900.13c Divine Foreknowledge (pps.136-138)

hard cover page 136

Divine knowledge has been viewed as being in conflict with human freedom.530 Most Jewish medieval philosophers, including Saadia, Maimonides, Ibn Daud, and Gersonides. specifically sought to delimit God’s foreknowledge in one way or another to safeguard man’s freedom. Aristotle had maintained that in general God does not know particulars. Ibn Daud and Gersonides as well as Thomas Aquinas were specifically concerned with Divine fore knowledge, which all three severely circumscribed with regard to “contingent particulars” (particular events which are contingent on other events/decisions/actions) to protect man’s freedom.

Ibn Daud wrote:

That it [would be] vanity for a man to plough and to build buildings and to plant plants and to subjugate beasts and to increase acts of mercy and to choose weapons with which to fight, since what will happen already is decreed. Similarly it [would be] vanity to worship God, may He be exalted, since prosperity or its opposite is already decreed. The matter is clear that the truth is the opposite of this.531

Ibn Daud perceives a contradiction between absolute freedom of the will and God’s foreknowledge. It is inconceivable that a just God would punish man if he were not master of his own actions. Therefore, man must be free. Ibn Daud maintains, however, that this entails a significant modification of the notion of divine omniscience. If a man is free, and if freedom and foreknowledge are incompatible, it must follow that God does not have prior knowledge of man’s choices. Nevertheless, argues Ibn Daud, this in no way constitutes an imperfection in the nature of God. If a contingent action is truly contingent, he contends, it cannot be known in advance.

Anthony Kenny critiques Aquinas’s philosophy which simultaneously attempts to maintain man’s freedom, Divine foreknowledge. and Providence:

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530 See Spero, Morality, Halakha and the Jewish Tradition, p. 247, who believes that delimiting foreknowledge minimizes the problem: “Eliminate the time factor and you seem to eliminate the problem.” Actually, limiting foreknowledge alone, and leaving here-and-now knowledge, does not sufficiently minimize the problem. But Spero’s general proposition (just quoted) is an essential truth.

531 Ibn Daud, Emunah Ramah, Basic Principle 6, chap. 2, in Bleich. With Perfect Faith, p. 421.

532 Ibid., p. 416.
Cf. ibid., p. 417. “Gersonides resolves the matter in a similar, but somewhat different, manner. He argues with Ibn Daud that man is free and that God’s knowledge is limited in a certain sense. God has absolute knowledge of universals, which are eternal and not subject to change. God’s knowledge of particulars is somewhat different. He knows them in one sense but does not know them in another. …God knows particulars insofar as they are ordered, but He does not know them insofar as they are contingent upon human choice. God knows them only to the extent that they are ordered by nature. This is not an imperfection in the nature of God because He knows the contingent in its true nature.”
Cf. ibid., p. 417. “Crescas adopts precisely the opposite position. Confronted, as were Ibn Daud and Gersonides, with what he perceived to be a contradiction between divine omniscience and human freedom, Crescas was prepared to sacrifice the notion of human freedom in order to affirm God’s omniscience.” Cf. Encyclopaedia jdaica, s.v. “Ibn Daud. Abraham ben David Halevi.”


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