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


I. The purpose of this article is to show that the Open Theist’s argument against divine foreknowledge is flawed because it fails to distinguish between “the necessity of the consequent” and“the necessity of the consequence”.

We begin with some clarifications of the terms that are crucial to our discussion:

Things are contingent of which it is possible that they are or are not.
Things are necessary of which it is impossible that they are not.

A necessary proposition is a proposition that could not possibly have been false, whose negation is impossible as this would entail a contradiction in reality. For example, it is necessary that 2 + 2 = 4. Philosophers describe a necessary proposition as one that true in all possible worlds.

A contingent proposition is a proposition that is not necessarily true or necessarily false (i.e. whose negation does not entail a contradiction in reality). An example of a contingent proposition is the proposition that human beings must be born on earth. A contingent proposition is one that is true in some possible worlds and not in others.

II. We recall the Open Theist argument:
1. An omniscient God knows all true propositions, past present and future. That is he holds no false beliefs (future propositions).
2. If God foreknows John will do X at 9 pm tomorrow, then John must do what God foreknows he will do. After all, if John has the power to do Y instead of X, something other than what God foreknows, then God could have been mistaken. God would then have held a false belief which is impossible.
3. Conclusion: if God has true foreknowledge of what John will do in the future, all his future human actions are determined. There is no genuine human freedom. Conversely, if there is to be genuine human freedom, God cannot be omniscient.

The logic of the argument of the Open Theist may be simplified accordingly:

(4) Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen
(5) God foreknows x
(6) Therefore, x will necessarily happen

However,this argument is invalid. This becomes clear when we flesh it out with a concrete example.

(7) Necessarily, if Jones is a bachelor, Jones is unmarried
(8) Jones is a bachelor
(9) Therefore, Jones is necessarily unmarried

But this deduction is invalid. It is not necessary the case that Jones must remain unmarried. It is conceivable, possible or even likely that Jones will get married when he meets Ms. Right.

As such, the valid deduction of (7) and (8) should be:
(9)* Therefore Jones is unmarried

Likewise, the valid deduction of the (4) and (5) of the Open Theist argument should be:

(6)* Therefore, x will necessarily happen

III. This argument against the Open Theist is derived from the 17th century Reformed Scholastics who drew the crucial distinction between the “necessity of the consequent” and the “necessity of the consequence.”

The consequence is that which follows something on which it depends, that which is produced by a cause.
The consequent is the (logical) second half of a hypothetical proposition: Example: the logical proposition “if P, then Q”.

Take two propositions:
(10) If I marry Sophia, then Sophia is my wife. – Necessity of the consequence
(11) It is necessary that Marian is my wife (if I marry her) – Necessity of consequent

Note that proposition (10) is contingent that I marry Sophia. It is not the case that I am necessarily married to her. But proposition (11) is result of the contingent (conditional) proposition that is necessary.

It seems to be the case that the implication of necessity represented by (10) and (11), that both the antecedent and consequent can be contingent and not necessary. This is contrary to the Open Theist’s argument which requires that both the antecedent (God’s foreknowledge) and the consequent (human freedom) are necessary.

According to Reformed Scholasticism, the necessity of the consequence corresponds with absolute necessity and the necessity of the consequent with hypothetical necessity. The Reformed scholastics applied this distinction to counter the charge that divine foreknowledge (decree) destroys the contingency and freedom of the world. That is to say, necessity and contingency are compatible rather than squarely contradictory.

It should be noted that logic only examines the form of an argument without deciding whether the premises are true or not. The analysis only tells you whether your argument is logically valid or not. In the end, a valid argument must be based on premises that are true if its conclusions are to correspond to reality. Ultimately, what determines reality is not logical possibilities but the will of God. Van Asselt writes,

Most important in this distinction between necessity and contingency was that it depends on God’s will ad extra derived from different objects. If the decision of the divine will is directed to contingent objects ad extra, then God’s will is contingent, too. In other words, God contingently wills all that is contingent. Created reality, therefore, is the contingent manifestation of divine freedom and does not necessarily emanate from God’s essence. For if this were the case, all things would coincide fundamentally with God’s essence, and the actual world would be eternal world and the only one possible world [Willem van Asselt Introduction Reformed Scholasticism (Reformed Heritage Book, 2011), p.199.]

Contrary to the Open Theist, the distinction applied by the Refomed Scholastics does not require a deterministic relationship between God and reality. Only the effects of natural causes, they argue, are necessary effects, while the effects of the free causes (God and man) are contingent and free.

I conclude with Millard Erickson’s suggestion on how the distinction between “necessity” and “certainty” demonstrates the coherence between divine foreknowledge and human freedom.

At this point we must raise the question of whether God can create genuinely free beings and yet render certain all things that are to come to pass, including the free decisions and actions of those beings. The key to unlocking the problem is the distinction between rendering something certain and rendering it necessary. The former is a matter of God’s decision that something will happen; the latter is a matter of his decreeing that it must occur. In the former case, the human being will not act in a way contrary to the course of action which God has chosen; in the latter case, the human being cannot act in a way contrary to what God has chosen. What we are saying is that God renders it certain that a person who could act (or could have acted) differently does in fact act in a particular way (the way that God wills). [Millard Erickson, Christian Theology 3ed. (Baker, 2013), p. 328.]

The final part 7/7 will explain the Reformed Scholastics teaching on the ontological distinction between first and secondary causes.

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Appendix: A still more technical discussion. The Distinction Between De Dicto and De Re necessity in God’s foreknowledge and human freedom

Argument A:
1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. If God is omniscient, God foreknows x.
3. Therefore, x will happen.
is true

Argument B:
“1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.
2. If God is omniscient, God foreknows x.
3. Therefore, x will necessarily happen.”
is not.

The fallacy is in confusing de dicto and de re necessity. The first syllogism grants de dicto necessity, but not de re, while the second argument unjustifiably concludes de re necessity from de dicto.
Of course, a definition of terms is necessary (pun intended):
De dicto necessity is: “a matter of a proposition’s being necessarily true”
While de re necessity is: “an object’s having a property essentially or necessarily” (Plantinga,)

Here’s an example:
I am sitting on a chair (a comfortable one, I might add) as I write this. Thus, it is necessarily true that I am sitting (for x=x necessarily, I am sitting, therefore I am sitting). But this kind of necessity is de dicto. It does not follow that I am necessarily sitting in the de re sense, for if that were true, I could simply not do otherwise. I could never get up.

But let us return to freedom and divine omniscience. The first syllogism states de dicto necessity: If God knows x will happen, x happens. But the second syllogism argues for de re necessity: if God knows x will happen, necessarily, x will happen. This is the fallacy. There is no de re necessity here. God’s knowledge of x does not assign x any essence or property. Rather, God’s knowledge that x will happen simply means x will happen. God’s knowledge of x does not assign any kind of necessity to x, but merely means that his own knowledge is true. God’s knowledge of x does not mean that x could not have been otherwise, only that it will not be.

Thus, we can reveal a few errors. The first is the error that God’s knowledge of some action x somehow makes x itself necessary. The second is the error of tying God’s knowledge of x in with his causation of x. Oftentimes, one can read works where people write believing that God’s knowledge of an event x somehow determines or even causes x to occur, and it could not be otherwise. While God may indeed choose to cause x, just because God knows x doesn’t mean it follows that x is necessarily true.
Source: J.W. Wartick, God, Human Freedom, and Necessity

We recall that it is not a matter of necessity that I am unmarried or will remain ever unmarried. I am contingently unmarried simply because I have not chosen to get married. It is possible and probable that I will get married when I meet Ms. Right. By the same token, the logical fallacy of  Argument B (Open Theism) becomes obvious.

Related Posts:
Does Foreknowledge of God Negate Human Freedom? – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 5/7

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

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

2 thoughts on “Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 6/7 – Distinction Between Necessity of the Consequent and Necessity of the Consequence –”

  1. Dear Kam Weng/ Dr Ng,

    Thank you very much for this (once again – I added ‘once again’ since I had been appreciative of these writings on divine sovereignty and human freedom before but without expressing myself here as of now). It’s a shame that quite a few of the younger generation of (so-called) Christian intellectuals and academicians are sold on Open Theism. There is a risible attempt just only recently in one of the FB pages of a well-known Christian blogger and academician to ridicule your position. These people even claim to be heirs of the Reformation but in reality mock and subvert what it stands for. Very lamentable, indeed.

    Open theism is pure heresy and anti-biblical/ anti-Christian.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Dear Jason,
    Thanks for the encouraging feedback.

    It is alright when some people decide to critique what I put in my website. This is just part of the package deal when one decides to put up a public post. It is a matter of integrity that we take responsibility for what we post in public and be open to critique. Of course, the assumption is that whatever criticism put forward is fair and accurate. Ridicule? Not worth losing sleep over such lowly activities. Happy I can trust objective readers to judge the merits of my posts.

    You are right. Historically, the church has judged Socinianism (the granddaddy of Open Theism) to be heretical because it denies God’s omniscience along with other major doctrines like original sin and the satisfaction/propitiatory atonement of the cross. To be fair, people are often not consistent and modern Socinians may not go all the way of historical Socinians to deny other major doctrines like the Trinity and deity of Jesus Christ, but this is because theological consistency is not a common virtue. If no consistency means perhaps can still talk-lah…Still one is mindful of the slippery slide which begins when one questions the final authority of the Bible (often implicitly), and proceeds to judge the explicit teaching of the Bible based on finite human analogies and rationalistic categories.

    Also noteworthy is that nowadays, one is condemned for being judgmental and intolerant if one warns against denial of the major doctrines of the historic church. But we are only trying to be faithful to Paul’s charge to Timothy and the church to guard the deposit of faith.

    Anyway, I am less interested in reacting to ‘in-house critics’ who project an aura of cleverness and progressiveness as they question the historic faith of the church, and sow seeds of doubt which undermine faith in the the omniscience of God and his meticulous providence. Nevertheless, an ordinary Christian who is grounded in the Bible will be able to take criticisms in their stride. As such, I am happy to put more energy in writing with a positive agenda: (1) to build up biblical faith and theological understanding of Christians who want to learn more about our historic faith and (2) to display the winsome truth of Christianity to the wider unbelieving world.

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