Philosophy Matters – James White Missing the Mark on Molinism
Dr. James White released another Dividing Line podcast on Thursday aimed at refuting Molinism. It was a response to a response by William Lane Craig to an argument by James Anderson (of Reformed Theological Seminary) about “the fallible God of Molinism”. There was also another response by White to Craig’s response to J.W. Wartick‘s summary of Travis Cambell’s argument against Molinism based on an objection to divine aseity. There are a lot of moving pieces so I’ll list the play by play.
December 18, 2013: Dr. Travis Campbell discussed middle knowledge in this podcast and objected to Molinism on the basis that it undermines God’s aseity.
January 8, 2014: J.W. Wartick summarizes Dr. Campbell’s arguments and makes his own comments in this blog post here. Sometime afterwards, William Lane Craig picked up this post and decided to use it to discuss Molinism on his podcast.
January 29, 2014: Dr. James Anderson of Reformed Theological Seminary formulated and published an argument against Molinism on the issue of fallibility in this blog post here.
May 4, 2014: Dr. William Lane Craig discusses J.W. Wartick’s blog post and responds to Dr. Anderson’s arguments in this podcast here.
May 8, 2014: On the Dividing Line podcast, James White plays and responds to Craig’s May 4th podcast which can be found here.
Preliminary Remarks on James White
I like James White. I know all of my posts on here have been critical but I do enjoy listening to the Dividing Line, his work on textual criticism is great, his material on the Trinity has been extremely useful, and I’m currently working through his latest book on the Qur’an. That being said, like he admits in the May 8th Dividing Line, everyone is a mixed bag. When it comes to issues of philosophy, especially Molinism, Dr. White is rough around the edges and makes some significat errors due to misunderstandings. It’s especially frustrating because he stresses all the time the need to “hear [people he disagrees with] in their own language” . Molinism is rather philosophically robust and one can’t hear Molinism in its own language with philosophical misunderstandings. It is worth mentioning that in this latest podcast, Dr. White’s comments reflect a more balanced presentation of Molinism than came across in the previous podcasts which I addressed here and here.
So, I want it to be clear that I’m not attacking Dr. White personally and I don’t think that these percieved mistakes reflect on his character. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at what he has to say about Molinism.
Rather than grouping things chronologically, I’m grouping his comments thematically
The Grounding Objection
This remains Dr. White’s biggest objection to Molinism and it permeates all of his other objections. The grounding objection, for those uninitiated, is the rejection of middle knowledge on the basis that there is no grounding for counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. In Dr. White’s words, how does God know what some creature, Sam, would do in certain circumstances? (For a more details on the grounding objection, consult this entry on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The grounding objection is where Dr. White derives his “card-dealer” argument. The “card-dealer” argument is a rhetorical zinger that Dr. White gets from conjoining the grounding objection with a bad analogy Dr. Craig made some years ago. There are lots of moving pieces here so I’ll give a summary right quick.
Middle Knowledge – God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom i.e. what a person would do if they were in certain circumstances
Grounding Objection – How does God know these counterfactuals? Where do they come from?
Dr. Craig’s Card Analogy – Since He can’t control the truth of counterfactuals, God has to deal with the cards He’s been dealt
Dr. White’s Card Dealer – Since God doesn’t determine the truth of the counterfactuals of freedom, they must come from something or someone else. Who is the card dealer? He’s the one we should be worshipping.
Now, in this Dividing Line, Dr. White makes the comment “where do these counterfactuals come from? Apparently that’s not a question you can ask for the Molinist”. What’s rather bothersome is that the grounding objection has been answered several different ways by several different Molinists in the past 500 years since its development. Since Dr. White clarifies that he is arguing against “WLC’s version of Molinism”, I will focus just on the responses WLC has provided to the grounding objection; responses of which Dr. White hasn’t shown any cognizance despite the fact that Craig has been writing on this since at least 2001. My sources come from the two papers Middle Knowledge, Truth–Makers, and the “Grounding Objection” (2001) and Ducking Friendly Fire: Davison on the Grounding Objection (2006) as well as the book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2003) which Dr. Craig co-authored with J.P. Moreland
Burden of Proof
Craig posits that it’s actually the Grounding Objector and not the Molinist who shoulders the burden of proof. Because the Grounding Objection is a rebutting defeater (as opposed to an undercutting defeater), it must have more warrant than the Molinist’s assumption that there are true counterfactuals of freedom (Craig, 2001). Craig then provides three reasons to warrant the Molinist assumption
1) We appear to know counterfactuals and employ them in our daily lives. In fact our plans are inextricably linked with such counterfactuals. An example would be “If I were to pull out into traffic, I would make it across the intersection”.
2) It is plausible that the Law of Conditional Excluded Middle (LCEM) holds for counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.
3) Counterfactual statements are used in Scripture. For example, 1 Corinthians 2:8 “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory”
Moreover, the Molinist project itself is one of defense and not one of theodicy against the notion that God’s sovereignty and human freedom are mutually exclusive. As long as it is epistemically possible for these counterfactuals of freedom to exist, the Molinist is successful. Thus, the Grounding Objector is pushed from saying “where do these counterfactuals come from?” to saying “it is impossible for these counterfactuals to exist” which is a considerably stronger proposition. Craig gives more comments paralleling Molinism to the Special Theory of Relativity in his 2003. In any event, the Grounding Objector is at minimum pressed for more information which leads to the next response.
The Grounding Objection Ill-Defined
Second, Craig (with other Molinists) points out while that the grounding objection is one of the largest and purportedly potent objections against Molinism, it is easier raised than defined. He remarks “the irony is that this allegedly powerful objection has virtually never been articulated or defended in any depth by its advocates” (Craig, 2001). So, while it may be easy for Dr. White to casually say “where do these counterfactuals come from?”, when pressed for precision, Craig claims no one has stepped up to the challenge. While I think William Hasker has made some progress since Craig’s original 2001 article, Dr. White has not been sufficiently precise in his formulation of the grounding objection. Craig’s next step is to postulate that Grounding Objectors tacitly presuppose what he thinks is an untenable model of truth maker theory. I’ll go into more detail on this component in the next section.
So far, Craig has argued that the burden of proof has been misplaced by the Grounding Objector. Then, he argued that the grounding objection itself is not a well-defined, precise counter argument but more or less just rhetorical flourish. Next, he attempts to formulate a precise form of the grounding objection and in the process uncover the theory of truth that is lurking in the background. Quoting Craig:
So what can be said on behalf of the grounding objection? I have said that the grounding objection seems to assume a particular theory about the relationship of truth and reality. The theory presupposed by the grounding objection appears to be a certain construal or version of a view of truth as correspondence which has come to be known as the theory of truth–makers. During the realist revival in the early years of the twentieth century various philosophers turned their attention to the question of the ontology of truth. Logical Atomists such as Russell and Wittgenstein thought that in addition to truth–bearers, whether these be sentences, thoughts, propositions, or what have you, there must also be entities in virtue of which such sentences and/or propositions are true. Various names were employed for these entities, such as “facts” or “states of affairs.” Among contemporary philosophers they have come to be known as “truth–makers.”
A truth–maker is typically defined as that in virtue of which a sentence and/or a proposition is true. According to Peter Simons, “Truth–maker theory accepts the role of something which makes a proposition true, that is, whose existence suffices for the proposition to be true. But it does not automatically pronounce on the ontological category of the truth–maker.” “Indeed,” he insists, “anything whatever is a truth–maker.” But historically the orthodox view has identified truth–makers with such abstract realities as facts or states of affairs–more often than not, the fact stated as a proposition’s truth condition, as disclosed by the disquotation principle. Thus, what makes the statement “Al Plantinga is an avid rock–climber” true is the fact that Al Plantinga is an avid rock–climber or the state of affairs of Al Plantinga’s being an avid rock–climber.
Now we immediately see the potentially misleading connotations of the term “truth–maker” for such entities. For making sounds like a causal relation between a truth–bearer and some concrete object, but truth–maker theorists are quite clear that the relation is by no means causal. An entity a makes a proposition p true if and only if that a exists entails that p. That truth–makers are usually conceived to be such abstract entities as facts or states of affairs underlines the point that a causal relation is not at issue here.
That the relation between a truth–maker and a truth–bearer is not causal is especially evident if we require truth–makers for negative existential statements like “Baal does not exist.” According to Kevin Mulligan, Peter Simons, and Barry Smith, “Not only Wittgenstein, but indeed almost all other philosophers who have investigated the relation of making true, have felt compelled in the face of the problems raised by negative propositions to adopt an ontology of truth makers as special, non–objectual entities having a complexity which is essentially logical. Obviously a fact like Baal’s non–existence, which is sufficient for the truth that Baal does not exist, is not a cause of anything.
A proper understanding of truth–makers, then, invalidates at once the crude construal of the grounding objection expressed in Robert Adams’s statement of the problem and again in Alfred Freddoso’s and Thomas Flint’s respective formulations of the grounding objection:
Counterfactuals of freedom . . . are supposed to be contingent truths that are not caused to be true by God. Who or what does cause them to be true?
Or, to put it more simply as Alvin Plantinga did: “It seems to me much clearer that some counterfactuals of freedom are at least possibly true than that the truth of propositions must, in general, be grounded in this way”. White seems to actually endorse this highly controversial system by positing that for every truth, there is a truth maker called “card-dealer”! However, I highly doubt that Dr. White has delved deeply enough into “man’s philosophy” to know what kind of theory of truth he endorses.
Dr. White does not seem aware of these responses, fails to interact with any Molinist replies to the grounding objection in general nor Craig’s responses specifically, and seems to tacitly assume a highly controversial theory of truth making.
Anti-Realism and Causation
White picks up on Craig’s comment that “none of these counterfactual statements actually exists” and then proceeds to inquire about how things non-existent things can delimit the range of possible worlds. I’ll leave it to Dr. Craig to tease out the causal relationship in his paper God and Abstract Objects (2012). Also, there are some copyright issues surrounding the material and I don’t want to write to John Wiley & Sons to get permission to reproduce any of the content here.
“Natural Law” and Logically Necessary Truths
This was Dr. White’s biggest blunder. Around the 29 minute mark, Dr. White quotes Dr. Craig saying that God did not volitionally select logically necessary truths either. Now, White calls this “natural law” (which I think is a misnomer) and then conflates this with physical laws! White lumps “the laws of logic, mathematics, and calculus” in with things such as Planck’s constant and Avagadro’s number. I want to be as charitable to Dr. White as I can but this is seriously an amateur mistake. Laws of logic are not even remotely in the same category as physical laws. The laws of logic are necessarily true. That means it’s literally impossible for them to be false. Can God change the laws of logic? Only if you are some kind of hyper-Cartesian that thinks God can make a four-sided triangle and can simultaneously exist and not exist while creating a rock too heavy for him to lift. Seriously. If you say God can alter the foundational rules of logic, you have surrendered any chance at coherency. On the other hand of course God can create the universe with different constants and quantities. There’s nothing metaphysically necessary about the way our universe is structured. Just for good measure, here is Craig’s version of the Argument from Fine-Tuning that argues specifically against the physical necessity of the preconditions of the Big Bang.
Assorted Miscellaneous Comments
Early in his critique, White mentions that “what [he does] flows from [who he is] and [who he is] is what God made [him] to be” and from this fact, God knows the counterfactuals of freedom concerning James White. Interestingly enough, this comment is completely consistent with the “conceptualist model” of divine knowledge that Molinism generally presupposes. The Molinist can reply that God’s self-contained, innate knowledge contains such exhaustive accounts about every possible individual essence that God knows just what that creature would do in any circumstance. To my knowledge, this is the position of Craig and even Luis Molina himself!
It’s nice to see that Dr. White is addressing Molinism and giving it more attention. I find his criticisms intriguing but misguided and outdated. I’m also happy to see him giving a fairer treatment to the tenets of Molinism. Ultimately, Dr. White’s rejection of Molinism is rooted in philosophical misunderstandings including unawareness of the responses to the grounding objection, confusion about the nature of abstract entities, and conflation of contingent physical laws and necessary logical laws.
1 – What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an, pg 10