Molinism, Hell, and the Problem of Luck



(The FreeThinking Theist)


March 8, 2021

I recently had the pleasure of interacting with a few folks studying philosophical theology after sharing my paper defending Mere Molinism from the objections raised by Calvinist philosopher, Guillaume Bignon. This led to a short, but profitable, exchange with Michael regarding Molinism and Hell. It sheds light on a couple important issues . . . please enjoy.

Michael: Molinism is stupid. No one deserves hell for randomly selecting B rather than A (same cause, different effects — cause QUA cause can’t ensure what the effect will be) and no basis for counterfactual truth statement. You may be willing to bite that bullet but it strikes me as desperate and cruel.

Tim: Hi Michael. First of all, Molinism neither states nor implies that one deserves hell for randomly selecting B rather than A. In fact, Molinism simpliciter says nothing at all about eternal separation from God.

Now, of course, since I have never met a non-Christian Molinist (although mere Molinism is technically compatible with some other theistic views), a good evangelical Molinist will affirm the gospel, namely, that all us human beings (apart from Jesus) deserve to be separated from God because of our sin. Although, Jesus paid the penalty for our sin such that, if we place our faith in Him, we are saved from Hell. Accordingly, our decisions to place (or not to place) our faith in Christ is ultimately up to us. Hence, there is no randomness described here (one’s beliefs are not “random” if they are selected and based upon one’s mature and careful reasoning).

Moreover, to address your concerns about Hell, perhaps annihilationism is true (Chris Date, my colleague at Trinity Theological Seminary, makes a strong case for this view). Indeed, I have also argued that universalism is possible on Molinism. In fact, even though I do not think universalism is true, I do believe that Molinism gives universalism its “best shot.” I guess I could be called a “hopeful universalist,” even though I personally reject universalism as probably false.

I discuss Hell at length in my book Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism. I encourage you to read it. In the meantime, consider an article I wrote about the different views of Hell and Molinism: True Love, Free Will, & the Logic of Hell.

Michael: No amount of ink will justify God allowing a dangerous game of chance where you go to hell because a B-intention [randomly] popped into your head. Deep down, you know that, but you’ve allowed a bad tradition to be entrenched into your soul. No amount of ink makes a stupid idea a smart one.

Tim: I’ve “allowed”? It seems you are rejecting exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) and affirming my libertarian freedom to take thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5) or not (Col 2:8). That’s a great place to start. However, you also seem to be appealing to a version of  what is known as the “problem of luck.” I believe that a Christian view of God and man — especially with Molinism in mind — does the best job of diminishing any “luck problems.” Think about it: If all things about an agent are causally determined by something or someone else (which seems to follow on both naturalism and EDD-Calvinism), then one is “lucky” if the external deterministic force beyond one’s control causally determines one to affirm a true belief. If one’s belief truly is “random” — and the agent happens to affirm a true belief — he is also lucky.

However, if one is a rational agent created in the image/likeness of God, everything changes. If a human possesses the seemingly supernatural powers of reflective self-control (see Christopher Evan Franklin), then — if one is careful to take thoughts captive and does his due diligence (as opposed to luck), then he can (possesses the opportunity to exercise his ability to) rationally infer and rationally affirm better and true beliefs (over false ones) in the actual world. This is perfectly compatible with Molinism.

You asserted that “no amount of ink will justify God allowing a dangerous game of chance where you go to hell.” I have made it clear that no one goes to Heaven or Hell by luck, chance, or accident. Everyone has an opportunity and libertarian choice (a choice that is up to us as mature conscience and rational thinkers — not chance) to reject God’s love and grace — or not.

Side note: on the Calvinistic view, God does not choose the elect based upon anything about the individual (“lest any man should boast“). So, those who are “passed by” (the damned) and those who are “elect” seem to be based upon luck or chance. Indeed, the elect seem to have won a cosmic and infinite lottery of sorts. Moreover, those who have been created for the sole purpose of eternal damnation are literally the most unlucky folks in all of creation. So, if you are implying that Molinism has problems that Calvinism does not, this deterministic view of salvation does not escape the problem of luck (or so it seems to me).

Be that as it may, I already pointed out that universalism was a possibility on Molinism, so I do not see a need to spill any more ink to alleviate your consternation.

Finally, regarding your claim that a “B-intention popped into your head,” seems to assume that the libertarian freedom to think is impossible. The libertarian who affirms the powers of reflective self-control argues that we have the power and opportunity to exercise an ability to take those “popping thoughts” captive (2 Cor 10:5) or not (Col 2:8). I believe this is a “supernatural” ability given to us by God in His grace. This is what distinguishes us from mere “passive cogs” at the mercy of external forces, and makes it possible to genuinely be rational and responsible FREE thinkers!

Live in freedom (Gal 5:13),

Dr. Tim Stratton

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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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