God’s Foreknowledge & Human Freedom

By Elias Ayala
(M.A.T & MDiv)

Does God’s Omniscience Entail An Irrational Determinism?

It can easily be demonstrated that the metaphysical naturalist runs into some very problematic realities if his position is true. One such problem (among many) manifests itself in the form of materialistic determinism, in terms of which all events are determined by physical and natural causes. In the realm of human thought, thinking is reduced to neurological brain activity which is itself determined to function the way that it does such that the very process of “thinking” is physically determined. On this view, free will is illusory. Persons do not make free choices, rather their mental deliberations and choices are themselves determined by the laws of physics, genetic make-up, and conditioning. Interestingly enough, many materialistic atheists embrace this understanding all the while not recognizing that such a position reduces scientific inquiry, philosophical reflection, and all knowledge acquisition impossible. If one is not free to deliberate, rationally reflect upon, and freely choose between rational positions, then how could one trust the conclusions reached? Such a position also makes moral responsibility illusory. If one is physically determined to do what they do, then how can such persons be rightly held responsible for their actions?

The above critiques are detrimental to the metaphysical naturalist. However, what happens when these issues are turned around on the Christian theist? If God is omniscient, how can human beings be genuinely free? For if God knows what I will do tomorrow, am I free to do something different than what God foreknows that I will do? Must I of necessity do what God foreknows I will do? If so, then how are human beings genuinely free? And if human beings are not genuinely free, then doesn’t the theist run into the equally detrimental conclusions as the metaphysical naturalist who affirms materialistic determinism? These questions can pose a challenge to the Christian theist who affirms both God’s omniscience and human freedom. So how is the Christian theist to respond to this sort of challenge? The answer lies in the recognition of the logical blunder inherent in the challenge itself. When put in deductive form, we can begin to see that the freedom denying conclusion to the argument does not follow from the preceding premises. Let us take a look at the argument as traditionally stated:

Does Foreknowledge Entail Necessity?

  1. Necessarily, if God foreknows some future contingent C, then C will happen.
  2. God foreknows C.
  3. Therefore, C will necessarily happen.

This argument is fallacious as it stands because the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises.

Dr. Kirk MacGregor, an expert in this area of study observes, “the argument commits the obvious fallacy in modal logic of distrusting the necessary operator governing a conditional statement to the apodosis without distributing it to the protasis. This error serves to transmute the necessity of the deductive inference from the major and minor premises to the conclusion (from 1 and 2 to 3, respectively) into the necessity of the conclusion (3) itself, when no information concerning the conclusion’s modality can be gleaned in this way.” In other words, the only warranted conclusion given the above premises (1 and 2), is not that “Therefore, C will necessarily happen, but, that C “will” happen. The “necessity” of C happening is unwarranted. MacGregor points out that this in no way “undercuts libertarian freedom…Undoubtedly, a major source of confusion evident among…thinkers is their conflation of certainty, a property of creatures which bears no relationship to truth, with necessity, a property of statements ensuring that they cannot possibly be false”.1 One can be “certain” of something yet still be mistaken while necessity concerns statements that cannot be false. In regards to God, His omniscience ensures the certainty of what He foreknows , but His omniscience does not make necessary the outcomes of what He knows will transpire.

To provide a practical example, If God knew I was going to write this present article, it follows that I will most certainly write this article, but it does not follow that I must of necessity, write this article. I could have chosen to do otherwise, in which case, God’s foreknowledge of what I would have done would have been different, since God’s perfect foreknowledge cannot be mistaken. The notion that God’s foreknowledge entails an irrational determinism is unwarranted. There is nothing inconsistent with God omnisciently knowing all truths and believing no falsehoods, with the genuine freedom held by creatures made in His image. Thus, God’s foreknowledge does not “cause” our actions.

1 MacGregor, Kirk. A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology. New York (University Press of America, 2007), 88.

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