The Mere Molinism FB Group vs the God of Mischief

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

July 30, 2021

I recently launched a new Facebook group called Mere Molinism (click here to join). This private group is focused on discussing the essential ingredients of mere Molinism (human libertarian freedom and divine middle knowledge) along with related issues. This group is unique for several reasons. First, all the admins possess or are currently pursuing graduate degrees in theology or philosophy. Second, one does not have to affirm Molinism to be in this group. As noted in the “group rules”: “This is a group focused on helping people grasp the key tenets of Mere Molinism and related issues. Although disagreements are sure to arise, make sure to keep them respectful. Arguing against Molinism is not allowed here, but this is a place where questions can be raised and discussed.”

Here’s an example of the great conversations that occur in that group. It started with my post:


Here’s an argument I’m working on. What are your thoughts?

1- If exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) is true, a deity (call him Loki) always causally determines every human thought, evaluation, and judgment.

2- If Loki is untrustworthy and always causally determines every human thought, evaluation, and judgment, then human thought, evaluation, and judgment is untrustworthy.

3- Loki is untrustworthy.

4- Therefore, if EDD is true, then human thought, evaluation, and judgment is untrustworthy.

*This provides an undercutting defeater to claims of theological knowledge offered by the EDD advocate.


Consider a few of the conversations (used with permission) that followed in the ensuing thread. Our own Timothy Fox started the dialogue: 

Fox: Why think premise 3 is true? Yes, Loki is untrustworthy, but that’s just the name you used for EDD God.

Tim: Yes, obviously anyone who knows who Loki is, knows Loki is untrustworthy. So, Premise (3) does not need to be defended. The challenge would be for me to show that no matter what name we give the EDD deity, the same conclusion follows.

I think that’s fairly easy to do. In fact, a leading EDD-Calvinist philosopher has tacitly admitted this much. 

Fox: Yeah, you’d need to base 3 on a specific God to determine whether that God is trustworthy.

It could be that EDD God is fully trustworthy and he determines his meat puppets to know only true things. But the meat puppets could never know that, since EDD God controls their beliefs

Enter the vertigo!

Tim: I think all we need to do is have the EDD advocate admit that he is not infallible and that he affirms at least one false theological belief (which I’m sure I do). If EDD is true and God causally determines all people — even Calvinists — to happily affirm false beliefs, then EDD-God is untrustworthy (even if he causally determines many true beliefs).

The conversation continued with several of my colleagues:

Andrew: Tim Stratton what about a scenario where I am EDD’ed to affirm false beliefs NOW but will lead to true beliefs later. So the END result will be trustworthy? Certainly most theodicies use this reasoning to defend the infallibility and goodness of whatever god they follow.

Tim: Andrew, you would still face the problem of a deity causally determining you to happily affirm some false theological beliefs right now. Thus, right now, you would not know what theological beliefs were reliable and which one’s weren’t. In a sense, then, all of them are unreliable.

Joe: Tim Stratton I think Andrew is on to something. It seems there is an admittedly small and unusual sliver of overlapping doctrine that might be defensible here. If one held to EDD and universalism, then it could be said that the deity’s ultimate goodness/trustworthiness is maintained even though it appears as though he is untrustworthy from our limited perspective.

It’s an awkward corner to be painted into, but it does seem like an escape to the argument.

Tim: Joe, a theodicy, it seems to me, is irrelevant here. After all, Guillaume Bignon responded to my argument by saying something like: “God has morally sufficient reasons for causally determining all Christians to happily affirm false beliefs.”

That’s fine. I can grant it. The problem still remains. If God has morally sufficient reasons to be a deity of deception, he is still a deity of deception. If that’s the case, the EDD-advocate seems to have an undercutting defeater to any claim of theological knowledge the deity of deception causally determines him to affirm. Including his claim that EDD is true.

Joe: Tim Stratton I’d agree with that assessment. I realized after going back over the argument that defending the goodness of this god is a distraction. My bad.

Andrew: Tim Stratton, you said: //If God has morally sufficient reasons to be a deity of deception, he is still a deity of deception.//

But wouldn’t the Loki theodicy just say “Loki has morally sufficient reasons to deceive.” Not “to be a deity of deception” Which goes back to Fox’s initial point

Tim: Andrew, I think the main point is being missed. If the deity of deception has good reasons to deceive humanity or not is irrelevant. What matters is that if a deity of deception deceives every human we have undercutting defeaters to our beliefs.

Andrew: Tim Stratton ahh! I see. Thanks for the clarification. Makes sense.

Samuel: Tim Stratton in fact, your argument does not need to rely on a deity of deception deceiving *every* human. Consider a deity that, in general, is deceiving. But is capable of occasionally being truthful, doing good, etc. (Loki himself ain’t ALWAYS deceitful or bad in the movies 😉). And maybe such deity deceives human thought 90% of the time, but does not do so 10% of the time.
What is merely needed for your argument is that such a deity is *significantly more likely* to deceive. If so, then we are still at an epistemic disadvantage; while it is possible for us to have true thoughts, we are nonetheless most likely not able to know if we were deceived or not.

One point to note regarding your argument in the post, does it rely on a deceiving deity? Because if it does, then why can’t the EDD theist reject that, and say that it is a trustworthy God that [exhaustively determines]? Are you attempting to argue that if EDD is true, then we have no way of knowing if God is trustworthy or untrustworthy? And how would LFW help with that?

Tim: Great questions, Samuel. You asked: //why can’t the EDD theist reject that, and say that it is a trustworthy God that EDD?//

The EDD-Calvinist can assert that God is trustworthy, but what is logically implied by their position is vastly different (and we need to point that out for them).

You asked: //Are you attempting to argue that if EDD is true, then we have no way of knowing if God is trustworthy or untrustworthy?//

No, this is implied by the EDD position combined with an admission that no theologian possesses PERFECT and infallible theology. If EDD is true and God causally determines all people — even Calvinists — to happily affirm false beliefs, then EDD-God is untrustworthy (even if he also causally determines many true beliefs).

This argument is not raised against theism (at least that’s not its target); it’s raised and aimed at epistemology; namely against human epistemological standings. EDD faces the problem of a deity causally determining all people — even Calvinists — to happily affirm some false theological beliefs. Thus, if EDD is true, then not even the Calvinist would know what theological beliefs were reliable and which one’s weren’t (this includes beliefs from “if EDD is true” to one’s own belief of his “assurance of salvation“).

In a sense, if the EDD-Calvinist doesn’t know which of his beliefs are reliable and which ones aren’t, then all of them become unreliable.

You asked: //And how would LFW help with that?//

I make a conditional move similar to that of the Christian externalist and note that IF a maximally great being created humanity in His likeness to possess libertarian freedom (see my book) 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.

Samuel: Tim Stratton, regarding your reply to my question regarding how LFW may help: It seems you’re arguing that possessing LFW alone allows one to rationally affirm true beliefs. My worry is this. It relies on God creating us with the right epistemic faculties for apprehending truths/true beliefs. It is still possible that God might create us with LFW, but with an epistemic faculty that is still largely unreliable in terms of true beliefs. If so, then LFW alone does not seem to suffice. We still require a God who does create us with the right kind of epistemic faculties.

I see how LFW is necessary for us to rationally affirm our beliefs. But I don’t think it’s sufficient. If we also require a reliable epistemic faculty, then we require a God who does so. And it may be the case that we possess an unreliable epistemic faculty made by an untrustworthy God who nonetheless gives us LFW (but ensures that our LFW beliefs are unreliable). And if so, LFW alone does not help us in determining if our thoughts are untrustworthy or not.
(sorry for editing/deleting prior comment, needed to clarify my thoughts).

Tim:  You are exactly right that libertarian freedom alone is not sufficient. In fact, I have argued that libertarian freedom is a necessary condition for rationality, but it is not sufficient. This is why I affirm properly functioning faculties, but argue that libertarian Freedom is an essential and necessary ingredient of proper function (see Proper Function and Libertarian Freedom).

Samuel: Tim Stratton I guess I don’t see how LFW helps.
The EDD advocate can retort by saying that even granting LFW, you still have to establish that your epistemic faculties are properly functioning. LFW seems not to do much work here; it looks almost as tho the debate is shifting to whether an EDD advocate can also affirm the proper function of epistemic faculties.

So, its essentially whether EDD precludes proper epistemic function (whereas LFW doesn’t), but establishing LFW doesn’t seem to do much for the dialectic.
Even tho LFW is an essential ingredient of proper epistemic function (as you put it), LFW alone isn’t sufficient for proper epistemic function. And as I’ve argued, one may have LFW and still have untrustworthy beliefs if one’s epistemic faculties are not functioning properly. So, the real bulk of the work in the dialectic seems to come from whether we do have proper epistemic function.

I guess you’re saying that since LFW is an essential ingredient of proper function, the LFW advocate stands a *better (or only) chance* of affirming truthworthy thoughts via proper function, while the EDD cannot affirm proper function cuz they reject LFW?

Hope I’m making sense 🤔

Tim: Samuel, thanks for your patience while awaiting my response, brother. Since you provided a long comment, please allow me to break it down in small “bite-sized” quotes.

First, you said, //I guess I don’t see how LFW helps. The EDD advocate can retort by saying that even granting LFW, you still have to establish that your epistemic faculties are properly functioning.//

That would not scathe my argument if they grant libertarian freedom. In fact, if they grant libertarian freedom then EDD is false. Again, my case is that God created us in His image and intelligently designed humans to be able to rationally infer better and true beliefs over false ones IF we are careful. This entails libertarian freedom and proper function. Indeed, it seems that one’s cognitive faculties are damaged if they cannot infer better beliefs over the false ones they are currently holding.

You said, //LFW seems not to do much work here; it looks almost as tho the debate is shifting to whether an EDD advocate can also affirm the proper function of epistemic faculties.//

Not “much work” is still some work (but I think it is vital work). The EDD advocate is going to have a problem rationally affirming any theological belief if He affirms that a deity causally determines all of his thoughts, evaluations, judgements, and beliefs — including all of of his happy affirmations of false theological beliefs. So, unless he claims to possess inerrant and infallible theology (which would be absurd), the EDD advocate must admit that a deity causally determines him to happily affirm (and advance) false theological beliefs. What’s more (and worse), the EDD advocate stands in no epistemic position to evaluate or judge his previous evaluations and judgements — the deity of deception causally determines those too!

This is the “vertigo” in which Dr. Craig refers.

Because of this vertigo and undercutting defeater to one’s theological beliefs, one loses justification for one’s theological beliefs (say good bye to theological knowledge). One is only left with question-begging assumptions (a logical fallacy) — a far cry from rational affirmations.

You said, //So, its essentially whether EDD precludes proper epistemic function (whereas LFW doesn’t), but establishing LFW doesn’t seem to do much for the dialectic.//

EDD + an unreliable deity who deceives all humans (including Calvinists) to happily affirm some false theological beliefs (directly or via cognitive faculties that never fail to function as an EDD God determines) provide the undercutting defeater. Indeed, if EDD is true, cognitive faculties never “fail” from the perspective of the divine. Even when one *reasons* poorly, one’s cog facs performed exactly as the deity of deception causally determined them to function.

//Even tho LFW is an essential ingredient of proper epistemic function (as you put it), LFW alone isn’t sufficient for proper epistemic function. And as I’ve argued, one may have LFW and still have untrustworthy beliefs if one’s epistemic faculties are not functioning properly.//

Right, but this is why I make my *conditional move*. Sure, a deity of deception could create beings with libertarian freedom but not provide them with the means of inferring better, best, or true beliefs (over false ones) if they are careful. This, however, is not my case. It is also why I spend much time discussing the difference between a Maximally Great Being and a “low view of God.”

//So, the real bulk of the work in the dialectic seems to come from whether we do have proper epistemic function.//

Yes, and I argue that this “proper epistemic function” means we are free (in a libertarian sense) from the causal determinism of an unreliable external force/factor.

//I guess you’re saying that since LFW is an essential ingredient of proper function, the LFW advocate stands a *better (or only) chance* of affirming truthworthy thoughts via proper function, while the EDD cannot affirm proper function cuz they reject LFW?//

I’d be careful to state it something like this: “Libertarian freedom is an essential ingredient of proper function, the LFW advocate stands in an epistemic position to RATIONALLY affirm claims of knowledge via proper function.”

Bottom line: there are two problems for the EDD advocate. One has to do with sourcehood libertarian freedom and the other has to do with what is commonly referred to as PAP (or better referred to as a leeway opportunity/ability). Regarding the problem of not being the source of ones thoughts, evaluations, judgements, and beliefs, if there is no libertarian freedom to think, then all of these thoughts are causally determined by something or someone else. If one has reason to doubt the reliability of this external causal force/factor, then one has reason to doubt their beliefs that are causally determined to arise from all of one’s causally determined thoughts, evaluations, and judgements.

Regarding the problem of no alternative possible EJOs (evaluative judgment options), if something or someone else causally determines you to happily affirm a false belief, then it is impossible for you to infer a better or true belief. Rational agents, if they are careful, can rationally infer better beliefs over false ones. Thus, either rational agents do not exist (which is absurd) or something or someone else does not causally determine all of my thoughts, evaluations, judgements, and beliefs.

Let me know what you think. 

Nace: That’s excellent, Tim. Which the case would ultimately show that any God who determines all people to affirm false beliefs, he could not be the maximally great being.

Sean [a Calvinist who affirms Mere Molinism]: //Yeah this compatibilist non-magisterial Reformed “my will is determined by the highest motives determined by a nexus of other created causes going back to God’s causality” thing needs to stop. That’s ironically settling for the very kind of simplicity the Westminster catechism chews out.

“God from all eternity did, by the most wise (Rom. 11:33) and holy counsel of His own will, freely (Rom. 9:15, 18), and unchangeably (Heb. 6:17) ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11): yet so, as thereby *neither is God the author of sin* (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5), *nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures* (Matt. 17:12; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28); *nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established* (John 19:11; Prov. 16:33).”

Daniel: I would think that on EDD in any form, every human thought… is untrustworthy since it is determined and could be untrustworthy, and on EDD there is no way of knowing whether it is or isn’t.

Michael: Premise 3 is absurd.

Tim: What do you mean by that, brother?

Michael: I mean that it has no rational basis. I get that you are using a name for a character in a movie, but give the deity the name Ldyj and read it again.
What is the rational basis for point 3?

The whole argument suffers from a viewpoint dilemma imo (I am sure there is a technical name). What is untrustworthy for the creation is not necessarily untrustworthy for the deity. If the deity is untrustworthy, that would extend to his ability to divinely determine all things and create the problem of free will in an exhaustively determined universe! If however the deity is successful in determining all things, it is not trustworthiness that is at issue but rather purpose.

Tim: Michael, reasons as to why Ldyj is not reliable would need to be offered to defend the premise. Almost everyone understands that Loki is unreliable so no defense is needed (it’s kind of a conversation starter).

When it comes to the deity of EDD-Calvinism I have offered reasons as to why this view of God is unreliable too. In a nutshell, and as I noted above, all we need to do is have the EDD advocate admit that he is not infallible and that he affirms at least one false theological belief (which I’m sure I do).

If EDD is true and God causally determines all people — even Calvinists — to happily affirm false theological beliefs, then EDD-God is untrustworthy (even if he also causally determines many true beliefs). As I noted above, if the EDD-Calvinist doesn’t know which of his theological beliefs are reliable and which ones aren’t, then all of his theological beliefs become unreliable.

Scott: You might need to also address how the God of the Bible is NOT a Loki, and does not lie (Num 23:19, Titus 1:2) or causally determine people to sin (James 1:13, 1 John 2:16). But CAN allow dishonest, sinful agents to use their freedom to lie which results in His plans being carried out (e.g. 1 Kings 22).

Tim: Scott, yes, but I also show that on EDD-Calvinism God does causally determine people to affirm false beliefs (which seems to be the epitome of deception) and opposes Paul’s description of God in 1 Timothy 2:4. Moreover, on the EDD view, God causally determines people to sin — and most people to be damned.

Ultimately, however, as I explained above, this is a view against what humans stand in an epistemic position to KNOW if EDD is true.


What do you think? 

I’ve only offered a few highlights of this thread and the discussion is still going strong. If you’d like to join this conversation (and many others), you are invited to join the Mere Molinism Facebook group. I hope to see you there. 

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

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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