Sunday, May 23, 2010

Foreknowledge and Free Actions

One of God’s defining properties is omniscience, i.e. for every true proposition, he knows that it is true. It follows that God can know in advance what your actions will be. But, if that is true, then are any of our actions really free?

The Argument

(1) God knows on Monday that I will go to a party on Tuesday (premise)
(2) Necessarily, if God knows on Monday that I will go to a party on Tuesday,
then I will go to a party on Tuesday (premise)
(3) So, necessarily, I will go to a party on Tuesday (from 1 and 2)
(4) So, if I go to a party on Tuesday, I do not go freely (from 3)

If God knows in advance what I’m going to do, and he cannot be wrong, then, when Tuesday comes, I will have to go to the party. If I do not go, then God would have been wrong, and that is impossible, because an omniscient being cannot make such a mistake. But, if I have to go to the party, then I do not go freely.

So, if God knows in advance what your actions will be, then none of your actions is free. Conversely, if some of your actions really are free, then God cannot know in advance what they will be, and hence he cannot be omniscient.


Some theists have concluded that God does know our future actions, and hence that we are not really free, i.e. our actions are predetermined by his foreknowledge. Others have said that since we are free, our actions are not knowable in advance. But there is a solution: the argument commits a logical fallacy:

In general, one cannot infer ‘necessarily q’ (3) from the two premises ‘necessarily if p, then q’ (2) and ‘p’ (1). The necessity of the conditional (i.e. ‘if p, then q’), does not imply the necessity of the consequent (‘then q’; I will go to a party on Tuesday), even when the antecedent is true (‘if p’; God knows on Monday that I will go to a party on Tuesday). All that follows from premises 1 and 2 is that I will go to a party on Tuesday.

If God foreknows that I will do X, then if follows that I do not do not-X. What does not follow is that I cannot do not-X. God’s foreknowledge does not exert a coercive causal power that gets a grip on me and forces me to go to the party on Tuesday. His foreknowledge exerts no influence on my behavior, and thus do not threaten my freedom. I do not go to the party in virtue of God’s foreknowledge; rather, God foreknows in virtue of the fact that I go to the party.


There is no real problem here. Theists have been unnecessarily concerned about God’s foreknowledge and human’s free actions: the two concepts are not in any conflict.


Everitt, N. (2004). The Non-Existence of God. New York: Routledge.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog :-)

    We need a more rational culture. In the fight for this, Islam is our main enemy. When Islam grows in a society, individual freedom shrinks. This is clearly demonstrated in countries where Islam dominates, like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Death penalty for apostasy, women are stoned to death for adultery, hanging of homosexuals, etc. etc.

    Militant muslims are not only suppressing their own people, but they are also in a war against non-muslim countries. All over the world, there are conflicts between muslims and not-muslims. India, Pakistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Malaysia, Sudan, and so on.

    In many of these wars, Western nations have supported the muslims, for example in Kosovo and Bosnia, where NATO supported the muslims against the Serbs. Socialists/liberals often tend to ignore the militant part of Islam, and blame terrorist attacks on misinterpretation of the Quran.

    Militant muslims want us to give away our freedom, and many of our politicians seem to agree with their views. In Norway, not only the liberals, but also the tratidional right wing parties are indulgent towards Islam. Erna Solberg, the leader of the Norwegian conservative party (Høyre), have shown initiative to set up a de facto sharia council. The conservatives were also eager supporters of the so-called anti discrimination law, that was designed to protect Islam from criticism.

    The Norwegian Progress party (Fremskrittspartiet) are somewhat better when it comes to dealing with Islam. Their leader, Siv Jensen, warned against the ongoing islamisation of Norway in a speech in 2009, after muslims had made demands to permit police officers to wear hijabs. Prominent representatives of the Conservative party compared her rightful criticism to the persecution of the Jews!

    That being said, the Progress party fails to realize important menaces to society in other areas. For example the very concept of the welfare state. The welfare state is a model in which everybody pays a significant amount of their income to the state, and then they receive free or heavily subsidized goods. Such a system leads to an ever growing government
    because the politicians live by promising free stuff to people, backed by nothing but empty promises that future generations will pay for this stuff. Not only does the government grow, but this growth must lead to a continually worsening of the public services. The welfare state must lead to ever increasing taxes, more and more bureaucracy, less and less efficiency, more and more people living on social security, and more and more corruption. This again leads to less respect for the law, and thus more real crime (as opposed to victimless crimes).

    In a welfare state, the the population's desire for more free government goods will exhaust their desire and ability to finance these goods. The welfare state cannot sustain because of infringement of the the relation between production and consumption. The economic model supported by all the parties in the Norwegian national assembly - from the Communist party to the Progress party - is therefore doomed to fail, and the debt crisis we are witnessing now is proof in that respect. Sooner or later, the market realizes that the economic growth in the welfare state is nothing but an illusion, and the result will be a lower standard of living for everyone.