Are predestination and freewill logically compatible? Part 2 of 2


Are God’s predestinating individuals unto salvation and man’s freewill logically compatible ideas? This essay develops the freewill line of reasoning specifically and examines it from a purely logical perspective.

Part 1 of this essay discussed the incompatibility of a contingent universe and the foreknowledge of God. That is, if the Bible is to believed, then God has foreknowledge of all events in history. If this is the case, then there can logically be no event left to chance.

Both of these essays are based upon the lecture delivered by Dr. Greg Bahnsen on this subject (titled “Foreordination and Freewill.” You can download that lecture by clicking here).

Click here to read Part 1 of the essay.


The freewill and predestination conflict comes into play when we consider man’s responsibility before God. The Bible tells us that men are fully responsible for their actions:

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins. (John 8:24 ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)

But if God has foreordained all events to come to pass, how can man be held responsible for his own actions? Atheists love arguing this point.

In this lecture, Dr. Bahnsen develops the human free-will line of reasoning. He does this to determine why someone might try and say that, if an event “x” has already been foreordained, then they are justified in removing personal responsibility from that event, “x” (34:10 in the lecture). This line of reasoning typically goes something like this:

1st – Event “x” is certain in advance.

2nd – Therefore, we say it is certain in advance that “s” will “x”.

3rd – Then “s” cannot do anything other than “x.”

4th – If “s” cannot do anything other than “x,” then “s” is not responsible for “x.”

We all generally agree that the condition of responsibility is the ability of someone to do otherwise.

Since “s” is responsible for his actions (which is clearly taught by the Bible), then “s” could have done otherwise, and therefore “x” is not certain in advance.

But this is not the conclusion that we came to in Part 1.


So, must we be committed to this line of thinking afterall? Let’s review the premises:

1) If it is certain in advance that “s” will do “x”, then we can agree that “s” cannot do other than “x”.

2) The “cannot” is defined by the certainty of the event taking place. “S” does not have the ability to do other than what God has foreordained.

3) Therefore, “s” cannot do other than what God has foreordained. Can we resist the will of God when he decrees what will take place? Are there any of us who would daresay “Yes”? I think we can agree that the answer to this question is “No.”

4) It is inferred from this, then, that if “s” cannot do anything other than “x” in that sense, then “s” cannot do other than “x” in any sense.

If you say this — that “s”, therefore, cannot do other than “x” in any sense — then you are making a logical fallacy called the “hasty generalization” by moving from one particular to a broad generalization based on insufficient evidence. So Dr. Bahnsen calls us to explore another possibility:

4a) If “s” can do other than “x” in the morally responsible sense then we have no difficulty accepting the premise.

What is the sense in which we hold a person morally responsible for the things that he has done?

As Dr. Bahnsen discusses, we will hold the person, “s”, morally responsible for his actions if he was not coerced into performing those actions.

If you did a thing yourself of your own will, you were not being coerced. Moral responsibility of man means that man is not coerced to do the things he does. Do you disagree with this?

If it should be the case that God’s ordaining what comes to pass is not contrary to the condition of no coercion — that is to say that if we can hold that God’s ordaining “s” to do “x” does not imply that “s” was coerced into doing “x” (ordaining something does not necessarily imply coercing it) — it is therefore logically compatible to say “s” was not coerced and could have done otherwise in that sense.


In one sense “s” can do otherwise, but in the other sense he cannot. The two senses are logically compatible because we do not believe the ordaining of something by God implies the coercing of something by God.

So, a question is naturally raised: How can God ordain something and make it certain but not use coercion?

The answer is this: we don’t know, and we don’t have an answer for that question. We don’t know how God does much of what he does. How did he part the Red Sea? How did he bring Jesus back to life from the dead?

But just because we aren’t sure how God does these things doesn’t make them logically impossible.

God can do things we cannot do — wouldn’t you agree?

The only way you can make an event certain before it happens is to use coercion. We can force a gun into a man’s hand and pull the trigger for him to make him shoot someone that he doesn’t want to shoot of his own volition, but that would be bringing it to pass by using coercion.

If we don’t want to use coercion, we can increase our odds of success and make an event more probable by using tactics like manipulation and psychological persuasion, but even by doing that we cannot make the outcome certain. We can only make it more likely.

The only way to make an event certain in advance is, in this particular example, to put the gun in the man’s hand and pull the trigger for him.

All of this is to say that to make things certain in advance, we must use coercion.


Does God have the ability to make things certain in advance without coercing them? How can we know? Well, aren’t there several ways? We can conduct a survey and gather peoples’ opinions about their perceptions of God’s power. We can sit down and reflect upon it for hours in a quiet room. We can poll Facebook users and come up with a majority opinion.

Wrong! The only way we are going to know the logic and nature of God’s omnipotence and foreordination is by looking up what God says about them.

As Dr. Bahnsen says, on this particular question, it is not a question of logic but of metaphysics. What does God say about foreordination? Does he say it implies coercion? He says No It Doesn’t.

It was certain in advance that the Roman soldiers would crucify Christ. Is it the case that the soldiers could have done other than crucify Christ?

In one sense yes, in one sense no.

They couldn’t frustrate the will of God. But they did have the ability to do otherwise. They certainly had the ability to disobey orders. They could have refused to drive those nails into Jesus’ hands. They were not coerced, for they did it wickedly, lawlessly. They did exactly what they wanted to do. But we know they were responsible because the Bible says they did it lawlessly:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23 ESV)

If the soldiers had been coerced it wouldn’t have been against the law, and they wouldn’t have been held responsible.


Here’s a tricky one: God foreordained for men to do things freely. Is this a contradiction?

As Dr. Bahnsen notes, this depends on what we mean by “free.” One is not free to not do what God has ordained, but they are free morally to do things that meet the definition of moral responsibility; namely, to not be coerced, to have the desire to do the things they do.


If this is true, you may be asking, why do Arminians and Calvinists argue this point? Philosophically there is no reason to disagree because there is no contradiction in logic as long as we draw these distinctions between the senses.

There is no logical contradiction, just a metaphysical mystery about how God can bring both things to pass. It is a mystery how God can control events such that we do exactly what He foreordains, but such that we do so freely. In one sense we cannot do other than what God has foreordained, but in another sense man is responsible because he could have done other than what he did.

Is it true in Scripture that moral responsibility presupposes the ability to do otherwise? YES, when talking about all the conditions on the creaturely level. NO, when we’re talking about the ability to do other than what God has ordained.


In Romans 9, Paul addresses this very matter: the seeming conflict between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.  Paul was a master logician. He used the case of Jacob and Esau to illustrate the truth of God’s sovereignty and foreordination:

though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:11-13)

Before they were even born, their fates were predetermined by God. It is appropriate, then, to end this two-part essay with the rest of Paul’s discussion:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:14-24)

God is fully sovereign, and man is fully responsible.


5 responses to “Are predestination and freewill logically compatible? Part 2 of 2

  1. Pingback: If God has foreordained all things, does that mean we don’t have to evangelize? | Rebuild America's Biblical Worldview

  2. Can you explain in more detail the following inference: “It is inferred from this, then, that if “s” cannot do anything other than “x” in that sense, then “s” cannot do other than “x” in any sense?” Specifically, I want to know what “that” refers to?

    I am not convinced by these essays that God can predetermine every future event yet we have free will. Perhaps you can write another follow-up essay and more clearly define your terms from the outset. I can see how God’s omniscience and man’s freewill can coincide; C.S. Lewis wrote on this subject and demonstrated the compatibility by discussing God’s relation to time.

    But based on my understanding of “foreordination” and “freewill,” I think that proposing that both exist is a logical contradiction. Specifically, it violates the axiom of identity (i.e., p implies p). Freewill means that I have the capacity to make choices, to deliberate between options, and to decide or determine which course of action to take. Foreordination means that God determined all events before we existed. Thus, proposing that both foreordination and freewill exist is tantamount to saying, “that which has the capacity to make decisions does not have the capacity to make decisions.”

    Again, clarifying your terms would be a great help. What do you take foreordination to mean? Does it refer to God predetermining every event that has happened, is happening and will happen? Or is foreordination restricted to our salvation or our freewill? In the essay, you wrote, “God foreordained for men to do things freely.” I thought this was beautiful, and if that is what you mean by foreordination, then I agree that there is no logical contradiction between foreordination and freewill.

    Thank you in advance for any clarification. Peace.

    • Thanks for contributing.

      Let me first say that many Christians aren’t convinced that it is true that God foreordained all of history and gave man freewill in the morally responsible sense. But the Bible teaches it, and Paul discusses it at length in Romans 9. Are you convinced by his explanation that God can predetermine every future event and yet we still have free will?

  3. I do not see that Paul reconciled the logical contradiction of affirming both foreordination and human freewill in Romans 9. It doesn’t even look like he tried to do so.

    Again, the logical contradiction is this. Affirming both foreordination and freewill is equivalent to saying, “I both have and lack the capacity to choose which actions to take,” for freewill means that you have the capacity to make choices and foreordination necessarily entails that you do not have this capacity. Therefore, foreordination and human freewill cannot both be true. To suggest otherwise would be to violate the law of noncontradiction.

    In the preceding paragraph, I used “foreordination” in the broadest sense. I should note that in addition to not addressing the conflict between foreordination and freewill, Paul did not even write about foreordination in this broad sense in Romans 9. He wrote about predestination, a narrow form of foreordination. If this is what you mean by “foreordination,” then a restricted form of freewill is logically consistent with it.

  4. I re-read part 1 and realized that we need to clarify some terms. At one point you used omnipotence when discussing God’s knowledge. Omnipotence refers to God’s power. It means that he is all-powerful. Omniscience means that God is all-knowing. I am confident that you already know this and that this was just a mistake, but I hope that you will go back and make that change, since this is an educational resource.

    I have to admit that I am confused here because you have switched back and forth between predestination and foreknowledge. The title uses “predestination,” yet you ended part 1 by saying that we would see “why God’s foreknowledge and man’s freewill are not logically incompatible.” Again, there seems to be a confusion between God’s power and his knowledge, predestination being an instance of God exercising a particular power.

    So what exactly are you arguing here? That God’s predetermining who would go to heaven and who go to hell is logically compatible with freewill? Or that God’s foreknowledge is consistent with freewill? Or both?

    I stated earlier that I affirm that God’s foreknowledge is logically consistent with freewill, but I maintain that if God predetermines that we will perform a particular action or hold a certain belief, then we did not perform that action or hold that belief freely. I have already spelled out the contradiction elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s