Molinism and Creaturely Essences: A Response to James White (Part 2)

By John A. Limanto


February 27, 2018

Summary: Although the apologist James White has argued against Molinism by accusing it of denigrating the sovereignty of God, failing to countenance the card-dealer objection, and being unbiblical, this essay will demonstrate that White’s arguments seem to be poorly elaborated and are invalid. Moreover, White fails to provide any meaningful alternative that makes sense of all of the Biblical data in comparison to Molinism.


Issue 1: White Imposes Transworld Damnation As Though It Were Necessary To Molinism

White has long complained that Molinists do not have clear definitions of what are the essences of Molinism. In his video, “William Lane Craig, the Lowered Bar, Molinism, and Erasmus,” White argues that “[Molinists] have a hard time coming to any type of conclusion as to what Molinism actually does or does not mean.” (30:13-30:49). The two main ‘pillars’ of Molinism are: libertarian free will (LFW) and middle knowledge. These two are the prerequisites of Molinism and therefore, anything else can be stripped down as unnecessary to Molinism.

In 40:22, White says, “So the idea is: well, everyone who will be lost, would have been lost in any possible world anyways. So God has done—no blame to God—he actuated the best world. So there are people, in any circumstance, God could have never saved them. Period. Outside of God’s power to do so” (40:22-40:42). The hypothesis—named vaguely as ‘transworld damnation’ was indeed advanced by William Lane Craig in a number of his works. Most notably, in his book, The Only Wise God, he comments: “In other words, some people, no matter how much the Spirit of God worked on their hearts, no matter how favorable their upbringing…would still refuse to bow the knee and give their lives to Christ.”1 Further, Craig elucidates more clearly,

“To this challenge the Molinist may respond that it is possible [emphasis added] that there is no world feasible [emphasis added] for God in which all persons freely respond to His gracious initiatives and so are saved. Given the truth of certain counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, it is possible that God did not have it within His power to realize a world in which all persons freely respond affirmatively to His offer of salvation. But in His omnibenevolence, He has actualised a world containing an optimal balance between saved and unsaved. If it be further objected that God would not actualise a world in which some persons are damned as a concomitant of others’ being saved, though the former, if placed under other circumstances, would themselves have freely accepted salvation, then the Molinist may respond that God in His omnibenevolence has chosen not to create any such persons; He has instead elected to create only persons who would freely reject Him in any world which is feasible for Him to actualise, persons who, accordingly, freely possess the property of transworld damnation. God in His providence has so arranged the world that as the Christian gospel went out from first century Palestine, all who would respond freely to it if they heard it did hear it, and all who do not hear it are persons who would not have accepted it if they had heard it. In this way, Christian exclusivism may be seen to be compatible with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God”.2

Given the previous quote, the claim Craig is making is a far cry from the absurdity that White posits. Craig is simply making the modest claim that it is merely possible that transworld damnation be true, and not even Craig is advancing transworld damnation as a truism—let alone a necessity for Molinism. Second, transworld damnation is not the view that anyone who will be lost, would have been lost in any possible world. Rather, the view is that anyone who will be lost would have been lost in any feasible world. For us to be able to grasp logical possibilities, conceivability is the major criterion. Thereby, if I say that I can ‘conceive’ of everyone being saved, then it is a good proof for the idea that everyone can possibly, in fact, be saved. Therefore, it is not true that there is a person such that the person is lost in all possible worlds. Thus it seems that White is misrepresenting Craig’s position. On the other hand, what Craig is truly positing is that there is “no world feasible [emphasis added] for God in which all persons freely respond to His gracious initiatives and so are saved.” What is feasibility? A good way to illustrate the difference between possibilities and feasibilities is in terms of creaturely free choices. It is possible for Bob to choose pizza this lunch over steak. Likewise, it is possible for Bob to choose steak over pizza. However, when the particular decision is made at t, only one out of the two possibilities are realized. Supposing that God has a capability called supercomprehension—a capability in exhaustively knowing the essence of a substratum, then God will know with certainty which of these possibilities will be realized given the different situations that Bob is in. Bob may choose pizza if his wife tells him to or alternatively, he may choose steak instead in the absence of his wife’s command. Feasiblities are thus composed of contingent truth values of indeterminate causes generated after supercomprehension. We are here moving on from the proposition “it is possible for Bob to choose pizza if his wife tells him to” to “if Bob’s wife tells him to, Bob would choose pizza.”

The idea of transworld damnation, however, is foreign to Classical Molinism. The Molinist scholar Kirk MacGregor remarks, “it should be pointed out at this juncture that Molina would have regarded as false and unbiblical what many people take to be the ‘Molinist’ doctrine of Transworld damnation.”3 Again, he writes, “On the other hand, Molina was claiming that no possible individual, made in the image of God, is depraved enough so that, given prevenient grace, she or he would freely spurn God’s offer of salvation in all available circumstances.”4 None of the two prerequisites for Molinism: libertarian free will and middle knowledge necessitate transworld damnation and what White is pointing out is not compulsory for anyone to hold to be a Molinist.

Issue 2: James White Poisons the Well Against Molinists And Accuses Molinism to be Anthropocentric

“The whole focus of Molinism is the almighty, autonomous will of man. You’ve got to protect that—over everything else! God’s autonomous will…we’re going to limit that to actuating worlds—nothing more. We’re going to make him a supercomputer. His autonomous will, his freedom as creature—eh, it doesn’t matter—it’s all man! You’ve got to understand how anthropocentric this is: absolutely centered upon the creature.” (39:50-40:21)

This is the classic example of an informal logical fallacy called “poisoning the well.” Poisoning the well occurs when an individual preemptively attempts to discredit another person (or group) to an audience by presenting that audience with adverse information about the opponent(s).

Is it true that the “whole focus of Molinism is the almighty, autonomous will of man”? White has not provided even an iota of scholarly resources to back his claim and there seems to be no extant admission by any contemporary Molinist scholar that adheres to the claim that White is making. This suggests that White’s intentions in caricaturing Molinism this way is more malicious than it is valid. Even Molina himself was not so much concerned with preserving man’s autonomy as preserving God’s character and his sovereignty. Molina, writing from the 16th century, avers, “the leaf hanging from the tree does not fall, nor does either of the two sparrows sold for a farthing fall to the ground, nor does anything else whatever happen without God’s providence and will.”5 White, of course, would here retort that that is not a correct representation of Molinism. After all, in Molinism, truth-values of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (from which I shall now call ‘CCF’) are not determined by God (that is to say, propositions about what creatures would do in different circumstances are not determined by God). That is true, but it is also true that God was not coerced in working the way he does. God may as well have worked in a purely deterministic way! It was up to nothing but the pure will of God that he has chosen to create creatures with libertarian free will. In this way, White’s accusation that God is only a “supercomputer” within Molinism is unjustified—let alone his claim that the whole model is “absolutely centered upon the creature.”

Finally, with regards to White’s claim that Molinism reduces God to actualizing worlds, the claim itself is self-defeating for Calvinists. Indeed, it seems to be impossible that it could be otherwise. After all, do not all of God’s actions ultimately reduce to God actualizing a particular world? If God refrains from creating the universe, for example, then would not have God actualized a world according to which no creation exists? So, it seems to that all of God’s actions ultimately reduce to God actualizing a certain world and therefore White’s claim that this is somehow wrong is unintelligible.

Issue 3: James White Assumes an Erroneous View of What Makes Biblical Doctrines

“Why didn’t anybody until the 16th century figure out that this is what the Bible is talking about all along? Well, let’s just be honest, this isn’t what the Bible is talking about. Molinism and middle knowledge do not come from Biblical exegesis…None of the Biblical authors ever use these categories. It’s an external, philosophical system that is crammed down on top of Scripture…You use philosophy to do eisegesis!” (43:20-44:44)

The statement that nobody until the 16th century figure out middle knowledge is the classic genetic fallacy. Genetic fallacy is once again an informal fallacy that occurs when a detractor rejects a conclusion because of the historical origin or source of it rather than the premises of the argument. White’s assertion is irrelevant. Just because a doctrine is formulated later on within the church history does not automatically falsify the doctrine. It is ironic that White brings this objection as it would negate his own Protestantism. The “categories” of Protestantism, after all, are not derived from Scripture—although they can arguably be said to be derivations from the premises in Scripture. For example, the words “sola Scriptura” may not be found in the pages of the Bible. Although arguably, the concept may be proven inductively or deductively from verses of Scripture (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). In the same way, just because the Biblical authors did not use the verbatim words of “middle knowledge,” “possible worlds,” and all the like should not negate their truism any more than the fact that the Bible authors did not use the word “Trinity” should negate the concept of trinity. Thereby, this objection is bereft of any merit and is even self-refuting to White’s own position.

Along these sentences, White pointed out Molinists’ use of Matthew 11:21 as a backup for middle knowledge and comments on how it fails: that it is merely talking about how the depraved men reject the light that was given to them. Note, first of all, that the “couple of Bible verses” that he is referring to—1 Sam. 18:12-13 and Matt. 11:21—have never been used by scholars to “prove” middle knowledge. Craig’s statement here is enlightening: “Does God, then, possess middle knowledge? It would be difficult to prove in any direct way that he does, for the biblical passages are not unequivocal.”6 Rather, these verses merely have been used to show that God has counterfactual knowledge—a claim that is consistent with Molinism. The direct use of counterfactuals by these verses point to how the Bible authors used at least one “category” of Molinism. Even Reformed writer Matthew A. Postiff admits that the Biblical use of counterfactuals is “indisputable.”7 The issue at hand, then, is very simple: are these counterfactuals true logically prior or posterior to the divine decree?

It has to be pointed out that in order for a doctrine to be “Biblical” it is not necessary that it is explicitly taught in the Bible. At this point, I will describe the two standard methods used by theologians to infer the truth of a doctrine. The second method I will describe will be especially relevant to this discussion since the method provides us a way to forestall those objections that conclude that the doctrine of middle knowledge is false simply because it fails to be taught in Scripture.

That noted, the first method for arriving at the truth of a doctrine simply involves validly inferring the doctrine by employing the appropriate hermeneutical and exegetical principles on to the text from which the doctrine is derived. The utilization of this method presupposes that Scripture does, in fact, teach – either implicitly or explicitly – the relevant doctrine.

In contrast, the second method used by theologians involves arriving at a theological truth via philosophical argumentation. This method is distinct from the first in that its utilizer assumes that a particular teaching or philosophical account of a teaching is underdetermined by Scripture. For example, the Bible teaches that God is eternal, but it is plausibly underdeterminative with respect to whether God is timeless or everlasting throughout time. Scripture, taken by itself, is therefore consistent with both views on the matter and so we must rely upon further philosophical argumentation to adjudicate between these competing theories.

With respect to the doctrine of middle knowledge, if it turns out that the doctrine is not, in fact, taught in Scripture, notice that it will be of no avail for the non-Molinist to conclude that the doctrine of middle knowledge is false because of this. This is because the doctrine may still be consistent with what Scripture teaches and also be the best model purporting to explain the underdeterminative data relevant to the doctrine. This means that if the non-Molinist wants to demonstrate the doctrine of middle knowledge is false they must either raise a philosophical objection against the view or else show that the doctrine is inconsistent with some aspect of Scripture.

That said, the point of highlighting these distinctions is to give non-Molinists pause. More specifically, before the non-Molinist raises the objection that 1 Samuel 23:11-13 doesn’t demonstrate that God possesses middle knowledge, they should first consider the sense in which the Molinist believes this verse (and verses relevantly like this) to support their view in order to avoid discussions in which disagreeing parties talk past one another.

Issue 4: Card Dealing Argument Fails to Refute Molinism

“Now I fully understand that there are a bunch of Molinists out there who want to run from that. Because it’s just too plain—it’s just too clear. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront him are outside of his control. They do not find their source and origin in God. He has to play with the hands he’s been dealt and he has just done the best he could… That’s not the God of the Bible…My God is not confronted by anything that’s outside of his control that then can constraint him to do anything!” (47:21-48:34)

This argument seems to be central to White’s criticism. As we have dealt previously with his general criticism that Molinism is unbiblical, this argument is more specific in nature and argues that Molinism is inconsistent with the Bible because the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are outside of God’s control.

First, we must establish that there are things that Christians agree on that God cannot do. For example, Christians agree that God cannot sin and that in him, there is no sin (Hab, 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5). Christians also generally agree that God is a rational being such that his omnipotence means that he only does things that are within the bounds of logic. The Reformed theologian Lorraine Boettner, for example, remarks, “He [God] cannot make two and two equal five, nor can he make a wheel turn around and stand still at the same time.”8

White then retorts, “I say to you, Biblically, that the nature, the character, the attribute of any created being come from their creator. That is the Christian understanding—that is the Biblical teaching….How can anything…constrict his choices?” (45:56-46:20). Setting aside the fact that White has not provided any exegesis to support his contention that “the nature, the character, the attribute” of the creature are all determined by God, White also have not further elaborated why the idea that the truth-values of CCF’s are undetermined by God ought to disprove Molinism. As we have seen, there are other things that are not determined by God’s will and even Reformed theologians allow them in their theology. Perhaps, White is claiming that this undermines God’s aseity as the truth-values of CCF’s are not determined by God. But suppose we posit that God knows innately by virtue of his omniscience and nothing else, how does that disprove his aseity? God does not derive his knowledge from anywhere else, but himself.

Even worse for White, the God of the Molinists was not forced to work in a Molinistic way as we have established earlier. He might as well work in a purely deterministic way and that, of course, is possible. Within Molinism, it is ultimately by virtue of God’s sovereign will that he chose to allow human liberty and work in a Molinistic way where truth-values of CCF’s are not determined by Him.

Finally, it has to be noted that the analogy of “dealing the cards” is just a figure of speech to denote how God does not determine the truth-values of CCF’s. “Who dealt the cards? What is the source? What is the ground?” (49:24-49:30) asked White. The ground of a CCF such as that “Bob Smith will do a in so-and-so circumstance” is simply the state of affairs of Bob Smith doing a in such-and-such circumstance. That is a ground for CCF’s that no anti-Molinists have properly replied to. Craig’s retort at this point is reflective of the current state of the debate on Molinism:

“I think that it is evident that anti–Molinists have not even begun to do the necessary homework in order for their grounding objection to fly. They have yet to articulate their ontology of truth, including the nature of truth–bearers and truth–makers. Nor have they yet presented a systematic account of which truth–bearers require truth–makers. Neither have they applied their theory to counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, much less shown its superiority to competing theories.”9

Once again, even worse for White is the critical issue of him extending the metaphor beyond its context. This is an interpretive fallacy because White is presuming that this analogy is meant to illustrate the dependence of God to other external sources for his knowledge when in actuality, this was never the intentions of Craig. To put the statement once again in perspective,

“Suppose that for any possible person there may be circumstances under which he would be freely saved without someone’s being lost; it doesn’t follow that there is a feasible world in which every person would be freely saved without someone’s being lost. For the relevant circumstances may not be compossible. Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt”.10

It is clear that Craig’s intentions within this quote are to elaborate on how the truth-values of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are undetermined. For he is talking there about that “there is [no]…feasible world in which every person would be freely saved without someone’s being lost.” The feasibility that is the center of this quote points further to the thesis I have posited. “He has to play with the hand He has been dealt” is not a denial of God’s aseity, but a colloquiality to denote God’s sovereign will of allowing creatures their libertarian free will.

The poorly elaborated Arguments of Dr. White are barely threatening to the Molinists. First, his misrepresentation of transworld damnation is, in fact, invalid and White uses a strawman to overemphasize the originally modest claim of transworld damnation as Craig truly understands it. Second, the claim that Molinism is anthropocentric is highly unjustifiable and is not in line with the whole thrust of both historical Molinism and the contemporary fervor of Molinism. Third, White’s methodologies in deriving his doctrines are erroneous and do not take into account other methods by which theologians form their doctrines. And lastly, his card-dealing argument fails to disprove Molinism given how it fails to capture the metaphorical sense in which Molinists talk about God being “dealt his cards.” All in all, these four issues within White’s video presents stupendous problems to those following the same line of thoughts as White. The failure of White to present any meaningful objections further helps us to understand the strength of Molinism both as a philosophical and theological framework.


To read part 1 of this article click here

1Craig, William Lane. The Only Wise God. Wipf & Stock Pub, 1999. 147

2Excerpt from “Middle Knowledge and Christian Exclusivism” by William Lane Craig. A free, online version of the article may be procured from Craig, William Lane. 1995. “Middle Knowledge and Christian Exclusivism.” Sophia 34 (1): 120.

3MacGregor, Kirk R. Luis de Molina, Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. 103

4Ibid. 102

5Freddoso, Alfred J. 1988. On Divine Foreknowledge,. New York: Cornell University. 252

6Craig, William Lane. The Only Wise God. Wipf & Stock Pub, 1999. 137

7Postiff, Matthew A. “God and Counterfactuals.” Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary Journal (2010): 2.

8Boettner, Loraine. 1991. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. 63

9Craig, William Lane. 2001. “Middle Knowledge, Truth–Makers, and the “Grounding Objection”.” Faith and Philosophy (Faith and Philosophy) 18 (3): 337-352.

10Craig, William Lane. 2011. #239 Molinism and the Soteriological Problem of Evil Once More. November 14. Accessed February 2018, 26.

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About the Author

By John A. Limanto

John A. Limanto is a fellow leader of Philosophy group in Pelita Harapan School and an aspiring Christian apologist in his local community. After living for 7 years in Borneo, he now resides with his family in Jakarta, Indonesia where he is pursuing his research on Molinism and free will.