molina

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Is Middle Knowledge Uncontroversial?

luis-de-molina-2I was reading a recent blog post at one of the sites from which I read every post–the Pastor Matt blog–and discovered a point of some importance for those interested in the debate over omniscience and divine foreknowledge. His post “Middle Knowledge Misunderstood” is a brief introduction to the concept of middle knowledge. My focus is not going to be on that topic so much as on a claim made in the article: that middle knowledge is uncontroversial. Simply put, this claim is mistaken. Middle knowledge is the subject of much debate to this day.

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom: specifically, God’s knowledge of “If x, then y” in regards to human and other created beings’ freedom. It is more than that, and yes I am simplifying this quite a bit.

Middle knowledge has been the subject of no little amount of my efforts in studying, and when I read the claim that it is uncontroversial, I was taken aback. Frankly, to say that middle knowledge is not controversial is just entirely mistaken. I shall now demonstrate that point.

First, middle knowledge is controversial among those who deny that God has absolute knowledge of the future, namely, open theists. William Hasker, John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, and other open theists each explicitly deny the existence of these counterfactuals that make up middle knowledge. Greg Boyd, another prominent open theist, argues in multiple places that the “would” counterfactuals of middle knowledge (i.e. in situation x, person would do y) should instead be “might” counterfactuals because “would” counterfactuals can have no truth value (see, for example, his response to William Lane Craig in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2001).

Second, middle knowledge is controversial among Calvinists. Paul Helm, a noted Calvinist philosopher, writes:

Since the Reformed held that all that occurs is unconditionally decreed by God and that men and women are responsible for their actions, they saw no need for a third kind of divine knowledge, a middle knowledge, which depended upon God foreseeing what possible people would freely do in certain circumstances.

In other words, middle knowledge is superfluous. Helm goes on to state as much:

Not only is middle knowledge unnecessary to an all-knowing, all-decreeing God, but the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree.

I would contend that most any theological determinist should hold to a similar belief regarding middle knowledge. On such a position, middle knowledge is unnecessary and indeed contrary to their entire system. Certainly Calvinists in general would deny that middle knowledge is necessary or uncontroversial.

Third, Thomists, I believe, would also reject middle knowledge–and historically have–for a number of reasons, including the notion that it entails potentiality in God. The reason it would do so is because of the whole structure of modality–including possible worlds–which advocates of middle knowledge tend to put forward as well. If the assertion is that there is a different way that things God could have created, then that implies that there is a potential there–something that any Thomistic view of the world would deny. I believe the same point would go for Scholastic thinkers in general, but I’m not familiar enough with the range of scholasticism to say that is for sure.

All of this is not even delving into things like whether those who hold to simple foreknowledge would endorse middle knowledge. David Hunt, for example, in the aforementioned Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, also argues that counterfactuals of freedom required for foreknowledge are illogical. Frankly, I think any position of simple foreknowledge would have to deny middle knowledge because on simple foreknowledge the whole concept is just as superfluous and contrary as it is for theological determinists. After all, if we contend that God just knows the future, then there is little room for things like God’s knowledge of what creatures would do in varied situations: God just knows what the future is going to be. Again, I don’t know the range of thought within the simple foreknowledge position to say for sure, but I suspect the majority position would be to deny middle knowledge.

Now when I shared some of these thoughts with Pastor Matt, his response was to grant that open theists deny middle knowledge, but then later he also granted that some Calvinists do. My point is that even were these the only ones who denied middle knowledge, that would not qualify as being “uncontroversial.” But now, having demonstrated that it is theological determinists, Calvinists, some who hold to simple foreknowledge, open theists, and Thomists (and possibly others?) who would deny middle knowledge, I think that the point has carried: middle knowledge is not uncontroversial.

I say all of this as someone who thinks middle knowledge does exist. But I think that we need to confront the reality that Molinism–the position which most closely endorses middle knowledge–is itself highly controversial and hardly above criticism.

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Middle Knowledge Misunderstood– Pastor Matt’s post on middle knowledge.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is Molina’s God Fallible? A response to James N. Anderson

luis-de-molinaRecently, I responded to James White’s comments on molinism. Shortly thereafter, White had another podcast in which he made several comments on molinism. He also commented favorably on an article by James N. Anderson, which argues that God is fallible. I left a comment over on Anderson’s blog because I frankly think that he misrepresented Molina’s view. Here, I’ll reproduce the comment I left there with a bit more commentary after the block quote to demonstrate that Anderson’s argument, like White’s, really is a misrepresentation.

My comment (edited to make it a bit shorter):

You wrote, “In other words, there are possible worlds in which God actualizes C so that S will choose A, but S doesn’t choose A. There are possible worlds in which God’s eternal decree doesn’t come to pass, because libertarian-free agents do otherwise than he had planned.”

Molina, on the other hand, explicitly held that if we were to choose otherwise, God would have known otherwise. That is, on Molina’s view (and on the view of William Lane Craig), if we were to choose ~A instead of A, then God would have known ~A instead. Molina, in “On Divine Foreknowledge” makes this extremely clear.

Of course, you could argue that the means by which Molina argues that this is possible is itself mistaken, but the argument is complicated and I’m not going to reproduce it here. My main point is the very core of the argument you’ve given simply misrepresents the position of molinists. Molina (and Craig) held that if a creature were to choose otherwise, then God would know it. Period.

Anderson responded to my comment by noting his argument was related to the decree. Now, I’m not at all sure how this saves Anderson’s article from this error, which I think is fatal: his argument just fails to account for molinism on molinism’s terms. That is, his argument is an attempt at a reductio. Thus, he has to grant the system which he is trying to show is self-referentially incoherent its own terms. He failed to do so. Here is Anderson’s argument in a nutshell:

 [T]he Molinist is committed to the claim that although God knows that S would choose A in C, and he actualizes C because he plans for S to choose A, it is nonetheless possible for S not to choose A in C. (Craig clearly affirm[ed] this point a couple of times in his exchange with Helm.) In other words, there are possible worlds in which God actualizes C so that S will choose A, but S doesn’t choose A. There are possible worlds in which God’s eternal decree doesn’t come to pass, because libertarian-free agents do otherwise than he had planned.

Thus, Anderson concludes, on the molinist view, God is possibly fallible. But, as I pointed out in my comment above, Anderson’s argument basically just ignores Molina’s own views about God’s knowledge. I take it from his response to me that he thinks that God’s eternal decree somehow trumps considerations about foreknowledge, and I would think that on a Calvinist system that may be correct, depending upon how one hashes at the details (i.e. on some Calvinists’ expositions of foreknowledge, I have read it is grounded on God’s own action; that is, God foreknows x will happen because God wills x). But of course we’re not here interested on a Calvinist view of foreknowledge or the decree; Anderson is allegedly addressing Molinists.

By now it should be fairly clear where Anderson’s mistake lies: he imports his Calvinistic understanding of foreknowledge and the decree into molinism. But he claims to be critiquing Molina’s views internally; that is, his argument is supposed to show that molinism is self-referentially incoherent because it entails a fallible God. But it doesn’t! It only does so once Anderson has forced the concept of the eternal decree (that is, the specifically Calvinist view of this) as the filter through which molinism must be drawn. But of course that hardly shows that molinism is wrong, any more than filtering Calvinism through an Arminian filter demonstrates Calvinism is incoherent. One must evaluate each view on its own merits; not by presupposing positions which make them false!

There are a few other major difficulties with Anderson’s argument, such as a continued confusion with free knowledge and middle knowledge. See the “technical discussion” below as well as the comments for more.

So to return to Molina and his modern defenders, we find that they affirm in apparent unanimity that if one were to choose to do ~x instead of x, then God would have known ~x to be the case and x to be false. Thus, there simply is no question of a subject bringing about the falsity of God’s knowledge. Moreover, Anderson’s argument also confuses middle knowledge with free knowledge. Once God has actualized a world, it simply is the case that if, in that world, God knows that S will choose A, then S will choose A. Middle knowledge is the moment which considers counterfactuals; free knowledge is the creation of the world and the actualization of those counterfactuals. Thus, Anderson’s argument fails because 1) it fails to actually take Molina’s views into account; 2) it fails to interpret Molina’s views in such a way as to show the view is self-referentially incoherent; and 3) it fails to distinguish between middle and free knowledge.

Technical Discussion in the Comments

Be sure to check out the comments for some great interaction in which Anderson came along and commented as well. It’s a great discussion.

For example, this comment I wrote draws out some of the difficulties with Anderson’s argument further:

Your [I am here addressing Anderson directly] argument is that molinism entails a fallible God. Thus, your argument is that molinism–on molinism’s terms–entails a fallible God. Now, you wrote, “It doesn’t do to say, ‘If S were to choose otherwise then God would have decreed otherwise,’ because that’s dodging the issue.”

First, you misstate the actual premise, which is not that God would have decreed otherwise but that God would have foreknown otherwise; again, this leads me to think you’re not taking molinism on molinism’s terms. Instead, it seems you continue to conflate foreknowledge and the decree. Now, perhaps you simply mistyped that and you meant to say foreknown instead of decreed… in that case:

Second, your argument, again, is to try to show internal incoherence of molinism. In order to do so, you have to grant the premises of molinism. After all, if one wants to show an internal incoherence in a position, simply denying that parts of that position are true will not yield internal incoherence; rather, one must show how the pieces that such a position actually holds do not cohere with each other. Thus, because molinists from Molina to Craig to Thomas Flint (and I think this point is unanimous, though there may always be a “maverick” somewhere, I’m sure) hold that “If S were to do otherwise, God would have known otherwise,” you can’t just deny that premise and say “HA, now see, it is internally incoherent once I’ve denied this premise!” Rather, you would have to show that that premise is itself false.

Now, Molina doesn’t just assert that God would have known otherwise. He does spend several pages developing exactly how it could be the case that If S were to do otherwise, God would have known it–all without appealing to backwards causation. Craig also defends this account in his lengthier work on the topic. Fredosso develops this defense over the course of p 57-63 and 65-68 of his translation of Molina’s “On Divine Foreknowledge.” In the same work, Molina defends his position may be found on p. 119-120; as well as several other places where a whole view of his account provides a lengthier defense.

Thus, it seems to me your argument fails to demonstrate internal incoherence. Molinism on molinism’s terms does not make God fallible.

Third, as far as why I argued you confused middle and free knowledge; the reason is because Molina himself held that because God is eternal and exists in the eternal now rather than as an omnitemporal or temporal being (contra Craig, who defends his position somewhat differently), it is incorrect to hold that once  a world has been actualized, then the creatures world may bring it about that that world is not brought about. Again, this goes back to Molina’s view of foreknowledge and free will. But free knowledge is not middle knowledge and is absolute certainty about the “actualized” world. It is unchangeable. Thus, on this third point, your argument fails not only to demonstrate internal coherence but also to interact with Molina’s actual view. The reason is because your argument relies upon the notion that in the here and now a creature could bring it about that ~x if God knows that X will happen. But both Craig and Molina (and every other major defender of Molinism of whom I’m aware, though possibly not Zagzebski as I haven’t read her view) hold that if God knows x will happen, then, necessarily, x will happen. Thus, the freedom of creatures is found in middle knowledge, and that is how it is preserved. God’s actualizing a world brings it about that in that world, the counterfactuals God brought into being will happen. Again, Molina reconciles this as above (and alongside his view that God is Eternal in the technical sense rather than temporal).

Thus, although interesting, I once more conclude that your argument fails to either address molinism or show that it is internally incoherent.

Links

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James White and Molinism- Confusion about middle knowledge– I argue that James White has made a couple key errors related to molinism. On his most recent comments regarding molinism (his 2/11 podcast), he repeats a key error by saying that in the “exact same circumstances” he chooses differently. In this post, I demonstrate the error of his statement, along with some other mistakes in his critique.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Scrooge, Molinism, and the “Grounding Objection”

`Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,’ said Scrooge, `answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?’ …`Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. `But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.’

…`They [the curtains on Scrooge’s bed] are not torn down.’ cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms,’ they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here — I am here — the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will.’-The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Such is Scrooge’s conclusion when he discovers that despite what he is shown about the future, he wakes up and discovers that he may change those ends. The story relies upon something which tends to be common in everyday language: the truths of counterfactuals. For example, Scrooge seems to conclude “If I change my course, then things will turn out differently.” Thomas Flint writes, “no one dismisses the story on the grounds that there simply are no such truths which ever could be revealed. The reason, I think, is that most people tacitly assume that there are such conditional truths” (Flint, 79, cited below).

It is therefore interesting that the most commonly cited philosophical objection to molinism is this very notion: that things can be true about what free beings will do in such-and-such circumstances. Most often the objection is put something like this: “What grounds the truths of these statements? If the creatures don’t exist yet, then how can there be anything to make such statements true?” I’ll be foregoing a lengthy philosophical defense of the position for now and instead focus on one rebuttal: Why suppose that such statements need to have a “truthmaker” or that they need to have a “grounding”?

What reason is there for supposing that “if a proposition is true, then something… causes it to be true…” (Alvin Plantinga quoted in Flint, 127)? Now Flint himself (and he says Plantinga follows) continues on beyond this to argue that there are in fact ways to ground such counterfactuals, but my own skepticism remains unconvinced. I’m not sure I understand the notion that propositions must have some grounds to make them true. It seems much more plausible to me that for any proposition, it is either true or false. Clearly, this is the case for many necessary truths. It is necessarily true that if something is pink it is colored. But does that mean that if nothing existed, this would not be true? Or would it follow that if no pink things existed, the statement would be meaningless? I’m not sure these things do follow, and so I remain highly skeptical of the notion that counterfactuals of freedom even need to be grounded to begin with. In any case, it seems to me highly questionable that they do.

It also seems extremely plausible to me to just accept my commonsense notion that the story of Scrooge just makes sense. If Scrooge had continued the life he had, then the things he was shown would have come about. Scrooge had a change of heart, so those things did not come about. But that doesn’t mean they would not have if he had not changed. The appeal to common sense is almost universally frowned upon in philosophy, but it seems like in this case there is little reason to doubt it.

Merry Christmas, all! I’ll resume posting after the day of the birth of our Savior!

Image  Credit: Robert Doucette http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_c_scott_as_scrooge.jpg

SDG.

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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. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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.

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