Site Updated May 16, 2018

FOREKNOWLEDGE & FREE WILL

 

 

 

 

The argument

 

Dr. James White sometimes raises a philosophical argument to show that divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will are incompatible.

 

"If they're trying to protect libertarian free will and yet God can know infallibly what any creature will do (that the truth value of those hypotheticals is actually true) and it's outside of God's will, but God can know it then there really isn't any libertarian free will because in that given situation that individual does not have the freedom to do something else without falsifying the truth value of the hypothetical. So if God can know ahead of time there really isn't any libertarian free will. That's why open theists are the only consistent folks on this matter. They really are."

 

White, James. “Behold the Secular Woman & WLC on Molinism (Once Again)” Alpha and Omega Ministries, podcast audio. May 8, 2014.

 

 

Dr. Craig's response  to this argument can be found in his "Defenders podcast: series 2: Doctrine of God (part 14)".  Here Dr. Craig explains why this argument is fallacious.

 

"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."

 

Craig, William Lane. “Doctrine of God (part 14)” Defenders podcast: series 2, podcast audio. May 23, 2010.

 

 

 

 

Dr. White does not seem to have responded directly to this argument which gives Dr. Craig the appearance of coming out ahead on this question thus far in our examination of it.

 

Dr. Craig has also covered the free will vs foreknowledge objection in "Defenders podcast: series 3: Doctrine of God (part 14)". In series 3 Dr. Craig argues that if the fatalist says that foreknowledge eliminates free will, this not only eliminates man's free will but God's free will as well. This is because God foreknows what He Himself will do in the future. Further argumentation and discussion can be found in the podcast or  youtube video of the class.

 

 

 

 

Now Dr. White did address one of these objections in a debate with Dan Barker. Dan Barker raised what he calls the F.A.N.G. argument - free will argument for the non-existence of God. Barker argued that if God knows His own future actions these future actions cannot be free in the libertarian sense. Dr. White responded as follows during a question and answer period:

 

"You just used your F.A.N.G. argument - your free will argument for the non-existence of God. Is it not the case, Dan, that that requires us to believe that God is in time and that God experiences a past, present and future? And can you site to me any modern Christian scholars who would say that that is the classicial doctrine/the Christian doctrine of God - that He is bound by time?"

 

White, James. “The Triune God of Scripture Lives” James White vs Dan Barker. University of Illinois in Urbana Debate, youtube video. April 30, 2009.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNZh-4pDio0

 

William Lane Craig has, so far as I know, not responded to this particular objection to his counter argument but this doesn't necessarily give Dr. White the upper hand. Dr. White's response to Mr. Barker leaves open the question of whether or not Dr. White is being consistent in defending against an argument that is so similar to the one that he aims at Molinists such as Dr. Craig. If God transcends time, how can His time transcending omniscience fix the future with respect to humans if it does not do so for God? Most likely Dr. White would say that this is because man himself is time-bound whereas God Himself is not. But God certainly interacts with human history at particular times. I doubt that Dr. White would hold to the view that Jesus is in some timeless sense still on the cross. So God has a relationship to time which Dr. White leaves in the realm of mystery. On White's view, we just do not know how exactly God transcends time and yet interacts with human history. This is fine. But, if this is the case, then how can we be so certain that God's foreknowledge binds and fixes man's decisions so that they could not be free? Perhaps this is part of the mysterious sense in which God relates Himself to time and time-bound creatures while remaining timeless Himself? Dr. White's willingness to lean on mystery with regard to God's relationship to time and his certainty that God's foreknowledge would necessarily fix and bind any human decisions in time just do not seem to mesh well. His response to Dan Barker seems to really weaken the force of his argument against Molinists.

 

If we want to go even deeper, we can look at Dr. Craig's view of God's relationship to time. He has written much on the subject and it happens to be one of his favorites. He has devoted years of study to it. He takes the view that God is outside of time sans creation but entered into time at the moment He created time. Dr. Craig has rejected the view that God is not in time. This is relevant to the reply of Dr. White to Dan Barker. To go deeper and learn why Dr. Craig rejects the view that God is not in time, see his books and other writings on the subject.

 

 

 

 

Finally, Dr. Craig has written an entire book on the subject of God's foreknowledge being compatible with man's free will.