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).