Question 1: God's Knowledge and Freewill
Over the next several weeks, I am going to be answering some questions that were turned in by our college students. Some of these questions are more philosophical and some are more centered on biblical interpretation. I hope these questions and my answers will spark your own thoughts around these issues. I am not trying to give easy answers so that you will know what to think. I am hoping to make the reading think through the issues involved.
Question 1: If God knows everything because he is God, then how do we have freewill? Wouldn’t his knowledge mean that he caused (our actions) it?
This is a great question to ask. This question has been greatly debated among theologians and philosophers. To begin with, I want to restate the question. The question is: If God knows what we are going to do in the future, do we have the freedom to do something different than what God knows we will do? For example, as I am answering this question, I know that I am going to eat lunch with the other pastors from our church. It is my turn to pick the restaurant and I have narrowed it down to two choices. I can either choose Chilies or Taco Mac. If God knows the future then he already knows which choice I am going to make. If God knows that I will choose Chilies then in one hour when I make my choice, do I really have the freedom to choices Taco Mac. If I did choose Taco Mac, then God’s knowledge would be wrong. So, do I have the freedom to choose something contrary to what God knows I will choose?
The first way to answer this question is to change the definition of freedom. The opposite of freedom is called determinism. This means that all of our choices in life have a sufficient cause so that we COULD NOT have acted in a different way. If one holds this view, then there are no moral consequences to our actions because we could not have acted in a different way.
The opposite view is called libertarian freedom which means that we are free in making our decisions. There may be things in our lives that influence our decisions, but these influences are not sufficient causes, meaning we are free to choose other than what we do. This is the type of freedom our question is assuming because if God knows the future, then we COULD NOT choose other than what God knows to be true.
There is one way around our predicament and that is to redefine what it means to be free. We would accept a notion of freedom called compatabilism. In this view, there are sufficient causes for all our choices so that we COULD NOT act differently than we do, but we are also morally responsible for our actions because we choose them freely. This notion of freedom says that we all behave the way we desire to behave, therefore we are completely free in our actions, however we cannot change our desire to behave a certain way. For example, if a friend of yours was caught robbing houses and you held this view of freedom you would conclude that your friend has a choice to rob the house he did and therefore is morally responsible for his actions, however, he could not change his desire to rob houses.
The way compatiblism answers the question that we have posed above is that God knows the future and his knowledge does mean that you have no choice in your actions; however, we are still morally responsible for our actions. We still make free choices, even if our freedom is limited to our desires which we cannot change.
Although this is the move most Calvinist make in defending freedom and God’s knowledge, I do not think it is the best answer to the question. It is an answer, but I still do not think it solves the problem. In this view, we are still not free to make choices and we will never be able to choose anything contrary to our desires. We cannot make a free choice to accept God unless God changes our desire for him. Therefore, our freedom is still limited by God’s knowledge. I believe we must maintain a view of libertarian freedom. If we are going to so this, we must reexamine what it means for God to know something.
Next, we will attempt to answer this question by looking at what it means for God to know .