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Free Will vs Omniscience


A classic problem in Christian theology is how individuals can have free will if God is omniscient. If he can know their choices long before they make them, that means they're predetermined and immutable.

The Bias of Time and Circumstance

But this problem is easily removed by realizing we have the wrong idea about our free will. We see our choices as something spontenous that cannot be known ahead of time. Or else this implies that these choices are the result of natural processes, like a ball that will always roll downhill but never uphill: we'd be nothing but mathematical formulas.

Is that really implied? Don't we all know exactly what choice we make shortly before we do it in a given circumstance? And I don't mean just automatic things we don't think about, like moving the pedals when riding a bike or how to move our feet when we walk. If a person asks me right now whether I would like a chocolate or vanilla ice cream, I would presumably make a choice out of my free will. Disregarding technicalities like favorite flavors. If I had a pure choice, logically, I would know which I would choose before I chose it - or else it wouldn't be me choosing it.

If we accept that you must know your choice for some small, indeterminate amount of time before you make it, then we can accept that you can know it long before this. Imagine if you were in a virtual reality machine which creates some version of the future 1 year from now and you "lived" through this year and were presented with either a chocolate or vanilla ice cream: you would know which you'd choose. Now imagine by some crazy coincidence reality unfolded exactly this way and the virtual reality machine got lucky in guessing every detail of that one year: you'd logically, being in the same state of mind (disregarding the difference that you're "re-living" this year) make the same choice.

In fact, the choice a person makes isn't just slightly before the person chooses it. It's the same exact moment, so it's instantaneous, because it's the one and same action (the action of making the choice, and this choice choosing what it chooses). Because we're not different from our free will, we are our free will. Choice is an action from free will, independent of space-time, therefore it can be known within any temporal reality (counterfactuals): it occurs simultaneously with respect to a person operating it, because it is a person operating it. As such it's independent of space-time, and like the singularity of a black hole, exists within it as a point (that is it's independent and not controlled by it (unlike singularities, of course)). In this sense, like an infinitely small amount of midpoints (Cantor's Set Theory), this can become a part of temporal reality out of literally (with respect to space and time!) nothing; much like inertia, or "where" space(time) exactly exists "in" (Zeno's Paradox of Place).

If we look at a person's free will as some unalterable entity, then God is simply presenting a physical framework that actuates in a relatable form these choices that were always there in one way or another. Like software written for a specific computer operating system, it would have different code for different machines, but it'd show the same input from the user. But since we're all different, our input isn't always reflected by our output. For example, I could say the same word in different languages. But the intent behind the different words is always the same, even though the physical result is different. And if I couldn't speak, I'd think it. Similarly, God can know what a person would do even if He didn't create them, because reality is something God creates, not the other way around, so He doesn't need it to tell Him anything (which would also imply determinism). He can know things without these being in actual existence (or never would be, such as counterfactuals), the same way Quantum Action at a Distance can know the direction its counterpart went in, or when particle-anti-particle pairs create themselves without violating the First Law of Thermodynamics: where physical laws have control over, what essentially boils down to, the essence of nothing.

This is not because nothing is itself something, but because only the allowed actions arise. Like a group of people each trying to open the door in front of them: only the ones that have enough power manage it. Of course, since the side this group is coming from doesn't exist, their existence is compensated by the doors themselves, if that can be understood. Similarly, God can know the choices that a particular agent's free will would make without it existing, because it always exists as far as God is concerned, just like the direction of one quantum pair always did for the other! With respect to this person, this depends on the environment: the angels always cognizantly existed with respect to themselves, humans haven't. This is why God doesn't need to see us live an eternity to know whether we'd stick by what choices we make without deviating (and the same for the angels, the fallen of whom it says, for this reason, that Jesus saw Satan fall down like lightning).


William Lane Craig has a pretty good analogy of God's foreknowledge with a barometer. If the barometer could always accurately depict the weather, that doesn't mean it influences it. As he puts it, our choice precedes God's knowledge logically, whereas His precedes chronologically.

The example is imperfect in that the weather is believably deterministic and one can imagine a barometer being able to always accurately predict it because of that. But we've alread dealt with this objection above.

But what does it mean that our choice precedes God's knowledge "logically" vs "chronologically"? Mere wordplay? And if it's not, how can anything precede God's knowledge? In that sense, one can say God always knew what choice we'd make whether we existed or not, in which case our choice could not have preceded His knowledge logically or in any way, as it wouldn't have existed.

But to defend the idea behind this, I again suggest to remove time from causality. This doesn't dissolve causality at all: after all 2+2=4 is timeless, but it is still a logical fact that 2+2 is an operation that hasn't "yet" been summed to what it always equaled: 4. A better example would be the Monty Hall Problem. A game show has a prize behind one out of three doors, and the contestant is asked to pick one of them. After he selects his door, one of the other two which has nothing is opened. He then is asked if he wants to stay or switch his door.

It might sound unbelievable, but his chances of winning are 66% (2/3 to be exact), and 33% (1/3) if he stays. Even though there's only two doors left, which would make you think it's 50-50. The same is true for 4 doors with 1 prize: the chance of winning becomes 75% if he switches if two doors are opened. The reason is that time and space introduced new factors in the equation: before and after one of the losing doors was opened. If none were opened, his chance would be 1/3 irrespective of whether he switched or stayed.

What this has to do with free will and God's omnipotence, in my opinion, is that without causality, God does not violate an individual's purely autonomous choice by knowing it. It's similar to time traveling to the past: if it's your own universe, then you wouldn't be able to kill your own grandfather (The Grandfather Paradox). Stephen Hawkins interprets this to mean one doesn't have free will, but in my opinion it simply illustrates that if it were possible, it means you never made the choice, intentionally or not. Another way of looking at it, as we mentioned, is the fact that the past is fixed, and your choices there are immutable. In that sense, you never had a "choice" but to make those choices, and this is only logical when one ignores time: it's in the past with respect to you, but the present with respect to when you made those decisions.

To fully illustrate why omniscience does not violate free will is the fact that this means God cannot have free will: He can either do anything He wants, or is restrained by knowing what He will or will not do. For example, if we ask the question, "Could God have made the Earth with two moons from the beginning?" the answer is immediately, "Yes." But then we add the qualitative, "God didn't make the Earth with two moons and it was never His intention," so in a sense God "couldn't" have made more than one moon, or He would be contradicting Himself. This problem only exists if we inject time, and so in a sense we are juxtaposing "two" different Gods who by necessity of the example contradict each other. Both cannot be omnipotent, and since they are one and the same, neither can be. In this way we unconsciously separate God's choice from Himself and place reality above God's potential. And as I see it we are doing the same by supposing our choices cannot be completely known before, connecting what I said above about our free will being ourselves, not just a characteristic of us, and also the one year "virtual reality" thought experiment.

Ultimately the problem seems to presume materialism. Because our choices are usually responses to external stimuli, so if one can predict them with 100% accuracy, then it essentially like a machine. But this is true if and only if the system within which these choices are made can predict it. Because that means they are part of the system. That is not the case. Imagine a computer virus that displays the wrong letters when you type them. So when you press the "W" key the computer registers "R", and instead of the word "who," the computer shows "rho" if you typed the word. This doesn't mean the computer changed your finger to press "R" for "W". Similarly, a response to something in nature does not mean nature took over your free will. Nor can someone infallibly predict it based on that. God cannot because it is an illogical connection. His source for this knowledge falls outside time and space, where causality is moot, and therefore his knowledge cannot imply lack of free will (as we saw in the Monty Hall example). His knowledge is simply co-dependent on the free action, just as both sides of the equation, 2+2=4, are. You can't have a 4 before adding the two 2's (in that particular equation), but 2+2 always equaled 4 before there was any addition.

I want to try and illustrate this idea in another way. Imagine complete naturalism and determinism (like a program). Say you decide to throw a ball in a random direction. Would it be the case that the Big Bang made you do it? Yes. But certainly there's a difference between you throwing it and someone else throwing it. In that case, we can ask, "How is something differentiated from something else if they all had the same origin?" In a sense, why did the universe develop the way it did, with the laws it did? If it's random, then its origin is from nowhere. This is perfectly acceptable: Richard Feynman notes that inertia has no known origin, and is content to leave it at that. But the point is that there are two mutually contradictory answers that are both true, in the same sense: it was something that made you throw the ball (the Big Bang: which is everything), and it was nothing: much like from where the random direction of, for example, beta decay comes. Randomness is not necessarily illogical; for example irrational numbers have a random pattern of decimals, and pi is a common source for random sequences. But they all have a logical, rational number origin, whose operation is also perfectly sensible. Not so for spontaneous particle creation (or the Big Bang itself perhaps), but it just illustrates that neither classical free will (choice is spontaneous but logical (e.g. how could someone be tempted without a brain (e.g. Satan)?); created but uncreated (different sense?)), nor foreign foreknowledge of its choices areincompatible, illogical, or contradictory. Once causality and space-time are accounted for in their proper place. And if something truly random can rationally exist and have a rational origin, then so can a non-random choice like what we make and the free will that we are/have.

Another point, perhaps related, maybe not. Reality impacting the expression of choice is not the same as creating that choice; even if the individual is tricked into it. For example, I might genuinely like a certain profession because my father trained me in it and I appreciated it. However, that doesn't mean I didn't willingly go along with it (perhaps easier by its appeal), nor that I couldn't choose a different one. Moreover, the mentally handicapped or crazy are not any less with free will. If a telephone cuts in and out, I don't attribute the disrupted dialogue to the speaker on the other end. This touches upon two different but obviously related areas of theology, which includes the fate of infants who die. The first question is how children get a quick and easy pass to Heaven without many temptations. This is negated by the fact that God knows counter-factuals and that no one got in Heaven (or Hell!) because of a technicality, as if the physical universe has precedence over God, or tricked Him - no legalism! Secondly, God would not tempt anyone beyond what he can handle (1 Cor. 10:13). So although we can suppose that an a mentally challenged person or someone who's suffered more is a lot more innocent and humble, these would have temptations relative to their own self. And we can be sure that an adult with these mental deficiencies has been charged with crimes, or commended for good behavior that exceeds even those with "normal" potential. In the case of infants, which the Bible perhaps colloquially or not, says don't know good from bad (Isaiah 7:13 - perhaps socially?), the fact that God knows who they would be should they grow up explains it. This means that counterfactuals are as true as facts.

Another way to illustrate the unalterable past example is to imagine a video recording of some event. If you've seen it before you know the people will make decisions in that video that are 100% what you expect because you know. It's 100% predetermined, yet they clearly had free will. The present is God simply reviewing the videotape while we're watching it for the first time. This doesn't work with counter-factuals, of course.


Aristotle's ideas about the future were that either it's set in stone like the past, or there were multiple possibilities: future contingents. If we focus on the fact that the past is immutable, then we can disregard space and time with respect to ethics since only intent has any meaning there. After all, if the future is contingent, meaning our choices can make history go one of several ways, then physical reality cannot influence free will the way gravity makes a waterfall go down. In this case, the independent choice is free from space and time and so God can know it "beforehand".

In a way, this is shown by the fixed past. If you watch a movie you've seen before you know what the actors will do or say more or less exactly, but those actors still had a choice in making those, predictable for you, decisions. But this goes further and posits that God can legitimately know what you would do if you lived in a different city/country, or had different characteristics. So this goes against Open Theism, which says that God is limited in his knowledge in situations like these.

Created but Uncreated

A paradox like "caused and uncaused" is not at all contradictory. I could have multiple reasons for not liking a job, but if I need it I would both want and not want to work it. Simply put, it's the point of view from which I'm looking at it: free will is created by God, but it's operated by its agent (human, angel; perhaps animal).

This issue comes from a false separation between the individual (you, me, anybody) and free will. So we're not "persons with free will," but when it boils down to it, we're "free will with persons." What I mean is that there is no difference between my essence and my free will: my flesh and earthly body is an expression of my metaphysical mind (=free will) into temporal reality; there is no "me" outside of my free will - the two are one and the same.

Origin of Choice

The last issue that can arise out of this is the question: where does a choice come from? If I accept that indiscriminate physical forces are not responsible for my personal choices for which I'm either guilty or justified, then how do I make the choice to make a choice? A metaphysical origin would just move the problem to impersonal forces outside the universe.

How does the decision, "I choose to do good," vs "I choose to do evil," arise and from where, if there are no motivations (=influences)? If I say "out of nothing," then it's either a random impersonal force - which implies determinism - or there must be some mediator which only brings the question up again.

But one does not need motivation to do good or bad. I'm not just talking about the classic psychotic, although I guess it could be boiled down to that. Basically, if we took the volition of any being, human or angel, and gave it unlimited power (even with unlimited knowledge), we'd have either a malevolent or good deity. It doesn't even have to be true omnipotence: think of any dictator. The legendary Lincoln quote, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a manís character, give him power," is exactly what's happening here. God would know whether this being would abuse its power, and it wouldn't need any motivation but its own pure, uninfluenced desire to be just or not. This is what the Bible says as well (John 3:19-21; 1 Cor. 10:13).

Origin of Free Will as a Mechanism and God's Omnipotence

The idea that Free Will is purely under the control of the individual immediately comes into conflict with God's omnipotence. If God created everything, how could there be any power not only independent of him, but not completely under his control?

The solution that some Christians give is that our free will is an illusion and that it's a common mistake to assume it, because of this very problem. But I don't think this is necessary. The same way that God can create everything yet not be responsible for the origin of evil, so also he can create the mechanism by which some power works (e.g. gravity), but not be that power himself. If God creates the universe, and is responsible for its existence, and then makes a table out of the wood in this universe, does that mean He is the table just because nothing can exist without His power? So these forces like gravity have an origin (God ultimately) and at the same time, since they aren't God, originate out of nothing, unlike the table which originated out of wood (and is itself just wood with a different shape).

If we can accept a differentiation between God and impersonal forces (gravity, electricity, etc), then we should have no problem differentiating between God and personal forces (angels, humans, animals with brain power), because the will is a mechanism with and without an origin just like them. In that case, volition, like gravity, can influence things "on its own," but unlike gravity, it can perform tasks. These tasks are not predetermined, like a computer program, because like inertia or any non-complex power, this is an irreducible force. And because it acted, as we mentioned, "on its own," it is responsible for its own actions. A computer program that was coded in a deficient way is the fault of the programmer. But we don't blame the electric company if an earthquake temporarily caused a blackout, because the two are independent.

For its origin we already showed how it's created and uncreated, depending on the point of view. And the power that this personal or impersonal force has comes from itself because its power is itself; without impugning God's omnipotence - just as gravity is a force separate from God's power and isn't God but was made by Him.

To ask how a power can come "from" itself is a little like asking how an atom can exist of itself: it just does. The old criticisms that existence isn't a property because it doesn't describe an object (unlike "tall" or "blue") is untrue in my opinion, because those properties are themselves the product of varying mixtures of different, simple existences and their properties.

Alternate Ideas


This idea is pretty obvious. We don't actually have free will, but we're automatons with the illusion (both to ourselves and others) of having one. Descartes considered animals to be simply complex machines, and today in the robotic age, we can't completely throw away the idea that we're not that either.

Some even suggest that we're still punishable for "our" actions, because God is the definition of justice, and He does whatever He does. The reason some are accepted and others aren't is because of this same principle, but he rejects some "for his glory" and to contrast them with what's good: sort of like how yin and yang need each other to exist - or the fact that the stars are only visible in the night, when they're contrasted with darkness.

It's not a contradictory mechanism for the relationship between free will and omniscience (+omnipotence) for the simple reason that it essentially denies the former. However, I feel it's not the only solution.

Open Theism

Here God can't and doesn't know the future beyond what can be physically known (or guessed). Naturally, it's not a very popular view because it denies God's omniscience.

The proponents of open theism consider it a more biblically-aligned view. They object to traditional concepts of omniscience on the basis that it originated from Greek thinking. God in the Bible has a conditional policy: if you obey you're rewarded, if not His presence isn't with you. Judgments and pronouncements are frequently shortened or abrogated (the three day plague because of David's census reduced to one day). In Genesis he sends two angels to find out the true extent of Sodom's sins and what punishment they merit. Abraham is tested so God can see if he has true faith and would sacrifice his only son whom he got after so much hardship merely at God's command.

I personally disagree with this interpretation because God's judgment may seem relative or non-final only because it's pronounced with respect to human actions, which are of course conditional. In that sense, omniscience plays no role because an omniscient deity or not would react differently with respect to an action. Where God changes His mind is either not necessarily final (one can always know one would change His mind, much like reverse psychology), or it's from the point of view of man. For example, where God says the Canaanites would be dispossessed, He clearly also states that this is conditional on Israel's obedience (which they failed). So sometimes He speaks in a more abbreviated way, or it's recorded that way: you don't want everything He says to be, "And you will go and do this, IF you follow my word. And then you will go and do that, again IF you follow..." - people would have understood that, like any contract or relationship, it's a two-way street.

As far as places where God sends angels, or Abraham being tested, again these are clearly from and for man's point of view, as these stories were a continued source of inspiration for generations of Jews and Christians, as the Bible itself explicitly states (Hebrews 11; 1 Timothy 3:15-17). These were in many cases symbols as well (e.g. ritual laws in the Torah, stated as such). Jesus' incarnation itself served to help in that way (Hebrews 4:15).

Ultimately, my objection to this view is not that it's invalid, but because it creates a number of other differences. It's not only that we can't know if there's another god, perhaps more powerful, that could exist - this is a factor in systematic theology anyway. But if God is not omniscient, then how could he be just? If he doesn't know everything, then he can't be perfectly fair in deciding how to deal with actions which he technically couldn't always know are errors anyway: he might not know their full extent, he wouldn't know if the situation testing a person was unfair, and his definition of error might be flawed. If God is omnipotent but doesn't utilize this omnipotence with omniscience, then He might actually become morally wrong by excessive or incorrect punishment or reward! This is not necessarily true, but it becomes a possibility.

Again, this is all valid, but the real problem lies with the fact that free will, which apparently has some kind of power over God's knowledge, now has to be more powerful than reality itself (to not be controlled by it and be independent). So the order of power becomes: free will, the universe, God (who can't see the future, nor future choices).

If we are to believe the Bible specifically, then God has a list of people whose name is in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:12). If we are to believe Open Theism, God is constantly revising that list and needs to investigate before he completes it, so he'll be writing it down on Judgment Day while we wait, and best of luck to you!


Compatibilism is the idea that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible. At first this idea might seem counter-intuitive and impossible: if the way I was born determined my choices and who I am, how can there be any merit? It also seems to presuppose naturalism and anti-metaphysical reality. Because that's the only explanation for our behavior and existence, and our behavior is therefore judged impersonally as a force like gravity which is nevertheless present and real. For this reason incompatibilists reject that the two concepts are not contradictory.

But a closer look dissolves some of these extreme conclusions. For one, God's omniscience and man's responsibility is a central tenet to most of Western theology. Influence is undeniable, though its extent is presumed to be within the limits of the individual's abilities of conscience (1 Cor. 10:13). Moreover, if the supernatural exists, then the universe is merely an expression of an individual's choices that is inevitably determined from its own configuration. For example, I don't have wings therefore I will never choose to (naturally) fly, because I can't.

The key difference, however, is that there is a "true" choice, somewhere, outside of nature. Like a telephone, there is a speaker "behind" the machine. FOr this reason incompatibilists have devised three fundamental arguments against compatibilism:

  1. No one has power over the laws of nature, therefore just as the past is unchangeable, so is the future (Consequence Argument)
  2. Free will entails the ability to choose one option from many (Principle of Alternate Possibilities)
  3. A person is the ultimate source for his or her choice (Source Incompatibilist Argument)

The first argument can be challenged even in a naturalistic worldview. Alternate possibilities are real, especially since the nature of reality including its laws would be random. For example, in Quantum Mechanics, a particle can shoot in a truly random direction after radioactive decay - instrumental in Schröndinger's Cat thought experiment. This provides a basis for counter-factuals for compatibilists.

The second argument can also be easily shaken. Imagine Lee Harvey Oswald on the day of JFK's assassination (if you believe he was the only one who did it). Now imagine there's a demon that takes away Oswald's free will should he pull away from assassinating Kennedy. So if Oswald decides to go through with it, for his own reasons, he clearly has free will (some free will is free will: if I can choose one of two options instead of one of three). If he doesn't, he's not responsible, but he simply doesn't have the option of his finger not pressing the trigger.

Clearly he has a choice, despite the fact that it's his only option. The fact that he has his own reasons might suggest that there are multiple options within that option he's choosing from. But we can easily show that's not the case. Imagine that for every degree of option-choosing he makes, the alternative option is denied by the demon, who is willing to take control of him. Whatever positive, proactive action he takes or conversely inaction he prefers would be his own choice, with no other possibility. He still has a choice, but it was his only option. This is called a Frankfurter example, after Harry Frankfurter. It clearly shows that the rule that free will needs alternatives is misguided and illegitimately tries to turn nature into a responsible, moral agent itself! All this really proves is that the past is as unchangeable as it was a choice. This is also an important observation and realization for later: that some choice is still fully choice.

The Source Incompatibilist Argument, however, has met with much less success in my opinion from compatibilists. The various attempts at invalidating it simply highlight to my mind the inescapable problem with compatibilism. There are several schools of thought:

  1. Free will is merely following desire unopposed (Classical Compatibilism)
    • Desire itself can be manipulated by factors that, using the above definition of free will, create the contradiction of choosing and not choosing something at the same time. If I can't fly to the store, I would always choose to walk, run, or drive to it. I both choose walking out of desire, and don't choose flying out of a (potentially stopped) desire regarding that inability.
  2. Morality's definition is intrinsic in human nature to some degree, hence unchangeable and thus unchoosable; we have programmed responses like waving hello to a friend (Reactive Attitudes)
    • This begs the question by not only obviously assuming predeterminism, but ignoring that instinct is not choice.
  3. Counter-factuals can exist in determinism (New Dispositionalists - two schools)
    • This merely shifts the problem from the expressive act to the "causal base". It's like trying to claim that a mathematical formula where "X" is in miles instead of kilometers means it's not a static, determined formula. Or the phenotype (expressed characteristics of someone's genetics like brown eyes) is fundamentally different from the genotype (the genes unexpressed, like the recessive alleles for blue eyes). Frankfurter examples do not contradict this though.
  4. First vs Second order desire (Hierarchical). This idea distinguishes between what you immediately want such as impulses or instinct vs what you truly want logically. For example, you could be on a diet and not want to eat sugar but crave it. Also if I was born predisposed to like ice cream (reactivist/natural compatibilism theories)
    • Same problem as the above two; also the the problem can be seen that you partially want something. And if you're addicted to drugs or brainwashed you could believe you want something that mixes the first and second (and other) order desires, making it obvious these are arbitrary constructions. This is essentially also the main objection against Classical Compatibilism: if determinism and responsibility can coexist, how can you know when you are truly the responsible party? As far as ice cream goes, this is definitely a choice based on a preference that was determined (by nature or nurture). But your action upon it is when it becomes your choice: you don't choose to enjoy strawberry over vanilla, but you're the one who decides to buy a strawberry shake rather than a vanilla one. As such, the preference simply becomes an influence. The idea that influence makes a choice at least partially deterministic is not only debatable, but irrelevant exactly because of the Frankfurter examples which prove that 1% choice is still choice. Paul employs similar logic when he states that "if part of the dough is holy, then the whole batch is holy" (Romans 11:16 - e.g. if part of a container of water is clean, the whole container must be clean). Hence, if your ability to express your true desires are not overwhelmed or overshadowed, you cannot charge another person or force with irresistible pressure (1 Cor.10:13) or entrapment.
  5. Physical determinism does not imply psychological (Susan Wolf)
    • Impossible as SEP itself notes
  6. All free will is rational; if irrational, it is delusion (Reasons-reactive)
    • like the first few reasons: still determinism
  7. Our choices are guided by pre-existent frameworks for deciding as well as judging correct and incorrect behavior (e.g. I can't change my accent no matter how hard I try)
    • That's like saying the Big Bang made me do it: it's relative to something else, not the universe, hence illegitimate as a solution
  8. Our choices are a mere manifestation in reality of a prior, "outside" cause. For example, a telephone transmits a person's voice merely mechanically and deterministically, yet there is a speaker behind the electronic voice. This world is merely something like a computer generated program the way the inventor of the first computer programming language, Konrad Zuse, speculated it could be (in his Rechnender Raum (1969) [trans.: Calculating Space]); also more popularly explored in The Matrix.
    • while this is actually a solution to how God could know whether someone such as a mentally challenged person would be a sinner or not, this wouldn't work here because it merely shifts the problem back to another, "outside" deterministic force. Zuse's idea is probably contradicted by Bell's Theorem, which although noted by James Bell to not work in a deterministic universe, certainly applies to ours which quantum mechanics probably shows isn't deterministic anyway (perhaps a blow to Compatibilism, although not necessarily, see below).
  9. In combination with #8 above, we have the following situation: true randomness can be obtained by purely logical, rational, deterministic means. For example, pi has a truly random sequence of digits (3.141592...) that have no pattern, but it's merely a circle's finite circumference divided by its finite diameter. If one objects that one of them or both must be irrational and random, then we clearly have something like this in nature whose origin is deterministic (unless we presume God Himself is random). Moreover, all irrational square roots are numbers that have a non-random, rational square. Even the sqrt(2) to the power of sqrt(2) is rational! And since this is the logic of math, it must apply to and within reality.

    From this observation, we can posit that an action can be begun by such a random trigger. For example, the famous Schrödinger cat is unpredictably dead or alive when one opens the box because the radioactive decay shoots a subatomic particle in a truly random direction, unpredicted and undetermined by anything before it. So imagine if every person's ultimate, defining thoughts and actions had that same origin, perhaps with some guidelines like predisposed behaviors, situations that taught him something, etc. This would be exactly the kind of picture the compatibilists want to paint - purely on rational, uncontradictory, and scientific grounds!

    In this case one would have "true" resonsibility in the sense that his actions will be his own, yet they follow laws of the universe. In a way, it makes sense: if a bridge isn't strong enough, it'll collapse: it's not its fault, but it will be the thing collapsing. These laws are ultimately deterministic: just as the square root of 2 is always going to be the same, but its sequence of digits random. It's relevant that these digits are random because if this number can't be expressed as a fraction, then it clearly doesn't have any divisible parts (the way 1 can be split into 4 quarters), which means it doesn't really exist (it's uncountable, in Set Theory terms). Another way to illustrate this is the fact that 0.999...=1 exactly, not an approximation. This can be proven very easily by: 1/3=0.333...; multiply each side by 3, you get 3/3=0.999...; 1=0.999... This expresses the fact that a dot has 0 dimensions and the dot next to it (the "smallest" number lower than 1) is both the same dot and a different one, in a way - similar to exactly what we have in this compatibilist source of "free will" and responsibility.

    • Since this is valid, and is the same exact idea developed above about how a person's choices are from somewhere AND nowhere at the same time (because of a misconception of one's point of view, causality, and time (illustrated by the, what one may call pseudo-math, just now)), this is the exact same thing except it posits that one's choices came from nowhere within the universe by laws (like Quantum Mechanics), rather than God creating man/his free will. There is no difference, except that Quantum Mechanics does not explain randomness anymore than taking the square root of 2 explains the irrational root's random digits (i.e. predicts them): what is undeterministic, is undeterministic, and the origin of anything random in the universe, be it a subatomic particle's direction or a square root, does not help compatibilism which requires determinism as far as I see it. Otherwise, there's no difference between Compatibilism's determinism and Incompatibilism's (metaphysical and perhaps equally unexplained/unexplainable) free will!! It simply shifts back #8 by replacing determinism with indeterminism and mascarading as "explained" (by vague, blanket terms like Quantum laws) random origin. This type of bias and legalistic fallacy of words is exactly the problem one runs into with the Sorites paradox (aka Theseus' Ship). Simply put, if by definition it's random, it's undeterministic, and as I see it, Compatibilism needs full determinism. And as it's intuitive, this simply is a contradiction with responsibility.


Molinism divides knowledge in three ways: what must always be logically true (e.g. no square circles), what is actually physically true (the Earth has one Moon, not two), and what would've been true under different circumstances (the Earth would have solar eclipses more frequently with two Moons). Essentially this last category are "what ifs". They are necessarily valid, but factually untrue. This way God knows what a person would've done in a different situation without violating their free will. This way He can know the future without it being determinism.

The immediate objection is, "How?" If Compatibilism seems like a misguided attempt to mix naturalism with morality and human responsibility, how much moreso does this look like a forced resolution of God's omniscience and free will?

The Molinist responds that God can know counterfactuals ("Yesterday you would have picked chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla if you hated vanilla"). Two questions immediately come up:

  1. Are counterfactuals just as real as facts?
  2. Can counterfactuals be 100% known, or are they "probablies"?

Molinism has to say "Yes" to both. The first, and by extension the second, can be easily shown to be the case. Impersonal forces are deterministic, so there's no question they'd obey (e.g. if the Earth was bigger it'd have more gravity). Humans with free will should also, because they're "obeying themselves":

  1. All true choices are rational
  2. Therefore they're not whimsical
  3. Therefore they would follow a different, congruent pattern of reality if reality were different

Let me illustrate the above: if I decide to pick my favorite flavor of ice cream, should it have been chocolate, I would pick chocolate. If for some reason it was strawberry, I'd pick that, and so on. It's simply a relative relationship, but an absolute fact: I'd pick my favorite flavor.

Of course, the problem is that line #2 above is an assumption. Of course there are intentionally whimsical choices! What if I decide to pick a "booger" flavored ice cream one day? However, this merely shifts the direction and not the "reality": I'm simply deciding what is whimsical with respect to my own world. On another planet, maybe "booger" flavored ice cream is all the rage and the man picking chocolate would be the oddball.

However, the true problem with these explanations is the same problem from the start: how can God know any of this if there's no determinism? Even if I say that God transcends time so, like a movie you can fastforward or rewind, He can know the future, yet you being the active agent that makes it such, how can God do this? To make the objection clearer, imagine a time-traveling example Stephen Hawking uses:

  1. An engineer attempts to build a time machine
  2. He is stumped
  3. His future self time travels and gives him the data he needs
  4. The engineer didn't get April fooled and succeeds in building his time machine with this data
  5. Once he finishes his machine he time travels to tell his past self how to build the machine

Stephen Hawking rightfully asks: "But where did this information come from?" The answer he gives echoes here: "The information ultimately came from nowhere." Even though both his future and past self have it! It's the same in our thought experiment: God cannot know the future before it's made if there's no mechanism by which to know it, which implies determinism.

All Molinism succeeds in doing is to break down more specifically what God needs to know, but does not explain how without it being determinism. In that sense, there's nothing "wrong" with the philosophy, in fact I myself believe it because it's necessary for God's omniscience. But it doesn't resolve the ultimate dilemma: God's omniscience coexisting with man's (or angel's) free will.

In the beginning I try to propose a solution with the virtual reality machine, without explaining how. I won't even attempt that here, but it's sufficient for me to point out that it is possible. There is simply a misconception that arises from our point of view which includes time. Causality has no role, and this can be aptly shown by the fact that in Molinism, God must know the counterfactuals, or so-called middle knowledge "before" the knowledge of actual facts because that's the world He decided to create based on His knowledge of hypothetical scenarios. But clearly omniscience means there was no point at which one iota of knowledge was missing (at least when speaking about God), so this is something that logically precedes, not temporally (like math, which has operations that follow each other, but these are not dependent upon time).


Calvinism shifts the focus from the mechanism of God's knowledge, to its implication. It's irrelevant how you got to your actions versus what they are. In that sense, man doesn't have "libertarian free will," but his choices are dictated by God's will (which is the only truly free will). It's not so much that you don't have choice or responsibility, but your corridor is narrowed. So for example, a computer program that plays blackjack will never deal Texas Holdem.

This would be fine and is similar to discussions above. But here guilt is inescapable. Since humans are born in weakness of will, it's God who picks and chooses to save some, without whom they'd be lost like the others. I won't distract the article with the theological implications of fairness, but will focus on the mechanism of action by both parties (man and God) and that relationship to reality/nature.

If we see God in a sort of semi-passive role where humans are born into "weakness of will," then responsibility seems to falter for man. This isn't the typical idea that "you have a choice, but you're very inclined to make a different one" (i.e. influence - temptation). Here, without God's direct intervention, man is 100% doomed. I think John L. Mothershead rightfully observes that in such a scenario there can be no responsibility (much like the discussion on Compatibilism above).

The twist is that since God is omnipotent and omniscient, He makes man responsible. This essentially boils down to "right by might," but it is not invalid. Throughout this entire article we've been assuming that responsibility and fairness are defined by equilibrium (i.e. I cannot be responsible if I never had a choice). But we all know that reality doesn't play like that. A genius like Mozart never worked to be the great musician he is. It was simply a gift he was born with: talent. Does that make his music any less good?

However, since the basic presupposition is that man is responsible because he could've done otherwise, this arbitrary idea is just as valid as the idea that a giant rock in the Sahara is responsible for all decision making in the universe by sentient beings: it's perfectly valid and possible, if one mixes Quantum Mechanics and statistics with some kind of Boltzmann brain ideology. There's just no common ground and anyone is free to believe anything at such a point of divergence.


I think I can boil it down this way:

  • Choice is not a product of temporal reality, therefore it can be known at any point in time within temporal reality
  • Choice is an action from free will, independent of space-time, therefore it can be known within any temporal reality (counterfactuals): it occurs simultaneously with respect to a person operating it, because it is a person operating it. As such it's independent of space-time, and like the singularity of a black hole, exists within it as a point (that is it's independent and not controlled by it (unlike singularities, of course))

VI. Resources

  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Free Will
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Compatibilism
  • of the above two, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is easier to read, but the Stanford has invaluable information