Determinism and foreknowledge

I’ve had some questions that have been bothering me for a couple days of days. The questions are mainly on foreknowledge and gods all goodness. They go like this, If god knew when he was creating someone that they wouldn’t choose him and they would spend eternity in hell then why create them at all? It almost seems like he created them to spend eternity in hell. And couldn’t god change things to save that person. Like for example could he have changed how Dawkins thought in order to make him a Christian? I don’t know if this is accurate but i thought of this, isn’t it unfair that somebody like dawkins is getting used to help people while he will be condemned? And wouldn’t there be a possibility that Dawkins could have been saved if things were different?

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Hi @anon7556047,
great question; and one that many wrestle with; I have struggled with this for a number of years and now have kind of reached a place where I echo Abraham when he said in conclusion to God “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

Here is a video from Ravi Zacharias on Free Will; in response to a question from an atheist question.

A book that has helped me greatly is John Lennox’s “Determined to Believe?: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility”
https://www.amazon.com.au/Determined-Believe-Sovereignty-Freedom-Responsibility/dp/0310589800

It’s very hard to summarise an entire book but in Chapter 2 Lennox starts out explaining that in the worldview of atheism, determinism is the only option; free will is an illusion. Humans are just the product of blind cause and effect. Lennox quotes from the new atheists in detail to cover these topics.

Then Lennox moves onto introducing theistic determinism and free will.

Of particular relevance to our theme is the fact that the first humans were placed in a magnificent garden and told they could eat the fruit of everything except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Far from diminishing the status of humanity, that prohibition was essential to establish the unique dignity of humans as moral beings. For the biblical story here defines the irreducible ingredients that constitute humans as moral beings and enable them to function as such. In order for morality to be real, the humans must have a certain degree of freedom, and there must be a moral boundary. So God gifted them with the freedom to eat or not to eat from all of the trees that were in the garden. But God said they were not to eat of one particular tree. He told them that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would be sure to die (see Genesis 2:17).
This passage is crucial for understanding what Scripture itself means by God’s sovereignty. It is clearly to be understood not in terms of absolute control over human behaviour but as a much more glorious thing: the devolving of real power to creatures made in God’s image, so that they are not mere programmed automata but moral beings with genuine freedom – creatures with the capacity to say yes or no to God, to love him or to reject him.

Of course, the word “sovereignty” (which does not, incidentally, appear in the Genesis narrative) could be understood to mean absolute control in every detail of life and, as we shall see, is taken to mean that by some theists. But this smacks of despotism and totalitarian dictatorship, rather than speaking of a God who makes a universe in which love can not only exist but is supremely characteristic of God himself.

Thus human freedom in this sense is fundamental to the biblical narrative. It chimes in with both logic and experience, but it is prior to both. It is the way God has created us, and it is to be celebrated as one of his greatest glories. It says that we humans mean something – we are morally responsible beings, our choices and decisions are significant.

A.W. Tozer captured these ideas very well when he wrote:
Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.34

One of the best articulations of this position that has gained broad acceptance is given by Alvin Plantinga in his important book God, Freedom and Evil. He begins by defining what he understands by a person being free with respect to an action:

a person is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine that he will perform the action, or that he won’t. It is within his power, at the time in question, to take or perform the action and within his power to refrain from it.

This, of course, is libertarian freedom. Plantinga’s statement of the Free Will Defence then runs as follows:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they are not significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil, and he can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness, for he could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.35

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 46). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

I’m not a philosopher but I can have a go at some of your questions.

Going back to Lennox’s book again; I don’t think that God’s foreknowledge is necessarily causative. God is outside of time. From Chapter 6 - Predestination.

Of course on the human level foreknowledge – knowing something in advance – is not necessarily causative. If I see a horse rushing out of control, pulling a carriage across a field towards a cliff that the horse cannot see, I know in advance that there is going to be a disastrous accident. But the fact that I know in advance does not cause the accident. That said, it would of course be wise to be cautious with human analogies, since for the Creator and Sustainer of all things to know something in advance is hardly likely to be exactly the same as our knowing something in advance.

At the higher level there is another consideration. The idea that, because God knows about an event beforehand it must be predetermined, may rest on the assumption that God’s relationship with time is the same as ours; that he sits, as we do, on a time line that stretches from the past to the future. However, Scripture indicates that God’s relationship to time is not at all like ours. Jesus said, before Abraham was, I am (John 8:58 ESV). It could be, for instance, that God knew beforehand that I would trust Christ simply because he sees it in an eternal perspective, so that the issue of causation does not even arise.

We need, however, to be cautious here. Time is not an easy concept – indeed, no one admits to understanding what it actually is. It would therefore be wise to be sceptical of interpretations of God’s foreknowledge that deny the freedom that, according to Scripture elsewhere, is possessed by the men and women God has created.
Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 109). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

I think the next section might help answer this; again from the book. God has what is called ‘middle knowledge’ - known as molinism, knowing all the possibilities of what might have happened.

However, Scripture has more to say on the nature of God’s knowledge. On one occasion Jesus denounced the cities where he had done many mighty works:

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:20–24.)

This statement makes it clear that our Lord knew not only what did happen in Tyre and Sidon in his day, and in Sodom centuries before, but what would have happened had they been presented with different evidence. And that knowledge will be used at the Day of Judgment. This kind of knowledge was called “middle knowledge” by the Spanish Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535–1600), and arguments based upon it have (inevitably) produced yet another “ism” – Molinism. Let me remind the reader that our approach is not to proceed from “isms” but from Scripture, as there is a danger (and it lurks here once more) that the moment we use the “ism” our attention is likely to be drawn to a whole package of ideas and be diverted from the fact that Scripture actually teaches that God has knowledge of what “would happen if” – a kind of knowledge we may find it very hard to grasp. The implications of this statement by our Lord are profound. First of all, it supports our contention above that God’s foreknowledge is not causative, in the sense that it removes neither human freedom of response nor human accountability.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 110). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

Perhaps this might be answered later in the book when Lennox talks about the account of Pharaoh and God hardening his heart. In the first 5 plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart; and then in the last 5 plagues God hardened his heart. from Chapter 14.

The very length and detail of this story is an indicator of its importance. What is immediately striking is the frequent repetition of the concept of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. That hardening is described to us in various ways: Pharaoh hardens his heart, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, and God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Over the course of events there seems to be a swing between Pharaoh’s own actions and God’s, which might well indicate that this story illustrates both human responsibility and God’s sovereignty.
The fact that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart occurs not once but many times implies that he was softer and more responsive at times: God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart once and for all, such that it was hard from then on. Far from it; we read of Pharaoh repeatedly asking Moses and Aaron to pray for him, and on several occasions he confesses his sin. Moses does pray for him, God shows mercy, the prayer is granted, and respite comes.

The next question is: what does the hardening of the heart mean in this context? The deterministic answer is that it has to do with Pharaoh’s eternal destiny. The immediate impression given by the text, however, is that it has to do with the stiffening of Pharaoh’s resolve not to lose the vast Hebrew slave labour force on which his economy was dependent. It is true that his resistance was against God; and when he had gone beyond the point of no return there may well have been additional eternal implications. To read them into the story at its beginning, however, would seem to contradict the righteousness of God.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 263). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.


I wrote a summary a few years ago as I struggled with these things too. It is clear to me that God does not determine in eternity past that person’s destiny. Here are my couple of thoughts on a view that leans to far towards determinism.

My concerns:
• How could God in eternity past have fixed a persons’ destiny so that they are unable to believe?
• If the above is true, How could God rightly judge a person and send them to hell for not believing something that they were incapable of believing.

My thoughts:
Is it possible that God who is Love and completely Sovereign and also completely Just, keeps the world in a state so that the most possible completely free willed humans have the highest amount of possible opportunities to hear and respond to the Gospel?

I think that somehow God, in His Sovereignty, has created a ‘finite moral space’ inside which my free will sits. In the same way I occupy a finite space physically and am free to make physical movements, I occupy a finite moral space. God reaches into this moral space and I respond freely. Keeping in mind Hebrews 1:1-3 All things are upheld by Him and the Word of his Power


I hope this is helpful; We need to be very careful that as we work through these things, we do not put ourselves above God in judgement. We can work through the difficult questions in a humble attitude; and be like Job. We may not get answers this side of heaven, and that is OK. And in this area of study; I think we all will run into our own limits of understanding because after all we are not God.

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Very interesting answers. I was recently reading Job chapter 41, the verse that stood out to me was verse 10, of course in the context of the whole chapter. We have many questions, and our nature is to understand through building blocks, and if there are no blocks, we make them. However, the Lord in His grace has given us something very special, the knowledge of whom He is and the empowerment to trust in Him through our Faith, He says “Be still, and know that I am God…”, I believe when we couple those two, we find it to be the only combination that yields life, of course, within the Biblical context of His provision, our Lord Jesus, I believe it to be the abundant life.

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