Christian Doctrines, Molinism, Omniscience, Open Theism, philosophy, theology

Is God just lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism

Knowing all the possible circumstances, persons, and permutations of these, God decreed to create just those circumstances and just those people who would freely do what God willed to happen. (William Lane Craig, 86).

I’ve argued previously that molinism allows for human freedom and God’s perfect knowledge of the future. One objection which has been raised to my argument is that, granting all of it, it would seem that God is just really lucky that the world He wants to actualize is possible. Looking back, we can see that the argument flows from the logical priority of God’s knowledge. Central to my defense was the notion that the possible worlds are full of the free choices of creatures. The objection therefore argues that God must simply “get lucky.” There must be a possible world which God actually wants to actualize.

The argument would look something like this:

1) God can only create that which is possible

2) The set of possible worlds covers all possibilities.

3) Therefore, if there is a world which God wants to create, He would have had to be simply lucky–there would have had to be a possible world that contained the outcomes God desired.

The objection is quite thoughtful. It is not easy to resolve. Before rebutting this objection, it is important to note that the set of all possible worlds is the same whether one is a determinist, open theist, or molinist. Granted, open theists deny that this set would include future contingents, but for now that is irrelevant. All the positions agree the set of possible worlds includes no contradictions. Thus, any position must account for the “God got lucky” objection.

I believe that molinism offers a way around this difficulty, and it does so by again focusing upon logical priority. William Lane Craig’s  quote above illustrates this. God’s will is at the forefront. I suggest that God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. Consider the following argument, which focuses upon the redemption (as one of the outcomes God would desire):

1) God only wills what is possible
2) God wills the redemption
3) Therefore, the redemption is possible (modus ponens, 1-2)
4) Whatever is possible exists in the set of possible worlds (tautology)
5) Therefore, the redemption exists in the set of possible worlds (3, 4)

From this argument, it wouldn’t be too difficult to draw the inference that God isn’t lucky in regards to the possibilities–God’s will would have some kind of determining power over the set of possible worlds, because anything God wills would have to exist in a possible world. In other words, God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. That which God’s will must be possible, so it is not the set of possible worlds that determines what God can will, it is rather God’s will which determines the set of possible worlds.

A potential objection I could see is that this argument just moves the debate up another level–does God will things because they are possible or are they possible because God wills them? My response would again point to logical priority, and I would say that God’s nature (will) is logically prior to the set of possible worlds.

An objection could then be raised: “Why doesn’t God will for a world without evil?” Answer: Free will defense would work here also. God could clearly will for a world to have the redemption without destroying free will for all persons, but to will a world without evil would (possibly) impinge on all persons’ free will.

Therefore, it seems that only molinism can adequately account for both human free will and God’s omniscience and providence. Whatever God wills will occur. God is not lucky, rather, God is sovereign.



William Lane Craig, “God Directs All Things: On Behalf of a Molinist View of Providence” in Four Views on Divine Providence ed. Stanley Gundry and Dennis Jowers, 79-100 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

Image Credit: I took this picture at Waldo Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado on my honeymoon. Use of this image is subject to the terms stated at the bottom of this post.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


9 thoughts on “Is God just lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism

  1. JW, very good food for thought. Another possible undercutter of this objection could be found by saying that, technically speaking, God is rather unlucky concerning the worlds available to him. While there is a possible world such that all persons in the actual world are freely saved, it is also possible no such world is feasible for God to create, and that any feasible worlds in which all are freely saved contain overriding deficiencies (like being a world of only a few persons, or being a world where the evil is far far worse than it is now). Additionally, worlds where the same number are saved may contain some of those same deficiencies (such as billions more being consigned to Hell).In any case, Molinism has available to it this as a recourse (where the world God would prefer, all else being equal, is unavailble for God to create), and hence cannot be used against Molinism proper (and apparently, not even against the view that God can actualize any such world he desires).

    Posted by randyeverist | October 10, 2011, 6:26 PM
    • Interesting counter-argument. I’m not totally convinced, though. Couldn’t those against molinism just say that this state of affairs would make it worse for molinists?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 11, 2011, 7:00 PM
      • It’s really just Plantinga’s Free Will Defense in explicit Molinist terms. But to address your question directly, I’d say it makes it far “better.” For we’re not suggesting that the worlds available to God just happen to be ones that he wants, but that perhaps it is the case that the singular world God prefers simply is not feasible. It seems perfectly plausible that if there were a world, identical to this one, in which everyone always freely chooses the good and is saved, that God would actualize it (or at least want to). Given this plausible proposition, then, by modus tollens there is not such a world (hence the modifier of freely being used to stand in as a counterfactual indicator).

        But there’s another way out, that I am not sure of, but it may be worth a try. Suppose we don’t appeal at all to considerations of moral worth or value among worlds. Suppose further that there is no one world that God prefers above all (in terms of its inherent worth). If that is the case, then given the sheer number of worlds (even ones which are feasible), then is it really so improbable that God would find one of them acceptable? If no, the objection doesn’t really hold. If yes, the objection must assume that God has some other standard or would only prefer, inherently, one world to all others. Under the former, the most plausible account is the one I provided, and hence, God does not get every last thing he wanted(even though that would be good). Under the latter, we would need some account of what world God would inherently prefer to all others, and why we also think this is feasible. If it is not feasible, then again the objection fails.

        In fact, the only real way I can see this objection going through is if the argument is made that, for whatever reason, God ultimately prefers this world inherently to any and every other world (whether feasible or no). I also distinguish between “preference” and “complete preference,” where the former is more general and the latter extends even to individual actions. This objection relies on the idea of God’s prefering this world in the complete sense, which I find very counterintuitive.

        Posted by Randy Everist | October 12, 2011, 4:48 PM
  2. Dear JW,
    I like what you’ve said here, but I’d like to offer an alternative or maybe an additional thought. Let’s go back to the objection (the three-point syllogism). The conclusion is that God must get lucky because the world He wills might not be possible. I wonder if this also considers world He creates and then also influences?

    The power of the Holy Spirit is a powerful means of guidance. Let’s say the world He creates is not possible when He does not intervene. For example, after Adam sinned, none of us would have ever chosen to accept Christ had not the Spirit moved us first. So if God does not intervene, then the world He would will is not possible.

    But He does intervene. He speaks to us, guides us in ways we don’t know. I wonder if this objection is just hollow when you consider this? Or am I misunderstanding something?

    Before I sign off, I’d just like to draw an analogy from science (since that’s my background). Whenever NASA sends missions to the moon, or Mars, or wherever else, they don’t just point the rocket in the right direction and blast it off, but along the way, they calculate what course the rocket is on and then make “mid-course corrections”. It would be basically impossible for the mission to make it to its destination without these “interventions”.

    So I guess my question is, are these “interventions” out of the theological picture in the question you are addressing, are they already included (as in, even with interventions some worlds may not be possible), or is there something else going on here?

    Posted by Greg Reeves | October 10, 2011, 8:14 PM
    • Greg,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I’m not sure this counter would work for the molinist because the set of possible worlds would include all possible interactions God could take. In other words, the possible worlds are complete worlds. I’m sure there are some who have different opinions–perhaps possible worlds are not as set as I believe they are. But my point is that at least for the molinist, the set of possible worlds would also include all of God’s possible interactions with that set.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 11, 2011, 7:04 PM
  3. Looking at your argument:

    1. God only wills what is possible
    *** “Only” propositions are notoriously difficult to parse into predicate logic, but since you indicate in #3 that you are using modus ponens, then I assume you are using a conditional. So I might convert that to:

    1′. If God wills X, then X is possible

    I will point out now that if we’re talking about attempting to prove that God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds, then I’m inclined to think that you have just begged the question. Premise 1 seems to state precisely that conclusion: that God’s will is the antecedent and possibility is the consequent. I think the argument is already flawed, but continuing on:

    2. God wills the redemption
    *** Now I really think you’re begging the question. The question at hand is this: is God “lucky” in that the set of possible worlds just happens to contain what He wants to occur (i.e., what He wills)? Your example contention is that the set of possible worlds contains the redemption primarily because God has willed it. What assurances do we have, though, that God has in fact willed it (in essence, what support is there for introducing Premise 2)? Above, you mention that it is part of His nature to will such things. But according to #1, it is also part of His nature to only will what is possible. And you go further to bound what would ordinarily be part of his nature to will (i.e., no evil) by other relevant considerations (i.e., free will), which sets the precedent for requiring further proof than simply “It is part of His nature.” So we are still left with the question unanswered: how do we know that the redemption is contained within the set of possible worlds in such a way that makes God an efficacious agent (i.e., not lucky)? I can’t see what support you can provide for Premise 2 that won’t either beg the question or undercut Premise 1.

    I think I can stop here, although I could further question whether it is God’s will or God’s knowledge which is logically prior to the instantiation of a possible world. You know already from our previous discussions that I believe in a God who risks, although I would shy away from the term “lucky” since it implies that the person receiving the benefit did little or nothing to plan for, work toward, or merit the desired outcome (think of an individual playing the slot machines). In parting, I would finally point out that the theological determinist does not have to answer this objection, since for her God’s will is not only logically prior, but causally prior to the event.

    Posted by Spencer | October 14, 2011, 9:31 PM
    • Thanks for the really insightful comment, Spencer.

      You charge that I’m begging the question in my argument, but I don’t see how that is the case. I may have worded it poorly, but it doesn’t beg the question.

      Premise 1 is, I think, a given. God’s middle knowledge is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. As such, His will is prior to the set of possible worlds. You argue that I’m begging the question, but if we take 1′ and plug it in:

      1′: If God wills the redemption, the redemption is possible.
      2′: God wills the redemption.
      3′: The redemption is possible.

      That’s not begging the question, that’s modus ponens. Perhaps you mean I’m begging the question by first assuming the redemption is possible, but that doesn’t follow given my previous assertion that God’s will is prior to the set of possible worlds. Because God’s will precedes (logically) the set of possible worlds, and it determines the set of possible worlds. By determining this set, it follows that whatever God wills is possible.

      Maybe your objection is instead intended to say “But God’s will is not prior to the set of possible worlds.” I don’t see any reason to think it isn’t. If we grant molinism for the moment, it follows that God’s knowledge is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. God’s will flows from God’s knowledge (or if you’re a Thomist, it just is God’s will). Given that, it then simply follows that God’s will is prior to the set of possible worlds. I don’t think I need to establish this via any kind of argument, because the post is arguing against those who assert that molinism would mean God is just lucky. By making such an objection, the objector must grant molinism all of its possible routes around such an argument.

      So returning to the argument in the post, if we grant molinism, it seems to me that it simply is the case that whatever God wills is prior to the set of possible worlds, and therefore in some sense determines that set. Because God wills the redemption, it follows that at least one possible world will feature the redemption. All of these points seem to me to follow quite naturally from molinism.

      Where my argument would beg the question would be if I were to flip it around and try to use it in order to support molinism. Rather, I’m using molinism to show that only on molinism can you have God both allow for freedom of the will and ensure that His will is done. On Open Theism, God does just get lucky. While OT denies that there are true future contingents, they can’t deny that there is still a set of possible worlds. And because they deny future contingents, it makes God’s creation of one of the possible worlds into a kind of roulette wheel: God risks, and perhaps gets lucky enough to have a world that it is possible for the redemption to occur. On determinism, God simply determines not just the set of possible worlds, but each proposition therein. Molinism provides a way for God to both determine the set (only) and yet allow for human freedom.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 15, 2011, 4:51 PM


  1. Pingback: Is God just lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism by J.W. Wartick | Molinists Apologetics - August 3, 2014

  2. Pingback: A God Who Risks… too much?- A Difficult Dilemma for Open Theists | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - November 10, 2014

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