Wednesday, January 11, 2006

God’s Knowledge of Time and Human Freedom

How God knows time plays an integral part in how His knowledge of time (i.e. the future) affects our freedom. For instance, granting that God is infallible in His knowledge of the future, i.e. God knows that A (John mows his lawn on July 4, 2007) will occur since A’s occurring is true, [1] then how can this be the case and yet man (i.e. John freely choosing to do otherwise) still have freedom?

Richard Sorabji makes mention of this problem in light of certain assertions from Boethius regarding God’s knowledge of time. Sorabji states, “there is a powerful reason in Boethius for wanting God’s knowledge to be timeless. Only so, he argues, can we avoid the knowledge in advance which would restrict our freedom? For if we make God’s knowledge of our doings to be both infallible and existent in advance, then what he foresees as happening will have been inevitable all along.” Thus Sorabji concludes, “It is then doubtful that we can either morally or responsibly be free.” [2]

Therefore, the question remains, how does God know time? Furthermore, how does God’s knowledge of the future maintain freedom in man? Or is man simply not free?

There is an exclusive and ultimate disjunction between the timeless and the temporal. However, there is a connection, though not ontologically, between an eternal being (God) and a temporal being (man). It seems implicit in the created order that since successions (i.e. temporal occurrences of successive moments of time) occur, God in some way must understand, comprehend, and know these successions. However, according to the classical philosopher and theologian (e.g. Aquinas, Augustine, Boethius, et. al), God Himself is not in time and thus is not affected by the temporal order. Therefore, the classical philosopher and theologian concludes that epistemologically, all things are present to God with regard to the whole of time and creation; although, all things are not actually present (i.e. in the present tense) in the world metaphysically.

Though God’s knowledge does not undergo succession, as does the reality of creation in its existence, God, nonetheless, in His eternal epistemic foundation, understands succession via the reality He Himself has assigned to creation. Albeit, this assigned reality has in no way caused God’s knowledge to be in succession, since this would place created reality before God’s knowledge, thus becoming the cause of what God knows. This distinction is crucial to our understanding of how God does and can relate and act in and upon the created order. He must in some fashion understand this succession without being affected by it if He is to remain timeless (and especially immutable).

[1] What is meant by declaring that A’s occurring is true is simply that A is the proposition, for example, ‘John will mow his lawn on July 4, 2007,’ and in our granting that God’s knowledge of the future is infallible, then granting that God knows that A will occur is true, then it is inevitable that A will occur; if in fact A did not occur then God’s knowledge of A would be otherwise. Simply put, God would not have knowledge of A since the latter option (A’s not occurring) would be false.

[2] Richard Sorabji, Time, Creation, and the Continuum: Theories in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983), 254. Emphasis is Sorabji’s. Sorabji alludes to Boethius work The Consolation of Philosophy, 5.6. Sorabji seems to conclude that if Boethius is correct and “God’s knowledge of our doings is to be both infallible and existent in advance, then what he foresees as happening will have been inevitable all along,” then men would not be free since this knowledge leads to an inevitable conclusion based solely on God’s knowledge (i.e. men could not do otherwise). Sorabji addresses this issue in his book titled Necessity, Cause, and Blame (London, N.P., 1980), 112-13.Here is the beginning of my post.


Anonymous Fleenar Mavis said...

Good post. It seems you've jumped from between a rock and a hard place into a pickle though. If the things known are not causal of God's knowledge of them, but their cause (God Himself) is how they are known, as you suggest, it is not obvious that this makes our freedom and God's knowledge of it less of a problem. It seems that God knows our free acts because He causes them!
I would be interested to see someone on Tu Quoque explain Thomas' answer to this.

Also, I'm curious about the comment that there is no ontological connection between the timeless and the temporal. What kind of relation would constitute an ontological connection in your book?

6:46 AM  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...


Yep, you are correct when you state "it seems that God knows our free acts because He causes them."

This is the very issue that caused Louis de Molina to take up pen and respond to Aquinas. However, Aquinas would say that God causes things by two means - first by direct cause (primary cause). God Himself actually causing a thing to occur, and second, by indirect cause (secondary cause), God creates, He understands and knows His creation and through that knowledge men act accordingly, but God is not directly causing men to act the way they do - this is problematic, huh?

I think Molina's claim that Aquinas held to a type of deterministic view of God and man's freedom is quite warranted. And I think Aquinas would respond, so what. God is soveriegn, it is through His knowledge and His acting that He creates, and by this the created order is directed. Aquinas is quite clear in his Summa Theologica that this is the case. Too often modern Thomist read Aquinas through the lenses of someone else (i.e. Gilson, Wippel, or Owens), and I have done so myself. I would like to hear from others on Tu Quoque about this issue as well. It might help me square some ideas in my thinking.

I intend to post a few more short snips about God and time, but know that I still have not squared it in my own mind how this all cashes out in a neat theological or philosophical fashion. So I hope people will respond and throw out some objections or agreements, etc.

7:15 AM  
Anonymous Fleenar Mavis said...

Vick- Thanks for the response. What does secondary cause mean here? God does not, in any way, know our free actions from what we do, but knows it in Himself as the cause of those actions. Just like God knows that the ball will roll down the hill as its cause. As sustaining cause of these things, He delivers being to them continually. From this point of view, they seem the same. Can you give a description of how they are different?

12:11 PM  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

FM, you ask some very good questions. Here is my best response:

Aquinas distinguishes between these two causes of God’s knowledge this way; first there is God’s knowledge which is the knowledge of approbation. This is where God directly acts upon a thing to cause it and He does this through His knowledge and directly by His hand, so to speak. For instance, when God created Adam He breathed life into him; this would be God’s directly causing Adam to have life.

Second, things are caused by God’s knowledge according to what Aquinas calls the cause of consequence. This is where events happen by a force other than God but still God knows and understands them in His knowledge. These are things which are usually future and contingent, but can also be things which are present relative to us (in other words as they occur).

For instance, an accident on the highway is caused by one or more reckless drivers who have made mistakes in their driving and that has caused a wreck. However, God did not necessarily cause the wreck Himself, it was instead caused by certain events, decisions, and people. But, God certainly knew this would occur via those circumstances. So it happened because God knew it would, but He did not direct it Himself – like when He breathed life into Adam.

That is the best way I know how to describe the distinction. Once again, I have not fully developed a sound theology around this since it still, in certain respects seems problematic to me. And, in fact, Aquinas does not give us much more detail about these things in his ST. He may give more detail about this in his work titled Truth.

If someone can offer a better description of the distinction I would certainly love to here it (or rather read it) here. I hope that helped at least a little bit.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

I don't know that I have a better description, but I think that some interpret Aquinas as saying that God is the primary efficient cause, while man is the secondary efficient cause of our actions. I think Dr. Stump at St. Louis Univ. interprets Aquinas so that God is the formal cause of our actions while we are the efficient cause of our actions.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the car wreck analogy illustrates dual causality. To my knowledge, this kind of causality does not occur except in the case of God's causing of our free acts. It is something that Aquinas affirms without contradiction, but cannot explain how it works.

Let me know if you think I am wrong in this.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

If anyone is interested in this topic, I would love them to read my paper and let me know what they think. Criticisms? Comments? etc. It compares Molinism with a Thomistic view.

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Fleenar Mavis said...


I read the paper, it was good. I have a couple of questions/ comments. First, on pg.18 you explained God's not being morally responsible for evil actions by difference in intention. My understanding of Thomas is that intention is only one part of what determines the morality of an act. Some acts are intrinsically evil, good intentions or not. How would this affect your response.

Second, what did you think about the rest of Koons' paper? It seemed to me that his solution made simplicity possible, but didn't take into account eternality. Thoughts?

Last, and this is me trying to be helpful, not a jerk. On pg. 11 it says "casually" instead of "causally." And on pg. 18, "Adams sin" intead of "Adam's sin".

11:46 AM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...


Thanks for reading the paper. Thanks for the comments / criticisms. I'll have to go back and make some changes to the paper at some point. I am glad that you pointed out some of the glaring mistakes in my paper.

I haven't read Koons' paper in a while. I'll have to get it out and read it again. I am not sure what you mean when you talk about his paper making simplicity possible. The paper was on dual causality an its relevant implications on free will. Are you thinking that his defense of dual causality responds to a particular criticism of simplicity?

Also, could you elaborate on your question about Aquinas and intentions? I'm thinking that the quote I gave in the paper responded to what you are bringing up, but I am probably misunderstanding your objection.

3:14 PM  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Matthew States:

"I could be wrong, but I don't think the car wreck analogy illustrates dual causality."

Well, it has been a while since I have tackled these issues (about 5 years or so) but I do not think dual causality and secondary causality are the same, are they?

I was trying to illustrate, with the car, secondary causality, where God is not the direct cause of an event of things, but is a cause indirectly through an agent, etc. Is that dual causality?

5:51 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Dual causality and secondary causality are not the same things. I thought you were trying to illustrate how a primary and secondary cause could work together to produce some common effect. For that is what we are talking about when we talk about primary and secondary efficient causality in the context of the soveriegnty / free will discussion.

In the case of free will, it seems that God's causal relation is more intimate than a mere causing of our "power of free will", where our free will is then untouched by God's causal influence. As Aquinas says,

“God not only gives powers to things but, beyond that, no thing can act by its own
power unless it acts through His power… man cannot use the power of will that
has been given him except in so far as he acts through the power of God. Now,
the being through whose power the agent acts is the cause not only of the power,
but also of the act… Therefore, God is for us the cause not only of our will, but
also of our act of willing.”

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles: Book 3: Part 2, (United States:
Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1955.), 36.

I was commenting on what you said because in your illustration you were saying things like "God did not necessarily cause the wreck Himself" and "God certainly knew this would occur via those circumstances". But in the discussion of free will, Gods causal activity (according to Aquinas) extends to the acts of free will. I know that Dr. Geisler explains primary and secondary causality in terms of Gods causing the power of free will but not the acts of free will, but I think it's kind of misleading. Craig and Moreland would find this kind of talk incoherent. Your second statement about God knowing something would occur via the circumstances doesn't seem to reflect a Thomistic view either. God doesn't know anything via anything else.

Also, in the discussion about primary and secondary causality, the relation of the primary cause to the secondary cause seems to be different when talking about Gods sustaining the laws of physics vs. Gods sustaining our free will.

Let me know if you think I am misinterpreting Aquinas or Geisler, or you.

In Christ,

6:47 PM  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Ok, I thought that was correct, but once again it has been a long time since I have looked into these issues . . .

Matt states:
"I was commenting on what you said because in your illustration you were saying things like "God did not necessarily cause the wreck Himself" and "God certainly knew this would occur via those circumstances". But in the discussion of free will, Gods causal activity (according to Aquinas) extends to the acts of free will."

With regard to the above, I agree that the statement "God certainly knew this would occur via those circumstances" is certainly not Thomistic. In fact, I am not sure why I characterized it that way . . . sounds more like Molinism. I was hoping that my post would kick start me back into a re-reading of these issues so I could get acquinated with them again.

Matt, reading what you have posted above I do not think you have misrepresented Geisler of myself, although I think I may have perhaps misrepresented myself :-)

Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts on this issue and I do intend to read your paper asap. Thank you for making it available.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Hi all! Great discussion here. I thought I would just add my two cents to add to what Matt said earlier.
As far as I am aware, Eleonore Stump argues (most recently in her huge tome on Aquinas pub. Routledge) that when it is said that God's knowledge is causal, it should not be taken that:
1) God knows everything He knows “in virtue of His knowledge being the efficient cause of what He knows.”


2) “What is effected by the causation of divine knowledge includes all actions, events, and states of affairs in the world.”

Stump thinks that both of these are mistaken. In contemporary dialogue, it is common to have efficient causation in mind when one speaks of a thing being caused. But of course Aquinas does not think efficient causation to be the only kind of causation there is. He agrees with Aristotle that there are material, formal, and final causes as well. Like the analogy of the craftsman, the pattern or exemplar of the house in the mind of the craftsman before he builds, is said to be the formal cause of the house when it is built. But it is not the efficient cause. In the same way, (and I should add that since i am going by memory here you might want to check out Stump yourself to see if i'm correct)God’s knowledge is the formal not the efficient cause of what He knows. Likewise, what is effected by the causation of divine knowledge cannot be actions, events and states of affairs, for the kind of causation Aquinas has in mind here only applies to substances.

Matt, I should also add that I read your paper comparing Molinism and Thomism on divine foreknowledge and free will. I am not convinced that you have disposed of Molinism however. Nonetheless, it was a good well-written paper. If I get a chance later I will try to post a brief resoponse in defence o Middle knowledge.

Great work!!

8:16 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...


Thanks for reading the paper. This paper was a paper for a systematic theology class. I would like to expand my criticisms of Molinism into a lengthy paper someday. I would love to hear your criticisms. I know that Craig has responded to everything I mentioned in that paper. I am sure that nothing I said would take Craig by surprise.

t.b. vick,

If you get a chance to read my paper, I would love to get your comments on it. Did you know Jason Reed?

7:35 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Sorry if this is off-topic; I find much of the discussion so far to have been rather esoteric.

The apparent issue being debated here is that, if there is predestination, then people get punished for things they were designed to do in the first place.

Wikipedia's entry for Summa Theologiae says:

As God rules in the world, the "plan of the order of things" preexists in him; i.e., his providence and the exercise of it in his government are what condition as cause everything which comes to pass in the world. Hence follows predestination: from eternity some are destined to eternal life, while as concerns others "he permits some to fall short of that end." Reprobation, however, is more than mere foreknowledge; it is the "will of permitting anyone to fall into sin and incur the penalty of condemnation for sin." The effect of predestination is grace. Since God is the first cause of everything, he is the cause of even the free acts of men through predestination. Determinism is deeply grounded in the system of Thomas; things with their source of becoming in God are ordered from eternity as means for the realization of his end in himself. On moral grounds Thomas advocates freedom energetically; but, with his premises, he can have in mind only the psychological form of self-motivation. Nothing in the world is accidental or free, although it may appear so in reference to the proximate cause. From this point of view miracles become necessary in themselves and are to be considered merely as inexplicable to man. From the point of view of the first cause all is unchangeable; although from the limited point of view of the secondary cause miracles may be spoken of.

Fair enough. There's no escaping determinism. Even if God decides to look the other way when he rolls the dice for the universe, that still doesn't give you "free will".

Now, I can see why all this might be an issue for the generic theist, but why should this issue be of concern to Christians?

It seems to me that Christians have already accepted that God makes the rules, and that those rules create moral imperatives that are beyond question. Our subjective moral view of creation is largely irrelevant to the execution of those imperatives.

In other words, why shouldn't God design people to be bad, then torment them forever when they are? It's his universe.

On the other hand, the generic theist might have more options. For example, he might decide to be a conscientious objector, or he might reason that the only God worth worshipping runs the universe in approximate accordance with his own subjective morality (e.g., there's no Hell).

Of course, you might all be interested in the question of how to wring free will out of theology independent of any of these considerations. In that case, just ignore my question.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Dr. Logic,

You asked,
"Why should this issue be of concern to Christians?"

Discovering truth for it's own sake, in my opinion, should be an objective of all Christians. Even if there were no other reasons for Christians to discuss the issue, knowing what is true about God is a valuable end in itself.

However, I think there are practical consequences to the view one's holds on this issue. Some Christians hold to a kind of strong determinism, while others hold to a libertarian view of free will. One's attitude on evangelism, for example, may be affected by one's view of predestination and free will. Also, the position you take on predestination affects how you formulate your theodicies and whatnot in your apologetic task. There are lot's of good reasons to inquire about this issue.

I would ask the generic theist why he would speculate on these issues. I think they would have less motivation to explore this than we would. You mentioned that the 'generic theist may have more options', but I would think s/he has more options because they don't have facts to bother about.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Fleenar Mavis said...

Matt- I'll drop the comment about intentions due to the fact I don't remember it well enough to give an adequate explanation or defense. With regards to the Koons paper, I don't know if I read the same version as you. In the version I read one of Koons' big goals was to maintain the possibility of divine simplicity, which he didn't think molinism could. What struck me about the paper was while Koons worked hard to hold the door open to simplicity, he seemed to let the door to eternity get closed.

Vick- Back to the original post, I still am curious to what consitutes an "ontological connection." I seem to remember that there is a real relation between the created and God (a relation of dependence) but not a real relation between God and creation. Help?

7:02 AM  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

FM states:
"Back to the original post, I still am curious to what consitutes an 'ontological connection.'"

Well, what I posted was a small section from one chapter of my master's thesis - the "ontological connection" was a reference to Bill Craig's asserions that God, with creation, become temporal due to new relations which were not present apart from creation. So my argument was God knows and understands His creation without being ontologically affected by it.

In other words, relations with creation do not change the ontology of God (i.e. His nature) the connection would be epistemological for God and relational for man, not relational for both as Craig seems to declare.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...


Again, I'll have to get that article out again. Unfortunately, I don't have the time now, but I'll look at it as soon as possible.

4:04 PM  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...


sorry for delayed response on this question (did you know Jason Reed?), I just went back and re-read the comments and noticed it.

Yes, I know Jason Reed. He started SES my last year there.

9:26 PM  

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