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Free will and God’s omniscience

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1 Free will and God’s omniscience
Michael Lacewing © Michael Lacewing

2 The problem Free will is good. If God is good, he has given us free will. ‘God knows in advance all the choices we will make; therefore we are not free, and cannot be held responsible when we do wrong.’ Discuss. If I could choose this or that, how does God know what I will choose before I’ve chosen? If God doesn’t know, then God doesn’t know everything, so isn’t omniscient.

3 Omniscience and the future
Perfect knowledge = omniscience = knowing everything? God is the most perfect possible being, so omniscience is knowing everything it is possible to know Is it possible to know the future? God’s transcendence Is there such a thing as ‘the future’ from God’s point of view? Is God inside or outside time?

4 God outside time (eternal)
God knows everything at all times; God knows all events in time in the same way Is this compatible with free will? Has the future ‘already happened’ from God’s perspective? If God knows what I will choose, mustn’t my choice be ‘determined’ already? Reply: We can’t understand how God knows the future, but it isn’t causally determined, so we have free will.

5 God inside time (everlasting)
God doesn’t know the future, perhaps because we have free will. Therefore, God gains knowledge over time. Is God omniscient? Yes: God knows everything it is possible to know at any time No: If God were outside time, it would be possible to know more God knows the future, but we still have free will How?

6 Determinism Universal causation: every event – everything that happens or occurs – has a cause Even if we don’t know the cause, we don’t allow that something ‘just happened’ Causal necessity: given the total set of conditions under which the cause occurs, and the laws of nature, only one effect is possible

7 Physical determinism Everything that happens in the physical universe is causally determined by the state of the universe + laws of nature. E.g. every decision is determined by the previous state of my brain If we could know the position of every particle in the universe + the laws of nature, every future physical event could be predicted in principle. E.g. every movement of my body

8 Actions as events Our actions are events. Therefore, they have causes.
Given the causes they have, no action is possible other than what we actually do. If we couldn’t do any other action, then we do not have free will, e.g. to choose between doing different actions.

9 Psychological determinism
Comes in degrees Strong: every psychological event is causally determined by previous events + laws of psychology But (almost) no strict laws of psychology have been discovered Weak: patterns of psychological events, including decisions, are determined by previous experiences Many influences on our decisions are outside our control

10 Prediction and freedom
Being able to predict what someone will do isn’t enough to show that they aren’t free. Preferences Character traits It depends on whether the basis for prediction rules out the possibility the action can’t happen.

11 God’s foreknowledge and determinism
If God knows my choices before I make them because he has infallible knowledge of my preferences and character, this suggests psychological determinism God’s knowledge of my character won’t be enough to predict my future in detail, e.g. whether I’m alive! If God knows this, this suggests physical determinism But is determinism incompatible with free will? We need a clearer idea of exactly what free will is.

12 Three solutions God is outside time, and knows the future. How we don’t know, but we have free will, e.g. because determinism is false. God is inside time, determinism is false, we have free will, so God doesn’t know the future. But God still knows everything it is possible to know (at any time). God is inside time, determinism is true, but not incompatible with free will. So God knows the future, but we have free will.

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