Saturday, July 7, 2012

Koukl and Molinism

Greg Koukl is a very influential Christian apologist (and rightly so). His book Tactics comes highly recommended (it does not teach people how to debate, but instead teaches people how to communicate with others interested in a dialogue with Christianity). Koukl made a video concerning Molinism and middle knowledge. However, in his discussion on Molinism and middle knowledge I believe he evinces some misunderstandings. I wish to clear those up here.

Some of the mistakes are minor. For instance, Koukl has framed the debate in terms of Molinism's being Arminian. For some, that would constitute a poisoning of the well; it perhaps implies that if one were to be a Calvinist, he would reject Molinism. However, this is not true. Ken Keathley seems to come from a somewhat Calvinistic perspective in his soteriology despite clearly being Molinist in his thinking. Bruce Ware and others have similarly adapted the concept of middle knowledge (albeit incorrectly); in any case, these people are not Arminian (even if many of them are). This is because Molinism, strictly speaking, is not about Calvinism vs. Arminianism. It is about omniscience.[1]

Some of the mistakes are quite major. In his description of natural knowledge, Koukl rightly states that it involves possibilities of what might occur. In his description of middle knowledge, he states that it is what a free creature might do in any given set of circumstances. This isn't quite true, and it's extremely important. Rather than might-counterfactuals, middle knowledge discusses would-counterfactuals. That is to say, the content of middle knowledge is what any free creature would freely choose to do under any given and fully-specified set of circumstances.

He then moves to explain why he does not believe in Molinism and middle knowledge, offering a particular view of many Molinists about election to salvation (many Molinists believe God actualizes the possible world in which the largest number of people freely choose to believe; this is simplistic but roughly accurate [there are some distinctions that are crucial to that topic but unimportant here]). The problem is that such a view is not entailed by Molinism proper, so that a rejection of this view just is not a rejection of Molinism.

He also rejects Molinism because of God's decision to elect a world and not individuals. However, there are two major problems with this interpretation. First, it's an equivocation on "election." What Molinism actually states is an actualization of a world. Now it is a world that God chose to create, but it by no means must be understood as referring exclusively to a soteriological state. Second, nothing in Molinism necessitates that one believes God only elects entire worlds to the exclusion of individuals. Moreover, even if a Molinist says this, we can safely assume he is false because a possible world is a maximally-described set of circumstances, which entails individuals and their choices! This means that even an election of worlds entails an election of individuals. However, even supposing a Molinist took the route of believing in a corporate election (which many do), this is not a tenet of Molinism.[2]

Moreover, Koukl makes the claim that he holds "middle knowledge" under "natural knowledge." The problem is twofold: first, if this is the case, then the knowledge is not in the middle of anything. Second, if would-counterfactuals are true under necessary knowledge, then not only could God not control their content, but not even individuals can control their content. Since all natural knowledge is necessary knowledge, the counterfactual "If Peter were in C, he would not freely deny Christ" (where C is the set of biblical circumstances surrounding Christ's crucifixion) is not only false (as it is in fact), but also impossible! Such a claim strikes me as needing a serious argument.

Koukl is a fine representative of the Christian apologetics community, but he got it wrong on this one.

                [1] Please feel free to refer to the subject label for Molinism on this blog.

                [2] This is analogous to not believing in God because some people who believe in God believe in speaking in tongues and someone else does not. That would not be a very good reason to reject Him!

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  1. Randy,
    I definitely agree with you here. I just don't understand how anyone who seriously investigates Molinism and has some basic philosophical education can make such blatant errors in understanding it. Even Jerry Walls, a supporter of Arminianism, grossly misunderstands the basics of Molinism and takes no more than 1 or 2 pages in his book, "Hell: The Logic of Damnation" to just hand-wave it away as irrelevant and incoherent. Perhaps I should be more charitable in acknowledging that this book was written way back in 1992 and that he has perhaps remedied his understanding of it, but who knows ?

    The main problem I have with Calvinism is that if all of humanity has inherited a sinful nature from Adam, and it is affirmed that we are completely and utterly incapable of pursuing God due to this nature, then the idea of genuine responsibility on our part for lack of faith in Christ is illusory and incoherent. Appeals to Romans 9 in this case seem to just be a pat answer for what appears to be a serious logical contradiction.

    I think Kenneth Keathley put it pretty well in one of his articles, titled "How to be a Consistent Infralapsarian". He said that "Molinism places mystery where it should be located, i.e. in God’s infinite
    attributes rather than in his character".

    Fortunately, I have friends who are Calvinists that don't bash me for finding Molinism more plausible, but I still don't understand their objections when they state that while Molinism can be supported biblically, it seems to be stretching itself too far into the field of philosophy.

    The problem I find with that opinion is that philosophy is very important, especially in pointing out logical problems. I believe everyone utilizes philosophy when trying to piece together free will and election, but it's really a matter of which philosophy best describes the character of God as testified in the OT and NT.

  2. Hi James, thanks for commenting! I have encountered similar criticisms of Molinism--but I'm afraid my Calvinist friends have not been so charitable as to say that it can be supported biblically! I wish I had such support from them :)

    In any case, my personal opinion (unsupported other than by anecdotal evidence) is that when people talk about philosophy, they tend to think of this kind of bizarre nonsensical statement, or some really esoteric writings and ideas, and whatnot. As such, they get a kind of anti-God vibe about philosophy, and fail to realize they are simply reasoning. I think this is the case with many laymen; they simply don't understand what philosophy is. With Calvinist theologians, I think the complaint tends to be "it's not taught in Scripture, therefore it's wrong," which seems to be more militant than the still-wrong but at least more charitable principle: if it's not taught in Scripture, then we do not know if it is right or wrong. But oh well. :)


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