divine providence

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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.

SDG.

Sources

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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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Molinism and Timelessness–A Match Made in Heaven (No, really!)

It seems to me that there are few matches better made than the doctrine of Divine Timelessness and Molinism (aka Middle Knowledge). I think they truly are a match made in heaven, for God Himself possesses both of these attributes/properties.

First, some definitions. God is timeless, which means that “God exists, but exists at no time” (Leftow, xi). Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals (simplifying the case to some extent here, see Thomas Flint’s discussion in Divine Providence: The Molinist Account). Jointly these propositions serve as explanations for a number of phenomena of Christianity.

First, human freedom and divine omniscience is a problem curtailed jointly by these doctrines. Timelessness solves any kind of potential incompatibility by simply denying that omniscience is foreknowledge. Instead, it is simply knowledge, known all at once in one “instant” in eternity (Leftow, 246ff). That which is not in time cannot determine things “ahead of time”.

Molinism, on the other hand, can also deny any incompatibility by asserting that the counterfactuals of God’s knowledge are not under the control of God. In other words, God has no control over whether or not Jenny will freely choose to go mountain climbing. God can control the circumstances in which Jenny is placed, and then bring it about that some other counterfactual would be true (i.e. Jenny does not go mountain climbing because she stays home to nurse her ailing goldfish). But this control over circumstances does not entail control over choices. The choices remain free (Flint, 11ff).

Now, one objection to Molinism is that because God decides which circumstances in which to place Jenny before the creation of the world, he still is determining what she will do because he picks from the circumstances. But this is not quite the case. Jenny’s actions are not determined, but some of the circumstances in which she is placed are. This doesn’t preclude her free choice, however, for God only controls the situations Jenny will encounter, while her free choices remain outside of His control.

Timelessness is sometimes denied due to a perception that a timeless God could not have meaningful interactions with His creatures. This does not seem to be the case however, once one analyzes exactly what timelessness entails. Leftow argues convincingly that timelessness can be thought of as, in some sense, a parallel “time” during which all things happen at once, though not simultaneously. The relationship of successive temporal instants can be thought of in some ways as similar to logical priority. If a timeless God has middle knowledge, furthermore, then God can indeed have “real” interactions with creatures, because He, in eternity, all-at-once performs the creative, providential act. This includes the situations in which His creatures will be placed.

Thus, by His creative act, He sets the situations in which He will interact with His creatures, and this action is a true interaction because He factors in their free choices and takes such things into account. Furthermore, the objection that God’s interactions are diminished because they happen “before” the interaction occurs is a specious claim, for if God is timeless, then none of His actions occur “at a time” other than in Eternity.

Therefore, it seems to me that jointly, a molinist account and a timeless God make quite a lot of sense. This is not to say that there are no other accounts of God that make sense, but this is part of the interest of philosophy of religion, after all, particularly among Christians: the dialogue, the interaction with the Biblical texts which perhaps speak to each issue, and the different conclusions which can be drawn. These differing conclusions do not take away from or destroy the validity of our faith, rather, they ensure that we delve ever deeper, striving for an understanding of the divine Godhead.

Sources:

Leftow, Brian. Time and Eternity. Cornell University Press. 2009 (reprint).

Thomas Flint, Divine Providence: A Molinist Account. Cornell University Press. 2006.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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