As Cletus the Foetus notes above, "the sticky issue for free will... is the combination of omniscience and omnipotence." Needless to say, the hypothetical scenario of omniscience is usually intended as a reference to the nebulous and ever-recurring "divine", since we human beings don't exactly have a claim to absolute knowledge or power. Because of this, these questions of free will and its relation to divine nature have long been part of theological speculation.
The Universe According to Classical Theism
Perhaps one of the more interesting ways that classical theology makes its position on the issue is drawn from the neo-Thomistic idea of a dual-natured causality. This conception removes us from the more-Deistic idea of the divine watchmaker, supplying an initial momentum to the system of the universe, and sitting idly by as it inexorably winds itself down from perfection to decadence.
The systematic order inherent in the universe and brought about by law renders a conception of universal order not unlike the Deistic model, but a distinction is made between the natural and knowable order of intrinsically lawful nature and the divine providence which is the primary cause which works through the agency of secondary causes. This largely metaphysical distinction allows God to play a continuing role in the creation, as the necessary condition for all knowable occurences. But it's incorrect to think of the causes as pertaining to the same aspect or somehow competing - they deal with altogether different levels of causality and do not somehow combine or overpower one another.
Its Meaning and Significance
To make some sense of this, it's necessary to think of power as inherent potential rather than as an application of force. This inherent possibility is quickened into reality, whereupon it follows the laws proper to its nature and unfolds due to this secondary causality which divine will allows to unfold. These secondary causes are those occurences which become known to science and they are inherently lawful and intelligible. Thus God, acting as the principal agent, "gives the word" to secondary rational agents, and lawfulness obtains. God is the operational, and nature the instrumental, cause.
The Eastern doctrines of the Tantrics are not altogether dissimilar. The essential idea of Siva and the expression of his power through the Sakti, the creative power unfolded as the material universe.
Thou art the mind, the sky, the air, the fire, the water, and the earth.
Nothing is outside Thee on Thy transformation.
Thou hast become Siva’s consecrated queen
to alter Thy own blissful conscious Form in the shape of the world
- traditional, as translated by Swami Sivananda1
The doctrine of purusa, acting through the agency of prakrti (the creative forces of universal nature) describes a process nearly identical to the scenario which unfolds from the Western idea of dual causality. The "initiating cause" remains transcendent and does not enter material existence, but activates an aspect of material existence.
Getting to the Point
How, precisely, does this connect to the problem of omniscience and free will? God, as a trans-temporal and unchangingly eternal being, has no knowledge of the future by the secondary causes which unfold potentially and indeterminately, but has total knowledge of future, past, and present as it exists in the divine and unchangeable order.
As Anglican theologian Austin Farrer notes, God's agency is omnipotent and acts upon, in, or through the natural agencies, without either coercing or competing with them. Karth Barth and other neo-orthodox writers have supported this conception, which affirms both the value and need for science and the validity of a scientific understanding of reality, and the preservation of creaturely free-will and lawfulness of the created order.
There are some interesting difficulties with the notion of dual-causality and its seemingly-paradoxical nature. Principally, this view is unsustainable if:
- we want to admit the possibility of direct divine agency acting to accomplish "miracles" and moving history directly.
- we reject trans-temporality of deity but insist on maintaining the classical idea of omniscience
- we insist that "evil" and chance cannot exist in a universe created by an all-knowing and perfect God
There is a problem with assigning an ontological status to divine agency if a trans-temporal notion of deity is rejected, in which case determinism is implied, wherein God knows the outcomes as they will unfold in the created order. The idea of miraculous events acting somehow outside the natural order and without natural laws which are at least potentially-intelligible causes agency problems (does divine will interfere with natural law, overwhelm it somehow, or ignore it by special privilege?) which are not easy to contemplate. The ideas of a God who possesses human values of "good" and "evil" are equally unsustainable, and the idea that an omnipotent God doesn't have the power to allow chance is self-contradictory.
sources and further reading:
1Sivananda, Kundalini Yoga (10th Edition) Divine Life Society, Uttar Pradesh, India 1994.
Barbour, Ian, Religion and Science:Historical and Contemporary Issues, HarperCollins, NY 1997.
Peacocke, Arthur, Theology for a Scientific Age, Oxford, Cambridge MA. 1990