Abstract: This is a critical analysis of CARM.org’s article “Can God cause a person to believe in Him?” Matt Slick claims that on Molinism God cannot cause people to believe in Him, an assertion he takes to be obviously false and precluded by Scripture. I conclude that Slick doesn’t understand the difference between strong and weak actualization and, therefore, ends up affirming a position compatible with Molinism. In the process, I criticize Slick’s prooftexting and expose his selections’ failure to support his claims.
In his zeal to neutralize what he perceives is a growing threat to orthodox Christianity, Matt Slick attacks Molinism in yet another ill-conceived article titled “Can God cause a person to believe in Him?” He ends the article with the breezy conclusion that his biblical proof texts contradict Molinism and that “it should be obvious that God can cause people to believe.”
Completely Missing the Point
According to Slick, “One of the premises of the Molinist position is that God cannot cause someone to do something such as believe in him, because that would mean that the person does not have free will.” To illustrate the point, Slick quotes Max Andrews, who says “God cannot freely make [persons] do something, which would be a contradiction.” Note first the important difference between what Slick says and what Andrews says. Slick depicts Molinists as asserting that the reason God cannot cause someone to believe in him is because this would remove free will; on the other hand, Andrews is saying that God cannot cause people to freely believe because such a thing is a logical contradiction and, therefore, impossible. Slick’s point is about whether or not God can remove free will whereas Andrews’ point is about the logical contradiction (and impossibility) of causing someone to freely do something.
Incredibly, Slick gives a “counterexample” which actually supports Andrews’ claim:
“God can arrange circumstances where a person will choose to do one thing over another. He could divert a river and cause someone to walk another direction. He can send the wind, an animal, a plague, or whatever else he chooses that will directly affect someone and cause a different outcome. The person will freely make a choice influenced by the circumstances around him. This is one way that God can get someone to freely do what he wants.”
Here, Slick affirms that God’s changing the circumstances is a way that God can get someone to freely do what he wants. One would be hard-pressed to find a better statement of the Molinist position. As I’ve noted in another article1, Slick seems to be unaware of the distinction between strong and weak actualization.2 If God has knowledge of what creatures would freely do in a given set of circumstances, and he has this knowledge prior to creation (we call this type of knowledge middle knowledge), then he can know with certainty exactly how a person will choose simply by bringing about the circumstances and letting the person act freely. This is called weak actualization. When God directly causes something to occur, this is called strong actualization. Weak actualization, which is exactly what Slick has described in his example, is consistent with libertarian freedom as well as Andrews’ claim that causing someone to freely do something is a logical contradiction.
As is his habit, Slick attempts to support his thesis with a battalion of proof texts, conscripted against their wills (and tortured if necessary) to fight for a losing cause. By this point, it’s obvious that Slick doesn’t understand the Molinist position and that he is quite confident that the Bible speaks against it. He is unaware that the Molinist answers the titular question in the affirmative in just the same way that is described in his “counterexample.” For posterity, I will review his proof texts and spell out why they wouldn’t make his point even if he did have an actual disagreement with the Molinist.
– Reality: Slick’s idea of “cause” includes weak actualization which is consistent with Molinism.
– Reality: Remember that earlier, Slick stated “The person will freely make a choice influenced by the circumstances around him. This is one way that God can get someone to freely do what he wants.” This certainly sounds like God is able to bring about belief without removing free will. Note that Slick (thankfully) doesn’t put the first clause (v. 12) in all caps, attempting to perhaps draw attention away from it. Who are those that God grants new birth? As the verse indicates, it is those who receive Him and believe in His name. And if God can bring it about that people receive Him freely, as Slick’s “counterexample” suggests, then the Molinist’s position is clearly not unbiblical.
– Reality: She did. Without the myriad things God led her through in her life, she may not have responded as she did in that particular circumstance. Thus, God can be said to have “opened her heart to respond” by influencing her throughout her life, just as he can “divert a river” to influence a person to freely walk a different path, as Slick affirms in his article. The verse doesn’t say how the Lord opened her heart and so cannot be said to be either strong or weak actualization.
– Reality: Slick’s assertion not only exceeds the content of the verse, but it also puts him in the awkward position of saying that God himself is the one causing the recipients’ suffering, since Paul clearly states that what has been granted is “not only” belief, but also suffering. Yet, the passage obviously indicates that the suffering is the result of a “conflict” (v. 30) with their “opponents” (v. 28), just as Paul himself has experienced (v. 30). If the suffering in the verse can be brought about for the sake of Christ via the free choices of people put in particular circumstances, then the same logic may apply to belief.
– Reality: As we saw in John 1:12-13, God grants new birth to those who believe, which, as we also saw, Slick apparently wants to affirm is possible through weak actualization – a view affirmed by Molinists and consistent with libertarian free will.4
Due to his ignorance of the distinction between strong and weak actualization, Slick mischaracterizes the Molinist position and ends up affirming with Molinists that God can weakly actualize belief. Slick’s mishandling of the biblical texts also demonstrates his inconsistency, both with his own stated position as well as with his exegesis within a particular passage. I and my fellow Molinists at the Molinism – Official Page hope that this article facilitates increased knowledge and comprehension of our view, as well as more accurate characterization from those who disagree.
2 For more on this distinction, check out William Lane Craig’s “Q&A #498”. While not explicated in An Introduction to Molinism, Andrews does mention the distinction explicitly several times throughout the book.
4For a more thorough treatment of this verse and its implications for libertarian freedom, check out Jonathan Thompson, “A Molinist Perspective on 1 Peter 1:3“