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:
A being with free will, given two options A and B, can freely choose between A and B.
God is omniscient (all-knowing).
God knows I will choose A.
God cannot be wrong, since an omniscient being cannot have false knowledge.
From 3 and 4, I will choose A and cannot choose B.
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?
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 hear.
Here’s Lenny Eposito’s answer:
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.
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.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked up 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. With this act, he hoped to provoke a discussion among the scholars about the abuses of the indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. He was not trying to create a public furor by any means, but within a fortnight, these theses had spread through the country like wildfire. The last thing Luther had in mind was to start some kind of major controversy, but nevertheless major controversy did begin.
From the discussions at Wittenberg, the disputations began to accelerate and escalate. Copies of the theses reached Rome and critical meetings were scheduled with the young monk. In these debates, Luther was maneuvered into proclaiming publicly that he had questions about the infallibility of church councils and also that he thought that it was possible that the pope could err. In 1520 a papal encyclical was issued which condemned Martin Luther as a heretic. Luther burned the document in a public bonfire and his defiance before the church was now a matter of record.
In response, Martin Luther picked up his pen to challenge the entire penitential system of the Roman Catholic Church, which undermined in principle the free remission of sins that is ours in the gospel. By doing so, he was unswervingly advocating his commitment to sola fide, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
In 1521, Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet, an authoritative meeting that involved the princes of the church, called by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to be held in the city of Worms in Germany. Luther was an outlaw. For him to appear at the Diet was to risk his very life; therefore, he was given safe conduct by the Emperor to attend. With a few friends, Luther traveled from Wittenberg to Worms. The eyewitnesses of that episode tell us that when Luther’s little covered wagon appeared around the corner of the bend, there were lookouts posted in the church tower at Worms. All the people were agog waiting for the arrival of this notorious person. When Luther’s caravan was sighted, people were throwing their hats in the air, blowing trumpets, and creating all the fanfare of the arrival of the hero. It was the 16th century answer to a ticker-tape parade.
Things, however, became very solemn in a hurry because the next day he appeared before the Diet. His books were stacked on a table in the room, and he was asked and ordered to recant of his writings. This surprised Luther because he thought he was going to have an opportunity to defend his writings; but the only question really of any importance that was asked of him was this: “Are these your writings?” And when he said yes, they said, “Are you ready to recant of them?”
Hollywood has their version of Luther standing there boldly with his fist in the air saying, “Here I stand!” and so on. But instead he dropped his chin on his chest and muttered something that nobody could understand, so they asked him to speak up. “What did you say?” He said, “May I have 24 hours to think about it.” And so Luther was granted a reprieve of 24 hours to return to his room to contemplate the seriousness of this occasion.
The prayer that Luther wrote in that ensuing 24-hour period was one of the most moving prayers I have ever read in my life. In that prayer, Luther cried out for God in his sense of total loneliness fearing that God had abandoned him, and proclaimed, “O Lord, I am Thine, and the cause is Thine, give me the courage to stand.”
And on the morrow, Luther was called once again back to the court and was told to reply to the question. He said to the Diet, “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And with that there was an instant uproar.
The Protestant Reformation emphasizes the responsibility of each person to become familiar with what the Bible teaches for themselves and to make sense of it using the laws of logic for themselves. There is an enormous focus on the individual’s responsibility to puzzle theology out for himself, using the tools available to him: reason, science, Scripture, and history. When doing theology, Protestants do not accept the authority of someone who has a fancy title, fancy hat, fancy robe or fancy staff. Everyone is responsible to read the Bible, read systematic theology, consult history, and determine what the truth is based on evidence, not authority.
The Reformation put forward the famous five Solas: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory). The vertical relationship with God is seen as more important than making people feel good here and now. True beliefs about God are deemed to be more important than being a good social worker. And that’s why Jesus said that the most important commandment is to love God, then secondly, to love your neighbor. It’s important to get that in the right order, because true beliefs about God’s existence, God’s character, and God’s actions in history are the most important things.
The Reformation was the beginning of evangelical Protestantism, which is really the view that the Christian religion ought to be rooted in actual historical events that are documented in the Bible.
I listened to this excellent discussion between Dr. William Lane Craig and Oxford University Calvinist philosopher Dr. Paul Helm. I think this is a useful discussion in general because atheists often bring up problems with Calvinism as objections to Christianity in general, such as:
If God knows the future, then I don’t have free will
If God controls everything, then I am not responsible for my sinning
If God has to override my free will to be saved, then I am not responsible for being damned if God doesn’t choose me
If God ordains the future, can humans have free will? Are people predestined for salvation? And what does the Bible say on the matter? William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher and leading proponent of Molinism, a view of divine sovereignty that seeks to reconcile God’s fore-ordination with human free will. Paul Helm is a leading Calvin Scholar. He defends the view that God predestines the future, limiting human freedom.
I was surprised because my Calvinist friend Dina thought that Dr. Helm won this debate, but I thought that Dr. Craig won. So without further ado, here is the snark-free summary of the discussion. I also sent the summary to Dina to make sure that it was reasonably fair and accurate. She said it was biased, but she was predestined to say that. Anyway, there’s a commentary on the debate over at Michael’s Theology blog.
JB: Has Lewis had any impact on your apologetics?
Craig: Not as a scholar, but more as a model of a scholar who leaves a legacy through his published work
JB: How did you become interested in Calvinism?
Helm: Starting from childhood, and lately writing more on Calvinism from a philosophical point of view
JB: How do you view God’s sovereignty?
Helm: Strong view of divine sovereignty, God is sovereign over all events, but that doesn’t mean that they are determined by him
JB: What is Calvin’s legacy?
Helm: He amplified an existing concept of predestination, and wrote on many other topics
JB: What is Molinism?
Craig: Molina affirms divine sovereignty as Paul Helm does, but he also affirms libertarian free will
Craig: Every event that occurs happens by God’s will or by God’s permission
JB: What about open theism?
Craig: Paul and I both oppose open theism
JB: How does Molinism reconcile human free will and divine sovereignty
Craig: God has knowledge of what would happen under any set of circumstances
Craig: God has knowledge of everything that COULD happen, and he has knowledge of everything that WILL happen
Craig: God knows what each person freely choose to do in any set of circumstances and he can place people in times and places where he is able to achieve his ends without violating creaturely freedom and creaturely responsibility
JB: How does this apply to the issue of salvation?
Craig: The circumstances in which God puts a person includes God leading people to him and he foreknows who will respond to his leading
Craig: God has ordered the world in such a way that he foreknows the exact people who will free respond to his leading if he puts them in certain circumstances
JB: Does God want to save the maximum of people?
Craig: My own view is that God does order the world in such a way that the maximum number of people will respond to God’s drawing them to himself
JB: Is the Molinist view gaining ground?
Craig: Yes, Calvinists and open theists are both moving towards it, and Molinism is the dominant view among philosophical theologians
JB: Why has Molinism not convinced you?
Helm: It’s an unnecessary theory, God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge covers what middle knowledge covers
Helm: Calvinism has a stronger view of sin, such that God has to act unilaterally and irrestibly to save them
JB: Are creatures free on your view?
Helm: My view of free will is weaker than Craig’s view of free will
Craig: For the Calvinist, grace is irresistible, but for the Molinist, grace is effective when it is met with a response from the creature
Craig: The Bible affirms the strong view of free will, when it says that in certain circumstances people can freely choose to do other than they do
Helm: But if a person is in circumstances X and they are free, then why don’t they choose something that isn’t what God can foresee
Craig: In identical circumstances, a person has the freedom to choose, and God doesn’t determine what they choose, he just foreknows what they choose
Helm: How can God foreknow what people will freely do if people have this strong view of freedom that allows them to do anything? God would not know what people can freely do if they really are free
Craig: God has knowledge of what his creatures would freely do in any set of circumstances, he has knowledge of subjunctive statements
Craig: The Scripture is filled with statements that show that God has this knowledge of what people would do in other circumstances (e.g. – 2 Cor 2:8)
Helm: I am not denying that the Bible is full of subjunctive statements, but if humans have real libertarian free will, then God cannot know what they will do
Craig: I think God does preordain everything, Molinism has a strong sense of divine sovereignty BUT the foreordaining is done with the knowledge of what humans would do in any circumstances, so that what God ordains achieves his ends, but without violating creaturely free will
Craig: I take at face value the passages of the Bible where it says that God wants all persons to be saved
Craig: When the Bible says that God wants ALL persons to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), the Bible means that God wants ALL persons to be saved
Craig: So either universalism is true OR there is something that stops all from being saved outside of God
Craig: the something that prevents all from being saved is creaturely free will
Helm: Most people don’t have the opportunity to hear the gospel, so God doesn’t want all to be saved
Helm: People can still be responsible for what God “fore-ordains”
JB: Can a person really be responsible for wickedness if they didn’t freely choose it?
Helm: Even though God is the only one who can act unilaterally to make save people, the people who act wickedly are still responsible
Craig: Molinism provides an answer to the problem of why not all people have heard the gospel, because by using middle knowledge he is able to know who would respond to the gospel if they heard it and he places those people in the times and places where they will hear it
Craig: That solution means that NO ONE is lost because they have not heard the gospel
Craig: There is Biblical support for (Acts 17:27) God choosing the times and places where people will live SO THAT they will be led by him and be able to respond to his leading
JB: Is God the author of sin, on Calvinism?
Craig: If Calvinists define providence to mean causal determinism, then he is the cause of every effect including human actions, and he is the one who causes people to sin
Craig: This view (determinism) impugns the character of God
Helm: I don’t think that sovereignty requires determinism
Helm: God has mysterious resources – which I cannot specify – that reconcile his sovereignty with human responsibility for wickedness
JB: But if God is the cause of people doing wrong things, then how can they be responsible for it?
Helm: Well, humans do cause their own actions
Craig: Helm is right to say that God has resources to reconcile God’s sovereignty with free will and human responsibility, and that resource is not an unknown mystery, it’s middle knowledge
Craig: I can affirm everything in the Westminster Confession except for the one clause where they expressly repudiate middle knowledge as the mechanism for reconciling divine sovereignty and free will
Helm: Well, Calvinists have a strong view of sin so that humans cannot respond to God’s leading
Craig: Yes, and that’s why humans need prevenient grace in order to respond to him
Craig: God has to take the initiative and draw people to himself or they cannot be saved, but that grace is resistible, and that’s what the Bible teaches (Acts 7:51), so humans are still responsible if they resist God
Helm: My view of grace is that it is monergistic and irrestible, it is a unilateral action on the part of God, like pulling someone out of an icy pond which they can’t get out of
JB: If humans freely choose to respond to God’s drawing and leading, does that diminish grace?
Helm: Many are called but few are chosen
Craig: Molinism does not require synergism – which is the idea that humans are partly responsible for their salvation
Craig: In Eph 2:8, Scripture is clear that faith opposite to works, and responding to God’s drawing is not meritorious
JB: So receiving a gift is not meritorious?
Craig: It’s the passive acceptance of what someone else has done for you
Helm: But doesn’t this mean that you can lose your salvation, because you can accept and resist the gift of salvation?
Craig: That’s a separate question that Christians can differ on, but if the Holy Spirit indwells a person and seals them, then that would argue for the view that salvation cannot be revoked
Helm: This is called the “golden chain”, and it does support Calvinism
Craig: Actually, this text is no problem for Molinists because the first link in the chain is foreknowledge, which, if it incorporates middle knowledge, is no problem for Molinists
Craig: What God is electing in Romans 8 is a specific group of people that he knows in advance of creating the universe will freely respond to his drawing them to him
Craig: In Acts 4:27-28, it is talking about God’s foreknowledge, which involves and incorporates knowledge of what any individual would freely choose if placed in those circumstances
JB: If God actualizes a set plan with set circumstances for everyone, isn’t that very similar to Calvinism?
Craig: Yes! It’s a strong statement of divine sovereignty
Helm: Foreknowledge doesn’t mean that God knows what people would do, it’s just refering to God “knowing his own mind” about what he wants to do
JB: How do you respond to the fairness of God unilaterally and specifically choosing some people for salvation and choosing other people for damnation (because he refuses to act unilaterally for them)?
Helm: God ordinarily bypasses other people in the Bible, like when he chooses the Jews as his chosen people
Craig: The problem with that is that the Bible clearly teaches that God has a genuine will that all will be saved and he makes a genuine offer of salvation to all people
Craig: Also, just being a Jew and a member of the chosen people doesn’t mean you were saved, because some Jews rebelled against God
Craig: And there were also people outside of the Jewish people who were righteous and in a relationship with God, like Job
Helm: “the fabric of our faith” depends on God’s choice and his not-choice, it is fundamental to the Bible and to God’s character, and choosing them “effectively” (irrestibly and unilaterally)
Helm: The idea of God considering “possible worlds”, some of which are feasible and not feasible, with conflicts between the wills of free creatures in different circumstances, and then actualizing one world that achieve these ends is very messy
Craig: Some worlds may not feasible for God to create, for example a world in which everyone is saved – it is logically possible, but may not be feasible
Craig: God will not exercise any divine coercion to force people to go to Heaven against their own will
Helm: If God chooses a world because it is feasible, then he doesn’t love me directly, he is choosing a world, not individuals
Craig: Well, when God actualizes a world, he specifically knows which individuals will be saved within that world, but without disrespecting free will
Craig: The world isn’t primary, the individuals are primary
Helm: I think that middle knowledge can he included in God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge
Craig: The knowledge of what people would do in different circumstances is based on the freedom of the individuals
JB: Make your conclusions!
Craig: Molinism is a Biblical model for reconciling divine sovereignty with human freedom
Helm: It is intellectually mystifying to introduce this strong view of human freedom and it is not Biblical