The Only Wise God

The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom


Overall, Craig is making the case that it is biblically and logically defensible to believe:

     God foreknows future free acts

Part 1

In part 1, Craig addresses the ‘biblical’ component to his case. The Christian Bible presents a God who foreknows the future free acts of individuals (chapter 1). Theologians who object to this view tend to find justification in the Bible for one of two statements (p. 39):

(1) God does not foreknow such events


(2) There are no free acts

But in the end, their arguments do not persuade Craig for reasons he explains in the book.

Establishing the ‘logical’ component requires two parts because there are two important ways people deny that God could know the future:

  1. If God knows the future, people’s decisions aren’t free
  2. There is no way for God to know the future.

In part 2, Craig looks to refute A. In part 3, Craig looks to refute B.

Part 2

A is a statement of theological fatalism. One famous defence of theological fatalism is by Nelson Pike (see chapter 3). Pike lays out a case that:

If God believes that Jones will mow his lawn on Saturday afternoon, Jones does not have the power to refrain from mowing his lawn.

But most people who lay out the case for theological fatalism also try to find a way out of it. Craig outlines three options for escaping fatalism, none of which he finds compelling:

The Proposed Way Out Elaboration
future tense statements don’t have truth value There is nothing for God to know.  So although God doesn’t know the future, he is still omniscient because he knows everything that can be known.
all future tense statements are false In this case future tense statements have a truth value, but they don’t tell us anything informative about the future.  Once again, God is still omniscient, because he lacks no knowledge.
truth and God are timeless Tensed statements (e.g. Luke will spit out his pickles tomorrow) can be translated into tenseless statements (e.g. Luke will spit out his pickles on Jan 18, 2015).  Technically these aren’t true in advance, because they are tenseless.  Similarly, if God is timeless, his knowledge isn’t true in advance because it is outside of time.

Craig suggests better way out requires a couple of steps (see chapter 5).

Step 1: Theological fatalism is reducible to logical fatalism

Theological fatalism is actually just a dressed up Greek philosophical paradox. If it’s true that God’s foreknowledge enslaves people, it’s true that anyone’s foreknowledge enslaves people.  In fact, even if no one knew the future, but there were true facts about the future, people would still be enslaved.  The theologian’s don’t have a special problem.

The addition of an omniscient God to the argument constitutes a ‘gratuitous detour’ around the real issue, which is the truth or falsity of future-tense statements.

Step 2: The unintelligibility of fatalism

The fatalist admits that our decisions and actions may be causally free – indeed they could be utterly uncaused.  Nevertheless, such actions are said to be constrained – but by what? Fate? What in the world is that?  How can my action be constrained and my power limited merely by the truth of a future tense statement about it, especially when my action is causally unconstrained.

Step 3: The Fallacy of fatalism

The objector of divine foreknowledge generally argues that if God knows the future, then what ever God foreknows must happen. But this is fallacious reasoning.  It merely means what God foreknows will happen.

The fallacious argument

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

God foreknows x.

Therefore, x will necessarily happen. (*error)

A correct form (p. 73-74)

Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen

God foreknows x

Therefore, x will happen. (*correction)

Contemporary fatalists now recognize this problem, so they modify the form of their argument to a non-fallacious form. (p. 75)

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

Necessarily, God foreknows x. (*emendation)

Therefore, x will necessarily happen.

The form is correct, but now the second premises is false. (It is important to understand the technical meaning of the word necessary.)  There are two ways to take this premise.  The first is that God could not have created a world different from this one (p. 75).  This is wrong and this is not what fatalists mean.  They are actually referring to the necessity of the past.  The past in closed in a way the future is not.  The future can change, but the past (which is where God’s foreknowledge is) cannot change.

Craig’s assessment is that the key is to distinguish between cause and change.  There are events which caused the past, but nothing changes the past.  “To change the past would be to bring it about that an event that an event that did occur did not occur” (p. 76).  But scholars confuse this notion when talking about the future.  People cause the future, but they do not change it.  For “to change the future would be to bring it about that some event which will occur will not occur, which is self-contradictory” (p. 77).  He appeals to the likes of A. J. Ayers to verify his case.

Foreknowledge and Backwards Causation

One thing Craig admits is that God’s foreknowledge does imply that our actions now cause (not change) the past, because God’s foreknowledge is in the past (p. 78).  But backwards causation is something that can be made sense of, and has been appealed to in many different philosophical discussions, such as: backward causation (p. 83), time travel (p. 89), precognition (p. 97), Newcombe’s Paradox (p. 105).  Note that he is not arguing that time travel or precognition happen but merely appeals to them because relevant philosophical conundrums and discussions pop up in those contexts.

One repeated clarification in each of the aforementioned discussions is:

if something is foreknown, it simply means that it will happen, not that it must happen.

Part 3

Having failed to show the divine foreknowledge is incompatible with human freedom, detractors will take another tact:

There is no way for God to know the future.

Craig points out the burden of proof is on the objector, who must show divine foreknowledge is impossible.  He suggests that the objector will use the following reasoning:

  1. Future events do not exist, since temporal becoming is objective and
  2. Future events cannot be inferred from present causes since they are assumed to be free
  3. Therefore it is impossible for God to know future free events

Craig notes that this arguments relies on a few assumptions

  1. That the A-theory of time is correct.  (But Craig agrees with this.)
  2. That genuine knowledge is based on either immediate perception or causal inference

Craig appeals to an article by Edward Khamara in which he distinguishes between conceptual and perceptual models of knowledge.  If conceptual models of knowledge are possible (and contends there is no reason to think they aren’t) then the second assumption (see above) is wrong.  In the next chapter he explores one conceptualist model – middle knowledge.

There remained one real objection – what if conceptualist knowledge doesn’t deserve the title knowledge.  Here Craig points out that epistemology has perenially been unable to find a good definition for knowledge and at least some of them (e.g. Robert Nozick’s suggestion) would be compatible with calling a conceptualist model genuine knowledge.

Middle Knowledge

Craig explores one conceptualist model of knowledge: Middle Knowledge.  He begins by explaining the difference between logical and temporal priority (p. 127-128).  Each step in the logical analysis can be thought of as a “logical moment” – even though they in no sense represent temporal moments.

On this conception God can be thought of having three logical moments, or for short-hand: three moments.  Note that the terms ‘possible worlds’ and ‘essential’ are all technical terms.

Moment 1 (aka Natural Knowledge). God’s knowledge of all possible worlds.  The content of this knowledge is essential to God.

Moment 2 (aka Middle Knowledge).  God’s knowledge of what every possible free creature would do under any possible set of circumstance and, hence, knowledge of those possible worlds which God can make actual.  The content of this knowledge is not essential to God.

God’s Free Decision to Create a World

 Moment 3 (aka Free Knowledge). God’s knowledge of the actual world.  The content of this knowledge is not essential to God.

But why think that God actually has middle knowledge?  There are two types of considerations: biblical and theological.  Although the biblical evidence is there (p. 131-133), Craig admits that many instances can be reasonably explained in different paradigms (p. 137).  The theological ramifications are quite profound and this a reason to believe it is explanatorily helpful. 

  • God knows the future free acts  (p. 133)
  • God does not acquire his knowledge of the future by ‘foreseeing’ (p.133)
  • Divine foreknowledge without middle knowledge would be exceedingly strange, God would find himself with knowledge the future but without any logical planning of it (p. 134)
  • The “most helpful consequence is the reconciliation of divine sovereignty and human freedom” because “God is able to plan a world in which his designs are achieved by creatures acting freely.” (p.135)
  • Makes sense of passages like Gen 50:20 “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring about this present result.”
  • It provides an intriguing account of predestination.  God created this world knowing full well the implications on those who would freely accept and reject his salvation (p. 136-7).
  • Ordinary believers presuppose it all the time (e.g. in guidance, in whether babies go to heaven, and the eternal status of those who had never heard) (p. 137-8)

 “The doctrine is so fruitful and illuminating divine prescience, providence, and predestination that it can be presumed unless there are insoluble objections to it.” p. 137

 There are two types of objections: philosophical and theological.

 Philosophical Objections

 There are two principal philosophical objections:

  1. counterfactual statements about what a person would have freely done under different circumstances cannot be true.
  2. such counterfactual statements could not have been known by God in the momen logically prior to his decree to create the world.

The first objection (1) seems to Craig to be weak.  If someone is placed in a circumstance and a decision presents itself, surely they will pick one alternative or another.  If this is the case, how can such propositions fail to hold truth values?  The objector may try again by saying that if truth corresponds to reality, there is a problem because counterfactuals do not speak about the actual world, but possible worlds.  But this rests on misconceptions of truth theory that were already covered.

The second objection (2) says even if counterfactuals statements are true (in opposition to (1) ), God couldn’t know them prior to his decree to create the world.  Current counterfactual theory requires one look to the possible worlds nearest our the actual world in order to find truth value. But prior to God’s decree to create the world, there was no actual world, so no counterfactual statements have truth value! (p. 141-142)  Craig says that Christians who react to this by saying “so much the worse for current counterfactual theory” are justified (p. 142).  After all, this is simply one way to express the concept of counterfactual.

HOWEVER, the current models of counterfactuals do not actually present a problem.  At the second moment in time certain elements of the actual world do exist (p. 144).  Craig then refers to Plantinga who claims there simply is no sound philosophical objection to the doctrine of divine middle knowledge.

Theological Objections

Craig spends the remainder of the book going through a very interesting analysis on the objection:

Why would God, if he desires all people to be saved, create a world in which so many people are lost and eternally damned.

Craig says that this basically amounts to someone saying the following four propositions cannot all be true at the same time.

  1. God has middle knowledge
  2. God is omnipotent
  3. God is all-loving
  4. Some persons freely reject Christ and are lost

In the course of a detailed analysis Craig makes some interesting remarks:

  • It is probably true that, there are some possible people who would not freely receive Christ under any circumstances (i.e. in any possible world)
  • It is possible that, there is no possible world in which all persons freely receive Christ.
  • It is very probably true, that God would prefer to create a world in which many people are saved and some lost than to create a world in which a handful of people are saved and nobody lost.
  • Our actual world probably represents this optimal balance!
  • It is possible that God ensures that everyone who would have accepted Christ hears the gospel.

Some of these remarks are made live on video in response to a question from his audience.

For the details the reader can consult the text.