There is a common claim in Arminian internet circles that God’s foreknowledge of all future events is consistent with the idea that man still has free will. The argument generally goes like this: “God knows what a man will freely choose. If the man chooses X, God knows that the man will choose X. But if the man would have chosen Y, then God would have known that the man chose Y instead. Therefore, the man’s choice is still free and self-determined, despite the fact that God knows what it will be.”
Now I maintain that this position inevitably leads one to Open Theism where God cannot actually know what a person will choose until after said person has done so. Indeed, you can see this in the very language of the argument above. God knows a decision based on what the one who makes the decision actually does. That is, God only knows after (in the logical sense) the decision has already been made.
The only reason the Arminian argument can even get off the ground is because of the confusion most people have between a temporal “before” and a logical “before.” Most often, we are considering future events—that is, future from our perspective. And therefore, they have not temporally arrived. Now we all say that God knows the future. In fact, we would say that God is not temporal at all. That is not in dispute amongst Arminians and Calvinists. But that is also where the subtle shift in thought comes in, which causes the problems for the Arminian, for he confuses temporal sequence with logical sequence.
Let me try to give an example. Tomorrow, I either will or will not read any portion of the local newspaper. I do not know which I will do, for I do not even know if I will be alive tomorrow. But God does know. Now the Arminian claim is this: God knows because if I freely choose to read the newspaper then God has already seen that from His perspective and thus knows I will freely choose to read the newspaper. If I freely choose not to read the newspaper, then God has already seen that from His perspective and thus knows I will freely choose not to read the newspaper. Thus, the claim is, I freely choose and God still knows what I will do now, before I get to the future.
Yet the above requires that I actually choose before God knows what I choose. Just shifting it into the future from our perspective does not change the fact that from God’s perspective this choice has already occurred. In other words, the claim that “if you would have chosen otherwise, God would have known otherwise” is no different from saying “God doesn’t know what you will do until after you already do it.” The only difference is that we say God did all of this in our future. But our future is not God’s future, for He is not stuck in time with us.
There is another point that buttresses my argument. Even if we grant the Arminian view for the sake of argument, we are left with a determined future. It cannot be other than it is, for God knows what the future is. The distinction, says the Arminian, is that our choices are self-determined rather than determined by God. Let us go with that concept. If my choice to read a newspaper tomorrow or to refrain from reading a newspaper tomorrow is self-determined, then until my “self” exists to make that choice, then the choice has not been determined. That is, if I am the determining factor, such that I can say this choice is self-determined, then the choice cannot logically be determined before I, myself, determine it. So, in the end, if tomorrow’s choice to read or not to read is self-determined, then it cannot be known before I make the decision.
Simply shifting me into the future doesn’t help. For even if we say it is my future self that determines this choice, God can only know what that choice will be after my future self makes that choice. For until I actually exist to make that choice then the choice must be undetermined, else I am not the determiner of that choice.
Again, do not get caught up in the time aspect. All of these things can happen instantly from God’s perspective, yet He still cannot logically know what I will do until after I have done it, if I am the determiner of the action. Therefore, in essence, God functions little better than someone who watches a DVD he has seen before and knows what the next scene will be before the characters in the movie do; but he only knows that next scene because he’s already watched the movie at some point in his past. That means at some point in that past, the characters already acted out the scene. Thus, the characters’ actual future has already been completed in his past, and the observer has merely rewound time to see it again. This is hardly foreknowledge.
And this brings up problems similar to the time travel paradox. See, we know that God has intervened in time. He has given prophecy of things that will come to pass. Here’s the problem. If we determine our actions, then God has to logically wait (again, not temporally wait) until after we have made those decisions, and then He can intervene in our past to tell us what the result of those actions will be for us. Yet when we first made those decisions, we made them without God’s intervention. God could not have intervened at that point, for He did not know what our actions would be yet to tell us what would happen.
That means the universe we occupy after God informs us of what our future will be is no longer the universe we were in when the original decisions were made; thus, after telling us what the future (from our perspective) will be, God no longer knows what that future will be! He has to logically wait until we have made decisions based on our new information, and then He will know what that future will be once more. And if it’s still not what He wants it to be, He has to rewind and intervene yet again and the process repeats.
But here’s the real kicker. Consider the “you” that existed the first time God “ran the universe” under these implications. That you self-determined some action without God’s intervention. God decides to intervene instead. Now, the you that existed the first time God “ran the universe” no longer exists, for now you know something on this run-through that you didn’t know the first pass. As a result, what you self-determine could be completely, radically different—and indeed, what other reason would there be for God to intervene? If He’s not trying to change things, then there’s no need to intervene. But if He does change things, then the future is no longer what He saw and He has to let it play out again so He can know what the future has changed to.
But here’s the real mind-bending question: what is the difference between this you and that you as far as the subjective experience of the “you” is concerned? It appears to me that you would exist and you would have a specific history and then suddenly, poof, it’s gone (and you wouldn’t remember it, of course). You’re back in time and moving forward once more, but now God tells you something you didn’t know the first time. Everything after that point is affected by your new knowledge, and is not identical to the first pass through. The implication?
You could be on that false, original path right now and you would never know it.
For example, Christ promised to return having conquered death itself; but if we have actions that are self-determined, then He has to see how those will play out. Even though He intends a specific outcome, He has to logically wait to see what we will do in order to know what He would do. And though that takes no time from His perspective, from our perspective it does take time. So if we exist to make these choices, and if it turns out that our self-determined choices actually cause Satan to win, then God can go back in time (from our perspective) to intervene and change things, and all that we are right now will cease to exist. But that means that while we exist right now, God’s promise that Christ will return triumphant is actually a lie. He has to wait to see what we will do, then change it, and keep doing so until He finally gets the outcome He wants, but for all of those “false start” time threads, God is a liar. That we cease to exist and go down an alternate path later without remembering it doesn’t change the fact that now, as we are on that false path, God is a liar. This means this position cannot be Scriptural either.
So to summarize, if our actions are self-determined, then God must logically wait for us to determine our actions before He will know what we will determine. Saying, “If we would have chosen otherwise, then God would have known otherwise” actually proves this, for it explicitly states that God knows what we will do only because we have already, in God’s time, made the decision. But that isn’t foreknowledge (it is post-knowledge, for it is in God’s past even if it is in our future) and opens all kinds of problems with the flow of time. In other words, the Arminian position here is untenable pretty much any way you look at it.