Why I Have Repudiated My Posts About Molinism

molinism 1Individuals who follow this blog very closely (refreshing the pages every thirty seconds to see if there are any updates) will have noticed that I have added an addendum to a few pages. I thought that it would be prudent to notate when my views have evolved. The articles will remain available, but only for research purposes rather than as representative as my personal views. Among these posts are those articles that I have written about Molinism. Some may be pleased and others may be disappointed to learn that I have moved away from Molinist thought. However, so long as that addendum has been posted, it is prudent for me to explain why I have repudiated my posts about Molinism.

What good reasons are there to think that it is true?

molinism 2Molinism begins with the doctrine that God possesses middle knowledge. Most people recognize that there are different types of knowledge. There is knowledge of the past (what did happen), knowledge of the present, (what is happening) and knowledge of the future (what will happen). However, middle knowledge is often overlooked. Middle knowledge is the doctrine that God knows what would happen if the circumstances were different. If you made a wrong turn and were late to work, your boss would have chastised you. But in the actual world, you did not make a wrong turn and you were on time.

molinism 3Scripture is replete with statements of counterfactuals. Paul said that if the rulers of this age had understood, then they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. In common tongue, we often think in terms of counterfactuals. If I pull out into traffic, I will cause an accident. Molinism begins with the doctrine that that God possesses middle knowledge. Unfortunately, the debate does not often get past this point. However, the determinist who does not know if they believe in middle knowledge would do well to move passed this point and temporarily concede it for the sake of argument.

How Does God Use His Middle Knowledge?

molinism 4The crucial point is not in whether God possesses middle knowledge, but rather in how he uses middle knowledge. Molinism is more than the doctrine that God possesses it. It is the doctrine that God uses his knowledge of what we would do in certain situations to arrange the world. He puts us in situations in which he knows that we would freely choose to do his will. That is the crucial point that needs to be argued. There are really no good reasons to think that this model of sovereignty is true. It is something like if a man built a shed with a hammer and nails and you were trying to guess which hammer he used. But he has ten hammers. You could say, “Maybe he used this one.” Yes, perhaps he did. But what good reasons are there to think that?

Molinism As An Explanation

molinism 5At this juncture, Molinists will typically suggest that Molinism is the best explanation for a wide range of phenomenon. It has more explanatory scope and power than models such as determinism. It is supposed that Molinism is the best explanation for how Scripture was inspired, how (if) evolution occurred, and most prominently, how we can best understand how God is sovereign over the free choices that men will make. After all, if both the proposition [1] God is sovereign and [2] man is free are true, then there will be situations that they seem difficult to resolve. As many determinists argue, it would have to be the case that God has gotten very lucky that he wins in the end. Molinism seems to provide a resolution to this problem. God is sovereign even over the free choices that men will make, as he places them in situations in which they freely choose to do his will. Accordingly, Molinism is the best explanation for many problems that will arise when one has free agents and a sovereign God.

molinism 6However, the careful reader will have noticed that the argument from explanations only works if you accept the premise that man is free. This is not so much an explanation of why Molinism is superior to determinism. Rather, it is a preservation of the freedom of the will. It is a defensive posture, guarding against the critiques that will come from determinists. For determinism does not suffer from any of these problems. It may have internal problems of its’ own, but insofar as explanatory power and scope are concerned, it has far more than Molinism and can account for all of the data. A top-down control system can account for the inspiration of Scripture, human evolution, evil and suffering, and even human sin.

Arguments That Rely On Divine Psychology?

One of the most common objections to a top-down control system is the question of God’s motivations. Why would he do something in such a way? In A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, Kirk MacGregor writes, “But what kind of God could create a universe in which astronomically improbably mutations would repeatedly occur in the course of nature, as opposed to the special creationist’s universe where these mutations did not occur but where God repeatedly intervened to produce the same long-term effects as if they had occurred? I contend that only a God endowed with middle knowledge would be able to create such a universe.”

This (and many similar arguments) rely on what is known as divine psychology. He is making an argument that it is improbable that God would have guided evolution by natural selection because it seems to be random. Determinism is therefore not a very good explanation. But as I have pointed out, in a top-down control system, God could have created in this way. The question is ‘why did God create it in this way?’ MacGregor seems to be suggesting that he would not have. But that relies on divine psychology. He is presuming to know the mind of God. Perhaps God enjoys the creative process. Perhaps there are any number of explanations of which we are unaware. For his argument to succeed, MacGregor would need to disprove all of the possible intentions that God could have for determining these mutations. This argument bears a burden of proof that has not been (and cannot be) met.

Freedom of The Will

It might be argued that determinism is not as potent of an explanation because it does not allow for freedom of the will. Since Molinism does, it is therefore a better explanation. Of course, this argument would make the assumption that freedom of the will actually exists. We actually do have a libertarian anthropology, and Molinism can account for it. But if freedom of the will does not exist, then this would not be a merit of the Molinist position.

Many Molinists (myself included) have argued for freedom of the will on the basis of one’s intuitions. It is just something that we can plainly grasp about reality. We make decisions and we could have chosen something different. It is therefore thought to be a properly basic belief. There are two problems with this argument. First, it may be the case that we do not have an intuition of freedom. There are many times when we want to do something very badly, but our immediate desires override what we want. A man may want to lose weight, but he cannot bring himself to stave the desire for a donut. It may be that our intuitions indicate that we do not have freedom of the will.

Second, the fact that we chose A when B seemed to be a valid option does not necessarily mean that we could have chosen B. Just imagine a universe in which determinism were true. Would individuals in that universe retroactively think that they could have chosen B? That seems like a difficult assessment to make. The advocate for the intuitions argument would have to say that they would not have that intuition. But in taking that position, they would be bearing a burden of proof that seems impossible to meet. How could you possibly prove that if determinism were true, the people in the deterministic universe would not have the intuition that they could have chosen something different?

Does Molinism Even Accommodate Freedom?

Some determinists will object that Molinism does not even allow individuals to have freedom of the will. There are two arguments worth mentioning. Of course, I am not necessarily committed to either of these arguments, but they are worth considering if we are evaluating Molinism as an explanation for freedom of the will.

First, Dr. Paul Helm briefly argued in his book The Providence of God that Molinism does not allow for a libertarian anthropology. Molinism proposes that if God puts Johnson in situation X, then he will make choice B rather than choice A. But, argues Helm, if Johnson were truly free, he would be able to choose either A or B. If that were the case, then God would not actually have knowledge of what Johnson would do. He would only be able to say that he knows Johnson so intimately that he can make a calculated guess as to what he might choose. Since Molinists believe that God is omniscient, man cannot truly possess a libertarian anthropology.

Second, Dr. James White has argued on several occasions that Molinism is actually a model of micromanagement. Johnson is sort of like a wind-up doll. God is puts him into this situation, manipulating the circumstances so that he will make the choice that aligns with the divine will. But how can it be said that Johnson is truly free in a libertarian sense? The circumstances essentially define the decision that he is going to make.

Does Determinism Accommodate Freedom?

The argument from the explanatory power of Molinism requires that determinism cannot account for human freedom. However, most Calvinists believe in what is known as compatibilism. Compatibilism is the doctrine that man’s freedom is compatible with divine determinism. Man could be free even if his decisions are determined by God. Now, this seems very counter-intuitive. If God has determined what my decisions are going to be, then in what sense can I be said to be making free choices?

Well, a libertarian anthropology certainly would entail that an individual needs to be able to have two active options for a choice to truly be free. God could not determine us to take some action because if we are to be truly free, then we would need to have the option to choose something else. On the other hand, a compatibilistic account of freedom entails that one does not actually need two active options for the choice to be free.

As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy pointed out, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt used an illustration of a scientist who implants two electrodes into Johnson’s brain. One of these electrodes will compel Johnson to make a good decision (G) and the other an evil decision (E). When Johnson strays into evil, the scientist uses the G electrode to compel him to do good instead. However, if Johnson is not trying to do evil, then the G electrode is inactive. Johnson cannot truly choose E, but nonetheless, he is still freely choosing G. The same could be said of us. We are truly free even if we cannot choice to do otherwise.

Therefore it seems to me that even determinism has room for freedom, even if you choose to call it compatibilistic rather than libertarian. (I do not personally think that it makes a difference. However, I would shy away from the libertarian label only because it so often represents the Arminian position and I do not want to muddy the waters.) This disarms Molinism of the argument for a superior explanatory power. It also provides a sufficient rebuttal to the argument that God would be the author of sin, (which I examined more thoroughly here) and the argument that determinism makes it difficult to know if we are reasoning to our conclusions.

Scriptural Exegesis

In Isaiah 10, Isaiah explained that God used the Assyrian army to bring his judgment upon his sinful people. However, the things that the Assyrian army did were evil. So, as it turns out, God punished the Assyrians for the very crimes that he determined them to commit. They had evil intentions, but God used their evil intentions for good. Similarly, in Genesis 50:20, it says that what Joseph’s brothers intended for evil, God intended for good. There are several other similar passages related to predestination.

The Molinists will usually come in at this point and say that all of these passages are consistent with Molinism. Molinism provides a good explanation of these passages. God put Joseph’s brothers in a situation in which they would freely choose to do something evil. The same could be said of the Assyrian army or virtually any text that says that God predestined something. Molinism is said to be consistent with these texts, and I generally agree with that. It certainly is consistent with them.

The problem is that this was not the intention that any of the the authors had when these books were written. Where does the text say God put them in a situation in which he would freely choose to do his will? It is literally eisegesis. It is imposing a concept onto the text that is not found there. It is the complete opposite of how other doctrines such as the trinity are found in Scripture. All of the premises of the trinity are exegeted from Scripture. The other passages are interpreted in light of that exegesis. But in the case of Molinism, there just are no passages upon which one can base their interpretation.

There are certainly passages that speak about middle knowledge and counterfactuals, but these passages are insufficient to establish the premise that God used his middle knowledge to arrange all of the affairs of the world and grant a libertarian anthropology to his creatures. To find Molinism in Scripture is to commit eisegesis. There is no way around it.

But determinism is not there either.

That is the move that Molinists will usually make. They will suggest that there are two (or more) competing interpretations of these passages. Determinism is one and Molinism is the other. There is nothing in the text to decide either way, so you have to analyze these concepts outside of the text, determine which one makes more sense and bring the victor back. The problem is that determinism is in the text. It is just plain understanding of what the text is saying. You could only draw a deterministic interpretation from Genesis 50:20 if you only have the text to go by.

Further, there are many other relevant passages that seem even more explicit. Psalm 33:10-11 reads, “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations. He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever. The plans of His heart from generation to generation.” To find anything other than determinism in this passage is the height of eisegesis.

A Molinist Could Agree

Of course, you could still be a Molinist even if you agree that it is eisegesis to find Molinism in the text. A Molinist does not necessarily need to believe that they can find it in Scripture. But you would have to be a Roman Catholic or a Jesuit. You most certainly could not be an evangelical or a Protestant. As Protestants, we believe that scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church.

However, if that were the case, then you would have to work out how you interpret passages such as Genesis 50:20 or Psalm 33:10-11. Incorporating Molinism is not an option because you have agreed that it is eisegesis. The only option is for you to either live in utter inconsistency, deny the infallibility of Scripture, commit eisegesis or abandon Molinism completely.

An Arminian Resource

Molinists will often tell us that they are not Arminians. However, those who are more savvy recognize that Arminianism is a view of soteriology while Molinism is a view of providence. Accordingly, one could be both an Arminian and a Molinist, or both a Calvinist and a Molinist. However, in general, the majority of Molinists are Arminians. Molinism is almost exclusively employed as an Arminian resource to deflect the arguments of the Reformation. When it touches on soteriology, it is essentially a more philosophically informed version of Arminianism. This is not an argument against Molinism, but Calvinists who are considering Molinism (or are Molinists) should recognize what they are involved in.

Why I Have Repudiated My Posts About Molinism

Molinism may very well be a sound philosophical construction. I am not here to advocate for the Grounding Objection. As I pointed out, I think that God does have middle knowledge and that it would be unthinkable that he does not. Unfortunately, that is often where the debate takes place. Calvinists do not always know how to critique Molinism. The best way to critique Molinism is to put it on the defensive. Ask them why and how they know it is true. There are no good reasons to believe that Molinism is true. That is why I have repudiated my posts about Molinism.



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