A Critique Of "Why I Reject Molinism"



Molinism is a view I adopted rather recently, or…to be precise, a view I realized I’ve pretty much always held recently as some of my early Cerebral Faith articles and things I’ve said in online conversations had rather Molinistic undertones. I just didn’t have it philosophically worked out in my head like I do now.

What is Molinism? For those who’ve been following this blog for a long time, no explanation is needed as I’ve written several blog posts last year about Molinism, 3 of which were linked to on Molinists.com. But for you newcomers, I’ll briefly explain Molinism. According to the Molinist, God has 3 types of knowledge.

1: Natural Knowledge.
2: Middle Knowledge.
3: Free Knowledge.

The first is God's knowledge of necessary truths or natural knowledge. These truths are independent of God's will and are non-contingent. This knowledge includes the full range of logical possibilities. Examples include statements like, "All bachelors are unmarried" or "X cannot be A and non-A at the same time, in the same way, at the same place" or "It is possible that X obtain" or “It is impossible for squares to be triangular”. The second is called “middle knowledge” and it contains the range of possible things that would happen given certain circumstances, for example “If Evan Minton chooses to eat fish at this particular restaurant rather than a burger, he would get food poisoning and have a miserable weekend.” or “If Evan’s dog breaks his leash and starts running after a squirrel, he would chase after it”. The third kind of knowledge is God's free knowledge. This type of knowledge consists of contingent truths that are dependent upon God's will; that is to say, truths that God brings about. Examples of this would include “God becomes incarnate in the first century A.D” or “God created the universe”. This is knowledge that God has because He has chosen to bring it about.

So, according to the Molinist, God not only knows what will happen and what could happen, but also what would happen. God literally knows everything there is to know about everything. He even knows counter-factuals (“If X happens, then Y would happen after it”).

Under it, God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering humanity's freedom. Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent would freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, if placed in circumstance C, would freely choose option X over option Y. Thus, if God wanted to accomplish X, all God would do is, using his middle knowledge, actualize the world in which A was placed in C, and A would freely choose X. God retains an element of providence without nullifying A's choice and God's purpose (the actualization of X) is fulfilled. Molinists believe that God uses His middle knowledge also in achieving a person’s salvation. He places them in a situation where He knows that they, if placed in that situation, would freely choose to accept Him as their Lord and Savior.

An easy way to remember what these sections are call is to attach a single word to each of them; Could, Would, and Will.

Natural = Could
Middle = Would
Free = Will

Recently though, a Calvinist named Ryan Foster wrote an article on his blog Theology Rocks explaining why he rejects Molinism. It is the purpose of this blog post to explain why I think his reasons for rejecting Molinism aren’t very good. You can view his article here ----> http://theology.rocks/2015/02/why-i-reject-molinism/comment-page-1/

1: “Molinism Fails To Allow For God’s Sovereignty.

Ryan Foster writes ///Take a close look at Molinism, from any responsible source, and you’ll notice that Molinism starts by talking about God’s knowledge. God knows things; there are facts that are simply true, and they are not rooted in God Himself. God only knows them.”/// -- I can’t help but notice his discussion on natural knowledge is incorrect. He writes of the content of natural knowledge: “facts that are simply true, like 2+2=4.” But this is not quite right. They’re not “simply” true: they’re necessarily true. Statements like 2 + 2 = 4 isn’t a truth just happens to be true. It’s not something just happens to be true. It has to be true. It cannot possibly be false. There is no possible world where 2 + 2 = anything but the number 4. It’s also crucially imperative to make a note of the fact that two of the three logical moments of knowledge are utilized by every scholarly faction from the Aquinas-era onward (natural and free) and are, for the most part, non-controversial. It was only middle knowledge that people debated over. Thus, in rejecting natural knowledge one is only rejecting Molinism insofar as one is rejecting the views of virtually every theologian with the exception of William of Ockham.

He then writes \\\“But the question we must ask is, if these facts are fixed (unchangeable), then by what were they fixed? Is there some force that operates on a higher plane of existence than God that works these things out? Does God have to obey some external set of laws or principles, which dictate that 2 + 2 must equal 4?”\\\ -- My answer to his question here would be no. No, there is no higher plane of existence than God that works these things out. These are necessary truths. Many theologians, both modern day and throughout the centuries, both Calvinist and Arminian, have believed that God can do all things that are logically possible. He cannot do the logically impossible. God cannot, for example, make a square circle or a married bachelor or a one ended stick. God cannot make tautologies false and contradictions true. I don’t think this limits God at all, but if Ryan Foster thinks it does and wants to subscribe to the view known as Universal Possiblism, then his arguments against Molinism would fall to the ground immediately. Arguments depend on logic. If God can do the logically impossible, if He can make tautologies false and contradictions true, then I could make the argument that God can, in His omnipotence, bring it about that everything he said in his article is true and false at the same time, and my criticisms of his arguments in this blog post are both true and false at the same time. Or that both of our contradicting blog posts are equally true. This is nonsense. I could also make the argument that God could bring it about that the Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, Open Theists, and the Pelagians are all correct in their soteriological views. The Bible teaches all 5 of these views. So much for debating the issue. Looks like we’re all winners.

This is what happens when one tries to get God to act beyond the logically possible. Atheists run into the same dilemma when arguing for universal possiblism. The logical version of the problem of evil cannot succeed as an argument if God is not bound by logic. But I don’t think he is really “bound” by logic per se, as though the laws of logic were chains around His divine arms. I think, like many theologians, that logical consistency is part of the very nature of God…like His love and moral perfection. In this case, we could argue that even if God had the power to do the logically impossible, He would not do so because that would contradict His rational nature. In fact, this is precisely why it’s called natural knowledge. As Randy Everist, author of the blog Possible Worlds writes “It’s called natural knowledge because it relates to what is known in God’s nature itself. Many theologians and most Molinists take this to mean that God’s nature is the ground of or is the content of these truths (which include truths of objective moral values, mathematical truths, and other necessary truths, including all possibilities, since whatever is possible is necessarily possible).”

Mr. Foster proceeds to say that Molinism fails to show how God can be supreme over all things and seems to refute it. Mr. Foster proceeds to criticize William Lane Craig for what he said in his article “How Can Christ Be The Only Way To God” which addresses the issue in one part of it as to why God hasn’t actualized a possible world where all people are saved. Craig said in the quotation that a world of universal salvation may be an infeasible world for God to create, and that if such a world were feasible for God to actualize, He would have actualized it. But given His will to create free creatures, God had to accept that some would freely reject Him and His every effort to save them and be lost.

Dr. Craig suggests that it is possible that “God has created a world which has an optimal balance between saved and lost, and those who never hear the Gospel and are lost would not have believed in it even if they had heard it.” I happen to agree with him. His point is demonstrated with an example. Craig said “Suppose that the only worlds in which everybody freely believes the Gospel and is saved are worlds with only a handful of people in them, say, three or four. If God were to create any more people, then at least one of them would have freely rejected His grace and been lost.” In fact, I said the same thing in my post “Molinism: Why Isn’t Everyone Saved?”and in the debate I had with an atheist in the comment section of “The Ontological Argument”.

Mr. Foster thinks that this view, this argument, is incompatible with texts like Isaiah 46:9-10. What does this passage of scripture say? “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” – I don’t think this argues against Molinism at all. I don’t think it even argues that God cannot actualize a world of FREE creatures who ALL come to repentance FREELY. How so? Well, as Randy Everist points out “….we  must consider the truths of CCFs. Consider worlds W and W-1, where Randy exists in a particular set of circumstances in both. Now it is either true or false that, if Randy were in those circumstances, then he would either freely do X or not do X. Suppose that Randy would not freely do X in W-1, and further suppose God wants Randy to do X in precisely those exact same set of circumstances. Well, God could force Randy to do X in exactly those circumstances. Or he could allow Randy to act freely, and Randy won’t do it (or he could alter the circumstances if relevant CCFs are true such that he could accomplish the goal of Randy doing X, but that’s not germane to this particular point). But notice what logic tells us cannot be the case: God cannot both bring about that exact set of circumstances and have Randy act freely and get world W. What he will get is—again, by logic—world W-1. This is huge, for it is clear there is no non-logical limit, and thus is just an expression of who God is, not a factor against him.”

Worst case scenereo is that the passage would argue for divine determinism and that God gets everyone saved whom He wants to saved, which I think is the point Mr. Foster is trying to make. But it may very well be that a world of universal salvation is infeasible for God to actualize given libertarian free will in all human beings. But does the Isaiah passage argue for a deterministic view? I don’t think so. When God says “I have declared the end from the beginning”, that could mean that God chose a possible world where everything would happen if he chose to actualize that possible world. You see, a possible world I think maybe the best way to think of a possible world is to think of it as a conjunction of true propositions. Let’s imagine some propositions p, q, r, s, and so on. These would be statements like, “Bob Smith goes surfing in Hawaii in the year 2009,” “Bob Smith becomes a Christian in 2011” “Bob Smith reads this Cerebral Faith post in 2015.”, "Bob Smith chooses to read all of my posts on Molinism and gives up his current soteriological view for Molinism" (lol) and so on. These are all just various propositions. You can imagine a possible world is just a huge conjunction of such propositions:

p & q & r & s & . . .

So that all of the propositions that are true are included in that conjunction. We can alter some of these propositions – we can negate them – to arrive at a different possible world. For example, a series of possible worlds might be:

World #1 could be: p & q & r & s & . . .

World #2 could be: not-p & q & not-r & s & . . .

World #3 could be: not-p & not-q & r & s & . . .

World #4 could be: p & not-q & not-r & not-s & . . .

Each one of these will represent a different possible world – a maximal description of the way reality might be. When we are talking about possible worlds, we are not talking about parallel universes or other sorts of worlds that exist, populated with actual people and things. We are just talking about abstract descriptions, maximal descriptions, of the way reality might be. From a Molinist perspective, God had a potentially infinite list of these maximal descriptions that He could have actualized.

So, if world number 1 is a world where Bob goes surfing in 2009, becomes a Christian in 2011 and reads this very blog post in 2015, and God chooses actualize world number 1, God, in a sense, decreed that ALL of these things would come to pass, and He did so without causally determining all of Bob’s actions….using his middle knowledge. So, when God says “I’ve declared the end from the beginning” does that mean He causally determined everything to happen from the beginning of creation to the end? It might mean that. But it might also mean exactly what I just said, that He actualized a world where where a specific beginning obtained, and specific end obtained. God declared that a world would be actualized where P would the beginning and S would be the end, for example.

Mr. Foster writes \\\\” The Bible does not portray God as knowing things.”\\\\ --- Well, this is blatantly false. One only need to point to passages like Psalm 139:1-6 or 1 John 3:20 to refute this statement.

He writes \\\\”If God had wanted to create a world with 7.125 billion people, where every single one of them was saved, He would have done it. We should not infer from the fact that people are not saved that God is just not up-to-snuff. Instead, we should consider that perhaps the salvation of all mankind is not God’s goal.”\\\\ ---- Now we reach the crux of the issue. This is the rallying cry of many Calvinists. If God doesn’t get want He wants all the time, every time, He’s not sovereign. If a human being does something that’s against God’s will, He’s not sovereign.

God is sovereign. He has given human beings free will because He chose to. That’s the only reason why we have free will. If God wanted to determine the thoughts and deeds of every person from Adam and Eve to the present, He would have and could have done so. God could put proverbial puppet strings on every human being and make them be nice to each other all the time. No one would do anything evil and no one would end up in Hell. But God didn’t want to do that. God chose to give human beings free will so that we choose to be with Him forever or choose to be away with Him forever. Why? Because if He did, our love for Him wouldn’t be genuine.

If I were to program my computer to say that it loved me, would I feel loved? No. There would be no love there. I only programmed the computer to say it loved me. It really didn't have any other choice but to say that about me. Or think of this, if I programmed a robot to be nice to me and to take care of me, my family and even provide for the poor, would we find anything the robot does to be praiseworthy? Would we think the robot had genuine love? No. The only reason the robot is showing us affection, putting our needs and the needs of the poor above its own is because we programmed it to do such. We determined that the robot would be a loving humanitarian. It was impossible for the robot to do anything else.

It seems self defeating to me to say that an all sovereign God cannot choose give the creatures He creates freedom of choice. After all, He’s sovereign! He can do anything He wants, right? He can give human beings free will if He wants to, right?

He sovereignly chose to give man libertarian free will. Why is God not allowed to do that? In his book "Against Calvinism", Roger Olson said that “God is sovereign over his own sovereignty”. I agree with him. Richard Bushey of ThereforeGodExists.com gave an analogy a while back in his Facebook group with regards to this topic. He said that libertarian freedom does not make God unsovereign. For example, he said a parent might allow his child to make mistakes, but just because he chooses to let his child make the mistake doesn’t mean he’s not in charge. The parent is still very much in charge. Likewise, God is sovereign when he allows people to do things which are not according to His desires. Just because He gives people libertarian freedom in no way means that God is not in charge of the universe. Of course, I guess it would all depend on your definition of “sovereign”. If what you mean by “sovereign” is a deity who has decreed every tiny motion of every single atom and subatomic particle and every word, thought, and deed in the universe, then yeah, Molinism makes God un-sovereign by that definition. But I happen to think that God's sovereignty means that nothing happens unless God either causes it OR allows it to occur. Either causation or permission. Not a single leaf falls unless God allows it to happen. Anything that comes to pass, comes to pass because God either caused it or allowed it. This is what Molinists believe.

God has very meticulous control over human history. Everything that happens is because He chose to place people at particular places at specific times in history. The reason Judas betrayed Jesus is because God knew Judas WOULD betray Him IF he endured through the circumstances he endured through. He knew Pilate, Caiaphas, and the others would also do the things they did if born in the times and places they did. They all acted freely, but God sovereignly brought Christ’s death by acting on His knowledge of what these agents would do in any given situation. The reason I’m typing this now is because God knew “If Evan comes across this blog post on his Facebook news feed, He would choose to write a critique of it”. The amount of direction of human history is atounding. Especially when you view the Old Testament history culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament. History went the way God wanted it to because, I believe, He acted on his middle knowledge and placed these OT characters in these situations knowing that if He did, they would do those things. Abraham would obey God and attempt to sacrifice Isaac, etc. This is a very strong view of divine providence. Does it mean God always gets what He wants? No. God would rather have a world with no evil and no one ending up damned, but God also prefers that whoever does good does it freely, and whoever is saved, is saved freely. If that means putting up with things He doesn't neccesarilly care for, so be it. I believe that it is God's opinion that someone be freely damned than forcibly saved. But the point I'm trying to make is that Molinism allows human freedom while God has a significant amount of control of what goes on in the world.

2: “Molinism Misapprehends the Bible’s Teaching on Salvation”

Mr. Foster wrote \\\” The Bible does not portray salvation as something that people do because God enabled them to do it. It portrays salvation as something that God does. God is the one who gives faith. God is the one who gives grace. God is the one who overcomes our stubborn hearts.”\\\\ -- This couldn’t be further from the truth. In the Old Testament, I can think of at least two places off the top of my head where human beings were faced with the decision to either serve God or reject Him. One is in Deuteronomy and the other is in Joshua.

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-19

Moses is clearly giving the Israelites a choice to serve God or to serve idols. Now, if the Israelites thousands of years ago had a choice, why don’t we have a choice today?

Or again, in Joshua 24:15, But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua is clearly giving the Israelites a choice to serve God or to serve idols. Now, if the Israelites thousands of years ago had a choice, why don’t we have a choice today?

The latter part of his statement was true though. The part where he said “(The Bible) portrays salvation as something that God does. God is the one who gives faith. God is the one who gives grace. God is the one who overcomes our stubborn hearts.” This part is true. Even though The Bible teaches that we have a choice in our eternal destiny, we can’t simply choose to come to God all on our own. John 6:44 and John 6:65 make it clear that because of total depravity, no one can come to Jesus Christ unless the one who sent Him (i.e God The Father) draws him. This is where prevenient grace comes in.

Simply put, because it’s impossible for us to come to God on our own because our wills are bound by depravity (John 6:44, John 6:65), God sends grace to people to enable them to repent. Wikipedia describes Prevenient Grace accurately. Wikipedia says “Prevenient grace is a Christian theological concept rooted in Arminian theology, though it appeared earlier in Catholic theology. It is divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer." For the Biblical passages arguing for prevenient/resistible grace, see my blog post titled “Is Molinism Biblical?”

His remark about God’s success with respect to those he wants to have saved is truly odd in light of the verse he chose. Philippians 1:6 only refers to believers, not unbelievers, and so has no application to God’s “success” rate with respect to those for whom Christ died. It’s an interesting term, “success.” He doesn’t really exegete it. Because of that, me thinks that the word might have rhetorical use instead of actual substance.

3: “Molinism Means that God’s Glory Must Settle for Second-Best”

In regards to his third point, I’d say a couple of things. The critique is misguided, because he claims Molinists think there’s no purpose behind evil. I don’t know why he says this. It’s almost as if he believes that on Molinism, God has no control over which possible world comes to pass. But a simple reading of most Molinists writings (e.g “The Problem Of Evil & Suffering (Revisited)” written by yours truly) will show that they do think God has purposes for permitting suffering and evil. So, why think that Molinists believe that God has no good reasons in allowing bad things to happen?

Molinists believe that God exercises meticulous sovereignty through His middle knowledge. Therefore, there is purpose behind our suffering. There is a plan that is moving forward to turn evil on it’s head and be swallowed up in victory. Evil will not have the last word, God will. Secondly, I think that Molinism better glorifies God than other options, like Calvinistic-Determinism (which ends up turning God into the ultimate demon). On Molinism, we see how immense God’s knowledge is. He orders the world so that people freely fulfill his purposes. When you consider how each choice we make affects the rest of the world like a ripple in a pool, it’s staggering to consider that God is so wise, so knowledgeable, that He is able to perfectly order the universe so that we freely fulfill all of His purposes. Molinism glorifies God for His wisdom in creation. On Calvinism, God directs human history through His omnipotence. On Molinism, God directs human history through His omniscience. God has so much knowledge that He can direct human history on the basis of what He knows! That, to me, seems a thousand times more impressive a feat than simply controlling people through sheer power.

The last critique is just plain wrong. It goes back to the discussion on God doing all that He pleases. The idea is that if Molinists say God would like all to be saved, but can’t, then this contradicts The Word Of God. It seems as though he’s treating the four words “purpose, will, desire, please” as synonyms, but that is not correct. “God does all he pleases.” Why is this inconsistent with Molinism? By definition, God chose to instantiate this possible/feasible world over the uncountable other possible worlds that He had to choose from. Wasn’t He doing what he pleased to do in doing that? God could have actualized a world where He casually determined everyone’s actions, but as I argued above, there are reasons why God didn’t want a world like that (e.g it would render our love for Him and each other meaningless). It by no means follows that God is pleased by every event: that is biblically false (see the numerous examples in The Holy Bible where God get super ticked at rebellious sinners—He is obviously not pleased by things that they did). So what’s supposed to be the problem here?

There’s more I wish I could say about this guy’s article, but I’ll stop before I turn this blog post into a book.

So Why Do I Accept Molinism?

I’m not pushing Molinism as biblical doctrine, but more like a biblical hypothesis, a model for explaining streams of scripture that appear to contradict each other. However, so far I haven’t been able to find a soteriological view that can make as much sense of what The Bible teaches as Molinism. Arminianism comes very close, much closer than Calvinism, but even it has its problems. Molinism has the greatest explanatory scope of the biblical data in my opinion. If I can find a view that does an even better job than Molinism, then I’ll abandon Molinism and adopt that view. But so far, I haven’t been able to find a few with as great explanatory scope as Molinism.

Click on photo to enlarge
For example, It can explain how God wants “none to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), yet He predestines individuals to salvation (Romans 8:29-30). It can explain how we’re eternally secure (Ephesians 1:13) yet God warns us in His word repeatedly not to fall away (Hebrews 6:4-5). It can explain how God determines the number of days we live in this world (See Job 14:15, Psalm 139:16) even in cases where human free agents are involved in bringing about the death. It can explain how God can get things done in history without making puppets of human beings. I can’t go into the details here. If I did, the blog post would be extremely long (longer than it already is), but I do go into this in more detail in the posts “Is Molinism Biblical” and “Molinism and Divine Foreordination”.

Molinism, for me, is similar to The Trinity. While the Bible doesn’t teach the Trinity explicitly, it does teach several truths that only make sense in light of Trinitarian doctrine. In the same way, The Bible doesn’t teach Molinism. It doesn’t talk about possible worlds, middle knowledge and what not. But it does teach things that make the most sense when viewed through Molinist lenses. The difference though, is that one is not a heretic if one denies Molinism. One IS a heretic if they deny the Trinity.  

In science, one should go with the hypothesis that has the greatest explanatory scope of the data. I think the same should go for theology; the “mother of all sciences”.