The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Libertarian Freedom in Contrast to William Hasker’s Argument Against Theological Fatalism

by Max Andrews

I. The Argument

William Hasker has a deep commitment to the position that man holds a high level of libertarian freedom.  In his section on “Freedom, Necessity, and God,” Hasker takes the libertarian to task by challenging him with free will’s compatibility with divine foreknowledge.[1]  Hasker’s argument states that because God foreknows an agent’s action the agent necessarily fulfills that action.

  1. It is now true that I will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.  (Assumption).
  2. It is impossible that God should at any time believe anything false or fail to believe anything which is true (Assumption:  divine omniscience).
  3. Therefore God has always believed that I will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.  (Inference from 1 and 2).
  4. If God has always believed a certain thing, it is not in my power to bring it about that God has not always believed that thing.  (Assumption: the inalterability of the past).
  5. Therefore it is not in my power to bring it about that God has not always believed that I will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.  (Inference from 3 and 4).
  6. It is not possible for it to be true both that God has always believed that I will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow, and that I do not in fact have one.  (Inference from 2).
  7. Therefore it is not in my power to refrain from having a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.  (Inference from 5 and 6). So I do not have free will with respect to the decision whether or not to eat an omelet. [2]

If God at t1 foreknows that [i.e.] Jones will be sitting down at t2, can Jones stand up at t2?  Hasker would appropriately respond with, “No.”  It is true that necessarily, what God foreknows happens.  Hasker also argues that no present or future fact can change a past belief, or hard fact, [of God’s] and since God cannot be wrong (an essential property of God) and because there is human freedom God cannot know a human free decision.[3]

Hasker misplaces the logical moment of Jones’ free decision to stand up or sit down with respects to God’s omniscience and by doing so his argument fails.  There is a compatibility between human libertarian freedom and divine omniscience.

II. Defining Human Freedom

Humans possess a certain level of libertarian freedom, prima facie.  There are two schools to libertarian freedom:  soft and hard.  There are five tenets to libertarian freedom:  ultimate responsibility, agent causation, the principle of alternative possibilities, the reality of will-setting moments, and the distinction between freedom of responsibility and freedom of integrity.  Ultimate responsibility indicates the ultimate origin of decisions.  Agent causation states the ultimate source of his choices.  At certain times, the ability to choose or refrain from choosing is genuinely available according to the principle of alternate possibilities.  In any set of circumstances humans have the ability to choose alternates and opposites.  All actions humans do are not causally determined by the physical order.  All states of affairs are not a continuation of physically determined causes since the beginning.  Humans possess the ability and mental faculty to create a new series of causes out of their own volition.  As evidenced by the actual world, God cannot causally control everything because what follows from that is God being a causal agent of evil.  (God being a causal agent of evil is theologically and philosophical untenable assuming an Anselmian concept of God, it would contradict the ontology of a perfect being—a conclusion that Hasker would certainly accept).

In contrast, certain will-setting moments indicate that an agent does not always have the ability to choose to the contrary.  Certain free choices result in the loss of freedom.  Freedom of responsibility is a derived freedom given as permission [by God].  Freedom of integrity is the power to act in accordance with the derived freedom as described.[4]  The only difference between the two schools is that according to the hard libertarianism an agent must always have the ability to choose to the contrary or be free from external influences to be genuinely free.  Some open theists suggest that one way to preserve this genuine freedom is to deny divine foreknowledge (i.e. Hasker).[5]  The task is to reconcile soft-libertarianism with divine foreknowledge to avoid the hard-libertarian’s ad hoc notion of foreknowledge.

III. Defining Omniscience and Foreknowledge

As advocated by St. Anselm, God is a maximally perfect being.  If ignorance is an imperfection, all things being equal [according to Occam’s razor], then it is greater to be knowledgeable.  The classical definition of omniscience is the knowing of all truths.

O.  For any agent x, x is omniscient= def. For every statement s, if s is true, then x knows that s and does not believe that not-s.[6]

If there are truths about future contingents, God, as an omniscient being must know these truths.  Since there are truths about the future, that is to say, since statements about future contingents are either true of false, and they are not all false, God must therefore know all truths about the future, which is to say He knows future-tense facts; He knows what will happen.[7]

This is where Hasker detracts from the classical definition.  He does not deny the objectivity of temporal becoming and he does not deny the reality of libertarian freedom.  If God knows future contingents then, as mentioned, these facts will necessarily happen.  Hasker redefines omniscience to be,

Oʹ. God is omniscient = def. God knows all statements which are such that God’s knowing them is logically possible.”[8]

Hasker’s definition of omniscience carries deleterious consequences and leads to contradictions.  For example, if a person is a contingent person and the non-existence of that person leads to a contradiction.  It certainly seems possible that this person may obtain in another possible world.  Under Hasker’s definition, God knows the proposition “It is the case that Jones exists” and “It is not the case that Jones exists” at the same moment.  The two propositions are contradictory, but how can it be the case that God knows something to be true at the same moment in the same sense when it is contradictory?  Hasker’s definition is inconsistent with his own premise (2) since God would know something to be false, when it is actually true at the present moment.  The only remedy to this definition of omniscience is to suggest that all actuality is tautologous by denying counterfactuals altogether.

Simple foreknowledge is knowing a true proposition temporally prior to its actualization.  For a future tense-statement to be true it is not required that what it describes exist, but that it will exist.  In order for a future-tense statement to be true, all that is required is that when the moment described arrives, the present-tense version of the statement will be true at that moment.[9]  Nicholas Rescher gives an illustration for this assertion:

1)“It will rain tomorrow” (asserted April 12)
a truth status different from that of
2) “It did rain yesterday” (asserted on April 14)
because both make (from temporally distinct perspectives)
precisely the same claim about the facts, viz., rain on April 13.[10]

It is simple common sense, if “it is raining today” is now true, how could, “it will rain tomorrow” not have been true yesterday?[11]

Middle knowledge is the second logical moment of God’s omniscience.  There are three logical moments, the first being natural knowledge.  With natural knowledge God knows everything that could logically happen.  The third moment is God’s free knowledge; God knows all true propositions of the actual world.  Middle knowledge lies logically in between these, which affirms that God knows the contingent states of affairs that would be produced by an antecedent state of affairs were it to be obtained.  Counterfactuals are conditional statements in the subjunctive mood. That is to say, God knows what any free creature would do.  Middle knowledge does not depend on any decision of divine will; God does not determine what counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true or false.  God does not receive His knowledge from the actual world.  Human decisions do not fashion or determine God’s middle knowledge; His middle knowledge is derived from His natural knowledge.

Some have argued that middle knowledge is an insufficient solution to the fatalist’s problem.[12]  It may be unclear as to which premise the middle knowledge proponent is denying with respects to the fatalist’s argument.  Hasker’s premises 1-5 are true, but the reason why his conclusion fails is because of his assumptions and his definition of omniscience.  Premise 6 fails because if Hasker’s choice is a sufficient condition for God’s belief then it is not the case that God always believed in the actualization of that choice (Hasker’s use of “always” is ambiguous).  Additionally, the argument resumes by questioning whether or not God has such knowledge of creaturely counterfactuals with respect to decisions.  The fatalist may want to simply dismiss middle knowledge by their argument defining it out of existence.[13]  The problem with this is that the argument assumes a priori that temporal sequence is equivalent to logical sequence (to be discussed).

Omniscience should be understood as (O).  There are theologically deleterious consequences to (~O), namely a lack of divine perfection.  If God cannot be maximally perfect than he is not God.  A perfect ontology, all things being equal, requires the perfection of knowledge.

IV. Hasker’s Fallacy

Hasker’s argument is an argument against theological fatalism.  Determinism entails that an event is necessarily constrained to actualization by causal relations.  Fatalism entails that an event is necessarily constrained to actualization but it is not by causal relations.  This becomes an issue with simple foreknowledge.  Let S represent a state of affairs:

S1 → S2 → S3 → S4

God’s foreknowledge stands in no causal relations to these states of affairs.  God foreknows S4 will happen and because S4 will happen (by virtue of God knowing that it will happen), S1 → S2 → S3 must necessarily obtain to bring about S4 (though by non-causal relations).  Any prior states of affairs happen necessarily as well by virtue of God’s simple foreknowledge.  This is different from determinism because the states of affairs are not [necessarily] causally determined or related to each other.

The fallacy lies within the necessity of the foreknown conclusion.  Consider Jones’ decision to either stand up or sit down:

  1. Necessarily, if God foreknows that Jones will be sitting down t, then Jones will be sitting down at t.
  2. God foreknows that Jones will be sitting down at t.
  3. Therefore, Jones will be sitting down at t.

This is the valid form of the argument.  Necessarily, what God foreknows will happen but it does not happen necessarily.  Hasker’s fallacy is to have the conclusion as happening necessarily.[14]  Whatever is foreknown by God must occur, which is often taken as theological fatalism.  The problem foreknowledge may have, as theological fatalism, is the effect it may have on human freedom confusing necessity in sensu composito and in sensu divisoIn sensu composito means:

Necessarily, any event which is foreknown by God will occur.

In this case, what is necessary is not the occurrence of any event per se, but the composite state of affairs consisting of both God’s foreknowledge of the event and the event’s occurrence.  The whole statement is necessary, not each conjunct within the statement.  Hence, this necessity in sensu composito is in no way obstructing human freedom. On the other hand, in sensu diviso means:

Necessarily, any event, which is foreknown by God, will occur.

This does entail a denial of human freedom, since what is necessary is any event itself. In this case, there is not a mere composite necessity, but one of the conjuncts is itself asserted to be necessary.[15]

Hasker also misplaces the logical priority of the events in relation to God’s knowledge of the event.  Given that the S1 throughS4 states of events are chronological in relation to each other, if God knows S4 as being true at S1 then God foreknows S4 at any temporally preceding moment (S1, S2, orS3).  God’s foreknowledge does not have logical priority over any states of affairs; rather, these states of affairs have logical priority over God’s foreknowledge. If God’s apprehension of a state of affairs were logically prior to the state of affairs then God would have no knowledge of such state of affairs.  Not only does this damage God’s ontology and knowledge, but, if taken seriously, makes any Scriptural passage regarding God’s knowledge as superfluous.

Hasker’s objection is taking God’s free knowledge and putting that logically prior to God’s natural knowledge [or middle knowledge].  So if Hasker is going to ask if Jones can (natural knowledge) do anything other than what God foreknows (free knowledge), then he is making the third moment precede the first moment.  Hasker’s fatalism reverses the logical priority of the states of affairs.  By reverting the logical moments from Hasker’s model, each state of affairs is logically prior to its temporal succeeding state of affairs without committing to a deterministic or causal relationship between the logical priorities.  God’s foreknowledge, though chronologically prior to the action, is logically posterior to the action and determined by it.  Thus, divine foreknowledge and human freedom are not mutually exclusive as Hasker advocates.[16]  God’s foreknowledge is chronologically prior to Jones’ sitting down, but Jones’ sitting down is logically prior to God’s foreknowledge.  Jones’ sitting down is the ground; God’s foreknowledge is its logical consequent; Jones’ sitting down is the reason why God foreknows that Jones will sit down.[17]

V. Conclusion

Appealing to only simple foreknowledge does no justice to God’s sovereign control because he only knows the world posterior to the divine decree of creation.  There are numerous reasons to affirm human libertarian freedom and to accept God having actual foreknowledge (in the temporal sense) and hypothetical knowledge.  Upon accepting the truth to these control doctrines, the paradox is reconciled by affirming, philosophically and theologically, that God possesses such knowledge of creaturely counterfactuals and knows what the world would be like logically prior to the divine decree of creation.  Thus, middle knowledge is theologically necessary for a robust understanding of human freedom and divine providence

Via God’s middle knowledge, God can have complete knowledge of both conditional future contingents and absolute future contingents.  Such knowledge gives Him sweeping sovereignty over the affairs of men while affirming human freedom since the circumstances envisioned in counterfactuals [of creaturely freedom] are non-determining, and, hence, freedom preserving.[18]  Middle knowledge is the best explanation for the prima facie truths to human freedom and divine foreknowledge.

[1] See William Hasker, Metaphysics (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Academic 1983), 50-55.

[2] For another detailed version of Hasker’s argument concerning the logical order of temporal facts see his article “Hard Facts and Theological Fatalism,” Nous 22 no. 3 (1988):  419-436.

[3] Hasker, “Hard Facts and Theological Fatalism,” 432-436.

[4] Ken Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty:  A Molinist Approach (Nashville, TN:  B&H Academic, 2010), 73-79.

[5] Ibid., 69-70.

[6] William Lane Craig, Time and Eternity (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2001), 253-254.

[7] One may try to avoid this reasoning by contending that future-tense statements are neither true nor false, so that there are no facts about the future (B series of time).  Since the future does not exist, it is claimed that the respective future-tense statements cannot be true or false, simply without truth.  However, Hasker denies the B series of time and adopts the objective reality of temporal becoming (A series).

[8] See William Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” in Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Bassinger, The Openness of God:  A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downer’s Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1994), 136.

[9] Craig, Time and Eternity, 251-252.

[10] Nicholas Rescher, Many-Valued Logic (New York, NY:  McGraw-Hill, 1969), 2-3.

[11] Craig, Time and Eternity, 252.  Craig goes on to assert that if future-tense statements are not true, then neither are past-tense statements true.  If future-tense statements cannot be true because the realities they describe do not yet exist, then by the same token past-tense statements cannot be true because the realities they describe no longer exist.  Another escape route can be taken to escape theological fatalism by denying God’s temporality in the sense that God does not literally foreknow anything.  For more on this escape see Nelson Pike, “Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action,” Philosophical Review 74 (1965):  27-46.

[12] David Johnson, “Divine Omniscience and the Fatalist Dilemma” (PhD diss., University of Oklahoma, 2006), 163-164.

[13] Ibid.

[14] William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR:  Wipf and Stock, 200), 72.

[15] For more elaboration on the necessity of events and foreknowledge see William Lane Craig, “’Lest Anyone Should Fall’:  A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings.”  International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 29 (1991):  66-68.

[16] Craig, The Only Wise God, 74.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Craig, What Does God Know?  Reconciling Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom (Norcross, GA:  RZIM, 2002), 57.

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