An Argument for the Incompatibility of Free Will and God’s Absolute Foreknowledge

I was recently reading some articles by Blake Ostler, and came across what I felt was a very illustrative argument for the Incompatibility of free will and God’s absolute foreknowledge.  Mostly I hope this will help make clear what is at stake in the debate, so here is my restatement of the argument:

P1 – God has always known that I will rob a convenience store at time T.
P2 – Free will demands that I could do otherwise.
P3 – If I were to refrain from robbing the convenience store at time T, I would change the past (specifically God’s absolute foreknowledge).
P4 – My actions in the present cannot change the past.

C – Free will is not compatible with God’s absolute foreknowledge.

I like this argument because it focuses on the past which most would say is fixed.  Is there a way out of this argument without disputing a straight forward definition of free will or time?

60 Responses to “An Argument for the Incompatibility of Free Will and God’s Absolute Foreknowledge”

  1. 1 Steve S April 21, 2017 at 9:19 am

    Yes, I believe so. The type of free will that I have seen Blake Ostler argue for is non-sensical in my opinion. It is a “freedom” that at its core relies on randomness, in which the person (and their will) is therefore not ultimately in control and therefore not accountable. I find it non-sensical.

    In short Blake Oslter (and other Libertarian free will proponents that I have read) argue for what I would term “Freedom from Will”. I side with the Compatibilists, in what I would term “Freedom of the Will”.

    Or in other words that the will is free to be expressed. Yes, there is cause and effect at play, which means that if the inputs are known the outputs can be also known. But instead of agency undermining cause and effect, it is one of the primary causes that explains the effects we see around us. Causality (which implies theoretically ability for foreknowledge to exist) is actually necessary to preserve both identity and accountability. If I did not “cause” my own actions, then who or what did? And why should I therefore be accountable for my choices?

    To Blake’s logic above, I think it breaks down at P2. While I might agree with the statement technically, I do not agree with it in the way it is being used. It implies that free will means I can do other than what I want to do. But why would I ever want to do other than what I want? What I want is what I want, by definition. He is therefore arguing that free will is somehow the ability to escape and do other than what I actually desire. I disagree. I would say that yes, freedom of will is that compulsory outside forces do not determine the action, that the will is free to be expressed independent of other forces – such that if different wills were placed in the same circumstance various choices and outcomes could be made. But given that one will, the individual’s will is in the circumstance, one outcome will occur according the ultimate desires of the will, given their ultimate desires at the point in time. And therefore the outcome is knowable.

    • 2 Eric Nielson April 21, 2017 at 10:31 am

      I think this is why laying out the logic in a straight forward way is helpful. I agree that the basis of any disagreement is the definition of free will. If I were to try to criticize what I understand your position to be I would say that we become reduced to 100% predictable machines. If this is fair, then we would not be any more free than a hammer. Sure a case could be made for accountability since our behavior matches our desires (which leads to favoring the term ‘moral agency’ over ‘free agency’).

      This reminds me of William James embracing the term ‘chance’ (similar to your randomness). But I do think there can be a complex system of desires which can closely compete with each other. I am not against free will being something of a series of mental coin flips of some type. Anyway, that is my take. Thanks for the comment.

      • 3 Steve S April 21, 2017 at 11:10 am

        Thanks for the reply. The major distinction for me is that a hammer does not have desires.

      • 4 Eric Nielson April 21, 2017 at 12:26 pm

        But are desires any different from any other characteristic in your view? They just are. So are desires much different from height? And how would they make one more or less free if we had desires or not?

    • 5 Steve S April 21, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      Yes, to me they are different. For a hammer may have characteristics of length, mass, color, etc., but if it were to have desires it would become something fundamentally different. It would no longer be a tool that is merely acted upon, but it would desire to act a certain way. The desires are the will. Now if we endowed the hammer with the faculties to act upon a given desire, that will would now be free to be expressed. It would then have free will in my view, no longer a thing that is merely acted upon by outside forces, but a being that acts from internal desires independent of the external world beyond it.

      • 6 Steve S April 21, 2017 at 8:29 pm

        I’ll take it one step further. Let’s say this hypothetical hammer with desire, has only one desire – that is to swing it’s head downward and hit whatever is below it.

        Now let’s say this hammer is endowed with the ability to move itself. What would be the result? It has a desire and an ability to act on the desire (i.e. will and freedom), it would therefore swing it’s head downward and hit whatever is below it. Would it go to the ice cream shop? Seek out other hammers? Rest it’s head on a pillow? No, while it has ability to move, it’s one desire is what it would express. I know the inputs, and so I know can know the outputs. But the hammer is the one with the desire and the one with freedom to express that desire. I would argue it would therefore have free will, and it’s future actions are also knowable.

      • 7 Eric Nielson April 21, 2017 at 8:57 pm

        But if it is doing the one and only thing it can, and willing the one and only thing it can, is it really free will? This seems to all come down to what happens with this phenomenon we might call choice. To me if one’s will is hard wired it is not very impressive to me. My impression is that choice is something more than following a hard wired will along the only path it can lead.

        Of course I have nothing but my intuition on this. Choice is still a phenomenon.

      • 8 Eric Nielson April 21, 2017 at 8:59 pm

        I will take it a step farther too. I feel there is more than a lack of coercion required to have free will.

  2. 9 Don April 21, 2017 at 10:13 am

    God isn’t bound by time, while we are.

  3. 10 Eric Nielson April 21, 2017 at 10:34 am

    If the future exists at all, whether God knows it of not, then there is no Libertarian free will. If your belief is true, then the argument of this post is not even necessary. There simply is no free will.

  4. 11 Lily April 21, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Without disputing the definition of time? That is the problem. We have a linear definition of time which I think is a false construct.

  5. 13 N. W. Clerk April 21, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Do you believe in relativity of simultaneity? If so, which future are you talking about?

  6. 14 Eric Nielson April 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    My personal belief is that all there is is the present. There simply is no future. It only exists in our speculation and anticipation. It is always becoming but never being.

  7. 15 Doug Turner April 21, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    By definition, a will is a person’s motivating force. A person’s will is also as distinct as each individual person. Consider though if we remove the human element and place it in the context of a physical experiment using another simple motivating force of a coiled spring that is latched in place. While latched, the spring is not free to act on the object in front of it. However, if I remove the latch, the spring now becomes free to impose its force on the object. You could say the spring is free to move or stay put, but its “will” is to move forward. This is not because of a quality that I imposed in the spring (its inherent spring constant), but only because I freed it to do what it will. I free the spring, but I am not imposing the acting force; that is done by the spring. Even so, I can predict just how the object will move if I understand the spring and the object well enough.

    In the same manner, people have been freed to exercise their will, and knowing the outcome really only indicates that God knows us. He has “removed the latch” so-to-speak, and so we are free to impose our wills.

    Ultimately, I think the confusion comes from trying to cast the term “free” too broadly. I see two distinct arguments:
    1. “Free” means free from the impositions of God to force our will, which is what I take it to mean in the context of “free will” since the comparison is in reference God’s knowledge of the outcome.
    2. “Free” means free from the impositions of a person’s self on their will. I think this is where you could argue that our will is not “free”. We are forced by our own person to follow our will. However, I don’t believe this is the type of freedom that is implied in the term “free will” for the reason already given. And that is why P2 is not a valid argument, since it supposes that “free” is according to both conditions 1 and 2. The fact that each person will always act according to their respective wills is an argument that they are not truly free, not because of an imposition by God, but only by their own person.

  8. 16 Eric Nielson April 22, 2017 at 8:14 am

    Doug, thanks for your comment. Here again I think I see the power of expressing things in the logical argument form as it clearly points to the nature of the disagreement.

    If I understand your position right, you believe that human beings are basically complex machines, and that our wills are entirely consistent and predictable, like a spring action and constant.

    I do think there is another option to the definition of free. I think it has to do with our wills not being physically deterministic. Sort of like quantum theory – there remains a statistical indeterminism regarding them. Whether this indeterminism is analogous to quantum theory or random variation or competing values with self-assigned or changing weights. There is a source of non deterministic variation.

    But there is a bottom line that P2 assumes the libertarian definition of free will, which is expressed in P2.

  9. 17 Doug Turner April 22, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Great discussion. Although I do make the comparison between a person and a machine, that analogy is meant to simplify the discussion of the relationship between prediction and causation, but not meant to be extrapolated to the absolution of the outcome. I agree that to other men, there may be an in-deterministic component. Here, the distinctions I would make are 1. predictable to self, 2. predictable to other men, or 3. predictable to God. By distinction of 1 & 2 to 3, a man is bound by the direction of time, which is intimately related to cause and affect, while God is in a different frame of reference, and does not necessarily share this relationship. Therefore, predictable to man is not necessarily the same as predictable to God, but like the spring, that does not imply a force of a person’s will. In regards to the distinction between 1 & 2, I think it is possible for a person to be in-deterministic to others while remaining deterministic to self. Again, by the very definition of will, we act according to our will because it is our motivating force to act a particular way when presented a certain decision.

    As I think about it, I’m not sure that assigning a random component to a person’s will makes it any more free. In this case, consider the game of Life (yes, the board game). Players roll dice to move around the board. When they land on certain squares, they draw cards which affect the game.
    Both the cards and the dice are random elements to the players, but they still must abide by the rules of the game, and are not free to change the rules due to the outcome of the random process. In this manner, the player has no freedom, but his actions are still determined by them.

    Also, like the game of Life (and fittingly so), the game as it is progressing is random to the players, but someone with the knowledge of how the dice would roll and the cards would draw would see the randomness as certainty, just as the players would see the outcome as certain once the game is completed. Taking this argument just a step further, we could remove God’s perspective from it and argue that because the players have completed the game and know the outcome, there is no longer any randomness. The dice rolled as they rolled and cards were drawn as they were with certainty. Does this knowledge now imply there was no randomness during the game?

    • 18 Eric Nielson April 22, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Again I would say that if the future exists at all (even for God) then there is neither randomness nor freedom, and this discussion is meaningless, along with everything else. No freedom, no randomness, no meaning, no purpose. Everything would be static. We would only have the illusion of randomness and freedom.

      I agree that randomness or chance being a complete description of the phenomenon of choice seems unsatisfactory. But my take is that the phenomenon of choice has to do with the necessity of subjectivity coupled with the desire to act in some way. We desire to act, we do not have a completely accurate evaluation of the best possible course of action (and we know it), we make a subjective value judgement with weighing competing values, and act. Minor variations in our moods, values, goals, preferences, will all have their effect. Our willingness to reflect on our values, and subjectively weigh them, on our own, could make us potentially unpredictable. And with an open future, shape our destiny.

    • 19 Steve S April 22, 2017 at 11:24 am

      Yes, whether true randomness exists in the universe at all is an interesting question. I don’t think there’s a definitive answer.

      I agree though, and more to the heart of the discussion, if there is a degree of random that is part of choice – it does nothing to make a person’s will any more free.

      Either person A causes B (A -> B) or randomness causes B (random -> B). Effects either have a preceding cause, or it is random, there is no other option. If random chooses B, then what does that mean for the will of person A? Did the ‘will’ do anything? No, it would not be random if the will influenced the outcome.

      If you say it is a mix between random and the will of the individual that causes choice (which Libertarians seem to often do to hide that they are attributing choice to randomness which makes choice and accountability meaningless in relation to the individual choosing it), again whatever portion of that choice is random cannot be attributed to the will. If I asked Billy why he hit his sister, he could legitimately say “it was random, I had no control over what I did, my choices are not mine.”

      Any meaningful part of choice must come from person A, which part would be deterministic. Even if randomness can or does exist, it adds nothing valuable to free will. The only free will that can exist must be deterministic in nature, otherwise the will had nothing to do with it.

      “We desire to act, we do not have a completely accurate evaluation of the best possible course of action (and we know it), we make a subjective value judgement with weighing competing values, and act. Minor variations in our moods, values, goals, preferences, will all have their effect. Our willingness to reflect on our values, and subjectively weigh them, on our own, ” – I agree with all this part, everything in your list seems to likely to have a preceding cause. Where do you see random that “could make us potentially unpredictable.” And in what way do you see this as adding to a person’s ability to freely “shape [their] destiny”? Wouldn’t by definition of random (unpredictable), mean they are not shaping their own destiny – since it’s happening at random?

  10. 20 Eric Nielson April 22, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I think I am using the term ‘random’ as an abbreviation for something like ‘active subjectivity’. A subjectivity that is always flexing / adapting. This is making me want to review my William James.

    It seems there is room for an uncreated intelligence to make subjective value judgments where competing values are weighted upon frequent reflection (with an open future) that would make the phenomenon of choice not deterministic.

    • 21 Eric Nielson April 22, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Further, the uncreated intelligence has no first cause, we are necessary rather than contingent beings. And thus not deterministic.

      • 22 Steve S April 22, 2017 at 12:38 pm

        “Further, the uncreated intelligence…”

        Yes, we’re on the same page there. I think it’s a very important element. Going back to the hypothetical sentient hammer, if somebody instilled in the hammer its desires/will, ultimately somebody else would be responsible for the hammer, it would not be its own being. If the hammer had at its core these desires/will as an eternal/inherent part of its being, that to me is necessary to say that the will is its own – free from external forces – and thus truly free.

        Glad you brought it up, I think that’s a very critical part of the equation.

    • 23 Steve S April 22, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      I don’t think I’m clear in what you mean by “subjectivity”. I’m with you that I can and do make subjective value judgements based on the information that I have. “The information I have” at a given time is one of the inputs that weighs into the final choice, along with competing values, etc. all part of the equation –
      still cause and effect (deterministic) as I understand it. Otherwise, if not caused by something preceding it, it must be random.

      Which are you proposing? On one hand it seems you are shying away from random, but on the other you are saying “not deterministic”. Each element of the equation has to be one or the other, right?

      • 24 Eric Nielson April 22, 2017 at 3:13 pm

        Well I am not completely sure. I would say that our equations are never perfect (and we know it). So there is always some doubt or question as to are we really doing the best thing. In the end we want to act, but we are never 100% sure we are doing the right thing. So we subjectively follow our current preferences. Over time, our values.weights/preferences will change due to our reflection on previous decisions. How we adjust our values is up to us. So we might behave differently next time, based on our chosen refection and adjustment. How I chose to adjust my values after a mistake may be different from how someone else might adjust their values. These reflections are our own, nobody knows what these adjustments to values are, and we may do something different next time we are in similar circumstances. What will that be? Perhaps not even God knows for sure how we are adjusting our values. Thus the equations and values are in constant flux due to our conscious reflection. And we never step into the same stream twice.

  11. 25 Eric Nielson April 22, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    So perhaps us libertarians are saying ‘freedom to adjust our will’ over time and experience. Perhaps we are left with an adjustable will, where we are in at least some control of what our future will will be.

    • 26 Steve S April 22, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Yes, I agree with your growth model over time. I suppose I just see no reason for randomness to be part of that equation. Inasmuch as person A has some control of what their future B will be, their current state A must cause the choices that lead to future B. Otherwise they do not have control – and outside forces are responsible (which could still be deterministic) or true randomness is responsible (which negates determinism but also means they do not have control).

      Btw, this is a perfect causal determinism statement, “So we might behave differently next time, based on our chosen refection and adjustment.” Clearly stating a potential future effect based/depending on a preceding cause.

      • 27 Eric Nielson April 22, 2017 at 5:26 pm

        But with no first cause. Thus not deterministic.

      • 28 Steve S April 22, 2017 at 9:05 pm

        Correct, as far as the eternal will is concerned – it is neither determined or random but eternally inherent. Whereas the expression of free will, or choice, happens in time and is thus deterministic if it is to have any meaning to the individual at all (otherwise the eternal will has nothing to do with the choice and is meaningless).

        Instead of a fixed future undermining agency, it is the agency of individuals – the expression of the many various wills that are the very cause of what the fixed future will be.

      • 29 Eric Nielson April 23, 2017 at 7:22 am

        I do not follow why somethinng happening in time must be deterministic, nor why that is the only way an eternal will could be involved.

        It also seems you second paragraph is a complete contradiction. Either we are deterministic or we have feee will. It seems you wish to have the cake and eat it too.

      • 30 Steve S April 23, 2017 at 8:41 am

        “why something happening in time must be deterministic”

        If there is an effect or outcome, that effect either came from a deterministic cause or it came from randomness. Those are the only two choices in time.

        “why [determinism] the only way an eternal will could be involved”

        If randomness is responsible for the effect or outcome, then by definition the eternal will could not be involved in effecting the outcome, otherwise it would not be random. Therefore, a deterministic cause is the only way the eternal will could have an effect.

        “Either we are deterministic or we have free will”

        I’m not sure where you came up with this assumption. The majority of philosophers who believe in free will are compatibilists, which means they believe free will and determinism can be and are compatible.

      • 31 Eric Nielson April 23, 2017 at 10:39 am

        So I think our basic disagreements have to do with the phenomenon of choice. You call it randomness, and thus flat out deny that there is such a thing called libertarian free will. I completely disagree with this. To make this short I would refer you to William James and his essay ‘Dilemma of Determinism’ to have a more thorough explanation of my disagreement.

        The other basic disagreement has to do with compatibilists definition of free will, which to me is a simple evasion of taking responsibility for their pessimistic fatalism inherent in their determinism (whether hard or soft). (Which also comes from James.)

        Most philosophers are not aware of anything remotely like an uncreated intelligence, and may do an about face if the did and had time to stew over it. I believe someone said once that for there to be libertarian free will we would need to have an eternal past, or not be created, but cannot find the quote. This is a very unique and revolutionary idea that I would think most philosophers have not heard of let alone seriously considered.

      • 32 Steve S April 23, 2017 at 11:56 am

        I certainly do not think choice is random, that’s what I’m arguing against. At the heart of libertarian version of free will, yes they are proposing random (non-causal) reasons for choice. Which again, to me makes choice meaningless.

        Definitely agree with you that uncreated intelligence is a game changer. It allows one to belong to themselves rather than be a byproduct of outside forces (which is the primary issue people raise with the Compatibilist view). I can’t see how that would help the cause of libertarian free will though.

        Most proponents of Libertarian free will seem to be religious apologists (very similar to proponents of young earth creationism) most who believe that God created us and are trying to reconcile that with God not being responsible for our choices. Our unique LDS theology isn’t bound by that issue however.

        Again, the majority of serious philosophers reject Libertarian free will outright, because ultimately there is no coherent way to say a choice is based on randomness and yet still attributable to the individual. People like William James or Blake Ostler obfuscate the obvious by introducing random (chance) into the initial process, but making the final choice deterministically rooted in the individual. This successfully builds a model in which the future is unknowable and the entire system can’t be said to be deterministic (due to the random component) but doesn’t add anything to make the will any more free, for once the random variables/choices are in front of the individual the actual choice made by the individual is causally determined (i.e. the act of free will itself is deterministic).

        There is no logical way around it, an act of free will must be deterministic, or it is meaningless. Whether there is random in the system somewhere that makes the whole system deterministic or indeterministic, and therefore whether future really is fixed or not is a different debate. But one thing is logically certain, if free will is innately incompatible with a fixed future, there can be no free will at all – because any given act of free will must be causally rooted in the individual, or the individual is not participating in the choice being made and and therefore has no free will.

      • 33 Eric Nielson April 23, 2017 at 6:35 pm

        I think you are expanding the definition of determinism to such a degree that it becomes all inclusive. To me the question to you is if all of us are eternal uncreated intelligences who are each creating out own destinies by our own causation (not our environment or God exclusively) then this does not seem to really be determinism. It seems for it to be determinism it must be all external. If we are uncreated eternal beings (not caused by anything) then our will is completely internal, which does not count as determinism.

        I agree that folks that argue for libertarian free will are in the minority, but again, I do not believe that many of the majority have ever seriously considered humans as being eternal and uncreated.

      • 34 Eric Nielson April 23, 2017 at 6:52 pm

        Brushing up a bit, It seems what I am advocating is an interactive dualism where the soul can override mere physics. And our case is even stronger given our unique necessary soul.

        It seems that you are advocating for something that would include some version of self-determinism which at some level appears to be a contradiction. This is why I think you are unfairly expanding the definition of determinism.

      • 35 Steve S April 23, 2017 at 7:07 pm

        Yes, a model of self-determinism is exactly what Compatibilists advocate. I agree that adding in the external self/intelligence/will is an expansion on that model.

      • 36 Eric Nielson April 23, 2017 at 8:03 pm

        It seems like a self-determining uncreated, uncaused, soul would be equivalent to libertarian free will, so no new model would be necessary.

      • 37 Steve S April 23, 2017 at 8:25 pm

        Self-determining, as opposed to random or chance being added into the mix, is determinism – and I believe specifically Compatibilism (because hard determinism probably wouldn’t attribute it to the self). It is effect from cause, and the future is theoretically knowable in this model. Libertarian free will is defined by at least one random variable as an input to choice. The model I am describing has no random variables or chance in the mix.

      • 38 Eric Nielson April 24, 2017 at 9:23 am

        Perhaps a last conclusion from James:

        Now, it is entirely immaterial, in this scheme, whether the creator leave the absolute chance-possibilities to be decided by himself, each when its proper moment arrives, or whether, on the contrary, he alienate this power from himself, and leave the decision out and out to finite creatures such as we men are. The great point is that the possibilities are really here. Whether it be we who solve them, or he working through us, at those soul-trying moments when fate’s scales seem to quiver, and good snatches the victory from evil or shrinks nerveless from the fight, is of small account, so long as we admit that the issue is decided nowhere else than here and now. That is what gives the palpitating reality to our moral life and makes it tingle, as Mr. Mallock says, with so strange and elaborate an excitement. This reality, this excitement, are what the determinisms, hard and soft alike, suppress by their denial that anything is decided here and now, and their dogma that all things were foredoomed and settled long ago. If it be so, may you and I then have been foredoomed to the error of continuing to believe in liberty. It is fortunate for the winding up of controversy that in every discussion with determinism this argumentum ad hominem can be its adversary’s last word.

  12. 39 Sean Healy April 22, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Imagine you’re watching a reality show; unscripted but with some kind of rules and/or framework. You have some foreknowledge of this show; either you have seen it before, or someone has told you about a certain event. In any case, you have absolute knowledge that a certain event is going to happen.

    Does the fact that you have absolute foreknowledge of that event mean that the participants did not have free will, or did not express that free will, in causing that event?

    I think this is what one commenter was getting at with God not being bound by time. Watching the reality show, we are not experiencing he same time frame in which the show unfolded. We can rewind and rewatch if we so desire, without affecting the free will of the participants.

    Of course, the analogy breaks down when we consider that God can actually participate in the same time frame, potentially affecting the previously known outcome. Since the outcome is now different, can we any longer call it “absolute foreknowledge”?

    (I haven’t read the original Ostler article; these points may be addressed there, or I may be misunderstanding something.)

  13. 40 Eric Nielson April 22, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Your analogy will be helpful I think. The show you are talking about is recorded, and therefore it already happened. Watch the reruns as many times as you want it will not change. The recording does not have free will. The participants may have had free will, but the recording does not.

    If the future already exists, then our lives are nothing more than a type of recording, and in that case, no, we would not have free will.

    • 41 Sean Healy April 23, 2017 at 9:23 am

      Basically, I think God knows exactly what will happen without his intervention (as if he were watching a recorded show). He also knows exactly what will happen given any particular intervention. The choice of if and how to intervene creates a range of potential alternate futures – each of which he knows.

      He then decides if and how to intervene – but if he intervenes, he does so in a way that will not compromise our free will. I.e., he knew that without his intervention the Ninevites were on a path to destruction. He chose to intervene by sending Jonah. The Ninevites repented and were therefore saved.

      However, I do not believe that the fact he knows how we will exercise our free will given a particular situation means that we do not have free will, any more than knowing that contestant A is going to eat a slug means that contestant A did not have free will when he ate the slug.

      God knows the outcome not because it is pre-determined, but because can (as it were) step outside of time and watch the recording, (As I have said, the analogy of a recording is not perfect. But it’s the best way I can think at the moment of to express the concept.)

      I don’t fully accept it, but I intrigued by the previously expressed idea that we are deterministic machines but that our eternal intelligence (with its free will) is one of our components. So God’s knowledge of how we will choose is not a negation of free will, but simply an awareness of how it will play out.

      “If the future already exists, then our lives are nothing more than a type of recording, and in that case, no, we would not have free will.”

      As we make each frame of the recording, we have free will. To someone watching the recording after the fact, it may seem as though we don’t.

      I believe that the future is not fixed – that foreknowledge of a particular outcome implies the potential to change that outcome*. God has such foreknowledge of our individual futures, and he can, if and when he chooses, make us aware of an outcome, giving us the ability to change it if we choose to do so.

      *Within certain limits, of course – foreknowledge of an earthquake may not give us the ability to prevent it, but we could at least warn people and hopefully save lives.

      If by the definition you and/or Ostler are using, that means God does not have “absolute foreknowledge”, then I guess I agree with the proposition.

      • 42 Eric Nielson April 23, 2017 at 10:26 am

        If the future exists, then it is fixed and we do not have libertarian free will. If God knows the future perfectly then the future is fixed and we do not have libertarian free will. There may be a lack of coercion, we may have the sensation that our will correlates to our behavior, we may feel that we are free, but under such circumstances we are not.

  14. 43 Sean Healy April 23, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    First, to be sure I understand how you are using the term “free will”, I cite from Wikipedia:

    “Libertarianism holds onto a concept of free will that requires the agent to be able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances….Physical determinism, under the assumption of physicalism, implies there is only one possible future and is therefore not compatible with libertarian free will.”

    If this is what you mean, and if I understand your argument correctly, you are asserting that God’s foreknowledge concerning which of the many possible futures will be the one that actually comes to pass means that there is really only one possible future, and thus there is no free will.

    I do not agree that such foreknowledge rules out free will because I believe that God is not bound by what we perceive as time. His foreknowledge comes from the fact that he can view time as though it has already occurred, like watching a recording.

    However, just as with a recording, the fact remains that at the moment the action actually occurred, it was possible for the agent to take a different action, even though someone watching the event unfold from a future perspective knows which one he will choose.

    To switch analogies, God knows what will happen not because he is the author of the book, but because he is a reviewer who got an advance copy before publication.

    The fact that God can both exist outside of, and participate in, what we perceive as time muddies my analogies, but I can’t think of a better way to express it.

    • 44 Eric Nielson April 23, 2017 at 6:22 pm

      I completely disagree with this. If the future already exists (whether God knows it or not) then there is no free will. We would be just actors in a play that cannot go off script. God could not go off script either. God would be completely impotent and inactive. He could do nothing regarding the future. It would be futile and vain to pray to him. And useless to worship him. He could do nothing whatsoever.

  15. 45 Rob Osborn April 23, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    If God makes decisions then three facts exist. 1. The future is not known by God. 2. We truly have free will. 3. The future is not set in stone.

    • 47 Steve S April 23, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      2) I don’t see any connection. If God makes decisions, why does it follow that we necessarily have free will?

      1&3) I’d be interested to see your logic here. If you’ve read the discussion you’ll probably know that I disagree with your conclusion.

      My guess is that the logic you’re using could also be used to answer “yes” to “Is it a real possibility that God will sin (and cease to be God) at some future time?” Which also means answering “no” to the question “Can we truly rely on God to always do the right thing?”

      • 48 Rob Osborn April 23, 2017 at 6:54 pm

        If God makes decisions it means that There is at least two things to choose from and either one changes or effects the events differently as they unfold. If The future is perfectly known by God then it also means that God would already know beforehand every single thing he would say, do, act, etc, before it actually happened and thus he could only do exactly what the story says for him to do. It would mean he is not capable of making any decision but merely doing only what would be set in stone over which he would have no control over. But, on the other hand, if we say that God does make decisions it means that at least two paths of the future exist and once he makes that decision then it changes or effects the future. If we say God has free will, then it means he truly makes decisions in real time from multiple paths that could be chosen. This isnt to say he doesnt control his will, ironically, it means he controlls his will in real time to bring to pass his works. Its cause and effect and reacting to the effect of free will.

        I find it rather silly that people would think God knows everything because it would mean that God doesnt direct or control anything but is a mere puppet. How much would he know and why? It would also make God evil because he would knowingly create and raise up certain spirits destined for failure of the which his interactions with them being for the sole purpose and cause of their eventual failure.

    • 49 Eric Nielson April 23, 2017 at 8:05 pm

      I might add the (2) is only that we have potential free will.

  16. 50 Sean Healy April 24, 2017 at 10:25 am

    One more attempt to explain my view:

    John is walking down the street one day, when he notices a strange portal in front of him. He examines it for a bit, then decides to enter it. The transit through the portal relocates him to 30 seconds in the past and a block down the street, from which vantage point he sees himself examining the portal?

    Does pre-transit John have free will?

    If I understand your view, he does not – at least, not regarding whether to enter the portal – because post-transit John already knows he’s going to do it.

    However, even though to an outside observer, post-transit John’s knowledge appears to temporally precede the action of entering the portal (and thus would constitute foreknowledge), from post-transit John’s own perspective, the knowledge follows the action, and from any perspective, the knowledge logically and consequentially results from the action, not the other way around.

    Since the knowledge is a result of the action, the knowledge cannot be the cause of the action, and thus free will is possible. While there may be some other reason pre-transit John will enter the portal (chance, determinism, whatever), post-transit John’s foreknowledge cannot be the reason.

    Similarly, since God is not bound by what we perceive as time, his foreknowledge (or what appears to us to be foreknowledge) results from our actions; it does not determine them.

    Perhaps I’m violating your constraints; that is, perhaps you don’t consider this kind of foreknowledge “absolute foreknowledge”.

    If that is the case, I don’t accept that your constraints describe the true nature of free will and God’s foreknowledge, and thus there is no contradiction between the two.

    On the other hand, if you accept this kind of foreknowledge as “absolute foreknowledge”, then I would say the argument falls at P1, or perhaps at P3’s restatement of P1; specifically, God’s foreknowledge being part of the past. It only seems that way to us because we are stuck in time, but logically and consequentially, our actions precede his knowledge.

    • 51 Rob Osborn April 24, 2017 at 10:56 am

      One thing about “time” is tgat God is not outside of linear time as far as cause and effect go in the universe. The scriptures do in fact speak about the reckoning of Gods time. Also, God being able to bring to pass his will means that just like us, God deals in the present with both a future set of events yet to come to pass and a set if past events that already came to pass and cannot be changed. God is only outside of time as far as aging or death is concerned. His reality is our reality at the same time. His reckoning- the passage of days according to revolution around the sun, may be different but he is neither ahead of us nor behind us in the linear reality of the present of which exists simultaneously for everyone.

      • 52 Sean Healy April 24, 2017 at 11:51 am

        First, I disagree that the scriptures require that particular interpretation; it is not the only interpretation, or even the only obvious interpretation. (Of course, like all opinions, what is “obvious” is subjective.)

        I think you are imposing a particular understanding of time on the scriptures. (But then again, so am I – the scriptures are not unambiguous on this point.)

        Second, how God acquires his knowledge is not really all that important to my view. (I happen to think he acquires that knowledge by an ability to observe, if not directly participate in, events outside what we perceive as the normal flow of time, but it doesn’t really matter.)

        The important thing is that his knowledge is logically and consequentially subsequent to our actions, not prior to them – even though it appears to precede them.

        That is (using the propositions as an example), he knows I am going to rob a bank because I will choose to do so, I do not end up robbing a bank simply because he foresaw that I would do so.

        Or to put it in the terms you used in your post, the actions are the “cause” and the knowledge is the “effect”, not the other way around. This is where I presume you’ll disagree, since the knowledge precedes the action in what we perceive as the linear flow of time.

        However, some experiments with quantum entanglement have suggested that effects can in fact precede causes in time – even without divine agents.

    • 53 Eric Nielson April 24, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      Knowledge really has nothing to do with it. If the future exists at all, there is simply no free will. Not for God or anyone else.

      • 54 Rob Osborn April 24, 2017 at 2:19 pm

        No effect can ever precede the cause. Pysicists have shown what appears to be this phenomenon but in reality they just do not understand the properties and nature of light. It has never been proven that an effect precedes the cause. Not sure what you are getting at with your other ideas. The idea that Gid could somehow be outside of the linear flow of time makes no sense- it means nothing, its not thought out.

      • 55 Sean Healy April 25, 2017 at 10:36 am

        Then I suppose that I do not accept that the future exists, according to whatever definition of “exist” you are using, I know that your definition of “exist” at least includes the idea that it is fixed, and I disagree that the future is fixed.

      • 56 Rob Osborn April 25, 2017 at 10:47 am

        The future, a word that defines events yet to happen, is fluid in that its entirely predicated on events as they happen in the present. All we have to do to change the future is to change the events that happen in the present. We control the future events by knowing and/or controlling the present.

      • 57 Sean Healy April 25, 2017 at 11:10 am


        “The idea that Gid could somehow be outside of the linear flow of time makes no sense- it means nothing, its not thought out.”

        I disagree with your use of an absolute reference point here. Let us say instead that it makes no sense *to you*, it means nothing *to you*, *you* have not thought it out.

        Have you ever read “Flatland”? The analogy with physical space might help you understand what I’m trying to say, even if you disagree with it. The Sphere lived in a three-dimensional space but was able to enter the two-dimensional space of the Flatlanders. I’m not saying that God doesn’t have a timeframe whose present he lives in, just that it may not be the same as our timeframe and its present.

        And in any case, as I said, my main point does not require that God himself exist outside the linear flow of time. Consider the pre-crime unit from “Minority Report”. They did not exist outside the flow of time, they merely had access to information from the future. Their knowledge of future crimes resulted from the fact that the perpetrators were going to commit the crime, not the other way around. They were then able to employ their free will by acting to prevent the crime, thereby changing the future.

        “Pysicists have shown what appears to be this phenomenon but in reality they just do not understand the properties and nature of light.”

        This is a sweeping statement, one I would not care to make unless I had pretty solid reason to believe I perfectly understood the nature and properties of light myself. I would venture to guess that you do not have such an understanding, and that your certainty that the physicists in question are wrong comes from an a priori commitment to the linearness of cause and effect.

      • 58 Rob Osborn April 25, 2017 at 10:33 pm


        I guess I should modify my statements. I have thought it out a lot over the years and studied the scriptures to know the mysteries on the matter. I have received answers, had special dreams, etc. At one time I was so obsessed by it it was all I thought of for several years. I believe that God can and does see the future according to the power of urim and thummins, devices that forsee the future as it would play out from that moment forward based on calculations of probabilities when all that can be known is known. Its kind of like a super computer in a sense. But its fluid, it changes constantly according to the decisions made by actions in the present. Time truly is relative in that in can pass faster and slower depending on motion and placement and one can go inside and outside the different realities. But one however can neither reverse nor fast forward to an alternate reality in either the past or present because no such reality exists. For God it means he can be outside of time in the sense of how fast or slow one is reckoning it, but he cannot be either in the past or future of that reality as it does not exist as a reality. God can also use the physics of time and space to slow time down to almost a nonexistant state and travel anywhere physically in an instant in the universe. Our white stone we receive is also a transporting device alobg with it being a urim and thummin.

        More to say later, gotta run

  17. 59 Tim W May 25, 2017 at 12:52 am

    I’ve always struggled with this concept: if God knows all of my actions and thoughts then he must be me.

  18. 60 Eric Nielson May 29, 2017 at 8:42 am

    I would say that He doesn’t and isn’t.

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