Molinism – Some Responses

I appreciate that some Molinists / fans of William Lane Craig listened to the Back Pack Radio episode on Molinism and provided some comments.  I’d like to respond to some of the comments.

The first commenter provided the following points:

Molinism was not a response to Jansenism; it came before Jansenism. 

This is true, in the sense that Jansen was only 15 when Molina died.  More technically, Molinism is a Jesuit response to Thomism, as championed by the Dominican theologian, Domingo Bañez.  Jansenism would be one of the heirs to Bañez, rather than the other way ’round.  Since no one (that I know of) speaks of Bañezism, and since the Molinists try to claim that they are Thomists, it seems easier to simply identify Molinism as opposed to Jansenism.  This, however, is technically anachronistic, and it is fair for my Molinist listener to point this out.

Molinists do not believe “somehow God determined it.”

This is true, only in the limited sense that some Molinists would be uncomfortable with using the word “determine” this way.  Nevertheless, what comes to pass is effectively determined by God in Molinism.

Molinists do not believe that 1 Sam 23 teaches that more than 1 actual world exists. 

This is true, and is connected with the grounding problem that Molinists have.

Molinists do believe that God can decide what people will do.

This is true, only in the limited sense that Molinists believe that God can decide from among things that people would do, those things that people will do.  God’s freedom, therefore, is limited – and in a particular set of circumstances, God cannot decide what that person will do, because he cannot decide what that person would do, he can merely decide whether or not the person will be in those circumstances, in Molinism.

The second commenter was commenting on an earlier blog post, which makes similar comments to those in the podcast (link to blog post):

I had written: “In other words, God cannot (according to the Molinist) decide what man would do in any given circumstance, he can simply decide whether or not to let the circumstance arise.”

The commenter responded:

The last phrase is unnecessarily worded to make God sound passive. God doesn’t “let the circumstances arise” He actively creates circumstances.

Sometimes the circumstances include the free acts of free agents.  Molinism does not teach that God “actively creates” those circumstances.  The wording was passive to encompass the full range of circumstances.

The commenter stated:

The phrase “God makes the best of the tiles he’s dealt” from the Scrabble analogy is also misleading since Molinists believes that God chose to create free agents in the first place. Or in other words, these are the resources God is using. One might just turn around and say that in the Calvinist conception God makes the best of what he can do with compatiblist agents.

This is not a very precise objection.  In Molinism, middle knowledge comes prior to the final decree to create the agents.  Unlike the Augustinian/Thomistic/Calvinistic position, in Molinism what the creatures would do is not within God’s control.  In Augustinian/Thomistic/Calvinistic theology, the creatures are clay that can be fashioned by the potter any way that He likes.

The commenter added:

My point is that the phrase is unnecessarily slanted to make God sound powerless. God has to limit Himself to a particular set of options no matter how He creates the world, much like a builder limits himself after he chooses which building materials he is going to use. 

In Molinism, what men would do is not a limitation God imposes on himself, but rather a limitation imposed on God.  It is a little like the difference between a human builder and an ex nihilo creator.  But it is more dramatic than the commenter suggests: on Molinism, it is conceivable that God could have considered creating free agents, only to know by middle knowledge that all humans are transwordly damned.

It happens that such is not the case, but there is nothing in Molinism that explains the existence of at least one possible world in which at least one person is saved, because the possible worlds of Molinism depend on the decisions of free agents that do not themselves actually exist.


39 Responses to “Molinism – Some Responses”

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