|Nathaniel Brandens Case
God, Omniscience, and Freedom
by James Kiefer
Unpublished dot-matrix printout dated
I promised at the beginning of this paper [Objectivism and Theism] that, after presenting the positive case for theism on Objectivist grounds, I would examine Dr. [Nathaniel] Brandens arguments and state where, in my judgement, he goes astray. To this task I now turn.
Having argued that Divine freedom destroys knowledge, Dr. Branden now turns the argument around and maintains that Divine knowledge destroys freedom. He says that if God knows everything, including the future, then the future must be predetermined, and hence freedom is impossible. I understand him to mean something like this:
Suppose that God knows and knows today the truth value of every proposition. Then either God knows today that Jones will steal on his thirtieth birthday or God knows that Jones will not steal on his thirtieth birthday.  Either way, the question is already settled, and Jones is not free to choose. But we know that Jones is free.  Hence the premise (God is omniscient) is false.
Now the difficulty presented by this argument does not arise from any assumptions about God. The same difficulty occurs in exactly the same way in the following parallel argument against the Law of the Excluded Middle A or non-A:
Suppose that at this moment every proposition is either true or false A or non-A. Then either it is already true that Jones will steal on his thirtieth birthday or it is already false that he will. Either way, the question is already settled and Jones is not free to choose. But we know that Jones is free. Hence the premise (A or non-A) is false.
Throughout this section, let us call
(1) He might say:
I agree. A proposition about a future choice by a free agent is neither true nor false but undetermined. When the agent makes his choice, and not before, then the proposition about his choice acquired a determinate truth value either true or false.
Now what grounds are there for conjecturing that
In the first place, he is on historically firm ground if he does. He is not repudiating Aristotles Law of the Excluded Middle he is affirming it in precisely the sense that Aristotle intended.
Aristotle considers the Second Argument, concludes that A or not-A, the Law of the Excluded Middle, is indeed incompatible with human freedom, and that since freedom is a reality, the law must be inapplicable to future human action. He says:
If someone says that he believes in Aristotles Laws of Thought, it is certainly a possibility that he believes them in the same sense that Aristotle did.
A more definite indication of the Objectivist position is to be found in the pages of Atlas Shrugged itself. Near the end of the novel  Eddie Willers is lying under the headlight beam of a frozen train that everyone else has deserted. We are not told what will happen to him or whether he will survive. And, as
(It is not the first time that Miss Rand has made this point. Her answer to the question Will Karen Andre be acquitted?  not, of course, to the question Is Karen Andre innocent? is: Undetermined. It is in the nature of the case that the jurys verdict is unpredictable. What a tremendous experience it is to study Miss Rands works! Every theme visible at the end is implicit in the beginning. Tap the web anywhere and it vibrates everywhere.)
(2) Again, Dr. Branden might say:
This pretended refutation of A or non-A confuses necessity of the consequence with necessity of the consequent. It is the Fatalist Fallacy. Granted, if it is true that Jones will steal then Jones must steal. But must here means, not that it is impossible for Jones to remain honest, but only that it is impossible that both Jones remain honest and the prediction that he will steal be fulfilled. And this does not impair Joness freedom.
If this is Dr. Brandens reply, then the argument against omniscience collapses. For we see that the sentence, If God knows that Jones will steal, then Jones must steal, and the sentence, If it is true that Jones will steal, then Jones must steal, use the word must in the same ambiguous manner, and an analysis of the structure of one applies straightforwardly to the other.
(3) Another line Dr. Branden might take is to say:
If a situation obtains today that is incompatible with Joness not stealing on his thirtieth birthday, then admittedly Jones is not free. But a proposition is not a situation. A situation is tied down to a particular time and place. A proposition is not, although it may refer to something that is. It is true today that Jones will steal on his thirtieth birthday and It was true last week that Jones will steal on his thirtieth birthday and It will be true a thousand years hence that Jones will (or did) steal on his thirtieth birthday are synonymous statements. To affirm one and deny another is to contradict oneself. A proposition, though it may be about something in time, is not itself in time at all. In the sentence It is true that Charlemagne was crowned in 800, the was crowned is past tense, but the is true is only grammatically present tense. Logically, it is no tense at all. Change it to was true last week or to will be true next week or to was true in 600 and you have not changed the meaning.  Charlemagnes coronation is datable; the proposition affirming it is not. Similarly, the proposition that Jones will steal is not a presently existing cause of Joness future action. It is a timeless entity.
If Dr. Branden takes this position, then the argument against omniscience collapses. The argument for the timelessness of a proposition is parallel to the argument already considered for the timelessness of Gods knowledge. 
More generally, we may say that any refutation at all of the Second Argument will turn out to be refutation of the First. For the First Argument actually presupposes the Second. It says, in effect: Suppose (a) God knows now that Jones will steal. Then (b) it is true now that Jones will steal. Then (c) it is already a fact that Jones will steal. Then (d) it is impossible that Jones should not steal. Then (e) Jone has no choice between stealing and not stealing. The First Argument is that (a) implies e. The Second Argument is that (b) implies (e). But the road from (a) to (e) lies through (b), and if you cant get from (b) to (e), then you cant get from (a) to (e). Hence, if the Second Argument is invalid, so is the First.
We may go further and say that the two arguments are really the same argument. For in discussing necessary omniscience in an earlier section, we saw that the statements, God believes p is true," and, p is true, are synonymous.
At this point, perhaps
It might seem that if Smith correctly stated on Monday that Jones would steal on Tuesday, then an event occurred (or a situation prevailed) on Monday from which it necessarily followed that Jones would steal on Tuesday, and therefore that Jones was fated to steal on Tuesday and had no choice in the matter. For surely if we know what Smith said on Monday, and know that it was a correct prediction, then we know that Jones stole on Tuesday. But this conclusion is fallacious. For the correctness of the prediction is not a part of the situation on Monday. If two persons agree on what Smith said but disagree on whether it was a correct prediction, they are not disputing about what happened on Monday. What happened on Monday is that Smith made a prediction. What happened on Tuesday was that Jones fulfilled the prediction. No description of the events of Monday that confines itself to Monday implies anything at all about the events of Tuesday. But the statement that Smith correctly predicted on Monday what Jones would do on Tuesday is not just about the events of Monday. It is about the events of both days, and how they were related.
A similar analysis holds if put it more stongly and say that Smith knew on Monday that Jones would steal on Tuesday. For what does it mean to say that Smith knows that X is true? It is usually taken to mean that
The difficulties begin when we try to agree on what constitutes good evidence. But note that good evidence does not mean evidence such as we never have for false propositions. If Smith correctly believes that Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota because he has looked it up in the atlas, then we would agree that he knows it, without meaning to assert that atlases never contain misprints. So, if Smith believed on Monday that Jones would steal on Tuesday, and if Smith had good reason for his belief (such as hearing Jones discussing the prospect with a fence) and if Jones did in fact steal on Tuesday, we would say that Smith knew he would, And if Jones changes his mind at the last minute, then we would say that Smith did not know after all, but that his reasons were still good reasons. Thus, we see that Joness freedom is not incompatible with Smiths foreknowledge.
I remind the reader that knowledge does not mean infallibility. John knows that snow is white, means that (a) John believes that snow is white, and (b) John has good reason to believe that snow is white, and (c) snow is white. It does not mean (d) John has better reason to believe that snow is white than anyone could ever have or believing something that is in fact false. That would exclude us from ever saying that we know the sum of a column of figures, since our evidence must necessarily be that we (or others) have added them up, and people have sometimes added wrongly, and failed to find the error on adding again. It does not mean (e) John is more confident that snow is white than anyone ever is of something that is false. The world is full of people who believe all kinds of false things with unsurpassed confidence.
A critic may challenge the given definition of knowledge, since it is not found in Objectivist texts. I could reply that neither (as far as I know) is any alternate definition, and that Miss Rand, when she departs from common usage, commonly says so.  But instead I invite the critic to construct an alternate definition: Jones is correctly said to know that X is true if and only if the following conditions are met:.... I think he will find that a viable definition can always be so cast that one of the conditions is that X is in fact true, and the other conditions are all capable of being satisfied even if X if false. And this is all that my argument requires.
At this point, a critic may say:
I will grant your definition of knowledge, and grant that good evidence is not the same as conclusive evidence (i.e., evidence that is simply incompatible with the falsity of the conclusion). But I deny that we can ever know what someone will freely choose to do.
If we insist that Smith can never know in advance what Jones will (freely) do, we must say that knowing implies having such good reasons for belief as are never available where human freedom is concerned. But this commits us, if not to a universal skepticism, at least to a very drastic one. For our reasons for supposing that someone will not lie are very like are reasons for supposing that he has not lied in some instance where we cannot check him, and so farewell to all knowledge that depends in any way on human testimony. Indeed, given that humans have considerable ability to suppress or distort memories of incidents that they do not choose to remember accurately, it would seem (by this line of argument) that I cannot know whether I have chosen to remember something inaccurately, and then chosen to forget that I have so chosen, and so farewell to all knowledge that depends on my own memory of my own past experience. That does not leave much. In short, if I can never know what someone will (freely) do, then there is precious little that I can know.
I very much doubt that
Another objection a critic might voice:
You have completely misrepresented
To this I reply:
This objection confuses deciding with dithering. If it were valid, a rational man would have to say, My friends can know whether I am going to commit a murder tonight, but, since I have free will, I cannot possibly know. Again, if it were valid, it would be immoral to make promises. For no moral man would promise that something will occur when he has no idea whether it will or not. He would have to say, Please lend me ten dollars till Saturday. Since I have free will, I shall be deciding Saturday whether to pay you back, and of course I have no way of predicting what the decision will be. It does not help matters to suggest that the mans freedom lies in deciding now that he will repay the loan on Saturday, unless one is prepared to say that decisions freely made are by their very nature irrevocable (that it is impossible, as opposed to immoral, to renege).
Finally, the critic may say:
It is true that human knowledge is compatible with freedom. But that is only because human knowledge is contextual, because every human knowledge claim is (or ought to be) provisional, subject to revision in the light of the further evidence. But theists claim that Divine knowledge is something quite different that it is timeless, which human knowledge is not, that it is not acquired, which human knowledge is, and that it involves omniscience, which human knowledge does not. To suppose that you can prove Divine knowledge compatible with freedom by proving that human knowledge is, is a blatant non sequitur.
To this I reply:
Granted. But please remember how the discussion developed. First,
[Editors notes are in blue. Readers who prefer to ignore the links in the text and follow the notes on a separate page, may open a separate page with the references here.]
* The title refers to Nathaniel Brandens lecture The Concept of God, from his lecture series The Basic Principles of Objectivism. That lecture is fully transcribed in his book The Vision of Ayn Rand, chapter 4. Partial and perhaps complete audios seem to be available throughout the Internet. See also
 Purists may substitute blank out for steal throughout.
 See Dr. Brandens refutation of determinism as cited above. [James had made a transcript of Brandens lecture on the existence of God by special permission of the author. The dot-matrix printout contains an explicit claim that the transcript is not for mass reproduction or commercial use, and I shall be observing Jamess wishes, despite the inconvenience they impose on the reader. Brandens argument for the existence free will is found in his book The Psychology of Self-Esteem,
 Aristotle, On Interpretation,
 N. Branden, The Concept of God. [The passage occurs in The Vision of Ayn Rand on pages 103104.]
 N. Branden, Intellectual Ammunition Department: Is there any validity to the claim that certain things are unknowable 2/1/3g-j
 AS [Atlas Shrugged] 1081xx-1083b [hardback] (1165qq-1167c [paperback]).
 Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, WIAR [Who Is Ayn Rand? (paperback edition)] 100101 [hardback edition: 12123].
 A. Rand, The Night of January 16th, Note to the Producer,  A speaker in the year 600 would say, Charlemagne will be crowned in 800, but he would be affirming the same fact from another point of view; hence we say, And he spoke the truth: Charlemagne was indeed crowned in 800, thereby showing that his "will and our was mark different formulations of the same proposition.
 A speaker in the year 600 would say, Charlemagne will be crowned in 800, but he would be affirming the same fact from another point of view; hence we say, And he spoke the truth: Charlemagne was indeed crowned in 800, thereby showing that his "will and our was mark different formulations of the same proposition.
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