Divine foreknowledge and necessity

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




William P. Alston


religion, foreknowledge, philosophy

Subject Categories

Comparative Methodologies and Theories


The central aim of this dissertation is to defend the thesis that divine foreknowledge is compatible with (a full-blooded libertarian conception of) human freedom. I argue for such compatibility between the two by way of exploring what sort of necessity is involved in God's foreknowledge with regard to human freedom. Assuming that God is sempiternal and essentially omniscient, human beings do not seem to have the freedom to do otherwise since God has always foreknown what he knows in regard to human action in the future.

I conduct the inquiry whether divine foreknowledge is subject to accidental necessity, the necessity of the past, with the result that God's knowledge is judged to be free from such necessity. I am not denying there is an element of pastness in divine foreknowledge in the sense that God held a certain belief at a past time. And yet, the content of such belief is alethically (truthfully) connected to the state of affairs which is to obtain in the future. This is the gist of what I call the alethic relation. In other words, truth is analytically connected to God's prior belief.

It is not complete, however, for the foreknowledge compatibilist like me to affirm a compatibility with the alethic relation only. In order for libertarian free will to be asserted to be compatible with divine foreknowledge, counterfactual power over the past should also be available to the agent. My contention is that such power, which is distinct from any sort of retrocausal one, can be invoked on the part of the compatibilist without inconsistency. The grounds of such contention is related to the nature of knowledge (including God's knowledge) in that the knowledge does not cause anything whatsoever, but rather human action is the logical basis of divine foreknowledge. Therefore, the necessity constrained by God's foreknowledge has nothing to do with human freedom to the effect that a compatibility between the two can be consistently maintained.


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