The MMA (Mere Molinism Argument)

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

June 11, 2018

In house “fights” behind the doors of the church are nothing new. Since Paul and Barnabas split over differences some two thousand years ago, Christians have disagreed on many theological issues. These passionate disagreements continue today. Although these heated disputes are not usually physically violent, these debates often occur with the same ferocity of a mixed martial arts[1] title fight.

Despite these “in house debates,” something typically keeps Christians who disagree united. What has kept brothers and sisters in Christ united over all this time is what C. S. Lewis referred to as “Mere Christianity.” Keeping it “mere” means focusing on one simple proposition: “God raised Jesus from the dead.” If this one statement is true, then two sub-propositions are also true: (i) God exists. (ii) Jesus rose from the dead.

If God really did raise Jesus from the dead, then Mere Christianity is true. This affirmation of this single statement unites many Christians who are otherwise divided on other peripheral theological issues. At the end of the day, keeping it “mere” allows most Christians to lay down their peripheral disagreements and come together as brothers and sisters in Christ to worship and minister together.

Keeping it “mere” brings unity. With that in mind, I hope to offer further unification between brothers and sisters in Christ via the tool of “Mere Molinism.” This tool can be used by both Calvinists and Arminians, and in the process, common ground is found. “Mere Molinism” simply affirms two essential propositions, which might be called the “Two Pillars of Molinism.” They are the following: (i) Humans sometimes have limited libertarian free will. (ii) God has middle knowledge.

I believe Mere Molinism provides a bridge between Calvinists and Arminians and can put an end to the “no holds barred” fights between Christians over exactly HOW God is sovereign and IF humans are really responsible agents. The question, however, is raised: why should a Christian believe Mere Molinism is true?

I’m glad you asked! Consider the Mere Molinism Argument:

The MMA

1- If God possesses the ability to choose between alternatives consistent with His nature, then God possesses libertarian freedom.

2- God possessed the ability to create or not create the universe, and chose to create the universe.

3- Therefore, God possesses libertarian freedom.

4- God possesses the ability to create humans in His image/likeness.

5- Therefore, God possesses the ability to create humans who possess limited libertarian freedom – even if He never does.

6- If God possesses perfect knowledge of how humans with libertarian freedom would choose if He creates them (and even if He never does create them), then God possesses middle knowledge.

7- Since God is omniscient, He knows how humans who possess libertarian freedom would choose — even if He never creates them.

8- Therefore, God possesses middle knowledge.

9- If libertarian freedom is not possessed by humans, then humans cannot rationally affirm knowledge claims.

10- Some humans can rationally affirm knowledge claims

11- Therefore, some humans possess libertarian freedom.

12- Therefore, God, given his middle knowledge, knows how these humans who possess libertarian freedom would freely choose.

13- If God possesses middle knowledge and some humans possess libertarian freedom, then Mere Molinism is true.

14- Therefore, given (8) and (11), Mere Molinism is true!

Defending the Premises

Consider a brief defense of each premise. Premise (1), states, “If God possesses the ability to choose between alternatives consistent with His nature, then God possesses libertarian freedom.” The vast majority of Christians will not dispute this premise. Be that as it may, a small handful of committed divine determinists assert that the concept of libertarian freedom is nonsensical and no one has this power — not even God!

However, if one rejects the first premise, they must reject the second as well. Premise (2) states: “God possessed the ability to create or not create the universe, and chose to create the universe.” If one is committed to the impossibility of libertarian freedom, then two big problems rear their ugly heads:

1- Fatalism entails.
2- Humans are necessary.

Why are these problematic? If fatalism is true, then God is NOT omnipotent as He simply does not have the ability to choose between a range of options consistent with His nature. On this view, God can only do one thing. He is not omni-potent, but rather, uni-potent. So, if one is going to maintain orthodoxy and affirm that God is omnipotent, then they must affirm the first two premises.

What might be worse, although God is necessary with no beginning, humanity ultimately becomes as necessary as God (albeit with beginnings) if the first two premises are rejected. After all, if God does not have a choice to create or not to create — and God MUST create and create exactly as He did create — then you exist necessarily. It could not have been otherwise. John D. Laing makes it clear:

If [God] had to create, then in some ways he is dependent upon the creation. Under Theological Fatalism, we all become necessary beings of sorts. Second, Theological Fatalism is based on the false idea that God’s obligation to do the best limits him to only one option . . . there could be several equally good options which are the best way for God to achieve his desired ends (Laing; Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom In Divine Sovereignty; 2018; 32).

Fatalism seems both absurd and heretical. This is why the vast majority of Christians will affirm the first two premises and the following deductive conclusion: “Therefore, God possesses libertarian freedom.” The salient point here is that the concept of libertarian freedom is logically coherent.

The fourth step is also non-controversial: “God possesses the ability to create humans in his image/likeness.” I do not foresee any orthodox Christian objecting to this statement. After all, a God with limitless power and knowledge has the ability to create humans with limited power and knowledge. However, if this is true, then the next conclusion follows logically: “Therefore, God possesses the ability to create humans who possess limited libertarian freedom – even if He never does!”

At this point, the argument says nothing about humans actually possessing limited libertarian freedom. It simply concludes that an omnipotent God possesses the power to create beings in His image/likeness. Thus, it is possible for God to create humans with limited libertarian freedom.

The sixth step is key and true by definition: “If God possesses perfect knowledge of how humans with libertarian freedom would choose if He creates them (and even if He never does create them), then God possesses middle knowledge.”

Why is (6) true by definition? Because if God has the power (given omnipotence) to create a free creature and knows (given omniscience) how the free creature would freely choose (between the range of options each consistent with the creature’s nature) — if He were to create this being — then it logically follows that God possesses this perfect knowledge logically prior to His decision to bring this free agent into existence. This follows even if God chooses NOT to create this being.

Step (7) states: “Since God is omniscient, He knows how humans who possess libertarian freedom would choose — even if He never created them.”

Some might contend that God does not possess the ability to know future tense propositions or counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Indeed, some assert that these types of propositions are impossible to know (a divine determinist making this move is self-defeating). If that is the case, however, then there are propositions in which God does not know if they are true or false. If that is the case, then, by definition, God is not omniscient. So, if one affirms that God is eternally omniscient without beginning and does not “learn” or become “surprised” by new information, then the next conclusion deductively follows: “Therefore, God possesses middle knowledge.”

The next three steps of the syllogism refer to the “core” of the Freethinking Argument.[2] The ninth step of the syllogism goes as follows: “If libertarian freedom is not possessed by humans, then humans cannot rationally affirm knowledge claims.”

This is true because if all things about you (the thing you refer to as “I”) are exhaustively causally determined by something other than you, then that includes all of your thoughts and beliefs. If all your thoughts and beliefs are forced upon you — and you could not have chosen better beliefs — then you are simply left assuming that your determined beliefs are good (let alone true). Therefore, you could never rationally affirm that your beliefs really are the inference to the best explanation – you could only assume it (and that assumption is out of your control as well).

Here is the big problem for the determinist: if determinism is true, then no one can possess inferential knowledge. At minimum, knowledge is defined as “justified true belief.” One can happen to hold true beliefs; however, if one does not possess justification for a specific belief, their belief does not qualify as a knowledge claim. If one cannot freely infer the best explanation (from within a range of multiple possible explanations), then one has no justification that their belief really is the best explanation. Without justification, knowledge goes down the drain. All that remains is fallacious question-begging assumptions.

This becomes clear by answering one simple question: Do you possess the ability to reject irrational options in favor of rational options? Yes or No? If you answer “yes,” then you simultaneously affirm libertarian freedom as you affirm your ability to choose between options consistent with your nature. If you answer “no,” then several problems arise:

1- Why trust your answer?
2- Why should anyone listen to your opinions about anything (including those on this topic)?
3- Libertarian freedom exists anyway, since you affirmed your ability to reject “yes” (in favor of “no”), and thus tacitly affirmed “yes.”

As Calvinist Greg Koukl points out:

“The problem with [determinism] is that without freedom, rationality would have no room to operate. Arguments would not matter, since no one would be able to base beliefs on adequate reasons. One could never judge between a good idea and a bad one. One would only hold beliefs because he had been predetermined to do so. . . . Although it is theoretically possible that determinism is true — there is no internal contradiction, as far as I can tell — no one could ever know it if it were. Every one of our thoughts, dispositions, and opinions would have been decided for us by factors completely out of our control. Therefore, in practice, arguments for determinism are self-defeating.” (Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions; 2009;128-29)

Koukl is exactly right. It is self-defeating to argue for determinism. This brings us to the tenth step of the argument: “Some humans can rationally affirm knowledge claims.”

Have fun rejecting that premise! Obviously humans possess the ability to rationally infer and affirm knowledge claims. To argue this would affirm it as one would have to offer knowledge to the contrary. Moreover, if one rejects knowledge, why should anyone listen to them? Ultimately, if one rejects this premise, then it follows that they affirm that they cannot rationally affirm that this premise is false. Since it is ultimately self-refuting to reject (9) and (10), the following conclusion is deductive: “Therefore, some humans possess libertarian freedom.”

Since we have already deductively established that God possesses middle knowledge, another deductive conclusion follows: “Therefore, God, given his middle knowledge, knows how these humans who possess libertarian freedom would freely choose.” That is to say, an omniscient God simply knows how humans with libertarian freedom would freely choose if He were to create them. If that is the case, then God possessed this knowledge logically prior to His choice to create these libertarian agents.

Step (13) simply states the obvious: “If God possesses middle knowledge and some humans possess libertarian freedom, then Mere Molinism is true.” With each step of the argument in place, the final conclusion deductively follows:

“Therefore, given (8) and (11), Mere Molinism is true!”

Conclusion

It is vital to note that the MMA says nothing regarding issues related to salvation. In fact, soteriology is not even implied in the argument. This allows a 5-point TULIP preaching Calvinist to also be a Molinist (See Tactics & Theological Disputes for an example).

Mere Molinism brings an end to full-contact cage matches between fellow Christians fighting over God’s sovereignty and human freedom. Friendly light-contact sparring matches, however, are still encouraged!

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton


Notes

[1] A special thanks to Dakota Cochrane for permission to use the photo of his awesome kick to the head! I actually taught Dakota how to kick like that when I was his MMA coach several years ago. He is one of the most amazing athletes I have ever encountered and a true friend.

[2] One is free to choose an alternate version of the MMA (note steps 9-11 in BOLD):

1- If God possesses the ability to choose between alternatives consistent with His nature, then God possesses libertarian free will.

2- God possessed the ability to create or not create the universe, and chose to create the universe.

3- Therefore, God possesses libertarian free will.

4- God possesses the ability to create humans in His image.

5- Therefore, God possesses the ability to create humans who possess limited libertarian free will – even if He never does!

6- If God possesses perfect knowledge of how humans with libertarian free will would choose if He creates them, then God possesses middle knowledge.

7- Since God is omniscient, He knows how the humans who possess libertarian free will would choose — even if He never created them.

8- Therefore, God possesses middle knowledge.

9- If Christians possess the ability to choose between options consistent with their nature, then these humans possess libertarian free will. 

10- Christians possess the ability to choose between falling into temptation or to take the way of escape God promises to provide (1 Corinthians 10:13).  

11- Therefore, Christians possess libertarian free will.

12- Therefore, God, given his middle knowledge, knows how these humans (Christians) who possess libertarian free will would freely choose.

13- If God possesses middle knowledge and some humans possess libertarian free will, then Mere Molinism is true.

14- Therefore, given (8) and (11), Mere Molinism is true!

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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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