Archive for August, 2015

Pseudo-Augustine "Doubt is an element of Faith"

August 25, 2015

One of my friends pointed out to me a quotation attributed to Augustine, but which didn’t sound Augustinian. My friend’s suspicions were correct. The quotation in question was this: “Doubt is an element of faith.”

I found this attributed to Augustine in a number of sources:

“Doubt, as Saint Augustine wrote, is actually an element of faith.” Immersion Bible Studies: 1 & 2 Corinthians, James L. Evans (2011), Section 4, “Hope Really Does Float” at 1 Corinthians 15-16.

“St. Augustine: ‘Doubt is but another element of faith.'” and “Augustine could say, ‘Doubt is but another element of faith.'” Faith and Reason, William Hemsworth (2009).

“Saint Augustine, early in the first millennium, wrote that ‘doubt is but another element of faith.'” Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game (2013), John Sexton et al., Third Inning “Doubt”.

“St. Augustine: ‘Doubt is but another element of faith.'” Doubting Toward Faith: The Journey to Confident Christianity (2015), Bobby Conway, p. 35.

“As St. Augustine said, ‘Doubt is but another element of faith,’ so for some deeply religious people, the absence of doubt is not the best measure of religious commitment.” Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, p. 19

“‘I’ve told you what Saint Augustine said about not taking Bible completely literally—and “doubt is but another element of faith.”‘” Kurt Andersen, “True Believers: a Novel,” (2012) p. 59.

The actual source for this quotation, however, is Paul Tillich. Ironically, the Baseball book above actually noticed the same thought in Tillich but apparently didn’t realize that Tillich was the original source. Tillich wrote: “But doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” (Systematic Theology, 1975, vol. 2, p. 116) The quotation falsely attributed to Augustine (never with any actual citation to Augustine’s works) is actually just a slight rewording of what Tillich wrote.

I’m not sure exactly how the misquotation began. One possibility is someone misreading Kent Smith’s “Faith: reflections on experience, theology, and fiction” where the quotation from Tillich comes shortly after a mention of Augustine (p. 2). Even more probably, the phrase got stuck in someone’s mind as a pithy quotation. That person then later couldn’t remember who actually said it, and assumed that a pithy quotation like that would have come from a smart guy, and consequently named Augustine as the source.

I’m constantly trying to call folks who write to a higher standard of scholarship, particularly when it comes to use of sources. If you quote something from someone, make the effort to track down your source. If you read something in a book that lacks citations, take it with a grain of salt. It may be right, but a lot of books without citations are poorly researched from other secondary sources, also without source citations. I have no reason to suppose that the original source of this misquotation had any malice. Still, this kind of false attribution can lead to problems that go beyond the original mis-attribution.

Molinism – Responses to a Some Attempted Defenses

August 20, 2015

Someone posting under the name Richard Bushey has a post attempting to defend Molinism against some of the criticisms offered by my friend, Dr. James White (link). I’d like to rebut a few points.

Is Molinism too heavily reliant on philosophy? Mr. Bushey argues that philosophy is inherent to every kind of theology. However, that misses the point. The problem is not simply that Molinism employs philosophy but that it is (at best) totally speculative, based solely on philosophy, rather than being based on Scripture with philosophy being employed to draw out what is implied by Scripture.

Does Molinism begin with libertarian free will aka the “autonomous will of man”? It certainly does. Mr. Bushey says that Molinist just “recognize that freedom of the will exists.” The problem is that Molinists cannot establish this starting principle from Scripture. The Scriptures teach that man has a will and that he makes decisions, but not that man’s will is autonomous. On the contrary, the Scriptures have plenty of contrary examples.

Does Molinism compromise God’s sovereignty? Yes, though not as much Mr. Bushey seems to be willing to let it. Mr. Bushey thinks that on Molinism, God “does not have to dictate every single movement to have sovereignty.” Actually, on Molinism God does decide every single movement in his decree to instantiate a single feasible world. Even so, God’s sovereignty is compromised because there is a difference between the set of “possible worlds” that God could create, and the set of “feasible worlds” that humans would cooperate in bringing about. Thus, God’s choices are limited by human autonomy. Oddly, they are limited by a human autonomy not even yet in existence and consequently having no actual basis.

Mr. Bushey admits, “the Molinist is saying that with the additive of human freedom, then God’s choices become limited because he wants to persist in allowing humans the luxury and virtue of freedom of the will.” Since this imagined freedom supposedly results in the eternal damnation of many, it hardly seems appropriate to call it a luxury, and it quite obviously isn’t a virtue when exercised in that way.

Furthermore, the idea that freedom to fall into damnation is somehow a good thing contradicts the idea that heaven is going to be a good place, since we won’t have the possibility of falling into damnation. Similarly, God himself necessarily lacks the freedom to sin, which suggests that the freedom to sin is certainly not a virtue and is not truly a luxury.

Finally, the Scriptures do not teach or suggest that God has a desire that humans be autonomous. That’s that unbiblical philosophical presupposition creeping back in.

Is predestination still personal on Molinism? In some strains of Molinism, where it is suggested that God tries to save the maximum number of people, it does seem impersonal to that extent. Naturally, there are a variety of Molinistic views, so William Lane Craig’s views on that point are not representative of the entire spectrum of Molinists. When God chooses to instantiate a particular world, that inevitably leads to a particular group of individuals certainly being saved and all the others being certainly lost, on Molinism. So, from that perspective, it is personal and individual.

Who dealt God the cards? One of the central problems of Molinism is the grounding objection. I’ve dealt with at length in a previous post (here), so I won’t repeat it all. In short, while human autonomy is supposed to limit God’s choices prior to the final decree of creation, the problem is that there is no existing created thing at that logical instant to provide the limitation, and the limitation is not internal to God. It’s an insoluable problem that can get glossed over, but which ought to trouble every Molinist. On Molinism, God is not literally dealt cards by a card dealer, but what other than a co-eternal being could limit God before God’s decree to create?

Does Molinism retain freedom of the will? On Molinism, a person in a particular situation would always make the same decision. That does not look, walk, or quack like autonomy – it sounds like determinism. IF a die is a fair die, it has an equal probability of coming up 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. But the Molinist will would, in a particular situation, always come up the same. That looks more like loaded dice.

Is David’s experience in Keliah evidence for Molinism? Some Molinists think that God’s answer to David’s hypothetical question supports the idea of middle knowledge, because it suggests God knows what a person would do, even in circumstances that don’t come to pass. Unfortunately, these Molinists have overlooked that God’s answer is exactly the same as it would be if the men of Keliah were purely deterministic. If you don’t see why, just substitute a non-human in David’s question – “If I stay, will the walls collapse on me?” Obviously, in that case, the answer has nothing to do with middle knowledge. The same is the case with David’s actual question. The only reason for thinking it has to do with middle knowledge is the insertion of the idea of an autonomous human will – an insertion that lacks basis in Scripture.


I’ve skipped over the stuff about Dr. White supposedly not knowing various things. Those accusations can hopefully be seen to be false in view of the explanations above.

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