God, Human Freedom, and Necessity

Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom is a topic I have written on in the past. Initially, I wrote a post that was derived almost entirely from William Lane Craig’s The Only Wise God. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a second post that expanded slightly on the ideas. These garnered much discussion, though perhaps more on Facebook than on here.

In all of these discussions, I had a nagging feeling. I believe the viewpoint I hold is fairly well defended, but I felt as though I wasn’t defending it correctly. Questions kept arising that I was on the verge of having answers to, but was unsure of how exactly to explain. But as has often been the case in my life, I read more, learned more, and want to discuss more.

In my first post I outlined an argument that basically stated that while:

Argument A:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.

2. If God is omniscient, God foreknows x.

3. Therefore, x will happen.

is true

Argument B:

“1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.

2. If God is omniscient, God foreknows x.

3. Therefore, x will necessarily happen.”

is not.

The problem was in how to explain the fallacy in the second statement. After reading Plantinga’s The Nature of Necessity, (my review here... ever the shameless plug for my site!)  however, I started to figure it out. It was only today that the idea kind of sprung on me (divine providence?).

The fallacy is in confusing de dicto and de re necessity. The first syllogism grants de dicto necessity, but not de re, while the second argument unjustifiably concludes de re necessity from de dicto.

Of course, a definition of terms is necessary (pun intended):

De dicto necessity is: “a matter of a proposition’s being necessarily true”

While de re necessity is: “an object’s having a property essentially or necessarily” (Plantinga, V)

Here’s an example:

I am sitting on a chair (a comfortable one, I might add) as I write this. Thus, it is necessarily true that I am sitting (for x=x necessarily, I am sitting, therefore I am sitting). But this kind of necessity is de dicto. It does not follow that I am necessarily sitting in the de re sense, for if that were true, I could simply not do otherwise. I could never get up.

But let us return to freedom and divine omniscience. The first syllogism states de dicto necessity: If God knows x will happen, x happens. But the second syllogism argues for de re necessity:  if God knows x will happen, necessarily, x will happen. This is the fallacy. There is no de re necessity here. God’s knowledge of x does not assign x any essence or property. Rather, God’s knowledge that x will happen simply means x will happen. God’s knowledge of x does not assign any kind of necessity to x, but merely means that his own knowledge is true. God’s knowledge of x does not mean that x could not have been otherwise, only that it will not be.

Thus, we can reveal a few errors. The first is the error that God’s knowledge of some action x somehow makes x itself necessary. The second is the error of tying God’s knowledge of x in with his causation of x. Oftentimes, one can read works where people write believing that God’s knowledge of an event x somehow determines or even causes x to occur, and it could not be otherwise. While God may indeed choose to cause x, just because God knows x doesn’t mean it follows that x is necessarily true.

Perhaps another example might help:

Let’s consider the moon. God created the moon. He also knows exactly what interactions it has with other objects in the universe. But it seems quite obvious that God could have done otherwise concerning the moon. The moon could have been created with a smaller mass, a different color dust, an atmosphere. But to say that, as some would, Argument B is true would mean that the moon exists as it does, and because God knows this it could not have been otherwise. But this seems obviously false. There is nothing inherent in the moon itself that means it is necessarily true that it looks the way it does or has the mass it does. Rather, the only necessity, if any, that can be assigned to the moon is de dicto, not de re. (I realize there are some problems with this example, such as using an object rather than a proposition, but it is to illustrate a point.)

Thus, those who believe God’s foreknowledge of some action x determines x necessarily have committed the de dictode re fallacy. It is quite an easy error to commit, but on further examination it can be demonstrated fallacious.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.


About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

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