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This question has been bothering me since I attempted an answer to Dmitry Ornatsky’s question about God’s omniscience: How does Plantinga's defense of free will align with omniscience

I think Plantinga would say that God does not know precisely what a human being will choose to do since human beings have free will. What a free agent will precisely choose to do is not something that is knowable although one might be able to guess.

My evidence for that comes from his “Free Will Defense” in God, Freedom and Evil, but that mainly concerns God’s omnipotence or his omniscient knowledge of evil states. It doesn't explicitly restrict God from knowing what a human agent will do.

But now I am not sure. I am looking for a reference of some article, book or video by Plantinga discussing the idea of God knowing what a human agent will choose to do, not just God's knowledge of evil states.

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    Plantinga explicitly adopts the Molinist conception of free will, which means that God knows "counterfactuals of freedom" (if this person were in such a situation they would freely act so and so), the so-called "middle knowledge". So the answer to your question is yes. Molina talked about "superintuition" into free will, Plantinga simply adopts the formal consequence without explaining how God accomplishes this feat without subverting free will, see Felt's critique. – Conifold Apr 29 '18 at 20:49
  • @Conifold I am looking for something by Plantinga on this to resolve the question. – Frank Hubeny Apr 29 '18 at 23:43
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    That would be The Nature of Necessity, although he apparently did not know in 1974 that he was reinventing Molina. It was pointed out by Adams, and acknowledged in his reply to Adams, see Tomberlin-Inwagen edited volume. – Conifold Apr 30 '18 at 0:10
  • @Conifold I will look at these references. – Frank Hubeny Apr 30 '18 at 0:23
  • For what it's worth, it has seemed to me that if we assume the existence of libertarian free will and a god with omniscience, then these two things are not incompatible. But that's a discussion for chat, not here. – Chelonian May 1 '18 at 16:43
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An article by Stephen T. Davis is useful here. We can pick it up at the point where it cites an argument from Nelson Pike. The article addresses the reconciliation, possible or not, of divine omniscience with human freedom. It isn't my practice to quote longish extracts from articles but the problem we're dealing with is perplexing and its resolution complex. Davis is no more complex than he needs to be, and could not present Plantinga's argument (in my view) with less complexity than he does.

(9) God existed at T1, and God believed at T1 that Jones would do x at T2, and it was within Jones' power at T2 to refrain from doing x.

(10) It was within Jones' power at T2 to do something that would have brought it about that God held a false belief at T1.

(11) It was within Jones' power at T2 to do something that would have brought it about that God did not hold the belief he held at T1.

(12) It was within Jones' power at T2 to do something that would have brought it about that any person who believed at T1 that Jones would do x at T2 (one of whom was, by hypothesis, God) held a false belief and thus was not God - that is, that God (who by hypothesis existed at T1) did not exist at T1.

What Pike claims is that (9) implies either (10), (11), or (12), all of which are contradictory or otherwise unacceptable, and that (9) must therefore be rejected. ...

But I believe Alvin Plantinga has successfully rebutted Pike's claim. Using a possible worlds ontology, he denies that (9) entails either (10), (11), or (12). In the next four paragraphs, let me briefly summarise Plantinga's argument. First, does (9) entail (10)? It does not seem that it does: had Jones' refrained from doing x at T2 it would follow that a proposition which God did in fact believe would have been false, but this is surely unproblematical. What does not follow is (as (10) implies) that God (who is by hypothesis omniscient) would have believed that Jones would do x at T2 under these conditions. So (10) does not appear to follow from (9). What does appear to follow is:

(10/1) It was within Jones' power at T2 to do something such that if he had done it, then a belief that God did hold at T1 would have been false.

But how does (10/1) create a problem? It certainly does not entail that Jones can make God hold a false belief. What (9) says is that God believes that Jones will do x at T2 and that Jones has the power not to do x at T2. And of course it follows that if God knows at T1 that Jones will do x at T2 then Jones will do x at T2 (as I admitted earlier). But if it is still logically possible at T2 for Jones to refrain from doing x - as (9) suggests that it is - we can capture this possibility by bringing in the modal notion of possible worlds.

Imagine a possible world W, different from the actual world, where Jones refrains from doing x at T2. Let us call the actual world 'Alpha'. Now in W, a belief that God holds in Alpha is false: so if W had been actual instead of Alpha a belief God holds in Alpha is false (and either (10), (11), or (12) would follow). But it does not follow that in W God holds the false belief that Jones will do x at T2 - unless it is true that an omniscient being must hold the same beliefs in all possible worlds. But this is obviously not true: since God is omniscient we can be quite sure that had W and not Alpha been actual he would have held the correct belief that Jones will refrain from doing x at T2. Thus it does not appear that (9) entails (10), i.e. that (9) entails that Jones has the power to make God hold a false belief.

What about (11) - does it follow from (9)? The problem is that (11) is ambiguous. It is unclear which of the following properly explicates (11):

(11/1) It was within Jones' power at T2 to do something such that if he had done it, then at T1 God would have held a certain belief and also not held that belief.

(11/2) It was within Jones' power at T2 to do something such that if he had done it, then God would not have held a belief that in fact he did hold.

(11/1) entails that Jones can bring about a contradictory state of affairs, but it does not appear that (9) entails (11/1). (11/2) does appear to follow from (9), but is perfectly innocuous: it does not follow from (11/2) that God did hold a belief that he didn't hold.

And finally, what about (12) - is it entailed by (9) ? Again, it seems not. What (9) actually entails is:

(12/1) It was within Jones' power to do something such that if he had done it, then anyone who believed at T1 that Jones would do x at T2 would not have been God.

That is, if Jones had not done x at T2, then if God had believed at T1 that Jones would do x at T2, then God would have held a false belief and would not have been God. But in a world W where Jones does not do x at T2, God does not have to hold the same beliefs that he does in Alpha, and in this case, he certainly will not.

Perhaps the basic intuition behind this critique of Pike can be expressed as follows. It is obvious that the following propositions are quite different:

(13) Jones will not mow his lawn tomorrow,

and

(14) Jones cannot mow his lawn tomorrow.

I believe that (13), but not (14), is entailed by 'God knew yesterday that Jones will not mow his lawn tomorrow'. Nor is (14) entailed by (13). There simply is no rule of logic that allows these entailments.

(Stephen T. Davis, 'Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom', Religious Studies, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 303-316 : 306-7; Nelson Pike, 'Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action', Philosophy of Religion, edited by Steven Cahn (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), pp. 68-88.)

NOTE

Philosophy is argument without end. Pike has come back at Plantinga. I am persuaded by Plantinga's argument as presented by Davis and can only indicate further references.


Stephen T. Davis, 'Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom', Religious Studies, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 303-316.

Alan Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper and Row, 1974).

Nelson Pike, 'Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action', Philosophy of Religion, edited by Steven Cahn (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), pp. 68-88.

Nelson Pike, 'Divine Foreknowledge, Human Freedom, and Possible Worlds', The Philosophical Review, LXXXVI, 2, April 1977.

  • Thanks. This gives me more to look at. I fixed what I assumed where typos in the labels of the arguments. – Frank Hubeny Aug 20 '18 at 14:02

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