God Can Know the Free Acts of Man without Making Them Determinatively Necessary | Part Three

November 17, 2015

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

Click HERE for Part One.
Click HERE for Part Two.

Simply said, what man could do (range of available options) and what he will choose to do from the God-given range of options, has forever been known with inviolable certainty by God. He knows this with the same certitude that He knows those things He would directly cause. God’s knowledge of the actual, potential, and what potential realities He will actualize are inherent in His perfection and omniscience, which does not require microcausality of every act of man. This understanding is in fact a more biblically reflective and grander portrayal of God than the Calvinist painting. The God of Scripture can cause or permit (permit allowing results from libertarian free beings), and He can know with certainty (without necessity) the acts of efficient causes—agent causation. He even knew the influences and the intricacies of the deliberative process of each free being. This represents man as having objective liberty in contrast to believing that man’s liberty is merely subjective (objective meaning that man’s sense of choosing between accessible options is actual rather than merely subjective, imaginary).

God’s certainty of man’s choice within the range of options given by God does not mean that man could not have chosen to do other than what he did in fact choose. The act in time is both free and certain. It is free as to choose between options afforded man in time, and it is certain as to God’s eternal knowledge of what said choice would be. Some ask, if God believed in eternity that man would act a certain way, and then at the last second he acted differently, would God have believed wrong—been mistaken. The answer is no. Regarding man, William Lane Craig notes, “He has the power to act in a different way, and if he were to act in that way, God would have believed differently.”[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer notes, “If the question be asked whether the moral agent has freedom to act otherwise than as God foresees he will act, it may be replied that the human will because of its inherent freedom of choice is capable of electing the opposite course to that divinely foreknown; but he will not do so. If he did so, that would be the thing which God foreknew. The divine foreknowledge does not coerce; it merely knows what the human choice will be.”[2]

To wit, God always knew what a person would freely decide (so the decision is in fact free and could have been otherwise had the free agent so chosen), but it is certain in that God’s knowledge of such choice is perfect. Had man chosen otherwise, God would have always known that. Thus, Extensivists believe that man will act in a certain way, whereas Calvinism believes man must act in a certain way. Extensivists believe man will certainly act a definite way when he could have truly done otherwise, and therefore man’s deliberative process, freedom, and liberty are objective. The free act of man is certain, but it is not necessary. The only thing that is necessary about man’s choice is that if he would have chosen otherwise, God would have known that choice because God knows everything and cannot be mistaken.[3] Therefore, the concept of liberty is objective rather than merely subjective. Further, the belief in libertarian free choice does not mean that God cannot override man’s freedom when He so chooses, and to postulate such is an egregious misrepresentation of Libertarianism.

Calvinism teaches that God foreknows because He decreed that man would act a certain way, and thus man necessarily acts a certain way and God can be certain of that. Extensivism says God foreknows because infinite knowledge of the actual and potential (including new event sequences resulting from otherwise choice of humans), is an essential property of His foreknowledge. Thus, it seems that Calvinism inadequately portrays and comprehends the biblical representation and facts regarding what man could, should, might, and will do whereas Extensivism does encompass these in foreknowledge. In both perspectives, there is never a nanosecond that God does not know with certainty the outcome of every act. The difference is that Calvinism permits God to know because He decreed such to be a certain way, whereas Extensivism makes liberty objective and known by God simply because He is God.[4] The latter is more reflective of the numerous biblical encounters of man with God wherein man is commanded to act a certain way, reprimanded and punished for not doing so, and blessed when he does; thus, making man responsible for his actions against grace very clear.

Of course such understanding does not make sense to a Calvinist. Part of the reason is that their definitions are derived from and lead to micro predetermination. I understand this does not fit the grid of Calvinism because I am not a determinist with all of its horror; however, my argument is that it does fit Scripture. It makes both foreknowledge (omniscience) and otherwise choice more consistent with Scripture without theoretical accoutrements. Calvinists strongly demur to man possessing such freedom, God being able to create such, and I understand that position. I would argue that their conclusions are largely reliant upon speculative theology and unnecessarily restrictive definitions of terms, which require auxiliary concepts, whereas Extensivism seems to be more reflective of the biblical portrayal of God’s knowing and man’s freedom than some speculation that God is incapable of knowing what He permits without necessitating such by causality.

We must remember that according to knowledge—finite vs. infinite—we are similar to ants (metaphorically speaking) under the microscopic lens of omniscience, which sees the deliberative process, influences, and degrees of struggle. All of which has been eternally known by God before the event in time better than man knows his choices after the event. Consequently neither the slightest aspect of the deliberative process nor the final choice is ever unknown to God. With man having true libertarian freedom, God could always have written Genesis 3:1—6, and there was never a point that He could not. Both the actualization of the event and Moses’ writing of it were dependent upon the start of time, whereas God’s knowledge of such is eternally a part of His being. Thus, foreknowledge establishes certainty without determinative causation.

Although all human examples of God’s foreknowledge break down at some point, e.g. humans never can know the future perfectly and humans know perceptively whereas God’s knowledge is essential; the following does serve to illustrate the difference between foreknowing and causing even though the foreknowledge is not absolute. I tell people that I know whom Gina (my wife for over 40 years) will vote for when she goes into the voting booth. I know this with mathematical certainty. I can tell you whom she voted for before I ever see her or talk with her after she has cast her vote. Why? Is it because I forced her, I coerced her, or that I somehow rigged the booth to cause her to vote a certain way (so that her freedom was merely subjective)? Absolutely not! I know how she will vote because I know her intimately. My knowledge of how she would vote actually has no bearing on her choice of whom to vote for, but rather I know because I know her. Simply put, knowledge and causation of certain actions are not synonymous. With regard to man, God’s knowledge does not necessarily prejudice outcomes.[5] Chafer notes, “Divine prescience of itself implies no element of necessity or determination, though it does imply certainty.”[6] God is not informed by looking beyond Himself, nor is He informed sequentially even though he distinguishes the sequence of events.

 

[1] William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 71.
[2] Chafer, Systematic Theology. vol. I, 196.
[3] See William Lane Craig’s book The Only Wise God for a fuller explanation and illustration of certainty and necessity, pages 69—73.
[4] Craig, Only Wise God, 74. Craig says of logical priority, “To say that something is logically prior to something else is not to say that the one occurs before the other in time. Temporally, they could be simultaneous. Rather, logical priority means that something serves to explain something else. The one provides the grounds or basis for the other. For example, the premises in an argument are logically prior to the conclusion, since the conclusion is derived from and based on the premises, even though temporally the premises and conclusion are all simultaneously true….this does not mean that there was a time at which certain events occurred without God’s knowing about them. The priority here is purely logical, not temporal.” 127—128. See also where he demonstrates the fallacy of the fatalistic argument, 72—74. I think the term explanatorily prior may be more helpful.
[5] The action does not cause (chronologically prior) God’s foreknowledge, but it is logically prior like “four is an even number because it is divisible by two.’ The word because expresses a logical relation of ground and consequent….Once we understand the logical priority of the events to God’s knowledge of them, we can see more easily why the fact of God’s foreknowledge does not prejudice anything.’” Craig, Only Wise God, 73—74.
[6] Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. I, 194.