Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Foreknowledge and Freewill - Mutually Exclusive?

There are many philosophical problems that seem to present major challenges to a Christian worldview. To some, any apparent inconsistencies invalidate the whole of Christianity, since it presents seemingly contradictory truths. God's foreknowledge and man's freewill are a prime example of such an ostensible contradiction. What is the alleged contradiction? Is there a solution to such a dilemma?

Except for those who subscribe to Calvinism, Reformed Theology, a generic belief in Omniderigence, or simply some other brand of determinism, it is commonly accepted that humans have freewill. For all practical purposes, it seems that people choose how they conduct their lives and what actions they take. This process of making choices to do or not do something is what we call freewill. The conflict is encountered when we consider the Biblical truth that God possesses foreknowledge. He clearly knows what will happen before it actually happens (hundreds of Biblical prophecies) and is specifically described as possessing foreknowledge. Romans 8:28-29 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." Now, if God already knows that something is destined to happen, then since His knowledge is infallible, the foreknown event must come to pass. There is no way for something that God knows will happen to be prevented. This seems to be contrary to freewill.

For example, suppose that God foreknows that I will die in a car crash tomorrow. Supposing that God's knowledge is accurate (and it must be, else He is not God), then there will be no actions I can take to avert my demise. Though I can try to resist fate by staying in my apartment all day and hiding in my kitchen, the event must occur. Therefore, it would appear that I have no control over the matter. Fate has sealed my death and nothing can stop the sheer force of destiny. Similarly, suppose God foreknows that I will murder a prominent politician next year. God's foreknowledge of the event seems to render my freewill nonexistent. No matter how much I detest killing and no matter how hard I try to resist making such a choice, since God's knowledge is infallible, I have no ultimate choice in the matter. Inevitability renders all my efforts and intentions inert.

This is the apparent conflict. Superficially, it appears that God's foreknowledge and mankind's freewill are mutually exclusive truths. If God foreknows events then people have no choice in the matter, and if people do have freewill then God must be incapable of foreknowing their choices. It then appears that there are only three philosophically rational ideologies to choose from: Omniderigence, where God knows and predetermines every single event, Voliscience, where God is capable of knowing whatever He wishes to know at a given moment but does not know everything, or Open Theism, where God does not know what people will choose to do. Yet, this limitation to three worldviews is founded on one single logical error.

Freewill and foreknowledge appear mutually-exclusive because it seems that the knowledge causally determines the occurrence. This is a mistake. Though it is certainly possible that foreknowledge implies no free choice, it is also possible that this is backwards. Is it not possible that the event itself is the cause of the knowledge? Maybe it is not the knowledge of the future event that determines the future event, but instead the future event that determines the foreknowledge. Maybe God knows what will happen because of the choice that will be made. Perhaps my decision to drink a refreshing cup of ice water right now is foreknown by God exactly because I have chosen to drink it. In such a case whatever is foreknown is foreknown because of the choices that are actually made, in which case all knowledge is dependent upon freewill.

This is exactly how knowledge of the past works. Just because I know that my brother was in a car accident last week doesn't mean that the event couldn't have happened any other way. Instead, I know that my brother was in a car accident precisely because of the choices made and the actual occurrence. No one would ever suggest that my knowledge caused what is known; it is precisely the reverse. What is known is always caused by what is done.

The only possible objection to this is that future events cannot determine present knowledge because the future does not yet exist. If time were a universal constraint, then such an argument would render foreknowledge impossible since the future would be nonexistent. However, God is an eternal being and is not bound by time. To God there is no past, present or future. Instead, there is an eternal present. All earthly moments simultaneously exist to God. So, because of His eternal nature, He presently knows what choices are made by all people at all times. It is seen that God's timeless nature renders this objection powerless, since there is no future to an eternal being. Present knowledge is caused by present actions. No reverse causality occurs.

Therefore, foreknowledge and freewill can perfectly coincide if and only if events determine what is foreknown. In this way, God is sovereign, man has freewill, and God is still omniscient. Though this does not disprove Omniderigence, Open Theism or Voliscience, it certainly leaves one free to believe in the doctrines of the Bible and remain on philosophically defensible ground. If freewill exists, then Omniderigence is false. If God is omniscient, then Voliscience and Open Theism are false. If both God is omniscient and mankind possesses freewill, then metaphysical Libertarianism must be true.

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