The Problem of God’s Foreknowledge
Here’s a puzzle we only briefly mentioned in class. We’ve discussed the assumption that God is omniscient in considering the Problem of Evil earlier. God’s omniscience, however, also figures in a further puzzle:
Does God know or does He not know that a certain individual will be good or bad? If thou sayest ‘He knows’, then it necessarily follows that man is compelled to act as God knew beforehand he would act, otherwise God’s knowledge would be imperfect. –Maimonides (1135-1204)
Sometimes called ‘theological fatalism’, the puzzle arises when we consider that God’s omniscience on any plausible account of ‘omniscience’ presupposes that God knows both everything that has happened in the past and everything that will happen in the future. Yet we human beings are supposed to enjoy freedom of will. We freely choose to do good or bad, and we are held morally praiseworthy or morally blameworthy as a result. That is, moral responsibility is predicated on our free choices, and according to many religions, our eternal reward or punishment is contingent on the free choices we make. Yet our capacity for freely choosing one course of action over another presupposes, it seems, that we could have done otherwise. For example, the pedestrian is morally praiseworthy for helping the old man cross the street because he, the pedestrian, could have kept on walking and ignored the old man. Yet he didn’t: He stopped to help, deliberately and freely.
Could he have done otherwise, however? If God knows what will happen in the future, then God knows that the pedestrian will stop to help the old man cross the street. If God knows that, then at the very least it is true now that the pedestrian will (tomorrow, say) help the old man cross the street. So the pedestrian could not have done otherwise, if God is omniscient. In which case it makes no sense for God to hold us morally responsible for our actions, since it appears we never could have done otherwise.
Given this explanation of the argument, set the argument out in a list of propositions (for example, like I set out the Euthyphro Argument in one of last week’s synopses), making sure that it is in valid form by supplying premises as needed. Prove that it is valid by translating the argument into its propositional calculus counterpart and using either truth tables or analytic tableaux to finally demonstrate validity. Take a picture (or scan a pdf, or what have you) and attach it to your essay email.
Having spelled out the argument, explain in your essay whether or not you think what you do tomorrow is already fated to happen (regardless of your intentions or the feeling you have of having chosen) given God’s omniscience. If you think not, then which premise of the argument you’ve given do you reject? If you think so, then is it fair for you to also be held morally responsible for your actions? Why or why not?
Only need 750 words, no more no less.