Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Simple foreknowledge

Traditionally, I think many or most Arminians espouse simple foreknowledge. Recently, there's been a debate about whether Arminus was influenced by Molinism, That's an Arminian intramural debate that doesn't concern me. My immediate point is that for contemporary Arminians who espouse simple foreknowledge, this analysis sketches some of the difficulties with their position. 
It is important to note that even if foreknowledge and freedom are compatible, it is not clear that simple foreknowledge — foreknowledge that is not based on middle knowledge (see below) — could be of any aid to God in providentially ordering His creation. If God knows what will actually happen, He cannot also use this information to arrange for something else to happen, for then the contents of what He “knows” would not comprise knowledge. Foreknowledge is of the actual occurrence of future events; once the occurrence of these events is known, it is “too late” to prevent them (or to bring them about). Doing so is incompatible with their occurrence being infallibly known by God. Simple foreknowledge, if God has it, allows Him to know what will occur without having to wait for the future occurrence of events, as He must for contingent events according to Open Theism. But His knowledge is no less conditioned by the occurrence of the events; He has no greater control over their occurrence based on foreknowledge than He does if Open Theism is true. 
Once it is realized that simple foreknowledge does not offer any providential advantage to God, one may wonder what reason there is to affirm it, aside from an assumption that it is more perfect for God to have such knowledge than not. One might think that foreknowledge would provide an explanation for the accuracy of prophecy. But it does not. If God has “at once” complete foreknowledge of all that happens, He “sees” what will happen including whether or not He instructs persons to prophesy that events will happen. Given knowledge of what will occur, God is not free to do otherwise than He foresees He will do. Perhaps God could “look” at a little bit of the future at a time, make decisions about how He will react to the events He foresees, and then “look” a little further to see how His creation reacts to these actions. But this would offer no greater help for predicting future events. Suppose that God foresees the course of the world until the end of 1935. Could He then decide to warn persons on January 1st of 1936 that the holocaust is about to occur? Not in any infallible way. For assuming that the holocaust was still avoidable in 1935, and assuming that God has not yet “looked” beyond 1935, He does not yet know what will occur in the next ten years. He can decide to make probably accurate but possibly mistaken predictions on January 1, 1936, based on the tendencies present at that point, but this is no more than He can do given Open Theism. 
Simple foreknowledge has no utility for God’s providential governance of the world, nor can it ground infallible predictions of future events. (It should also be reiterated that Open Theists believe that there are less instances of such predictions in the Bible than is thought by those who affirm a traditional meticulous view of providence.) If one wants to affirm that we have libertarian freedom and still maintain a traditional view of providence according to which God directs the course of the world rather than merely witnessing how it unfolds, then affirming foreknowledge is not enough.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, great quote. It reduces simple foreknowledge to irrelevance, or collapses it into Open Theism. Leaving Molinism the more plausible and viable option for someone who rejects Calvinism. Yet, Molinism is too Calvinistic for many Arminians. If Calvinists are right in saying middle knowledge is superfluous, then the honest Arminian who seeks to be consistent really and truly has only two options, Calvinism or Open Theism.