Divine Foreknowledge and Free Will

Divine Foreknowledge and Free Will March 6, 2019

So by knowing our actions, does God cause them to be?

Depending on what you believe, yes and no, and here is the whole crux of the argument about whether we have free will or not in a religious context. There are a few ways in which it is claimed how God can know of our future actions (Middle Knowledge being one). By having this foreknowledge, does this mean that we have no free will?  If God infallibly knows that restauranteur Mr. Scelta will choose to call the waiter over at 21.33, does that mean there is nothing else that could happen, that his will is not free to choose otherwise?  In a strict causal sense, God may not be responsible for our actions, but if you take into account that God created the world, or even chose which world to actualise out of all possible worlds, and knew what Mr. Scelta would do at that time, then Mr Scelta would always do that. He was determined to do so. Although it might appear that his ‘free will’ was unaffected by God’s knowing, we are still in a position of causal determinism. If there is random, and if there is true free choice, then God would not know our choices. Which is where Middle Knowledge and a timeless God come in as supposed get-out-of -hail-free cards, but they have serious issues, and don’t actually refute determinism.

If God were to omnisciently know that I was to do something that warranted eternal damnation before I was born, before, even, the creation of the world, then why create me at all?  Why create me in the knowledge that I will be damned due to the choices that I will make?  If I was to create a new life-form (a dooberry) in the laboratory, and set about multiplying their number, knowing what each of them would get up to, such as knocking over a test tube in the lab on purpose, can I them blame the dooberry for doing so?  It was my choice to create them in the first place. If I then knowingly create them, and see the test tube get knocked over as predicted and then punish the dooberry that does so, or worse, punish all the dooberries, is this fair?  I am simply carrying out my own set of dominoes and then erupting in anger at a set time upon an action of a creation over which I am responsible, which I knew I was going to do anyway. It is simply an incoherent and unfair approach to being a god.

Another analogy to our human world that might describe how God can see all our actions might be one of watching my favourite DVD. By watching the DVD, I am not causing the events on the DVD to happen, but I know that if I rewound the DVD five minutes and watched it again, the same thing would happen. Although I am not directly causing the actions to happen, it doesn’t mean that the causality of those actions is not fixed. God, however, is the film-maker, the DVD manufacturer and the energy producer, so in effect, the buck stops there. The analogy fails.

Consequentially, there appears to be a simple state of affairs:

God has omniscience, in some way, and knows all our actions. They are determined.


God does not know our future actions (with or without random). We have free will.


God does not know our future actions. We are determined (with or without aspects of random).

Despite the attempts of many great theologians, no one, as far as I am concerned, has produced anything like a universal and plausible method of making omniscience (foreknowledge) and free will compatible. I can understand omniscience, but only with determinism as a natural consequence.

For every human action to be known infallibly in advance renders the real rational and conscious ability to do otherwise in a given situation nonsensical.

Stay in touch! Like A Tippling Philosopher on Facebook:

Please also donate to my MS treatment appeal (I have just been diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis) so I can keep doing what I do!

Browse Our Archives