Christian Doctrines, Omniscience, philosophy

Omniscience, Necessity, and Human Freedom

I’m continually frustrated when the concept of freedom of the will comes up among people, even in Christian circles, because it seems that inevitably people start to deny that freedom of the will is incompatible with the God of Classical Theism. I am a firm believer in human freedom of the will and I believe it is fully compatible with omniscience. (Though I do not deny that our human will is corrupted by the fall into sin and that salvation is the act of God, not a work of man… These things are most certainly true.)

Generally the objection is something like this: If God knows everything and is all-powerful, then everything is pre-determined.

I still have not seen any solid argument for why this should be the case whatsoever. The key, as I understand it, is the connection between foreknowledge and causation.

I don’t see any reason to believe that if a being that is omnipotent and omniscient knows that x will happen, that being somehow causes or determines that x must happen. Why should this be the case? Simply knowing with certainty what will happen in the future does not somehow mean that this being has somehow made a causal link between its knowledge and the future, rather, it just means that this being knows what any other being is going to do.

What connection is there between knowledge of an event in the future and determining it? I’d like any kind of analytic argument to try to deny that human freedom and omniscience are compatible.

I’ve argued elsewhere that these concepts are compatible, and I’d like to make this point more clear now.

Take “P” to mean “God [in Classical Theism–i.e. omniscient, omnipotent, etc.] knows in advance that some event, x, will happen”

Take “Q” to mean “some event, x, will happen”

1. □(P⊃Q)

2. P

3. Therefore, Q

I wanted to draw it in symbolic logic to make my point as clear as possible. It is necessarily true that if God knows x will happen, then x will happen. But then if one takes these terms, God knowing x will happen only means that x will happen, not that x will happen necessarily. Certainly, God’s foreknowledge of an event means that that event will happen, but it does not mean that the event could not have happened otherwise. If an event happens necessarily, that means the event could not have happened otherwise, but God’s foreknowledge of an event doesn’t somehow transfer necessity to the event, it only means that the event will happen. It could have been otherwise, in which case, God’s knowledge would have been different. The problem many people make is that they try to make the syllogism:

1. □(P⊃Q)

2. P

3. Therefore, □Q

This is actually an invalid argument. The only thing that follows from □(P⊃Q) is that, “necessarily, if P then Q,” not “if P, then, necessarily Q.”

It is true that “necessarily, if God knows that some event, x, will happen, then some event, x, will happen”… but then it doesn’t follow from this that some event, x, happens necessarily. Thus, the event x is not predetermined simply by God’s foreknowledge of an event.

The objection is sometimes simply put forward as: Necessarily, God cannot error in his knowledge. If God knows some event x, will happen, then x will happen. Therefore, necessarily, x will happen.

Take P and Q as above

Take R to be “God cannot error in his knowledge”

1. □R

2. P⊃Q

3. Q

Again, this simply is an unsound and invalid argument. Simply stating that □R doesn’t show that for every event x that God knows, □x. It simply means that □R. R does not have a causal link to x (or Q above). It is true that □R on Classical Theism, but this does not mean that □Q or □P. There must be some argument to make P or Q necessary in order for there to be some kind of predetermined future, and I have no idea how an argument like that might go.There are ways that I can think of to formulate it, but it involves simply assuming that □R means that □P or □Q, so it would then be question-begging.

Perhaps I could take an example. Let’s say that I’m going to go to classes tomorrow (and I do hope I will, I don’t like missing classes!). God knows in advance that I’m going to go to classes tomorrow. His knowledge of this event means that it will happen, but it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t choose to stay in and sleep for a while, or play my new copy of Final Fantasy XIII, or do something more useless with my time. If I chose to, say, play Final Fantasy XIII (a strong temptation!), then God simply would have known that I would play FFXIII. His knowledge does not determine the outcome, His knowledge is simply of the outcome.

I’m open to hearing any analytic argument that manages to show how necessity can be transferred to events simply by God’s knowledge of them, but I’m skeptical as to the prospects of whether it can be done.

This argument can be seen in William Lane Craig’s writings like The Only Wise God and also in his podcast episodes on the doctrine of God.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


9 thoughts on “Omniscience, Necessity, and Human Freedom

    • No, because if God is timeless then “future” is a meaningless term as far as God’s omniscience is concerned. All of time is God’s present, so all free choices occur within God’s eternal present. The argument assumes a temporal deity.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 31, 2011, 9:41 AM
    • Also, it’s still modally fallacious. As I pointed out in the post you’re commenting upon right now. You’re taking God’s omniscience in the de re sense without an argument when all it is is a de dicto necessity.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 31, 2011, 9:43 AM
      • In fact, your argument is the exemplar of this modal fallacy. You write

        “To be “known” the future of the world has to be unique at every point in time. {Or in other words the world is a determinable one! }

        “By #2 and #3, by definition of free will and of choice: The world had at least one point of ambiguity that is at least one point where the future is not uniquely known.”

        In fact, this is false. You’ve jumped, without argument, from
        1. □(P⊃Q)

        2. P

        3. Therefore, Q


        1. □(P⊃Q)

        2. P

        3. Therefore, □Q

        So again, your argument continues to ignore the concept of a timeless deity, and it is modally fallacious. You’ve still not even attempted an answer to either critique.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 31, 2011, 9:45 AM
  1. It does not matter if Q happens by a priori definition or by deduction. The point is it will happen and there is nothing you can do to avoid it, there is only one future and you are bound to follow it.

    Even if god is timeless, humans are not, so you can’t just handwave the concepts of future or causality away.

    Posted by joaov2 | July 13, 2015, 9:21 AM
    • I do not think the author would disagree that the future foreknown choice WILL happen … I think the point is that it will happen but not necessarily happen … in other words ..prior to the creative decree the world actualized could have been different had another choice been made which is possible to have been made … you deny this is possible but I do not see how you could possibly know this.

      Or put in laymen’s terms If I chose A god’s foreknowledge would be A if I chose B God’s foreknowledge would be B .. but the choice was still present and freely engaged in prior to the decree to actualize the world that the free choice was made in.

      I hope that helps?

      Posted by Robert Clark | October 11, 2015, 11:00 PM


  1. Pingback: Does God’s omniscience contradict human free will? « Wintery Knight - June 15, 2011

  2. Pingback: Does God’s omniscience conflict with human free will? | Wintery Knight - September 26, 2013

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