The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom Contra William Hasker

by Max Andrews

William Hasker is deeply committed to the position that man holds some 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 proposes an argument suggesting that divine foreknowledge is just as inconsistent with free will as predestination.[2]  Consider his argument:

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.[3]

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.  For a working understanding of determinism, let S be a state of affairs (or Hasker’s eating an omelet):

S1 → S2 → S3 → S4

Let this represent a causal relationship between each state of affairs where S1 may depict Hasker’s choice to have an omelet tomorrow and S4 obtains at the moment he eats his omelet.  The intermediate states of affairs are what obtain prior to the final event.[4]  With respect to Hasker’s breakfast omelet, God’s foreknowledge stands in no causal relations to that state of affairs so let prime indicate the non-causal relationship between each state of affairs:

S1ʹ → S2ʹ → S3ʹ → S4ʹ[5]

God foreknows S4ʹ will happen and because S4ʹ will happen (by virtue of God knowing that it will happen), S1ʹ → S2ʹ → S3ʹ must necessarily obtain to bring about S4ʹ(though by non-causal relations).  Remember, 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.

Hasker believes that God’s belief [that the foreknown proposition] is a sufficient condition of his acting accordingly, which is to say that it is impossible for God to believe in one way and for him to act in another.[6]  If Hasker’s free choice is a sufficient condition for God’s belief then freedom and foreknowledge are compatible and the present problem seems to be diffused.  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).  With Hasker’s definition there are only two logical moments.  The first moment is God’s natural knowledge; God knows all possible worlds.  The second moment is God’s free knowledge; God knows the actual world (as well as what has happened, premise 4, what is happening, and what will happen).  To put Hasker’s argument in the form of a question it would appear as, “If God foreknows any state of affairs then those state of affairs happen necessarily.  So, if God, at t1, foreknows that Hasker will have an omelet tomorrow at t2, does Hasker have the free will to not eat that omelet at t2?” The answer is necessarily, “No.”

To remedy this problem by persevering free will and foreknowledge one could understand omniscience to encompass God’s knowledge of all counterfactual truth, all propositions that appear in the subjunctive mood (feasible worlds).[7]  If God knows what Hasker would do in any given circumstance (say, S1ʹ) that would be the sufficient condition for the foreknown result (S4ʹ), then the problem is averted while still affirming free will and foreknowledge.

If the retractor of Hasker does not want to assume a middle knowledge approach by commitment to simple foreknowledge then the problem may still be remedied in a slightly different fashion.  Consider the non-causal states of affairs.  Though God’s foreknowing of S4ʹat S1ʹis chronological, S4ʹis not logically prior to S1ʹ.  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 he 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, as advocated, 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.[8]

[1] Hasker challenges theological determinism based on the doctrine of predestination.  The metaphysical question of freedom as it relates to predestination is a question of inerrancy and is misplaced in the argument.  The doctrine of predestination, if adopted in some form, does not necessitate soft or hard determinism per se.  Hasker does address the problem of foreknowledge as it relates human freedom, which will be my focus of critique.  I am not assuming any doctrine of predestination, rather merely addressing the issue of mere or simple foreknowledge unrelated to an adoption of biblical inerrancy since it is not a necessary assumption of the question at hand.  See William Hasker, Metaphysics (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Academic 1983), 50-55.

[2] It is important to define the terms that will be used.  Determinism is the understanding that all choices are caused by prior conditions whereas libertarianism finds all choices of a person to originate from the person.  See Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty (Nashville, TN:  B&H Academic, 2010), 63-79. Free will, henceforth, will encompass libertarianism in general.

[3] Hasker, Metaphysics, 51-52.  Hasker never defines omniscience in this section but defines omniscience elsewhere as “God is omniscience = def. God knows all statements which are such that God’s knowing them is logically possible” (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.).  Hasker’s definition of omniscience carries deleterious consequences and leads to contradictions.  For example, I am a contingent person and my non-existence may obtain in another possible world (since my non-existence does not warrant any logical contradiction).  Under Hasker’s definition, God knows the proposition “It is the case that Max Andrews exists” and “It is not the case that Max Andrews exists” at the same moment.  The two propositions are contradictory, but how can it be the case that God knows something to be true 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.  While rejecting Hasker’s definition of omniscience I will affirm the following definition, “God is omniscient = def. For every statement s, if s is true, then God knows that s and does not believe that not-s,” which seems to have minimal commitment (See William Lane Craig, Time and Eternity (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2001), 253-254.).

[4] With determinism, the use of prior to is a logical and temporal priority since each prior state of affairs is necessarily conditioned upon the state of affairs that actualizes it (i.e. S1 is logically prior to S2 since the actualization of S2 is a necessary condition to S1).

[5] See William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR:  Wipf and Stock, 2000), 67-74.

[6] Hasker, Metaphysics, 52.

[7] This is middle knowledge, an introduction of a third logical moment, which appears after natural knowledge and before free knowledge, which assumes the second logical moment of God’s knowledge.

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

2 Comments to “The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom Contra William Hasker”

  1. Great article Max (as usual)!

    I have often wondered if the argument for middle knowledge can be found in St. Anselm’s define of a Maximally Great Being. I think an argument for it would go something like this:

    1) A MGB is the greatest conceivable Being, any being that can be conceived greater would be that Being.
    2) A MGB would possess omniscience.
    3) If a MGB is the greatest concievable Being, then each of it’s properties would individually be the greatest they could possibly be.
    4) If an MGB’s properties are the greatest that can possibly be concieved then omniscience is greatest if and only if it includes middle knowledge.
    5) If omniscience which is possessed by an MGB is greater with the inclusion of middle knowledge, then omniscience includes middle knowledge.
    6) Therefore a MGB has middle knowledge.

    That’s the argument, although I am sure there are better and stronger, still I have often wondered if the definition of an MGB already includes middle knowledge. Just seems like the people who oppose middle knowledge are always underestimating omniscience. Like knowing what a free being would do is somehow out of the grasp of a MGB, just seems like child’s play for God.

    On a side note, I also don’t think that we can even fathom God’s intelligence and in our limited capacity are probably just touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Him. That’s the thing I love about Anselm’s definition of God, it screams that God is far greater than we could ever conceive.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. Have you seen Dr. Norman Swartz’s argument that epistemological determinism is an example of the Fallacy of Modal Logic. Basically he argues that epistemological determinism is a fallacy because it confuses the necessary condition of knowledge to be necessary ‘on its own. Frankly, I find his proof convincing.

    I was so thoroughly impressed, that I emailed him and let him know ( he appreciated it).

    I use to think quite a bit about free will and foreknowledge, but now that I understand Swartz’ argument, and am convinced by it, see issues of compatibility and foreknowledge as non-issues. Until I see a convincing counter-argument to Swartz am going to consider the issue ‘settled’.

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