Does Divine Foreknowledge Contradict Free Will?

By: Monique Zorzella

*Revised July 2015 & July 2016*

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Many skeptics wonder how a God could know all the things that have not yet happened if humans allegedly have free will. They argue that God being omniscient invalidates the concept that we have the ability to make free choices. A common formulation of argument is as follows:

If God is perfectly omniscient and knows beforehand what choices we are going to make, there is no possibility that there could be a different outcome. If there is only one possible outcome, then all choices have been predetermined. If our acts have been predetermined, then there is no such thing as free will. 

There are a few apologetic responses to this argument. One point would be to explain that it is possible that God only knows what God chooses to know. Instead of God knowing absolutely everything, God knows only what  He chooses to know and what is is possible to know. This is called inherent omniscience. Another possible explanation may be that God knows all possible choices to make and their respective outcomes. Instead of God knowing precisely what choice one is going to make, God knows all choices that are available to us to make, and what the outcome would be if we choose any of the options available.

Rather than trying to reconcile the nature of Gods foreknowledge with the concept of free will, many outright dismiss the objection that the two concepts are mutually exclusive. The reason being is that the  argument seems to confuse foreknowledge with fatalism (that is, the idea that all things are fated e.g. preordained). For example, many mothers claim to at some time sense that their child is in danger before having direct knowledge that anything wrong has occurred only to later find  out that their suspicion was correct. When their mothers intuition turns out to be right, chances are that people will reasonably question how it is that they could have known what was to unfold. Yet, no reasonable thinker would say that these women have predetermined the acts that led to their children experiencing the event that was predicted. From this example, we can see that having foreknowledge on a subject does not imply that the event has been predetermined, therefore God’s divine foreknowledge does not appear to invalidate the notion that humans have free will.

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