The Freedom to Trick God?

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

August 18, 2020

Question:

Dear Dr. Tim,

On Molinism, once God instantiates the world which he knows agent Agent P will freely choose ‘x’ at ‘t’, Agent P will freely choose ‘x’ at ‘t’. It seems to me that this isn’t a categorical freedom but only freedom in the sense that ‘if God had instantiated a different world Agent P might could have acted differently. But it just doesn’t seem right to say that in any world God instantiates, creatures are free to do other than what God knows they will do at any time ‘t’. Is this right?

– Anonymous


Tim’s Response:

Dear sir, please allow me to adjust your comment (in CAPS) for clarification:

//On Molinism, once God instantiates the world [in which He KNEW] Agent P WOULD freely choose ‘x’ at ‘t’, Agent P will freely choose ‘x’ at ‘t’.//

It is vital to be precise when discussing God’s knowledge logically prior to His creative decree. God knows all that Agent P could freely do in a certain circumstance (natural knowledge) and also knows exactly what Agent P would freely do in a possible circumstance (middle knowledge). Thus, when discussing what God knows in this state of affairs, it is vital to use the word “would” instead of “will.”

You continued:

//It seems to me that this isn’t a categorical freedom but only freedom in the sense that ‘if God had instantiated a different world’ Agent P WOULD have FREELY CHOSEN differently.//

Why think this is not a categorical freedom? There are no “causal strings” (or chains) attached, so why can there not be a categorical freedom?

Think about it: Agent P is free and able to do other than what God knows. That is to say, Agent P really could do otherwise, but Agent P will not freely choose to do so (although Agent P was free and able to do so and could have done so). However, if P were to choose otherwise, God would have foreknown (and middle-known) differently.

Bottom line: do not confuse certainty with necessity. It is certain that Agent P will freely choose X in circumstance C at time T, but it is not necessary. It is a logical error to conflate certainty with necessity. These are two different concepts. Be that as it may, even if it could be demonstrated that this is not a categorical freedom, it would still be libertarianly free in the source-hood sense (even if there is not an ability to choose otherwise for some weird reason).

You said, 

//But it just doesn’t seem right to say that in any world God instantiates, creatures are free to do other than what God knows they will do at any time ‘t’. Is this right?//

This seems to be an example of getting the cart in front of the horse. This is not what Molinism claims nor what is required for libertarian free will. Libertarian freedom is not defined as “doing other than what God knows.” Rather, it is either (i) not being causally determined by something other than the self one refers to as “I,” and/or (ii) the ability to choose between or among a range of alternative options each of which is compatible with one’s nature.

Molinism would entail the following (on a categorical ability):

  • God knows Sally would freely choose X instead of not-X if He were to create her in non-causal deterministic circumstance C.

  • God creates Sally in non-causal deterministic circumstance C.

  • Now, God knows Sally will freely choose X instead of not-X in non-causal deterministic circumstance C.

     

    Here’s the takeaway:

    Just because the word “would” transforms to “will,” the word “freely” does not magically disappear.

Conclusion

Many people make the mistake of thinking that just because one is not free or able to do other than what God knows — that they are not free to “trick” God — that somehow their libertarian freedom is lost. This is an error which leads to false conclusions. Just because one is not free to “trick” God, it does not logically follow that one did not freely choose in the libertarian sense. God simply middle knows and foreknows how one freely chooses. 

I hope this helps.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Dr. Tim Stratton 

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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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