Monday, February 21, 2011

God’s Perfect Foreknowledge and Free Will

Recently I posted a couple of comments on Facebook that indirectly questioned whether or not free will can exist if God has perfect foreknowledge of every single detail of the Universe. Here are the comments:

1. If God knew a billion years ago that I was going to eat chicken salad for lunch today, is it possible for me to choose roast beef instead?

2. If God knew 100 billion years ago that I was going to eat cereal today, then could he have created the Universe in such a way where I would never exist?

I have thought a lot about the idea of God’s foreknowledge and free will. I cannot help but conclude that if God has perfect foreknowledge of everything that will happen in the Universe, then free will does not exist.

Take the first comment above. If God knew absolutely positively that I was going to eat chicken salad for lunch today, then I really cannot choose any alternative food. If I did, then I would prove God’s foreknowledge is not perfect, but rather flawed, as is our human foreknowledge. When I say this to people who believe in both God’s perfect foreknowledge and free will, they usually respond, “No, you still have free will. It’s just that God knew ahead of time what your free will choice was going to be.” Okay, I can kind of see that reasoning, although it is troublesome. That would mean that even though God knew ahead of time what Hitler, Stalin, murderers, and child molesters were going to do, he created them anyway.

But wait! If God knew ahead of time what Hitler was going to do, then was it even possible for God to create the Universe in such a way that Hitler would never exist. That too would negate God having perfect foreknowledge. This is where the second comment above comes in. If God knows ahead of time what any person is going to do, then can God create a Universe that excludes that person? I wouldn’t think so.

Let’s take this even further. If God knows in advance every single particle in the Universe and where it will be at any given moment, then could God have created a Universe any different than the one we observe? Again, I don’t think so. So, in the end, the thing that is most troublesome about God having perfect foreknowledge is that his own foreknowledge would limit his own free will. Consider the following.

God is alone; he has not yet created the Universe. He decides to look into the future to determine how things will unfold. He sees a Universe that contains a galaxy that will later be known as the Milky Way. In that galaxy, a star system will exist that has a planet that will later be called Earth. On that Earth will come to exist many billions of people over many generations. He sees what everyone of them will do at every moment in time. Now it comes time for God to create the Universe. Does he have any choice as to how he will create it? If yes, then he can negate his own foreknowledge, which makes it imperfect. If no, then God himself has no free will as he must follow every foreknown action. This seems too limiting for God.

Let me suggest another model for God’s foreknowledge. Suppose God has the ability to see every possible chain of events stemming from every possible free will decision. Thus, God could see how every possible Universe would work and how every possible decision by humans with free will would alter the course of the Universe. He did not know ahead of time the exact path that the Universe would take. But he did know every possible path, the number of which would be very close to infinity.

Yes, I think I like that idea.