Thursday, February 2, 2012

Free Will and God's Foreknowledge

If God knows the future, then doesn't that mean that I don't have free will? 

1 comment:

Daniel Kim said...

This is a very common question, and it is based on the idea that "foreknowledge" and "free will" are mutually exclusive concepts.

Actually, I think it can be reasonably shown that they are not mutually exclusive. A short answer is this: "a third party's knowledge about what you will freely choose does not threaten your free will."

Let me explain through examples. My second daughter is 7 years old. Now, if I get her a pink my-little-pony doll with rainbow color mane, and I bring that to her tonight and say to her, "You can have this doll or you can have a dollar." I am positive (as sure as I can get) that she will take the pony. Now, does that mean that my daughter did not choose freely? No, she chose freely. It's just that because I know her very well, I can know what she will freely choose.

Some people may object and say that that's different because I can't know her decision with 100% certainty. But that seems irrelevant. Let's say I can "know" what she will freely choose with 99% certainty. Does that mean her freedom is limited to 1%? No, she still chooses freely, and her freedom is not limited by how much I know, or how certain I may be.

To illustrate this second point, let's imagine that you have a friend that you know reasonably well. And like all good friends, you can sort of predict how your friend would react to a certain situation. Let's say you have 70% certainty about that. But as you get to know her better over the years, your certainty increases to 80%, and then 90%. In this example, your "foreknowledge" of her decision increased. So did your increase in certainty affect your friend's free will at all? It's not like she was 30% free, then 20%, then 10% free. Her level of freedom remained exactly the same. This shows that freedom of will is completely independent of how "certain" a third party's foreknowledge of your choice may be. It really doesn't matter what or how much someone else knows -- you are still free.. One could say that God knows us very very very well (perfectly? well) - and therefore knows what we will choose freely.

Therefore we can conclude that a third party's foreknowledge does not threaten your free will.

By the way, there are other theories about God's foreknowledge, which I think is much more complex and robust.

For those who are interested, here's a teaser: Read 1 Samuel 23, and ask yourself the question: "Was God wrong in His prediction?"