Friday, February 20, 2015

A Critique of "Why I Reject Molinism"

When I want to view a critique of Molinism and give it a critique itself, it’s often very difficult for me not to analyze and critique the entire piece, bit-by-bit. However, for this particular piece about rejecting Molinism, I will try to restrain myself. I hope this critique comes off as loving a fellow brother, and not too adversarial.

While there are a couple of questionable statements/claims made in the first paragraph, I will move on to his actual discussion on Molinism. He lays out the three logical moments, but I can’t help but notice his discussion on natural knowledge is incorrect. He writes of the content of natural knowledge: “facts that are simply true, like 2+2=4.” But this is not quite right. They’re not “simply” true: they’re necessarily true. It’s also vitally important to note that two of the three logical moments are utilized by every scholarly faction from the Aquinas-era onward (natural and free) and are largely non-controversial. It was only middle knowledge that served a controversy. Thus, in rejecting natural knowledge (if that crops up again) one is only rejecting Molinism insofar as one is rejecting, well, virtually everyone but William of Ockham.

Another potential issue—and this is one that many lay-Molinists have not done a good job on—is that there isn’t, at this juncture, any discussion on why it is called “natural knowledge.” It’s called natural knowledge because it relates to what is known in God’s nature itself. Many theologians and most Molinists take this to mean that God’s nature is the ground of or is the content of these truths (which include truths of objective moral values, mathematical truths, and other necessary truths, including all possibilities, since whatever is possible is necessarily possible). This may become vitally important later on.

He then lists middle knowledge and says a discussion shall be had on it later, and does not offer anything on free knowledge at this point. While giving a slightly malformed first definition of middle knowledge, he does get the second one right by discussing God’s knowledge of what anyone would do if they were placed into a set of circumstances. There is, however, a bit of ambiguity in his initial summary statement. “And God didn’t get to decide these things.” Which things? The truth-values of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (hereafter CCFs)? The Molinist will agree. Whether or not a world obtains where some specific CCFs come into play? The Molinist will disagree. It is up to God which world is actual.

In his first passing critique of Molinism, he overstates his case a bit. I think this is plausibly more due to careless wording than an actual implication he was trying to make. He said that if one gives forth “enough mental effort,” then one will see Molinism is self-contradictory. But that’s plainly false: plenty of people have put in vast amounts of mental effort, and they’re not lacking in intellectual ability. So the best of what he could mean is that some people believe Molinism is self-contradictory, and he offers no reasons why.

It turns out that the natural knowledge critique comes back after all, when the author insists that there are facts that are “simply true” and God has nothing to do with them. But we’ve already seen that’s just a misunderstanding of Molinism, probably due to unfamiliarity with more academic sources. However, another problem that plagues this critique is that it seems to import notions into theological terms that many Christians may not agree with. For example, by “coming from God,” and “sovereignty,” he seems to mean something like “God’s will.” Thus, if there are things that are not up to God’s will, then it is outside of his sovereignty, and thus is denying God’s sovereignty. If this is not what is meant, it’s just not clear what the critique is supposed to be.

However, this is a misunderstanding of his own tradition (assuming he is either Calvinist or otherwise Reformed), as well as most Christian thought. Christians have not generally supposed, nor argued, that God should do the logically impossible; that is, logical “limits” have not traditionally actually been considered limits. In fact, as was mentioned, if God’s nature is identified with logic, it’s just consistent with the Biblical witness: it explains why God cannot lie, why he cannot deny himself, etc. If one wants to say God could create his own nature, we’ll be talking gibberish before the end of the first paragraph (since in order to create his own nature, he must first have the ability to create his own nature, which property will itself be part of his own nature). So it is, I take it, almost obvious that logical “limits” are really just God being who he is, and none other.

Now let’s apply this to discussions on CCFs. Who actually gives man libertarian freedom, on Molinism? God did. He sovereignly chose to give man his freedom. Why can God not do that, again? Next, we must consider the truths of CCFs. Consider worlds W and W-1, where Randy exists in a particular set of circumstances in both. Now it is either true or false that, if Randy were in those circumstances, then he would either freely do X or not do X. Suppose that Randy would not freely do X in W-1, and further suppose God wants Randy to do X in precisely those exact same set of circumstances. Well, God could force Randy to do X in exactly those circumstances. Or he could allow Randy to act freely, and Randy won’t do it (or he could alter the circumstances if relevant CCFs are true such that he could accomplish the goal of Randy doing X, but that’s not germane to this particular point). But notice what logic tells us cannot be the case: God cannot both bring about that exact set of circumstances and have Randy act freely and get world W. What he will get is—again, by logic—world W-1. This is huge, for it is clear there is no non-logical limit, and thus is just an expression of who God is, not a factor against him.

His next critique is that Molinism’s discussion of soteriology (which is really just William Lane Craig appropriating Molinism, but whatever) is impossible to reconcile with Isaiah 46:9-10, which states that God is declaring the end from the beginning. But why does he say this? He says the Bible does not portray God as knowing things. Surely he is mistaken here. However, I think we can be more charitable on a second glance: he probably means God is not portrayed as merely knowing, or being completely passive in the events of the world. And a Molinist can easily agree. Remember free knowledge? It’s knowledge of how God has ordered the world, based on his free choice (hence the name). Truths of natural and middle knowledge help inform what worlds are feasibly instantiated, and God freely chooses the world. But what is this world? Well, it’s a maximal set of circumstances: or, in other words, it declares, from the beginning to the end, precisely what will be the case. It is God’s purposing that every proposition in such a world be true, and will come to pass. And the Molinist can easily say “this is what Molinism teaches.” So what’s supposed to be the problem? He doesn’t say, and while I have my speculations on what philosophical ideas he has likely imported into his hermeneutic, I figure I’ll remain silent for now.

Another critique I have, and I hope he takes this well, is that he uses rhetoric that is not claimed by the Molinist. For example, he suggests Molinists believe God is “not up to snuff,” but no Molinist thinks that. Now an anti-Molinist may think that, because it denies God’s sovereignty, but this is precisely the point they are supposed to be proving by making this statement. Thus, it serves as a piece of rhetoric only.

In his second major critique, he claims Molinism views God and man as “autonomous” (able to make unconstrained choices). This, however, is wholly inconsistent with his earlier discussion that Molinism teaches that God is constrained. So which one is it? Will he abandon his earlier critique, or this one? Surely, if Molinists think that God is constrained, then so much the more for man. What he might mean, however, is “uncaused” choices. He then claims, however, that salvation is thereby “reduced” to a person’s response. But this conclusion doesn’t follow from any of the premises; there’s just no reduction. Why would it follow from libertarian freedom that salvation doesn’t entail Christ’s atoning work on the cross, or prevenient grace, or corporate or individual election, etc.? He doesn’t say.

However, there is another interpretation: he just meant that the idea of man having faith unto salvation is actually God having faith for them. He cites Ephesians 2:8, but he has an implicit understanding of that verse that is highly controversial, to say the least. Essentially, when it says “this is not of yourselves,” he is taking it to mean the faith of the person is not of yourselves. Many see “this” as referring to “saved;” this being saved is not of yourselves. Interestingly, he did not quote verse 9, which says “not of works, lest any man should boast.” This is interesting because everywhere, when the New Testament refers to justifying, converting faith, it contrasts it with works (James is not an exception—see how he is understanding “justified”). Thus, it is the issue of salvation and grace that fits the context. Thus, if faith is not a work, and we are exhorted to have justifying faith (numerous examples abound), then it is a purely theological import into the text to argue that faith must be from God.

His remark about God’s success with respect to those he wants to have saved is truly odd in light of the verse he chose. Philippians 1:6 only refers to believers, not unbelievers, and so has no application to God’s “success” rate with respect to those for whom Christ died. It’s an interesting term, “success.” He doesn’t really delve much into it; I suspect the term has more rhetorical use than substance.

The final prooftext is of the true fallacious variety. That is, it just quotes the verse and runs away. Without delving into it, since he didn’t, it’s worth noting that there are several exegeses of Romans 9 that do not agree with whatever conclusion he’s offering. It’s also worth noting one can say that the idea that people do not choose Hell contradicts Romans 9 itself: verses 31-32, which do say someone is condemned due to their rejection of faith.

The last critique is both rehashed and misguided. First, it is rehashed because it goes back to the discussion on God doing all he pleases. The idea is that if Molinists say God would like all to be saved, but can’t, then this contradicts Scripture. But this tends to treat words like “purpose, will, desire, please” as all perfectly synonymous, and that’s biblically dubious and philosophically flatly false. Take “God does all he pleases.” Why is this inconsistent with Molinism? By definition, God chose to instantiate this world over others, and other none at all. By definition, he is doing what he has pleased to do. It by no means follows that God is pleased by every event: that is biblically false (see where God is angry with sinners many, many times—he’s not pleased by their acts). So what’s supposed to be the problem?

Next, the critique is misguided, because he claims Molinists think there’s no purpose behind evil. Why he says this is mind-boggling. The only thing I can think of is that he thinks God has no control over whatever world comes to pass or something. But a simple reading of William Lane Craig and most Molinists will show that they do think God has purposes for allowing evil. So, why think that Molinists think God has no purpose in allowing evil?

I know this was a long critique, but the examples of the confusion surrounding Molinism abound. My personal belief is that it stems from a lack of theological and philosophical education, and is borne on the wings of the Internet. May God have mercy on us all! ;)

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