Does Foreknowledge of God Negate Human Freedom? – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 5/7

Prologue: The next three posts are rather technical (technical rating = 6/10). For readers who may find the reading tough going, just enjoy the jokes on Calvinism vs Arminianism. Q1: How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb? A: None. God has predestined when the lights will be on. Stay seated and … Continue reading “Does Foreknowledge of God Negate Human Freedom? – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 5/7”

Prologue: The next three posts are rather technical (technical rating = 6/10). For readers who may find the reading tough going, just enjoy the jokes on Calvinism vs Arminianism.

Q1: How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. God has predestined when the lights will be on. Stay seated and trust him.

Q2: How many Arminians does it take to change a light bulb?
A1: Only one. But first the bulb must want to be changed.
A2: All. They need everyone to make sure it stays on. One can never really be sure.

Q3: How many charismatics does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Three, one to cast it out and two to catch it when it falls!

Q4: How many Open Theists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: No one knows the answer. Not even God!

Calvinists have their TULIP! Arminians prefer the daisy. Why? “He loves me, but he loves me not. He loves me, but he loves me not…

Now to the serious stuff:

God’s omnipotence and omniscience and are inseparable correlates of his sovereignty and providence over creation. As Creator, God knows everything. This includes their essential nature and how they interact with other things as “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13) As the omnipotent Lord, God controls all happenings in the universe and directs them according to his eternal plan. “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Eph. 1:11)

The scriptural teaching of God’s predestination contradicts the Arminian view that God’s foreknowledge is “simple”, that is, God knows the future, but not that he predetermines it. Furthermore, the Arminian maintains that God’s foreknowledge is contingent on our prior choices- that God’s knowing isn’t the source of our doing. Rather, our doing is the source of God’s knowing. However, Scripture teaches that God’s knowledge is active rather than passive since he foreordains and directs all things “according to the counsel of his will.”

The doctrine of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and providence assures the Christian that he is not a victim of capricious forces of fortune or fate. All that happens is in accordance to God’s perfect plan that includes his good welfare. (Rom. 8:28) Thomas Flint [a molinist] concurs, “According to this traditional picture, then, to see God as provident is to see him as knowingly and lovingly directing each and every event involving each and every creature toward the ends he has ordained for them.” /1/

However, Open Theism disagrees with the traditional theism’s view of God’s providence on grounds that God’s foreknowledge and human freedom are mutually exclusive. For Open Theism, logic demands that God does not foreknow (know in advance) the future choices his free creatures will make. Clark Pinnock asserts, “If God now knows that tomorrow you will select A and not B, then your belief that you will be making a genuine choice is mistaken.” /2/

Argument Against Omniscience and Foreknowledge by Open Theism
1. An omniscient God knows all true propositions, past present and future. That is he holds no false beliefs (future propositions).

2. If God foreknows John will do X at 9 pm tomorrow, then John must do what God foreknows he will do. After all, if John has the power to do Y instead of X, something other than what God foreknows, then God could have been mistaken. God would then have held a false belief which is impossible.

3. Conclusion: if God has true foreknowledge of what John will do in the future, all his future human actions are determined. There is no genuine human freedom. Conversely, if there is to be genuine human freedom, God cannot be omniscient.

Rebuttal of Open Theism
The classical theist may counter the argument of Open Theism in two ways: (1) Argue against the Open Theism’s premise that freedom is one of indifference. On the contrary, freedom is acting spontaneously in accordance to one’s nature. (2) Challenge the premise that foreknowledge nullifies freedom by distinguishing the “necessity of the consequent” from the “necessity of consequence”. The key to resolving the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom is the distinction between rendering something certain and rendering it necessary (This will become clear in the next post).

1. The Nature of Human Freedom: From Liberty of Indifference to Liberty of Spontaneity
Open Theism rejects divine omniscience since it assumes that any determination would undermine genuine freedom defined as liberty of indifference. For example, young Johnny’s decision to watch Disney cartoons rather than Maths Channel is free and only free if he has the power of choosing alternative possibilities; whatever he chooses is a matter of indifference. However, this view of liberty sounds plausible only if we treat it in abstraction.

First, the reality is that what we do is often conditioned by a combination of factors which may include our genetic disposition, the values that have been inculcated into us, our experience of pleasant and unpleasant consequences and the immediate circumstances of reward and punishment. Once we set freedom in a concrete context, the alluring vision of liberty of indifference vanishes. We do not choose in abstraction for choice sake. We choose concrete objects of desire.

Second, it is problematic, if not impossible to envisage how an indifferent act begins. If the will is “neutral”, indifferent or not predetermined to act one way or another, what causes it to act in the first place? To say the will starts from “neutral” is like conjuring something out of nothing. We cannot avoid describing how the will is “led” or “influenced” or “induced to act. But these are surely euphemistic words for causation, which is to say, the will is “caused” to act. We end up with a will which either acts purely by chance or it does not act at all.

Third, liberty of indifference ultimately becomes arbitrary and meaningless. Liberty of indifference suggests that one’s choices and action could have been different up to very moment it was made. Consider the case where an assassin is aiming his gun at his victim. According to liberty of indifference, it is in principle unknowable, and not even God is able to foreknow whether the assassin will actually pull the trigger (or not). This example presents a disturbing proposition as it submits that fundamentally there is no explanation for the decisions that we in fact make. After all, any coherent explanation must be based on a chain of antecedent causes or circumstances. But liberty of indifference suggests that even if everything in the past is the same, we each could have decided differently. Ultimately, there is simply no meaningful explanation for whatever choice that is made.

Fourth, liberty of indifference undermines responsibility for one’s choices. Imagine the scenario where Richard Dawkins, to his surprise, meets God on the Day of Judgment. He may grudgingly admit that God exists after all. But he protests against God – “You gave me free will. Being free means it is always free from any previous causation or control. Sometimes I follow my rational mind, sometimes my emotional heart and sometimes nothing in particular. There is no pattern in my choice and action. There is no pattern at all since every new decision is de novo and at random. God, you cannot make me responsible for uncaused, unpredictable action which I cannot control. It would be totally unjust if you send me to hell for action arising from free will, which because it is free is by definition beyond my control.” I leave it to the Open Theist and the Arminian (if he admits that he shares the same premises of liberty of indifference) to venture what God’s answer to Dawkins should be.

We are forced to conclude that liberty of indifference premised on the absence of causal necessity ends with incoherence.

A more concrete and coherent view than liberty of indifference may be found in compatibilism which understands human choices as the outcome of personal disposition and  motives. Jonathan Edwards explains, “One more point about what is called ‘liberty’ in common speech: all it refers to is the person’s power and opportunity to act •as he will or •according to his choice; the meaning of the word doesn’t bring in anything about the cause of •that choice or about how the person came to have •such a volition. Was his choice or volition caused by some external motive or internal habitual bias determined by some internal antecedent volition or happened without a cause necessarily connected with some previous state or event or not so connected? The answers to questions like these have no bearing on whether the person was free according to the basic and common notion of freedom. Let the person come by his volition or choice how he will, yet, if he is able, and there is nothing in the way to hinder his pursuing and executing his will, the man is fully and perfectly free, according to the primary and common notion of freedom.” /3/

Jonathan Edwards elaborates that choices are free when they spring ‘spontaneously’ from personal motives that are consistent with one’s nature or character. External forces may condition how one acts, but as human choices spontaneously springs from one’s nature or motive, the “liberty of spontaneity” is in no way expunged. For example, young Johnny remains free even if his choice of TV channel is determined – his parents have set the TV to receive only one channel, or his parents threatened to punish him if he should watch another channel – if it happens that Disney Channel is the channel that he most wants to watch. He is free so long as his action is consistent with what he personally wants even though his wants (options) themselves are externally constrained or encouraged.

Freedom is not about making random choices but choosing in accordance to one’s inclinations and desires. Our moral actions are intentional since it is we who knowingly choose to act according to what we consider to be right or wrong. It is our motives which define the moral quality of our actions. By the same token, we are free and morally responsible so long as we act voluntarily, without external coercion. Such human freedom is consistent or compatible with divine determination which renders our decisions actions certain. Ronald Nash provides a fitting conclusion,

“If human freedom can be adequately explained in terms of liberty of spontaneity, then they would seem to be no problem reconciling divine foreknowledge and human freedom. Men and women would remain free even if their decisions and their wants were determined in some sense. God would simply see to it that His creatures want to do what he has determined them to do.”/4/

Next Post: Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 6/7 – Distinction Between Necessity of the Consequent and Necessity of the Consequence

Related Posts
Reading: G.C. Berkouwer on Freedom and Divine Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 4/7

Compatibilism: Divine Permission and Human Action– Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 3/7

Determinism Should not be Confused with Compulsion or Fatalism.

/1/ Thomas Flint, The Providence of God (Cornell UP, 1998), p.12.
/2/ Clark Pinnock, “God Limits His Knowledge,” in John Feinberg Predestination and Free Will (IVP, 1986), p. 156.
/3/ Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will (Yale UP, 1962), p. 13. Explanatory phrases •…• adopted from Jonathan Bennett.
/4/ Ronald Nash, Concept of God (Zondervan 1983), p. 54.

Next Post: Difference between Necessity of the Consequent and Necessity of Consequence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 7/7