Friday, September 21, 2007

Molinism, and the Grounding Objection

The question of how to reconcile God’s foreknowledge and human free will has plagued theologians for centuries. A view called Molinism presents itself as a logical explanation of how the two can be reconciled.

The major objection to Molinism is known as the “grounding objection”, and in my opinion it disproves Molinism completely. The grounding objection is the observation that the idea of (libertarian) free will means that people’s decisions can’t be known with certainty before they’re made, but Molinism claims God foreknows them.

Put a little more formally, it looks like this:
A. God foreknows the things he foreknows because they are true. He doesn’t just guess. There is an actual causal connection between something being true and God gaining foreknowledge of it. ie his foreknowledge is causally dependent on the truth of the thing he foreknows. (from definition of Exhaustive Definite Foreknowledge)
B. The truth of X depends on the person’s decision to do X. ie the person’s decision causes the action. (from definition of Libertarian Free Will)
Conclusion 1. Hence God’s foreknowledge is causally dependent on the person’s decision. (from A & B)
D. The person’s decision is indeterministic. (from definition of Libertarian Free Will)
E. The outcome of an indeterministic event cannot be calculated or predicted in advance even if everything is known about the situation and causes of the event. (from definition of Indeterminism)
Conclusion 2. The person’s decision cannot be calculated or predicted in prior to the person making it. (from D & E)
Conclusion 3. God cannot have foreknowledge of the decision prior to the person making it. (from conclusions 1 & 2)

This shows that is logically impossible for God to have definite foreknowledge of libertarian free will decisions. It is very rare in philosophy to get such a clear argument, so this is one of my favorites.

This means that either:
1. God’s foreknowledge is limited to some degree (ie the Open View); or
2. That free will is compatibilist not libertarian.

Of course a person can endorse both 1 and 2 if they wanted. However if Christian rejects Open Theism then, per the grounding objection, they logically ought to endorse 2. But endorsing Compatibilism and rejecting Open Theism seems to inevitably end up affirming double-predestination. So it seems to me that Christians really have a choice between Open Theism and double-predestination.


Blogger Nathan said...

nah, there's a third choice, which I personally prefer - blur the issue with big terms and generalizations, and ultimately remain uncommitted to either option :)

Blogger Andrew said...

Well of course the most common course of action taken is simply be ignorant of all logical arguments on the subject and to just believe whatever suits. Or to say "that sounds complicated, I'll have to think about it".

Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Andrew, it seems that your argument depends on God being limited by time. Well, strictly time comes into the argument from your definition of indeterminism (where does that come from?), and so arguably from your definition of libertarian free will. Perhaps you would consider divine foreknowledge outside time to imply determinism and thus compatibilism. But such a compatibilism by no means implies double predestination. For there is certainly a logical possibility that God has foreknowledge of what is freely decided by humans without in any way determining those decisions. Indeed this is the majority Arminian position:

God's foreknowledge of the future is exhaustive and complete, and therefore the future is certain and not contingent on human action. God does not determine the future, but He does know it. God's certainty and human contingency are compatible.

I discussed here whether this is what is usually called compatibilism or not. But, whatever name we give it, it does seem to be a philosophically tenable position between double predestination and open theism.

Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Peter, Molinism is an attempt to provide a mechanism for God's foreknowledge by supposing that there are facts about what people would do in certain situations. God shouldn't need that if he's atemporal. So it's not really a rescue of Molinism from this problem to think of God as atemporal. It's giving up the need for Molinism.

The same is true with compatibilism, if you mean compatibilism between free will and determinism. If determinism is true, then foreknowledge is no problem. If you just mean foreknowledge and freedom, then that kind of compatibilism is what's at issue. You need an account of how those two things can be compatible. Molinism tries to do that, but it faces this problem. There are other ways to try to do it, however.

Blogger Andrew said...

it seems that your argument depends on God being limited by time.

Oh. Whoops, yes, as I presented it here it does. I didn't mean to do that, but I was trying to simplify it as much as possible. The grounding objection is not actually dependent on God being limited by time because it actually deals with logical relationships not temporal ones.

Basically God's knowledge logically depends on the truth values of the things he foreknows. In LFW those truth values logically depend on the free decision the agent makes. Since LFW is by definition indeterministic there are no logical links to the truth values of the agents actions that exist unless the agent actually makes the decision. So it is logically impossible for God to know the decision of a LFW agent until logically after the decision has been made.

Effectively the same problem applies for "classical" Arminian foreknowledge: If God knows the future, how can he change it? ie if God at the beginning of time, gains total and complete knowledge of what all humans will do throughout history, then if God attempts to perform any action in time then it will have consequences to change the timeline and as a result things he "knew" about the future will change. How can God break his own foreknowledge? Basically if God gains his exhaustive foreknowledge about what's certainly and unalterably going to happen, then there's not much he can do to change those unalterable certainties - it's too logically 'late' to be of any use. But if the future is not set in stone at the point God foreknows it, then he can act, but with the possibility that his actions may cause things he foresaw happening in the future to no longer happen. Thus there is the possibility of prophecy failing and we are basically back at Open Theism.

That's where Molinism steps in, and says that God not only foresees the future as it will be without him acting, but also sees all the futures that will occur if he acts in all possible ways. ie his has knowledge of "counterfactals" (=how things would change in the future if something changed in the past). Molinism's problem is that it tries to endorse a strong position on free will called Libertarian Free Will. But the grounding objection shows this is inconsistent with foreknowledge of conterfactuals.

But you can get a coherent position by going one step further and taking Molinism's foreknowledge of counterfactuals and joining it with a 'weaker' version of free will called Compatibilism. That gives you double-predestination, but also complete and utter human freedom (for a certain definition thereof). This resulting position could really be Calvinist or Arminian depending on how you spun the details. However I think most Arminians would want to endorse LFW and reject Compatibilism.

Blogger Andrew said...

Actually, thinking about the difference between Calvinism and a Compatibilist version of Arminianism, the real difference is the Calvinist idea of regeneration.

In compatibilist Arminianism, God by virtue of his foreknowledge of counterfactuals, takes that knowledge and tries to organize the world so that things play out as optimally as possible. People are eventually saved by doing the right things "faith" or "works" or whatever. That they would do these things was foreseen by God at the beginning of time.

Whereas in Calvinism there is the claim that no amount of simply organizing the world would result in people doing what is necessary for salvation. Hence even with Compatibilism God cannot arrange it so that people get saved. God has to actually intervene miraculously on a individual basis to regenerate people and change the internals of their mind. The idea of compatibilism then, seems to lend nothing to Calvinism per se.

Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy and Andrew, thanks for the clarifications, and the reminder of what Molinism means. I wasn't really trying to defend Molinism, rather to find an alternative to it, to rescue your classical Arminian picture. I guess what I am doing is to qualify "libertarian" in the understanding of free will.

As a result I probably end up with your compatibilist Arminianism - with salvation by faith, not works. Well, I have been trying to convince the self-identified Calvinist Jeremy that he is actually a compatibilist Arminian, or more precisely that there is no logical difference between his position and compatibilist Arminianism. You are tending to confirm that.

Perhaps the difference between us is that I understand God's love and justice as requiring him "to organize the world so that things play out as optimally as possible", in the somewhat crude terms you put it. Jeremy might just say that it is up to God to decide how optimal his strategy will be. I don't see how any non-optimal strategy can be worthy of God. But as humans we cannot know the factors on which he decides on optimality. So the difference between his position and mine becomes a theoretical one in the mind of God, so not one we can really disagree on!

Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Andrew, I have an illustration which I think shows that your original argument is invalid. Imagine a trampoline (assumed to be completely mechanistic and deterministic), on which a number of children are playing. Suppose that the children have libertarian free will, or at least that the trampoline has no foreknowledge of exactly when and where the children are going to jump on it. Yet the trampoline knows exactly how it will react to each jump, which is predetermined by its mechanism. Moreover, when the children get off it, it very quickly returns to a predetermined default state which is not dependent on the children's jumps.

This is true because the trampoline is a negative feedback mechanism. Its state is not chaotic and there is no positive feedback - assuming that the children don't manage to destroy or knock over the trampoline. Its mechanism acts to cancel out, in a rather short time, any perturbation to its state caused by the children jumping.

Similarly, there is surely a logically tenable situation in which God works to control the flow of history in general terms, and effectively acts as a negative feedback mechanism in damping down the individual perturbations to this flow caused by individual acts of libertarian free will by the human players in history. In this way he is able to direct events more or less according to his overall plan, even if the details are not determined by him. If God's responses to each possible perturbation are predetermined, as with the trampoline, this is Molinism rather than Open Theism.

This is not a picture which I am advocating. It implies views of history and of divine intervention in it which I do not hold. Nevertheless, surely it is a philosophically consistent model.

Blogger Andrew said...

Peter your last example seems to be one of the most common variations of open theism: That God knows all possible futures that human free will could result in and how he would respond in each of them. Molinism, by contrast, claims God possesses something called "exhaustive definite foreknowledge" (EDF) which means God has certain knowledge of absolutely everything that is going to happen.

Whether Jeremy is a Arminian who holds to compatibilism or a Calvinist is really, as I said, determined by whether he thinks God regenerates specific individuals. Simply embracing compatibilism and EDF does not make one a Calvinist... it makes one an Arminian unless the Calvinist doctrine of regeneration is added.

Blogger Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Molinism ends in dualism.



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