Q&A: Are Omniscience And Libertarian Free Will Incompatible?

Q&A: Are Omniscience And Libertarian Free Will Incompatible?

Greetings. Can you respond to my syllogism that I think demonstrates that free will is incompatible with omniscience?

Premise 1. An Omniscient God and knows all things including future human decisions.
Premise 2. Free Will requires that we are able to choose more then one option (“I choose A but I could have chosen B instead”).
Premise 3. If God knows for 100% sure what I will do in the future (choose Option A) then I have to choose Option A otherwise I may choose something else and he could be wrong violating his 100% certainty.
Premise 4. If I have free will to choose option A or B then I may choose option B or choose option A which means that I do not have to choose option A.
Conclusion. Free Will and an Omniscient God cannot both exist. (Premises 1-4).

(Note: I am NOT saying that God’s knowledge determines the outcome of the decision I am saying that his knowledge must presuppose that the outcome of your decision is determined.)

Premise 3 is crucial. Any response must begin with something along the lines of ‘the reason it is possible for God to know for 100% sure what we will choose even though we could have done otherwise (and proved him wrong?) is…’ To apply it to Molinism. If God knows that I will choose option A in a certain possible world, is it possible that if he actualizes that possible world that I would choose something other then option A and thus there is a chance (however slight that) that I will prove him wrong? Is it not the case that if I can do something there is a chance that I will?

I have never seen a proper answer to this question. Some people have said things along the lines of “yes God knows that you will choose Option A, it’s just that if you choose something else (Option B) he would have foreseen that.” Very well then if he foresaw that I would for 100% sure choose option B could I have chosen option A and thus prove him wrong? Was there actually a chance that I could actually do otherwise and prove him wrong? The above reply does not answer my question it merely dodges it.

— Sam.

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Yes, premise 3 of this argument is the crucial premise. I would agree with premise 1, premise 2, and premise 4, as would all Molinists. The argument I disagree with is premise 3. The premise “If God knows for 100% sure what I will do in the future (choose option A), then I have to choose Option A otherwise I may choose something else and he could be wrong violating his 100% certainty” is false.

This position is known in philosophical circles as Fatalism. Usually, the argument for your premise 3 is usually cast in terms of a syllogism of its own:

1: Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will occur.
2: God foreknows X.
3: Therefore, necessarily, X will occur.

This seems to be a good argument, doesn’t it? After all, both premises are true (or at least I think they are). The reason I don’t believe the conclusion despite believing both premises is that the argument is a non sequitur. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. This syllogism commits what’s called a “modal fallacy”. All that follows from the premises is that “X will occur” but not that “X will necessarily occur” X could be different, and if it were different, then God’s foreknowledge would be different.

Let’s say that Little Billy freely chooses to stay inside and play video games on Saturday morning instead of going outside to play. From eternity past, God knew “On Saturday, January 5th, 2019, in the afternoon, Billy will choose to stay inside and play video games”. But what if Billy exercised his freedom of the will to choose to go outside and play instead? Would God be caught by surprise? Would Billy have proven God wrong? Of course not. Rather, if Billy made the decision to go outside and play, then God’s foreknowledge would contain different propositional content. In this case, instead of foreknowing “Billy will choose to stay inside and play video games”, God would have known instead that “Billy will choose to play outside”.

If Billy chooses to stay inside and play video games next week, then that’s what God foreknows. If Billy chooses to go outside and play, then that is what God foreknows. God foreknows X, and necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will occur. But X could fail to occur. And if it were to fail to occur, then God would not foreknow X. God would foreknow not-X instead.

You seem to somewhat anticipate this response when you said “Some people have said things along the lines of ‘yes God knows that you will choose Option A, it’s just that if you choose something else (Option B) he would have foreseen that.'” First, it’s very important that we’re on the same page when we speak of God’s knowledge of the future (either factually or counterfactually). Talk of God “Foreseeing” things is rather misleading and, I think, incorrect. God doesn’t see the future. Rather, he simply knows it innately. I hold to a view of omniscience that philosophers call “Conceptualism”. This means that God simply knows what would or will occur conceptually, in His mind. “Perceptualism” by contrast, asserts that God looks down the corridors of time and literally sees what will occur. So, it’s more accurate to speak of God foreknowing instead of foreseeing. 


You then say “Very well then if he foresaw that I would for 100% sure choose option B could I have chosen option A and thus prove him wrong? Was there actually a chance that I could actually do otherwise and prove him wrong? The above reply does not answer my question it merely dodges it.”

I don’t see how my above response wouldn’t solve the problem, Sam. I don’t see it as a dodge at all. There is no possibility of proving God wrong. It’s just the case that were you to make a different choice than you actually do, the propositional content in God’s mind would be different. For example, Billy’s going outside to play wouldn’t prove God wrong. Instead, God would have different knowledge about next week than he actually does.

Our choices are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them. God’s knowledge of our choices is chronologically prior to our choices. And therefore, were the choices upon which God’s knowledge is based to be different than what they are, God’s knowledge would be different. This applies both to God’s Free Knowledge a.k.a foreknowledge as well as His middle knowledge of CCFs. Therefore, there is no incompatibility with saying God knows everything we would do in any circumstance we might find ourselves and every situation we actually will find ourselves in.

The Christian philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig gives a helpful illustration of this in his book The Only Wise God. Though the quote is from his Defenders class. Craig wrote; “One way to think about this (again to try to give you an illustration) is that God’s foreknowledge is like an infallible barometer of the weather. Whatever the barometer says, because it is infallible, you know what the weather will be like. But the barometer doesn’t determine the weather, right? The weather determines the barometer. God’s foreknowledge is like an infallible barometer of the future. It lets you know what the future is going to be but it doesn’t in any way constrain the future. The future can happen however free agents want it to happen, but you just can’t escape this infallible barometer – God’s foreknowledge – tracking which ever direction the future will take.” 


So, in conclusion, I just see no reason to accept premise 3. And therefore, the argument doesn’t go through.

If you have any questions about Christian theology or apologetics, send Mr. Minton an E-mail at CerebralFaith@Gmail.com. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or Non-Christian, whether your question is about doubts you’re having or about something you read in The Bible that confused you. Send your question in, whatever it may be, and Mr. Minton will respond in a blog post just like this one. 

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