Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Molinist Solution to the Problem of Evil


The Molinist solution to the problem of evil is an elegant one. It was first proposed in contemporary philosophy of religion by Alvin Plantinga. The idea is, in the words of a great gentleman and scholar, that “God knows something you don’t.”(1) Some have tried to seize upon this proclamation by stating that it actually makes the problem worse, not better. For on Molinism, the objector claims, God would know precisely what factors would be necessary for evil not be in the world, or for everyone to freely be saved, etc. Not only this, but God would know how to accomplish such a feat as well (via his middle knowledge). So, rather than solving the problem of evil, middle knowledge actually exacerbates it.

Naturally, the Molinist will suggest that it is perhaps the case that there is no possible world feasible for God in which everyone freely believes and is saved. The response from the objector would be that saying there is no such possible world is tantamount to saying that the set of circumstances is impossible, which clearly has not yet been shown. In fact, he would continue, it seems our modal intuitions at least suggest such a world is possible, and it does seem to be logically consistent. So, has the Molinist solution to the problem of evil failed after all? I don’t think so.

First, there is dialectical confusion. The logical problem of evil is a statement of logical inconsistency. Namely, that there is some inconsistency between (A) The existence of a loving God and (B) the existence of evil (or the lack of universal salvation). The syllogism might look like this:

  1. If a loving God exists, then evil would not exist.
  2. Evil does exist.
  3. Therefore, a loving God does not exist.

The entire argument is an asserting of (1-2). In response, (1) is undercut by the Molinist response (MR). This is hugely important. MR does not presume to act as a defeater for the argument. Rather, MR merely gives us reason to doubt the veracity of or warrant for (1). Merely stating that one hasn’t proven MR shouldn’t give us any reason to think that (1) is successful or that MR has failed.

Second, there is category confusion. Much of the counterargument to MR is based on the epistemological conflating with the ontological. For all we know, such a world is possible. But that doesn’t mean such a world really is possible after all. But wait!, the objector states. We really can derive modal ontology from modal intuitions. Fair enough. However, modal intuitions are always subject to the way things actually are. For instance, if something seems to our modal intuitions, but our best evidence and arguments demonstrate it really isn’t, we ought to adjust our beliefs to align with this instead of our modal intuitions. I don’t hold my modal intuition that such a world is possible stronger than I hold that God is good. Hence, if one is to go, the intuition does. This leads us to our final point.

Finally, this leads, at best, to a dialectical standoff. But any such standoff favors the defense. The counterargument to MR would look like this: 

  1. If middle knowledge is true, then God would know how to prevent evil and know which world to actualize to achieve this.
  2. Such a world exists.
  3. Middle knowledge is true.
  4. Therefore, God knows how to actualize (2) worlds.
  5. Therefore, God would actualize (2) worlds (from original [1]).
  6. Therefore, evil does not exist (reductio against original [3]).

So, clearly, (1-9) is inconsistent. I think (1) is true, but (2) is surely debatable. How can we know this world exists? Modal intuitions tell us it is possible, but the Christian will surely believe that God is good and (2) worlds don’t exist over believing (2) worlds exist but God is not good. But then, the entire argument, in convincing the believer, rests solely on the idea that God is not good. Since this is exactly what the problem of evil seeks to prove, Christians don’t have any non-question-begging reason to accept it. 

Perhaps the objector will say that his accusations have not been proven false. However, the Christian may rest assured in that there is no real value to this argument. The only people who should accept it are people who already think a loving and good God does not exist.

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(1) Conversation with Tim McGrew

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