logical priority

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The New Defenders of Molinism: Reconciling God’s Foreknowledge and Our Free Will

God has both complete foreknowledge concerning how… creatures will act and great control over their actions, in the sense that any act they perform is either intended or permitted by him. Yet because the knowledge which generates this foresight and sovereignty is not itself a product of free divine activity, our actions remain genuinely free, not the robotic effects of divine causal determinism. (Thomas Flint, 44, cited below)

Middle Knowledge–God’s knowledge of counterfactuals–is under attack from all sides. On one side, theological determinists argue that God’s foreknowledge necessitates all states of affairs. On the other side, open theists and process theists argue that foreknowledge limits the free will of creatures. That said, there are some extremely powerful philosophical defenses–and defenders–of the doctrine of middle knowledge.

Logical Priority and Creaturely Freedom

Essential to a correct understanding of molinism is an investigation of creation. Here, however, the discussion is not over the temporal nature of creation or the steps God took in creating. Rather, the focus is upon the logical priority within God’s creative act. By drawing out the logical priority involved, molinism solves the objections of both determinism and open theism.

The logical order of events is different from the chronological order in which they occur. Determinists focus only upon the chronological order: 1) Future contingents are true or false, God knows those which are true. 2) The events which are true occur (Craig, 128). From this, determinists (and open theists who deny God’s foreknowledge in order to preserve freedom of the will for this reason) conclude that everything is determined. The problem is they have ignored the contribution middle knowledge can make to reconciling free will and foreknowledge.

The logical priority of events occurring is quite different from its chronological order: 1) Events occur; 2) Statements about the events are true or false; 3) God knows the true statements.

By drawing out the logical priority of events’ occurring, one can then apply this to creation. William Lane Craig points out “The Three Logical Moments of God’s Knowledge”: 1) Natural Knowledge- God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds; 2) Middle Knowledge- God’s knowledge of creaturely counterfactuals. Here is the pivotal point: the third “logical moment” (again, note the distinction between chronological priority and logical priority) occurs only subsequent to God’s decision to create a world. God uses His natural knowledge to peruse the possible worlds, and His middle knowledge to determine how to best bring about His divine plans. Then, He chooses which possible world to create, and this brings about the third “moment” of God’s knowledge: 3) Free Knowledge–God’s contingent knowledge of the actual world (Craig, 131).

Note that God’s free knowledge is contingent–it is based upon actualizing a world from the set of possible worlds. Combining this with the facts of logical versus chronological priority, the resolution of the alleged difficulties from both determinists and open theists is revealed. Determinists ignored the fact that God, upon creating, is selecting from the set of possible worlds–included in each possible world is the set of free creaturely choices which will occur. God, therefore, does not determine which events will occur, but selects a world full of free choices. Open theists, on the other hand fail to recognize that the choices are free. The point must be emphasized: the choices themselves are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them. In other words, there is a set of possible worlds, each of which features various states of affairs. Middle knowledge reveals the free choices made by the individuals which can populate the possible worlds. God’s knowledge does not determine the choices–God simply chooses to actualize one of the worlds full of free choices. It is only the “free knowledge” of God which is determined by God (Flint, 42).

The Theological Superiority of Molinism

Reconciling God’s foreknowledge and creaturely free will is not the only reason to accept molinism. The doctrine has a number of theological advantages over both open theism and theological determinism. First, the doctrine undermines the extremely untoward idea within theological determinism that God causes evil. John Frame, for example, says quite simply “…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (Frame, 68). Molinists, on the other hand, acknowledge that God accounts for evil within His plan but they can rightly argue that evil is due to the free acts of creatures.

Molinism also provides a grounds for Biblical Inerrancy. Open theists have great difficulties providing any grounds for this doctrine (and often end up abandoning it). The reason for this is because open theists don’t believe God knows what free creatures will do. Thus, free creatures–the authors of the Bible–could be fallible. Middle knoweldge, on the other hand, shows that God knows what the creatures will do in whatever circumstances they are placed in. Thus, God would have known who, what, where, when, why, and how to bring about His infallible Word.

Most notably, prophecy perhaps only makes sense on a molinist account. While determinism allows for the truth of prophecy, it undermines the creature-creator relationship inherent in prophecy (and found in accounts like that of Jonah). God simply foreordains that His prophets come forward and prophecy, then He unilaterally brings about the truth of their prophetic utterances. Open theism, on the other hand, must force prophecy either into God’s luck or argue that it is one of the “unilateral” actions of God (which undermines the core of open theism–human freedom). Molinism, however, allows for human freedom and the truth of prophecy. Thomas Flint points out that prophecy on a molinist account could be brought about in two ways–either through God acting to bring about the truth of the prophetic utterance, or through God’s foreknowledge of the free actions of creatures (Flint 197ff).

Again, prayers and their answers may only make sense upon a molinist account. Determinists, in particular, have difficulty with prayer. God seems quite narcissistic–He foreordains that His creations worship Him, and then chooses to bring about their requests. Open theists, on the other hand, have left God hog-tied. I may pray for a friend to come to the faith, and God can only hope with me that that friend might change his/her mind. God doesn’t know what will happen, on open theism, so He, like me, can just try His best. Conversely, molinism allows for creaturely freedom to choose to pray, while also allowing God to bring about the states of affairs prayed for (Flint, 229ff–Flint specifically is discussing praying “for things to have happened”).

Conclusion

Molinism provides a wealth of theological insight. Not only that, but it also reconciles God’s foreknowledge with our free will. Molinism avoids the difficulties of both open theism and determinism, while making sense of theological and philosophical truths. The defenders of molinism have won their case.

Sources

William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999).

Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1998).

John Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).

Image Credit: Bdpmax http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baitou_Mountain_Tianchi.jpg

SDG.

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God and Logical Priority

Logical priority, broadly defined, is the way things are ontologically ordered. That is, to say that for two factors, x and y, x is logically prior to y if and only if x takes precedence over y. An example could be to use miracles and God (note this is just for the sake of example, I realize that some would argue miracles can exist without God, but I’m simply using it as an illustration). The existence of God is logically prior to miracles in the sense that if God does not exist, then miracles do not. In this case, God would be x, while miracles would be y. In order for y to be the case, x must also be the case, thus making x logically prior to y.

So what does this have to do with God? Very much, I would say. For one of the most common objections to the existence of God is that there is no (or not enough) scientific evidence to demonstrate God’s existence. I have addressed such objections before, but now I would like to take a completely different approach. That is, I believe that the existence of God is logically prior to the question of scientific evidence.

The reason I take the existence of God to be logically prior to scientific evidence is be cause logic is prior to science. Take the case of necessity, for example, and combine it with the case of scientific laws. Now, in science, a law is generally something like “if x occurs, then y will occur.” But it is not the case that such laws operate on a logically necessary level. For it is not the case that “Necessarily, If x occurs, then y will occur” (or, □(x⊃y) for those who enjoy ‘logic-ese’). It is simply the case that this is what happens in all observed cases. It could even (possibly, but not modally) be said that “If x occurs, then, necessarily y will occur” (again, logic-ese: x⊃□y), but this does not establish logical necessity in the modal and broader sense.

The type of necessity which can therefore be ascribed to scientific laws is a contingent or “accidental” necessity. They operate in a necessary sense in that in this world (out of all possible worlds) it is the case that if x then y, but they do not operate necessarily in the sense that in every possible worlds it is the case that “if x then y.

Logical necessity, however, is prior to this. For, on logical necessity, that which is necessary is necessary in all possible worlds. Logical necessity is the very thing which scientific necessity lacks.

Again, we may ask, what does this have to do with God? Well, if it is the case that it can be demonstrated that God exists out of logical necessity, then the question of scientific evidence is irrelevant. For logical necessity is prior to scientific necessity. This is not to say that scientific evidence is not useful when exploring the “God question”, if you will, but it is to say that if it can be demonstrated that God is logically necessary, then demands for scientific evidence to demonstrate or even make probable the existence of God are misplaced. For if God is logically necessary, then to deny the existence of God is incoherent in the strong sense (that is, it is illogical). The logical demonstration would be prior to and therefore supersede the scientific evidence or lack thereof (I believe that there are at least some reasons scientifically to believe God exists, but that is off topic).

But then, we must ask, can it be demonstrated that God is logically necessary? Well yes, I believe so. I have argued this at length elsewhere, so I won’t reiterate it (see here). If any of these arguments are sound (as I believe they are), then the question of scientific evidence for God’s existence is simply a non-factor. Certainly, the scientific (and other) evidences may be seen  as providing further justification for believing that God exists, but if it is the case that the arguments for God’s logical necessity are sound, then such arguments are the only tools needed to defend the claim that God exists. Further, to dispute such a claim (that is, God’s existence) would be incoherent in the strongest possible sense.

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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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