“How Can God Know?” A Response to James White

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

December 1, 2021

I recently responded to James White’s video discussing William Lane Craig. Not only did White summarize his discussion with Craig, he also brought up me, myself, and I. So, I decided to “go live” on YouTube and discuss White’s comments — specifically his claim that he had a “fatal objection” to Molinism.

To watch my video response to Dr. White CLICK HERE. To read a shorter response CLICK HERE.

After watching my response video, Dr. White asked me the following question on Twitter (which is the worst place to try to have a dialogue):

“Starting with a presupposition that indicates there are people God has not decreed to create but, that if He ever should so decree to create, He could not save? In any feasible world? This so plainly displays the error of thinking that human beings exist “outside the decree” … so as to be inviolably knowable in that state.”

There is nothing I detest more than a Twitter conversation (I try to avoid those like the plague). With that said, White’s objection here seems to be a form of what is known as the grounding objection. In Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism, I explain why Jacobus Erasmus and I believe the grounding objection is impotent (see Grounds to Object to the Grounding Objection).

I encourage folks to read it, but allow me to add more below.

Philosophically Speaking

To keep it simple: an omnipotent God possesses the power to create a libertarian free creature (See Defining Libertarian Freedom). An omniscient God knows what would happen in any set of circumstances God could (has the power to) actualize. Consider the following argument:

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.

A being whose knowledge of counterfactuals does not depend on the being’s prior will, decisions, or actions seems far greater than a being whose knowledge of counterfactuals does merely depend on these. To illustrate this Erasmus and I offered a thought experiment in a journal edited by Kirk MacGregor in 2018 (Perichoresis 16.2). Ultimately a being who is all-powerful (omnipotent) must possess middle knowledge. After all, knowledge IS power! It seems that a being who possessed the power to predestine and guarantee outcomes of libertarian free creatures is far greater, more powerful, and more impressive than a being who has to causally determine all things to get what he wants.

Thus, since God is a maximally great being, humans possess libertarian freedom, and God can predestine and guarantee the outcomes of non-causally determined circumstances, Molinism follows. Only a being with middle knowledge could perform such an otherwise impossible task.

The grounding objection is philosophically weak as it assumes the extremely controversial view of truth-maker theory (which, according to Tim McGrew, most epistemologists reject). Moreover, White’s view goes even further and assumes the radical view of truth-maker maximalism (which many truth-maker theorists reject). I find it humorous when those who often dismiss philosophy appeal to a radical and extreme epistemological view in an attempt to keep his favorite view of God’s sovereignty. Moreover, as Kirk MacGregor has stated (see his forthcoming book), “If the Molinist has a grounding problem, we all have grounding problems.” Indeed, MacGregor contends that “the grounding objection is utterly worthless!” Even Dr. Philip Swenson — not a Molinist — has informed me that the grounding objection is a horrible reason to reject Molinism.

Bottom line: philosophically speaking, the grounding objection is weak. The Molinist (or anyone else for that matter) is under no obligation to accept this shallow philosophy (Col 2:8).

Theologically Speaking

More importantly, Christians who offer the grounding objection 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 problem for anyone who claims to be a Bible-believing Christian and also appeals to the grounding objection against God’s all-knowing nature. For the sake of argument, however, consider the nature of a maximally great being sans creation:

Logically prior to the beginning of the existence of the universe God exists — “and then” (to use temporal language), God creates the universe. Considering this “static state of aseity” the question is raised: Is God maximally great in this state?

Take the Cosmological Quiz:

Question 1: Is it true that God existed in a state of aseity logically prior to creating the universe (and thus without the universe)?

Question 2: In this state of aseity, is God omnipotent? If so, does He possesses the power to create creatures with libertarian Freedom?

Question 3: In this state of aseity, is God omniscient? If so, does He possess the knowledge of what these libertarian free creatures — that He has the power to create (even if He never does create them) — would freely do?

If one answers “no” to any of the questions above then you might be a heretic. If one answers “yes” to all of the above, then congratulations, you are a Molinist.

I assume Dr. White will respond in the affirmative to the first two questions. That’s good. However, if he answers “no” to the final question (to avoid Molinism), then White is affirming that Open Theism is true in possible worlds.

If one affirms that God is both omnipotent and omniscient in the state of affairs logically prior to the creation of the universe, then some flavor of Molinism must be true! God would possess the power to create libertarian free creatures (even if He never did create them) and a maximally great being would “middle know” exactly how these free creatures would freely think, act, believe, and behave logically prior to His creative decree.

Moreover, if God cannot know how libertarian 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! 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 (EDD), 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 abductive reasoning to rationally infer and affirm theological claims of knowledge is impossible on divine determinism. I have argued this in detail (See the FreeThinking Argument and The Rationality Argument Against EDD).

Greg Koukl (a 5-Point 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 exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) is the inference to the best explanation — then, to the chagrin of the Calvinist, 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 is true.

3- If EDD is true, then one does not possess the opportunity to exercise an ability to rationally infer better or true beliefs over false ones (in the actual world) or to rationally affirm claims of theological knowledge (see the RAADD).

4- Therefore, if one affirms that he has rationally inferred that EDD is the best explanation (probably true), and also believes that the grounding objection passes, then EDD must be false.

5- Therefore, if one believes he has rationally inferred that the grounding objection passes (showing that Molinism is false), then Open Theism is the only live option left to rationally affirm.

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

Since the power to rationally infer better (and true) beliefs over false ones — inferential knowledge — is illusory on any exhaustive deterministic view, if all thoughts and beliefs really are causally determined by something or someone else, then 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.

In conclusion, EDD and OT 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 do 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).

If Dr. White is fine with not knowing HOW God created the universe ex-nihilo, then White should not be objecting to the HOW a maximally great being knows what would happen in any scenario He could create (middle knowledge).

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Dr. Tim Stratton


I plan on doing another livestream video on YouTube immediately following the discussion between Craig and White on Brierley’s program. Don’t miss it!

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(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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