How can we be free if God knows what we will do?

I recently received a question about God’s foreknowledge and human freedom.  If God knows what we will do in the future, and he can’t be wrong, then how can we be free to change our minds?

My response is below:

You raise a very common question.  If God knows what I will do, and God cannot be wrong, then how can I be free in what I do?  You used the example of going to the store.  If God knew you were going to go to the store, does that mean you would find yourself being dragged there if it turned out you didn’t want to go?

 

This is a topic that I think really benefits from Possible Worlds Semantics.  You may remember that possible worlds semantics is a way of talking about possibilities.  If we say, “In possible world A..” then we are just saying, “It is possible that A should have happened.”  Making reference to “possible worlds” is just a semantic tool to help us clarify points.

 

So let’s go back to your store illustration.  In possible world A, you freely go to the store.  In possible world B, you freely refrain from going to the store.  What we would want to say is that in possible world A, God knows that you’ll freely go to the store.  In possible world B, God knows that you will freely refrain from going to the store.

 

In your example, it wouldn’t be the case that God would somehow force you to go to the store if you didn’t want to just because he knew you’d go.  Rather, if it turns out that you don’t want to go to the store then God would have instead known you wouldn’t go.  

 

The difficulty, I think, is that we can find it hard to grasp that God’s knowledge of what you will do really does depend on what you will do.  We seem to want to think that God’s knowledge is unchanging, but that obviously can’t be the case.  God, for example, knows what time it is.  Since time is always changing, the content of God’s knowledge about what time it is also changes.  God knows it is first 3:00 pm and then he knows it is 3:01 pm and then 3:02 pm and so on.  We should not think that God’s knowledge is the same in all possible worlds either, for surely different things are true in different possible worlds.

 

So God knows what you will actually do.  If it turns out that what you will actually do is go to the store, God will know that.  If it turns out that what you will actually do is stay home, then God will know that instead.

 

Sincerely,

Matt Bilyeu


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