Atheists Opposing Molinism

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

January 30, 2019

In my experience, not only do I find myself defending Molinism from the likes of Calvinists and Open Theists, but I am amazed to see the vigor in which atheists also oppose Molina’s doctrine of middle knowledge. After all, why should the atheist care what view a Christian holds of divine sovereignty and human responsibility? It comes down to the fact that while other views fail, Molinism destroys (as the Apostle Paul would say in 2 Corinthians 10:5) their favorite argument raised against the knowledge of God — the so-called, “problem of evil.” If the atheist’s best argument for atheism is devastated by Molinism, then the committed atheist (perhaps one who has a “greatest desire” for God not to exist and desperately wants atheism to be true) will argue against Molinism just as vehemently — if not more so — than the Calvinist and Open Theist! This is the case because Molinism no longer allows the atheist to hide behind a mask of reason if they have been hiding behind the “problem of evil.”

Mere Molinism, I have argued, entails two essential ingredients: (i) Logically prior to God’s decision to create the world, God knew everything that would happen in any possible scenario He could create (entails God’s middle knowledge). (ii) As beings created in God’s image, humans, like God, possess the categorical ability to choose between a range of options, each of which is consistent with their nature.

If the second pillar is true, then it follows that humans possess libertarian freedom (limited to some things some of the time). If the first pillar corresponds to reality, then it logically follows that God possesses middle knowledge. Molinists have provided a “three-punch combo for freedom” with arguments utilizing metaphysicstheology, and biblical data to demonstrate that humans possess libertarian freedom. Molinists have also offered several arguments demonstrating that God has middle knowledge of how humans would freely choose logically prior to His decision to actually create humans (See the Mere Molinism ArgumentKirk MacGregor’s Argument for God’s Middle Knowledge, and Maximal Greatness & Middle Knowledge.

Atheists opposing Molinism often beg the question and assume God does not exist to then irrationally conclude that God did not create humans with libertarian freedom. After all, if an omnipotent God — with the ability to do many things — does not exist, then humans were not created in God’s image with the ability to do several things (which would entail libertarian freedom). Others offer question-begging assumptions that it is simply impossible for libertarian freedom to be possessed by any creature. If this is the case, then Molinism would fail and the atheist can keep their “Problem of Evil” so they can sleep at night. Be that as it may, this “anti-freedom view” hinges on both an ability to engage in the process of rationality to infer the best explanation AND determinism being true. The Freethinking Arguments forcefully demonstrate the incompatibility of these two propositions. After all, one cannot conclude a model of reality which destroys the method used to reach their conclusion.

At this point it is common to see the one with a “greatest desire” for atheism to be true get emotional and hurl insults. This was the case in a recent debate with an atheist who desperately desires Molinism to fail. Consider my closing remarks (following an extremely long debate):

Stratton’s Final Comments:

Michael, you said, //Even if determinism undermines rationality, it could still be true.//

If determinism undermines rationality, and if determinism is true (as you assume), then how could you rationally affirm and justify such a proposition? Without justification say good bye to knowledge. All you are left with is question-begging assumptions — but those are not up to you either (if determinism happens to be true).

You said, //So that would be appeal to consequences.//

Yes, and they are absurd consequences that defeat your entire project of trying to rationally argue that your beliefs are better than mine. When absurd conclusions are reached, a rational interlocutor has reason to reject the conclusion even if they cannot spot an error in the premises. As I have written elsewhere, “You cannot conclude a model of reality that destroys the very method you used to reach that conclusion.”

With your self-refutation of rationality in mind, the rest of your claims are nothing more than a long series of logical fallacies. This is enough for a rational agent to leave a conversation with one who affirms his own lack or rationality. However, I did say that I would interact one last time. I will reluctantly continue interacting with this fallaciousness.

You said, //I’m inclined to think humans are very irrational…//

You must assume that you are determined to think this is the case (if it is true or not). Be that as it may, if humans are irrational, how can you rationally affirm that you are not the irrational one? Please don’t beg the question in response (since any argument based on a logical fallacy is no argument at all).

You offered an impotent quote from Patricia Churchland:

“If determinism is correct, it does not in the least follow that we do not reason… On the contrary, what follows is that our reasoning and our reasoned behaviour is causally produced.”

Churchland actually proves my point [I have previously written on this subject. See, The Vanishing “I”]! If one’s “reasoned behavior” is causally produced by something other than the thing you refer to as “I”, then you (the thing you refer to as “I”) are at the mercy of physics and chemistry, God, or some other deterministic factor. If this is the case, then you (the thing you refer to as “I”) stand in no position to evaluate the thoughts that are being causally produced in your head as good, bad, better, worse, true, or false. For this would entail a range of alternative options from which to choose, but on causal determinism, there is only one possibility — and something other than you is forcing the evaluative thoughts upon you (if they are good or not — there is no way for the thing you call “I” to know).

All “evaluative thoughts” would be causally produced by something other than you. The divine determinist says “God determines my thoughts and beliefs,” the atheistic naturalist who espouses determinism is left with non-thinking laws of nature (such as chemistry and physics) determining all thoughts and beliefs. This is much worse than Plantinga’s EAAN, because at least on that paradigm beliefs are aimed at survival. But deterministic physics and chemistry are not “aimed” at anything.

I said, “Why should I continue discussing anything with a non-rational being?” (referring to what you admit about yourself).

You said, //It’s not a matter of “should.” It’s a matter of what your desires will lead you to do.//

That proves nothing and gets you into an even deeper rationality problem. If all of our beliefs are simply aimed at our greatest desires, then they are not aimed at truth. Therefore, you have no reason to think your greatest desires correspond to reality, or not. All you can do is beg the question and assume — but this fallaciousness is not up to you either — physics and chemistry is running the show (according to your worldview).


Michael, you said, //If you don’t desire to discuss, that’s your prerogative.//

Actually, Michael, according to your deterministic worldview, that would not be “my” prerogative. It would simply be the result of physics and chemistry “popping and fizzing” — none of which is up to “my prerogative.” I would have no say in the matter if all that exists is matter.

I said, “If a ‘thinking-thing’ is able to deliberate, then by definition, the being possesses a libertarian ability to choose between a range of options each compatible with one’s nature.”

You shockingly retorted: //No. All that would follow is that you randomly act on one set of reasons rather than another.//

But not all “reasons” are created equal; some are better than others. However, if one cannot personally evaluate certain reasons as *better or worse* (a range of options each consistent with one’s nature), then one stands in no position to know if his thoughts and beleifs are any good, bad, better, worse, true, or false. As noted above, all you are left with is question-begging assumptions (logical fallaciousness).

It seems you are unaware of the definition of “deliberate.” First consider an argument:

1. Rationality requires deliberation.
2. Deliberation requires libertarian freedom (liberation).
3. Therefore, rationality requires libertarian freedom (liberation).
4. Some humans are rational.
5. Therefore, some humans possess libertarian freedom.

This argument hinges on the word ‘deliberation,’ which has been defined this way:

‘To weigh in the mind; to consider and examine the reasons for and against a measure to estimate the weight of force of arguments, or the probable consequences of a measure, in order to a choice or decision; to pause and consider’ (Webster).

With the definition in place, consider the next question raised: Is it possible to truly deliberate without libertarian freedom?

The answer emerges after dwelling upon the nature of determinism. If exhaustive determinism is true, then the non-rational laws of nature and past events, or God, always exhaustively determines a person’s considerations, examinations, and estimations (all of one’s thoughts about their beliefs and one’s beliefs about their thoughts). If that is the case, then the person cannot rationally affirm or provide justification that their beliefs really are the best or true (including their belief that determinism is true). With this in mind, it seems that libertarian freedom is necessary if one genuinely possesses the ability to rationally evaluate one’s thoughts/beliefs and to deliberate in the truest sense.

It follows that if deliberation is impossible, then so is rationality.

So, Michael, if you are actually engaged in rational argumentation at the moment, then congratulations: welcome to the Land of the Free! If you are not engaged in rational argumentation, why should I — or anyone else — listen to or be persuaded by anything you say?

Appealing to one’s “greatest desire” will get you no where!

You asked, //Why did Satan choose to act on his desire/reasons to rebel rather than his desire/reasons to obey?//

You would have to ask him! Otherwise you will beg the question (again!) in favor of determinism.

I said, “If nothing causally determines an agent’s thoughts, then sourcehood libertarianism entails.”

You said, //Only indeterminism entails.//

Mere indeterminism might work for non-thinking things that do not possess intentionality, but an agent who is intentionally conscience and undetermined or uncaused can do so apart from randomness. This is also why I have written articles arguing for the PAP libertarian ability to freely think (See Freethinking Needs the PAP).

Let’s hear it for free thinkers!


I said, “As long as one has a nature to act in a manner undetermined by anything external to the agent, then the agent is the source of the act and free in this specific libertarian sense (even if they cannot choose otherwise).”

You said, //All that would follow is that the agent can make different acts of will. It wouldn’t follow that the agent is ultimately responsible.//

[Michael, when you say, “Can make different acts of will,” this is exactly what is meant by libertarian free will!] If NOTHING causally determines the agent to think, believe, or act in a certain manner, and the agent thinks, believes, and behaves in a certain manner, then the agent is responsible because the agent was the source.

You said, //If the agent can’t choose otherwise, that makes things even worse, for his acts of wills would be the inescapable entailment of truths that were in place prior to his birth.//

Now you are assuming causal determinism again and begging the question in favor of your view. If these “inescapable entailments” of the past determine the agent, then we are not discussing sourcehood agency but something radically different.

Side note: On Molinism, the agent is what determines the fact, not the other way around. This is why Craig has argued that Molinism provides a “functional equivalent” with backwards causation without all the problems that come along for the ride.

I said, “then there are facts about how these hypothetical free creatures would freely choose if they were to be actualized.”

You retort: //This is just a non sequitur. From the premise “God can create free creatures” you can’t conclude right away that there are middle-facts.//

Think about it, Michael: If it is true that God has the power to create Agent P in a circumstance where P has the ability (since P is made in the image of God) to choose between a range of options each compatible with P’s nature (libertarian freedom), then, it follows that there are facts about what Agent P WOULD choose even if he COULD choose multiple options. Since the OP is discussing the maximal greatness of God [the OP was regarding my article, Maximal Greatness & Middle Knowledge], consider a related syllogism:

1- If God is omnipotent, He possesses the ability to create a world including humans who possess limited libertarian freedom – even if He never does.
2 – If God is omniscient, He possesses perfect knowledge of how humans who possess libertarian freedom would freely choose if He were to create them, and even if He never creates them (this is referred to as middle knowledge).
3 – God is omnipotent and omniscient.
4- Therefore, God possesses middle knowledge.

Here is the primary point: if it is even possible for God to create humanity in His image with libertarian freedom (even if He never does create these beings), then an omniscient [and Maximally Great] God knows how these potential creatures WOULD freely choose if He were to create them. If this is the case, then some “flavor” of Molinism is true. This is what I refer to as “Mere Molinism.”

Now, as an atheist you might dismiss this case, but the target audience of this particular argument is Bible believing Christians. Indeed, the headline of the OP [and the final sentence of the article] makes it clear:

“Since Christians affirm that God is a maximally great being, it follows that Christians should also affirm that God has middle knowledge.”

As an atheist, you are not part of the intended audience, Michael.


If compatibilism (as traditionally understood) applies to God, I pointed out the following: “God’s nature is necessary, and His nature [would] necessarily determine only one course of action”

Michael, you said, //God’s nature could have necessary elements and contingent ones. The desire could be contingent.//

Contingent upon what? God? Then God has the ability to choose between a range of alternative desires each of which is compatible with His nature. If this is the case then we are not discussing compatibilism but libertarianism.

You said, //Determinism does not imply necessitarianism.//

I never said it did.

I did ask, “What would have caused God to have a different desire?”

You said, //Nothing.//

Then God’s desire is not contingent upon anything else.

You said, //But I could ask of the Molinist, ‘what would have caused God to have different middle knowledge’? Nothing…//

God would possess different MK if a free creature with the ability to choose between a range of alternative options each compatible with her nature — although she chooses X instead of Y — WOULD choose Y instead of X. Both are compatible with her nature, and a different free choice would be known by God logically prior to His creative decree. God simply knows how a free creature would freely choose if He were to create her. It’s not a big deal.

*William Lane Craig summarizes and clarifies here.

I said, “It is the very free people God could create that would make free choices if they were to exist, that limit all possible worlds and bring them to feasible worlds.”

You said, //And none of those people exist.//

But they are within God’s power to create. They COULD exist, and if they did, they WOULD choose between a range of options each of which is compatible with their nature.

I pointed out the following: “[Abstract] “Facts” do not cause things.”

You replied, //Yes, but they necessarily entail things. If a fact such as <I would [FREELY] do A in C> is true prior to my birth, then there is nothing I can do anymore to make it false.//

What you seem to miss is that the reason the proposition possesses its truth value, is because logically prior to God’s creative decree, if you were to exist, you WOULD *freely* choose to do A in C even if you COULD do B in C. So, although you COULD do B in C, you never WOULD do B in C, because you WOULD *freely* choose to do A in C (if you were created with freedom and even if you were never created at all). These facts (that are true prior to your existence) are still UP TO YOU. Again, this is the “functional equivalence” with backwards causation that makes sense on the Molinistic framework.

You implied that facts “cause things” and I pointed out that abstracta do not stand in causal relation. You said, //… they inescapably entail things. Entailment is not causation.//

And “entailments” (also abstracta) do not cause one to think, believe, act or anything else. There are still no causal strings attached to the free agent.

I said, “If abstracta exists, by definition, they do not stand in causal relation.”

You finally agreed and said, //Yes, but they can still stand in logical relation.//

Great, a “logical relation” is still an abstract object if it is anything at all. Still no causal strings attached to free agents.


I said, “If you would *freely* do A in C…”

Michael, you continue to miss the point and replied, //Again, you can’t use this as a premise since it is the very thing in question.//

I wrote the OP which is what this thread is regarding. In the first paragraph I made it clear: “As beings created in God’s image, humans, like God, possess the categorical ability to choose between a range of options, each of which is consistent with their nature.”

So, although you are an atheist, if God exists and is omnipotent, then He possesses the power to create beings in His image or likeness. Since God possesses libertarian freedom (entailed by omnipotence), then God can create creatures who possess this attribute in a limited sense. If that is the case, then it would be true that “If Smith were to be created (even if he never is created), Smith would possess the ability to choose between a range of options each compatible with his “image of God” nature. Let’s say this “range of options” is X,Y, and Z and these are the only options available — and Smith must pick one and only one. Let’s suppose Smith chooses X. It follows that he could have chosen Y or Z since they were both compatible with Smith’s nature. Thus, Smith has a limited libertarian freedom. W is not in Smith’s nature, but a range of options from which he could choose was compatible with Smith’s nature. This is the epitome of libertarian freedom (in a limited sense).

I said, “… one is free to act otherwise and “falsify the proposition” since there are no causal strings attached and nothing *forcing* an agent one way or the other.”

You said, //This is philosophical absurdity on steroids.//

I should have explained this better. I had in mind Molinism’s functional equivalency with backwards causation [mentioned earlier]. The salient point, however, is that one COULD choose otherwise, but then, God would have middle known that truth instead. Bottom line: One COULD choose otherwise, but they never WOULD choose otherwise in that freedom permitting circumstance. This, then, is why the proposition is true. It is still *up to* the agent.

I said, “There you go conflating the PAP with LFW again.” You replied: //Yes, because even Stump and Timpe and yourself support PAP.//

Yes, I do support PAP [Timpe does not rule out the PAP].  I am certain that it must be (at least occasionally) true — because to offer a claim of knowledge rejecting the PAP is self-refuting. Be that as it may, I still recognize that sometimes the PAP might not entail, but sourcehood libertarian freedom does.

You said, //I don’t even know what “freedom” is if one can’t escape doing what they do. That’s completely antithetical to the essence of libertarianism.//

Only if you conflate the PAP with LFW. Now, on my view, “physically doing” and “freely thinking” are two different types of “action.” For the sake of argument, the “physical doing” could be unable to be otherwise, even if the agent was free to think otherwise.

You said, //You’re just calling it “free” when he is logically destined to do whatever he does, even if not causally destined.//

This is a conflation: “Predestination” does not necessarily entail causal determinism. Molinism demonstrates the difference.

I said, “Premises (1) and (2) of the Kalam do not “cause” the conclusion.”

You said, //Yes, but they entail the conclusion.//

So what! My point remains. Entailments do not cause a person to think or act in a certain manner. They are causally unconnected.

I said, “Remember, the word “freely” does not magically disappear no matter how many times you stomp your foot.”

You said, //Freedom is the very thing in question. You’re begging the question so much I think you’d be willing to lick the street for it.//

You are simply blind, Michael. As I have explained numerous times, and as I made clear in the first paragraph of the OP article, this comes down to one question: Does an omnipotent God possess the power to create an agent (in His image) with the ability to choose between a range of options each of which is consistent [and compatible] with the agent’s nature? If so, then certain facts about HOW THE *AGENT* WOULD FREELY CHOOSE if he were created in a freedom permitting circumstance (even if he never were actualized) entail.

If this is the case, then the word “freely” must be included — and to deny this is begging the question on your part in favor of your own “greatest desire.”

The pertinent issue is to see if “freedom” suddenly disappears once a possible world becomes the actual world. I contend that “freedom” does not magically disappear. This has been my case all along. You insist on ignoring it. You accuse others of begging the question when, in fact, question-begging assumptions are the foundation of your argument — which means that you provide no argument at all.


I noted that if God is omniscient, then, “God simply knows logically prior to the first moment of time!”

Michael, you extorted: //Assertion.//

Uhhh… consider the following argument:

1- If God is eternally omniscient, then God knows the truth-value to all propositions.

2- Counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) are propositions.

3- Therefore, if God eternally knows the truth-value to all propositions, then God possesses knowledge of CCFs logically prior to His creative decree.

It follows that God possesses Middle Knowledge of these CCFs and “simply knows logically prior to the first moment of time.”

So much for your “assertion” objection.

You said, //You have yet to address my video that free will and foreknowledge are logically incompatible.//

Why should I waste my time watching a video of a guy who has admitted that he possesses no ability to rationally affirm knowledge claims and who has demonstrated a zeal for question-begging assumptions? Indeed, this objection you speak of is so old and tired — it has been dealt with by several scholars who do not commit the same fallacies in which you are fond. [It has been dealt with here: Does Molinism Entail Fatalism?]

Once again, I noted that, “The word “freely” still remains even if you cannot do otherwise (for some weird reason)”

You said, //If you can’t do otherwise, you’re stuck with it.//

But if one can freely think otherwise and try to not do what one is forced to do or “stuck with,” then they are not responsible for the act — an external CAUSAL source is to blame. Thought experiments and examples making this point have been offered.

You said, //If you think it’s okay to punish someone for what they could not possibly avoid doing, then your brain is fried.//

I think the “fried brain” might be in the other skull. Think about it (if you have the ability to be a FREE thinker — which is impossible on your deterministic view): How does an exhaustive determinist, as yourself, logically talk about what is “morally okay” or what one “ought” or “should” think or do (like anyone would have a choice in the matter)? In fact, those who punish those who have no choice in the matter, ALSO do not have a choice in the matter. It’s all meaningless if your view happens to be true!

Feel free to join me and argue for the libertarian ability to freely think! Free thinking changes everything.


Michael, you said, //There’s no freedom given inevitability. It doesn’t matter if the inevitability is causal or logical, since the end result is the same.//

Again, logic does not stand in a causal relation with the physical world. In fact, the laws of logic describe reality as opposed to causing reality. Moreover, just because it is inevitable that Agent P would FREELY choose X over Y, this does absolutely nothing to change the fact that Agent P will freely chose X over Y. [You seem to be incorrectly conflating certainty (inevitability) with necessity.] As I said, the word “freely” does not magically disappear no matter how many times you stomp your foot.

This is also ignoring the difference between how one could freely choose and how one would freely choose.


Michael, regarding the Problem of Evil and Molinism, I said, “Actually, my PhD dissertation discusses this topic and forcefully dismantles your assertion.”

You said, //If you think a world with child rape is the best one, then that’s all the more evidence that your brain is fried.//

No, it’s actually evidence you have not thought about this long enough or read all of the literature (or maybe you are just causally determined not to think about this correctly). You need to not simply think about possible worlds, but more importantly, *feasible* worlds. Of course I do not think a world with child abuse is the best possible world — neither does God — but it might be the best (or as MacGregor says, “tied for the best”) feasible world [with eternal human flourishing in mind]. If you don’t know the difference or ignore the distinction then you are disqualified from educating others on the topic.

I invite you to come listen to my paper at the ETS in March. I’d love to field your questions while you are in the audience.

You said, //I can only hope you encounter some intense suffering if you worship a God who even weakly actualizes the rape of children.//

Wow! That’s cool, bro. Well, let me tell you that I know what it means to suffer. I don’t like it. I try to avoid it. However, I have grown closer to God through it. In fact, I have learned how stupid it would be to take a suffering-free state of affairs for granted and how stupid it is to not follow the Law of Christ — not following the teachings and commands of Jesus inevitably and eventually always leads to more suffering.

You said, //Molinists in my experience, besides being incredibly arrogant, are typically well-off and have no idea of the horrors of life.//

Michael, although you have committed many logical errors in this exchange, that is the dumbest comment made thus far. I would love to introduce you to several Molinist friends of mine who do not fit your weird stereotype. Indeed, one example skyrockets to the top of my mind: he is a close Molinist friend who has been shot four times in the body and once in the forehead (he barely survived), he now has no money, he can’t get a job, his wife left him for another man and hardly ever lets him see his kids. And since he has no job his ex-wife is now taking him to court for not paying child support and he might go to jail!

The crazy thing is that through all of this evil and suffering he became a Christian! He has made some free choices in the midst of this continual suffering that have put him in a position to grow in love and trust in Jesus Christ. His understanding of Molinism has helped him get through these last few years of horrible suffering.

You offered more emotional comments: //It’s easy for Alex Pruss and William Craig to dismiss the problem of evil in their comfortable academic ivory towers. Especially Craig, whose wife cooks him three hot meals a day.//

Do you know that Bill Craig and his wife used to be so poor that they would tear paper plates in half and serve their lunch and dinner on them to make them last twice as long? They did many other things to get through these long and difficult times. Are you aware of Craig’s ongoing physical problems — the disease which has plagued him since childhood (he was not raised a Christian) — that lead to daily suffering to this day? Did you know Craig came to his positions on the Problem of Evil and Suffering all while being in the midst of suffering?

I told you I could share my paper with you, and you offered more emotion: //If you want to defend a God who watches children get raped, go ahead. I’m not wasting my time with rape apologetics.//

Not only does this show your ignorance with the material [See Lex Luthor’s Lousy Logic], it also shows that you are being emotional as opposed to rational. But, you have already admitted a lack of rationality and affirm that you only act on your greatest desires (which typically boils down to mere emotion).

I guess this conversation is over.

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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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