates to how it would affect
    thoughts, attitudes, and ultimately beliefs and choices, of those who witness
    it (namely person A.) By choosing to
    perform said miracle, the thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and choices of person A
    are controlled, because his thoughts are both
    directly affected by the miracle, and the result of this direct
    affect is known prior with 100% accuracy.

    Example: Paul of Tarsus.
    Ask yourself, could Paul have declined to change on the road to
    Damascus? The answer is obviously
    No. God revealed himself to Paul in a
    way that God forknew Paul would not be able to resist. God’s miracle changed who Paul was instantly,
    and therefore the person who was exercising a will was no longer identical to
    the person that existed before. This
    change in will came as a necessary result of a double factor: God’s knowledge
    of the consequence of his miraculous intervention, and God’s miraculous
    intervention.

    Interesting aside: If your contention is that God does not
    violate freedom, even though he can foreknow the result of his miracle, and
    then do the miracle, you must explain how freedom continues. I find it interesting that one would argue
    that man could escape God’s plan. If
    that is the case, I would have the freedom to feel happy in Hell, even though God
    has ordained otherwise. I would be truly
    sovereign.

SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline