Dangerous Grounds: The Grounding Objection vs Divine Determinism



(The FreeThinking Theist)


January 15, 2018

One of the most common protests against Molinism today is a purely philosophical argument known as the “Grounding Objection.” This complaint is based on a controversial version of the correspondence theory of truth known as the theory of truth-makers. Accordingly, in order for a statement to be true, then there needs to be something else in virtue of which the statement is true. The advocates of the grounding objection typically assert, therefore, that “God cannot know something about a particular world or person if that world or person does not actually exist.”

For example, James White recently appealed to the grounding objection on his podcast and another aspiring theologian proclaimed on social media that the “grounding objection still looms large.” I simply do not feel the force of this objection and have written about the argument’s lack of strength (See The Grounding Objection Against the Maximally Great God). Be that as it may, many anti-Molinists offer this philosophical objection (not based on the Bible) against Molinism in an attempt to defeat it.

Not only does the grounding objection seem philosophically weak, Christians who offer it seem to be on dangerous grounds (Biblically speaking). Consider Psalm 73:11-12

11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked…

According to scripture, those who deny God’s omniscience and even pose the objection, “How can God know?” are wicked!

This is a major problem for anyone who claims to be a Bible-believing Christian and also appeals to the grounding objection against God’s perfect knowledge! For the sake of argument, however, I contend that if a Christian theist thinks the grounding objection passes (or at least asserts that it does), then he or she is left with limited options from which to choose. Think about it: If an omnipotent God (who has the power to create free creatures) cannot know how free creatures would freely choose if He were to actualize them, then we seem to be left with only two options:

1- Divine Determinism

2- Open Theism

If God does not know how creatures would freely choose if He were to actualize them, then creatures are not free in a libertarian sense — EVER (See MacGregor’s Argument for God’s Middle Knowledge)! Or, it means that we are free in a libertarian sense, but God simply does not know what we would freely choose if He were to actualize creatures with libertarian freedom. That is to say, if God does not possess the knowledge of how free creatures would freely choose if He were to create them, then we either lose the libertarian freedom of humans and get exhaustive divine determinism, or we lose God’s omniscient knowledge and get Open Theism.

The question is raised: Between the two, what is the inference to the best explanation?

BUT WAIT!!! Inferring the best explanation and engaging in the process of rationality is impossible on divine determinism. I have argued this in detail (See A Revised Freethinking Argument and The Vanishing “I”). The eminent philosopher of mind, John Searle sums it up perfectly:

“Actions are rationally assessable if and only if the actions are free. The reason for the connection is this: rationality must be able to make a difference. Rationality is possible only where there is a genuine choice between various rational and irrational courses of action . . . If the act is completely determined then rationality can make no difference. It doesn’t even come into play…” (Rationality in Action:2001:202)

Greg Koukl (a Calvinist) agrees:

“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)

What logically follows from this? Well, if the grounding objection passes and one believes they have rationally concluded that Calvinism or divine determinism is the inference to the best explanation — then Open Theism must be true! Consider the following syllogism:

1- If the grounding objection passes then God does not possess knowledge of Counterfactuals of Creaturely Freedom (CCFs) logically prior to His creative decree and Molinism is false.

2- If God does not possess knowledge of CCFs logically prior to His creative decree, then either exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) is true or Open Theism (OT) is true.

3- If EDD is true, then one is not free to engage in the process of rationality to infer and affirm the best explanation (rationally inferred knowledge is impossible).

4- Therefore, if one affirms that one has rationally inferred that EDD is the best explanation (probably true), and they believe that the grounding objection passes, then EDD is false.

5- Therefore, if one thinks the grounding objection passes and shows that Molinism is false, then OT is the only live option left to rationally affirm.

This argument should give Calvinists, compatibilists, or any divine determinist pause before they offer the grounding objection against Molinism. This is because although these folks do not like Molinism, they seem to have a complete revulsion against Open Theism! Thus, if they think they have rationally concluded Calvinism is true because of the grounding objection (or via any other argument), then they have inadvertently defeated their own Calvinistic determinism — leaving only Open Theism on the table.

Since the process of rationality leading to inferential knowledge is illusory on any exhaustive deterministic view, if all thoughts and beliefs really are causally determined, a simple equation shows what logically follows if an advocate of the grounding objection also holds to divine determinism since it cannot be rationally affirmed:

Theism + Grounding Objection + Rationality = Open Theism.


Divine determinism and Open Theism both appear false (or so it seems to me). Additionally, I am not impressed with the grounding objection as it merely asks the question, “How does God know?” I do not purport to know how God is omniscient or omnipotent, but I affirm that He is both all-knowing and all-powerful. I do not know how God knows CCFs, but I also do not know how God created the universe (even though I know He did create the universe).

Bottom line: Since I do not think the grounding objection is forceful, I also think Molinism is the inference to the best explanation after considering both logic and biblical data. If one really thinks he or she can actually engage in the process of rationality (which requires libertarian freedom) to infer the best explanation, then one has an intrinsic defeater against divine determinism.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton


About the Author



(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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