Essays on Religious Topics

number 2: God’s Knowledge and Free Will


An important idea in most western religions is the notion of free will.  It is widely believed that humans have free will, and, thereby, the ability to choose between good or evil, that is following God’s laws or disobeying them.  Disobedience results in sin, and the presence of sin might result in condemnation to hell.  The entire structure of morality, goodness, sin, reaching heaven, or being condemned to hell is based on the idea that each person has free will.

Another important idea is that God is omniscient that is He knows everything about the universe as well as our past, present, and future behavior.  This knowledge of our behavior will be used by God to determine whether or not we will ascend into heaven or descend into hell.

Argument number 1       If God is omniscient, there is no free will.
If God knows the future, and that knowledge is true, then there is no free will.  What God knows must happen and no other choice is possible.  The only reason that future behavior appears to be free is that we do not know what will happen so we think that we are free.  God, then, controls the future through His knowledge, and that knowledge, being true, must occur.  A common response to this argument is that while God knows the future He does not force us to behave in any particular way.  This response offers no solution.  If God’s knowledge is true, then any “choice” we might make is already known to Him and that choice has been known for countless millennia.

Argument 2        If God is omniscient, there is no sin.
The idea of sin is based on free will because people choose between good and sin.  However, if God is omniscient, then there is no free will and, therefore, no sin.

Argument number 3       If free will exists, God cannot be omniscient.
In order for free will to exist, God’s knowledge must be contingent that is God must wait until a person does something in order to know what was done.  If this condition exists, then God does not know the future, and our idea of God’s omniscience is, at best, only partially correct.

Argument number 4       If God knows the future, then we are all predestined and predetermined.
Knowledge of the future means that all future behavior is predestined and predetermined because no other possibility exists.  God’s knowledge cannot be both true and contingent; it must be one or the other.  If God’s knowledge of the future is true, then that knowledge must happen.  God’s knowledge is not a prediction of what might happen, it is a statement of what will happen, and that statement is certainly true.


The argument that divine foreknowledge is not compatible with free will is known as theological fatalism. If man is truly free to choose between different alternatives, it is very difficult to understand how God could know in advance which way he will choose. Several attempts to resolve this difficulty have been proposed.  The following summary is a review with my comments.

I answer that this proposition offers no solution because freedom from coercion is inherent in the idea of free will.

I answer that the key word in this proposition is “somehow”, and that idea obscures rather than explains this issue.  In essence, this proposition argues for an incessant miracle.

I answer that knowing all of the possibilities still does not solve the issue, because God knows which possibility a person will select, and because God’s knowledge is true, that possibility must happen.

I answer that while this idea might explain the forces acting on a decision, it does not explain the problem.  God still knows what we will do.


I answer that there is no basis for this conjecture.  Furthermore, if this argument is true then it limits the extent of divine knowledge in an undefined way.  Thus, this idea offers no solution.


To the main argument, I answer that God cannot know the future.  That which has not happened is merely potency, thus there is nothing to know.  God must wait for an action in order to know an event has occurred.  It can be argued that God knows all of the possibilities, but until one of those possibilities is activated, no choice exists, and there is still nothing for God to know.

This answer solves several issues at once.  It preserves free will, permits the possibility of divine intervention, retains our knowledge of time, and allows the potential influence of prayer.

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