Friday, July 20, 2012

CARM on Molinism

CARM is a Christian apologetics ministry dedicated to defending the faith against other religions, Christian cults, and skeptical/atheist attacks. Yet, like any good Christian, they also learn and teach a bit of theology over there. Unfortunately, however, they have misunderstood (and quite grossly) the claims of Molinism and middle knowledge in an article. More than one attempt by more than one person has been made to correct some basic factual errors; this is the reason I choose to publish something on this topic now.

They start out well enough by describing the founder of Molinism and that it rests on the idea of libertarian free will (their description of LFW is not entirely accurate, or at the very least quite vague, but we can let this go for now). Next, CARM moves to discuss the three logical moments (the two traditional moments, "natural" and "free," with Molina's scientia media sandwiched between them). His descriptions are accurate, though one may ask precisely what is meant by describing free knowledge as necessary.[1]

A problem arises when the article states the following: "Basically, we can see Molinism as the teaching that God knows what the potential free will choices of people will be and chooses who will be saved based on that knowledge.  In other words, God sovereignly predestines and saves those whom He knows will choose Him."

It is important to note it is not the case that Molinism teaches God elects based on what the potential choices will be; this is in fact free knowledge. What makes it middle knowledge is what these choices would be were certain circumstances to obtain (the counterfactual knowledge of creaturely freedom [or CCF]). CARM may have meant this correct usage, but its interchange of terminology is confusing at least and misleading at worst.

The real problem begins, however, with this quote: "First, it means that God looks into the future to see what people will do and saves them based on their choices."

This is neither what Molinists claim nor is it an entailment of anything they do claim. In fact, were God to look into the future and then base his plan on that, those CCFs that were true would be either actual or counterfactual regardless of God's choices, which surely is not what is being claimed by Molina or any contemporary defender of Molinism. In point of fact, Molinists are quick to point out these discussions of God's omniscience represent logical relationships, not actual chronology.[2] Instead, God would know those CCFs the same way God knows anything (and most, if not all, Molinists would agree that God doesn't know truths perceptually as much as intuitively or instrinsically as part of supercomprehension or some such sort).

The next problem is that the article asserts that Molinism requires that God saves someone based on a quality ("the ability to make a right choice") that the person possesses. But this is erroneous for two major reasons. First, Molinism proper is not a discussion about soteriology or even providence. It's about omniscience. As such, foisting upon Molinists this claim could result in the Molinist merely stating, "well I don't believe that, so what's the problem again?" The second error is found in the fact that, according to Molinism, everyone possesses free will sufficient to choose salvation (though there was some fierce debate over how much and in what way God was involved, most Molinists today believe God's Spirit acts in some way, convicting the person; all of this is incidental to whether or not CCFs are true in a libertarian sense). So it won't do to say that God saves based on some quality. It's completely consistent within Molinism to say there are billions of worlds open to God in which vastly different people (or maybe all people of a completely different set) are saved; it makes no claim as to what kind of world God must create.[3]

Contrary to the article's claim that middle knowledge entails God's showing partiality, it is instead a logical restriction God has essentially placed on himself. Consider it true that in world P Jim would freely choose to be saved, and in world Q Jim would freely choose not to be saved. Now suppose God actualizes world Q. In this case, it is not possible to have the entire composite state of affairs of "the actual world is Q and Jim is freely saved." Not because Jim lacks the ability to choose, but because of the truth that Jim would not choose freely! Rather than partiality to those who would, it's just a logical fact (a reflection of God's nature).

The article then questions what it could be about libertarian free will that enables a man to choose God or not. This question truly baffled me, as it's quite like asking "what is it about circles that makes them round?" It's definitional! To ask for a reason Jones chooses X over not-X is perfectly valid; not-X entailed things Jones does not find pleasing, and so on. But to ask what made Jones choose as he did is just to assume he does not possess the kind of free will one is talking about in the first place!

The next quote is the most egregious, in my opinion: "Second, Middle Knowledge means that God learns what the actual choices of people will be only when they occur.  God would then be ignorant about man's future choices."

First, one should notice this blatantly contradicts another point CARM made earlier—that God looks into the future and knows their choices with respect to salvation. One cannot have it both ways here. Next, CARM offers absolutely zero citations for this claim, nor do they attempt to show it is an entailment of middle knowledge or Molinism. In fact, this wording is so similar to another (also uncited) source, that it makes me believe that CARM's source for this claim is this man's also-unsubstantiated claim (click here for a dissecting of that argument at Possible Worlds).[4] I challenge anyone to produce a paraphrase or quote that shows Molinists have ever believed this. Of course, if they believe this is a logical entailment, it would be much better-received had there been an attempt to show such. On the contrary, Molinists believe that, logically prior to God's decision to create, he knew precisely which CCFs were true, and then chose a possible world for whatever reason he so desired; the point is that God knew which CCFs were true without any of them occurring.

These are my main gripes with CARM's article on Molinism. Notice my gripes are not with the fact that they disagree with Molinism, nor with the fact they disagree with LFW, nor with the fact they believe CCFs are true in God's free knowledge. All I ask for is a fair critique.

                [1] In complete fairness, it certainly appears as though CARM is using necessarily independently of the content of free knowledge, in which case I wholeheartedly agree. But in English it is notoriously difficult to discuss modalities appropriately.

                [2] William Lane Craig, Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 80. In fact, Craig's quote is quite clear: "For whether God is timeless or everlasting throughout time, in neither case are there truths that are unknown to God until some moment . . . the 'when' mentioned above refers to the point in the logical order concerning God's creative decree at which God has hypothetical knowledge." (emphasis in original)

                [3] Though given that God gives man LFW, some logical limitations arise, it would not follow that this world is the only one in which people are saved. Perhaps there are multiple other "mirror worlds" that have the same number and balance of salvations, but mostly different people, or some other distinction (be it minor or major).

                [4] Compare CARM's quote above with McMahon's: "God, then, cannot know anything in this manner as true and absolute unless it has first occurred."

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  1. Hey Randy, don't mean to respond off-topic, but what's going on with Christian Apologetics Alliance?

  2. Hi Josh, honestly I don't know much about it these days. I do know the blog is being revitalized by Maryann Spikes (I think) in the fairly near future, and I keep up with several of the bloggers as I can. :)

  3. I'm asking because I was talking with someone who was interested in contributing towards an idea very similar to what the CAA represented for the online apologetics community.

    Is Maryann Spikes heading the whole thing now?

  4. You know I am just not sure. I know they have a facebook group page and that is probably the best way to get in touch with them in that regard.

  5. Hi Randy,

    "Consider it true that in world P Jim would freely choose to be saved, and in world Q Jim would freely choose not to be saved. Now suppose God actualizes world Q."

    Based on the above, wouldn't Jim be able to blame his non-acceptance on God?

  6. Hi Larry, thanks for your comment! I don't think that Jim would be able to blame God for his non-acceptance, for the following reasons. First, most people's moral or ethical theory concerning praise or blame will involve causal relations of some sort. So, if one is to be morally blameworthy, he must in some way be the *cause* of the particular event in question. But even in this scenario, the cause of Jim's not accepting God is Jim, not God. What God is causally responsible for is the actuality (as opposed to merely possibility) of the state of affairs which includes Jim's not accepting God. Second, and most importantly, the relevant choice not to accept God is solely the choice of Jim. All that one is saying by saying that in world Q, Jim would not freely choose to be saved is the simple fact of the matter of how Jim would choose, based solely on Jim's own free choice; it implies nothing about causal control (in fact, it implies there is no causal control in Jim's choice).

  7. Thanks Randy. Do you find that answer to satisfy you personally? For me it still seems unjust, if we are to postulate that in different circumstances, Jim would accept Christ. For all we know there is no possible world in which Jim would accept Christ, and I find leaving that area intact is easier rather than imagining there is a world P in which Jim would accept.

  8. I understand, and this is precisely a road many Molinists take: that for any unsaved person, any world in which they do in fact choose to be saved is not feasible for God, because the relevant counterfactuals are not true (a slightly weaker way of saying there is no possible world in which they are saved).

    I don't find the scenario to be unjust, for they have freely chosen to reject God. Now one cannot ignore the issue as to whether or not it is loving. That issue, I think, is not so easily resolved with one or two line quotes. I trust that, if it were to be unloving, then something like transworld damnation is true, and if it is not, then either may be true.


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