Another Brief Discussion on Molinism
I’ve been catching up with the Dividing Line podcast. In the last 15 minutes of the March 11 episode, Dr. White picks back up with his commentary on the Unbelievable? episode with Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Paul Helm discussing Molinism. I do have a lot of respect for Dr. White, however, as I have mentioned in the past, there are a few mistakes that I think he makes when critiquing Molinism.
The clip opens up with Dr. Craig explaining how in some Calvinistic explanations of divine providence, God is made out to be the author of sin invoking analogies to puppets and robots. Dr. White jumps all over this and says that this is a total caricature of Calvinism. Now, the problem is that Dr. White totally misses Dr. Craig’s introduction. Craig says “that depends on how the Calvinist explains divine providence”. So, from the very get-go, Craig is addressing a small subset of Calvinistic explanation and not the system as a whole. Dr. Craig was correct; if a Calvinist explains divine providence in the terms that God is directly causally responsible for every single action that happens in the universe, then it follows inescapably that He is the author and orchestrator of all sinful actions in the world. Now, I think that every party involved is aware that this is not a nuanced view of Calvinism and is therefore not representative of the system as a whole. So, I don’t find it surprising that White easily tears down this version of Calvinism.
White opens his rebuttal by saying “I expect by this point in time that Dr. Craig would have sufficiently deep knowledge of the positions he decries to present accurate representations of them”. As stated before, I highly doubt that Craig was presenting the whole puppet thing as the nuanced view of Calvinism. Nevertheless, it’s really ironic that White is saying this because I know that he’s been addressing Molinism in some degree for at least 9 years and yet still misrepresents some of its key tenets in this podcast.
First, he repeats a common claim that Molinism is philosophically based and not Biblically based. In the future, I intend to write a post that makes a somewhat robust Biblical case for Molinism. For now, here is just a rough sketch of the Biblical model put together by Kenneth Keathley in Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.
Those familiar with Dr. White are probably aware of his typical defense of the Trinity: there are three premises that are generated by Scriptural data from which the Doctrine of the Trinity is derived. Keathley’s model is fairly similar. There are 4 premises concerning God’s sovereignty and 3 premises concerning human freedom from which what we refer to as Molinism is derived. They are as follows.
Concerning God’s Sovereignty
- God exhaustively knows all things. (1 Samuel 2:3, Psalm 147:4-5, Job 38:31-33, Isaiah 40:26, Matthew 10:29-30)
- God perfectly controls all things. (Deuteronomy 32:39, Psalm 33:10-11, Isaiah 10:5-6 & 14:24-27 & 46:10, Acts 4:27-28 & 17:26, Proverbs 16:33, Genesis 45:5-8)
- God is free from all things i.e. He does not choose out of necessity. (This is a restatement of the doctrine of aseity)
- God is holy and righteous in all things and is not the cause of sin. (1 John 1:5, James 1:13-15)
Concerning Human Freedom
- Contingency – certain things could have been otherwise. (Genesis 19:2-3, 1 Samuel 13:13-14, 2 Kings 13:19, Isaiah 38:1-5, Amos 7:1-6, Matthew 12:57-58 & 23:37, Acts 5:4, 1 Corinthians 10:13)
- Conditionality – some contingent choices are placed before humans. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Isaiah 1:19-20, Jeremiah 18:8-10)
- Counterfactuals – statements which detail the outcome of contingent choices, even the results of choices not made. (Exocus 32:10, I Samuel 13:13-14 & 23:10-13, Jeremiah 38:17-18, Matthew 11:21-23 & 26:24, John 15:22-24 & 28:36)
Considering that these 7 premises are the fundamental building blocks of Molinism and they all appear to be faithful to the testimony of Scripture, it seems to me that Dr. White’s accusation is simply erroneous; Molinism stands on solid Biblical ground.
Dr. White also comments that no one reading Scripture would go “Wow! I guess I’d better believe in middle knowledge!” I would contend that a parallel case could be made for the Trinity. No one reading Scripture would go “Wow! Three persons!” They would simply affirm all the Biblical premises but without the terminology; they wouldn’t have a model to explain these premises. Given that we roughly 500 years posterior to the introduction of middle knowledge, it seems reasonable to use such terminology in our discussions. Dr. White’s line of thought seemed to mix anachronism with misinformation. The irony here is that Dr. White also outlines the importance of learning the history of the Church and Christian thought so that we may be able to follow the footsteps of our predecessors and go further than they did. This is actually what Molinists do! Luis de Molina had an ingenious contribution to the theological discussion of divine foreknowledge. The fact that he was a Jesuit doesn’t mean that we Protestants can’t use some of his ideas.
Second, Dr. White engages the issue of Biblical anthropology and claims Molinist anthropology isn’t Biblical. As a part of his comments, White says that middle knowledge can’t take into account regeneration or non regeneration (note that this is a philosophical objection). This is patently false. Middle knowledge is described as knowledge of what some free creature (S) would do in certain circumstances (C) where C is encompasses the entire state of affairs leading up to S’s decision. This clearly accounts for regeneration or non-regeneration. For example, C1 can be the state of affairs where S is a female, was born in Canada, and unregenerate. C2 can be that same Canadian lady in the same circumstance but regenerate. C3 can be that S is a male from Argentina and regenerate, et cetera, et cetera. So, it’s not ‘double middle knowledge’, rather, each substantial difference is a different set of circumstances. This was probably Dr. White’s worst point in all of his comments (to repeat from before, I actually really like Dr. White even if it doesn’t sound like it right now).
Dr. White continues with some comments on ultimate authority and mentions that his “bibliography of sources” for his objections is Genesis-Revelation. Then, he says that because there are so many different “philosophies of men”, they aren’t drawing from one sufficiently clear source. This is basically the horrible “Bible is wrong because denominations” argument repackaged. The fact that there are several different philosophical systems does not entail the whole practice is bankrupt anymore than the diversity of Christian denominations entails the Bible is bankrupt.
Dr. White says middle knowledge can’t be God’s resource because “Where did He get it? It came from somewhere else. It didn’t come from God’s being. There’s that card-dealer again.” This is what’s called the ‘grounding objection’ and it has no source in Scripture. This seems to me to be a self-contradiction. He emphasizes the importance of being Biblical and yet his supreme objection to Molinism, the grounding objection, is purely philosophical. It’s even documented in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It seems to me that Dr. White needs to be more consistent. He should either discuss purely the Biblical concerns he has with Molinism (and subsequently drop the grounding objection) or say that his bibliography has more than 66 books.
Side note: Saying “card dealer” to a Molinist is just like saying “puppet” to a Calvinist.
The linked article to IEP briefly discusses five Molinist responses to the grounding objection. My off the cuff response to the grounding objection is to say first that if God knows all truth and subjunctive propositions have truth values, it follows inescapably that God has middle knowledge. The first premise is uncontroversial (and Biblically grounding as described above). The second premise seems to be intuitive as we employ these types of propositions in our daily speech and the Bible also uses some verses in this manner. Second, I would contend that as created entities, we are completely and totally contingent on God for our existence. God has complete, exhaustive understanding of Himself and because we are creations of God’s very imagination it follows that He should have that same knowledge of us which entails He knows counterfactual truths about us. While there are many details that could be teased out, I think this provides a somewhat satisfactory account of middle knowledge that gets rid of any “card dealer” caricatures.
While Dr. White is ruthlessly committed to accurately and fairly representing opposing viewpoints, I get the impression he is selling Molinism a bit short.