Thursday, June 22, 2017

CARM and Molinism (But Really Just Prevenient Grace)

It has come to my attention that there is a newer, recent article from Matt Slick on prevenient grace and Molinism. In it, he attempts to argue that total depravity rules out prevenient grace (he applies this reasoning to two versions of prevenient grace, but since it relies on the same foundational reasoning it will be sufficient to deal with that). This is what I take to be his argument, in premise form:

1.     If total depravity is true, then man cannot come to God freely.
2.     If prevenient grace is true, then unregenerate man is still totally depraved.
3.     Total depravity is true (assumption of prevenient grace).
4.     Prevenient grace is true (assumption of prevenient grace, by definition)
5.     Therefore, if prevenient grace is true, then man still cannot come to God freely.
6.     Therefore, man still cannot come to God freely.

I believe I have represented Slick fairly and accurately here. However, there are some problems. First, he takes total depravity to mean that there is no free choosing of God and that prevenient grace doesn’t rectify this at all, since man is still totally depraved, and that prevenient grace relies on total depravity (since otherwise it wouldn’t be necessary). But this is just question-begging. After all, the advocate for prevenient grace can just insist that he doesn’t accept (3) if this is what total depravity entails (instead, call it “total depravity lite,” where the only difference is that prevenient grace can restore such an ability as an act of divine grace); or she can say she rejects (2), since, after all, prevenient grace is intended to restore, and so restores to a condition of total depravity lite. Why can’t he or she make this move?

Spelling it out more, this assumes prevenient grace doesn’t accomplish what it intends to accomplish. Prevenient grace agrees that man is totally depraved, but that any good that can be done by man is due to God’s enabling grace, and that he can come to the Father on the occasion of the Spirit’s moving work. But Slick simply claims that, in premise 2, we can see it doesn’t accomplish this. Why should we think this? Well, Slick quotes a few verses without doing any exegetical work. In other words, he builds his conclusion into his argument; he begs the question.

In truth, why can Molinists not just reject (2), and point out prevenient grace is meant to solve the ability problem? You can’t very well reply that prevenient grace doesn’t solve the ability problem because there is an ability problem!


  1. Randy,

    My name is Nathan Cronauer, I have greatly enjoyed your works and clearly see you too follow (at least something along the lines of) Reformed Epistomology, the question I have for you (following reading your essay on some objections to foundationalism) is as follows. Has Anti-Foundationalism (shown the enterprise of reformed epistemology to be gratuitous? Are the two even related (i.e. If anti-Foundationalism was true would that do anything to Reformed Epistomology? Finally, would what William Lane Craig describes as "Holy Spirit Epistemology" suffer from the Anti-Foundationalist view at all? I truly apologize for commenting this question on an unrelated blog post, I believe my computer failed at displaying the form by which I could submit a question. Again what you are doing on this blog is amazing and a true blessing.

    Thanks so much for all your help.

    God bless,

    Nathan Cronauer

    1. Hello Nathan; sorry the form wasn't working and that I took so long to get back to you!

      Thanks for your kind words! While I think someone could be an "anti-foundationalist" like a coherentist or something, RE and this lack of foundationalism need not be problematic. What is at odds is RE and classical foundationalism. So basic foundationalism is just the view that there are some beliefs that we are justified in holding without evidence or being able to be non-circularly proved, and these are properly basic beliefs. So anti-foundationalism cannot be identical to RE; that is, there is something to RE that anti-foundationalism does not have. RE has beliefs that are formed in a properly basic way (non-inferentially), and these are justified or warranted.

      On the flip side, RE doesn't require anti-foundationalism, either, though they could mix. RE could work with a coherentist epistemology, since these warranted beliefs produced according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth in a proper epistemic environment could all just cohere with each other, and not require that there be a stopping point as foundationalism does.

      And again, RE doesn't require anti-foundationalism, since there's nothing about RE that demands that the justificatory stopping point not be present (i.e., there's nothing on RE that demands everything be circularly justified). I hope this helps a little; I wrote it quickly! :)


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