Hillsdale College


Foreknowledge and Free Will in Christianity and Islam

Edouard Machery (University of Pittsburgh)
Ameni Mehrez (Central European University)
Kevin Timpe (Calvin)

Total Award Amount: $249,550
Start Date: July 1, 2022
End Date:  June 30, 2024

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The project “Foreknowledge and Free Will in Christianity and Islam,” led by Edouard Machery (University of Pittsburgh) and Ameni Mehrez (Central European University), examines whether there is a tension between divine foreknowledge and human free will in several Christian traditions (in particular, among Calvinists, Catholics, and non-Calvinist Protestants) and in Sunni Islam. In Islam and Christianity, God is traditionally thought to have foreknowledge of human actions. But then, if God infallibly anticipates how humans will act, how can their actions ever be free? Christian and Muslim theology and philosophy as well as contemporary analytic philosophy of religion have addressed this problem of theological fatalism with great sophistication, but little is known about what theological fatalism means for ordinary believers, particularly across religions.

The project “Foreknowledge and Free Will in Christianity and Islam” investigates the hypothesis that divine foreknowledge and free will are intuitively in tension with one another: People intuitively conceive of free actions as unpredictable and thus uncertain, while prototypical cases of knowledge about future events come with certainty. Because different religious traditions highlight divine foreknowledge to a different degree (Islam and Calvinism highlight it more than Catholicism and non-Calvinist Protestantism), the denial of free will is more attractive in some religious traditions than in others. Four cross-religious experimental studies in the USA and in Tunisia and a corpus analysis of religious texts (including, but not limited to, the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Bible) will be the empirical backbone of the project “Foreknowledge and Free Will in Christianity and Islam.”

These studies examine whether Christians and Muslims believe that God has foreknowledge of future actions, whether a belief in free will varies across religious traditions, whether foreknowledge and free will are equally salient across these religious traditions, and whether there is a tension between divine foreknowledge and human free will. Finally, the significance of theological fatalism for behavior will be assigned experimentally to see whether people’s belief in free will and divine foreknowledge influence their obedience to authority. The philosophical component of the project “Foreknowledge and Free Will in Christianity and Islam” focuses on the significance of the empirical findings for the issue of theological fatalism in the philosophy of religion.

Finally, these findings will bear on assessing the topic of Islamic fatalism, an arguably prejudiced trope in century-old discussions of theological fatalism (e.g., in Leibniz and Voltaire) and in more recent political discussions (for instance in Huntington’s celebrated Clash of Civilizations).

Project Team

Edouard Machery (University of Pittsburgh)

Edouard Machery is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Edouard's research focuses on the philosophical issues raised by the cognitive sciences: He has written extensively about concepts (Doing Without Concepts, 2009, OUP), the nature and origin of racial categorization, the application of evolutionary theories to human cognition, the nature of culture, and the structure of moral concepts. He is also a leading contributor to metaphilosophy (Philosophy Within Its Proper Bounds, 2017, OUP). His current research focuses on the methodology of experimental psychology, with a special focus on the replication crisis, external validity, and issues in statistics. He is involved in the development of experimental philosophy, and he has used experimental and quasi-experimental methods to study intuitions about reference, folk judgments about intentional action, causation, the folk concept of race, and the folk concept of phenomenal consciousness, often in a cross-cultural context. Finally, he has led the Geography of Philosophy Project (www.geographyofphilosophy.com) since 2017.

Ameni Mehrez (Central European University)

Ameni Mehrez is a graduate student in the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy, and International Relations at the Central European University. She is running large-scale studies in Tunisia for her research in comparative politics, and she has experience with automated text analysis tools and quantitative methods in social science research. She is also the chair of the Middle East and North Africa Space at CEU, and she was the Principal Investigator of a post-election survey fielded in Tunisia, which will contribute to the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES).
Website: https://mehrezameni.wordpress.com/

Kevin Timpe (Calvin)

Kevin Timpe holds the William H. Jellema Chair in Christian Philosophy at Calvin University. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Saint Louis University in 2004. His primary research interests range across the metaphysics of free will, philosophy of disability, virtue theory, and philosophical theology. He has published ten books, including The Virtues: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2021), Disability and Inclusive Community (Calvin Press, 2018), the Routledge Companion to Free Will (Routledge, 2017), and Free Will in Philosophical Theology (Bloomsbury, 2013). In addition, he’s published over 50 journal articles and book chapters.