Book Review: The Only Wise God by William Lane Craig
This reviewer has long been fascinated with the debate about God’s knowledge of the future and man’s free will. William Lane Craig has done much theological and philosophical research into the attributes of God and the nature of time. He condensed his research into a relatively short and concise presentation that focuses specifically on how to reconcile the scriptural claims that God knows what every person will do, yet every person is free to do something else. The book is The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. It is only 154 pages and is broken down into two parts with 12 bite-sized chapters.
William Lane Craig prepares the reader for his presentation by distinguishing between determinism and fatalism. He recognizes that in the attempt to reconcile God’s knowledge of future events with man’s free will, many have decided to give up the pursuit and appeal to theological mystery—the idea that its not something we can know now, but will know when we get to heaven. He looks at the proper and improper use of mystery in Christianity and concludes that this debate does not need to end in an appeal to mystery.
Part 1: The Doctrine of Divine Foreknowledge
Chapter 1: God’s Knowledge of the Present, Past, and Future
Craig begins his investigation into the doctrine of foreknowledge by looking at what scripture has to say about God’s knowledge. He quotes several passages defending God’s knowledge of the past, present, and future. By beginning with defending complete knowledge of the present, he sets up knowledge of the past. These are not too controversial. However, he does defend God’s knowledge of the future (foreknowledge). He also defends the biblical teaching that God not only knows all actions, but also knows all thoughts. Throughout his defense, he does bring several passages that people have disputed are historical events. Craig points out that whether or not the events are historical, scripture does speak highly of God’s knowledge of all points in time.
Chapter 2: Two Denials of the Biblical Doctrine
In the second chapter, Craig examines two ways in which theologians try to reconcile God’s foreknowledge with human freedom. The two ways examined are the denial of God’s true foreknowledge (open theism) and denial of true human free will. He takes a look at some of the scriptural arguments that seem to support open theism and shows how they are both scripturally and philosophically unsound. He especially covers the idea that God’s predictions do not come true (like prediction of judgment). He reconciles that by explaining that God’s predictions of these are dependent upon the nation not repenting. Craig also goes over the scriptural arguments for denying genuine human freedom. He shows how these are flawed, by explaining that if God is fully responsible for all acts, then He is also responsible for evil acts—making Him the author of evil. Scripture does not allow for God to be the author of evil, so Craig concludes that genuine human freedom can be the only source of evil acts.
Part 2: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom
Chapter 3: The Argument for Theological Fatalism
Chapter 3 is a short one that sets the stage for Chapter 4. In this chapter Craig puts forth the argument for theological fatalism. He lists the ten steps of the argument and explains how each step functions to support the final conclusion. He then examines a few critiques that are often raised and addressed by those supporting theological fatalism. Though short this is a vital chapter to the next two.
Chapter 4: Three Unsuccessful Attempts to Escape Fatalism
This is the most technical chapter thus far. Craig examines three different possibilities that philosophers have proposed to escape fatalism: future-tense statements are neither true nor false, all future-tense statements are false, and truth and God are timeless. He shows the strengths and weaknesses of each one, critiques them, and ultimately concludes that none of them are successful at escaping fatalism. Yet Craig rejects fatalism. The stage is now set to present an alternative path.
Chapter 5: Theological Fatalism Rejected
Craig offers that in the ten-step argument presented in Chapter 3 that the fallacy lies in the provision of options to escape fatalism. The argument originally eliminates the three options given. Craig posits that a fourth option actually exists. He presents the fourth option here. Namely that a person has the ability to act in a way contrary to what God foreknows, yet merely having the ability does not negate God’s foreknowledge. Neither does God’s foreknowledge necessarily negate the fact that the person has the ability to act otherwise (though, they didn’t). Craig is quick to affirm that since God’s knows something, we can necessarily conclude that it will happen, but we just can’t necessarily conclude that it was the only option. If something else does happen, then it necessarily follows that God did not know what didn’t happen, He knew what DID happen.
Chapter 6: The Necessity of the Past
Chapter 6 examines the fatalist’s attempt to salvage the argument by making necessary the content of God’s foreknowledge (since the past is necessary, so is the content of God’s foreknowledge, thus it could not be different). Craig begins by explaining the difference between causing and changing and shows how causing the past or future does not require changing them. Craig distinguishes between logical and ontological possibility, stating that even though something is logically possible, it may not be ontologically possible. He explores the ontological possibility of backward causation relative to the two theories of time (A- and B- theories). He holds that the A theory is correct and that it does not allow for backward causation. But this does not mean that the content of God’s foreknowledge is necessary; merely that the existence of God’s foreknowledge and that it is correct are what is necessary. He makes the distinction between causal and logical relationships between cause and effect to allow the nonfatalist to escape fatalism, on the A-theory of time. He affirms that God’s knowledge of the future is necessary, while the content is not. Since the content is not, neither is the event necessary. Since the event is not necessary, fatalism is false.
Chapter 7: Rejection of Fatalism in Other Fields: Backward Causation
In Chapter 7 Craig examines the logical possibility of backward causation. He explains that this is important because the argument against the logical possibility run directly parallel to the argue for fatalism. Consequently, if the logical possibility of backward causation does not exist, then the argument for fatalism succeeds. However, if the logical possibility of backward causation does exist, then the argument for fatalism fails. Craig shows how backward causation is logically possible (therefore, defeating the argument for fatalism), but at the end he affirms (as before) that backward causation is not ontologically possible. This does not undermine his purpose of overcoming fatalism because of the logical/ontological distinction made in Chapter 6.
Craig also addresses retrospective prayer in Chapter 7. Some claim that a prayer can cause God to do something in the past. This would be an affirmation of ontological backward causation. However, Craig points out that God simply foreknows that a prayer will be offered and may choose to honor it ahead of time. However, that does not mean that the person must offer the prayer, but merely that the person will offer the prayer. Without the distinction between “must” and “will”, fatalism would be affirmed, but Craig is careful to avoid that.
Chapter 8: Rejection of Fatalism in Other Fields: Time Travel
Craig then turns to arguments involving time travel. He explains how different scenarios have been put forth as arguments against time travel, including scenarios that involve an effect preventing its own cause from taking place. He again makes the distinctions between “must” and “will” take place and “logical” and “ontological” possibility. The arguments attempt to argue for time travel’s logical impossibility by appealing to incompatibility between “time loops” and self-defeating scenarios. However, Craig explains how the scenarios have no ontological connection to the structure of time-space, so he concludes that such an incompatibility does not exclude logical possibility, but still excludes ontological possibility. By making this distinction he shows the distinction between “must” and “will” is necessary, thus an argument that would support fatalism (“must”) fails.
For those curious, Craig also explains that though he does accept the logical possibility of time travel, he does deny the ontological possibility of time travel because he holds to the A-theory of time. The B-theory is necessary because it holds that the past and future are just as real as the present, thus travel to them and back is actually possible. However, the A-theory holds that only the present is real. Since the past and future do not exist, travel to them is impossible. He also puts forth a few scenarios that would result in absurdities and contradictions (if they were to take place—Craig is careful not to argue that they must or even would take place because such an assertion would argue for fatalism), if time travel were ontologically possible.
Chapter 9: Rejection of Fatalism in Other Fields: Precognition
In chapter 9 Craig takes a look at arguments for and against the human version of foreknowledge: precognition. One of the arguments run parallel to arguments for fatalism. Craig begins by explaining that the evidence for precognition is quite strong. He details a few different experiments and their results for the reader. He then moves into the arguments. He distinguishes, again, between logical and ontological possibility. He explains that the argument against logical possibility (the one parallel to fatalism’s) fails for the same reason as the one for fatalism: the precognition (foreknowledge) does not mean that the future action must happen, only that it will happen. This means that precognition is, at least, logically possible. He also looks at the ontological possibility. He shows that some believe that precognition requires backward causation or that it requires that the future actually exist (the B-theory of time). He answers these, respectively, by reminding the reader that it is absurd to believe that a future event can cause a past event (explained in chapter 7) and that neither the past nor the future actually exist as the present (explained in chapter 8).
He does leave open the ontological possibility for human precognition. He explains that Plato’s view of the soul is one philosophical possibility that would allow for the ontological possibility. He concludes by saying that the evidence will have the final say on this one.
Chapter 10: Rejection of Fatalism in Other Fields: Newcomb’s Paradox
In the tenth chapter Craig examines the philosophical challenge of Newcomb’s Paradox in decision theory. Craig explains the paradox and its significance to decision theory along with its significance to the discussion of divine foreknowledge. Without getting into the details of the paradox, suffice it to say that Craig shows how the paradox is used to reject fatalism—having already rejected the ontological possibility of backward causation. At the end, Craig makes one final important distinction: God’s inerrancy (God doesn’t make a mistake) vs. God’s infallibility (God is not able to make a mistake). Based on the biblical principle of the second option (the stronger of the two), he concludes that if someone were to act “differently” than what was predicted, then it would follow necessarily that God foreknew the actual act that would take place, not the incorrect one. A person can change their mind all they want before doing something, yet God will have known all along what the person would do. Thus Newcomb’s Paradox does not offer a challenge to the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human free will.
Part 3: The Basis of Divine Foreknowledge
Chapter 11: Innate Knowledge
Craig now switches from addressing the supposed incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and human free will to the supposed impossibility of foreknowledge. He points out that on the B-theory of time, a Christian has multiple ways to account for foreknowledge. He details these a bit; however, Craig holds to the A-theory of time, so that is where he focuses primarily. He explains that on the A-theory of time, the only way to deny foreknowledge is to subscribe to a theory of knowledge that requires sense perception. Since he is appealing to theists, he uses knowledge of objective moral truths as an example of knowledge that is not necessarily founded on sense perception. He then offers that God’s foreknowledge is grounded in the idea that God’s knowledge is inherent in Him—it is innate; he has known all true propositions for all eternity. He also explains that it is not necessary to know precisely how God has foreknowledge, but if a logically possible option is offered, then any attempt to undermine the ontological possibility of foreknowledge is overcome.
Chapter 12: Middle Knowledge
In the final chapter Craig provides the mechanism that he believes reconciles man’s free will and God foreknowledge—middle knowledge. Craig explains that middle knowledge is a portion of God’s omniscience that includes everything that could be—all possible individuals and all possible worlds. He goes into a detail what exactly he means by these and how such middle knowledge is possible. He addresses both philosophical and theological objections. He also shows how it can offer coherent answers to the challenges of God’s providence vs. human responsibility and the damnation of those who have not heard the Gospel. Craig concludes that middle knowledge is a powerful doctrine because of its consistency with scripture, its objectors’ inability to show it philosophically or theologically problematic, its strength in coherently answering challenging objections to Christianity, and its ability to shed light on some of the most profound mysteries of the Christian worldview.
The Only Wise God has to be one of the most philosophically rigorous books this reviewer has read in quite some time. Though it was only 154 pages, it was quite challenging. The way that Craig lays out his defense of divine foreknowledge was very systematic and easy to follow—but the content was more difficult to internalize. At nearly every point in Craig’s presentation, the reader will be compelled to put it down for several moments and contemplate what was just read. This book will truly stretch the reader’s mind. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that the summary provided in this review does justice to Craig’s presentation. However, as much as this reviewer would like to recommend this book for everyone, it cannot be done. This is not for the light reader or the person who is just recently being introduced to philosophy, theology, or the debate that it specifically addresses. To make it through and understand the content, it will take dedication and a willingness to challenge and be challenged. But the reward is tremendous. For those who enjoy philosophically rigorous texts, this book is a “must-have”—for those readers, it cannot be recommended enough.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Luke Nix is a Computer Systems Administrator in Oklahoma, USA. He has a beautiful and supportive wife, but no kids yet. In his spare time he enjoys studying theology, philosophy, biology, astronomy, psychology and apologetics. If you liked this review, more of his writing can be enjoyed at lukenixblog.blogspot.com.