He Said It Better Than I Did: A Guest’s Comment about Molinism

 

Are Arminian Theology and Middle Knowledge Compatible?

Very nice essay, Roger. You’ve put your finger on a key internal tension within Molinism.

While Molinism is *officially* committed to a libertarian view of creaturely freedom (and thus soft determinists like Ware are *not* Molinists, even if they co-opt the label), such a view of freedom requires that middle knowledge counterfactuals of actual creatures be explanatorily *posterior* to actual creaturely free choices. Thus, if Adam and Eve are free (in the libertarian sense) to eat or not eat the forbidden fruit, then it must not be fixed *independently* of their actual choices that IF they were to be placed in such-and-such circumstances that they would eat the forbidden fruit. For it the truth of that conditional were independently fixed, then they would have no say about whether it is true, and so couldn’t act so as to bring about its falsity. This means that they couldn’t do otherwise than eat the fruit in those circumstances, which in turn means that they weren’t free in a libertarian sense, contrary to hypothesis. Hence, the truth values of middle knowledge counterfactuals must be explanatorily *posterior* to actual creaturely free choices. But this is a huge problem for Molinism because the providential usefulness of middle knowledge is predicated on its being explanatorily *prior* to actual creaturely choices. That’s the only way it can inform God’s creative decree. So Molinism is internally inconsistent. Its alleged reconciliation of creaturely libertarian freedom and meticulous divine providence depends on both affirming and denying that the truth values of middle knowledge counterfactuals are explanatorily *posterior* to actual creaturely free choices.

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    “[Libertarian] freedom requires that middle knowledge counterfactuals of actual creatures be explanatorily *posterior* to actual creaturely free choices.”

    I’m sorry, but why must it be posterior? That isn’t obvious to me at all. Couldn’t it be prior? It seems that it could if Fredosso’s take on the grounding objection is right. I wrote about this elsewhere, but I’ll post it here for anyone who is interested. Here’s how it goes:

    1. The statement “It was the case that ‘Peter decides to deny Christ’” is now grounded if and only if the statement “‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ is now grounded” was the case.

    From (1) we can deduce that God knows the moral choice of Peter’s decision, because it occurred in the past. On this there is wide agreement between Molinists and anti-Molinists.

    2. The statement “It will be the case that ‘Peter decides to deny Christ” is now grounded if and only if the statement “‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ is now grounded” will be the case.

    From (2) we can deduce that there was a time when God knew what Peter would do before he did it, and that there was a time in our world when Peter was not. Both Molinists and most anti-Molinists agree (save Open Theists).

    3. The statement “It might be the case that ‘Peter decides to deny Christ’” is now grounded if and only if the statement “‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ is now grounded” might be the case.

    From (3) we can deduce that God knows what Peter possibly will do, and there is a general agreement that God has this knowledge without the creation of the world (that is, “before” creation).

    Now call the world we inhabit Alpha:

    4. The statement “It would be the case that ‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ (if God were to create Alpha)” is now grounded if and only if the statement “‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ is now grounded” would be the case (if God were to create Alpha).

    From (4) we can deduce that God would know what Peter would do if he were to create Alpha (the world in which we now inhabit). But Molinists and anti-Molinists don’t agree on this at all! Why? Let us suppose it is because knowledge of counterfactuals of actual creaturely freedom must be explanatorily *posterior* to actual creaturely free choices. If this is the case, then how is it that in (2) we can deduce that there was a time when God knew what Peter would do before he did it, and that there was a time in our world when Peter was not? I suspect that we can’t, and that explains why the commenter is an open theist (and a very competent philosopher–Hi Alan!). But Arminius wasn’t and Arminians like Roger aren’t, so it seems that this critique from our open theist friend is too strong. Right?

    • Roger Olson

      By “posterior” I would mean (had I used the language of the commenter) that God knows a libertarian free creature’s decision and action BECAUSE the creature decides and NOT BECAUSE he knows without the creature’s existence or actual decision-making what he or she would do a priori. The latter makes God the author of that creature’s disobedience the moment God creates him or her. The former (simple foreknowledge) admits to not knowing HOW this can be the case (grounding). It embraces the mystery rather than feeling the need to explain the “how” of God’s foreknowledge. Why? Because Scripture says it and all the alternatives make God morally monstrous.

      • Adam Omelianchuk

        Well if that is the sense that you mean, then Molinism is right on board with that (see how the tensed facts are working in the argument I made above). We seem to be in agreement.

  • Ken Schenck

    Does it matter that the notion of “posterior” and “prior” here are logical rather than necessarily temporal?

    • Roger Olson

      I take it the commenter meant them in their logical sense (with which I would agree). He may also have meant them in their temporal sense, but that is a door I’m not prepared to go through yet.

  • labreuer

    Is it impossible for there to be a kind of “tipping point”, between:

    A. circumstances God could impose upon us to cause us to inevitably do good, vs.
    B. circumstances God could impose upon us to cause us to inevitably do evil

    ? This would be a way for God to choose to not know what we will do, and it matches up with the idea of God “testing” us in a way that isn’t demeaning (from certain perspectives I find compelling). This of course gets to the question of whether a perfectly free, omniscient, omnipotent being can choose to limit its omniscience. :-p

  • Rob

    I think this is mistaken and confuses modalities.

    Molinism absolutely does NOT require middle knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom to be explanatorily posterior to ACTUAL choices. I mean c’mon, the known counterfactuals of freedom include the entire range of feasible worlds. How could the actual world fix the truth values of counterfactuals of freedom in unactualized worlds?

    At any rate, God knows the range of feasible worlds in the 2nd logical moment, middle knowledge. God only knows what ACTUALLY will occur in God’s free knowledge which is the 3rd logical moment. The actual choices are just those free choices made in the world in which God actualizes.

    The truth of the counterfactuals of freedom is not fixed by what happens in the actual world unless you mean it is fixed by the essence of actual creatures. That is precisely what molinists say and so it is not any sense fixed “independently” of the creatures in question. Finally, nothing about the truth of the statement Bob would F entails that Bob does not have the power to not-F.

    • Roger Olson

      But let’s take the proposition further–as Molinists usually do. Bob would (without any doubt) F if placed in conditions G; Bob is predestined to be placed in conditions G and is placed in conditions G. Now does Bob have the power to not F? Theoretically, yes. In reality, no. Determinism.

      • John I.

        The phrase “power to do X”, and the concept behind it, seem incoherent in some respects.

        In condition / possible world G, Bob does not have the power to “not F” where X is some actualization of willed choice. In that condition / possible world Bob is only able to do “F”

        Bob’s power to refrain from “F” only exists in other possible worlds / sets of conditions.

        Bob’s having the power to do either “F” or to refrain from doing it, or to do something else instead of “F” only exists in the set of all possible worlds. That set includes possible worlds or conditions in which he does do F and in which he does not do F.

        If this conception of all possible worlds is taken seriously, then Bob is simultaneously doing and not doing F in all these possible worlds. It becomes rather like having infinite universes in a multiverse so that all possible universes (a potentially infinite set) are each actualiized an infinite number of times so that there exist contemporaneously universes in which Olson blogs and in which he doesn’t. We just happen to be in the universe in which he does.

        Furthermore, under Molinism there are not two completely identical worlds–one in which Bob does F, and one in which he does not do F. Though having two such worlds is not logically contradictory, and is imaginable, only one of the two worlds is actually possible in the sense of being feasibly existent. If it were otherwise then God would have no middle knowledge that he could make use of.


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