Ep11-The Attributes of God Ch 6 - The Incompatibility of Free Will and Infallible Foreknowledge

We discuss arguments for infallible foreknowledge being compatible or incompatible with libertarian free will. We come up with a logical argument for the incompatibility of free will and infallible foreknowledge and discuss the assumptions of each premise.

Topics Discussed:
• An unsound Argument for Incompatibility
• Argument A
• A Sound Argument for Incompatibilism from the Necessity of the Past
• Argument B
• Some Clearly Unsuccessful Attempts to Escape Incompatibility

Show Notes:


“An Unsound Argument for Incompatibility”

“Surely this is the question that troubles and perplexes you: how can the following two propositions, that [1] God has foreknowledge of all future events, and that [2] we do not sin by necessity but by free will, be made consistent with each other? “If God foreknows that man will sin,” you say, “it is necessary that man sin.” If man must sin, his sin is not the result of the will’s choice, but is instead a fixed and inevitable necessity. You fear now that this reasoning results either in the blasphemous denial of God’s foreknowledge or, if we deny this, the admission that we sin by necessity, not by will.2”

Argument A

“(Al) God foreknows with certainty that an agent A will sin is incompatible with
(A2) A will sin freely.
The problem of free will and foreknowledge, as outlined by Augustine, seems to be stated as follows:
(A3) If God foreknows that A will sin, then it is necessary that A will sin.
(A4) If it is necessary that A will sin, then A is not free to refrain from sinning.
(A5) If A is not free to refrain from sinning, then A is not free.”

“A Sound Argument for Incompatibilism from the Necessity of the Past”

Semantically Possible

“What Aquinas seems to assert is that what is within a person’s power is not merely a function of what is semantically possible. For example, it is semantically possible that “I will lift the Empire State Building,” but such an act is certainly not within my power! Similarly, Aquinas suggests that even if God knows that A will sin, and it is not semantically impossible that “A will refrain from sinning,” nevertheless, it is still not within A’s power to refrain from sinning because to do so A must exercise a power which no human can have, namely, changing God’s past knowledge that “A will sin.”

The past is fixed and therefore necessary. Other things could have happened but they didn't

Lincoln Gettysburg address example

Past Necessity
“(PN) A proposition p describing an event that occurred at may be said to be necessary at all times after tn-1 if p is true and it is not coherent to suppose that any agent A can by any action at or subsequent to tn-1 make p false.”

Bush winning election in Future example.

Argument B

“If the premises are accepted as sound, then human free will in the sense of libertarian freedom is not compatible with infallible foreknowledge.”

(B1) It has always been true that Rock will sin tomorrow and it is possible to know this truth now (assumption omnitemporality of truth);

(B2) It is impossible that God should at any time believe what is false or fail to believe any truth (assumption infallible omniscience);

(B3) God has always believed that Rock will sin tomorrow (from B1 and B2);

(B4) If God has always believed a certain thing, then it is not in anyone’s power to do anything which entails that God has not always believed that thing (assumption past necessity);

(B5) It is not in Rock’s power to act in a way that entails that God has not always believed that Rock will sin tomorrow (from B3 and B4);

(B6) That Rock refrains from sinning tomorrow entails that God has not always believed that Rock will sin tomorrow (from B2—semantically necessary truth);

(B7) Therefore, it is not in Rock’s power to refrain from sinning tomorrow (from B5 and B6);

(B8) If Rock acts freely when he sins tomorrow, then he also has it within his power to refrain from sinning tomorrow (assumption libertarian free will);

(B9) Therefore, Rock does not act freely when he sins tomorrow (from B7 and B8).

“This argument has some impressive merits. It is set forth so as to expose all assumptions essential to the argument, including the particular views of the nature of truth, past necessity, omniscience and free will involved.”

Principle of Transfer of Powerlessness

“(PTP) If a person S cannot so act that p would be false, and S cannot so act that it would be false that if p then q, then S cannot so act that q would be false.”

Some Clearly Unsuccessful Attempts to Escape Incompatibility

David Hunt:
“One objection suggests that if God foreknows that Rock will sin freely, then it follows that Rock sins and that his sin is freely committed.”

“[When God] has foreknowledge of our will, it is going to be the will that he has foreknown. Therefore, the will is going to be the will because God has foreknowledge of it. Nor can it be a will if it is not in our power. Therefore, God also has knowledge of our power over it. So the power is not taken away from me by his foreknowledge; but because of his foreknowledge, the power to will shall more certainly be present to me, since God, whose foreknowledge does not err, has foreseen that I shall have power.”

Brian Davies:
“For the simple fact is that if God knows at time 1 that P will freely do X at time 2 then what God knows is that P will freely do X. . . . For if P were not free at time 2, then God could not know at time 1 that P would be free at time 2.”

It begs the question...

Elder James E. Talmage: “Our Heavenly Father has a full knowledge of the nature and disposition of each of his children, a knowledge gained by long observation and experience in the past eternity of our primeval childhood; a knowledge compared with which that gained by earthly parents through mortal experience with their children is infinitesimally small. [God] foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because he arbitrarily willed it shall be.”

1) “The “knowledge” a parent has of his/her children does not suggest fatalism precisely because it is fallible.”
2) “The second problem with the analogy was suggested in the last chapter. The logical implication of the analogy is that our future actions can be predicted without error on the basis of our past actions.”

“The analogy thus assumes that our character is determined in such a way that we could not possibly change or act out of character. The analogy is based on a hidden premise of character determinism, the notion that our choices are determined by our character and our character is determined by causal antecedents.”

Give example of picking teams for NCAA Tourney based on their character and how that have performed in the past.

Yet another objection:
 insists that the argument for incompatibilism somehow wrongly assumes that God’s knowledge must be the cause of human choices”

Talmage: “Respecting the foreknowledge of God, let it not be said that the divine omniscience is of itself a determining cause whereby events are inevitably brought to pass. A mortal father, who knows the weakness and frailties of his son, may by reason of that knowledge sorrowfully predict the calamities and sufferings awaiting his wayward boy. . . . Can it be said that the father’s foreknowledge is the cause of the son’s sinful life?”

Not implied in Argument B though. If God has past knowledge/belief of future act ....can't alter the past.

Still they insist...

“Bruce Reichenbach argues:
Though we cannot alter the future which God foresees because for him it is as if already performed, we can freely bring about the future, for the ground of his foreseeing it is our bringing it about. Hence, epistemologically the freely bringing it about precedes and determines his foreseeing and believing it. That is, there is nothing for him to foresee or believe with respect to [an agent’s free act except what the agent freely brings about].”


“A. N. Prior deftly reasoned:
For a conditional proposition such as “If it has come to God’s knowledge that X will be, then X will be,” doesn’t require for its truth, or for its conveying necessity from its antecedent to its consequent, that its antecedent should causally bring about its consequent. It is enough that the former cannot be the case without the latter being the case, regardless of why this is so.”

Antecedent-a thing or event that existed before or logically precedes another.
Consequent-following as a result or effect.

Jonathan Edwards:
“If it be as those forementioned suppose, that God’s Foreknowledge is not the cause, but the effect of the existence of the event foreknown; this so far from showing that this Foreknowledge doth not infer the Necessity of the existence of that event, that it rather shows the contrary the more plainly. Because it shows the existence of the event to be so settled and firm, that it is as if it had already been; in as much as in effect it actually exists already; its future existence has already had actual influence and efficiency, and has produced an effect, viz. prescience.”

“I cannot agree with the argument by which some people believe that they can solve the problem [of foreknowledge and free will]. . . . For they say that it is not necessary that things should happen because they are foreseen, but only that things which will happen be foreseen, as though the problem were whether divine Providence is the cause of the necessity of future events. . . . Nevertheless, it is necessary either that things which are going to happen be foreseen by God, or that what God foresees will in fact happen, and either way the freedom of the human will is.”


“A successful response to argument B must reject, it seems to me, one of the assumptions of the argument or show that it is not logically valid. There are at least four crucial assumptions made in argument B, and rejection of any one of them would result in an invalid argument. The problem for the objector is that the premises are not merely very plausible, but also that each of them has been defended as a non-negotiable truth.”

We will look at each Premise one by in reverse order to see if they hold up to scrutiny.


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