Friday, November 01, 2019

.....And more on Molinism

Luis De Molina (1535-1600) 

The Reformed theologians in the 17th century who faced Molinism, such as Rutherford and Twisse, seem to have focused their arguments against middle knowledge by stressing the divine decrees. It is a pity that most of their writing is in scholastic Latin. The most direct source of this approach is Turretin’s  discussion of middle knowledge in Institutes !, 212-217, now joined by the excellent translation of relevant passages  by Todd Rester, in volume II of Petrus Van Mastricht’s Theological - Practical   Theology,  2.267f. (Reformation Heritage Books, 2019)

WCF

Ch, III of the WCF, Of God’s Eternal Decree  starts as follows -

I. God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will, not is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
 III  Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foreknow it as future, or as that  which would come to pass upon such conditions.

Paragraph III cuts off middle knowledge, which has God being presented by an array of counterfactuals of (libertarian ) freedom, and his election of that one which is most accord  with his purposes. Not so, says the Confession.  God’s decrees and his foreknowledge cover the same ground, and are grounded by the divine intuition, not by God's inspection of un-decreed possibilities.  His decrees are the ground of whatever happens. They do not include decreeing based on what he foreknew as future, nor of what he foreknew would occur as a result of conditions other than his decree. These statements should be amplified by the chapter on Providence, and on questions 12- 14 of the Larger Catechism.

Van Mastricht

Petrus van Mastricht regards middle knowledge as superfluous for Christian theology for the several reasons, including this:

 ‘[S}ince every knowable thing is subject to the two received knowledges, natural and free [knowledge]. For if a thing is considered as merely possible, then undoubtedly it falls under natural knowledge. If it is considered as having a connection with various second causes, and thus as a thing that will occur if it should be construed with  those second causes, even though it never actually will occur, it  belongs to that latter knowledge that depends upon the decree, the decree that constituted at creation the order that would thereafter  be applied to things, so that for example, dry straw would be burned if it were laid near  a flame, even though God never did decree that it would be laid there or burned, And finally, a thing will actually occur belongs to the free knowledge.’(2. 268)

Note two or three things about what is quoted above. The divine decree is free, for as the Confession earlier has asserted, God himself ismost free; that is, it is only brought about by the divine nature that had the power to make other decrees, or none at all. Second, providence it is in effect a continuous creation, as God in effect extends the initial creative acts according to his decree. It is a primary effect, of God himself, embodying sets of secondary effects as what is decreed in accordance with the nature of what is being continued in existence. As stated in the Westminster chapter on providence, ‘[God] ordereth all things to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either  necessarily, freely or contingently’ (V.II) The falling out of a rock, is different from that of a plant, or a human being. So the things created are by God’s power and wisdom, ‘established’.

Theologians such as William Twisse and Samuel Rutherford were not so much interested in whether Molinism was internally satisfactory,  that whether God know the outcome of a counterfactual of libertarian freedom, as in cutting it off at the root,  because they could not conceive of any counterfactuals of creaturely freedom being true that were not first decreed by God, and true because of this, and so part of his free knowledge. What is a counterfactual? It is not a ‘factual’, what is decreed. So if X, something decreed, were be expressed in a counterfactual of the form, ‘If X were to have….’ Or If X had done D, it would have …..’ none of these are facts, because not decreed. The counterfactual does not follow from what has already been decreed, but it is simply a ‘free floating’ form of words. So they argued ad hominem against Molinism by denying the very idea of middle knowledge.

Their answer to the ‘grounding’ objection would be that what grounds the truth is not a state of affairs that exists apart from the decree of God, but only what is decreed, one of the countless events, or states of affairs, brought to exist by God’s decree. For what comes to pass is only what is decreed. So the idea of middle knowledge, some category between the divine natural knowledge (his knowledge of all possibilities), and free knowledge (his knowledge of actualities) of what he has decreed, and so brought into being, all actualities), of God, is inadmissible. How could it be known to God that in circumstances C, A will freely do P other than by being unconditionally decreed by him, and so being an aspect of the divine free knowledge.

For the Reformed who debated Molinism in the seventeenth century, God’s knowledge of what takes place in his creation, whatever else it is, is necessarily knowledge of what he will decree. So the idea that there are states of affairs, including the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, which are distinct from the divine mind and which are made true or false only by acts of creaturely freedom which God abets by supporting and enabling, is quite unacceptable. Theologians such as Bruce Ware, who find a place for ‘Reformed Molinism’ (God’s Greater Glory, pp.110-112) are an odd and an inexplicable exception. The problem with introducing such a theological view into the current work on middle knowledge is that it has the effect of changing the subject.

Those contemporary scholars with Calvinistic convictions do not figure very prominently in current debates about Molinism, which is (as a rule) defended by those who wish to retain a traditional understanding of the scope of divine omniscience, and rejected the possibility of csuch future libertarian actions, and is held by those who uphold libertarianism and who let go of the traditional view of God’s omniscience. So viewed theologically, modern discussion  is a debate within the libertarian guild, discussed without any reference to the necessity and scope of the divine decrees. To admit a Calvinist to the party would be a conversation-stopper or at least a conversation-changer, in which the Calvinist would do his best to show how inaccurate it is to characterise his position as theological fatalism, and ourselves as puppets or machines, being run along fatalistic lines.


oo0oo

Note – those whose appetite for discussion of middle knowledge is not at this point assuaged might care to read the article of Charles Rennie,  in two parts, currently available at Reformation 21. His article, a confessionally-based discussion, is entitled ‘Is Middle Knowledge Biblical?' An Evaluation’.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

A review of a book on Molinism

This is an enlarging of the text of a review that was published some time ago

Molinism, The Contemporary Debate, ed. Ken Perszyk, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, vii+320 pages)

The popularity of ideas, as that of other things, ebbs and flows. This is true even in philosophy, where the intention is for reason to prevail. In philosophy there is intense clarification of concepts and their implications, and deployment of arguments in which these concepts figure.  Arguments may be proved to be invalid, or to be based on ideas which are dubious because confused.  When I was younger Logical Positivism and its effects prevailed. It has the characteristic thesis that unless a proposition could be verified or falsified (or is in principle verifiable and falsifiable) by sense experience it was cognitively, i.e. literally meaningless. It was counter-argued that by that standard many scientific claims are unverifiable or unfalsifiable, and that scientific laws appear to be verifiable or falsifiable in principle. Many other propositions were unfalsifiable yet meaningful. Why then not theological propositions? For a while the arguments go to and fro, some being convinced that logical positivism is indefensible, others that it is defensible, and many in-between. And what of the ‘private language argument’? Time was when students wrote doctoral theses on the topic. What usually happens is after some time a tiredness settles over the academic community, as the arguments for what is fashionable are rehearsed and re-visited, and as little new light emerges. People look for other things to argue about. The wheel turns.

In the 1970’s Alvin Plantinga defended and developed the free will defensce against the charge that it is inconsistent to suppose that there is evil in a universe created by an all-good, all-powerful God. Plantinga’s adherence to a libertarian account of human freedom is crucial to this argument. It is fair to say that he elaborated this argument with a sophistication that is without parallel in the modern literature. In what may be called the second phase of this work he employed the newly-developed semantics of modal logic to argue that God can know the counterfactuals of freedom, propositions such as ‘If A were placed in circumstances C, he would freely choose to X rather than Y’. He knows what would happen in the future since he knows what A would freely do if placed in circumstances C. God can then ’weakly actualise’ C in some circumstances which best suit his purposes knowing that, say, in those circumstances A will choose X. (For details, see Plantinga God. Freedom and Evil, 49f).

Little did Plantinga know (until it was pointed out to him by the likes of Anthony Kenny and Bob Adams), that by that argument he had thereby re-invented the Molinist doctrine of middle knowledge: that besides God’s natural knowledge, and his free knowledge, he possesses middle knowledge, knowledge of the counterfactuals of human freedom (and , for all I know, of angelic freedom, as well).  By actualizing a possible world in which this state of affairs is true, God can ensure that creaturely freedom is preserved for someone as well retaining his immaculate knowledge of the future free actions of his creatures. Bingo!

Perhaps it is too precipitate to conclude that there remains some doubt in the minds of some involved in this matter whether even the divine omniscience can embrace the counterfactuals of indeterminate acts. It is said to depend on the grounding ‘objection’. That an individual with equipoise between A and not-A gives vanishly small evidence of which his free choice will go for.

Plantinga’s proposal precipitated an avalanche of discussion on Molinism. Parts of Molina’s Concordia were translated into English for the first time, and several philosophical theologians became avowed Molinists, applying the insights not only to the problem of evil, but to the incarnation, providence, prayer, heaven and hell, perseverance in grace, and so on. The main practitioners here are Tom Flint (Divine Providence and innumerable articles) and Bill Craig (The Only Wise God and equally innumerable articles, and other books). The likes of Flint and Craig were prominently challenged, among others, by William Hasker, for whom how God might know the future free actions of his creatures, and they be brought about, is beside the point, he being an Open Theist.  Some of the articles by these and others have been collected  in Middle Knowledge: Theory and Applications edd. William Hasker, David Basinger and Eef Dekker, (Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang, 2000)

Now there is another collection, welcome of course, but several features about it suggest that, after a surge of interest, the Molinist tide is ebbing. No one now gets excited over the ‘grounding objection’ to Molinism, the objection that God cannot have knowledge of future free actions unless he has evidence, and what could that evidence be, given libertarian freedom? A number of contributions review and summarise the course of arguments in ‘Molinist studies’ without offering any new arguments, while others go to topics at the margin, such as theodicy (and hard determinism).  This also suggests that the tide of interest and philosophical argument and counter-argument is retreating, and that Molinism will drop in the league table of interest to be replaced by the next issue to attract interest. 

In his helpful Introduction to this new collection Ken Perszyk not only provides interesting historical background, he restates the distinction between the theory of middle knowledge, its perspicuous statement, and the discussion of resources that may be called upon to overcoming of objections to its deployment, on the one hand its application, to grace, predestination and free will and other theological areas. The question, can it fly? raises one set of questions. If so, where can it fly to? raises another, though it would misleading to suppose that those who are interested in this second question wait patiently until the first question is settled, if it can be settled to general satisfaction. And this is fair enough, because the second question can in any case be raised hypothetically: if Molinism were to be theoretically satisfactory, where could it be deployed?

Among the chief theoretical questions are: questions about the counterfactuals of freedom, whether there can be any that are true; our old friend the ‘grounding objection’. This is featured here in two summary discussions, Hasker, ‘The (Non)-Existence of Molinist Counterfactuals’, and Tom Flint in ‘Whence and Whither the Molinist Debate: A Reply to Hasker’), and the latest rounds of the debate. A second kind of theoretical objection, that concerned with bringing about counterfactuals of freedom, making them true by what we do, is also discussed. This features Hasker again, and Flint and Trenton Merricks. And there is discussion about whether there can be true counterfactuals of freedom prior to God’s decree of them. Objections along this line go back to J.L. Mackie. The remaining papers are by Dean Zimmerman and Merricks, Edwin Mares and Ken Perszyk, Edward Wierenga, William Lane Craig and Greg Restall Those by Derk Pereboom, Hugh McCann and perhaps John Fischer, on determinism and providence, the free will defense, and on what Molinism does and does not imply, stand apart from the main lines of argument. Some of the papers are quite technical, because a further reason for discussing Molinism is a philosophical interest in conditionals and modality. All the discussions on the theological use of Molinism have this in common: an overriding concern to safeguard human libertarian freedom. This needs to be borne in mind when we read, for example, that middle knowledge provides ‘the reconciliation of divine sovereignty and human freedom’, William Lane Craig means divine sovereignty in the Arminian sense.) But it is not obvious that the counterfactuals of indeterministic choices  are consistent with the powers of the God of classical theism.

The recently published volume contributing to Calvinism and Middle Knowledge,  A Conversation, edited by John D. Laing, Kirk R. MacGregor and Greg Welty (Eugene Or. Wipf and Stock, 2019)  is certainly interesting. As regards so-called ‘applied’ Molinism, the satisfactoriness or otherwise of these discussions  depends in part on what one regards as a satisfactory Christian doctrine, even a satisfactory Calvinist doctrine!  But intriguing as it is, Molinism cannot be allowed to determine the contours of a Christian doctrine  or how it is to be formulated, much less control what counts as Calvinism.


Harking back to the objection to there being true counterfactuals of freedom prior to God’s decreeing of them, this is one of the few places at which contemporary discussion of Molinism connects with the original Reformed objections to Middle Knowledge. Theologians such as William Twisse and Samuel Rutherford were not so much interested in whether Molinism was internally satisfactory as in cutting it off at the root because they could not conceive of any counterfactuals of creaturely freedom being true that were not first decreed by God, and true because of this, and so part of his free knowledge. So they argued ad hominem against Molinism by denying the very idea of middle knowledge.  Their answer to the ‘grounding’ objection would be that what grounds the truth is not evidence that exists apart from the decree of God, but that decree. So the idea of middle knowledge, some category between the natural and free knowledge of God, is inadmissible. How could it be known to God that in circumstances C, A will freely do P other than by being unconditionally decreed by him, and so being an aspect of the divine free knowledge. If God cannot know this it cannot be true? (Do I hear you say that there is some equivocation in these debates in the use of ‘knowledge’ in phrases such as ‘middle knowledge’ and ‘God’s free knowledge’? Indeed there may be, but the fact goes largely unnoticed.)

For the Reformed who debated Molinism in the seventeenth century, God’s knowledge of what takes place in his creation, whatever else it is, is knowledge of what he will decree. So the idea that there are states of affairs, including the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, which are distinct from the divine mind and which are made true or false only by acts of creaturely freedom which God abets by supporting and enabling, but which he does not foreknow, is quite unacceptable. Theologians such as Bruce Ware, who find a place for ‘Reformed Molinism’ (God’s Greater Glory, pp.110-112) are an odd and an inexplicable exception. The problem with introducing such a theological view into the current work on middle knowledge is that it has the effect of changing the subject.

This is why those philosophers with Calvinistic convictions do not figure very prominently in current debates about Molinism, which is (as a rule) defended by those who wish to retain a traditional understanding of the scope of divine omniscience, and covers future libertarian actions, and is attacked by those who uphold libertarianism and who let go of the traditional view of omniscience. So viewed theologically, it is a debate within the libertarian guild, discussed without any reference to the necessity and scope of the divine decrees, and it excludes such as Hugh McCann who upholds absolute divine sovereignty and libertarian free will. To admit a Calvinist to the party would be a conversation-stopper or at least a conversation-changer, in which the Calvinist would do his best to show how unfair it is to characterize his position as theological fatalism, and ourselves as puppets or machines run along fatalistic lines. (The ‘fates’ are in fact the purposes of  God our creator who has given us life and who governs what he has created towards specific ends in accordance with his good and wise purposes.) He may in turn attempt to change the conversation. perhaps by calling the God of Molinism the ‘Demiurge’ (p.11 fn.22), and calling Open theologians ‘Socinians’. But nothing is to be gained by name-calling.

Reformed  theologians like Rutherford and Twisse wrote copiously on middle knowledge in the 17th century. Next time I'll say more about them.












Thursday, August 01, 2019

Jonathan Edwards and the Rabbi



John 'Rabbi Duncan, 1796-1870



I dissent from Jonathan  Edwards’ doctrine, because he hazards a speculation, on will qua will, and therefore in reference to all will, divine and human. It is fatal to establish a necessary chain throughout every will in the universe. The divine acts are free, They are necessary, I maintain, qua moral, though free qua will. But I am a determinist as much as Edwards.

That’s John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan, in his Colloquia Peripatetica. Page 29 of the last edition, 1906.  This book is one of a few that I cannot put down when I open it. Here’s a link for a free electric copy: (Colloquia Peripatetica .. : Duncan,  John : Free Download, 
https://archive.org/details/colloquiaperipat00dun) There's also Only A Talker ed. John Brentnall, published by the Banner of Truth, which features his sayings.

I dare to say that ‘Rabbi’ Duncan  has not got things quite right on Edwards.

A couple of posts back in Helm's Deep, there are some remarks on divine freedom, focusing on a detail of the Westminster Confession, Chapter 2. God is said there to be  ‘most free’. What  follow are some further remarks on this topic.

Edwards was a classical theist, stressing divine fullness. He wrote in correspondence to a Scottish friend after his ejection from the Northampton pulpit, that he could subscribe to the Confession. Although he was a compatibilist regarding the mutable creation, he was in fact able to distinguish the Creator from his creatures, and did so.. In Part III In of his Freedom of the Will he has a chapter or section of Part IV, Section 7, entitled ‘Concerning the Necessity of the Divine Will’. His point is that though God‘s perfections could not be other than they are, nevertheless God is worthy of our worship and admiration, of praise and thanksgiving. God does not create or change or modify his perfections. The Supreme Being is the source of all other being. Creation is the model. He spoke and it was done. Those creatures that are external to him do not determine God's actions, he acts according to his untold power and wisdom. His ‘will was not confined, kept under, and held in servitude by something, which, as it were, maintain a strong and invincible power and dominion over it, by bonds that held him fast, and that he could by no means deliver himself from’. ‘Tis no disadvantage or dishonor to a being, necessarily to act in the most excellent and happy manner, from the necessary of his own nature. This argues no imperfection, inferiority or dependence, nor any want of dignity, privilege or ascendency.’ (377)

The reason why it is not dishonorable, to be necessarily most holy,  is because holiness in itself is an excellent and honorable thing. For the same reason, it is no dishonor to be most wise, and in every case to act most wisely, or do the thing which is the wisest of all; for wisdom is also in itself excellent and honorable. (381)

And so on. God is most necessary and free by being himself. What I venture to say that “Rabbi” Duncan has missed is this distinction between Creator and the creature’, in supposing the idea of determinism would have a parallel effect on both the Creator and the creature if determinism is granted on either, or on both. The creature is a product of the creation, it depends on it and is constrained by it, and has freedom as the power and choice that he or she is gifted with.  The Creator is by definition radically other than this. He is not created, but his possessed of aseity, aseitas, independence, (Not that he has created himself! For he is not created full stop.)

More to the point, nothing in the reality of God can be ultimately determined by any source outside himself. He cannot be determined. Hence he cannot have a determiner. Hence determinism cannot touch him. His actions are expressions of power and wisdom of which grandest of creatures have no real understanding, though we all have some. Rom. 1.18-20) . So if the creature is determined ad extra in everything he does, and so is determined, the Creator cannot be determined. So determinism in that sense cannot touch the Creator. So the question of whether God is acted upon does not arise.

So I suggest Duncan is mistaken to attribute creaturely conditions to the creator (‘It is fatal to establish a necessary chain throughout every will in the universe’ but Edwards does not attempt this, but the reverse). But at the same time God does not have any indeterminateness in his action, no  absolute indifference. This is the state of divine sovereignty. As in Acts 15.16.  James is speaking to the Jerusalem Council, The ESV reads, ‘known from of old’, the  NIV  ‘and have been known for ages’, and best of all the KJV, ‘known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world’’. This is part of his citation of Isa.45.11.

II

Some qualifications

But though Edwards holds that God had no reason to change whatever is in his plan, this emphasis on the nature of divine freedom does not mean for Edwards that God cannot be thought of making such a deviation , for he says that God could do what he has not in fact done. This is not the biblical case like Christ refers to the stones that could have been turned into children of Abraham.  “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’, “for I tell you, ‘God is able from these stones to raise children to Abraham.’ ”  (Matt. 3.9) Christ refers openly to what God is able to do.

The Bible refers to matters that could have happened but have not occurred nor never will occur. Christ refers to the stones that could have been turned into children of Abraham. “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’, for I tell you, ‘God is able from these stones to raise children to Abraham.’ ”  (Matt. 3.9) This is clear.

But in Edwards’ case there are instances of him thinking what God could have done, or that he thinks that God could do. These are some of what we can call his ‘thought experiments’. These are experiments in language, part of the stock in trade of philosophers. They have a long history, but Locke gave them a new lease of life, and Edwards follows Locke. By them you are intended to put pressure on your intellectual intuitions,.

In his book on the freedom of the will he uses thought experiments sparingly. For example, he writes in Part IV S. 8, ‘Some Further Objections Against the Moral Necessity of God’s Volitions Considered' (364 f.) as follows – ‘Let us for clearness’ sake suppose, that God had at the beginning made two globes….. ’perfectly alike in every respect, and placed them near one to another……..

The details do not concern us. The fact is, here is a supposition on Edwards’s part’, which for all we know God did not choose and may never have chosen. The question is, given what Edwards allows regarding God’s necessity, is such a supposition allowable consistently? Everything that happens is an expression of the wisdom and power (and other perfections) of almighty God. Is this supposition about God warranted? Is any supposition about God that we devised from our own heads, warranted? Here is something that God has not done. Human beings may have done other than what they did. But in Edwards's doctrine of God cannot do other than what he has done. For him 'it is impossible but that God should be good'  (480) and this impossibility reaches down to each expression of that goodness, no matter how seemingly trivial. 

Perhaps this reaction is over-scrupulous. But isn't Edwards on dangerous ground here? Or because he is warranted by Jesus,  who taught  that God could have done things that he did not do, then so may we? In any case, he was notably cautious. Perhaps he wanted to avoid the slippery slide ahead.