March 3, 2011

God and Evil Pt 2- Free Will and The Omniscience of God

Well let's continue our exploration of  God and evil shall we. My last blog post outlined the basic Christian explanation for the existence of evil. God made the world, and humanity good. Humanity and the world we inhabit fell due to our rebellion against God. Now this argument lives or dies on the premise that an all knowing and all powerful God created humans with free will.

Many would say that human free will and God's omniscience cannot coexist. The standard argument goes something like this;

Free will requires choice. That means for people to truly have free will they need to be able to choose to go left instead of right, to be a doctor instead of a lawyer, to cross the street or stay home. Free will recognizes that while a great many thing may be out of our control every time we are presented with a choice we really can go either way.

Omniscience requires prefect knowledge. That means for God to be truly omniscient he must know everything that has happening is happening and will happen. No one really has any beef with the first two, it is the idea that God knows the future perfectly that causes the trouble.

Think about it this way, if God knows perfectly that on  March 3rd at X time you will read this blog, could you have not read it on March 3rd? Free will demands that you could have read it on March 4th, or not at all. God's omniscience demands that you do read it on March 3 at X time without failure. And therein lies the problem. It seems like the two cannot coexist, for free will to be preserved the possibility must exist for God to be wrong, for God's omniscience to exist things must happen the way God thinks they will.

So what are we to do?

I want to suggest that our problem is time.

Time Is Such A Cruel Master
In one sense we are all time travelers. However we can only move in one direction, forward and we can only go at a single pace, one second at a time. We experience time in a liner fashion, we move from event to event, swept up in time like a current.

Yet time is still part of the created order. And while it is admittedly difficult we can effect time. For example, according to Einstein's theory of relativity, when you move at high speeds time slows down. This is been measured in the tiniest of fractions of second on jets traveling at super sonic speeds.

I think that time has no more hold on God than does gravity, or oxygen. God is outside time as we know it, because like everything else in creation he made it. Think of it like this, for God the past the present and the future are all equally 'now' so to speak. I think he knows the future much in the same way he knows the past. He sees it. While we are forced to move through time step by step God sees all of time laid out before him like a great tapestry.

Now obviously knowing something is not the same thing as causing that thing to happen. I know that if I knock my coffee cup off the table it will fall down. My ignorance of gravity would not supply the coffee cup with the ability to sail upwards instead of down. God knows the future much in the same way we know things fall down if dropped off the table. They simply are not in a cause and effect relationship.

In the end I think this is a non-issue.

However many Christians do not. There is a movement in theology and philosophy departments towards something called open theism. Open theism is gaining some support, though it is not a philosophy that I subscribe to.

It is worth reflecting on briefly.

I want to you imagine you life as sort of a road. Each time you come to a decision the road forks in any number of directions. Simple decisions have only two paths, more complicated have four, very serious ones have dozens. In open theism God sees every road that you may ever walk. He knows the millions of possible outcomes your life may have, based on the many millions of decisions you might make. What God does not know is which decision you will make at any given time. God than becomes ignorant of the forks in the road so to speak. He knows what will happen if you go right, left or straight, but he does not know which you will choose.

All and all I simply do not find this approach compelling or necessary. I don't find it necessary because I do not think free will and God's omniscience are in conflict. And I don't find it compelling because this means God 'knows' an incredible amount of junk date. Outcomes that never came to be, events that never took place, children that were never conceived and on and on it goes.

So again if you got lost in the details here are the Coles Notes;

1. Free will requires people to be able to make real choices
2. Omniscience requires that God knows everything, and is never wrong
3. The challenge; how can we choice freely if God knows perfectly what we are choosing?
4. This is only a problem if we make the assumption that God is controlled by time much like we are
5. We can alter time (be it very limitedly)
6. God is not bond to time like we are
7. God sees the past, present and future simultaneously
8. God's knowledge of our choice is not the cause of our choice any more than my knowledge of gravity causes gravity to function.


  1. I think your understanding of free will is correct while we are in a physical world. Yes I can choose to respond to your blog or not. But what I can not do according to my free will is to choose things that are of God. In my fallen state I can not choose God or can I know Him. (Romans 3:10-18) So, spiritually I can only choose the things of God is if He has regenerated me and granted me repentance.
    (1Cor 2:9-14)

  2. Right, as in no one can say Jesus is Lord without the Spirit.