Hey Dr. Stratton,
As you know, James White and William Lane Craig had a discussion on Justin Brierly’s Unbelievable show on Monday (11-29-21). Although this conversation has not yet been made public (it’s being released on 12-3-21), Dr. White made a video summarizing the debate.
White made many claims in this video. The one that really got my attention is when he stated that he has a “fatal blow” against Molinism that no Molinist has ever thought about. Here is the link to the video: https://youtu.be/qhI_Y7vEaAA
Anyway, what do you think of this objection? Is it as bad as he thinks it is?
Dr. Tim’s Response
Thanks for the question, Mikhail. As many are well aware, I have spilled much ink explaining how Molinism can defeat all the problems of evil (moral, natural, gratuitous, and even the problem of divine hiddenness). I also point out how every other competing view is ultimately defeated by at least one of the problems of evil (this includes White’s view). So, this upcoming discussion is one I am looking forward to with much interest.
I watched White’s video discussing his conversation with Dr. Craig. The first thing I must address is that White noted that people on “the other side” (in the Molinist camp) let the cat out of the bag and started talking about the super-secret discussion with Dr. Craig on Justin Brierley’s show before it occurred. Although Dr. Craig did inform me several days before Brierley announced that this discussion would be taking place, I was unaware that it was “top secret.” I did however freely choose to keep it under wraps until I saw others discussing it on social media.
White announced that he believed that I was the one who broke the news. I sent the following Tweet to Dr. White just to clear things up:
Hey Dr. White! Not a big deal, but I was not the one who let the cat out of the bag. I believe Justin [Brierley] announced it first. I noticed others talking about it on FB. I merely verified. We should talk sometime.
Like I said, this was not a “big deal,” but I encourage my brother to be a bit more careful in the future (lest people conclude Stratton can’t keep a secret). The rest of this article will focus on what I perceive to be the “big deal.” This is what White described as the “fatal objection to Molinism.”
The Fatal Objection
Regarding this supposed deathblow, I found it startling when White said that Molinists never think about some of the issues he is raising. Indeed, with a look of horror on his face, White exclaimed (around the 36 minute mark):
“I’m going to tell you something, I don’t know how many Molinists have ever even contemplated it. There are a lot of Molinists who, the only reason they are Molinists, is because William Lane Craig told them to be. But, the vast majority of Molinists I’ve ever encountered have never even considered the ramifications of what this stuff means. Never! I’m hoping they’ll have to now!”
Statements like these are sweeping, extreme, and uncharitable. Moreover, it raises the question: who exactly are all of these Molinists who James White is speaking of? Before his discussion with Dr. Craig he had not interacted with anyone who is a leading academic voice in the Molinist community.
Kirk MacGregor — who I consider to be the leading expert in all things related to Luis de Molina — informed me that he was contacted by someone associated with White’s organization a couple of years ago and asked Kirk if he would be willing to appear on a show with White. Kirk replied that he would prefer to do a formal academic debate with White. Dr. White has yet to respond.
I’m sure Kirk’s offer still stands.
I have been more than willing to interact with White and have offered articles and YouTube videos critiquing his work, yet we have had no dialogue. Indeed, as an active participant in the Molinist community (both at the academic and popular level) I don’t know anyone who engages in these kinds of academic discussions with Dr. White. Moreover, I do not see Dr. White reading papers at the ETS or publishing articles in academic journals engaging those of us who do (I encourage him to do so). So again, the question is raised: who are all of these Molinists Dr. White encounters who never consider these objections he has raised? Do they publish in academic journals? Do they even blog? Inquiring minds want to know.
Whoever James White is referring to it is definitely not the many top-level Molinists I know. In fact, I for one, literally contemplate these kinds of issues every day. Indeed, a host of us who are part of the Mere Molinism FB group discuss these kinds of topics on a regular basis. I’d be happy to have him join the Mere Molinism FB group to engage in respectful and thoughtful discussion.
Speaking of the Mere Molinism FB group, my friend John Cranman pointed out that White complains that Molinism came 1500 years after Christ but fails to mention that Calvinism did as well. White complains that there are unanswered questions on Molinism. Well, so too on Calvinism! White complains that Molinism becomes an interpretive grid over the whole Bible. Well, this is definitely the case with the “Calvinistic grid” or the “exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) grid.” White uses to interpret the whole of Scripture (what’s good for the goose is good for the gander). White also complains that Molinism doesn’t have biblical support, however, not only is EDD not taught in the inspired Word of God (not to be confused with predestination), White seems to dismisses all the passages Molinists use to support libertarian freedom and God’s middle knowledge (see Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism).
So, what is this “fatal objection” in which White speaks? He suggests that it is a major problem for Molinism — indeed, he seems to think it’s a “deal breaker” — that some Molinists are open to the possibility of the transworld damned (which is not an essential of Molinism). Although it seems impossible to prove the truth of the transworld damned (TD), the concept seems coherent (i.e., it is possible). The idea of an individual who is TD is a person who is endowed with libertarian freedom, and thus, freely chooses to reject God’s love and grace in any freedom-permitting circumstance. So, although it is possible for the person to not reject God’s love and grace, it is not feasible for God to create a world in which this person does not freely choose to reject God.
It is vital to grasp the philosophical difference between a possible and a feasible world (See, Could Adam Avoid the Apple?).
If one has a hard time conceiving of this kind of individual, it seems that Satan himself provides a possible contender. After all, Satan was created in a perfect state of affairs, was blessed with much power and beauty, and was in the very presence of an unhidden God who loved him. Yet Satan freely rejected God’s love and grace and rebelled against the maximally great being! If Satan would freely reject God’s love and grace in that circumstance, it seems conceivable that he is the kind of person who would reject God’s love and grace in all feasible freedom-permitting circumstances.
If we can conceive of Satan as a transworld damned individual, then why can’t we think of other persons that way? For example, perhaps the well-known atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, John Schellenberg, and the late Christopher Hitchens are those who would freely choose (although they could choose otherwise) to reject God’s love and grace in any non-causally determined environment God could place them in. Perhaps Hitler and Karl Marx are also these kinds of people. If that’s the case, there is nothing an omnipotent God can do to save such people since omnipotence does not entail the ability to perform logically impossible tasks (i.e., God cannot create married bachelors, Jesus could not draw triangles with four corners, and it is impossible for God to create anything which is not contingent upon Him). This is the case because, as I explain in Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism, salvation is so much more than a mere metaphysical address. The essence of salvation is love and the best kind of love (true love) requires libertarian freedom (also see Once Saved Always Saved).
So, when theologians — typically Molinists — talk of the TD, we are referring to the idea that anyone who is damned in the actual world, would have freely rejected Christ in any freedom-permitting circumstance God could place them in. Some find this hard to swallow, but I do not find this idea hard to grasp. There is no logical impossibility with this concept.
With this in mind, consider Whites’s supposed “fatal objection”:
James White’s concern about the fact that it’s logically impossible to force another person into a genuine love relationship is akin to thinking it’s a major theological problem that Jesus can’t draw a triangle with four sides.
Once one understands what this objection entails it can be easily brushed aside. This so-called “fatal objection” has no teeth in its bite.
Moreover, this view of the TD advanced by some Molinists (but not required to be a Mere Molinist) is not nearly as problematic as the radical view White is advancing. Consider the fact that White’s view entails that possible worlds exist where all humans are saved (i.e., God has the power to save all humans from the horrors of hell), but God chose to actualize a world in which the majority of humanity suffers the horrors of hell into the infinite future. White is making a mountain out of a Molinist mole hill while obliviously unaware of the Mount Everist of a self-defeating problem his own view entails. Using White’s same logic, if White thinks that God does have the power to save all people (via His irresistible grace), yet instead chooses to torture the vast amount of humanity in the holocaust of hell for eternity, this seems to be far worse than what White finds objectionable on the Molinist view.
White incorrectly thinks that the Molinist view detracts from God’s omnipotence, but White’s view clearly detracts from God’s character and perfect love (1 John 4:8).
This raises an argument I first shared in 2015. In fact, James White immediately brought it up on his show and said that he had never heard of me before while stating that I was never really a Calvinist (tell that to my wife). White attempted to interact with the syllogism but failed to debunk it. Please revisit the argument again:
- If irresistible grace is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
- If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
- There is at least one person who will not go to Heaven and will suffer eternally in Hell.
- Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible grace is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient (a maximally great being).
- God is a maximally great being.
- Therefore, irresistible grace is false.
If irresistible grace is false (the “I” of TULIP known as 5-Point Calvinism), then Dr. White’s view of God’s sovereignty is false.
To Dr. White’s credit, he seems to want to affirm the sovereignty and perfect power of God. He is right to do so and we ought not entertain a view that diminishes the biblical fact that God is sovereign over all things and predestines all things. But trying to explain this by way of causal determinism (or EDD) is not the way (as the above syllogism deductively concludes). Instead, make God maximally great again! 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.
I do not know if Dr. White has “contemplated the ramifications” (as he says) of his view, but his position ultimately detracts from God’s perfection and relegates the creator of the universe to something less than a maximally great being. This is what A.W. Tozer warned us against and described as a “low view of God.” In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer made it clear: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In the preface of the same book Tozer writes:
“The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men…. The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.”
We must strive to think the best about God. He is a maximally great being!
Bottom line: I respect James White and his work regarding many issues, but have concerns regarding his understanding of Molinism and the multiple problems associated with his Calvinistic view of exhaustive divine determinism.
I look forward to watching his discussion with Dr. Craig this Friday (get your popcorn ready). After that, make sure to watch my review on YouTube! In the meantime . . .
Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),
Dr. Tim Stratton
*For more on this topic please CLICK HERE to watch the video.
** 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!