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Is the existence of free actions incompatible with the existence of an omniscient God?
The apparent incompatibility between the existence of a non-determinist universe in which there exists genuine freedom to choose one's future actions and the existence of God capable of knowing one's future actions in advance of their taking place is one that has produced a great deal of literature, and one with both a number of difficulties and a number of possible resolutions. The fundamental difficulty in relation to this incompatibility is this: if we accept as Pike does that 'with respect to any human action, God knew well in advance of its performance that this action would be performed' 1, we must equally accept that, as something known in advance and thus in some sense predetermined, such an action cannot reasonably be labelled 'free'. Before we attempt to overcome this difficulty, we should first make clear the definitions of a number of concepts used in the title question. This having been done, we will explore the nature of this apparent incompatibility, before moving on to examine a number of ways in which it might be resolved. I will attempt to conclude that it the existence of free action need not necessarily be incompatible with the existence of an omniscient God, and to demonstrate why this is so. The first concept that requires clear definition for the purposes of this discussion is 'free action' and its existence. A free action might be simply defined as an action performed under no duress, and restricted only by physical capability. A crucial addition to this definition, however, proposes that an action is free when one 'could have done otherwise'. This is an important addition, since it is necessary to defeat counterexamples to definitions of free will of the style first devised by Frankfurt. For the purposes of this discussion, then, we will begin by defining 'free action' as 'an action performed or a choice made under no external influence, and when one could have done otherwise than one did'. The existence of free action should thus be taken to mean the existence of this ability to perform an action unrestrained by external influences, and the existence of the possibility to do otherwise than one did. Likewise, we should make explicit what we will mean by 'omniscient God' for the remainder of this discussion. Most simply, omniscience itself means 'all-knowing', but we should clarify what exactly this entails. Charles Taliaferro proposes this analysis of omniscience: 'a being, B, is omniscient if and only if B knows of every true proposition that it is true, and of every false proposition that it is false' 2. This is the 'most common, technical analysis' of omniscience, but I would suggest that one further stipulation is required. It could be argued that there are some true propositions that are first-person-specific, and that even omnipotent God thus logically cannot have access to. For example, 'My name is Bob' is a proposition that is true when I express it, but not when God says it. In fact, quite the opposite: God would know that the proposition 'My name is Bob', when posited by God, is false. Equally, there are examples of instances in which a proposition might be known to be true, without knowing what the proposition is. This might include any proposition spoken by God in ancient Babylonian, or in French, to any person who does not understand either language. In this case, the person would know that P is true, since it is God's word, without knowing that P. We can begin to see, then, that the 'true propositions' formulation of the definition of omniscience, whilst practically complete, does face at least some problems. The further stipulation I would suggest, then, would render our 1 N Pike, Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action in The Philosophical Review, vol. 74, no. 1 (1965) 2 C Taliaferro, Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, Blackwell (1998)
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