Arminianism vs Molinism

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

October 25, 2017

I once had the pleasure of interacting with Arminian theologian, Dr. Jack Cottrell. Many Arminians also claim to be Molinists. In fact, many scholars believe that Arminius was a Molinist! Cottrell, however, is an Arminian who opposes Molinism. Here is a sampling of our online debate.


Hi Jack, I sincerely thank you for adding me as a FB friend. Kyle asked me to take a look at your comments on Molinism as he is contemplating these differing views. If you don’t mind, I would be honored if I could respectfully “push back” a little bit. I look forward to you sharpening me with some push back as well.

With that said, and with all due respect, I don’t think you have a complete grasp of Molinism and therefore, I think you are attacking a straw man. This doctrine hinges on a full view of God’s omniscience; namely, his middle knowledge (MK). Now, you might want to deny that God possesses this attribute; however, it logically follows that God possesses MK if one affirms that God is BOTH omniscient and omnipotent logically and causally before his creative decree. If one denies that God possesses MK, they must also deny that God is necessarily omnipotent, omniscient, or both. If one starts deleting God’s essential attributes, then we are left with a being that is not maximally great, and is therefore, not God. This eventually leads to atheism (the view that a maximally great being does not exist).

Let me further explain: If God is cognizant of the potentially infinite amount of possible worlds he could actualize (given his omniscience), then he knows with absolute certainty what would happen in any one of these worlds from every movement of every subatomic particle, to the weather at all points in the universe, to the free choices and decisions of every creature. If God is omnipotent (can do all things that are not logically incoherent or against his nature), then God can choose to actualize any one of these possible worlds that are feasible for him to create. Therefore, it follows that God can create a world in which he knows with certainty how you will freely choose. These choices are still REALLY yours (there are no causal strings attached); however, God knew, “before the foundations of the world,” how you would freely choose, and therefore, he guaranteed and predestined your libertarian free choices by actualizing this very world (God could have created a different world or none at all). Therefore, God is both 100% sovereign and you are 100% responsible for your actions.

If God is omniscient logically prior to his creative decree, he knows with certainty how people will freely choose in any world he actualizes. Remember that if God is perfectly omniscient, then he knows with certainty who will freely not reject his offer of love, and who will freely choose to reject him in all possible scenarios in which he may place them.

It may be logically possible that a world exists in which everyone freely chooses to love Jesus (even through a finite hell); however, it is not guaranteed that this is a feasible world for God to create if human libertarian freedom is also a condition of this world. According to Alvin Plantinga, it may not be possible for God to even create one person without him “going bad” (trans world depravity). For example, it is logically *possible* that Satan or Richard Dawkins can choose to follow Christ (nothing is stopping them); however, for all we know, if God gives libertarian freedom to Satan and Richard Dawkins, they might freely choose to reject Christ in any world God creates or has available for him to create. Therefore, it would not be feasible for God to create a world in which Satan and Dawkins freely choose to follow Christ, even though these worlds are logically possible.

If one does not understand the difference between logical and feasible worlds, they have no business arguing against Molinism!

You said, “On the former, i.e., free will, if God knows that each person WOULD make decision A in circumstance X, then there is a kind of determinism controlling human decisions, similar to natural law.”

Jack, you are making a common mistake and confusing predestination with causal determinism. They are two very different things.

You said, “On the latter, i.e., sovereignty, granting such a necessary connection between the will (decision A) and circumstance X, if God decides he wants the person to make decision A so he creates circumstance X, then God is still ultimately responsible for everything that happens, even sins.”

This is a caricature of Molinism, Jack! God doesn’t “decide” how he wants a person to choose – the person decides how to choose! God just actualizes the world in which he knows how the person will freely choose.

God creates circumstances (a world) in which he knows how everyone will FREELY choose in each scenario. God does nothing to *causally determine* or force a decision (he does influence, but not determine via natural and special revelation). Since God creates a world in which he knows how everyone will freely choose, then God created a world in which he knows with certainty that people will sin.

Why would God allow sin and evil? God is the maximally great being! Since He is all-good, He is also all-loving. Since He is all-loving, He wants an authentic loving relationship with each and every human being that He has ever created. Since He desires an authentic love relationship with each individual human being, He had to give us the libertarian free will to choose to love Him or turn our backs on Him. When we turn our backs on Him, we sin, and these transgressions have infected this world with evil, pain, and terrible suffering! God allows us to experience this suffering, because suffering can shape us as well as bring us closer to Him, which is the greatest good a human being could ever experience.  

With this in mind, the only way God could eradicate evil is to eradicate free will. That would then eradicate the possibility of each one of us freely choosing to enter into a “true love” relationship with our creator. That love relationship with our creator is the greatest good a person could ever experience; therefore, eradicating evil would be evil! Thus, it is good that evil, pain, and suffering were made possible, and allowed by God.

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Hi Jack, while awaiting your response to my above comments, I would like to interact with your previous statements. You said, “God knows all possible worlds:”

So far so good, we agree on that much! You continued and said, “Let’s say that in one possible world Mr. A drinks alcohol to excess, then gets in his car and runs a stop sign, killing a child.”
 
Okay, God actualized a world in which he knew with certainty that Mr. A *FREELY* chooses to get drunk, drives, and winds up killing a child because of his bad choices. God did predestine this to occur by actualizing this world in which he knew Mr. A would make these bad choices; however, it is Mr. A that freely made these bad choices. Mr. A, and Mr. A alone, is responsible for his actions. Like I said, before, “There are no causal strings attached.” God is NOT causally determining Mr. A to do anything. Until you can demonstrate how God is causally determining Mr. A to do evil (like a puppeteer), then your objection that God is responsible (not Mr. A) for sin falls flat.

You continued: “In another possible world Mr. A drinks only Coca-Cola, then gets in his car, stops at the sign, and makes it home without an accident. Both scenarios are “counterfactuals” which God can choose to actualize via creation. If he chooses to actualize the former set of circumstances, it does not matter that Mr. A had the free will to choose to drink or not.”

It is vital to grasp that although a possible world exists in which Mr. A freely chooses to only drink Coca-Cola, it does not follow that a feasible world exists in which Mr. A freely chooses to only drink Coca-Cola. Thus, if Mr. A never freely chooses to drink Coca-Cola, then God cannot create or actualize such a world. God could force Mr. A to only drink Coke, but if a world with human freedom is important to God, then God cannot have his Coke and drink it too.

It is also important to remember, that in this possible world, Mr. A freely chooses to only drink Coke, and therefore, he does not kill a kid via drunk driving. However, although God knows with certainty that Mr. A will freely choose to drink Coke in this possible world, Mr. A had the genuinely ability to choose to do otherwise, AND (more importantly) Mr. A really made this good choice (even if he could not have chosen otherwise). Therefore, he actually made a morally good and responsible choice. I’ll get back to this soon.

Libertarian Free will (LFW) is demonstrated if a person possesses one of the following attributes:

1. P is a substance that has the active power to bring about e (Agent P)
2. P exerted power as a first mover (an “originator”) to bring about e;
3. P had the categorical ability to refrain from exerting power to bring about e; (nothing causally determines P to not do otherwise)
4.P acted for the sake of reasons, which serve as the final cause or teleological goal for which P acted.

*[See What is Libertarian Free Will?  for a more thorough explanation.]

Allow me to quickly expand on libertarian freedom. I think everyone agrees that it at least seems like we have libertarian free will. Even if the objective truth of the matter is that free will is just an illusion, it certainly seems as if we freely choose Coke over Pepsi (or vice versa) at the restaurant! However, if this sort of free will does not exist, then our choices, decisions, and beliefs are all chosen for us (so to speak) by external causes. The “decision” to believe in determinism is no more meaningful than a receding hairline or an appendicitis attack! Therefore, it seems that if life is to have any objective meaning, libertarian free will must be a vital part of it. William Lane Craig sums this conundrum up nicely and says, “After all, if I do not have free will and my life is meaningless, who cares?” He goes on and writes:

“So what does it mean to have free will? Some thinkers have said that it is the ability in causally identical situations to choose either A or not-A. It seems to me, however, that this so-called Principle of Alternative Possibilities is not a necessary condition of willing freely. I’m persuaded by illustrations like that given by Harry Frankfurt to show that freedom does not require the ability to choose other than as one does. Imagine a man whose brain has been secretly implanted with electrodes by a mad scientist. The scientist, being an Obama supporter, decides that he will activate the electrodes to make the man vote for Obama if the man goes into the polling booth to vote for Romney. On the other hand, if the man chooses to vote for Obama, then the scientist will not activate the electrodes. Suppose, then, the man goes into the polling booth and presses the button to vote for Obama. In such a case it seems that the man freely votes for Obama. Yet it was not within his power to do anything different!”

Craig’s thought experiment suggests that for one’s will to really be free, their choices, actions, and even many of their beliefs must really be “up to them,” and not due to external sources. This is known as “agent causation,” and this implies not just free will, but libertarian free will. In this sense, an agent is free to make his own decisions (at least some of the time) according to reason, and not the deterministic laws of nature or anything else. Therefore, if humanity is free to make our own choices due to the *reasons* that we have weighed and then acted upon, we are also held responsible and accountable for these choices and actions. This is the essence of libertarian free will.

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Jack, my master’s thesis is dedicated to logically and deductively proving that libertarian free will exists. I’d be happy to share this with you if you’d like. Typically this is the conversation I must have with deterministic Calvinists and atheistic naturalists. I am surprised to see an advocate of the Arminian persuasion as yourself arguing against Molinism since they are usually found under the same umbrella. It is typically the Calvinists that attack my views because they are determined to be determinists. Since you are not a Calvinist, I assume in order to deny Molinism (since you seem to affirm genuine human freedom), you will assert that God does not possess middle knowledge. As I explained above, to deny MK is to deny God’s omniscience or omnipotence.

Let me attempt to clarify: Does God know the truth value to any and all propositions? If you affirm God’s omniscience you must say, “Of course he does!” Has God always had this knowledge, even causally “before” His divine creative decree? Again, if you assert that God is necessarily omniscient, you must provide enthusiastic affirmation!

Next question: Is God all-powerful? Can God do all things that are logically coherent and possible for a maximally great being to do? Again, I’m sure you would passionately confirm that God is all-powerful (omnipotent)!

From this point, I need to ask you the following: Since God is all-powerful, could he have refrained from creating this world? Moreover, could God have created a world that is slightly different than this one, or could he have created a completely different world?

To respond in the negative is to deny God’s omnipotence.

Next question: Since God is all-knowing, did God know with certainty what would have happened in all of those other “possible worlds” he could have created, including the truth value to all of the propositions regarding those possible worlds?

Most people say, “yes,” because they already affirmed that God is omniscient and therefore knows the truth-value to any and all propositions.

Next question: Did God choose to create this world?

Of course He did! Therefore, God possesses MK and humans possess LFW. Therefore, Molinism makes sense of all the Biblical, theological, and logical data. As Kyle Dellevoet suggested, I would love to see how you can reconcile these divine attributes via any other model.

It seems to me that no evangelical Christian wants to deny any of these attributes possessed by God, nor deny that he has always (including causally before his creative decree) possessed these attributes. Therefore, I see no good reason to reject God’s middle knowledge or reject Molinism.

Jack, you concluded by stating: “Using MK to preserve free will actually shifts all the blame for all evil to God.”

Not at all, Jack! All it does is demonstrate that God chose to create a world in which he knew that humans would freely make really bad choices. This gets us into the so-called “problem of evil.” Why would God allow sin and evil to occur? I briefly dealt with this above, but it all has to do with true love. I’d be happy to continue going deeper into this rabbit hole if you would like.

Stating that God is responsible for the sin he knew humans would freely choose to commit is akin to saying that although I know what happens in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (I’ve seen it hundreds of times), and since I chose to play the movie in my DVD player and actualize it on my television screen, that it is I who am actually responsible for Han Solo getting frozen in carbonite and Luke Skywalker getting his hand cut off — NOT Darth Vader!

(Perhaps that is not a perfect analogy but it just occurred to me!)

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Here is an excerpt of a paper I wrote on The Middle Knowledge View. Let’s consider the “Ghost of Christmas Future” to help illustrate God’s knowledge:

The third chapter of the book entitled, Four Views of Divine Foreknowledge (I highly recommend reading this view before arguing for or against any view dealing with God’s sovereignty and human responsibility), is an essay provided by Dr. William Lane Craig. In this chapter, Craig defends his position called, “The Middle Knowledge View.” This view is more commonly known as “Molinism.” In his opening paragraph, Dr. Craig provides an analogy that most of us are familiar with: “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens.

After being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, the terrified Scrooge asks, “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be only?” Craig says that Scrooge asks the wrong question, as he does not understand that “between (or the “middle”) what could be and what will be lies what would be.” The Ghost of Christmas Future was offering Scrooge some very specific knowledge of what would happen, if Scrooge kept living his greedy, selfish, and inconsiderate lifestyle. If Scrooge did not change his life, the Ghost warned Scrooge of all of the horrible things that would happen.

As we all know, Scrooge is quick to change his life around, and therefore, these terrible things that the Ghost of Christmas Future warned Scrooge would happen if . . . , don’t happen. This kind of knowledge that the Ghost of Christmas Future possessed is called, “Counter Factual Knowledge,” and the Middle Knowledge view hinges upon it. If Molinism is true, God must possess the same kind of knowledge the Ghost of Christmas Future possessed.

Counter Factuals

Counter Factuals are conditional statements in the subjunctive mood: for example, “If I were on steroids, I would have bigger muscles.” Dr. Craig says, “Counterfactuals are so called because the antecedent or consequent clauses are typically contrary to fact”: I am not on steroids (but thanks for asking)! However, sometimes the antecedents are factual. For example, law enforcement relies on counterfactual knowledge all the time: “If Agent P offers to buy drugs from drug dealer Q, he would sell them to Agent P.” You make decisions based on counterfactual knowledge every day as well, in fact, life and death decisions, like, “If I pulled into traffic now, the Mack truck would hit me.”

Think about the counterfactual knowledge the military has used in the past. I’m sure in the planning of “D-Day,” a statement similar to this was made, “If we overwhelm the Nazis with American soldiers on Omaha Beach, we would prevail.” This statement is one that not only would be true, but in fact, today we know now that it was true.

Now, humans (being finite in knowledge) seem to have counterfactual knowledge with high degrees of certainty; however, by definition, God is omniscient. If God is really omniscient, then He must know the truth value to every proposition. Craig affirms that this includes counter factual propositions, and that God has eternally possessed this knowledge, as there was no time in which He gained this knowledge. Therefore, it logically follows that God had this middle knowledge causally before His divine creative decree.

Possible Worlds

God, in His omnipotence could have created a potentially infinite amount of other “possible worlds.” Moreover, in God’s omniscience He knows exactly how everything will occur in all of these possible worlds. This includes the movements of all subatomic particles, the perfect weather forecast, birds falling in fields, how many hairs each and every person would have on their head, how every person would freely choose in each and every situation, and everything else.

Since God had this exhaustive knowledge of every possible world, when He freely chose, and actualized this one (He was free to choose a different world or none at all); therefore, God predestined all that would freely happen in this world, and in creating this particular world, God also decrees which counterfactuals are true. Moreover, in actualizing this world, He elects and predestines all those He knows will freely choose to follow Christ without “causally determining” or forcing their actions, decisions, and choices.

Biblical Support for Middle Knowledge:

In his defense of The Middle Knowledge View, Dr. Craig provides several passages from Scripture. 1st Samuel 23:6-14 says:

6 When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand. 7 Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” 8 And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. 9 David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” 10 Then David said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. 11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the LORDsaid, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. 14 And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.

In this passage, God lets David know a truth to a counterfactual proposition. Namely, that if he were to stay at Keliah, then Saul would pursue him, and that if Saul were to pursue him, then the men of Keliah would give him over to Saul.

Jeremiah 38:17-18 also seems to provide support for God’s middle knowledge:

17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 18 But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.”

These two Bible verses make it clear that God, in His omniscience, knows what would happen no matter what course of action Zedekiah would choose to take. These Scriptures seem to provide some illumination into the kind of knowledge God has, and there are many more! For instance, consider the “test of a true prophet,” is the fulfillment of his predictions (Deuteronomy 18:22); however, many predictions given by these biblical prophets are never fulfilled because the people that these prophecies were delivered to responded by changing their lives. (Isaiah 38:1-5; Amos 7:1-6; Jonah 3: 1-10). This is very similar to the “Christmas Carol analogy” provided by Craig at the beginning of his essay, as Scrooge responds to the prophecy of the Ghost of Christmas Future, and therefore, what was prophesied never occurs.

Jesus himself makes many statements that seem to imply that he has counterfactual knowledge: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin…. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin” (John 15:22, 24). “If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36). “Woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one to not have been born” (Matthew 26:24).

Additionally, in John 21:6, Jesus commands his disciples: “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some [fish].” This implies that Jesus knew that if they listened to him, and acted upon his commands, then, they would catch fish. The disciples did listen to Jesus and acted upon his commands, and they did catch fish. This was a counterfactual statement that was true, and Jesus knew it was true.

There are many passages in Scripture that affirm God has counter factual knowledge, but does He possess middle knowledge? This question hinges upon when God logically possesses counter factual knowledge. Does God have this knowledge before (logically prior to) His creative decree, or does God create, and then gain this knowledge? If God owns this counterfactual knowledge causally before His creative decree in which He actualized this world, then, God has middle knowledge.

Theological Arguments for Middle Knowledge

Scripture is silent regarding when God has this knowledge; therefore, we must appeal to theology (the science of God) to come to the best explanation. If a theologian wants to deny that God has middle knowledge, it seems they must hold that God only possesses this counterfactual knowledge after His divine decree, but this would logically infer that there was a “time” [state of affairs] in which God existed, yet was not fully omniscient. This should make most theologians uncomfortable (for good reason); therefore, if God really is eternally omniscient, then God must have eternally had this knowledge, and therefore God has middle knowledge.

Regarding the theological doctrine of God’s middle knowledge, Dr. Craig says,

“Indeed, I would venture to say that it is the single most fruitful theological concept I have ever encountered.”

Craig believes this because he contends that this doctrine explains and makes sense of many things like Christian particularism, Perseverance of the Saints, Biblical inspiration, and some even contend (as I do) that it can explain evolutionary theory!

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

Not only does the doctrine of God’s middle knowledge seem to answer many of these tough questions, it also seems to logically explain how God can be completely sovereign, and how humanity can simultaneously possess libertarian freedom. God is absolutely sovereign as He chooses what world to actualize out of a potentially infinite amount of possible/feasible worlds. Since God is omniscient, God knows what would have happened in all of these possible worlds. He chose to actualize this one, and therefore predestined, and elected all things that have happened, are happening, and will happen, including our very real and free choices, actions, and decisions.

Dr. Craig says, “If our actions are freely performed, then it lies within our power to determine what the course of future events will be, even if we do not have the power to change the future.” This means that one can logically affirm that the future is predestined by God; however, we are free to determine the future. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Craig provides further illumination:

“Divine foreknowledge is based on God’s middle knowledge of what every creature would freely do under any circumstances and on his knowledge of the divine decree to create certain sets of circumstances and to place certain creatures in them. Given middle knowledge and the divine decree, foreknowledge follows automatically as a result.”

The views that deny God’s middle knowledge, yet affirm God’s foreknowledge do so because of God’s foreordination. However, this seems to make God the author of evil, or as Craig says, “(The Calvinistic) view seems, in effect, to turn God into the devil.” This is so, because if God only has counterfactual knowledge after His creative decree, then it is God who causally determines the actions of humans (including evil actions). Therefore, humans aren’t really responsible for evil, but God is.

The Middle Knowledge view seems to escape this problem by logically affirming our trust in an all-sovereign God, and affirming our moral responsibility as free agents. Craig concludes his essay by stating,

“While not explicitly taught in the biblical text, the doctrine of divine middle knowledge is certainly compatible with it, which cannot be said for at least some of its competitors. Middle knowledge redounds to the glory of God and illuminates biblical truth in a dazzling way.”

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Jack, thank you so much for your response. I think we really agree on more than we disagree. In fact, I think the reason for our disagreement is due to a misunderstanding. I hope I can unearth this misunderstanding here by interacting directly with your comments. You said:

“I assure you that I do not deny libertarian free will. Nor do I deny at least something very close to middle knowledge. I.e., I believe that God in his omniscience knows in detail each one of the nearly-infinite POSSIBLE universes, as they could exist from creation into eternity future. Note: these are not actual or factual universes, but only possible universes, such as might be listed in a catalog. Prior to creation none of them actually exists.”

AMEN, AMEN, & AMEN! I believe these “worlds” only exist as concepts or ideas in God’s mind. That is to say, these worlds are possibilities that God knows he could actualize if he chose to. We are on the same page as far as that goes, Jack!

This is where you diverge from Molinism as you stated: “I do not believe that God simply chooses to actualize ONE of these possible universes (with all its details, warts and all).”

Hmmm… Jack, if God did not intentionally choose this world on purpose, did he create this world by accident?

Jack, you continued with this: “IF he did, this decision would in effect equal the Calvinist’s eternal decree.”

This is not true. The difference between Molinism and Calvinism is this: On Molinism, God knows with absolute certainty what would happen in each possible scenario (world) that is feasible for him to actualize. He then chooses a world to bring into existence via his creative decree. Since he knows with certainty how we will freely choose in this world, our real choices are predestined and guaranteed to occur via our free choices; however, they are really our choices and decisions, as God is not pulling any puppet strings. We are agents who freely choose to act (at least occasionally) on Molinism. Therefore, God does not have to move our limbs like toy soldiers. We freely decide how to act and therefore, we are genuinely responsible for our free actions.

Just because God knows how we will freely choose does not mean he causally determines us any more than an infallible weather barometer determines the weather. Knowledge does not stand in causal relation (this is very important to grasp)!

Calvinism, on the other hand, holds that God creates a world, and then moves us like puppets and causally determines all things in one way or another. This is why I reject Calvinism as it ultimately makes God into a moral monster (not to mention that it is logically incoherent and unbiblical in the sense that it cannot make sense of ALL the biblical data)! On Molinism, God doesn’t have to “force” or causally determine anything to happen. He simply knows what could, would, and will happen and how we would freely choose logically prior to his creative decree. Therefore, God knows with perfect certainty how we will freely choose. He did not have to bring this world into existence, but he chose to in his providence. Therefore, God is sovereign over all things and predestines all things, and we are truly responsible for our thoughts and actions.

On Calvinism (at least consistent Calvinism), God is responsible for our thoughts and actions (including Satan’s and Hitler’s).

Jack, you said, “Every detail of this universe, including every human choice, is forever settled by God’s creative decision.”

This is the difference between predestination and causal determinism. If God is omniscient and omnipotent, it LOGICALLY follows (please show me if I am wrong) that “every detail of the universe, including every human choice, is forever settled by God’s creative decision.” However, you must understand that this does not logically imply that God is *causally determining* every detail of the universe and every human choice. Do you see the difference?

You said, “Arguing about the nature of free will in this case is pointless; whatever view of the will one opts for, the actual human decisions will be the same–based on God’s decision.”

This is a misunderstanding, Jack. This is where I encourage you to really understand the difference between possible worlds and feasible worlds. For all we know, there is no world that God can create in which he gives libertarian free will (LFW) to his creatures (so we can experience a love relationship with Him) where Satan, Hitler, and Richard Dawkins freely choose to love God. If LFW is really real… then it logically follows that God cannot FORCE a free decision or act on our part. That is just as incoherent as stating that God can create a married bachelor.

You said, “As I see it, God first made the sovereign decision to create a particular KIND of universe–one embodying free will, and he sovereignly decided to begin his free-will human race with Adam and Eve.”

So far so good. I agree 100% so far, Jack! I would simply add that since God is completely omniscient, he knew exactly what would happen in this universe (world) even before he said, “Let there be…”

You continued: “The universe as it unfolds after that will be one of the possible universes, but it will unfold as the result of the two relatively independent forces God imbedded within it at creation: natural law and free will.”

Amen, Jack. Once again, I agree 100%!!! I would just clarify that since God is omniscient, He knew with certainty what would happen in the “cause and effect” natural universe (based on natural law) and how humans would freely choose given their free will. His knowledge of free actions in no way stands in causal relation with those actions.

You continued: “It (the world) will unfold first in God’s foreknowledge, so that God will know it from beginning to end and will be able to work his providential interventions into it along the way.”

Jack, I agree that God created a world in which he knew exactly what would happen via natural law and human free will. Moreover, God knew how he would “providentially intervene” along the way before he said, “Let there be…” For example, God stepped in to create humans in the image of God; He raised Jesus from the dead, and he continues to miraculously work in our lives today.

You concluded with: “Then as the result of God’s literal creation of this universe, its actual history will unfold along the natural timeline but as God foreknew it would.”

Jack… this is Molinism! You are a Molinist and just don’t realize it, brother! ☺ You are simply substituting the word “foreknew” in place of what should be stated as “middle-knew.”

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Jack, you got into one of my favorite topics: the philosophy of time! You said: “I reject classical theism’s view of God’s timelessness in the sense of simultaneity.”

I have studied the philosophy of time and even the philosophy behind Einstein’s theories of relativity in the recent past. Logically speaking, it is impossible to have an infinite regress of past events or moments. This is otherwise known as the logical fallacy of the infinite regress. Therefore, there had to have been a “first moment” (since the current moment exists). Now, I don’t know what you meant for sure regarding the use of the word “simultaneity,” however, this usually is in reference to the theory of relativity and different relations in the universe. However, when cosmologists speak of a universe that began to exist 13.7 billion years ago, this is referring to cosmic time, which is the same for all observers in the universe. This age is frame independent of different observers and therefore, 13.7 billion years ago is how old the universe is to anyone or any observer anywhere in the natural universe.

Now, since God created the universe, this represents a change in relation to God. Science even demonstrates that time began to exist (we can demonstrate this via logical laws too). Therefore, God existed in a timeless state (sans creation) and after his creative decree that brought a universe into existence “ex-nihilo” God is now forever in time.

Think about it: even if God “erased” everything he had ever created, he could never create the universe AGAIN, for the FIRST TIME?

Jack, you said, “I believe God experiences the sequence of events; it is part of his nature, just as logic is.”

I fully concur that logic is based and grounded in God’s nature. That is why I think it is so important to think logically because when we do so, we are thinking “Godly!” Moreover, logical deduction leads to truth. Since Christians claim Christianity is TRUE, we better be the most logical people on the planet. I am passionately in love with LOGIC (The Logos)!

Now, in regards to God “experiencing the sequence of events,” I think it is better stated that God simply KNOWS (given his omniscience) what happens in each moment causally “before” he even started the first moment or caused the first change of affairs. I believe that now that God has brought forth a change (time and space began to exist), he is “in” time, and therefore, he does know and experience all moments as they come to be.

Out of curiosity, Jack, do you hold to the A or B theory of time? I’ve been doing some research on both theories as of late. It sounds to me like you might be a “B advocate,” but even if the B theory is true, it is something that must have been contingent upon God’s creative decree. If God brought a B theory block into existence, then although all moments of time in the B theory block are equally real, this block still floats on an A theory stream of time. Almost like a frozen fish tank floating upon a flowing river.

Anyway, all this to say, I think you really are a Molinist and haven’t realized it yet! I thoroughly enjoy this conversation, Jack. Thank you!

**********

Hi Jack, thanks for continuing our conversation on this new thread. Although you and I disagree on just some finely-tuned details, I completely respect you and I am honored to interact with you. If it’s okay with you, I would like to provide some more friendly and respectful “push back” to some of your points.

You said, “All of my thinking on these issues began as I pondered this question:
“Can God think a new thought?” Or more specifically, “Can an omniscient God think a new thought?””

I would answer with a resounding “NO” to this question, Jack! If God exists necessarily and possesses all of his essential attributes necessarily, then, God is necessarily omniscient whether he is “in” time or transcending time. That is to say, God “always” knows and believes the truth-value to any, and every proposition. Therefore, if God were to think a “new” thought, God would have known from eternity past (not implying an actual regress of past events) that he was going to think a “new” thought and what this thought would be. Therefore, it wouldn’t be “new” in the sense that humanity thinks “new” thoughts. We can think new thoughts that lead to new conclusions because we are not omniscient. God is omniscient, and therefore, it is logically impossible for God to think “new thoughts” (at least in that sense).

You said, “After years of sporadically tossing this around, I concluded that the only kind of new thought God could have is a new decision to do something new, something he had not determined to do before.”

Jack, I disagree with this completely as it implies that God is not omniscient!

You said, “The next question then arose: How would this affect God’s relation to time? I was already at the point of rejecting the traditional concept of divine timelessness. Now with further reflection I concluded that timelessness (simultaneity) is an irrational idea and cannot be sustained.”

With all due respect, Jack, I completely disagree. Dr. William Lane Craig is leading philosopher on God and his relationship to time in the world today (and probably ever). He has logically explained how God can exist in a timeless state. God can even exist in a loving relationship as a Trinity due to his omniscience. Each person of the Trinity is omniscient, and therefore, they do not have to exist in relationship like humans do. When I see my wife after I get home from the office I have to ask her how her day went (because I am not omniscient). This human relationship requires time so I can think new thoughts and learn the truth to certain propositions.

God (the Trinity), on the other hand, is omniscient and therefore, The Logos does not have to ask the Holy Spirit how his day was (bad analogy?). God simply KNOWS all things necessarily, and therefore, time is not required for God (even in a perfect loving relationship among the Trinity).

You stated: “My view now is that God thinks, acts, and experiences on an eternal time line, and that he thus can make new decisions regarding his own plans and actions as he chooses.”

This poses two BIG problems, Jack:

1- It is logically impossible for an infinite regress of events to occur. To state that it is possible for God to do the logically impossible is both ad hoc and counter to his nature. Moreover, it is akin to suggesting that God can draw four sided triangles, create married bachelors, sin, and even stop existing.

2- Your view essentially claims that God is NOT omniscient.

Now, you preemptively responded to objection #1 by stating: “I have responded to the objection that an infinite regress of time, even for God, is illogical (see “God and Time,” 74ff.). I do not believe it applies to God, whose existence is not just temporal but meta-temporal.”

Please at least try to sum your view up for me. As I said, this is ad hoc and implies that God can do all the other illogical things I mentioned above. I highly recommend taking a look at the two books Dr. Craig has written on this subject: “God, Time, and Eternity,” and “Time and Eternity.”

Jack, regarding how your view relates to Molinism, you said:

“Now, how does this apply to the question of Molinism, and to the suggestion that I am a Molinist and just do not realize it? Here is the key issue regarding the difference between my view and Molinism: which comes first, (1) God’s DECISION to create this world, or (2) God’s knowledge (or foreknowledge) of every future detail of this world?”

Before going any further, the way you worded your statement is guilty of question-begging. Asking: “which came first?” assumes time exists just as necessarily as God himself. Now, I think I know what you meant; that you are talking about logical order (not temporal). God exists necessarily and eternally (without beginning). We can prove this via the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Ontological Argument, and the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument. If God exists necessarily and eternally with no beginning, then, God as the maximally great being possesses all of his essential properties necessarily and eternally with no beginning. Therefore, God in his omniscience KNEW with 100% certainty every future detail of the worlds he knew he would create (as well as all the details of the infinite amount of worlds he knew he could have created). He could KNOW all of this in a timeless state of affairs.

The first moment of time (I believe it is the Big Bang but I’m willing to be wrong) marked the first change. God created the universe that did not exist logically prior to God’s creative decree. Now, time could exist apart from space and matter. If God exists and created time and space, then he logically transcended time and space causally before creating time and space. That is to say, God is timeless and spaceless causally before creating the space-time universe. Moreover, if God exists in a spaceless and timeless state, but then begins thinking successive thoughts (one after another), then, time would be in existence without the material universe. God does not need to think consecutive thoughts given his omniscience. God could have created immaterial angels without matter, but that would then mark the first “change” and therefore, time would begin to exist without matter and space.

Back to Molinism: you said, “Molinism says #2, since this world with all of its details was one of the potential worlds fully known to God before he chose which one to create. Thus when he chose to create this one he was choosing to actualize every detailed aspect of it (including all human decisions) as already fully known by him. With the decision to create this world, God’s knowledge of all its details thus became FOREknowledge of the actual world that would unfold as the result of creation.”

I agree! He also has complete knowledge of all counterfactuals of what would have happened *IF* he would have actualized a different world. Therefore, God also has middle knowledge since he is omniscient.

You said, “My view, though, is #1. Once God made his (new) decision to create this particular world (or more specifically, this KIND of world), at that point his foreknowledge of every future aspect of this world unfolded within his consciousness. Up to that point, of course, God in his omniscience knew all possible, potential worlds, BUT he did NOT know which one of these potential worlds would result from his decision to create as outlined in Genesis 1.”

Again, Jack, with all due respect, I think this is a horrible position! You are in effect stating that God knew everything about every possible world, but you are subtracting from God’s omnipotence as you are stating that he could not actualize a specific one that he wanted. He either did not know how to create a specific world, or he just wasn’t powerful enough to create the world he wanted. This is not the definition of a maximally great being! I can’t believe you are willing to say that God is omniscient in one breath and follow that with, “BUT he did NOT know which one of these potential worlds would result from his decision to create…” According to your view of God, he knows a lot of things, but not everything! With all due respect, as an aspiring evangelical philosopher, I reject your view!

You tried to “back-pedal” a bit and said: “This “not knowing” was an implication of the newness of the decision to create. But the immediate result of the decision to create was a complete foreknowledge of this world’s future, which developed within God’s consciousness even before the actual creation itself. (Thus this is NOT an “open theist” view.)”

It sure sounds like a “cousin” to open-theism now, Jack. You said you reject Molinism because although it is not identical to Calvinism, it seems like a “cousin” to it. Maybe you should apply the same logic to your view (unless you think open theism is a good option).

Jack, you continued: “It is important to see that I am not agreeing with Molinism, in that I am not saying that God simply chose one of the possible potential universes and brought it into existence. In my opinion, in the Molinist view it would not have made any difference WHICH of the potential worlds God chose to create; the very fact that he chose ONE and not the others is what I believe makes God responsible for whatever happens in that (this) world.”

Jack, to deny Molinism then, you are subtracting from God’s omniscience; affirming that God “DID NOT KNOW” what was going to happen in the world he chose to actualize! Moreover, the Bible contains many verses that affirm that God predestines, elects, and even “causes” (in a non-deterministic sense) bad things to happen.

You followed that with this: “This I see as true despite all the insistence that every decision in that world is made with libertarian free will.”

Well, Jack, I have demonstrated that there are no causal strings attached to the free choices humans make on the Molinistic view. You are “free” to disagree all you want, but you must demonstrate where these “causal strings” are attached that determine all of our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Until you can do that, you don’t have a good reason to reject Molinism.

You said, “I am saying, on the other hand, that when God chose to make this world, he was not choosing a comprehensive package-universe from among the near-infinite list of possibles. He was choosing a KIND of universe, namely, a libertarian free-will universe; and he was choosing how to create it and thus set it in motion, without knowing in advance where its free-will creatures would take it.”

That seems rather ad hoc! If God is omniscient, why would he know all things *EXCEPT* the prior knowledge of “where its free-will creatures would take it.”

You said, “Once that decision was made, and the foreknowledge of where these creatures actually would take it “kicked in,” God was fully committed to his decision and created this universe as he had decided to do.”

Why didn’t this knowledge “kick in” before hand, Jack? Why did God — in his omniscience — know necessarily what would happen in this world causally before he actualized it? It really seems you do not have any good reason to reject Molinism.

You said, “This view helps us answer the common question, “If God foreknew all the evil that was going to exist in this world, why did he make it in the first place? Why didn’t he just scrap this plan and try something else?” I don’t think Molinism can provide a satisfying answer to this kind of question.”

Your view doesn’t help us understand this at all because it subtracts from God’s essential attributes and gets very ad hoc to try to connect some dots. Molinism, on the other hand, can answer your objection just fine. Why would God create a world suffused with evil, pain, and suffering? I already offered this before, but let me reiterate:

God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly-good. Since He is all good, He is also all-loving. Since He is all-loving, He wants an authentic loving relationship with each and every human being that He has ever created. Since He desires an authentic love relationship with each individual human being, He had to give us the libertarian free will to freely choose to love Him or turn our backs on Him. When we turn our backs on Him, we sin, and these transgressions have infected this world with evil, pain, and terrible suffering! God allows us to experience this suffering (that he knew we would experience), because suffering can shape us as well as bring us closer to Him, which is the greatest good a human being could ever experience.

With this in mind, the only way God could eradicate evil is to eradicate free will. That would then eradicate the possibility of each one of us freely choosing to enter into a “true love” relationship with our creator. That love relationship with our creator is the greatest good a person could ever experience; therefore, eradicating evil would be evil! Thus, it is good that evil, pain, and suffering were made possible, and allowed by God. God intentionally created this specific world because he knew that this world was the one that would lead to the greatest feasible amount of true eternal love between humans and him.

 

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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