Natural Knowledge or Free Knowledge of CCFs?

Natural Knowledge: God’s knowledge of all necessary truths, including all possibilities logically prior to his creative decree.

Definition from Divine Foreknowledge Four Views, Edited by Beilby & Eddy, page 211.

God knows all possible worlds according to his natural knowledge. Yet many Reformed thinkers tend to extend natural knowledge to the objects of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) within possible worlds. I believe John Frame and Paul Helm are representative:

When God knows possible worlds, does he not also, by virtue of that knowledge, also know all possible creatures and their possible actions? So, from a Reformed point of view, there is no reason why we shouldn’t regard God’s knowledge of contingencies under the category of necessary knowledge.

John Frame, The Doctrine of God, page 503. (By “necessary knowledge” Frame means natural knowledge. He equates them along with knowledge of intellect, page 500.)

Paul Helm is perhaps more precise:

But if God knows what Jones, if placed in circumstances C, would do, then this is surely part of God’s natural knowledge, his knowledge of all necessities and possibilities.

Paul Helm, Shunning Middle knowledge.

It would seem that Frame assumes the premise that Helm asserts. Frame infers God’s necessary knowledge of CCFs from God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds. The problem is, CCFs are would-counterfactuals and as such do not merely pertain to all possibilities that God would necessarily know. A contingent aspect is being overlooked. To know what is generally possible is not to know what would be specifically true. That God necessarily knows all possible worlds does not imply that he knows counterfactual particulars within possible worlds other than freely and as contingently true.

By cataloguing CCFs under God’s natural knowledge as have Frame and Helm, such counterfactuals are relegated either to necessary truths or possibilities. CCFs are either like laws of logic that actually exist in every possible world and could not have been false, or they are akin to potential realities that necessarily exist as possible, though might never actually exist (other than as abstract possibilities.)

Although my actual existence is not a necessary truth, that, P, <I would, in this possible / actual world (Wp/a) freely type this post if placed under circumstance C> is true. Given that God believes all truth, God eternally knows P. This particular bit of counterfactual knowledge of my typing this post, X, should be considered transworld by such Augustinians. The transworld object of knowledge can be dropped into any relevant states of affairs, C, in any possible world, Wpn, so that in Wp1, Wp2, Wp3… God would know X would occur under equally similar Cs in any Wpn given the implied intrinsically causal power of C, which in the thinking of some is relegated to an object of Natural Knowledge. (We will table the question of whether X in C could be contingently related to which Wpn is in view, which I hope will become obvious later.)

This sort of intrinsically causal necessity is understandable among Causal (Nomological) Determinists, but it is an unnecessary and improper concession among Causal Divine Determinists. Has Christian determinism been so influenced by secular philosophy? (See James Anderson site for the various stripes of Determinism.)

When Augustinians catalogue such would-counterfactuals under God’s natural knowledge, what is implied is some sort of necessity for CCFs without which counterfactual knowledge could not obtain. What is implied is that CCFs are logically, metaphysically or in some other sense still indeterminately caused. After all, if some sort of necessity for there to be natural knowledge is not maintained, then C need not result in X, my freely typing this post, under C. In which case, the fixity of the result of C (i.e., the free choice of X) would defy truth value and, therefore, could not be an object of natural knowledge. Hence the need for some sort of necessity within the confines of natural knowledge. Yet, if the grounding of the counterfactual is God’s will, which it is(!), then the counterfactual would be contingent truth, an object of God’s free knowledge! (NOTE: This is not to posit the metaphysical contingency of libertarianism, which might be confusing some. True counterfactuals are not necessary truths, otherwise they’d exist necessarily. Notwithstanding, they don’t fall out purely contingently in a metaphysical sense, but rather they become causally necessary by decree, which is not to be confused with something being a necessary truth.)

Like with Molinism, such Augustinians as these, if consistent, are consigned to a view that would entail that any actualizable (truly possible!) world that includes equally similar Cs (i.e., similar relevant states of affairs), always results in X , my freely typing this post. (In passing we might note, even Middle Knowledge entails causality that Molinism cannot avoid. Molinists engage in a type of special pleading when they introduce might-counterfactuals and insist the set of all possible worlds include infeasible worlds!)

Scott Christensen has this to say:

Determinism refers to the idea that all things that occur in our world are necessarily and causally determined by prior conditions. Thus, given specific prior conditions, only one outcome could possibly take place.

Scott Christensen, What About Free Will page 12. (Scott makes a similar error on page 170 and perhaps elsewhere: “God could ordain any variety of outcomes that transpire in the natural world and the human plane of that world. But if he ordained something different to occur, then the preceding conditions would be different as well.” Page 170 (emphasis mine).

What these Augustinians are suggesting is that it’s the relevant states of affairs, circumstances or prior conditions that necessitate free choice. By cataloguing CCFs under natural knowledge, it is (unwittingly?) implied that the effect is ultimately caused by something intrinsic to the nature of C, otherwise God would not know X like he naturally knows all necessary truths and possibilities! Unlike Dabney who wrongly, I argue, attributed this knowledge to “Middle Knowledge” (yet of non-libertarian choices, gratefully!), these Augustinians would like to attribute God’s knowledge of CCFs to his natural knowledge, which would reduce the object of such natural knowledge either to (i) a brute fact or (ii) a reflection of the divine essence (if they’re not freely determined).

Christensen goes on to liken the causality of choice to our living in a “cause-effect universe…” Even offering as an analogy, “When the temperature cools to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it causes water to freeze.” (Page 13.)

Now clearly Christensen is not a physical determinist when it comes to the mechanics of choosing. He’s a soft-determinist. One of the good guys(!), along with Helm and Frame. Notwithstanding, what is implicitly denied by more than a few is that God pre-interprets the particulars that comprise any C, and in doing so freely determines the causal relationship and truth values of counterfactuals. Therefore, with respect to CCFs, these too are a matter of God’s free knowledge, whereas possible counterfactuals are part of God’s natural knowledge. What must be remembered is that from a consistent Augustinian perspective CCFs are would-counterfactuals, not might-counterfactuals. They have definite truth values (albeit they are contingencies), which presuppose a truth maker. As contingencies, these eternal truths cannot be grounded in God’s ontology or natural omniscience, nor in anything outside of God, which only leaves his will of determination, making Divine Knowledge of CCFs a species of free knowledge.

Take liquid water freezing at 0 degrees C. (No need to get into pressure, additives, purity and nucleation centers etc.) Does God know this according to his natural knowledge? Consider that water at 4 degrees C is at its highest density, which means it will expand whether it is heated or cooled. Must that causal relationship necessarily hold true given all relevantly identical circumstances? Could not God have determined that water continue to become increasingly dense as it is cooled below 4 degrees C? (We could just as easily consider the direct relationship of temperature to gas viscosity and the inverse relationship it has to liquid viscosity.)

Now, of course, there are physical “explanations” for these sorts of phenomenon in this world, but the point should be obvious. “Laws of nature” merely map God’s will, which is to say his pre-interpretation of how new facts introduced into relevant states of affairs, fixed circumstances, or existing conditions would effect outcome. If this is true in the material world, how much more should we expect it to hold true when considering what must be considered pre-interpreted facts that are introduced into fixed circumstances…, which result in free choices? The resultant or subsequent abstract thoughts, motives, desires, intentions etc. are not randomly triggered but rather “caused” – yet according to God’s pre-interpretation of the variable(s). God gives causal facts their interpretive meaning. There are no brute facts. As I’ve noted elsewhere, can’t God determine that the same song introduced into equally similar states of affairs, within different possible worlds, result in different formed intentions, ending in, say, freely writing a letter, making a phone call or something else?

By cataloging CCFs under God’s Free Knowledge we rid ourselves of unnecessary, improper or unintended nods toward brute particulars, while being able to maintain that God is the only eternal propositional truth maker. To maintain what I’ve argued against is to imply that God must know that I would type this post under identical circumstances in any possible world! It would imply that necessarily, ice cubes float under identical circumstances in all possible worlds, and fish must necessarily have a place to live under frozen ponds.

In sum:

I argued that the knowability of CCFs are matter of God’s free knowledge, not God’s natural knowledge. Accordingly, given the exact same state of affairs, it is false that antecedent influences for any intention of the will necessitates the same choice in all possible worlds. The contingency of the outcome would not be due to libertarian freedom or a brute fact but rather a matter of God’s preinterpretation of antecedent particulars, which can vary from possible world to possible world according to God’s will. A non-theistic determinist obviously cannot make that claim. She is consigned to the objects of influence as being brute facts. I find many Christian compatibilists have followed that lead by mapping effects to metaphysical causal influences, overlooking God’s free determination of those relationships. Accordingly, they catalog knowledge of CCFs under natural knowledge. *I am inclined to think this misstep would readily be conceded by those who’ve made it. I tend to think their goal is to remove CCFs from Middle Knowledge. The reason CCFs might have been unwittingly parked in Natural Knowledge is because Free Knowledge is often associated merely with God’s eternal decree, not counterfactuals per se. Yet what tends to be missed is counterfactuals are decretive truths that pertain to possible worlds whether actualized or not.

(*After private interaction with one Augustinian thinker, it has become clear to me that it is believed by some that by virtue of God decreeing a counterfactual true it, therefore, becomes a necessary truth, which in turn makes it an object of natural knowledge. That is simply wrong by definition and entails dualistic implications, not unlike Molinism. Other Augustinian thinkers more steeped in contemporary taxonomy, analytic philosophy and philosophical theology will grasp the error and its implications immediately.)

I alluded to in this post and have developed elsewhere that molinists have no claim on contingent CCFs, whereas compatibilists do in that qualified sense I mention above having to do with God’s giving states of affairs their causal interpretation. There’s somewhat a delicious irony here given the fixity of CCFs in all feasible worlds for the molinist position. Their use of Middle Knowledge requires a fixity of causal influences that compatibilism does not. In other words, Molinism entails an impossibility of contrary choice under identical circumstances once we establish that infeasible worlds (ie, unactualizeable worlds) are statistically irrelevant when considering the possibility of choosing otherwise. Jones freely chooses X 100% of the time in an “infinite number” of actualizeable worlds in which Jones freely chooses between X and ~X given C. That’s a necessity quite foreign to Augustinianism.