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Problem of Foreknowledge and Freedom

Problem of Foreknowledge and Freedom Do we truly have free will if God is all knowing? The issue is that if God knows every possibility we can chose, and knows the one we will choose, does our freedom of choice really exist? For in this case, we are merely living out a preordained plan; our free will is an illusion. Thus free will does not exist; rather, we are carrying out God’s preset plan. In contrast, if God only knows the possible decisions we can make, but not the one we will choose, does this not limit His knowledge?

For if the decisions men make are really up to his own free-will, then God is not all knowing. This hurts the monotheist argument for the existence of evil on the world. Boethius begins his discussion of necessity and foreknowledge by asking, “Is foreknowledge the cause of the necessity of future events, or is the necessity of future events the cause of providence? ” (101). Boethius is trying to decipher whether the actions carried out by man are necessary because of God’s foreknowledge of them, or does the necessity of things to come create providence.

Boethius goes on to explain that foreknowledge is the cause of future events. He claims, “the outcome of something foreknown cannot be avoided” (101). Through lady philosophy Boethius explains how God is eternal and not enduring through all of time. For things that are subject to time cannot apprehend tomorrow and have already forgotten the past (110). Therefore anything subjected to the status of time, even if that which is subjected has no beginning, always existed, and extends without limits, is not rightly eternal; it is enduring.

Boethius explains, “it is the common view of all who live by reason that God is eternal” (110). Thus, if God is eternal he cannot live within the constraints of the concept of time. Rather He grasps the fullness of all past, present, and future events simultaneously. God always appears unchanged; he remains forever as he is in this moment (110). In addition, Boethius claims, “since it cannot continue at rest, it embarks on a boundless journey through time; thus by its course it extends the life whose fullness it could not attain by abiding at rest” (111). This explains why the temporal world is enduring.

Temporal things cannot grasp the entirety of their existence, they require advancing through time because it is by that mechanism that allows them to continue in existence. Temporal things must move in time to continue to exist. Boethius follows by using Plato’s argument to explain that God is eternal. He says, “should we wish to designate things appropriately, we…call God eternal, but the world enduring” (111). God does not require the movement through time to continue to exist. Since He is not bound by the context of time, he simultaneously grasps the entirety of all things related to our past, present, and future.

By proving God is eternal rather than enduring, He is omnipotent and possesses the foreknowledge of every possible outcome to the decisions men make. Next, Boethius goes on to explain how man also possesses free will. According to Boethius, “only that which comprehends the whole plenitude of endless life together, from which no future thing nor any past thing is absent, can justly be called eternal” (115). Boethius conceived that if we are to solve the problem of foreknowledge and freedom, we have to remove God’s existence from time.

God’s existence has to be outside the realm of time – not time bound. This is because things that exist in time cannot be said to be eternal, since they do not “comprehend and include the whole of infinite life all at once” (115). Therefore, we can say that Boethius view differs from the Platonic thought that that the eternal being is a being with endless life. For Boethius, an eternal being s one that exist outside of time but is fully aware of unending life but instead a being outside of time who is aware of unending life in a holistic manner.

Through this explanation, Boethius was able to show the difference between the human knowledge and God’s knowledge. As a result of God’s personality as an eternal being, i. e. a timeless being, His knowledge is different from human knowledge. Speaking of God’s knowledge, Boethius says “It encompasses the infinite sweep of past and future, and regards all things in its simple comprehension as if they were now taking place” (116). This means that what is called “past”, “present” and “future” to man is actually in God’s present. Everything is in the “now”.

The divine kind of knowledge as Boethius describes it is the “knowledge of a never changing present” (116). Therefore, having established the disparity between the human and the God kind of knowledge, Boethius reasoned that though God has knowledge of the result of every likely choice man makes, it is left to man to do whatever he wants. God is aware of the choice we make and the outcome that will come as a result of making that choice but His foreknowledge does not mean He interferes in choice of man. He leaves man to make his choice freely and voluntarily. This brings us to his idea of necessity.

According to Boethius, God’s foreknowledge does not make it necessary for man making the choices he makes; rather, His foreknowledge is necessary because of his eternal personality. This is expressed in Boethius’s view that “a future happening which is necessary when viewed by divine knowledge seems to wholly free and unqualified when considered in its own nature” (113). The simple explanation is that whatever God sees is necessarily going to happen, not that God has a hand in its happening. Man’s choices resulting from free will does not affect what God sees.

Thus, Boethius’s idea reduced God to a passive observer who simple knows a thing not because he wants to now but because he has to know. Man’s life, then, is like a movie that God has previously viewed and whatever man faces as a result of the choices he makes is already known to God. “This explains how God’s foreknowledge is necessary to occur and still leaves room for man’s free will” (Rich, 2005) Furthermore, another idea that is essential in Boethius solution to the problem of foreknowledge and freedom is Boethius’ idea of necessity.

In explaining the concomitancy of God’s foreknowledge with human freewill, Boethius identifies two kinds of necessity – simple and conditional necessity. Two kinds of necessity 1- Simple necessity, a. “A simple necessity is necessary due to the nature of the thing involved (in this case man), not necessary due to the condition of God’s knowing that it is so. ” (Rich, 2005) 2- Conditional necessity a. things that are happen out of condition result from action, they are necessary results that come from some action.

Whatever is occurring now is conditionally necessary for it is part of god’s providence and must occur. In Boethius’s view, “Though the two are distinct, the one depends on the other, for the order of fate emerges from the indivisibility of Providence. ” (88). According to him, “Providence is the divine reason itself, established within the highest originator of all things, who disposes them all” (87). Explaining further, Boethius maintains that “providence is undividable, god’s knowledge is complete, not lacking in any aspect. ”(87).

At this point Boethius’s idea takes a new point in trying to fusion God’s foreknowledge with human freewill. According to Boethius we can have knowledge of God’s will for man by way of coming to understand what he wants for man, because when man achieve his logos, he taps into God’s providence. We can have knowledge of God’s will for man by way of coming to understand what he wants for man, because when man achieve his logos, he taps into god’s providence. According to him, “this arrangement from the temporal order is a unity within the foresight of the divine mind.

” (88). In the same way, “God by providence orders what is to be done in a unified and unchanging manner” (88) —- therefore man’s destiny is already written, man’s fate is the outcome he perceives for God’s plan for him. He uses fate, “divine spirits…the handmaids of providence” (88) as tools by which man participates in his design. The realization of God’s providence can be seen by the stars following their ordered path, angels carrying out their work, or by nature’s obedience to it laws.

Although Boethius’s solution to the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freewill succeeded in creating a connection between the two ideas without necessarily objecting each other, this view has raised several questions. The first problem is that Boethius’s view creates an epistemological problem. Since Boethius’s view is an attempt to comprehend reality by classifying human beings under the umbrella of “genera” and “specie”. What this means is that the non-existence of this classification automatically nullifies his view.

“To resolve this problem, Boethius explains that the process by which we arrive at our ideas of genera and species is not falsifying, but truth preserving. However, as commentators have often noted, Boethius’s solution is vague. ” (Marenbon, 2003). Furthermore, most scholars that have raised an eyebrow to Boethius’s solution have attacked the foundation of the timeless solution to the dilemma of foreknowledge and freedom. As they claim, the timeless explanation does not avoid the dilemma of religious fatalism.

The idea that God does not exist in time negates some of the other attributes of God like the idea of His “personhood”. “If God is not in time, the key issue would not be the necessity of the past, but the necessity of the timeless realm. So the first three steps of the argument would be reformulated as follows – God timelessly knows T. If E is in the timeless realm, then it is now-necessary that E. It is now-necessary that T” (Stanford Encyclopaedia, 2004). Perhaps, Boethius’s solution would have been more credible if he has not included that the necessity for God’s knowledge is in the “now”.

“We have no more reason to think we can do anything about God’s timeless knowing than about God’s past knowing. The timeless realm is as much out of our reach as the past. So the point of (3t) is that we cannot now do anything about the fact that God timelessly knows T”. (Stanford Encyclopaedia, 2004). The bottom line here is that, the solution proposed by Boethius cannot solve the problem of theological fatalism alone. “The nature of the timeless realm is elusive, the intuition of the necessity of the timeless realm is probably weaker than the intuition of the necessity of the past.

The necessity of the past has the advantage of being deeply imbedded in our ordinary intuitions about time; there are no ordinary intuitions about the realm of timelessness. ” (Stanford Encyclopaedia, 2004) In addition to the above, second problem is that Boethius idea of divine foreknowledge is not useful to the idea of God interfering in the choices on man. What this means is that Boethius’s idea of divine foreknowledge is not sufficient in explaining God’s providence and his capacity to guarantee that events that occur add in some way to his eventual purposes.

“The reason that it is useless is that it doesn’t involve any knowledge of what would have happened had God created or realized some alternative scenario. Unless God knows what would have happened had he effected an alternative plan, he cannot know that the actual plan he has adopted is optimal. ” (Rich, 2005). At this point, it must be pointed out that traditional theism is the source of the problem of divine foreknowledge and freewill. The omniscient attribute that is given to the divine ultimately negates the idea of human freewill.

If we say that God knows all things, all powerful, yet decide not to interfere in the choices of man, then we are making God a passive being. However, the traditional idea of the divine is that God is in charge of everything that happens in this world. God has not created a world which He is not in charge of – all things owe their obligation to God and thus, He is he controller of everything that happens in the universe. In my own opinion, the problem of freewill and divine foreknowledge is sourced in the contradiction created by traditional theism itself.

There is a problem of balancing God’s attributes to contain the freewill of man. According to the Bible admits that “the heart of man is desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) . Given this fact, what if ma decides, in his wickedness to overthrow God? What of the story of the Tower of Babel? Why would God interfere in the building of the tower? In my view, the attempt of balancing divine foreknowledge with human freewill is elusive and a task that was and is a chasing after the wind. References: Rich, G. (2005) Boethius on Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will.

Retrieved from http://organizations. uncfsu. edu/ncrsa/journal/v05/rich_boethius. htm on April 5, 2009 Boethius, A. (1962). The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by Richard Green. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962. Pike, Nelson. (1970) God and Timelessness. New York: Schocken. Zagzebski, L. (1991) The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge. New York: Oxford University Press. Marenbon, J. (2003). Reviewed by Jeffrey Hause, Creighton University. Retrieved from http://ndpr. nd. edu/review. cfm? id=1293. Stanford Online Encyclopedia (2004) Foreknowledge and Free Will. Retrieved from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/free-will-foreknowledge/#2. 2 on April 5, 2009.

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