Here are two statements that I have always considered self-evident:

God’s total foreknowledge is not compatible with genuine human freedom.

God is with us at all times but does not know in advance what we will think or do.

Having stated my “Axioms of God’s Foreknowledge vs. Human Freedom”, I have gradually realized that what is for me self evident, and therefore axiomatic, is not so for many Christians. Anyway, I have come to realize that it is necessary to demonstrate what to me is obvious, either directly, or by disproving the opposite, viz. the position that is referred to as "compatibilism":

[Compatibilism] God’s total foreknowledge is compatible with genuine human freedom (see e.g. Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom Are Compatible @ jstor.org)

Is there a way to prove that God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with genuine human freedom? If so, can someone provide an Answer with that proof?

P.S. While I am interested to receive "an overview of all Christian positions", the priority is for a logically valid answer to the Question.

  • 2
    Compatibilism is a belief that determinism and free will are compatible. Foreknowledge isn't the same as determinism. Foreknowledge is simply knowing in advance what will happen, whereas determinism implies controlling what will happen. May 9, 2021 at 17:32
  • @SamuelBradshaw Interesting discussion about a Question that has been declared "off-topic". Anyway, I see the problem in the terms described at SEP > Foreknowledge and Free Will, including possible objections of "modal fallacy". May 9, 2021 at 19:07
  • 1
    @Migeul That's not how this site works. You can't ask for either a logical answer or an overview. And actually you can't ask for a "logical" answer at all. You either direct the question to one denomination, or to all of them. If you want an answer from logic alone, then the Philosophy site is the place to go. If you haven't seen it, What types of questions can I ask on this site?
    – curiousdannii
    May 10, 2021 at 21:08
  • 1
    If it is true that the existence of God is non-disprovable doesn't it follow that whatever degree of foreknowledge He actually has (if He actually exists) is also non-disprovable? For those who hold to His self revelation in Scripture that same Scripture is our only recourse. It feels as though we sometimes are searching for the God who obeys our intellects but, of Himself, He says that He knows the end from the beginning. Why do we have to be intellectually satisfied before we can believe Him? May 11, 2021 at 11:53
  • 1
    Why do we have to be intellectually satisfied before we can believe Him? Well, talking about "Scripture is our only recourse", I am still battling with the Canaanite Genocide (Deuteronomy and Joshua) and Saul Amalekite Genocide, whether they 1) are real 2) if they are real, whether they were really done at YHWH's bidding. May 11, 2021 at 13:59

2 Answers 2


Open Theists say that God's knowledge of the future is incompatible with libertarian notion of human freedom. Their solution is to limit God's omniscience so God does not know the future.

Their position is discussed in the IEP entry Open Theism, as well as in a 2001 article by theologian John Frame Open Theism and Divine Foreknowledge. Wikipedia also has a good article on Open Theism which includes:

  • Comparison with Reformed theism
  • Varieties of open theists
  • A large list of scholars since 1980
  • A nice table of representative books by both sides

In this scheme, your 2 axiomatic statements can remain true (highlighted in the quote from John Frame's article below) and you will get your libertarian style free will:

A free act in the libertarian sense⁸ is an act that is utterly uncaused, undetermined. It is not caused by God, nor by anything in creation, nor even by the desires and dispositions of the one who performs the act. Such causes may “influence” or “incline” us to a certain choice, but they never determine a choice, if that choice is free in the libertarian sense. At the moment of choice, on this view, we are always equally able to choose or not to choose a particular alternative.⁹ For this reason, libertarian freedom is sometimes called “liberty of indifference,” for up to the very moment of choice nothing is settled; the will is indifferent.¹⁰

Now if people are free in the libertarian sense, then human decisions are radically unpredictable. Even God cannot know them in advance. If in 1930 God knew that I would be writing this article in 2000, then I would not be writing it freely. I could not avoid writing it. So if my writing is a free choice in the libertarian sense, even God cannot have been certain of it in advance. Libertarian freedom excludes the classical view of God’s foreknowledge.¹¹

On this view, the future is of such a nature that it cannot be known exhaustively. So open theists claim that on their view God is indeed omniscient, in the sense that he knows everything that can be known. That he lacks exhaustive knowledge of the future is no more of a limitation than his inability to make a square circle. Just as his omnipotence enables him to do everything that can be done, so his omniscience enables him to know everything that can be known. That includes knowledge of the past and present, but not the future, so open theists name their view presentism.¹²

For open theists, therefore, libertarian freedom is a fundamental premise, a standard by which all other theological statements are judged. Typically, open theists do not argue the case (such as there is) for libertarian freedom; rather, they assume it. ¹³ It is their presupposition. So God cannot have exhaustive knowledge of the future. Pinnock says,

However, omniscience need not mean exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events. If that were its meaning, the future would be fixed and determined, much as is the past. Total knowledge of the future would imply a fixity of events. Nothing in the future would need to be decided. It also would imply that human freedom is an illusion, that we make no difference and are not responsible. ¹⁴

He is saying that God cannot know the future exhaustively, because if he did we would not have libertarian freedom.

All 3 articles discuss scriptural support cited by their proponents, but

  • there is big cost: i.e. no guarantee that everything will work out as God wants in the end, God's glory is diminished (see section 4 of the IEP article)
  • there is incoherency when taking the full scriptural evidence into account (see the last 2 sections of John Frame's article: 'Divine Ignorance in Scripture?' and 'God’s Exhaustive Knowledge of the Future').
  • Thank you for your links and quotations. As for your "but" at the end: (1) God's plan will prevail, but there will be casualties on the way; your undestanding of the consequences of Open Theism ("God's glory is diminished") are a biased misreading of the paragraph. (2) Where would you find the alleged "incoherency"? May 11, 2021 at 7:38
  • @MigueldeServet (1) Section 4 says that "If Open Theism is true, then there is no guarantee that everything will work out as God wants in the end. Open Theists may trust and hope in God’s wisdom and power, but they recognize that there are limitations on what God can effect if we stubbornly refuse to aid Him." How is it biased? As for "God's glory is diminished", I think it depends on how one defines God's glory. I actually agree with the author about more glory if we have greater role in our salvation (paragraph 12) but we can argue God receives less glory in paragraph 5. May 11, 2021 at 17:23
  • @MigueldeServet About (2) there are several incoherency, spelled out in paragraph 4 of "God's Exhaustive Knowledge of the Future" : "the second kind of prophecy ... ought to be troubling to open theists..." then later John Frame cites many verses implying how there are other prophecies that "anticipate countless free decisions of human beings, long before any had the opportunity to form their own character", and the final 2 paragraphs about God's "knowledge that include exhaustive knowledge of the future" (emphasis mine). To me (I agree, it's subjective), it's part of God's glory. May 11, 2021 at 17:34
  • Grateful, (1) In §4 of the IEP article it is NOT affirmed that "God's glory is diminished", BUT it is asked, "To what extent is God’s glory diminished etc.?" You even say that you "agree with the author". I do not know what you refer to by "paragraph 12" and "paragraph 5" [continues] May 11, 2021 at 17:55
  • @MigueldeServet Paragraph 12 is when the author argue against the opponent's saying "God's glory is diminished" in regard to salvation. Paragraph 5 is when the author discusses how God deals with human gratuitous evil. He said: "If instead one cannot imagine that God would allow us to perform such horrible acts ... without there being some very great good that they serve, then one is likely to put one’s faith in the mysterious but certain goodness of God’s meticulous governance of creation." which to me is another aspect of God's glory diminished because of Open Theism. May 11, 2021 at 18:03

Logic requires definitions. In particular, does "omniscient" mean "knows everything" or "is capable of knowing everything"?

If you want the former, you might also wonder why, if God is omnipotent, he hasn't done everything. The obvious answer is that omnipotence must mean the latter kind of definition.

Similarly, God's ability to know everything doesn't mean that he does know everything.

I live near Maple Hills Creek. I know that its water will flow into the Grand River, and thence into Lake Ontario, and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

I know this in general, but am incapable of knowing it with absolute certainty (perhaps Yellowstone will explode tonight and mess everything up), nor am I capable of knowing whether any specific individual water molecule will evaporate before it reaches the ocean.

But most of the time, knowing the big picture is enough, the details usually don't matter.

God knows with absolute certainty how history will flow. But, with a few exceptions, he has no need to know how an individual person will behave within that flow of history. Even with specific individuals that are predestined to play a role in his plan, it's sufficient to occasionally nudge them back onto the right track without knowing every little detail of what they are going to do.

God might be capable of knowing everything, but why would he bother?

As another analogy, suppose you record a video of a child playing. Later, when you view it, you will know for sure what will happen, but that in no way means that the child didn't use free will to decide what to do; you simply know what that decision will be.

  • Ray, the understanding of "omniscient" as "capable of knowing everything" rather than "knows everything" (and similarly for "omnipotent") is fundamental. OTOH, the "another analogy" at the end is totally botched and inconsistent with your previous "why would he bother?". If God saw the future as the past, like an unchangeable film, then we would be mere robots, or (to use a more Platonic image), mere shadows. May 11, 2021 at 7:50
  • @MigueldeServet I know that yesterday I freely chose a can of cold Spaghetio's for lunch. I see that choice in the past, like an unchangeable film. Was I a mere robot yesterday or a shadow on account of my knowledge today? Of course not. This applies in the other direction as well, the only difference is that we cannot see into the future. God can and we must shake off the need to transfer our limitations onto Him. May 11, 2021 at 11:47
  • Did God foreknow that Adam would choose poorly? May 11, 2021 at 11:48
  • Mike, I cannot think of a sadder choice than "a can of cold Spaghetio's for lunch" :( May 11, 2021 at 13:46
  • Did God foreknow that Adam would choose poorly? Did He? If He did, what is your comment? May 11, 2021 at 15:24

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .