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Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will1

  • Linda Zagzebski (a1)


If God knows everything he must know the future, and if he knows the future he must know the future acts of his creatures. But then his creatures must act as he knows they will act. How then can they be free? This dilemma has a long history in Christian philosophy and is now as hotly disputed as ever. The medieval scholastics were virtually unanimous in claiming both that God is omniscient and that humans have free will, though they disagreed in their accounts of how the two are compatible. With the Reformation the debate became even more lively since there were Protestant philosophers who denied both claims, and many philosophers ever since have either thought it impossible to reconcile them or have thought it possible only because they weaken one or the other.



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page 280 note 1 Actually it is not crucial to my analysis to accept the omnitemporality of truth. There does not have to be a tenseless proposition true at all times corresponding to every fact. All that is necessary is to accept that if (I) is true, then God knows the truth of future contingents, whether these are properly expressed in a tensed or a tenseless form.

page 280 note 2 Augustine, St, On Free Will, trans. by Burleigh, John H. in Augustine: Earlier Writings, The Library of Christian Classics, VI (Philadelphia, 1953), 175.

page 280 note 3 Augustine, St, The City of God, bk. v, ch. x, trans. by Smith, J. J., Basic Writings of St Augustine, II (New York, 1948), 68.

page 281 note 1 Kenny, Anthony, The God of the Philosophers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979). He seemed to express more hope for reconciling the two in his earlier article, ‘Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will’ in Brody, Baruch, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1974), pp. 403–13.

page 281 note 2 Runzo, Joseph, ‘Omniscience and Freedom for Evil’, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion XII (1881), 131–47.

page 281 note 3 Swinburne, Richard, The Coherence of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977).

page 282 note 1 Boethius' solution can be found in The Consolation of Philosophy, part v.

page 282 note 2 Aquinas, St Thomas, Summa Theologica, part 1, translated by a Dominican Father of the English Province, reprinted in Brody, op. cit. p. 392.

page 282 note 3 A recent attempt to defend the timelessness position can be found in Hacker's, William article ‘Concerning the Intelligibility of “God is Timeless”The New Scholasticism LVII, 2 (Spring 1983), 170–95.

page 282 note 4 I am grateful to Alvin Plantinga for pointing out to me this difficulty with the Aquinas solution.

page 283 note 1 Kenny, Anthony in Brody, op. cit. p. 409. William Hasker attempts an answer to Prior (ibid.), but it is open to Plantinga's objection.

page 283 note 2 Pike, Nelson, God and Timelessness (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970) and Kenny, ibid. For the same point see also Davis, Stephen T., Logic and the Nature of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1883), chap. I, and Woltetsdorff, Nicholas, ‘God Everlasting’, in God and the Good, ed. Orlebeke, Clifton J. and Smides, Lewis B. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975).

page 283 note 3 This seems to be the case not only for Aquinas, but also for certain contemporary supporters of this view such as Purtill, Richard in ‘Foreknowledge and Fatalism’, Religious Studies X (1974), 319.

page 283 note 4 See William, and Kneale, Mary, The Development of Logic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1862), p. 48 for a brief discussion of these points.

page 283 note 5 See Kneale, , pp. 569–70 for a discussion of the view of Lukasiewicz.

page 284 note 1 See Bradley, and Swartz, , Possible Worlds: An Introduction to Logic and Its Philosophy (Hackett, 1979) for a good explanation of these concepts.

page 285 note 1 Ockham's idea of accidental necessity is the necessity which attaches to the past simply in virtue of its being past. A good discussion of the notion is contained in Freddoso's, Alfred J. article, ‘Accidental Necessity and Logical Determinism’, Journal of Philosophy LXXX, 5 (05 1983), 257–78.

page 285 note 2 Edwards, Jonathan is an example of a philosopher who confuses necessity and inalterability. See Freedom of the Will (1754), section 12, reprinted in Brody, p. 393.

page 285 note 3 Kenny, Anthony in Brody, op. cit. p. 411.

page 285 note 4 By saying that God's knowing is an event that occurs at moments of time, in fact all moments of time, I do not mean to preclude the possibility that in addition, God's knowing may occur in a sense which goes beyond time. I am sympathetic with St Anselm's account in the Monologium, chap. XXII, of the sense in which God can exist both within time at every moment as well as outside time.

page 286 note 1 Runzo, ibid. p. 143; Pike, Nelson, ‘Divine Foreknowledge, Human Freedom and Possible Worlds’, Philosophical Review LXXXVI, 2 (04 1977), 216.

page 288 note 1 Aquinas in Brody, p. 392.

page 288 note 2 Aquinas, ibid. p. 391. It is interesting to note that Ockham believed that the proposition that God knows p (future) is contingent, Philosophical Writings, ed. and trans. by Philotheus Boehner, O.F.M. (London: Nelson 1967), pp. 134–5.

page 288 note 3 Fischer, John Martin, ‘Freedom and Foreknowledge’, Philosophical Review XCII; I (01 1983), 6779.

page 288 note 4 Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 71.

page 289 note 1 Nelson Pike seems to be calling for just such an analysis in ‘Divine Foreknowledge, Human Freedom, and Possible Worlds’, ibid. He thinks, though, that it is not possible.

page 290 note 1 I Swinburne, p. 151.

page 291 note 1 Ibid. p. 160.

page 291 note 2 Mavrodes, George does this in his paper, ‘Is the Past Unpreventable?Faith and Philosophy, I, 2 (04 1984), 131–46. Others who take seriously the possibility of backwards causation include Mackie, J. L., ‘The Direction of Causation’, Phil. Review (1966), p. 441, and von Wright, , Explanation and Understanding (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971), pp. 6981.

page 291 note 3 Ehring, Douglas, ‘Causal Asymmetry’, Journal of Philosophy LXXIX, 12 (10 1982), 761–74.

page 293 note 1 Adams, Robert, ‘Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil’, American Philosophical Quarterly XIV, 109–17.

page 293 note 2 Plantinga, Alvin, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford, 1974), chap. IX.

page 293 note 3 Kenny, , p. 67.

page 294 note 1 Runzo, , p. 145.

page 297 note 1 The law L may be such that it allows us to deduce E from L and C, where C consists of C1 and C2, but where we can also deduce C1 from L, E and C2.

page 298 note 1 Plantinga, Alvin makes a point similar to this in the 1980 Aquinas Lecture, ‘Does God Have a Nature?’, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1979), pp. 145–6.

1 I am grateful to a number of people for their meticulous comments on an earlier version of this paper, particularly Mn viPlantinga, George Mavrodes, Joseph Runzo, James Henninger. I also benefited greatly from the discussions of the paper when an earlier version was read at the Philosophy of Religion Society meeting in Claremont (October 1983), and at the Society of Christian Philosophers meeting at Notre Dame (March 1984).


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