Since this is going to be a lengthy post, I will break it up into two parts, just so I won’t loose you halfway through. 😉

I didn’t expect to be drawn into a discussion on God’s omniscience and human free will but in the spirit of learning and because hk’s honest and open dialogue (see my post on Self-Refuting Statements) deserves a more through response, I will oblige. I humbly concede that I have not realized the difficulty of such an undertaking until I am doing my own homework. I have underestimated the complexity of the subject. Although this is not something I have not explored before in the past, I have certainly forgotten that there weren’t any air-tight answers to the debate then. Even today, Christian thinkers are still debating the subject! There are however some explanations I find reasonable enough for me to accept while leaving space for further debate and even for a bit of mystery. As a writer-researcher in CARM notes,

this idea of God’s knowledge and peoples’ freedom is ultimately an unanswerable issue since it involves us working in time and God is outside of time. Our question deals with a situation from a perspective inside of time where God is outside of time. By default, our questions and answers concerning this issue cannot be complete. Past, present, and future are concepts and realities created for us, not God.

So do keep that in mind as you try to process the rest of this post.

With that, let’s jump right into the subject. The issue at hand is how do we reconcile God’s omniscience, specifically his foreknowledge, with human free will? To provide you some background on the discussion, I have pasted our brief conversation below.

(In response to my post on Self-Refuting Statements, hk wrote…)

hk : God is omniscient, yet free will exists. Discuss. (he feels that God’s omniscience contradicts our free will and vice versa)

rk: usually people who argue that god’s omniscience and our free will cannot both exists, assumes that if god has knowledge of a matter, then he must have influenced it. this need not be. just because god can foresee what choice i will make does not mean i am not free to choose the alternative. it happens all the time with my kids. if i forget to lock up my son’s PSP before i leave for work, i know it will end up in his hands even though he knows it is not a “PSP day” and he should be working on his school project instead. now, i did not force him to make that decision. neither do i have to be at home to know what my son would choose because i know my son well enough….that he can’t resist such a temptation. so perhaps we can say that god knows us well enough to know what we would choose? (this should settle the issue of contradiction – that there is no contradiction – but creates other problems….as you will soon find out)

hk: The concern I have with your justification is that, pursuant to the Christian world view, God, all-powerful and all-knowing, influences the world all the time in big and small ways. Natural disasters have been attributed to him, as have things as small as (I kid you not, some woman stood up and spoke this in my church last month) starting someone’s lawn mower.

So to say that (1) God is all powerful and all knowing, and (2) that God not only has the ability to influence the world, but chooses to do so on a regular basis, but then (3) state that anything happens in the world that is not explicitly his intent; that chain of logic just doesn’t seem to follow to me.

Under that framework, one almost has to assume that anything that God allows to transpire has done so with his explicit authorization. <shrug> Maybe I’m the slow one, because I’ve never been able to think out of or think through those boxes in a way that makes sense.

 There are a few issues to work out here. It is no longer just a question of whether free will can coexists with divine omniscience. In effect, hk’s charge is that, if God is sovereign (because God knows all things and is all-powerful) as Christians claim him to be, then it doesn’t follow that some events are not His intent since everything happens with his permission. Furthermore, God as we see in the Old Testament is a God who was closely involved with His people, who was genuinely responsive to the circumstances of their lives, not an impersonal force.

Are we free?
Firstly, we need to establish that free will does not stop becoming free just because God knows what will happen. The analogy above of my son and his PSP should suffice to illustrate the point. Logically, God knowing what we are going to do does not mean that we can’t do something else. It means that God simply knows what we have chosen to do ahead of time. Our freedom is not restricted by God’s foreknowledge; our freedom is simply realized ahead of time by God. In this, our natural ability to make another choice has not been removed. No matter what choice we freely make, it can be known by God and His knowing it doesn’t mean we aren’t making a free choice. People who argue against this will have to illustrate how our ability to choose is somehow altered or restricted by God’s foreknowledge.

What free will means.
Next, we need to look at the concept of free will. I realize there are different interpretations as to what free will is and the bulk of the problem is due to a misunderstanding of it. The reality is that while we have the ability to make truly significant choices, we don’t have truly “free” will. You cannot, for example, choose to wake up tomorrow morning in China when you go to bed in Chicago. Or wake up speaking Chinese when all you know is English. You cannot choose to be a different gender than what God made you. But we can make choices that make a difference: for example, in our attitudes, in who we marry and most importantly, which God we serve. We have limited freedom in our choices, and God does not force us to choose things His way; He respects our choices. But we do not have totally free will if free will means we can defy space and time and go against God’s natural law. So free will in this sense simply means the ability to make willing choices that has real consequences in our life. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology puts it this way,

The kind of freedom that is often assumed by those who either deny God’s providential control of all things or our freedom of choice is the freedom to act outside God’s sustaining and controlling activity, a freedom that includes being able to make decisions that are not caused by anything external of ourselves. Scripture nowhere says we are free in those senses. That kind of freedom would be impossible if Jesus Christ is indeed “continually carrying along things by his word of power” (Heb. 1:3, author’s translation). If this is true, to be outside of that providential control would simply be not to exists! An absolute “freedom”, totally free of God’s control, is simply not possible in a world providentially sustained and directed by God himself.



Coming up in Part 2 ….
Why Doesn’t God Intervene?
Understanding God’s Will
What determines the future?
List of sources