A Defense of Perfect Being Theology: Middle Knowledge (Scientia Media) Approach to Natural Theology



(The FreeThinking Theist)


April 8, 2019

By Limanto, John A. and Stratton, Timothy A.

Originally presented at the SW Evangelical Philosophical Society (March, 2019)

Abstract: Given the works of philosophers such as Plantinga,[1] Wierenga,[2] Leftow,[3] and Nagasawa,[4] the perfect being (PBT) concept of theism has received renewed attention within the philosophical-theological literature. Despite this ambitious revival, Nagasawa admits that the argument against perfect being from evil is one that we cannot “pretend that we can completely eliminate the argument from evil by appealing to the maximal God approach.”[5] This admission is backed by an impressive arsenal of atheological concerns against there being a perfect being (PB).[6] Particularly, the concern has stemmed from the seeming incompatibility of omniscience, omnipotence, and evil. This paper shall demonstrate the significance of Molinism in eliminating the atheological concerns. Even more, the authors shall also put forth its significance to other natural theological arguments for the existence of a Judeo-Christian ‘God.’

  1. Introduction

“Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” (Matt. 5:48) were the words of the luminous Nazarene preacher. This statement resonates with the conceptions of modern theologians from the medieval atmosphere upholding God’s perfection. According to these theologians upholding the omni-attributes of God, nothing is too hard for God signifies his unlimited power—he is omnipotent (Job 42:2; Matt. 19:26). The Psalmist, on the other hand, praises Yahweh: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise…Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (Psalm 139:1-2, 4). Yahweh is praised for his knowledge of everything that the Psalmist is and will do. Thus, Yahweh declares, through Isaiah, that he makes known “the end from the beginning.” (Isa. 46:10). This affirmation of God’s omniscience was affirmed all throughout the Middle Ages. The Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535-1600), for example, averred: “Thus, the leaf hanging from the tree does not fall…nor does anything else whatever happen without God’s providence and will…This is the greatest consolation of the righteous, who place all their hope in God and rest comfortably in the shadow of the wings of His providence.[7]” Yet, these two conceptions have  often been under fire. For example, the conception of Perfect Being Theology (PBT) was legendarily questioned by Anthony Kenny:

Each concept [omniscience, omnipotence, etc.] is the result of reflection by philosophers or philosophically minded theologians upon elements in the religious tradition of western theism.[8]

Luis de Molina, on the other hand, was the progenitor of a doctrine named Scientia Media/middle knowledge.[9]  According to Molinism, God knows what every free creature would do in different circumstances.[10] Therefore, God can order the world in such a way as to fit his decrees without violating the libertarian free will (LFW) permitted by God. Libertarianism, as defined in this paper, is the “thesis that freedom is incompatible with determinism, plus the claim that at least some of our actions are free, and so determinism is false.”[11] As will be assumed in this essay, counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCF) are singular propositions in the form of “if . . . then . . . ” that make up God’s aforementioned knowledge about what creatures would freely do. Further, this essay will also assume the tripartite distinctions between God’s natural, middle, and free knowledge. God’s natural knowledge is the knowledge that God possesses of all possibilities and necessities (all that God, given his omnipotence, could make actual). This knowledge is pre-volitional and its content is essential to God. Furthermore, God’s free knowledge is the knowledge that God possesses of everything that will occur in the actual world. Thereby, God’s free knowledge can rightly be equated with his foreknowledge.

  1. Perfect Being Theology

Perfect being theology can be summed up within Anselm’s maxim of there being the “greatest conceivable being.”[12] To ‘conceive’ is akin to ‘intuit.’ Moreland, and Plantinga himself,[13] defends the same view but uses the terminology of conceiving as identical to ‘coherently suppose.’[14] Within this view, to conceive is to know, by intuition, the properties of such a being and its logical coherence. Thus, to intuit for a maximally perfect being is the thesis that we shall call the ‘Pt’ (perfection thesis):

(Pt) There exists a being type-x such that i) x is absolutely maximal in its properties and that ii) x can be intuited to be possible.

This thesis is a valuable possession of theism. If Pt can be established, then the rest of the modal ontological argument (M-OA) flows naturally for the existence of God:

  1. For every person p, if p intuits (i) that (type-x is possible), then it is more probable than not that type-x exists in some possible world
  2. p intuits that type-x
  3. It is more probable than not that a type-x exists in some possible world.

The claim so far is innocuous to atheology. For given the third premise, it still does not follow that type-x being exists in the actual world. The following assumptions may then be levelled:

(A1) e is necessary if and only if e exists in every possible world.

(A2) A being is type-x if and only if it exists necessarily

The first of these assumptions relies on the S5 system of modal logic—the strongest system of modal logic.[15] One of the dogmas of this system is that broadly logical necessity means the existence of an entity or the truth of a proposition in every possible world. If something is possibly necessary, then it is logically necessary.[16] The second assumption is broadly an uncontroversial notion if one already accepts that there can be such thing as absolute perfection.[17] A being that exists is every possible world is superior to a being that is merely possible and exists in one possible world. Given these two assumptions, we can then apply them to our M-OA:

  1. If type-x exists in some possible world, it exists in all possible worlds (from df., A1, and (3))
  2. Therefore, type-x exists in the actual world (from (3), (4), and (A1)

As Nagasawa (2017) observes, there are two main types of objections to this argument: intensity and extensity objections.[18] The extensity objection claims that God would possess many properties that are great-making, but that God cannot have. It is beneficial for the purposes of this paper to define between absolute great-making property and relative great-making property.[19] For example, it may be argued that ability to accelerate to infinity is a great-making property relative to a race car. However, this is not an absolute great-making property. An absolute great-making property increases the greatness of a being in a metaphysically necessary sense. The term that proponents of this argument opt for is perfection.[20] The closer a being reaches to a state of perfection, the better the being is. Granted, our epistemic limitations may hinder us from delineating the peripheries of what counts as a metaphysically necessary great-making property. At this point, Plantinga may be credited for these wise words:

As [the objectors to ontological argument] correctly point out, it seems impossible to state a set of principles enabling us to compare just any two beings with respect to greatness. If this is true it is not easy to see its relevance; for even if it is false that every possible being can be compared with every other possible being with respect to greatness, it scarcely follows that there is no possible being that can be thus compared with every other possible being. And how could a being be greater than the God of Christianity: How could an eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being whose essence is love be improved upon?

What Plantinga is explicating here is that even if we cannot epistemically compare the greatness of every possible beings, we may claim that a being that is perfect, that is, “eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and morally perfect” is maximally great. Perhaps, we may pinpoint this intuition in comparing an iota of matter—a hypothetical dust—with that of the Christian God. Supposing that the Christian God exists, our awe towards him can constitute as an argument in the sense that we can claim that there is some objective greatness about a Christian God in comparison to a speck of matter.

  1. Evil and Perfect Being

Given our previous arguments, the M-model of the OA stands or falls on one type of premiss:

(1) It is the case that a type-x exists in some possible world.

The problem of this argument is that this statement, in and of itself, is epistemically neutral—we perceive there being no overwhelming a priori or a posteriori way to know the truth of (1). The premiss that we have used within this paper, on the other hand, slightly reduces the demand to the following:

(2) Probably, it is the case that a type-x exists in some possible world. [21]

Although the demand has been significantly reduced, (2) is still susceptible to various defeaters that may undermine one’s intuitions towards (2)—such as the problem of evil (PoE). The disagreements amongst thinkers may be heavily divergent with regards to (2)—precisely because both sides may claim opposing intuitions with regards to the implausibility of a PB given evil.

The merit of middle knowledge (MK) in answering the PoE is in its positing infeasibility as a solution to moral evil. According to enemies of PBT, the following conditional is true:

(3) If an OOM (Omnicient, Omnipotent, and Morally perfect) being exists, then the being would actualize a world in which there is no evil.

The following proposition from J. L Mackie, however, has been deemed to be bankrupt ever since Plantinga. Rowe’s resurging premiss, on the other hand, is akin to the following:

(4) If an OOM being exists, then probably, there would not be evil in the magnitude such that seems to us to have no justifying reason.

In justifying (4), Rowe resorts to positing cases where there seems to be unjustified suffering such as the death of a fawn in a forest fire or the rape and murder of a five-year-old.[22] These cases may seem to some to warrant a divine intervention given that a maximally great being should be able to know in advance of their occurrences. Molinism advances the discussion by alleviating this intuition. This, it does, by providing a tool for giving us a reason to think that there is a willing hindrance from God actualizing a world in which there is no evil. Molinists typically advance this discussion by providing a tool to think that it is infeasible for such a world to be actualized. This paper shall argue that the second or third tool that Molinism provides—namely providence and libertarianism—may be restructured to raise the probability higher for the intuition that (4) is false.

The first tool is an argument against (4) from providence and libertarianism. Suppose for a moment that an OOM being does have the providence to ensure the certainty of every outcome of free creatures. It follows that three main outcomes are possible:

O1 (Outcome 1): An all-provident God refrains from actualizing any of the range of the feasible worlds.

O2 (Outcome 2): An all-provident God actualizes a world containing evil from the range of the feasible worlds.

O3 (Outcome 3): An all-provident God actualizes a world containing no evil

Molinism is exclusively the model of providence under which it is most probable, from Molinism, that O2. Yet, O2 is the most consistent with what seems to us in reality. Therefore, it is probably the case that Molinism. We can further stretch this argument to argue for the following:

Argument against PoE from Molinist providence:

  1. P (Mp | E) is higher than not if Mp most consistently allows
    1. Divine non-origin of evil,
    2. Divine exhaustive foreknowledge of an outweighing good
    3. Divine control of every event in the actual world.
  2. If P (Mp | E) is high, then P (N | E) is lower than P (¬N | E
  3. If P (N | E) is lower than P (¬N | E)., then probably, not-N.
  4. P (Mp | E) is higher than not.
  5. Therefore, probably, not-N.

The following argument is a probabilistic one against not-N. However, the same argument would not proceed given a stronger model of providence in which divine determinism is true or a model in which divine passivity/deism is true. The following chart may be posited for premise (4):

Figure 1: Comparison Between Competing Models

The issue here is how balanced out each one of the probabilities are. Assuming the worst-case scenario in which it is undecided whether Molinism allows for divine non-origin or divine control, these assumed probabilities allow for the probability of Molinism to be much higher in comparison to a stronger or weaker model of providence.

The first criterion that is discussed is that of divine non-origin of evil. This criterion is a stipulation from the doctrine of omnibenevolence. According to this criterion, God is omnibenevolent if and only if evil cannot be ultimately ascribed to God. Here, both Deism and Molinism may gain an upper hand given that both affirm LFW. Thus, evil may be purely the product of libertarian choices. However, in this regard, Divine Determinism, defined as the doctrine that God sufficiently causes all events (including all thoughts and actions) would logically entail that God is the sufficient cause of all evil thoughts and actions.

The second criterion that is discussed is that of exhaustive foreknowledge. Here, the Molinists and the proponents of Divine Determinism may be credited to a faithful allegiance. However, the same may not be said for a weaker model of providence such as in Open Theism. Although the proponents of Open Theism are not univocal in maintaining why God may not have exhaustive foreknowledge, the unifying factor in different forms of Open Theism is in their mutual denial that God exhaustively knows propositions about the future. Hence, despite Molinism and Divine Determinism scoring high marks in this regard, Open Theists may be credited to have little to no part in this affirmation.

In discussing the plausibility of the assumed probabilities, two things should be noted. First, this graph indicates what the authors deem to be the worst-case scenario for Molinism. We recognize that this graph is not reflective of the intuitions of every thinker, but the purpose of the graph is not to represent the intuitions of every thinker in the literature, but to assume what has been the general atmosphere and what we deem to be plausibly representative of the points conceded and discarded by the literature. Second, another way to view the appropriateness of this adjudication is to regard it to be a comparison between the ‘weak-points’ of each view—that is, from the literature, what has been deemed to be difficult to resolve with this view? From a pragmatic point of view, the authors believe that Molinism faces the least insurmountable weak-point in the general atmosphere.

  1. Maximal Greatness Entails Middle Knowledge

Contemplating the maximal greatness of God provides further reason to think Molinism is true. If Luis de Molina’s ideas correspond to reality, then two other propositions must also be true: (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 alternative options, each of which is consistent or compatible 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 plethora of arguments utilizing metaphysics, theology, and biblical data to demonstrate that humans (at least occasionally) 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.[23] In this paper, however, one simple—but strong—argument for God’s limitless and ‘beginningless’ knowledge is offered.

This argument is based on Anselm’s Perfect Being Theology. God, by definition (and as noted earlier), is a being in which nothing greater can be conceived. With the definition of God in mind—as a Maximally Great Being—Jacobus Erasmus and Stratton have offered an argument for God’s middle knowledge simply demonstrating that a being who possesses middle knowledge is greater than a being who lacks middle knowledge. [24] The syllogism goes as follows:

(1) If God lacks middle knowledge, then God is not a maximally great being.

(2) God is a maximally great being.

(3) Therefore, God has middle knowledge.

The Molinist and the divine determinist—indeed, most Christians—typically strive to affirm premise (2), rendering the crucial premise to scrutinize premise (1). But why should one affirm premise (1)? It seems obvious that a being whose knowledge of counterfactuals does not depend on the being’s prior will, decisions, or actions is greater than a being whose knowledge of counterfactuals does depend on these. Consider the following thought experiment for clarification.

Suppose that both Tim and Tia know that (B) If Ethan were to run for President of the United States, that Ethan would win the election and actually become President of the United States. Suppose further that Ethan will eventually run for POTUS and win, such that (B) is true, and that Tim and Tia know (B) before Ethan runs for POTUS. Additionally, suppose that Tim knows (B) only because he has rigged the election in such a way that Ethan would win if he runs for POTUS. In this case, Tim’s knowledge of (B) is not amazing. Why should anyone be impressed by the fact that Tim knows (B), since we know that he intentionally performed actions that would guarantee (B)? Tim’s knowledge of (B) is merely grounded on his prior knowledge of the rigged election. What is the big deal? The only thing that might be slightly impressive here is Tim’s ability to rig the election, but nothing is remarkable about the fact that Tim knows what will occur based on his “rigging.”

However, suppose that, unlike Tim, Tia has not rigged the election and she knows (B) simply by virtue of her nature. Hence, Tia’s knowledge of (B) does not depend on her prior knowledge or actions. In this case, Tia’s knowledge of (B) is jaw-dropping! Indeed, we should be quite amazed that Tia has the ability to know (B) without having to do anything (she simply knows). Thus, it seems clear that Tia’s knowledge of (B) is greater than Tim’s knowledge of (B) precisely because Tia’s knowledge does not depend on her prior will, decisions, or actions, whereas Tim’s knowledge does depend on his prior will, decisions, or actions.

This thought experiment shows that a being whose knowledge of counterfactuals does not depend on the being’s prior will, decisions, or actions is greater than a being whose knowledge of counterfactuals does depend on one or more of these. Since a maximally great being is omniscient, this being will know all counterfactuals either prior to its will (have middle knowledge) or posterior to its will (lack middle knowledge). However, as we have seen, it is greater to know all counterfactuals prior to one’s will; therefore, a maximally great being must have middle knowledge.

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

  1. Molinism, Middle Knowledge, and Apologetics

Molina’s view also provides a foundation for powerful arguments raised against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5).  For example, if one appeals to the Fine-Tuning Argument for the existence of God, then they should also be a Molinist! That is to say, the fine-tuning argument implies (or strongly hints at) Molinism! First, consider the Fine-Tuning syllogism

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. The fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, the fine-tuning of the universe is due to intelligent design.[25]

What is startling is the fact that we are discussing the fine-tuned early stages of the universe—the initial conditions of the big bang. If the constants and quantities were not specifically dialed in “just right” then a life-permitting universe would not exist. From galaxies, stars, and planets, to atoms and subatomic particles, the foundation and structure of our universe is determined by many “special” numbers. Consider the following sample:

Speed of Light: c=299,792,458 m s-1
Gravitational Constant: G=6.673 x 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2
Planck’s Constant: 1.05457148 x 10-34 m2 kg s-2
Planck Mass-Energy: 1.2209 x 1022 MeV
Mass of Electron, Proton, Neutron: 0.511; 938.3; 939.6 MeV
Mass of Up, Down, Strange Quark: 2.4; 4.8; 104 MeV (Approx.)
Ratio of Electron to Proton Mass: (1836.15)-1
Gravitational Coupling Constant: 5.9 x 10-39
Cosmological Constant: (2.3 x 10-3 eV)
Hubble Constant: 71 km/s/Mpc (today)
Higgs Vacuum Expectation Value: 246.2 GeV

William Lane Craig notes the significance of these special numbers and what would entail if these numbers were not so “special” and slightly altered:

“These are the fundamental constants and quantities of the universe. Scientists have come to the shocking realization that each of these numbers have been carefully dialed to an astonishingly precise value – a value that falls within an exceedingly narrow, life-permitting range. If any one of these numbers were altered by even a hair’s breadth, no physical, interactive life of any kind could exist anywhere. There’d be no stars, no life, no planets, no chemistry.”[26]

The relevance with middle knowledge and Molinism can be found in this: God possesses certain knowledge of what would occur in possible worlds if He were to fine-tune the initial conditions of the early universe with all the “special numbers” referenced (and more) and actualize this certain possible world.

This also entails that God would possess perfect counterfactual knowledge—not grounded in anything that actually exists—about what kind of non-life permitting universes would have come into existence if any of those numbers were slightly altered (a different possible world would have been the actual world).

God chose these special numbers and thus intelligently designed a universe in which humanity could and would exist and come to know Him. If these numbers were different, the universe would have been otherwise, and humanity would not exist. The advocate of the fine-tuning argument affirms that God designed the initial conditions of the big bang to guarantee an environment where intelligent life could and would exist.

If God possessed knowledge of what would follow from a certain fine-tuned point of singularity logically prior to His creative decree to actualize this universe — and God could have adjusted these initial conditions otherwise to bring a different kind of universe (or none at all) into existence—then God possesses knowledge of what He could accomplish. Moreover, given this knowledge, God also knows what would happen if the initial conditions of the big bang were not so finely-tuned or tuned otherwise. God knows all that could, would and will.

If God possesses the power to create worlds other than the world that actually exists (or none at all), and if God knows all that would happen in all these other worlds if the initial conditions of these other worlds (universes) would have been different and actualized instead, then this seems to strongly suggest that God possesses the middle knowledge advocated by Luis de Molina.  Kirk MacGregor defines middle knowledge in the following manner:

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of all things that would happen in every possible set of circumstances, both things that are determined to occur by those circumstances and things that are not determined to occur by those circumstances.”[27]

Since God has natural knowledge, he knows what initial conditions of the big bang could produce. Since God has middle knowledge, he knows what specific initial conditions would produce (this is especially evident once one considers quantum indeterminacy).

  1. Tying the Threads

The final consideration of the present ruminations is that we have a defense of our earlier premise. Consider again our previous argument:

Argument against PoE from Molinist providence:

  1. P (Mp | E) is higher than not if Mp most consistently allows
    1. i) divine non-origin of evil,
    2. ii) divine exhaustive foreknowledge of an outweighing good
    3. ii) divine control of every event in the actual world.
  2. If P (Mp | E) is high, then P (N | E) is low.
  3. If P (N | E) is low, then probably, not-N.
  4. P (Mp | E) is higher than not
  5. Therefore, probably, not-N.

Given our previous ruminations, premise 2. is further supplemented through how Molinism strengthens certain apologetical arguments. Given that Molinism makes it more plausible that certain apologetical arguments are true rather than not, then we can seep in the following premises in support of (2):

Let ‘Mp’:  ‘Molinist providence,’ ‘NT’ :‘Natural theology,’ ‘N’: Naturalism, and ‘E’: Evil

  1. If P (Mp | E) is high, then P (N | E) is lower than P (¬N | E).

2a.  (P (Mp | E) ∨ (P (NT | M) > P (NT | ¬M))) → P (¬N | E) > P (N | E)

2b. P (Mp | E) ∨ (P (NT | M) > P (NT | ¬M)

2c. ∴ P (¬N | E) > P (N | E)

As we have defended the probability of Molinist providence to be high in fulfilling the criteria we have posited, our previous discussion of how Molinist providence makes plausible the teleological argument gives support for the assertion: P (NT | M) > P (NT | ¬M). If both of these theses are correct, then it follows that premise 2b. is, in fact, a highly justifiable premise.

  1. Conclusion.

If our premises are true, then the implication is that the main defeaters to our main thesis of a perfect being theism should not be nullified by either the application of other natural theological arguments or the argument from evil. Rather, middle knowledge supplements our justification in the intuition that such a type-x being is possible.  The concluding thought to keep in mind here is how powerful Molinism is in eliminating the atheological concerns of competing intuitions. Hence, if this argument succeeds, the final consideration, as has been argued in this paper, is that middle knowledge may potentially be a property essential for a maximally great being. This further strengthens the necessity of the imposition of middle knowledge to the maximal greatness of God.


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[1] Plantinga (1974): Chapter 10; Plantinga (1977).

[2] Wierenga’s original contribution in the dialogue is in his research contending for the Augustinian root of PBT. See Wierenga (2011). For his complete exposition of PBT, see chapter III of Wierenga (2016).

[3] Leftow’s role in the discussion is particularly important in his insistence for the Greatest Possible Being (GPB) over the Greatest Conceivable Being (GCB). See Leftow (2011).

[4] See Nagasawa (2017).

[5] Nagasawa, Yujin. 2017. Maximal God: A New Defence of Perfect Being Theism. New York: Oxford University Press. 114.

[6] The seminal work for the modern discussion of the problem of evil (PoE) had originated from the dialectic between Mackie’s Evil and Omnipotence (1955) and Plantinga’s response in The Nature of Necessity (1974). See also Plantinga’s abridged work, God, Freedom, and Evil (1977). The modern discussion has shifted from the logical problem of evil to the evidential/probabilistic PoE and Mackie’s paper remained to be considered obsolete in the discussion due to the shifting era. Although, some philosophers have questioned the salient distinction between the two versions (See Dougherty, 2011. Pp. 560), William Rowe emerged as a formidable defender of the latter version. His groundbreaking work took roots from a work entitled, The Evidential Problem of Evil (1978-1979). This generated his further expositions in Rowe (1979) and Rowe (1996). In the latest dialectic on the issue, philosophers have begun shifting the discussion towards skeptical theism with major figures such as Stephen Wykstra, William Rowe, Michael Bergmann, and Howard-Snyder.

[7] Freddoso, Alfred J. 1988. On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the “Concordia”. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. New York: Cornell University Press. 252.

[8] Kenny, Anthony. 1979. The God of the Philosophers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 5-6.

[9] The history of the doctrine has had interesting setbacks. Although the notion of Scientia media was a hotly debated topic of its time resulting in the Congregatio de Auxiliis (1588-1611), it remained a tangentially quoted doctrine. Major Reformed figures, notably, Herman Bavinck and Francis Turretin, criticized the doctrine in their systematic theologies. However, the doctrine came to be unearthed when Plantinga published Plantinga (1974) and Plantinga (1977) where he defended a doctrine akin to scientia media. Robert M. Adams, literate on the history of the doctrine, went on to announce the origin of the doctrine in Adams (1977). The ripple effect emerging from this discovery has led several notable works defending the doctrines such as Craig (1991), Dekker (2000), and Flint (1998). Those writing against this doctrine is an equally impressive set: Adams (1977), Hasker (1989), Fischer (2008), and Fischer (2009).

[10] This type of knowledge is otherwise known as ‘middle knowledge’ (Scientia media)

[11] Perzyk, Ken. 2011. “Introduction.” In Molinism: The Contemporary Debate, 1-24. New York: Oxford University Press.

[12] Anselm. 2007. Anselm: Basic Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. 81-82.

[13] Plantinga uses the term: “Coherent supposition.” Plantinga, Alvin. 1967. God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. New York: Cornell University Press.

[14] Moreland, J. P, and Scott B. Rae. 2000. Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 172.

[15] This retort was taken from van Inwagen’s praise for the modal rigidness of the argument.  van Inwagen, Peter. 2013. “Three Versions of the Ontological Argument.” In Ontological Proofs Today, edited by Miroslaw Szatkowski, 143-162. Berlin: De Gruyter. 157.

[16]S5 ◊□β → □β

[17] Such an assumption stretches back to Aquinas and his axiological argument.

[18] Historically, Anselm’s formulation has been repudiated from the ‘Gaunilo-Kantian’ parodies. The parodies, in the words of the monk Gaunilo, are of the following:

You can no longer doubt that this island which is excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent.

Gaunilo. 1965. “On Behalf of the Fool.” In The Ontological Argument, edited by Alvin Plantinga. New York: Doubleday Anchor. 11.

According to the ‘parodies’ to OA, the OA proves too much; it can be used even to prove the existence of the greatest possible island. As mentioned above, this still falls to the category of an extensive objection, which is addressed above to be responded with the distinction between relative and absolute great-making properties.

[19] Nagasawa (2017: 66).

[20] Plantinga was the first to revamp this argument by focusing on strictly on “maximal greatness.” The term “perfection” is listed by van Inwagen (2012) to be the locus of this argument.

[21] The motivation behind (2) is akin to what Swinburne calls as the “Principle of Credulity” (PoC). Swinburne first used this principle in justifying religious experiences as evidences for God. See Swinburne, Richard. 1979. The Existence of God. New York: Oxford University Press. 303. According to this principle, “(in the absence of special considerations), if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic).” However, Swinburne makes clear that this principle does not hold unconditionally. There are cases, for example, where an evil is perceived to be so great that the rational thing for a person to conclude that there probably is no God. The purpose of this paper is not to defend this claim that there may be a circumstance of evil so great that the rational thing for a person to do is abandon belief in God. The purpose of presenting PoC is to support the idea of there being fundamental intuitions—intuitions so basic to our beliefs that, in the absence of counter-evidences, the rational thing is to accept the intuition.

[22] See the section called, “Rowe’s New Bayesian Argument

[23] For a popular level defense of the argument, see Stratton (2017) and Stratton (2018)

[24] Stratton & Erasmus (2018: 26)

[25] This formulation can be found in Craig (2010: 111)

[26] Ibid.

[27] MacGregor (2015: 11)


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(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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