Foreknowledge and Human Freedom

Divine Foreknowledge and Libertarianism
Name of Student: Josh Shelton
Date Submitted: 2-27-13

[Many of my footnotes are not footnoted on the blog, but the bibliography is at the end]

Libertarianism is notorious for the assumption that it and it alone proposes the genuine concept of freedom consistent with human accountability and responsibility. Libertarians tend to operate under this assumption of freedom when critiquing Calvinistic formulations of God’s Sovereignty over human choices. Before commencing, a brief definition of terms is necessary.
God’s divine foreknowledge will be used to refer to God’s infallible and exhaustive knowledge of all future choices, thoughts, attitudes, events, etc. Libertarian freedom is: 1. An absolute power to choose contrary,1 2. The power to choose otherwise such that no causal factors determine a person’s choice including the person’s own desires, or 3. To put it more precisely, freedom that maintains that “no causal antecedent nor set of antecedents, laws of nature, or other factors is sufficient to incline the will decisively to choose one option over another.”2
If such freedom is demonstrated in specific instances to not exist, then libertarianism maintains that accountability is absolved. Antagonists to libertarianism, known as determinists, and/or compatibilists, therefore seek to demonstrate that there are in fact instances where such a notion of freedom, and the limited domain of accountability concomitant with such freedom, fails to account for the responsibility of human choices. Furthermore, compatibilists also feel that there are antecedent events and realities that render particular choices certain without absolving responsibility or accountability, and that such cases betray libertarianism. For this reason, compatibilism does not wish to challenge the notion of human accountability or freedom, butsimply the rogue definition of freedom given by libertarianism. So, the compatibilist searches for areas where he can demonstrate the inconsistency of libertarianism. One such a case is God’s foreknowledge. This paper will argue that God’s exhaustive divine foreknowledge contradicts the libertarian conception of freedom such that the two positions are mutually exclusive.

Divine Foreknowledge and the Certainty of the Future
In Pike’s famous essay, he set out an argument that can be summarized: Jones is going to mow his yard (from now on termed P) because God believes P is going to happen.3 Pike argues that an infallible being with divine foreknowledge cannot be mistaken with regard to his beliefs and knowledge, and therefore, the future occurrence of P is fixed. Libertarians have responded to this form of reasoning with an accusation now known as the “fatalism fallacy.”4 When discussing God’s foreknowledge it is crucial to keep in mind that God’s foreknowledge does not make the future unfold in the manner that it does. Libertarians responded to Pike’s reasoning: “God believes P is going to happen, because P is going to happen, not the other way around.” Their response is true.
God’s foreknowledge does not create the nature of the future. However, His foreknowledge is itself an important variable that helps inquirers to make a more accurate assessment of the nature of the future and the free choices it contains. One of the arguments that will be put forward here is that the foreknowledge of God does not make our choices certain, but divine foreknowledge certainly means that they are certain. God’s foreknowledge of future free choices cannot exist unless those choices are fixed. This is the compatibilist’s main point when discussing the issue. This was the point of Jonathan Edwards in his response to Whitby when he wrote:
To all which I would say, that what is said about knowledge, its not having influence on the thing known to make it necessary, is nothing to the purpose, nor does it in the least affect the foregoing reasoning. Whether prescience be the thing that makes the event necessary or no, it alters not the case. Infallible foreknowledge may prove the necessity of the event foreknown, and yet not be the thing which causes the necessity. If the foreknowledge be absolute, this proves the event known to be necessary, or proves that it is impossible but that the event should be, by some means or other.5

The fatalism fallacy argument contains a key phrase; namely, the consequent phrase, “P is going to happen.” This phrase provides the sufficient grounds for God’s belief that P will occur. This phrase, if true, communicates truth that pertains to the certainty of future events and choices.
One very important variable to consider when analyzing the certainty of P is the beliefs of an infallible being with regard to P. An infallible being’s belief that P will occur sheds light on the structure of the future and enables a more accurate assessment of the nature of the future’s certainty. The fatalism fallacy quote also communicates another point. It says that God believes P because P is going to happen. The certainty of P prior to P establishes the proper epistemic foundation sufficient to enable and necessitate the beliefs of an infallible and omniscient being. The only way that God could know and believe that P will occur is if it is certain. The purpose of raising God’s foreknowledge in an argument against libertarianism was to demonstrate the fixedness of the future prior to the choice of Jones. The fatalism fallacy concedes the fixedness of the future and then says that the argument fails, even though what they concede is what the determinist is arguing for in the first place. In light of this, the accusation of the fatalism fallacy should be laid to rest when it is directed toward determinists who affirm compatibilistic freedom.6 For, when it is directed toward such a person, it is misguided, confused, and wholly unsuccessful. John Feinberg voices his own frustration with the appeal to this proposed fallacy allegation:
[The Calvinist/Determinist] agrees that [God’s foreknowledge] does not make anything occur. The Calvinist/determinist point is to ask how God can really know (in the strong epistemological sense) that something will occur if in fact it is not set. Obviously, it is not set or caused by anyone’s knowledge of it, but the fact that one has knowledge of it suggests that it will in fact occur. Herein lies the problem for contra-causal freedom, for God cannot guarantee that something will assuredly occur if contra-causal freedom is correct. And, if he cannot guarantee it, then at best he thinks it will occur but does not know that it will.7

The proposed argument then is that the future is set or fixed, as evidenced by God’s foreknowledge, and that this fixedness poses a serious threat to libertarian notions of freedom. Looking further into this idea of the “fixedness of the future” (from now on FOF), there are two specific areas to consider. The first area to consider deals with the causality of the FOF and whether or not one is warranted in thinking the FOF exerts a causal influence on the present. Second, the agent or thing responsible for fixing the future will also be considered.

Is the fixedness of the future causal?
So, the ground of God’s foreknowledge is the “fixedness of the future.” The subsequent question is “Does the FOF exert any causal influence on the present?” It seems, on the face of it, that the fixedness of the future itself is concomitant with some sort of causal influence or exertion on the present. If the future was fixed, then the course of events were guaranteed prior to their actually taking their course.
Assuming God’s foreknowledge, which requires the fixedness of the future, suppose there have been 500 billion choices. In each and every choice, the course of events (including choice) flowed in perfect harmony with the prior FOF. The fixedness could not have been a result of God’s foreknowledge because the fixedness is itself the basis for such knowledge. So, the FOF exists before the choice occurs, and therefore the choice itself cannot contradict the FOF because it is fixed in the past, evidenced by God’s foreknowledge. Furthermore, it cannot be reduced to mere coincidence that universally all events follow the course preset by the FOF. It must be exerting some influence on the present. Such would be the only justifiable conclusion.
To argue the point, consider a craps table which has 38 different possibilities for each spin. Suppose there are two different scenarios:8 1. John bets on the red 16 slot on the craps table and it hits 100 times in a row while he is near the table, and 2. John bets on the red 16 slot, and it hits it only one time, along with a totally random assortment of hits. Now, the probability is exactly the same in both cases no matter what numbers he hits (1 in 38 per spin; or as a whole, 1 in 38100, and this is regardless of what they hit). However, in the first case, John is kicked out of the casino for tampering with the equipment. It is clear that mere probability does not account for pattern recognition. A person is not required to know the precise mechanism at work, or how John is cheating, to be justified in believing that John is cheating, assuming the first scenario. Transposing this onto the question of FOF, it is already established that the future is set, and that the future cannot change or be altered, evidenced by God’s knowledge and beliefs of the future. So the future is fixed before the future arrives, and it cannot be altered once it arrives without damaging God’s beliefs. God’s beliefs do not cause the future to be as it is in the future, but the future causes God’s beliefs to be as they are in the past; therefore, when the future arrives, the future cannot be otherwise than it was when it caused God’s beliefs to be as they now are.
So, the future is set prior to the choice of Jones, and the course of events always follows the pattern of the FOF in every case. The assertion comes to this: if the future is fixed before the future arrives, and if, when the present arrives it always plays out according to the pattern already fixed, then there is surely justification for believing that the pattern of the FOF is somehow, in some way, at least remotely responsible for the course of events playing out as they do. One is not forced to account for the exact mechanism responsible for the causation, or to adequately explain such. In the same way the guy working at the casino is not forced to identify whether John was using a magnet or some other mechanism at the scraps table to know that he was cheating. If this is true, then the FOF is one factor among a “set of antecedents, laws of nature, or other factors [that is] sufficient to incline the will.”9

What fixes the future?
The next crucial question is “what fixes the future?”10 The libertarian has only one option. The future free choice of Jones is what sets the future. However, on the face of it, if the future is set by the future free choice of Jones, then the future is not set until the future free choice of Jones (that is until the future becomes the present.) If the future is not set until the free choice of Jones occurs, then the future is not set at all.11 If the future is not set, then the proper epistemic foundation for God’s foreknowledge of future choices is destroyed. Libertarianism is contradicting God’s foreknowledge. Many Molinists will respond, “we cannot know the precise mechanism of God’s omniscience, nor do we have to.”12 The reason they cannot know it, in this case, is because they have a defeater for their doctrinal position. Libertarianism is a defeater for God’s foreknowledge because it is a defeater for the fixedness of the future, which is the epistemic basis for God’s foreknowledge.13 In light of this, and the foregoing truths, it is easy to see why Edwards and Pike argued in the manner “God believes P, therefore P is going to happen,” because the only way God could believe P, is if it is already certain to happen. In any case, either libertarianism is contradicting the foreknowledge of God, which is made possible by a fixed future; or, the FOF is contradicting the established belief in libertarian freedom. Either way, one of them must be reassessed if the belief in human freedom and the belief in divine foreknowledge are to continue.
If God’s foreknowledge does not fix the future, and man’s free choices do not fix the future, then what does? To be clear, any system that is built on libertarian conceptions of freedom, including Molinism, will inevitably meet the rebuttal above; namely, that the only thing that can possibly fix the future for them (in their scheme) is the free choices of people. For those who are not committed to libertarianism, God’s foreordination fixes the future and provides the epistemic basis for his foreknowledge. This does not undermine human freedom. The freedom accepted by compatibilists is accurately defined by William Alston when he writes, “It is within S’s power at ‘t’ to do A: if S were to will (choose, decide . . .) at ‘t’ to do A, S would do A.”14 Augustine’s view of freedom was basically the same. He claimed that freedom was the ability to voluntarily choose according to one’s wishes. Soft determinism, which believes that God’s foreordination sets the future, does not suggest that God coerces people to choose one thing over another. In light of the contradiction between libertarianism and the FOF, the most logical remedy for the libertarian would be to accept this specific view of human freedom known as compatibilistic free-will. In spite of this failure of all libertarian systems in accounting for God’s foreknowledge15, there are yet still attempts to harmonize God’s foreknowledge and human freedom on other fronts. Two of these fronts are Molinism, and Ockhamism. These two will be briefly dealt with respectively.
First of all, most Molinists conceive of God as temporal, which is usually concomitant with a belief in the A-series view of time. Wrestling through the difficulties of the A-series and B series theories of time is off subject. For the sake of argumentation, the A-series view of time will be assumed, seeing as it is the most accepted view among Molinists. The A-series affirms not only the reality of “temporal becoming,” but most importantly for this argument it affirms, “the present represents the edge of becoming, and future events do not merely not yet exist, rather they do not exist at all.”16
In this view, God usually does not have a perceptual sort of knowledge (especially of the future) but a conceptual view of knowledge. In the conceptual view, God knows the truth value of propositions eternally. So, the proposition “Jones will do P at t,” was true or false as a proposition in the past, in the sense that God was capable of recognizing something unique about this proposition as a proposition. The same would be true of the false proposition “Jones will not do P at t,” God knew that this proposition, as a proposition, lacked the attribute of truth. God, then, simply innately knows only and all true propositions as true. The problem with this line of reasoning is with the remaining question “what makes the proposition true?” There seems to be only two possibilities: 1. God’s knowing it makes it true (The Molinst rejects this; it’s the fatalism fallacy); or, 2. Jones’s doing P at t makes it true, which brings the issue to where it ended earlier. If Jones does not yet exist, and he has not mowed his lawn, then the proposition is not yet true or false. If libertarianism is true, then, the only sorts of propositions about the future that can be true are those which hold open the actual power to contrary. Such propositions restrict divine foreknowledge. Such propositions are normally conceived of as “might” counterfactuals, contrasted with “would” counterfactuals. One argument concerning each counterfactual will be given against Molinism before turning to Ockhamism.
Might Counterfactuals
Might counterfactuals have the potential of affirming the power to contrary in the exact circumstances in a way that “would” counterfactuals simply cannot. Gregory Boyd writes,
It makes perfect sense to affirm as true the statement that ‘Commander Karl might and might not publicly praise Churchill if given a chance.’ But it is impossible to affirm as true the statement that ‘Commander Karl would and would not publicly praise Churchill if given a chance,’ for this statement is blatantly absurd.17

Furthermore, might counterfactuals are actually negated by “would” counterfactuals.18 Boyd writes, “if it is true that Karl might praise Churchill, then it is false that he would not, and if it is true that Karl might not praise Churchill, then it is false that he would.”19 William Craig, a Molinist, responds, “freedom requires only that in a given set of circumstances one must be in some sense capable of refraining from doing what one would do; it is not required that one might not do what one would do.”20 What should be clear to Craig, but is not, is that a person cannot be truly “capable of refraining” in the libertarian sense if the possibility that an agent “might refrain” is denied.21 Such restraint undermines libertarianism.

Would Counterfactuals
Next, and probably more important to this critique of Molinism, is “would” counterfactuals. William Lane Craig writes, “Since God knows what any free creature would do in any situation, he can, by creating the appropriate situations, bring it about that creatures will achieve his ends and purposes and will do so freely.”22 Craig states that God, in viewing the world, knows which circumstances would yield the free choice “x” or the free choice “y”. Since God knows what we will freely decide to do in every possible set of circumstances, God can simply bring about those circumstances (that situation) in which he knows we will freely choose to do exactly what he wants to be done.23
“Would” counterfactuals assume a deterministic approach that contradicts libertarianism, because if someone says that Jones would do x, given these circumstances, then they are assuming that the circumstances are sufficient to incline Jones’s will to do x instead of y. The addition of the word “freely” hardly delineates libertarian definitions of freedom as opposed to compatibilistic ones. In fact, the entire scenario betrays libertarianism. So, if changing the circumstances leads to a different choice or outcome, then it is assumed that a change in the circumstances (set of causal antecedents) brought about a different choice. Even if the causal laws were constant in both “worlds,” it was the causal factors, in this case the circumstances, that results in a different choice. In short, the belief that God can manipulate the environment to create the “appropriate situation” where his creatures “freely” choose what he wants them to choose is quite frankly not consistent libertarianism.

Ockhamists address the issue of God’s foreknowledge and its threat to dissolve their belief in libertarian freedom from a different vantage than has been discussed so far. Ockhamists claim that all persons intuit an important asymmetry between past and future.24 “This asymmetry consists in part in the fact that the past is outside our control in a way in which the future is not.”25
Ockhamism hinges on the term “necessary.”26 Even though it is conceded that the future is as unalterable as the past, the past is necessarily the way that it is in a way that the future is not.27 Plantinga gives an example: “Although I now have the power to raise my arm, I do not have the power to bring it about that I raised my arm five minutes ago.”28 So, Ockhamists claim that the soft determinists and/or the compatibilists are treating the future as though it is set in the same manner as the past is, when clearly there is an apparent powerlessness over the past that does not extend to the future. This is due to the future being set, they claim, in the form of soft facts; while the past is set as hard facts. There are two arguments against Ockhamism to consider before concluding this entire discussion.
The first argument must establish the “fixity of the past” (from now on FOP) before progressing. Widerker defines the FOP: “If a given event occurs at a time t, then no one has it within his power at a time later than t to bring it about that that event did not occur at t.”29 Another working assumption in this argument is that God intervenes and governs the world with reference to his foreknowledge. In light of this, Widerker develops this argument:
Suppose that God knows at t, that Jack will freely pull the trigger at t5, with the intention of killing Smith. Suppose further that, wanting to save Smith, God reveals this fact to Smith at t3. As a result, Smith by taking appropriate precautions is able to save his life. Now, the Ockhamist concedes that, by having the power to refrain from attempting to kill Smith, Jack also has at t4 the power to make it the case that God did not know at t, that Jack would attempt to kill Smith at t5. On the other hand, God’s knowing that Jack will attempt to kill Smith is a condition that in the circumstances causally contributes to the occurrence of the event of God’s warning Smith at t3, in the sense of being (in the circumstances) a causally necessary condition for it. Surely, if God had not known at t1 that Jack would try to kill Smith, he would not have told Smith that Jack will attempt to kill him. But then it follows that, by having the power to bring about the nonobtaining of that condition, Jack would have it within his power at t4 to bring about the nonoccurrence of past events, such as:
Wt3: God’s warning Smith at t3
Xt3: Smith’s hearing at t3 a voice telling him that Jack will attempt to kill him
Yt3: Smith’s coming to believe at t3 that Jack will attempt to kill him, etc.30

Since God governs the world in light of his foreknowledge, and he intervenes because of the facts of the future, then the past and present are both causally influenced by the specific future decisions of free agents. Drawing from Widerker’s argument, once God warns Smith that Jack will attempt to kill him, the past and present are causally affected by the fact that Jack will in fact attempt to kill Smith in the future. Once God acted on his foreknowledge in behalf of Smith, in order for Jack to have the power to do otherwise in the libertarian sense, Jack would have to possess the power to change the fact of the past; namely, the fact that God warned Smith that Jack will attempt to kill him (because, if true, then God would not have warned him).
Second, the question for the Ockhamist is “how did soft facts become facts to begin with?” If the Ockhamist is a libertarian, then he must answer thus: “the future free choices of free agents are what make ‘soft facts’ facts.” So, the statement, “Jones will mow his lawn in three weeks,” if true, was a soft fact three weeks before Jones actually mowed his lawn. According to libertarians, Jones’s decision to mow his lawn in three weeks is what made the statement a soft fact three weeks before Jones actually decided to mow his lawn. However, this can be reduced to saying that soft facts do not become soft facts until they become hard facts; and once they become hard facts, then, every moment before that decisive moment they can now be considered soft facts. In short, since Jones’s decision is what makes the proposition a soft fact, then it cannot be a soft fact until Jones’s decision takes place (which is totally absurd). Soft facts assume the FOF, and the FOF restricts the sort of freedom necessary to uphold libertarianism.
This discussion really began with the fatalism fallacy. It was noted that God’s foreknowledge did not cause the future to be fixed, but that it required the future to be fixed. For this approach, the fatalism fallacy rebuttal is totally useless. The phrase “If P will happen, P will happen” is not necessarily what the compatibilists point is reduced to. It was argued that the consequent phrase “P is going to happen” actually establishes the epistemic environment sufficient to ground the beliefs of an infallible being, and that for such to be possible the future choices would have to be fixed in a way that is contrary to libertarianism.
Next, the causality of the FOF was considered. Since the present always follows the pattern preset by the FOF, one is totally warranted to think that there exists a causal relationship between the pre-set FOF and the present. Just as someone who witnesses rain many times notices that the ground always gets wet afterward; even without knowing the precise mechanism, one is justified in thinking the rain causes the ground to get wet. From there, the next area of analysis was with regard to the precise agent or mechanism responsible for fixing the future. Libertarians say that it is the future free choices of people that fix the future. However, it is impossible for God to know what is going to happen, before it is actually “going to happen.” Such certainty that P will occur is necessary for God’s foreknowledge, but it undermines libertarian freedom.
After this, Molinism and Ochamism were inspected in light of some of the foregoing arguments. Molinism had problems on two fronts: ‘might’ counterfactuals, and ‘would’ counterfactuals. According to Molinism, it is historically impossible that a person ‘might‘ do otherwise than he does. If this ability is denied, libertarianism is destroyed. Next, the ‘would’ counterfactuals were considered. ‘Would’ counterfactuals assumed a deterministic view of choices; precisely the opposite of what most Molinists claim to hold. The whole system of Molinism is built on compatibilistic assumptions within its ‘would’ counterfactuals and such is what Molinism is usually diametrically opposed to. The last system to consider was Ockhamism. Ockhamism was shown to violate the principle of the FOP since God deals with people according to his foreknowledge of future events. The system also ultimately cannot account for the existence of soft facts without damaging libertarian definitions of freedom.
Affirmatively, God’s decree fixes the future and it establishes the epistemic foundation for God’s foreknowledge. Yes, this does contradict libertarian freedom, which is why such freedom should be abandoned and replaced with a better, more consistent view of freedom and accountability.31 The freedom to follow one’s greatest desires is a real freedom that flows seamlessly with God’s infallible foreknowledge of future free choices (since he perfectly knows the causal antecedents and their effects). Compatibilism also establishes the existence of soft facts, seeing as it does not state that future free choices are what set the future. Instead, it states that the combination of variables in this actualized world are what fix the future. In light of this, God can know the future, and what he knows can be soft facts until the events occur, at which point they become hard facts. It must be asked why a view that is demonstrably more consistent is so avidly rejected to embrace what is plagued with inconsistency. The reason is that compatibilism gives God the power to bring about the choices that He ultimately deems successful in fulfilling His original purpose in creation; also known as Edwardsean Calvinism.32

[Many of my footnotes are not footnoted on the blog, but the bibliography is below]

Alston, William. “Divine Foreknowledge and Alternative Conceptions of Human Freedom.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 18, no. 1/2 (1985): 19-32.
Arminius, Jacobus. A Discussion on the Subject of Predestination. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1956.
Basinger, David. “Divine Control and Human Freedom: Is Middle Knowledge the Answer.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 1993: 55-64.
Carson, D.A. Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2002.
Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig. 1990. (accessed 2 1, 2013).
—. The Only Wise God. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1999.
Edwards, John Piper and Jonathan. God’s Passion for His Glory. Wheaton: Crossway, 1998.
Edwards, Jonathan. Freedom of the Will. New York: Cosimo Classics, 1845.
Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001.
John Feinberg, Norman Giesler, Bruce Reichenbach, and Clark Pinnock. Predestination and Free Will. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
Linville, Mark D. “Divine Foreknowledge and the Libertarian Conception of Human Freedom.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 33, no. 3 (June 1993): 165-186.
Meyer, Stephen. Signature in the Cell. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
Paul Helseth, Willaim Lane Craig, Gregory Boyd, and Ron Highfield. Four Views of Divine Providence. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
Pike, Nelson. “Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action.” The Philosophical Review 74, no. 1 (January 1965): 27-46.
Widerker, David. “Troubles with Ockhamism.” The Journal of Philosophy, 1990: 462-480.

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