25 thoughts on “God’s foreknowledge denies free will.

  1. Marco

    My view on this has always been that God’s foreknowledge is that it knows all possible futures – ie. that God does not know which future eventuates, and that it depends on everybody’s individual free will. Thus, God knows probablistically the future, but it leaves free will to determine the specific future. I do not believe in a deterministic universe.

    Reply
    1. Nathanael Small

      Again, brilliantly simple summary that extends and better explains aspects of my thinking Marco.
      Entirely consistent with how the New Testament epistles present what it’s like following Jesus and being led by the spirit, and what I would contend most mature believers who hold to neither extremes of Calvinism or Arminianism believe.
      The first book I read in this area over 20 years ago addressed most of the issues pretty well:
      http://www.amazon.com/Decision-Making-Will-God-Alternative/dp/1590522052

      Reply
      1. winstoninabox Post author

        As I said before, choosing which compromise to follow is the interesting point. So you agree with Marco’s explanation of foreknowledge? Let’s tease out what that actually means.

        The problem with free will and foreknowledge is that god’s knowledge is perfect, he knows what I will do, therefore I could never have taken another action because that would have gone against his perfect knowledge.

        Now Marco has redefined perfect foreknowledge to mean “being able to imagine all possibilities”. Or in other words god has the biggest imagination in the universe. Let’s for the moment ignore the problem that god is also omnipotent and concentrate on what this kind of knowing really means.

        Does god experience these possibilities with equal certainty, or are some more likely than other? If equal then the knowledge borders on the ridiculous – I’m not equally likely right now to commit suicide as to press the next key on the keyboard, but if to god I am then that kind of foreknowledge is more problematic than anything. But if god experiences them with differing certainty then by how much? By the definition it must be less than 1 because god doesn’t know which one I’ll pick. Which is another way of saying god’s power is limited.

        Marco’s definition also means that god’s foreknowledge is burdened with all outcomes that are not going to happen as well as the single and only one which will happen, yet he doesn’t know which with certainty. So he sees the haystack and the needle, but can’t even recognize the needle. Fantastic.

        The next point is that even knowing all possibilities and knowing the outcome isn’t really such a great superpower. I go to the casino and look at the roulette wheel. I can see all possibilities, and there are three – red, black or zero (no color). I even know the chances of these possibilities. But this complete and total knowledge of all possibilities doesn’t in any way stop the casino from taking my money. I’ve as much knowledge as god, but he’ll end up as broke as I am if we both keep putting our money down on the same choice.

        So Marco hasn’t really solved the problem of freewill and foreknowledge, but just decided which compromise is acceptable to him.

        Reply
      2. Marco

        Now Marco has redefined perfect foreknowledge to mean “being able to imagine all possibilities”.
        I don’t think that is what I have done, and I think changing the word that I used – knowing- to imagining, perniciously changes its meaning, in preparation of ridiculing it.
        Does god experience these possibilities with equal certainty, or are some more likely than other?
        God knows everything that is possible to naturally know. I believe that doesn’t include the results of quantumly random phenomena, or completely discretionary human actions. God’s knowledge is equivalent to the maximum possible knowledge about something, whatever that is.
        Which is another way of saying god’s power is limited
        That is what I am saying, but not what Nathanael is saying, I think.
        So he sees the haystack and the needle, but can’t even recognize the needle. Fantastic
        I’m not sure what you mean by this. If you can see all possibilities, and do the moral arithmetic for each one, but only one happens, then that is the needle, and is recognised after it happens. Yes. Fantastic without sarcasm?????
        The next point is that even knowing all possibilities and knowing the outcome isn’t really such a great superpower.
        What? Just because it doesn’t let you win at the casino? Again, the argument is lost on me a little because I don’t believe in the supernatural or a deterministic universe, but really, a casino is a contrived situation to give the impression that there may be a system for beating the house, but there is not,
        So Marco hasn’t really solved the problem of freewill and foreknowledge, but just decided which compromise is acceptable to him.
        I don’t really think I was trying to solve it- just trying to show my take on it, which may be coincidentally similar to Nathanaels. I don’t see it as compromise, because I am starting from my own credal suppositions rather than ones laid down by Christianity.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          winstoninabox
          Now Marco has redefined perfect foreknowledge to mean “being able to imagine all possibilities”.

          Marco
          I don’t think that is what I have done, and I think changing the word that I used – knowing- to imagining, perniciously changes its meaning, in preparation of ridiculing it.

          I’m happy to use your original wording.
          And I’m not ridiculing you or your idea, however the logical extensions from it juxtaposed with Christian doctrine, are funny. YMMV.

          winstoninabox
          Does god experience these possibilities with equal certainty, or are some more likely than other?

          Marco
          God knows everything that is possible to naturally know. I believe that doesn’t include the results of quantumly random phenomena, or completely discretionary human actions. God’s knowledge is equivalent to the maximum possible knowledge about something, whatever that is.

          So in your version of god he doesn’t know the future.
          BTW, with all this talk about what you think god knows and doesn’t know, are you a theist or not?

          winstoninabox
          Which is another way of saying god’s power is limited

          Marco
          That is what I am saying, but not what Nathanael is saying, I think.

          I think so, too.

          winstoninabox
          So he sees the haystack and the needle, but can’t even recognize the needle. Fantastic

          Marco
          I’m not sure what you mean by this. If you can see all possibilities, and do the moral arithmetic for each one, but only one happens, then that is the needle, and is recognised after it happens. Yes. Fantastic without sarcasm?????

          You have got around the problem by saying that god doesn’t have perfect knowledge of the future. That’s fair enough, but I don’t think many Christians are going to agree with you. Where my supposed sarcasm comes in is that you’ve further limited god by saying that even though he can know all there is to know about this moment, he doesn’t know which is the only possibility that will occur. So in a way he doesn’t know all there is to know about this moment.

          winstoninabox
          The next point is that even knowing all possibilities and knowing the outcome isn’t really such a great superpower.

          Marco
          What? Just because it doesn’t let you win at the casino? Again, the argument is lost on me a little because I don’t believe in the supernatural or a deterministic universe, but really, a casino is a contrived situation to give the impression that there may be a system for beating the house, but there is not,

          I chose the roulette wheel because it is an easy to understand closed (for the purposes of this argument) system of possible futures, and to show that a god that can’t beat the probabilities of a game of chance is no god at all.

          winstoninabox
          So Marco hasn’t really solved the problem of freewill and foreknowledge, but just decided which compromise is acceptable to him.

          Marco
          I don’t really think I was trying to solve it- just trying to show my take on it, which may be coincidentally similar to Nathanaels. I don’t see it as compromise, because I am starting from my own credal suppositions rather than ones laid down by Christianity.

          My apologies for any confusion but I was directing my comments to Nathanael through your reply. As he wrote such a glowing recommendation of your opinion it seemed best to use that directly.

          Reply
      3. Marco

        So in a way he doesn’t know all there is to know about this moment
        That’s right – He knows only everything that can be known, not everything that there is to know.

        So in your version of god he doesn’t know the future.
        BTW, with all this talk about what you think god knows and doesn’t know, are you a theist or not?

        I describe myself as an agnostic and also a pantheist. I conflate “God” and “universe” such that when one is talking about one I think the other in more or less equal terms. Spinozan philosophy is the closest to describe my “theism”, and as his philosophy teaches a kind of austere monotheism, that is pretty close to my philosophical position. So I would think my answer would be yes, but not one that Dawkins would specifically reject, say.

        Reply
      4. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

        How does knowing someone will say “no” to your question take away their free will? Foreknowledge does not deny free will on the human scale, and it doesn’t on the cosmic scale either. (That’s all I’ve got. It seems obvious to me.)

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          If there’s no problem to begin with then why did Augustine bother to write a solution to it?

          So you’re saying that just because someone (god) knows everything you will ever do in the future in minutest detail, at this very moment you are still exercise your free will. I can see that line of reasoning and am sympathetic to it. That reasoning becomes complicated when factoring in god’s omnipotence. Having power over all of creation and all knowledge, depending on how they are defined, restricts or negates free will.

          I don’t see how they can be reconciled without restricting god’s power somehow, by saying that omnipotence isn’t omnipotence over all things, or omniscience isn’t perfect and complete knowledge of all things, or…

          just saying that god goes beyond whatever logic we might try to apply. That god can make 1+1 = 3 if god wants to, but it still retains it’s logic. Of course then I think that that complicates the interpretation of god’s words in regards to what we should do. If there is no logic that god can’t circumvent, then the rules that god has given us may in fact be pointless. That touches on Nathanael’s answer to the fate of the unlearned. His answer doesn’t make logical sense for it makes Jesus’s mission redundant, but that may not worry him. He may just agree, but say he’s following the rules anyway.

          Reply
  2. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

    Did you define God as ‘all powerful’ or ‘omnipotent’ when you defined God, winstoninabox? I certainly didn’t when I did. … In fact, I just checked and your definition doesn’t have those words. If you don’t ascribe those dodgy properties to God, He is totally off the hook on this ‘foreknowledge denies free will’ argument’. I don’t think it is fair to have an infinitely polymorphic strawman God.

    Reply
      1. Marco

        It is one thing to settle on a definition of God one believes in- it doesn’t necessarily help the discussion if we are using different definitions, and we should note that it would cause us to come to different conclusions. For this reason, I like to instead choose a definition *for the sake of the argument* as something we can use to debate without all of us necessarily believing in the God as defined. All I’m saying is that it is not a trivial issue.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          Whatever definition we use, it must at least include that god has foreknowledge of some kind. Foreknowledge and free will have troubled theists and atheists, albeit for different purposes, so there must be something there for the theists to apologize for. I’ve never heard a theist, and certainly never heard a Christian say that god doesn’t know the future. I think your definition, that god has no foreknowledge, is one that most Christians would not accept.

          BTW, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I am surprised that Nathanael was so enthusiastic about it, but I’m guessing that he didn’t understand the implications of what you were saying.

          Reply
  3. Marco

    I think your definition, that god has no foreknowledge, is one that most Christians would not accept.

    There you go again changing what I said. I said that god knows, and therefore foreknows everything that can be predicted. This is not materially different from the “God knows all” with various caveats about free will. Just because there are things that even God cannot know, it doesn’t give validity to a statement like “god has no foreknowledge”. The sort of foreknowledge I’m talking about may be useless at a casino, but would win at chess every time.

    As far as Christianity goes, evangelism is often caught up in the sort of hubris on God’s behalf, saying God knows all, and has power over all, glossing over the detail of Christianity which implies that this is just a rough approximation based on God’s *relative* power and knowledge compared to the power and knowledge of humans or humanity.

    Perhaps the evangelist needs to apologise for the hubris.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      As I seemed to be confused about your definition let’s go back to what you originally said.

      My view on this has always been that God’s foreknowledge is that it knows all possible futures – ie. that God does not know which future eventuates, and that it depends on everybody’s individual free will. Thus, God knows probablistically the future, but it leaves free will to determine the specific future. I do not believe in a deterministic universe.

      The important bit is “god’s foreknowledge is that it knows all possible futures” because now you’ve said that god knows, and therefore foreknows everything that can be predicted.

      At this point either you’re confused about the meaning of foreknowledge or I’m still misunderstanding your meaning. Foreknowledge isn’t knowing all possible futures, but knowing THE future. The dictionary says “knowledge of something before it happens; prescience”. If god “leaves free will to determine the specific future” but god “does not know which future eventuates” then god does not have foreknowledge, which is what I said. God has to actually know the one and only outcome before it happens for it to be foreknowledge and not just know all the possible outcomes.

      Reply
    2. Marco

      I am not sure what is confusing you. If we *know* that it is going to be sunny tomorrow, is that not foreknowledge?

      If we don’t know whether it is going to be sunny this time next year, does it mean we do not have any foreknowledge?

      What I am saying is that is as if God had the most powerful supercomputers at his disposal, and the most fine grained sensors possible, and we cannot hope to match his weather predictions. However, this prediction will be tempered by the free will of people to do things that would change the future weather- like riding a bike instead of driving a car. It won’t make a difference tomorrow, or the next week, or even next month, but it will update his long term predictions. Suddenly, he goes from having foreknowledge to having *no* foreknowledge?

      Surely, there is nothing in the bible that negates this version of (comparatively) perfect foreknowledge?

      Reply
      1. winstoninabox Post author

        I am not sure what is confusing you.

        Free will is not switched on and off. It is constantly being exercised. If one is constantly exercising free will yet god’s foreknowledge is tempered by people to do things that would change the future, then god has no foreknowledge in regards to the actions of people, which is the crux of the conversation.

        Reply
      2. Marco

        Free will is not switched on and off. It is constantly being exercised. I don’t agree with that. Most of the time we are on auto-pilot. At the very least, almost all that we do through most of our day is determined by conscious decisions we have made at an earlier time. Only when something is presented to us as a new dilemma – for instance for me today it was about which item on my to do list I would do next- does free will come into play, where, no matter how well you know me, would you know which I would do. It was a discretionary decision, so then and only then did free will come in to play with how it would unpredictably affect the future for someone with all possible information.

        Reply
    1. Marco

      Yes. Spookily prescient in those times. Like when my wife predicts what I’m thinking when I haven’t said anything.

      Reply
      1. winstoninabox Post author

        Well, it’s certainly an interesting interpretation of foreknowledge and free will, but I still doubt many Christians will agree with it. A god that can’t predict someone’s action because that person is actively concentrating on their action (btw, that seems to contradict your always win at chess example) doesn’t fit with the all-knowing, all-powerful god that they envisage.

        And as I said way back at the start, it’s a compromise on one of the factors in the problem. Foreknowledge becomes a very limited kind of foreknowledge; we could encourage a worldwide ‘minute of concentration’ and humanity would fall off god’s grid!

        Reply
  4. Marco

    A god that can’t predict someone’s action because that person is actively concentrating on their action (btw, that seems to contradict your always win at chess example) I am not quite sure whether you don’t quite know the idea of chess or what I am saying still. Chess is a more deterministic game. If you can look ahead enough moves (for any, or all future possible moves), it doesn’t matter that you do not predict what moves the other player makes, you’ve got it all covered. Once each discretionary move is made, you update your strategy and are able to look further ahead.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      I understand what you’re saying, but it’s still a pretty poor kind of foreknowledge for a very hobbled god. The amazement of always winning is made less when compared to the fact that this god doesn’t have any more foreknowledge than you or I in some situations. If the chess situation were that checkmate is in one move, and either of two pieces could be moved to achieve it, then god would have no more idea than any one else which piece will be chosen. That’s a pretty poor god that can’t beat odds of fifty fifty simply because it’s human free will in play.

      I’m not saying your wrong, just that I don’t think that’s the kind of foreknowledge Christians have in mind for their god.

      Reply
    2. Marco

      Augustine answers the question for Christians without going into the specifics. Therefore Christians can (have the free will to:) choose their own specifics to explain their conundrum if they require. Most Christians, as you say, are loth to diminish God’s Omniscience and Omnipotence, but at the same time, are also loth to partition blame to God for ones own original sin.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s