Divine Control And Human Freedom: Is Middle Knowledge The Answer? -- By: David Basinger

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 36:1 (Mar 1993)
Article: Divine Control And Human Freedom: Is Middle Knowledge The Answer?
Author: David Basinger

Divine Control And Human Freedom:
Is Middle Knowledge The Answer?

David Basinger*

Conservative Christians have normally wished to affirm both of the following tenets:

T1. Humans are free with respect to certain actions and, therefore, responsible for them.

T2. God is omnipotent in the sense that he has (sovereign, providential) control over all earthly affairs.

Why this is so is quite obvious. If T1 is denied, it is difficult to make sense of the standard Christian belief that God can justifiably discipline human agents when they perform actions that violate his commands—that is, it is difficult to make sense of the basic Christian concepts of sin and punishment. T2 appears equally important. If it is denied, it is difficult to make sense of many other standard Christian beliefs—for example, that God is in control of our lives, or that God will bring about his desired goals regardless of the actions of humans, or that God is capable of responding in a positive manner to any petitionary prayer that is in keeping with his will.

But of course to affirm both of these tenets simultaneously generates a well-known prima facie conflict. If humans are held to be causally (and thus morally) responsible for certain states of affairs (if we affirm T1), it is difficult to see how God can bring about the exact state of affairs he desires in every case and, thus, difficult to see how it can be said that God has total control over all earthly events. An analogous prima facie problem obviously arises in relation to human freedom if we first assume that God has control over all earthly affairs (if we first assume T2).

Moreover this is not a tension that is experienced by the layperson alone. As Robert R. Cook has recently written: “Harmonizing these two Scriptural themes has vexed the minds of the greatest theologians.”1 Not surprisingly, though, a number of solutions continue to be proposed.

Those who call themselves theological compatibilists believe that the answer lies in a proper understanding of what it means for a person to act in a free and responsible manner. Such compatibilists, like their secular counterparts, believe that a sufficient basis for deciding whether a person has acted freely is deciding whether she has done what she has decided (willed) to do. If she has been forced to act against her will, then she has

* David Basinger is professor of philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College, 2301 Westside Drive, Rochester, NY 14624–1997.

not acted freely. But if she is doing what she has decide...

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