A Short Post on The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge


Consider the following argument:

  1. God knows you will be reading this blog.
  2. If God knows that p, then necessarily p.
  3. So, necessarily you will be reading this blog.
  4. If something is necessary, you’re not free with respect to it.
  5. So, you’re not free with respect to reading this blog.

The problem with the above argument is that premise (2) is ambiguous between:

2A: If God knows that p, then: (it is necessary that p).

2B: It is necessary that: (If God knows that p, then p).

2A is needed for the argument to be valid, but only 2B is true. Another, similar argument can be run as follows:

  1. If you have the power not to do X, you have the power to make God not have foreseen you doing X.
  2. God’s having foreseen you doing X and God’s not having foreseen you doing X are facts about the past.
  3. You have no power to make a fact about the past be.
  4. So, you do not have the power not to do X.

First, premise three is ambiguous. There is a difference between “You have no power to cause a fact about the past to exist” and “You have no power to do an action that functions as a truth-maker for a past fact (in the case of the past fact being knowledge).”

Of course, I cannot retroactively cause something to be the case. For instance, I cannot cause or make it be the case that the United States declared independence on July 5th, 1776 rather than July 4th, 1776. Since causes are temporally prior to or simultaneous with their effects, retroactive causation in this case is not within my power. But it is unclear whether or not I can do something in the present which serves as a truth-maker for some past proposition or knowledge with the present as its referent or intentional object. The argument, if it is to succeed, must establish the further claim that my present acts cannot serve as truth-makers for past knowledge and/or propositions.

It seems plausible that, say, my mother’s utterance yesterday that “Joe, you will scratch your head tomorrow at noon” is made true by my scratching of my head today at noon. It is not that my action makes her statement exist in the sense of causation; it is rather that my present actions are that in virtue of which the past proposition is true. It is also the case that my mother’s past utterance neither causes my present act nor functions as the truth-maker of my present act.

Of course, it might be objected that my mother strictly has no knowledge in this case and is merely making a prediction; but that is not relevant to the main point being made. A different example to satisfy this observant reader would be the following:

Suppose you see two cars going 120 miles per hour right towards each other, and suppose further that a collision is going to occur. You know the proposition “In the future, the cars will crash”. But your knowledge is not causing the cars to crash into each other; nor is your knowledge a truth-maker of the cars’ crashing. It is rather the cars’ crashing that makes your knowledge be knowledge. Of course, you only know this based on present actualities, but that is only the justification for your knowledge, it is not the object of your knowledge. It is still the case that the object of your knowledge is the future state of affairs (else: a presently existing and/or timelessly existing fact concerning the future state of affairs).

The same concepts can plausibly be said concerning this argument. Suppose God has past knowledge that I will presently do X. It is not God’s past knowledge that causes my doing X, and it is also not God’s past knowledge that serves as the truth-maker of my presently doing X. Rather, a theist can easily hold that my presently doing X is what makes God’s knowledge actual knowledge. Had I done not-X instead, there would have been a different thing making God’s knowledge actual knowledge, and hence he would have foreknown something different. It is not that God’s foreknowledge necessitates my act; my act necessitates God’s foreknowledge.

Even if the aforementioned reasoning does not succeed and the argument remains entirely unaffected by the criticism, there is another criticism: the second argument simply fails to properly understand God’s relation to time and human actions.

God, classically conceived as actus purus (pure act), is immutable and, hence, timeless. The divine foreknowledge argument mistakenly presupposes that our temporal concepts apply to an atemporal (timeless) being. There is no past, present, or future to a being that is entirely independent of such temporal concepts to begin with. Thus, God does not, strictly speaking, foreknow. The argument fallaciously applies temporal concepts to an atemporal being.

This topic is unimaginably more complex than this cursory analysis lets on. The argument from the incompatibility of human freedom and divine foreknowledge, however, if it is to succeed, must overcome the objections raised in this post. Be assured, though, that I will be exploring the issue in greater depth in the future.

Author: Joe

Email: NaturalisticallyInclined@gmail.com

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