If God is omniscient, then He knows everything that will happen in the future – including everything you will ever do. God knows that on x date at time t1 you will stub your toe, and on q date at time t5 you will forget where you placed your keys. God has had such knowledge from eternity past. Since God cannot be mistaken, it is certain that you will stub your toe on x date at time t1 and forget your keys on q date at time t5. How, then, can our “choices” be free? Does God’s knowledge of the future eliminate free will, reducing us to mere actors who simply perform the parts of a cosmic play written for us by God from eternity past? Are we puppets with no control over our own destiny? Is our experience of free choice illusory? Darwinist, Robert Eberle, sums up the problem nicely:

[Francis] Collins asserts that there is still free will, but fails to explain his logic for arriving at this extraordinary conclusion. Either what will be is known and fixed or it is not. An infallible god that knows what is going to happen is in conflict with the idea that there is free choice and thus a responsibility for one’s actions.[1]

I am not persuaded that God’s knowledge of the future determines our fate for two reasons. First, knowledge is not a cause of anything. Knowledge of some x is not what causes x to be. The truth of x must precede the knowledge of x.

To understand why, imagine that humans had perfect knowledge of past events. Would our knowledge of those events make us the cause of those events? No. They happened completely independent of our causal powers. One might object that our knowledge of the past cannot cause the past because this would require backward causation, which is metaphysically absurd. Causes precede their effects. In this case, however, the effect (history) precedes the cause (our knowledge). I agree that it is metaphysically impossible for our knowledge of the past to cause the past, but this misses the point. The point to be made is that there is no causal connection between events and knowledge of those events. If the particular flow of time I have chosen obscures that point, then let’s reverse the flow. Imagine that you had a time machine. You travel to next year’s Super Bowl and observe which team wins. Then, you return to the present time and inform your friends. When the future Super Bowl finally arrives, the team you identified as the winning team goes on to win the game just as you said they would. Would it make any sense for your friends to say your prior knowledge that they would win caused them to win? No. Your knowledge of what would happen in the future had no causal influence on who won the game. It was the performance of the winning team that caused them to win. You simply knew the outcome of their actions in advance, which brings me to the second reason.

God’s knowledge does not determine our choices, rather, our choices determine God’s knowledge. God simply knows what we will do – He does not determine that we do it. His knowledge of the future is informed by our free choices. God knows that we will freely choose y rather than x, and thus God knows y rather than x. If, in the future, we would have exercised our volitional powers to choose x rather than y, then God would have known x instead of y.

This raises a question: How can our free choices determine the content of God’s knowledge if God’s knowledge precedes our choices? The answer is simple but profound: God’s knowledge of our future choices is chronologically prior to us making those choices, but our choices are logically prior to God’s knowledge.

Logical priority is different than temporal priority. Temporal priority is chronological in nature, characterized by the earlier than relation. Some x exists at time t1 followed by y at time t2. Logical priority is different. It entails a logical relationship between some x and y. For example, imagine a bowling ball resting on a cushion from eternity past. We would observe a depression in the pillow. But what caused the depression in the pillow? There can’t be a chronologically prior cause since the depression in the pillow has existed from eternity past, and yet clearly there is a cause for the depression: the bowling ball. The weight, shape, and geographical proximity of the bowling ball caused the depression in the pillow. But how? The cause (ball) can’t be chronologically prior to the effect (depression) since both have existed from eternity past. The only sense in which the ball can be causally prior to the depression is in a logical sense. The depression would not exist if the ball did not exist, so the ball is logically prior to the depression. In a similar way, our choices are not chronologically prior to God’s knowledge, but they are logically prior to God’s knowledge. God’s foreknowledge of our future choices determine the content of God’s knowledge from eternity past.

Is our future determined, then? Yes, in the sense that we will do everything that God has always known we would do, but no, in the sense that God has determined that we do those things. Our future is determined by our present free choices. God simply knows the choices we will freely make from eternity past. It’s not that we can’t choose differently, but that we won’t choose differently.

Perhaps it is best to describe our future as both “settled” and “open.” It is open from our perspective because our free choices in the present determine what our future will look like; however, it is settled from God’s perspective because He has always known every free choice you will make.


[1]Robert K. Eberle, “The Language of God: If God Could Talk What Would he Say?” Review of Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Contained in an eSkeptic newsletter dated 02 October 2006.