Free Will and Divine Foreknowledge

I had a fascinating chat with my son last night, although I am not sure that he would agree. The subject was the Christian perspective on divine foreknowledge and human free will. There are many views on the relation between divine foreknowledge and human free will. Molinism is one view that is somewhat popular. The Thomistic view is one that I hold. However, I was troubled with how to convey my perspective to my son without appearing dogmatic.

There are two major problems at play:

1. Incompatibility of foreknowledge and free will
2. Dependent knowledge

The first problem is that of necessary knowledge and free will. If God knows about all events infallibly then He cannot be wrong about what will happen. If God cannot be wrong about what will happen then we are determined to do the things that God knows we will do. If we did not do those things that God knows we will do, then God would not have known infallibly. And, we would have no choice but to deny His omniscience. Therefore, there can be no human free will.

The second problem is dependent knowledge. Does God know something is going to happen because He sees it happening, or does He know it because He caused it to happen? If He knows what will happen because He sees it happening then He has dependent knowledge. He learned something. And, if God learned something then He is not omniscient. If He caused it to happen then there can be no human free will.

Molinism holds that God has the following kinds of knowledge:

1. Natural Knowledge
2. Middle Knowledge
3. Free Knowledge

Natural knowledge is knowledge of all possibilities. In this logical moment, God knows all things that are possible for Him to do. He knows all possible outcomes of all free choices. Middle knowledge is knowledge of what free creatures would do in a given circumstance. Free knowledge is the knowledge of the actual created world. This view affirms the omniscience of God along with the libertarian free will of man.

The Thomistic view holds that God’s existence and His essence are identical. God cannot gain new knowledge nor can He forget. God does not have knowledge; God is knowledge and His knowledge never changes. He knows all that can and all that will happen. God causes not only the power of free will but the acts of free will.

As you can imagine, these are rather advanced debates and they do require study and thought to form a position. And, most importantly, an open mind. We view the events of the world from a distinctly temporal perspective. Aquinas makes the following observation on free will:

God not only gives powers to things, but beyond that, no thing can act by its own power unless it acts through His power… man cannot use the power of will that has been given him except in so far as he acts through the power of God. Now, the being through whose power the agent acts is the cause not only of the power, but also of the act… therefore, God is for us the cause not only of our will, but also our act of willing. (Source: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles: Book 3, Part 2 p.36)

You can imagine my pleasant reaction at how sharp a young man my son happens to be. I will need to expose him to some of the influential thinkers in these areas.

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