Archive for the ‘Molinism’ Category

Calvinism vs. Reformed Molinism Debate

September 10, 2015

The debate has been posted at the Seeing God Ministries website (link to page)(direct link to mp3). The debate pitted Reformed Molinists Richard Bushey and Zachary Lawson against myself and Josh Sommer.

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.

Craig’s Dilemma – Escape for Aseity, but Hello Grounding Objection

May 12, 2014

William Lane Craig says he doesn’t think aseity is threatened by middle knowledge, because he is an anti-realist with respect to abstract objects including possible worlds.  In other words, he views possible worlds as non-existent.  Thus, God’s middle knowledge is not dependent on something outside himself.

While that’s an understandable response, it runs smack into the grounding objection (discussed in more detail here).  By definition, middle knowledge is neither based on God’s nature (or else it would be natural knowledge) nor based on God’s volition (or else it would be free knowledge).

So, either what is called middle knowledge is based on something in God himself (in which case it is really free or natural knowledge, and there is no middle knowledge as such) or middle knowledge is based on something outside God (in which case we have the aseity problem).  It does not seem possible that grounds could be something that is outside God but that doesn’t exist, since – by definition – nothing meets that definition.


Don’t Conflate Middle Knowledge and Knowledge of Contingents of Creaturely Freedom

January 8, 2013

Alfred J. Freddoso in his lengthy introduction to his translation of Molina’s “On Divine Knowledge,” provides some advice that would be well taken by his fellow Molinists (p. 23):

Molina claims that infinitely many conditional future contingents obtained from eternity and that from eternity God had comprehensive knowledge of them. However — and this is very important, though not widely appreciated — neither of these claims distinguishes him from his Bañezian antagonists.[fn35 For an unambiguous admission of the point in question by a Bañezian, see Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., The One God (St. Louis, 1943), pp. 461-462 (n. 134) and 471. It is hard to overemphasize the importance of this point, given a marked tendency among recent writers to err by simply identifying the Molinist doctrine of middle knowledge with the claim that God has knowledge of conditional future contingents (or so-called counter-factuals of freedom). This claim, to repeat, is not a distinctively Molinist one, and, indeed, it was never in dispute in the rancorous sixteenth-century debates between Molinists and Bañezians.] What is distinctive about Molina is his controversial claim that God’s knowledge of conditional future contingents is prevolitional rather than, as the Bañezians would have it, postvolitional.

I would add that Calvinists in the tradition of the real Francis Turretin agree with Bañezians on this point.  Thus, when Dan (who clearly has good taste) argues for Middle Knowledge in Exodus 3:19 by simply arguing that God shows knowledge of a conditional future contingent, or makes similar arguments as “I Told You So Molinism” from Deuteronomy 7:3-4 and 1 Kings 11:2 & 9, he is missing the point.

Rather, he is missing an argument for the distinctively Molinistic view as contrasted with a Bañezians (aka Thomistic) or Calvinistic view.  In other words, we firmly agree that God knows future contingents that are contingent on creaturely freedom (the so-called counter-factuals of freedom).  We simply affirm that God knows those future contingents postvolitionally.

Nothing in or about the cited verses suggests a prevolitional knowledge, and thus appeals to these verses continue to leave Molinism without support as to its distinctive assertions.  We recognize that some Molinists, such as William Lane Craig, are content to acknowledge that Molinism is not something taught by Scripture, and we think that all Molinists ought to join with him in this important concession.



On the difference between prevolitional and postvolitional:

Prevolitional: This term refers to God’s knowledge logically prior to God’s decree of what will be.
Postvolitional: This term refers to God’s knowledge logically following God’s decree of what will be.

In other words, Calvinists say that God knows what a man would freely do or will freely do because God has decided what they would do or will do.  Thus, to take a pedestrian example, if it is true that Dan would eat pepperoni pizza if I offered to him, that is true because God decided that it is true.  Thus, God’s knowledge of this truth is post-volitional – it arises from God’s deciding it to be so.  By contrast, in Molinism God does not decide whether Dan would eat pepperoni pizza if I offered it to him.  This leads to a grounding problem, which I’ve discussed at length elsewhere (link to discussion).

However, contrary to some apparent Molinist thinking, the Calvinistic model does not assume that God decides what would be apparent from means.  Thus, for example, God has decreed what sort of person Dan is, his cultural background, his tastes, and so forth – all of which contribute to Dan’s decision to accept (or not) my offer of pepperoni pizza in our hypothetical.  And my examples of what God has decreed are far too limited: God has decreed just what pepperoni pizza will smell like and how well Dan’s nose will smell that, as well as whether this discussion is making you as hungry as it is making me.

William Lane Craig – If God’s Just a Player, Who is the House?

October 22, 2012

William Lane Craig wrote:

God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.


One of the objections to Molinism is precisely that it reduces God to playing the cards he has been dealt, rather than being the dealer. But then who is the dealer? The creature? And we’re back to the grounding objection (link to discussion of grounding objection).


Molinism – Some Responses

February 28, 2012

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.


Molinism on Back Pack Radio

February 27, 2012

Vocab Malone graciously invited me to discuss Molinism with him and his co-hosts on Back Pack Radio (here is the mp3 of the show).


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