William Lane Craig, “The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom” and William Hasker, “God, Time, and Knowledge”

These two books were cited in one of the extensive (and valuable) endnotes in the excellent Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald T. Tacelli.  Since the two were mentioned together and cover similar subject matter, but with each taking — as Kreeft and Tacelli put it — “a very different view,” I thought I would discuss both of them in the same blogpost.  And then I’ll add a few other related thoughts of my own.

The Only Wise God

The secondary title of the Craig book describes it precisely.  As for the primary title, it’s the last line in Romans (i.e., 16:27, quoted in the book’s last paragraph):

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.  

In the preface (12), Craig says that his arguments here will be given more extensive and specialized development in future works.

Much of the book is devoted one way or the other to making the critical and valuable distinction between foreknowing and foreordaining.  That is, God may know what you are going to do, but that doesn’t mean that you are forced to do it.  Fair enough, but isn’t it obvious that this distinction becomes shaky if God is omnipotent and has made us — and thus made us with the foreknown result that we would act a particular way and thus could have made us so that we would have acted differently?

I was frustrated, then, that this nettle was not grasped — until it was.  That happens in the last chapter of the book, and while it was perhaps not directly addressed, the discussion there ended my frustration.  But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.


The last chapter of the book is about “middle knowledge.”  It’s too bad that it is not online somewhere.

Middle knowledge is “God’s knowledge of what every possible free creature would do under any possible set of circumstances and, hence, knowledge of those possible worlds which God can make actual.”  (The relationship between middle knowledge and predestination is specifically discussed on pages 136-37.)

The key Bible verse cited (131-32) is I Samuel 23:6-13 (Matthew 11:20-24 is also cited, but later the author says it “is probably religious hyperbole” (137 n.1)):

When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand. Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” 10 Then David said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. 11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition.

Here is the meat of the most intriguing paragraph in the book (148):

It is at least possible (and I think very probably true) that God would prefer to create a world in which many people are saved and a few lost than to create a world in which a handful of people are saved and nobody lost.  That is to say, the following is possibly true: … God holds that a world in which some persons freely reject Christ but the number of those who freely receive him is maximized is preferable to a world in which a few people receive Christ and none are lost.  In other words, God may be willing, for the sake of those who are to be saved, to permit the existence of other persons who freely reject his grace and are lost.  It may be that the cost of having a certain number of people elect is having a certain number of lost.

Wow.  Let me add that, if this is true, the saved should feel love and some measure of gratitude to the damned, should they not?  And it is also my sense that, lurking in here, is an answer to the troubling problem of how God could create a world in which the salvation of A (a potentially unsaved person) hinges on the eloquence, persuasiveness, conscientiousness, and energy of B (an evangelist).  It seems unfair that one person’s eternal life depends the actions and inactions of another person — but maybe not if God’s creation of B gives A a chance he would not have otherwise had at all.

Hasker, by the way, in his discussion of middle knowledge, credits Luis de Molina, a sixteenth century Jesuit (15-17), with its development.


Craig summarizes the book in the introduction (16-17, emphasis in original), saying that the book will be divided into three parts:

In part I we shall examine the biblical doctrine of divine foreknowledge of future free decisions.  I shall argue that the Bible teaches divine foreknowledge of human free acts and that attempts to deny this doctrine either cannot account convincingly for all the scriptural references to God’s foreknowledge or else wind up making God the author of sin.

Then in part 2 we shall examine the arguments for theological fatalism, with a view toward showing the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom.  After laying out the basic argument for theological fatalism (chap. 3), I shall try to show that three proposed escape routes from fatalism — namely denying that future-tense statements are either true or false, holding that all future-tense statements are false, and maintaining that God’s knowledge is timeless — are ultimately unsuccessful (chap. 4).  I shall contend, rather, that the whole idea of fatalism is incoherent and that the fatalistic argument commits a logical fallacy.  It infers from God’s foreknowledge of some future event that that event must happen, when all one has the right to conclude is that the event will happen  (chap. 5).  Some fatalists try to correct this fallacy by making God’s foreknowledge necessary in some sense, but I shall argue that no fatalist has ever explained the necessity at issue as anything other than the impossibility of changing the past or the impossibility of backward causation, neither of which imposes necessity on the content of God’s foreknowledge (chap. 6).  I shall then show how fatalistic reasoning has been rejected in areas other than theology, thereby confirming my contention that it should be rejected in theology too (chaps. 7-10).

In part 3 we shall address the question of how God foreknows future events which are not causally determined.  There are at least two possibilities.  One could hold that God simply possesses innate knowledge of all truth, including truth about future free acts.  Or one could subscribe to a doctrine of divine middle knowledge.  According to this second possibility, in the moment logically prior to the decree to create the world, God knew what everyone would freely do under any circumstances.  And so by decreeing to place certain persons in certain circumstances, he knows what they will freely do.  In the end, I think we shall see that the biblical conceptions of God as perfectly omniscient and of human beings as genuinely free are entirely compatible notions.  The philosophical study of this question shall, I trust, deepen our appreciation of the biblical truth in this regard.

The penultimate paragraph of the book (154) is also a summary of sorts.  In addition, Craig has some de facto chapter summaries:  chapter 1 (37), chapter 2 (48, after discussing/rejecting “Denial of Divine Foreknowledge” and “Denial of Human Freedom”), chapter 4 (first and last paragraphs), and chapters 7-10 (83).

I noted earlier the importance of the book’s discussion of “middle knowledge,” which is the title of chapter 12 and is summarized this way in its last paragraph (151):

   We have seen that the doctrine of divine middle knowledge, while having some biblical support, ought to be accepted mainly because of its great theological advantages.  It provides a basis for God’s foreknowledge of the future free acts of individuals.  It furnishes an insightful and exciting account of God’s providence and of the relation between divine sovereignty and human freedom.  And it may be helpful in understanding the biblical doctrine of predestination.  Philosophical objections based on the view of truth as correspondence and on the current interpretation of what it means for a counterfactual statement to be true were seen to embody misunderstandings; once these are cleared up the objections vanish.  Theologically, it is entirely consistent to hold to middle knowledge and the traditional concept of God and to the fact that many persons will not be saved.  Indeed, the doctrine of middle knowledge may illuminate the difficult question regarding the reason some persons are lost and the fate of those who never hear of Christ.  For these reasons, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the doctrine of middle knowledge and find it one of the most intriguing and comforting aspects of divine omniscience.

And I have to quote this paragraph (135, emphasis in original) that elaborates further on middle knowledge:

   Middle knowledge also provides the key to God’s providence.  Indeed, one of the most helpful consequences of the doctrine of middle knowledge is the reconciliation of divine sovereignty and human freedom.  Since God knows what any free creature would do in any situation, he can, by creating the appropriate situations, bring it about that creatures will achieve his ends and purposes and that they will do so freely.  When one considers that these situations are themselves the results of earlier free decisions by creatures, free decisions which God had to bring about, one begins to see that providence over a world of free creatures could only be the work of omniscience.  Only an infinite Mind could calculate the unimaginably complex and numerous factors that would need to be combined in order to bring about through the free decisions of creatures a single human event such as, say, the enactment of the lend-lease policy prior to America’s entry into the Second World War.  Think then of God’s planning the entire course of world history so as to achieve his purposes!  Given middle knowledge, the apparent contradiction between God’s sovereignty, which seems to crush human freedom, and human freedom, which seems to break God’s sovereignty, is resolved.  In his infinite intelligence, God is able to plan a world in which his designs are achieved by creatures acting freely.  Praise be to God!


Two minor notes:  The first is a funny sentence from the preface (12).  Having acknowledged his debt to William Asdell for “many profitable discussions,” Craig continues: “He saved me from many a mistake (any errors that remain, therefore, are as just much his fault as mine).”  Second, it’s interesting that there is some citation and discussion of the work of Antony Flew, the British philosopher who was an atheist for most of his career but finally changed his mind and became a deist.

God, Time, and Knowledge

The companion volume in this blogpost to Craig’s is William Hasker’s God, Time, and Knowledge — quite a title, that!  It contains several citations to Craig.  (I read only those parts of Hasker’s book that seemed to me to bear on the particular issues with which I’m concerned here:  the preface, chapter 1,  pages 180-85, chapter 10, and the index.)

I appreciated this modest sentence from the preface (x):  “Although I argue in these pages for a definite position, I do not consider that any one position, including my own, comes anywhere close to being obviously definitive and correct.”  The author goes on to say that, even though all the positions on these matters that he discusses in the book merit respectful consideration, he doesn’t discuss them all; specifically, he doesn’t address those who argue that the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human freedom is unresolvable, or views based on a compatibilist or “soft determinist” view of free will.  Here’s the full statement (x):

At the same time, all of the positions on these matters which have been embraced by serious thinkers seem to me to merit respectful consideration. Nevertheless, at least two important classes of positions have not been considered. Those views which hold that, for example, the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human freedom is an ultimate, humanly irresolvable paradox are omitted because of a simple but, for me, decisive consideration: once we admit that both of two mutually inconsistent propositions can be true, I simply do not know how to go about doing philosophy. And views based on a compatibilist or “soft determinist” view of free will are also largely ignored. This is not because I regard such a conception of free will as untenable, though I do tend to think so. But if one takes a compatibilist view of free will, most of the problems considered here are rather readily resolved and a whole battery of new problems arises to take their places; thus a book that considered those problems as well would be approximately twice as long as this one.


With respect to his own position, Hasker notes that Jeremiah 18:7-10 is especially important:

If at any time I [that is, God] declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do to it.  And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will repent of the good which I intended to do it.

Here’s a good summary of some related and useful distinctions Hasker makes (196):

These, then, are the resources for understanding biblical prophecy consonant with the understanding of omniscience here set forward.  Some prophecies are conditional on the actions of human beings; others are predictions based on existing trends and tendencies; still others are announcements of what God himself intends to bring about.  Do these categories enable one to deal with the phenomena of the biblical text?  I believe that they do, but the matter cannot be pursued further here.  The reader is invited to investigate the matter for herself, using the best commentaries and technical aids as well as the Scriptures themselves.

And here’s a long quote from the last two pages of Hasker’s book (204-05, emphasis in original, footnotes omitted):

It should be noted that in denying that God prevents all gratuitous evils, [Michael Peterson, in his book Evil and the Christian God] is not claiming that God permits evils to occur for no reason whatever.  The central idea, rather, is that God adopts certain overall strategies in his dealing with the world; these strategies are justified in that they enable the creation of great and significant goods, but they also permit the occurrence of individual instances of evil which are, as such, pure loss and not a means to any greater good.

Peterson’s case for his claim that the rejection of (MP) [this refers to the “principle of meticulous providence,” which is defined as, “An omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good God would prevent or eliminate the existence of really gratuitous or pointless evils” (202, footnote omitted)] “opens that way for a deeper and more profound apprehension of God” is too rich and complex to summarize here.  Something of the spirit of his enterprise, however, is conveyed by the following quotation:

“If the conception of human free will is taken to involve the possibility of bringing about really gratuitous evil (specifically, moral evil), then God cannot completely prevent or eliminate gratuitous evil without severely diminishing free will.  That would be logically impossible.  At stake here is not merely the ability of humans to choose among options, but the ability to choose among significant kinds of options:  between goods and evils, even the highest goods and most terrible evils.  Thus, free will is most significant — and most fitting for the special sort of creature man is — if it includes the potential for utterly damnable choices and actions.  This is part of the inherent risk in God’s program for man.”

The reference to “risk” in the last sentence underscores my point about the relationship between this theodicy and middle knowledge:  The theodicy that denies (MP) is a theodicy of divine risk taking, and risk taking is incompatible with middle knowledge.

At this point I wish to state some conclusions that are suggested (certainly they have not been rigorously established) by the foregoing refections.  Peterson’s theodicy entails that God takes risks in governing the world; thus it entails that God does not have middle knowledge.  This theodicy, and the understanding of divine providence which it involves, are clearly acceptable as judged by the canons of orthodox, mainstream Christian theology.  It follows that the denial of middle knowledge, and the attribution of risk taking to God, are theologically acceptable.  I believe, indeed, that a considerably stronger conclusion is warranted.  The type of theodicy advocated by Peterson is not only acceptable; it is , in my view, clearly preferable to the type advocated by [Elenor Stump’s paper, “The Problem of Evil”], or indeed to any theodicy that accepts (MP).  So the best Christian theodicy will deny middle knowledge and will affirm forcefully that God the Creator and Redeemer is a risk taker!

Some Related Thoughts

The endnote discussion by Kraft and Tacelli which led me to these two books begins, “On predestination and free will, much — far too much, we believe — has been written.”  I think I understand that sentiment.  One wonders to what extent the resolution of the tension here matters, since no one really believes he lacks free will and doesn’t exercise it.  One also suspects that, if no clearly correct answer has been discovered by now, it’s unlikely that one ever will be.  See my earlier posts:  It’s foolish not to choose to lead the kind of life God has said he wants us to.


Consider Henry V’s rallying oration to his men prior to their victory over the French at Agincourt (per Shakespeare), and Coach Herb Brooks’s locker-room address to his hockey team as they prepared to play and defeat the Soviets (per the movie Miracle).  These two powerful motivating speeches balance destiny with, well, motivation.  That is, they appeal to our sense that something was meant to be, but that we have a role in consummating that promise:  predestination and free will.  That’s what we need in life, and especially during its trials:  Inspiration to do our best, and to know that God will be with us.  God helps give us the opportunity, but we must then seize it.

Likewise, what I think many, myself included, would find most reassuring is that we have free will but that God with his sovereignty keeps things from going off the rails — and this is possible with either Craig’s “middle knowledge” or Haskins’s risk-taking God.  Another, non-mutually exclusive way to marry the two outlooks is to be Arminian about the future but Calvinist about the past.  Or, perhaps, to believe like a Calvinist but to behave like an Arminian — the former’s faith and the latter’s works.  Combining the two — having our cake and eating it — can also provide some Calvinist reassurance (a big selling point) without discouraging initiative (a big potential casualty).  Again, God will not allow things to get too far off track before intervening in some way.  He might not, for example, allow into the Scriptural canon a book that would undermine it.  There is free will but with general oversight by God.

Of course, one can believe in predestination not because one wants to but because one sees this as the best reading of the Bible’s text.  Fair enough.  Still, let’s ask:  To whom might predestination otherwise appeal?  Well, consider a teacher who offers students a choice between a guaranteed pass or a numerical grade.  Or consider someone who would rather play the lottery rather than a game that involves active decision-making. Well, yes, God is in control, but no one really believes we can’t control our actions, at least most of the time, and it’s foolish to tell people their choices don’t matter.  Only a foolish person chooses not to believe, and only a foolish believer chooses not to act rightly as well as believe rightly, and only a fool will think he has no free will.


I’ll end with this quote from a column by S.M. Hutchens in Touchstone (March/April 2020, at 16):

I had forgotten my Milton, where, upon being thrown out of heaven, one of the first acts of the ejected demons in Pandaemonium was to establish a theological academy to dialogue on free will and predestination — in the nature of the case interminable and futile — the pointlessness that in hell is just the point.

Point taken, and I’ll stop.