Foreknowledge and the Handcuffs of God

Note: This is an intellectual exercise, designed to present a view I no longer hold. A further article here will explain the contrary view.

There are four fundamental positions in theology about the foreknowledge of God. They are:

  1. handcuffsGod knows the future because he decrees everything that takes place (Reformed Calvinism)
  2. God knows the future and can interact with it, but does not determine it (Reformed Arminianism or Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge)
  3. God knows the future and cannot interact with it (Simple Foreknowledge)
  4. God knows the future as partly settled and partly free, with the settled parts being those which apply only to his own planned actions (Open Theism)

We may also consider Molinism and Middle Knowledge along with Process Theology in other posts.

In this piece I will attempt to show that Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge (EDF) is fundamentally no different to Simple Foreknowledge (SF).

Simple foreknowledge has it that God foreknows or foresees the future at whatever his earliest opportunity is, and having foreseen it is unable to act in it in order to effect change because to do so would render his original foreknowledge false. God is, in effect, handcuffed by his own knowledge of the future.

Dr. Greg Boyd of the Open Theist camp, speaks of a hypothetical book of known future facts handed down to us in November 1963, in which we are seen to cheat on our taxes 40 years hence. Boyd’s argument is that with this knowledge we can see that we are not free to do other than cheat, as God’s foreknowledge must be perfect. It’s the essence of a fine argument, but ignores the fact that we would never see such a book, and in 2003, when we did indeed cheat on our taxes, it was a free decision. In fact, we are never affected by God’s foreknowledge, but God is, because it is he who sees a determined future. If the future he sees is not determined then his foreknowledge isn’t infallible, and this is closer to an Open Theist position than any other theological stance.

In supposed contrast, Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge, as practised by the majority of Arminians, is a form of foreknowledge which DOES allow interaction from God. Having seen the direction the future is going in, God can either make adjustments on the fly or put them in place at outset, thus keeping full control.

Here’s my problem:

Just as in simple foreknowledge, once God has seen the future it has become fixed, and any interaction renders his knowledge false. This is where exhaustive foreknowledge crosses into Open Theism. If God is able to change anything he has seen then he must only have seen what he has seen as possibilities, not fixed events. I find this conclusion inescapable, as to see an event as truth renders it unchangeable.

Of course, acting with foreknowledge of anything other than planned events is a logical contradiction, and as such all sorts of philosphical arguments need to be brought in in an attempt to harmonise the theory. One is the theory of the Eternal Now (see my brief explanation here) which I reject as a contrived way to protect the perfection of a God who needs no help from us, and posits a simultaneous past, present and future. God views all three simultaneously, in direct contradiction to everything about time which has been revealed to us, i.e. that it is linear and sequential and that God works within it, not outside of it. But the most desperate defence I have heard was relayed in another online group only yesterday:

“No Open Theist has responded to my challenge regarding historical knowledge. Can God know past events infallibly? If so, does that mean He had to cause them? No. Just like you and I can have accurate knowledge of the past without controlling it, so God can have infallible knowledge of the past and future without micromanaging the decisions of people. How would you respond to that?”

I replied that if anyone having a serious discussion thinks that God knowing the result of a past contingent (yet completed) event thinks this carries the same philosophical weight as knowing with certainty the result of a future (as yet incomplete) contingent event, then he probably isn’t thinking very carefully. OK, it was words to that effect and earned me an admonishment by a group administrator, but you get my point. In order to make any sort of foreknowledge work, one has to fully embrace the view that time is not as we experience it, and that the future is sitting somewhere, entirely complete, waiting for us to walk into¬†it. And that, in anyone’s book, is predetermination.

By the way, I was not arguing for predetermination, as any decision I ever make can be freely made, but from God’s perspective, if he sees it and knows it as truth then it never be any other. The main objections come from a limited and strictly theological understanding of two words: predetermination and necessity. Traditionally, predetermination is a deliberate act of God, and necessity describes the only possible course of action. But I’m not talking “theology” I’m talking “English”. God’s knowledge of the future “passively” determines it. The act of knowing has the “necessary” effect of fixing an event. If these arguments make sense to you and you ever think of using them, be clear with your opponent that you mean what the words mean, not the divisive theological spin he will inevitably put on them.

My conclusion then, is that God’s foreknowledge is indeed limited to those things that he determines for himself, and those things which remain open. To know with certainty is to fix those events, and the difference between Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge and Simple Foreknowledge is non-existent in every practical sense..

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