Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Counterfactuals of Divine Freedom

There’s a lot that can be said, and even has been said, about Molinism and its conception of possible worlds. One thing that I want to consider is this: on the Molinist view (which is the view to which I subscribe), does God know truths of how he would act—Counterfactuals of Divine Freedom (CDFs, for short)—logically prior or logically posterior to the divine decree? In other words, which category are CDFs located in—natural, middle, or free knowledge? For those who need a brief refresher of Molinism, read this footnote at the bottom, and then come back.[1] Now that you’re back, we can continue! I will argue that CDFs must be known to God in his free knowledge. Here is the argument:

1. If truths of CDFs are true because God willed them to be so, then they are located in free knowledge.

2. If which world to actualize was up to God, then at least some CDFs are true because God willed them to be so.

3. Which world to actualize was up to God.

4. Therefore, some CDFs are true because God willed them to be so.

5. Therefore, some CDFs are located in God's free knowledge.

In evaluating these, we must note that (4) and (5) are entailed conclusions, so we cannot deny these without denying at least one of the premises. So let’s examine these, in order, one at a time. (1) is a definitional truth; it’s what it means to be part of God’s free knowledge. So even though we could do other than what we in fact do, and even though, were other circumstances to be actual, we would do other than what we in fact do, it nonetheless remains that we will do something, and the reason it is this fully specified set of circumstances in which we find ourselves and not another is because God willed that these circumstances obtain. So it is my choice as to what I would do in these circumstances, but it’s not my choice which world is actual.

That explanation leads into (2). I take (2) as more or less definitional. It’s part of what it means for something to be “up to you” that you willed to do it. In this particular case, the thing that is up to God is which world to actualize. If God actually had a choice as to which world to actualize, then it seems at least one CDF is true—namely, the truth about which world God would choose were he to have a choice.

So then the controversial premise, if there are indeed any, will be (3). Perhaps it is the case that no CDFs are up to God. Maybe he is constrained by logic to do whatever he does, so that God literally has no choices that are up to him whatsoever. On the Molinist account (indeed, on most accounts), this is disturbing. It does seem as though God has choices in the Bible. Are we really prepared to say that, in the book of Genesis, for example, that God could not have executed judgment on Sodom and Gomorrha even one second before he in fact did? Or one second later? I’m not asking if God had a good reason, but whether or not he could have done a single thing even slightly differently than what he did. Surely God could have refrained from creating humans, or anything else at all. Yet on a denial of (3), that was not even so much as possible. If it is possible, however, then the conclusion follows. That conclusion means that truths about what God would do are located in God’s free knowledge. This is because the truths of how God would act are, ultimately, up to the will of God.

[1] Molinism is the view that there are three logical, not chronological, moments to God’s knowledge. God actually knows everything as a single, undivided intuition of omniscience, but we finite knowers try to show the logical relationships between propositions that God knows. Molinism teaches the first logical moment is called “natural” or “necessary” knowledge, because all of the truths located in that moment are necessarily true (i.e., impossible to be false). This includes logical laws, mathematical truths, and all possibilities (that is a long story, but basically whatever is possible is necessarily possible). This is often represented by the specific, but incomplete, phrase, “I could do such-and-such.” The second logical moment is called “middle knowledge,” and this is unique to Molinism. These truths are contingent (not necessary), but they are truths about what any free creature “would do” in any set of circumstances. Finally, the third moment is called “free knowledge,” and is constituted by God’s decree of which possible world (fully specified set of circumstances for all of reality) is actual. This is represented by the phrase “I will do such-and-such.”

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