Friday, August 17, 2007

Why There Can't Be Infallible Foreknowledge of Libertarian Free Choices

I say that God cannot have infallible foreknowledge of creaturely libertarian free choices. By 'infallible' I mean the impossibility of error. By 'foreknowledge' I mean knowledge of an event that is temporally prior to that event. Thus, "S foreknows that event E will occur" means that at some time t S knows that E will occur at some time subsequent to t. By 'knowledge' here I shall mean merely non-accidentally true belief. By 'true belief' I mean one the propositional content of which corresponds to how things actually are. By 'libertarian free choices' I mean choices in which the agent has an unconditional power to choose otherwise immediately prior to the time of the choice.

Now, for knowledge to obtain requires that there be a proper sort of relation between knower and known. Since knowledge entails truth, and truth consists in correspondence with reality, knowledge requires that there be a correspondence between mind and world, between what is believed to be the case and what is the case. Furthermore, since knowledge entails that true belief be non-accidental, there must be something that grounds or secures the mind-world correspondence. The possibilities for this seem to be limited to the following:
  1. World determines mind (e.g., God knows what will happen because it does happen).
  2. Mind determines world (e.g., God knows what will happen because he decrees that it happen and ensures that that decree is fulfilled).
  3. There is a probabilistic, non-determining relation between mind and world.
  4. There is a brute, ungrounded correlation between mind and world.
If (1) is the case, then God can have infallible knowledge of creaturely libertarian free choices, but it cannot, strictly speaking, be "fore"-knowledge. Rather, since God's knowledge on this scenario is grounded in the actual occurrences of the events themselves it is more aptly described as "post"-knowledge, for the events must already have happened before God can know about them. Proponents of divine timelessness will resist that way of putting it, but they too deny that God literally has "fore"-knowledge.

If (2) is the case, then God can have infallible knowledge of creaturely choices, but these choices cannot be free in a libertarian sense. If God knows that a creaturely choice will be made because he determines that it is made, then the creature cannot have unconditional power to choose otherwise. Instead, the creature will only have a conditional power of contrary choice - it is only IF God had decreed otherwise, that one could have chosen otherwise.

If (3) is the case, then God can have "knowledge" in the sense of non-accidentally true beliefs about what creaturely libertarian free choices will be made, but this knowledge cannot be infallible. Infallible knowledge requires not merely non-accidental truth, but also the impossibility of falsity.

Finally, if (4) is the case, then God can have true beliefs about what creatures with libertarian freedom will do, but not knowledge. The reason is that, on this option, the non-accidentality criterion for knowledge is not satisfied. That God's beliefs about what will happen sync up with what does happen turns out to be sheer luck.

So something has to give. We have to reject either (a) creaturely libertarian freedom, or (b) exhaustive, infallible divine foreknowledge.


At 8/17/2007 9:59 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Hi Alan, so is the upshot of all this that it's misleading to put the debate over open theism as a debate over whether God has "exhaustive, infallible divine foreknowledge"? (Since, after all, more classical free will theists will hold to your option 1, hold that God has exhaustive definite knowledge of all times and yet view God as outside time and hence having no strictly speaking "foreknowledge". They would not be open theists but would also not in your sense believe that God has "exhaustive, infallible divine foreknowledge" since on their view God has no foreknowledge or postknowledge ("post" being understood temporally here) either)

Maybe then, if we reserve "foreknowledge" for knowledge which is located temporally prior to its object, we should cast the debate not in terms of foreknowledge but in terms of something else like "exhaustive, definite knowledge of what happens at all times" or something like that. What are your thoughts? Any better way of putting it?

At 8/17/2007 10:06 PM, Blogger Ian said...

I'm also curious why on option 1 "the events must already have happened before God can know about them"? Are you assuming a combination of no future plus no molinism? If so, couldn't someone just deny one of those assumptions? (Of course, you would reject the denial of the former and I think both of us would reject the denial of the latter - but at least these are positions some folks do in fact take)

At 8/18/2007 4:16 AM, Blogger Roman Altshuler said...

What if we separate the divine perspective from the human perspective. We might say that God, existing outside of time, has direct knowledge of everything that occurs at any point in time. This is neither fore- nor post-knowledge: it is direct knowledge by observation.

Since we exist in time, however, we cannot conceive of an atemporal knowledge. So we must think of God as existing at some point in time (i.e., there is a God right now, at this very moment). But the God we think of as existing right now must be the same God who exists outside of time and knows all events that, for us, are in the future.

So from the divine perspective, we can say that God does not have fore- or post-knowledge. But from our perspective, God does have fore-knowledge.

At 8/18/2007 6:57 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Ian,

That's right. Non-open freewill theists won't necessarily have a problem with my conclusion, for many of them are quite happy to admit that, strictly speaking, God does not have foreknowledge but rather, as you put it, "knowledge of what happens at all times".

Perhaps one way to hang on to (1) without dropping the "fore" in foreknowledge is to affirm a sort of backwards causation in which events as they occur bring about God's prior beliefs that those events would happen. Hanging foreknowledge on backwards causation strikes me as a rather desperate move, however.

Regarding Molinism, I don't see that it gives a real alternative to the ones I've given. On that account, God's foreknowledge results from deductive inference: CCFs + initial conditions --> foreknowledge. But this just shifts the problem. Even if there are true "would" counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, how could God infallibly know which ones were true? There is nothing intrinsic to those CCFs that marks them as true, so presumably God would need to have some kind of external criterion. But what could that be? Not something in creation, since this knowledge is supposed to be pre-volitional. Not something in God, since the their truth is supposed to be independent of either God's nature or God's will. In short, even if we set the grounding problem aside, I don't see how the Molinist can account for God's having infallible knowledge of these CCF's. And if he can't know infallibly that the premises of the foreknowledge inference are correct, then how can the inference yield infallible foreknowledge?

At 8/18/2007 7:05 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Roman,

It is typical in metaphysical argument to aim to speak the literal, unvarnished truth of the matter about how things are. Accordingly, the question of whether God has "foreknowledge" is not to be understood as a perspectival thesis but as an absolute, nonperspectival thesis.

Now, if we are right to identify the absolute truth with what obtains from a "God's-eye" perspective, then your proposal amounts to rejecting foreknowledge in favor of timeless knowledge as the literal, metaphysical truth of the matter.

If that's not your position, then let me ask you whether your proposal that God has foreknowledge from our perspective and timeless knowledge from his perspective is itself meant (a) merely as a description of how things appear from our perspective, (b) merely as a description of how things appear from God's perspective, or (c) an absolute description of how things simply are?

At 8/20/2007 5:44 AM, Blogger Roman Altshuler said...

It is indeed typical of metaphysics within a certain tradition to speak something like a literal, absolute truth. Whether, after Kant, such an approach is genuinely viable or simply regressive is a different question.

But my suggestion on how to take up the problem is not Kantian. What is the "absolutely truth" of how things are? Take the world studied by the sciences. What is the absolute, objective truth about such a world? It could be seen as an ideal posited on the premise of future agreement among all researches. But if we apply this view of objectivity to a world known both to us and to God, then we run into the problem that the human and divine perspective are essentially irreconcilable, so there is no one absolute way of grasping the world.

Furthermore: if God necessarily perceives the world in a timeless way, while human beings necessarily perceive the world in a temporal way, then the sort of knowledge God has--if, that is, we have any access to God within our world--must necessarily appear to us as foreknowledge.

I grant that this seems like a weird approach. The problem with rejecting it entirely, it seems to me, is that we are then forced to say that either God's perspective on the world is an illusion, or that ours is. We have to say that either God's perception of all times as one is wrong, or that our perception of time as involving change is wrong. This would strike me as unacceptable.

At 8/20/2007 4:24 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Roman,

You seem to want to say both (a) that God exists timelessly and (b) that time is real (because we participate in it). Hence, you refuse to identify God's perspective on reality with how reality is in itself.

I think this perspectival dualism of yours leads to an incoherence, in the same way that Kant's phenomena/noumena distinction does. Kant says that we can't know things in themselves. Either that is a claim about things in themselves or it is not. If the former, then Kant claims to know something that he says we can't know. If the latter, then it only amounts to the claim that it "appears" that we cannot know things in themselves and doesn't assert that this is "really" the case, and the absoluteness of the phenomena/noumena distinction breaks down.

Similarly, either the claim that God does not know reality as it is in itself is a claim about reality as it is in itself, or it is merely a claim about appearances (God's or ours). If the former, then God is not omniscient. He does not know all that is as it is. If the latter, then the absoluteness of the distinction between God's perspective vs. how things are absolutely and without qualification breaks down.

You embrace this apparent "weirdness", as you put it, because you find it unacceptable to give up either (a) or (b). In my view (a) has very little going for it, and so I'm happy to reject it. As a result, I'm able to have a unified metaphysics, whereas you can't.

Finally, you ask what is the absolute, objective truth about the would studied by the sciences? I say that it's whatever would be understood about the world from a God's-eye perspective. In other words, I reject the idea that the human and divine perspectives are essentially irreconcilable.

At 8/20/2007 5:04 PM, Blogger Roman Altshuler said...

Hi Alan,

A question about your Kant claim: I don't see how denial of knowledge about X is a claim about X. You seem to be treating "we can't know things in themselves" as a self-contradictory proposition. There would be a contradiction if the claim involved in an attribution of existence, but Kant never does this (at least in the theoretical philosophy). So I'm not sure where you think the phenomena/noumena distinction breaks down.

I've clearly missed your point, though, since I am surprised by your willingness to reject (a). I had the impression that you were willing to take up the view that, strictly speaking, God has knowledge of everything that happens at all times. I can't imagine how that could make sense (without attributing foreknowledge to God) unless God exists timelessly. That is, if God exists in time and has knowledge of everything that happens at all times, then at any point t, God knows what happens at t+n, and this just is foreknowledge. So I am missing something.

But I also don't think the account is all that weird. If God perceives reality without time, while we perceive it in time, this means that reality looks different to God and to us. I don't see a massive problem with saying that God sees everything and so is omnicient, but does not see everything from every possible perspective, since some perspectives (like the human perspective, which lacks knowledge of the future) would be limitations on omnicience. This would not need to imply that time is not real, but only that it's reality rests on its being intrinsic to our kind of perception. I should wait to see what you say to the previous paragraph, though, or I'll just repeat myself.

Also, of course, if you don't find this train of thought interesting, I will not be offended if you wanted to break it off.

At 8/21/2007 5:32 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Roman,

Regarding the incoherence of Kant's approach to metaphysics, I recommend to you pp. 7-9 of E.J. Lowe's recent book "A Survey of Metaphysics". The basic problem for Kant is this: He claims to establish certain theses about the nature of human cognition. He also say that we cannot know things in themselves. But if he's right about human cognition then we can know something about things in themselves, namely, we can know that we are cognizers of a certain sort.

Regarding (a), the claim that God exists timelessly, I reject this as inconsistent with both divine freedom and divine omniscience, theses which I deem more fundamental to theism than timelessness. I argue the former point here. As for the latter, I think there are tensed truths and that these require intrinsically tensed truthmakers, which a timeless God could not know. (Knowledge of a tensed truth requires the ability to locate oneself temporally in relation to a given event. Timeless beings can't do this because they don't stand in any temporal relations.)

I reject the idea that God has knowledge of everything that happens at all times because I don't think the phrase "everything that happens at all times" refers to anything in particular. On my view as an open theist, there simply is no complete, fully determinate timeline of events stretching from creation to kingdom come for God, or anyone, to know.

Further, I don't believe that God exists "in" time (or "out" of time, for that matter). That way of speaking suggests the metaphor of time as a container. In so doing, it "spatializes" time, thereby turning it into something that (on my view at least) it is not, namely, a stretched out dimension of reality. Instead of saying that God exists "in" time, I prefer to say that God "experiences sequentially".

Finally, if (as you put it) the reality of time "rests on its being intrinsic to our kind of perception", then you are (it seems to me) denying the reality of time. What exists on your view, I take it, is not time, but human beliefs about time and the timeless fact that humans conceive of the world as though it were temporal. In general, to say that something only exists "in our thoughts" or "from our perspective" is to deny that it exists simpliciter. To say, for example, that Santa Claus only exists in our thoughts and traditions is implicitly to deny that Santa Claus exists.

At 8/23/2007 3:35 AM, Blogger Enigman said...

Hi Alan, I've tagged you here, it being the silly season. But about the above, even our free choices being between options that have been given to us (which seems to be the case even when we are inspired with original thoughts, as the word 'inspired' implies), it seems to me that God must have OKed all our options even before we make our choices (given that God is the one and only Creator of this Universe). Is that right?

At 8/30/2007 12:39 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Enigman,

Thanks for the tag, and sorry for the slow reply. I've been busy the last several days getting my materials together for the Fall semester.

I think you're right that our options are in some sense given to us by God. I think that Thomists are right to speak of 'divine concurrence' with our choices - at least, something like that seems to be required by the idea that creation is 'sustained' by God. So, yeah, I think you're right. I don't have the metaphysics of free will completely worked out (does anyone, honestly?), but I do take seriously the statement in John 15 that "apart from me you can do nothing".

At 9/25/2007 3:57 PM, Blogger Jack Leon said...


You had posted Norman Swartz's comments on the modal fallacy which states that God can indeed know the truth value of a future contingent proposition; and this proposition remains contingent; hence free will is maintained. You acknowledged the reasoning and mentioned that this was a defense against logical determinism however one could always argue causal determinsim. In order to argue causal determinsm wouldn't one have to deny the sovereign free moral agency of man? If this be the case, then foreknowledge of future contingents does not preclude free will. I think Open Theists have made this all too complicated for the sake of preserving free will. We must remember 2. points: 1. Anyone can undermine the arguments of Open Theism or Free will by simply denying the underlying assumptions that man is a free moral agent. It doesn't take a thesis to do so. Secondly, if Hume's problem with induction has any validity whatsoever, infering how God know's and what He knows could never count as knowledge. In short, only omniscience can know omnscience; Talk about "other minds"...

At 10/01/2007 2:30 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Leon,

Swartz seems to think that free-will/foreknowledge incompatibility arguments can be simply sidestepped by showing that they commit the "Modal Fallacy".

My criticism of Swartz are (1) that most incompatibility arguments don't commit the modal fallacy that he identifies and (2) that the relevant arguments turn on the truth or falsity of substantive claims about reality (e.g., Is causal determinism correct or not?).

Regarding your two points:
(1) One doesn't undermine a position by simply denying its presuppositions. One undermines it only by arguing that those presuppositions can be plausibly denied.
(2) Hume's problem of induction is a red herring. Incompatibility arguments are deductive - they attempt to show by conceptual analysis that libertarian freedom and infallible foreknowledge are incompatible (with respect to the same actions and choices).

At 10/06/2007 3:11 PM, Blogger Pelagius said...


Swartz's article does indeed point out that "there can be infallible foreknowledge of libertarian free choices. His comments were that Open Theists view infallible foreknowledge and free will as contradictory, yet this ostensible friction is the product of a modal fallacy.

Swartz merely pointed out that logical determinism doesn't pose a threat with regards absolute foreknowledge precluding libertarian free will.

Assuming that we are free moral agents, I can’t think of another challenge (including causal determinism) which poses a threat to libertarian free will. The belief in absolute foreknowledge and libertarian free will is logically sound. This of course of philosophically uninteresting.

This view of absolute foreknowledge and free will is counterintuitive yet there are many other relationships and paradoxes in logic that are also counterintuitive.

God simply knows the truth value of future contingent propositions and this does not preclude free will. I even know the truth value of "some" future contingent propositions. "If my wife and I have a child next year, by the time she turns 21 she will have committed at least one sin of her own free will." I know this with such certainty; know body would even dare challenge my justification. Secondly, unless one believes that we are cogs in the wheel of causality; causal determinism doesn’t pose a threat either. As free moral agents we are sovereign (little s) and our "minds" are not subject to causal determinism.

Regarding the justice of God; if I know that my daughter will sin by the age of 21; and my wife go ahead and have a child with this certain knowledge, am I responsible for her sin? No, neither is God responsible for our sin even though He knew it before He created the universe. Remember God's wisdom is infinite (without limits). We will never "work out" the mind of God. Paul wrote “in Him we move and live and have our being”; even our libertarian free will has limits; but God has set them such that we are fully responsible for our actions; despite His knowing our choices.

There is no need to devise a "multi-truth valued" logic to preserve libertarina free will. Once one educates their intuitions to the laws of modality and understands certain fallacies; it is easy enough to understand how classic logic can accomodate foreknowledge and free will. I know much time has been invested in Open Theism and one is not merely going to abandon this; but the truth be known, The Open View is unnecessary.

God bless,

Pelagius (Leon)

At 10/06/2007 5:31 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hello Pelagius,

Short of Molinism, which is problematic in a bunch of ways that I won't go into, the only way to effect a reconciliation of infallible foreknowledge with creaturely libertarian freedom is to employ an Ockhamist tense logic. On this view, if it is true now that you, say, mow your lawn tomorrow, this is because tomorrow you mow your lawn.

Ockhamism has problems, however. For one thing, it's not clear how it's being true now that you will mow your lawn tomorrow could be infallibly knowable now unless either (a) present reality necessitates your action tomorrow, or (b) future events, including you and your action already "exist" and can be observed, so to speak, from "outside" of time. If (a) is the case, then infallible foreknowledge is possible, but it's not compatible with libertarian freedom. If (b) is the case, then infallible knowledge of libertarian choices is possible, but it's not fore-knowledge. Otherwise, if neither (a) nor (b) is the case, then it's hard to see how any being could have infallible knowledge that you will mow your lawn tomorrow.

Swartz, like most Ockhamists, doesn't engage with this problem. He simply assumes that Ockhamism is the correct tense logic. Moreover, he simply assumes that since (per Ockhamism) it is true in advance that you will (freely) mow your lawn tomorrow just in case you do mow your lawn tomorrow, it is therefore knowable in advance that you will mow your lawn tomorrow.

You say that God "simply knows" the truth value of future contingents. My question is how is this is possible? In the absence of a direct answer to that question (punting to mystery and to paradoxes of logic doesn't count), neither you nor Swartz can honestly claim to have shown that infallible foreknowledge is compatible with libertarian freedom.

Your claim to have foreknowledge of some future contingents is beside the point. In every example you can give, at least one of the following will hold: (a) the knowledge is not infallible, or (b) it is not obviously a case of libertarian freedom. For that reason, alleged examples of human foreknowledge of libertarian free choices establish nothing.

At 11/17/2007 8:09 AM, Blogger Pelagius said...


In the gospel of John 6:64 "Jesus 'knew' from the beginning who they were who didn't believe and who it was that would betray Him"

Since neither of us is a determinist; we would have great difficulty accepting that God ordained Judas to betray Jesus. True that God does ordain certain events; yet for God to ordain Judas to betray Christ was to ordain Judas to eternal condemnation; for Jesus said in other places that it would be better that the one who betrayed Him would have never been born. Now we are back to determinism 101.

I must conclude that either theological determinism is true; or Jesus infallibly knew what Judas would freely do. There is a third possibility; this statement of Christ’s could have been the product of induction; and Christ could have possibly missed the boat with His prophecy.

Although I find this very difficult because to know who it is who will betray you would require the knowledge of thousand of free will choices of the agent and her (in this case his) acquaintances. The same holds for the betrayal of Peter. For Christ to know that Peter would betray Him before the cock crowed thrice; would require Christ to know thousands of free will choices of Peter, the slave girl and all others that had any impact on Peter or those around the fire.

I think since the bible declares that God's knowledge is infinite and without limit; and ours is infinite. We will never know how or what God knows. We don't even know the truth value of "every event has a cause"; much less how God acquires knowledge. I think if God were to come down and speak to us about the topic of forekowledge it would resemble a conversation that He had with Job " say you understand My foreknowledge...tell me, where were you when I framed the world?, Have you ever commanded the evening?..."


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