Do Counterfactuals of Creaturely Freedom Undermine God’s Omnipotence?

By Jonathan Thompson


February 6, 2018

Consider the following popular objection to Molinism:

“Molinism stipulates that the truth-value of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are logically prior to the divine creative decree. Since their truth value is logically prior to the divine creative decree, then it follows that their truth value is not caused1 by God (i.e. it is not the result of His decretive will). This, however, is not the case on Determinist-Calvinism. For on Determinist-Calvinism God causes the counterfactuals concerning a deterministic individual’s choices (not to be confused with a counterfactual of creaturely freedom) to have a truth-value. Thus, Molinism would seem to undermine God’s omnipotence by restricting Him from deciding the truth-value of an agent’s counterfactual decisions, while, in contrast, Determinist-Calvinism does not.”

Is this objection successful? Not at all. How so? Suppose someone were to object to orthodox Christianity by claiming that it undermines God’s omnipotence because orthodox Christianity limits God’s freedom in such a way that He cannot perform evil. Now, orthodox Christianity conceives of God as being a morally perfect being necessarily. That is to say there is no possible world according to which God’s morally perfect nature is compromised. Moreover, omnipotence, orthodoxly conceived, only requires that God possess the ability to actualize metaphysically possible states of affairs. Furthermore, since God is morally perfect across all possible worlds, it follows that there is no possible world in which God performs evil. Therefore, a world according to which God performs evil represents a metaphysically impossible states of affairs. As such, orthodox Christianity cannot be said to undermine God’s omnipotence by precluding Him from doing evil since, as we’ve discussed, omnipotence, orthodoxly conceived, does not require that God be able to perform the metaphysically impossible.

Now compare this response to the objection to Molinism we’re considering. The objection claims that Molinism undermines God’s omnipotence because it limits God’s freedom in such a way that He cannot cause counterfactuals of creaturely freedom to have a truth value. Now libertarianism, which is a necessary condition for Molinism, requires that libertarianly free actions not be (sufficiently)2 caused by anything other than the libertarian agent performing the action. So, for example, if God were to causally determine a counterfactual of creaturely freedom to have a truth value, it would cease to be a counterfactual of creaturely freedom. Moreover, as we have already discussed, omnipotence only requires that God be able to actualize metaphysically possible states of affairs. Hence, if God desires to create a world of libertarianly free creatures, as Molinism maintains, it will be a metaphysically impossible for the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which are entailed by that world to be caused by God. Therefore, Molinism does not undermine God’s omnipotence because omnipotence does not require that God be able to perform metaphysically impossible tasks, such as creating a world of libertarianly free creatures whose corresponding counterfactuals of creaturely freedom have their truth value caused by God. Additionally its worth noting that Molinism does not assert or imply that it’s metaphysically impossible for God to actualize certain worlds where unilateral divine causal determinism obtains.

So, the Molinist can agree with the determinist (at least to some extent)3 that God can cause the counterfactuals concerning a causally determined agent’s choices to have a truth value. Finally, if a world of libertarianly free creatures is, in fact, possible, and the determinist also maintains that these worlds are really impossible, then it turns out that it will be this determinist view that undermines God’s omnipotence. For the determinist’s view would prohibit God from creating worlds that are well within His power create. So, oddly enough, in this case, it is the determinist who undermines the very omnipotence they seek to preserve.


1By ’caused’ I am specifically referring to the concept of strong actualization. On the Molinist schema, God strongly actualizes a state of affairs when he brings it about through a direct exercise of his causal power. This is in contrast to weak actualization where God causes a state of affairs to obtain by placing a creature in circumstances such that He knew how that agent would freely respond. Libertarian free will is consistent with an agent’s actions being weakly actualized by God.

Moreover, hereafter the type of causation I’m referring to in this article is that of strong actualization. For more on the distinction between strong and weak actualization see:

2For ease of reading, hereafter, I shall suppress the use of the term ‘sufficiently’.

3I say ‘to some extent’ because I think there are no worlds available to God where He creates causally determined agents which He holds morally responsible for their actions since I take such a world to be metaphysically impossible because it is incompatible with God’s being essentially just.

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By Jonathan Thompson