Does God’s omniscience conflict with human free will?

Here’s the setup for the question, from Come Reason ministries.

Excerpt:

Hello,

Christian doctrine holds that God is all knowing (1 John 3:20), and humans have free will (Deuteronomy 30:19 is my favorite example). however, at my favorite apologetics debate board, I have seen skeptics raise an objection to these points several times. the basic logic behind their arguments is this:

  1. A being with free will, given two options A and B, can freely choose between A and B.
  2. God is omniscient (all-knowing).
  3. God knows I will choose A.
  4. God cannot be wrong, since an omniscient being cannot have false knowledge.
  5. From 3 and 4, I will choose A and cannot choose B.
  6. From 1 and 5, omniscience and free will cannot co-exist.

I have read many counter-arguments from apologetics sites, but they were either too technical (I couldn’t understand them), or not satisfying. so, I was wondering what would your input be on this issue?

Thank you,

Justin

Ever heard that one? I actually had that one posed to me by a guy I used to work with who had a Ph.D in computer science from Northwestern. So this is an objection you may actually here.

Here’s Lenny Eposito’s answer:

Hi Justin,

Thanks for writing. This is a great question as it shows how even those who appeal to logic can have biases that blind them. Let’s examine this argument and see if it follows logically.

Premises 1 and 2 in your outline above are the main premises to the argument and are not disputed. The Christian worldview argues that every human being is a free moral agent and is capable of making choices simply by exercising their will, not under compulsion or because of instinct. Also, it is a long held doctrine of Christianity that God is all-knowing. The Bible says that God knows “the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).” For omniscience to be truly knowledgeable it must be correct knowledge, so premise number 4 is also granted.

However, point number 5 is where the logic falters. Those who argue in this manner make the mistake of thinking that because God possesses knowledge about a specific matter, then he has influenced it. That does not follow at all. Just because God can foresee which choice you will make, it does not mean you couldn’t still freely choose the other option.

Let me give you an example. I have a five year old son. If I were to leave a chocolate chip cookie on the table about a hour before dinner time and my son was to walk by and see it, I know that he would pick up the cookie and eat it. I did not force him to make that decision. In fact, I don’t even have to be in the room at all. I think I know my son well enough, though, to tell you that if I come back into the kitchen the cookie will be gone. His act was made completely free of my influence, but I knew what his actions would be.

In examining the argument, the assumption is made in premise 3 that because God knows I will choose A somehow denies me the choice of B. That is the premise that Christianity rejects. Omniscience and free will are not incompatible and it is a non-sequitor to claim otherwise.

Thank you Justin for this interesting question. I pray that you will continue to defend the gospel of our Lord and may He continue to bless you as you seek to grow in Him.

That’s a great answer and should work in ordinary conversations.

More technical

J.W. Wartick maps out the arguments more fully with symbolic logic here on his Always Have A Reason blog. But I’ll just excerpt the gist of it.

Excerpt:

It is necessarily true that if God knows x will happen, then x will happen. But then if one takes these terms, God knowing x will happen only means that x will happen, not that x will happen necessarily. Certainly, God’s foreknowledge of an event means that that event will happen, but it does not mean that the event could not have happened otherwise. If an event happens necessarily, that means the event could not have happened otherwise, but God’s foreknowledge of an event doesn’t somehow transfer necessity to the event, it only means that the event will happen. It could have been otherwise, in which case, God’s knowledge would have been different.

[…]Perhaps I could take an example. Let’s say that I’m going to go to classes tomorrow (and I do hope I will, I don’t like missing classes!). God knows in advance that I’m going to go to classes tomorrow. His knowledge of this event means that it will happen, but it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t choose to stay in and sleep for a while, or play my new copy of Final Fantasy XIII, or do something more useless with my time. If I chose to, say, play Final Fantasy XIII (a strong temptation!), then God simply would have known that I would play FFXIII. His knowledge does not determine the outcome, His knowledge is simply of the outcome.

If we choose A, God would foreknow A. If we choose B, God would foreknow B. His foreknowledge of our choices is contingent on our making free choices.

3 thoughts on “Does God’s omniscience conflict with human free will?”

  1. I believe the confusion here is because Justin cannot imagine God not being bound by time. In reality, we can know that He is not bounded by time because we know He is not bounded by space and space and time are inextricably intertwined. Therefore, if God exists outside of time, then He sees all of time (and space or, more simply, creation) simultaneously. It is not that He knows what choice you *will* make, He knows the choice that you *have* made. You do not know that choice yet because you are bounded by time and cannot know the future until you have arrived there.

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  2. Lenny hit the nail on the head when he said: “This is a great question as it shows how even those who appeal to logic can have biases that blind them. ”

    What it shows is how Arminian biases blind them to the actual argument.

    The actual argument does not say that God has influenced the choice (as Lenny says) or that “x will happen necessarily” (as J. W. says). Paul Helm presents a perfectly logical form of the argument in his contribution to the book Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (cf. p. 184ff) that avoids the fallacious formulation of J. W.’s and corrects Lenny’s misconception.

    Notice that William Lane Craig, in his response to Helm, doesn’t commit the same mistakes that Lenny and J. W. commit. Rather Craig just falls back on the “we have the ability to act in ways other than those in which we shall act; and if we were to act in those ways, God’s past beliefs would have been different than they were” (p. 205) response. But, elsewhere, John Martin Fischer has shown that this response merely begs the question (cf. his article “Molinism” in Oxford Readings in Philosophy of Religion). All Craig is saying is that in the possible world where Jones chooses “x” God foreknows that Jones chooses “x” (assume that in the actual world Jones chooses “y” and God foreknows it). And as others have pointed out, Calvinists can give the same exact response for divine determinism! In the possible world where Jones chooses “x” God has determined that Jones chooses “x” (assume that in the actual world Jones chooses “y” and God has determined it).

    Has the Calvinist, by observing possible world scenarios in this way (in the way Craig does to “preserve” libertarian freedom) preserved divine determinism and libertarian freedom? I doubt most people would think so… likewise with Craig’s musings.

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