Molinism & the Argument for Theological Fatalism

November 14, 2005

Arguments of a wide variety have traditionally been offered against Christian theism. We have chosen to treat the fatalist’s argument for at least two reasons: (1) it is one of the more common objections we have personally encountered, and (2) it has implications for several other topics that we intend to turn our attention upon soon. Regardless of whether you agree with our stance or not, we welcome your contributions to this discussion.

Stated syllogistically, the argument goes thus:
(1) If God knows all future events, then all my future choices are determined
(2) If all my future choices are determined, then it does not matter what I do.
(3) Therefore, if God knows all future events, then it does not matter what I do.

So, if this argument were compelling, then it would seem that everything that happens does so necessarily, thus rendering us incapable of acting otherwise than we in fact do. This, of course, seems to excuse us from any genuine sense of responsibility for our actions, not to mention making passivity one’s only recourse in a life intended to be lived to its fullest. Now, this argument obviously does not logically preclude the existence of God; however, it does, if true, at least cast doubt upon our conception of God qua God. But, should we accept each premise? Not obviously so.

As it happens, both (1) & (2) have been rejected. It will be sufficient for us to argue for the falsity of (1). Now, when we say we intend to reject (1), perhaps we should clarify: we accept the antecedent as true, the Bible teaches that God does indeed possess (omniscient) knowledge of future events. But what is it that compels the fatalist to think that God’s simply knowing that an event will occur necessarily entails that that event will occur? If I know that my wife will arise at 7:00 in the morning, is she now fated to arise at 7:00? Absolutely not! Why? Because we believe that she has the power to act otherwise (a feature of freedom in the libertarian sense). Hold on though, if she has the power to refrain from arising at 7:00 (and arise at say, noon), then doesn’t she have the power to bring it about that my (necessarily true) knowledge is false (which would be the power to actualize a contradiction—an impossibility)? No. It is important to bear in mind the distinction between believing something and knowing something. If I know that she will arise at 7:00, then she will arise at 7:00; if I merely believe that she will arise at 7:00, then maybe she will and maybe she won’t. If I know that she will arise at 7:00, it merely follows that she will arise then, not that she must. Therefore, she does have the power to bring it about that my true belief would have been false (she could have refrained from so acting); she will not refrain from so acting, though she could. Thus foreknowledge (knowing before hand) does not imply fatalism. Now, it is important that you understand this before proceeding, or this discussion will not benefit you much.

Let’s take this reasoning to (1). We have seen that merely knowing does not demand fatalism, but the fatalist will object that we’re not talking about humans here, we’re talking about God. Unfortunately for the fatalist, adding God to the equation does not change things; the same reasoning and principles apply. Consider that God foreknows that I will arise at 7:00 tomorrow. I have the power to arise at 5:00 or noon, and if I were to do either then God would have foreknown that instead of my arising at 7:00. In other words (as Christian theologians have always insisted), the content of God’s foreknowledge is not necessary (that content could have been different). We hold that the reason God foreknows that I will arise at 7:00 is that I will in fact arise at 7:00; if I were to choose to arise at noon, then God would have foreknown that. I could refrain, but (in this actualized world) I simply will not. This, by the way, is the foundation for demonstrating the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom.

It seems the fatalist’s only recourse is to deny that God can know future free acts. [Unfortunately some Christian philosophers have been content to assert that God qua God believes so perfectly that he can be said to know such things; this is insufficient] It seems the objection is that even though we have seen foreknowledge and freedom to be compatible, that not even God can actually have such knowledge. Well, frankly the burden of proof is on the objector. Why is divine foreknowledge impossible? We welcome any response to this question for discussion. As finite humans contemplating the infinite God, we are in no good epistemic position to explain exactly how God can have such foreknowledge. Perhaps, though, there is a way. First, an elementary distinction: we must not confuse chronological priority with logical priority; logical priority has nothing to do with temporal priority. Though God’s foreknowledge of my free choices is chronologically prior to my making them (for example, it is true that 100 years ago God knew that I would write this), my making such choices is logically prior to God’s so knowing. Indeed, A could be logically prior to B, though they are temporally concurrent. Consider an argument: its premises are obviously not temporally true one before the other; each premise is true at the same time, though the premises are logically prior to the conclusion.

It seems that the Molinist account of divine knowledge provides a compelling (if not startling) explanation of how God could know the future choices of free creatures. Simply put, this account divides God’s knowledge into three logical moments. First, God knows all necessary truths. Here we also find God’s knowledge of all possibilities, things such as all possible persons he could create, indeed here he knows each possible world he could choose to create. This we call natural knowledge. Stick with us here: in the third (logical) moment, God knows perfectly the world he has created, the actual world. This we call his free knowledge. Here we find his foreknowledge of all events and choices. As stated above, this knowledge is not necessary to Him; it is necessary that God have free knowledge, but since he could have chosen to create a different world than he in fact did, this knowledge could have been comprised by perfect knowledge of that (different) world. Finally, in the second moment, the Molinist posits middle knowledge. It is here that we find God’s knowledge of what every possible creature would do in any given set of circumstances (note that it is via his natural knowledge that God knows what any creature could do). This moment is logically prior to God’s decision to create (see below). Consider this simple illustration (modified from Craig’s chart, in The Only Wise God, p.131):

Natural Knowledge
Middle Knowledge
——- God’s decision to create some world ——-
Free Knowledge

By way of summarizing let’s return to our example from above. God eternally knows all the possible things I could choose to do if placed in certain circumstances, including whether I could arise at 7:00 or not tomorrow (via his natural knowledge). Now, God (via his middle knowledge) knows what I would in fact freely choose to do in said circumstances, for if he knows all that I could do in any circumstances, then, by virtue of his choosing which world to create (and thus, which circumstances I will find myself in), he knows whether I will in fact arise at 7:00 or not. Remember our discussion above, his mere knowing does not necessitate my so acting; I am absolutely free to do whatever I want in any set of circumstances. God chooses the circumstances to actualize (create), thus he knows what I will freely choose. Thus, God knows all future events and I am undetermined in what choices I make and the fatalist’s argument fails.

This article is intentionally written with open ends; we have left room for many questions and much discussion. All comments, questions, and (especially) objections are welcome. “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” Romans 11:33.

See, William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God, 1987 & Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 1974.


Molinism: Part I

November 12, 2005

Ok, well, all you guys are already hounding me about Molinism so I guess I might as well bring up this elephant in the room. One preliminary. As far as I know, there are five major views on God, foreknowledge, and free will. I’m sure there are several variations of each:
1. Calvinistic Compatibilism–God foreknows all events because He has foreordained them.
2. Simple Foreknowledge–God simply knows all future events including those resulting from the actions and choices of free creatures. We do not know the basis for this knowledge.
3. Boethian Eternalism–God, since He exists outside of time, sees all temporal events as if they were laid out before Him.
4. Open Theism–the future exists partly in terms of possibilities rather than certainties. God has knowledge of such future certainties such as those acts that He will do. However, God cannot know those future decisions or acts of free creatures since these exists only as possibilities
5. Molinism–well, we’ll get to that.

Am I right here?

Atemporalism & the Argument from Simultaneity

November 10, 2005

One often repeated argument against atemporalism is the argument from simultaneity (hereafter “AS”). For the life of me, I cannot figure why this argument persists even though there are much better arguments against atemporalism available (e.g. the argument from God’s knowledge of tensed propositions, or the argument from temporal becoming). Swinburne and Kenny’s formulations of the argument are usually taken as standard. According to Anthony Kenny (“Aquinas on Divine Foreknowledge & Human Freedom” in Reason and Religion, 1987):

Indeed, the whole concept of a timeless eternity, the whole of which is simultaneous with every part of time, seems to be radically incoherent. For simultaneity as ordinarily understood is a transitive relation. If A happens at the same time as B and B happens at the same time as C, then A happens at the same time as C. If the BBC programme and the ITV programme both start when Big Ben strikes ten, then they both start at the same time. But, on [the atemporalist’s] view, my typing of this paper is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Again, on this view, the great fire of Rome is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Therefore, while I type these very words, Nero fiddles heartlessly on.

So according to AS,

1) If atemporalism is true, then eternity is simultaneous with every event in history.

2) If eternity is simultaneous with every event in history, then by transitivity, every event in history is simultaneous with every other event in history.

3) But every event in history is not simultaneous with every other event in history.

4) Therefore atemporalism is false.

Now this argument is valid. 2) simply appeals to the principle of transitivity, and 3) is evidently true. 4) follows by modus tollens. If atemporalism results in the notion that the burning of Rome is simultaneous with the Kenny’s writing, then atemporalism is to be rejected. But AS has not shown this to be the case: 1) is plainly false, for according to atemporalism, God exists, but He does not exist at any time. Hence eternity is not simultaneous with every event in history; indeed eternity is not simultaneous with any event in history. So then, when Aquinas uses the language of simultaneity to discuss the relation between time and eternity, he is only doing so analogically and not literally. The latter is required to make argument work, but unfortunately for AS it turns out, this is the very thing makes the first premise false.

Dennett’s Lexicon

November 8, 2005

This is a must-have for aspiring philosophers. Daniel Dennett has compiled a satirical Philosophical Lexicon (see here) of key terms that every student of philosophy simply must know. Here are some samples:

chisholm, v. To make repeated small alterations in a definition or example. “He started with definition (d.8) and kept chisholming away at it until he ended up with (d.8””””).”

foucault, n. A howler, an insane mistake. “I’m afraid I’ve committed an egregious foucault.”

getty, adj. Describing a counterexample that obtains its conclusion. “Your first rule raises some interesting questions, but your second is gettier.”

I loved this one:
hume, pron. (1) Indefinite personal and relative pronoun, presupposing no referent. Useful esp. in writing solipsistic treatises, sc. “to hume it may concern.” v. (2) To commit to the flames, bury, or otherwise destroy a philosophical position, as in “That theory was humed in the 1920s.” Hence, exhume, v. to revive a position generally believed to humed.

I couldn’t stop laughing after reading these two:
kripke, adj. Not understood, but considered brilliant. “I hate to admit it, but I found his remarks quite kripke.”

kripkography, n. The opposite of cryptography: the art of translating a meaningless message (about, e.g., de re necessity) into expressions that an uninitiated observer would take to be straightforwardly meaningful (e.g., “Look, it’s not so hard. All he’s saying is that since the term is a rigid designator, it refers to the same thing in all possible worlds”). “He used to claim he just ‘couldn’t understand’ essentialism, but now, thanks to kripkography, he just sits there nodding and smiling.”

planting, v. To use twentieth-century fertilizer to encourage new shoots from eleventh -century ideas which everyone thought had gone to seed; hence, plantinger, n. one who plantings.

quine, v. (1) To deny resolutely the existence of importance of something real or significant. “Some philosophers have quined classes, and some have even quined physical objects.” Occasionally used intr., e.g., “You think I quine, sir. I assure you I do not!” (2) n. The total aggregate sensory surface of the world; hence quinitis, irritation of the quine.

A Review of _Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate between William Lane Craig & John Dominic Crossan_

November 8, 2005

Originally published in the Areopagus Journal 5/4 (July-August 2005): 30-31. Reprinted with permission from Areopagus Journal.

_Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?_
Edited by Paul Copan. IVP, 1998; 179 pages.

Is the Jesus who walked the streets of Nazareth the same Jesus, the Christ, to whom the New Testament Gospels attribute miracles and divinity? Can Christians legitimately claim that these men are in fact one and the same? In short, who is the “real Jesus?” Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up is one of few attempts at dialogue between evangelicals and liberals about the historical Jesus. Eminent theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig represents the evangelical camp, while John Dominic Crossan, a prominent member of the Jesus Seminar and professor of biblical studies at DePaul University, represents the latter perspective.
As many conservative scholars have observed, “Jesus of Nazareth is under fire.” The belief that the person Jesus of Nazareth is one and the same with Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, has suffered sustained attack in the last two centuries. Perhaps it has been popularized more in the past ten or fifteen years by its appearances in the general media (most recently so in ABC 20/20’s piece, The Resurrection: Searching for Answers, which aired Sunday, May 22, 2005, which can be accessed by visiting This prolonged debate over Jesus’ deity has recently gained widespread attention, primarily due to the efforts of the Jesus Seminar, an annual gathering of liberal scholars who are “organized to renew the quest of the historical Jesus.”
Commonly labeled “the quest for the historical Jesus,” this investigation of Jesus’ life began in the late 1700’s with scholars who thought it necessary to distinguish between theological dogma and historically demonstrated facts. Their philosophical assumptions led them to seek exclusively natural explanations for Jesus’ actions and claims. This naturalist predisposition also shapes the Jesus Seminar’s research and is evident in Crossan’s contribution to the book (p. 30). While he denies the charge, his assertion that “the supernatural always…operates through the screen of the natural (p. 45),” belies his dissent.
Scholars involved in the “Second Quest”(launched in the nineteenth century) argued that the portrait of Christ accepted by Christianity was almost entirely mythological, an allegation repeated by scholars of the Jesus Seminar. From the beginning doubt has been cast upon the reliability of the Gospels’ portrayal of his life (for response see Blomberg’s, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, IVP, 1987). Naturalist presuppositions are evident here as well and shape their analysis of the Gospels, as evidenced by Crossan’s defining such references to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” as “symbolic…figurative…metaphorical” (p. 35). Craig argues that the Gospels contain literal events; there is no need for “recourse to a misleading metaphor like the resurrection” (p. 42).
The New Quest, which is the final generally recognized quest, was concerned with methodology. Scholars involved in this quest (rightly) seek to identify Jesus within his first-century, Jewish milieu. The early New Quest sought to discern Jesus from the myth of the early Church. These scholars assumed that the early Church heavily embellished the Gospels. Though Crossan and the Jesus Seminar employ a “Second Quest” approach, they do resemble the early New Quest insomuch as they endorse an inventive view of the early Christian community (see esp. footnotes on p. 30). Craig denies such a view and argues that the Gospels’ claims are real historical facts. If approached objectively, the Gospels will be believed innocent until proven guilty, rather than vice versa as the Jesus Seminar would have it.
As the book demonstrates, the debate is not exclusively a textual one. Discussions about the historical Jesus also include philosophical and theological arguments. Craig argues Jesus’ deity from the validity of the resurrection (p. 26). Surely if there are good reasons to believe that the physical resurrection occurred, then we will consequently have good reasons to believe that Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be (p. 57). (As Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15:14, Christian faith is vain apart from the resurrection, which is one of Craig’s main points.) All four Gospels attest to the empty tomb. Either as Crossan asserts, such accounts are metaphorical (p. 53ff) and “empty tombs don’t prove anything (p. 98),” or they are as Craig affirms: actual, physical facts supporting the evangelical position (p. 101). Craig further argues that there are several well-attested accounts of Jesus appearing publicly to people after His resurrection (p. 28). These accounts would stand, he maintains, even when weighed on the Jesus Seminar’s scales (p. 55).
Crossan and Craig provide ample bibliographic material to satisfy the involved reader. Following the dialog between Craig and Crossan, four experts offer their reflections on the debate. Robert Miller and Marcus Borg represent the Jesus Seminar, while Craig Blomberg and Ben Witherington III offer evangelical responses. Following the four responsive articles, the debaters each answer the various critiques offered against them.
Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up offers an informative and well-written account of the historical and contemporary quest for the historical Jesus. While it provides scholarly historical, philosophical, and theological arguments, this book can be read with profit by non-scholars.

Reviewed by R. Keith Loftin


November 8, 2005

Welcome one and all to Summa Philosophiae, a blog dedicated to questions of philosophy and theology. My friend Keith and I, after countless hours of discussions over coffee, decided to take our disputations online. So much to learn, so little time. Hope you join in!