Necessary World Theology and God's Free Will

A perennial challenge against God’s nature has to do with his foreknowledge. Those who champion the challenge will essentially ask, “If God already knows what is going to happen in the future, how does he have any freedom to choose?”

Theologians have never been particularly stymied by the question, and have several feasible responses. However, Necessary World Theology (NWT) has its own way of addressing the issue.

For NWT, there is another question concerning foreknowledge, mainly, how does it work? For the majority of people, foreknowledge is simply a special category of knowledge wherein God knows what will happen in the future; either because he has deterministically planned it out, or he knows the mechanics of reality so well that he can tell how everything will unfold, or that it simply doesn’t require an explanation because it is in God’s mind, and who can know how the mind of God works.

Under NWT, God is pan-temporal, meaning he exists consciously, imminently, and simultaneously at every moment of time.

This approach addresses both of the potential problems above. Firstly, God knows the future because he is in the future. Secondly, God is capable of making free choices because all of his choices happen simultaneously.

One way of viewing it is that God has made a single decision which encompasses reality. However, a better way to categorize it is this:

When a person makes a choice, that person’s choice is informed by the past, but they do not know what the ultimate consequence of the choice will be.

God, on the other hand, makes his decisions based on information from the past with full knowledge of how that choice will effect the future. And he is making all of those choices simultaneously, in a single directive that orders all of time as best suits his nature and purposes.

This is the difference between a God who looks forward in time to a fixed future, and a God who exists in the future fixing it, even as he does the past and present – a perfect chorus of decisions which institute his overarching design on all of reality at once.

It would be a mistake, under this model, to see time as a fixed object in which God sits, with past, present and future existing in a state of static completion.

A better way of viewing it would be as a flash in a pan. It isn’t a static object, it is a dynamic event – even if a simultaneous one.

Reality doesn’t sit about as a four-dimensional object co-eternal with God. It illustrates a single decision made by God – something that happens, even if it happens all together.

It may seem unnecessary to create a mechanism by which God could have foreknowledge. In fact, NWT does not posit a pan-temporal God in order to explain foreknowledge. Pan-temporality is the best model by which to explain a timeless God’s relationship with a temporal universe.

In the event that one is comfortable by saying that foreknowledge represents some mystical category of knowledge God has by virtue of his divinity, one opens oneself up to the idea of “middle knowledge.”

Middle knowledge is a term for God’s alleged knowledge of counterfactuals. Meaning, God knows what would happen under any different circumstances. For instance, what would be the repercussions in history if a wind had blown Columbus out to sea. The principle of middle knowledge indicates that God knows exactly how things would have turned out otherwise.

NWT states that “perfect” knowledge is achieved by experience. For instance, reading about Columbus’ journey in a book is fairly imperfect knowledge, as it leaves out a great deal of information gained by direct experience. Being Columbus who is remembering his journey is also imperfect because the knowledge is coming by way of memory of an experience. Memory contains echoes of the experience, but does not have the immediacy of being in the experience.

One might suppose at this point that one has perfect knowledge of the moment one is currently experiencing. Certainly being in the state of experiencing something approaches perfect knowledge, however one element of knowledge comes from the processing, contemplation and contextualization of that knowledge. Meaning that while a person is experiencing something, they are not able to reflect on the experience, but while they reflect on the event, they are not actually experiencing the event.

The bottom line is that humans can’t have perfect knowledge of anything because perfect knowledge requires elements of memory and immediacy.

God is able to be in the moment of experiencing everything he knows, and yet also able to place those experiences in the context of larger events, and to reflect on the experiences while also being in the immediacy thereof.

God’s pan-temporality is the only mechanic by which he can achieve perfect knowledge.