Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom: Conclusion. Part 7(b)/7

Concluding Argument for Divine Omniscience and Exhaustive Foreknowledge of God

The Open Theist argues that if God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive, then all human action will be necessarily actualized since God’s ‘beliefs’ about future events cannot be falsified. But this would make it impossible to hold humans responsible for their acts if they cannot but act necessarily. We must choose between God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarian human freedom. However, the undeniable fact of life is contingent human action. The logical recourse is to reduce significantly, if not decisively, the scope of divine foreknowledge to preserve human freedom.

The Open Theist’s argument is premised on a false dilemma that one must choose between the ‘necessities’ of divine foreknowledge and contingent libertarian freedom.

Reformed theology argues for a third possibility based on the ontology of contingency of creation. In contrast to physical or natural determinism (where events are determined by created causes and the laws of nature), divine determination (where events are determined by the will of God) allows for hypothetical possibilities in its effects over contingent human beings. As the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches, “by the same providence, he orders them to occur according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.” [WCF 5.2]*

While God in his essence is unchangeable, he is not bounded by necessity in his interaction with contingent creation and human action. This is just the time-honored doctrine of creation as a free act of God. Indeed, if freedom and contingency in the interaction between God and man are not upheld, then God loses freedom himself as he becomes necessarily bound to the given states of affairs in creation.

The Fall does not eradicate the natural freedom of man, that is, the freedom that is proper to a being, given its particular nature. Man continues to exercise his faculty of will (voluntas) with freedom since his choice to act or not to act is self-determined (he exercises his own causal powers), or inwardly determined rather than outwardly compelled. Insofar as the choice to sin is not the result of an external constraint but of inward disposition or desire, and to the extent man acts in accordance to his (corrupt) nature, his choice to sin is free, though in a restricted sense. As such, human freedom is circumscribed and follows certain necessities: man does not act contrary to his (fallen) nature and choose against the final judgment of his intellect; he cannot act outside God’s providence. But these forms of necessity are to be judged as the necessity of the consequence by which the outcome (consequent) is not made necessary in itself. Re: Part 6/7: Distinction Between Necessity of the Consequent and Necessity of the Consequence.

William van Asselt** explains the Reformed teaching on how the absolute God acts contingently on creation:

The key elements here are the statements concerning the relation of freedom and (different kinds of) necessity, the distinction between necessity of the consequent and necessity of the consequence, and the distinction between the divided and the compounded sense in which contradictory propositions are conjoined. The net result of this ontology is the statement that God is absolutely necessary, yet the events of his creation are not, since he acts contingently.

The ontology of Reformed scholasticism is mirrored by the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man, respectively…Man is consistently viewed as a creature dependent on his Creator. The fundamental insight is that God is free in his actions. Just as God was free to create this world instead of a different world, he remains free in acting. God is not necessitated to know what he knows and to do what he does.

The decisive role in the doctrine of God is played by the divine will: given God’s knowledge of circumstances and possibilities, he is free to choose by His will this or that possibility, and his free activity constitutes the contingency of reality. Whereas contingency holds fundamentally for God in relation to the created world, the bridge between God’s acting and creaturely acting lies in the concept of dual causality. God is viewed as First Cause who brings into existence all creatures and then continues to sustain, govern and lead all things. Creatures (especially humans) are secondary causes that act in dependence on the first cause but still in the freedom suitable to their own nature. Thus, contingency and freedom are preserved in creation while God keeps together the whole course of events. Rather than violating human freedom, God’s foreknowledge and decree function as the necessary conditions for human freedom. (p. 234)

Readers may refer to diagram-scheme 3  of Part 7(a)/7 which explains how the concurrence of the free acts of the First and second cause bring about a contingent effect.

van Asselt concludes,

“while there is an implicative necessity between a fact and God’s knowing this fact, neither the fact nor God’s knowing it are necessary in themselves. God’s eternal knowledge of all future contingent events does not causally determine these events; as the Reformed put it: God’s knowledge and decree respect things in their own essential nature of being either contingent or necessary. Since foreknowledge does no harm to freedom, there is not the slightest reason to diminish God’s knowledge of future things.” (p. 241)

Put plainly, the assertion of the Open Theist that God’s exhaustive foreknowledge undermines the freedom of human action is based on a restrictive, if not faulty understanding of God’s interaction with man.

Footnotes
*“God knows all that he has willed, whether it occurs by necessity, contingency, or the free acts of human beings. There is, therefore, a divine ‘foreknowledge’ of what, from the human perspective, are ‘future contingencies.’” Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Dogmatics: Vol.III: The Divine Essence and Attributes (Baker2003), p.402.

**William van Asselt, J. Martin Bac, and Roelf Velde, Reformed Thought on Freedom: The Concept of Free Choice in Early Modern Reformed Theology (Baker, 2010)

Related Posts:
Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 6/7 – Distinction Between Necessity of the Consequent and Necessity of the Consequence

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom: Supplementary Reading on Necessary and Contingent Cause and Effect. Part 7(a)/7

Postscript:
Originally, I intended to bring this series to an end after 7 posts. However, I have come to realize that some readers may conclude wrongly that the classical or Reformed doctrine of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and meticulous divine providence rests simply on contestable logical games. This misunderstanding needs to be corrected:

First, we can only marvel at the interminable debates found in the journals of philosophy and theology. Why is there no consensus even though the argument is presented with logical precision? This predicament should alert us to the limits of logical analysis.

Many philosophical analysts assumed that their propositions are clear and unambiguous. For example, they assume that the particular statements P or Q adequately and accurately represent essential aspects of God. But the fact is, we do not have any clear account of human nature that has gained consensus, let alone an account of divine nature. In reality, propositions P and Q are read differently (though implicitly) by different protagonists in logical arguments. The protagonists appear to be using the same terms as logical premises, but in reality they are applying them differently as their usage have been shaped by different philosophical intuitions and theological traditions. Divergent (hidden) premises with impeccable logic can only lead to conflicting conclusions.

Second, we should be honest and admit that philosophical concepts and terms used in logical demonstration are essentially contestable. Given the essentially contestable nature of the logical terms, a modest expectation of logical proof is in order. Agreement is more likely to be achieved if the objective of philosophical analysis is to demonstrate the coherence of a doctrine at a formal rather than material level.

For the Christian, the material truths that serve as the basis for doctrinal formulation and debates must ultimately be derived from biblical revelation and experience of faith.  Human analogies that are deployed in philosophical argument may play an illustrative rather than a determinative role in the formation of doctrine which is ultimately based on biblical exegesis and theology. As such, philosophy should not arrogate for itself the position of the arbiter of theology; it should recognize its subordinate role as a handmaiden to theology.

An effective critique of Open Theism based on careful biblical interpretation and cogent theological argument may be found in John Frame’s book, No Other God: a Response to Open Theism (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2001).

The subsequent posts in this series will evaluate the “grounding objection” to the Molinist’s teaching of  counterfactuals of freedom and middle knowledge and then proceed to give a theological critique of Molinism, based on insights drawn from the classical Reformed dogmatics like PostReformation Reformed Dogmatics (Richard Muller), Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Francis Turretin) and Reformed Dogmatics (Herman Bavinck ).

In the spirit of complexification of contingent issues, the number of posts in this series will increase to [N + (X^0 * dy/dx (X)) where N ≥ 7 ].

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