Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Molinism

Consider this post a (lengthy) side-note to my earlier post. One of the favorite texts of Molinists is Matthew 11:21-24, because it indicates (1) that there are true counterfactuals of freedom, i.e., truths about what free creatures would have done in different circumstances, and (2) that God knows these true counterfactuals. I pointed out that while (1) and (2) support Molinism over against other views such as Open Theism, they don’t favor Molinism over Augustinianism, since Augustinianism also affirms (1) and (2). (Where Molinism and Augustinianism diverge, at least philosophically, is with respect to the nature of creaturely freedom and how God’s knowledge of the counterfactuals of freedom relates to his eternal decree.)

In this post I want to take a comment by Dan as a launching-pad for a closer examination of Matthew 11:21-24 and its relevance to the debate between Molinists and Augustinians. Dan wrote:

One of the classic “proof texts” for middle knowledge also seems resistant to Augustinian/Calvinistic reading and to favor libertarian freedom. Matthew 11:21 says: 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

On Calvinism, irresistible grace (a.k.a. modernistic regeneration or effectual call) determines conversion, such that anyone given God’s irresistible grace cannot resist and will repent. Further, without irresistible grace, no one can convert due to their depravity.

From the verse, we know the people of Chorazin didn’t repent, but the people of Tyre would have repented had the same might works been done there. Tyre was notoriously sinful, so the comparison is to shame the folks of Chorzin – they really had a great opportunity to repent, so their choice to remain in sin was more wicked than the folks of Tyre. Yet on Calvinism, God was not given the folks of Chorzin the one and only thing that He knew could enable and cause repentance: irresistible grace. This alone is problematic and seems disingenuous.

But there is another problem with regards to the folks of Tyre. Neither the people of Chorazin and Tyre actually repented. On Calvinism, we could safely conclude neither were given irresistible grace, because had they being given irresistible grace, they would repent. But the verse gives us the counter-fact: the people of Tyre would have repented, given the same might works. So how is it that Tyre would have repented without irresistible grace? On Calvinism, we are left with the contradiction that irresistible grace both is and is not necessary for repentance.

To avoid the problem, some might say the repentance is not true repentance. But Christ preached about true repentance: repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand! He never uses “repentance” as false repentance and He always denounces any outward pretense of conversion and He exposes any self-deception and false assurance. Further, it invalidates (probably inverts) Christ’s main point of saying the folks of Chorazin were worse than the folks of Tyre. It’s better to refuse the Lord’s supper than to partake in pretense, it’s better not to know the way of righteousness than to know it and turn from it and so it’s better to live in open sin than with a false repentance. So if the repentance is a false repentance, the folks of Chorazin are better than the folks of Tyre, because they avoided false repentance. But that’s the opposite of Christ’s point.

The better solution seems to be to deny grace is irresistible and say man has libertarian freedom with respect to resisting God’s grace.

These remarks are certainly interesting and deserving of a response. But before we get into the details, let’s consider the pericope in context and on its own terms:

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24)

We’re told explicitly that Jesus’ purpose in saying these words was to “denounce the cities” because they wouldn’t repent despite having witnessed the many miracles Jesus had performed. They had sufficient evidence, yet they refused to acknowledge Jesus’ authority and they dismissed his call to repentance. Specifically, Jesus’ denunciation takes the form of a comparison with the notoriously depraved ancient cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom.

Now, do these statements by Jesus support Molinist claims in the way Dan suggests? In the first place, it’s not obvious that we should take Jesus to be making the precise counterfactual assertion that Molinists assume he’s making. Certainly Jesus is making assertive statements here. But is he really asserting something so specific as a literal counterfactual truth about what the people in those ancient cities would have done had Jesus performed the very same mighty works before them? (We should note in passing that that would have been a very different possible world than this one!)

Jesus’ point here is simply that the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida were hardhearted and deserving of judgment for their failure to repent; indeed, they were even more stubborn and culpable than the people of Tyre and Sidon. That point doesn’t in itself entail the precise counterfactual claim Dan and other Molinists assume. By way of comparison, suppose I were to rebuke one of my children by saying, “If I told you a thousand times, you still wouldn’t do as you were told!” On the face of it, that statement has the form of a counterfactual of freedom (if S were in C, S would/wouldn’t do A). But am I thereby affirming the specific proposition that my child wouldn’t do as he’d been told if he actually found himself in circumstances in which I had told him (literally!) a thousand times? To suggest so would be clearly to over-interpret my words. To put it in technical terms: such an interpretation would miss the real propositional content of my speech act.

Of course, the fact that my statement wasn’t intended to be taken as literally affirming that counterfactual proposition doesn’t mean that my statement is false. At issue here is the meaning of my statement (i.e., what proposition it’s expressing) rather than its truthfulness (i.e., whether the proposition it expresses is actually true). By making that statement I’m basically asserting something about my child’s stubbornness. And what I’m asserting is true!

Likewise, by questioning whether Jesus is really affirming the counterfactual proposition Dan assumes he’s affirming I’m emphatically not suggesting that Jesus could be affirming a falsehood. Rather, I’m suggesting that the truth he’s affirming is much simpler: the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida are stubborn and hardhearted — even more so than the people of Tyre and Sidon — and they will be judged for it. And that truth is just as consistent with an Augustinian perspective as with a Molinist perspective.

The lesson then is that Molinists probably place more weight on this text than it was ever meant to bear. When we pay attention to the point Jesus is making, we can see that his words don’t have the kind of philosophical entailments that would support Molinist claims about counterfactuals of freedom. To adapt a quip from Ludwig Wittgenstein: Molinists are making Jesus’ “ordinary language” go on holiday.

But let’s suppose I’m wrong about all this. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Jesus really is asserting the counterfactual propositions Dan and other Molinists think he is. Would that favor Molinism over Augustinianism, given that the latter rejects libertarian freedom and affirms irresistible grace?

One important question concerns the kind of repentance in view in verse 21. Dan contends that it must be “true repentance” rather than “false repentance”. But I’m dubious about this simple dichotomy. It seems to me the Bible leaves room for a kind of repentance that is genuine so far as it goes (i.e., not wholly insincere, not a mere show) yet is non-salvific (i.e., it falls short of spiritual conversion). The repentance of the Ninevites in the book of Jonah might well be an example of such repentance.

If a limited non-salvific repentance of that kind is in view in verse 12 then the issues Dan raises about total depravity and irresistible grace are beside the point. And it wouldn’t take anything away from Christ’s denunciation. Jesus would in effect be saying, “If my miracles had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented [i.e., limited non-salvific repentance] but you guys have seen those miracles and you haven’t responded with any kind of repentance!” Such a reading would be entirely consistent with Dan’s (correct) observation that “Christ’s main point [is to say that] the folks of Chorazin were worse than the folks of Tyre.”

But once again, let’s grant Dan’s assumption for the sake of argument, i.e., that the repentance in verse 21 must be full-blown salvific repentance. Would that raise a problem for Augustinianism/Calvinism? I don’t think so, and I’ll explain why in response to Dan’s argument.

Dan observes that on the Calvinist view, neither the people of Tyre and Sidon nor the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida were in fact given irresistible grace, because if they had they would have repented. This much is true: it follows from the very definition of irresistible grace. (I prefer to speak of “efficacious grace,” but let’s not quibble about labels.) Dan further assumes, however, that in the counterfactual scenario in which Tyre and Sidon repent in response to the mighty works, they didn’t receive irresistible grace. He thus concludes that verse 21 doesn’t comport with the Calvinist claim that no one can repent with irresistible grace.

But this assumption is unwarranted. On the standard interpretation of counterfactuals, we need to consider whether the consequent of the counterfactual (the people of Tyre and Sidon repent) is true in the nearest possible world in which the antecedent (the people of Tyre and Sidon see the mighty works) is true. For all we know, the nearest possible world is one in which the people of Tyre and Sidon receive irresistible grace. Certainly Dan hasn’t given us any good reason to exclude this possibility. Given that on a compatibilist view of freedom a person’s free choices are determined not only by factors internal to that person but also by external factors (i.e., circumstances), and there can be complex causal relationships between those internal and external factors, it would be hard to disprove this supposition. God works out his decree through a multiplicity of interrelated means. Why couldn’t the nearest possible world in which God decrees that Christ’s miracles will be performed in Tyre and Sidon also be a possible world in which God brings Tyre and Sidon to repentance through his irresistible grace?

Indeed, to take the point a little further, why couldn’t the mighty works be part of that irresistible grace? (Credit to Paul Manata for suggesting this idea to me.) At the heart of the doctrine of irresistible grace is simply the claim that God has it within his power to bring any spiritually dead sinner he chooses to salvation, such that they come to Christ freely (i.e., without coercion; see WCF 10.1). But God is free to use a wide variety of means — including circumstantial means — to accomplish his effectual calling in different people, as the diversity of Christian conversion testimonies underscores. We shouldn’t think of irresistible grace like some kind of internal spiritual switch that God simply flicks in order to bring about conversion! There will always be some means which are central and universal among genuine conversions, such as the internal work of the Holy Spirit bringing conviction of sin and understanding of the gospel. But the attendant circumstantial means by which God brings about faith and repentance can and do vary considerably.

All this to say, on a Reformed view of divine providence and effectual calling Dan’s assumptions about the counterfactual scenario in which the people of Tyre and Sidon repent are unwarranted. And therefore even if we grant his other assumptions (i.e., that Jesus is making a precise literal counterfactual claim and that the repentance in verse 21 must be salvific repentance) Christ’s pronouncements in Matthew 11:21-24 don’t lend support to Molinism over against Augustinianism/Calvinism. A Calvinist compatibilist perspective can accommodate these statements of Christ just as well as a Molinist libertarian perspective.

21 Responses to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Molinism

  1. “Yet on Calvinism, God was not given the folks of Chorzin the one and only thing that He knew could enable and cause repentance: irresistible grace. This alone is problematic and seems disingenuous.”

    If it *is* disingenuous, then so is the orthodox doctrine of infallible omniscience, according to which God calls them to repent when he infallibly knows they will never repent. Why would he do that if he is being sincere? If this is a good argument, so long to divine omniscience, whether you’re a Calvinist or a Molinist! (An alternative: maybe it’s not a good argument…)

    “But am I thereby affirming the specific proposition that my child wouldn’t do as he’d been told if he actually found himself in circumstances in which I had told him (literally!) a thousand times?”

    No, it’s hyperbole. WL Craig suggests as much: “Does God, then, possess middle knowledge? It would be difficult to prove in any direct way that he does, for the biblical passages are not unequivocal.” [fn. 1: “… The passage in Matthew 11 is probably religious hyperbole meant merely to underscore the depth of the depravity of the cities in which Jesus preached.”] (*The Only Wise God*, p. 137)

    “Jesus would in effect be saying, “If my miracles had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented [i.e., limited non-salvific repentance] but you guys have seen those miracles and you haven’t responded with any kind of repentance!””

    Yes, that seems right. One doesn’t have to take a position on the *kind* of repentance in view, to see that it’s absence would constitute a pretty weighty indictment of the people of Chorazin.

    “Why couldn’t the nearest possible world in which God decrees that Christ’s miracles will be performed in Tyre and Sidon also be a possible world in which God brings Tyre and Sidon to repentance through his irresistible grace?”

    Yes, again this seems right. More generally:

    “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (If MW then R)

    can be constructed from the following two conditionals:

    “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have received God’s irresistible grace.” (If MW then IG)

    and:

    “If they had received God’s irresistible grace, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (If IG then R)

    No argument has been given to preclude the truth of the second counterfactual above.

    So, all God has to do is give them irresistible grace in the (counterfactual) context of these mighty works, and voila! They repent by God’s irresistible grace, and what Jesus says in the passage is straightforwardly true. ‘Problem’ solved.

  2. Hi James,
    I understand this part of the argument doesn’t arise till a couple generous concessions are made to the Molinist for the sake of argument, but I’m not sure the Augustinian view of the counterfactuals of salvific repentance has the upper hand.

    The Molinist can say that (1) the actual circumstances in the relevant places/times are such that, were the mighty works done, there would (contingently but certainly) be salvific repentance. On the Augustinian view, the would-conditionals might (2) be grounded in the actual circumstances (e.g. the actual dispositions of the relevant people). Alternatively, they might (3) be grounded in *another* would-conditional to the effect that, were the mighty works done, the circumstances would be different (e.g. God would have brought about different dispositions).

    (2) seems implausible, given the wickedness of the relevant people. And if Jesus *was* intending to express (or at least imply) the truth of some would-conditionals of salvific repentance (a big “if”, as you’ve explained), (1) strikes me as a more natural interpretation than (3). I myself don’t find it natural to think about would-conditionals in terms of nearness of possible worlds, but I would think that the closest worlds in which the mighty works are done are ones in which the dispositions of the people are as they actually are.

    • Hi Daniel,

      I guess you’d have to say more about what you take dispositions to be, as well as how we are to understand their manifesting or not in counterfactual scenarios, etc.

      But waving that, I’m not sure I see why you think (2) is so implausible. Here’s a story: free will is to choose on the basis of reasons, and this is a disposition or bundle of dispositions. I think Molinists and Calvinists can accept this. The people of Tyre and Sidon will, in the counterfactual scenario, have been given new evidence or reason to (salvifically) repent. This will be true on both Molinism and Calvinism, therefore both Molinists and Calvibists will need to add *evidence* or *reasons* to the nearest world that were not present for Tyre and Sidon in the actual world. We assume they have the same disposition, viz., the are able to chose for reasons. The Molinist says that the relevant people chose to repent for reasons, though those reasons aren’t determinative. The Calvinist can say the same, but may say that the reasons are determining. Here, giving Tyre and Sidon these mighty works was a gracious act on behalf of God (Molinists and Calvinists can say this) and, on Calvinism, this gracious act gave the people of Tyre and Sidon decisive reasons to repent.

      So on this story, we keep the relevant dispositions the same, both sides have to say the nearest works is one where the relevant agents have different evidence and so different reasons, and the Calvinist says this evidence was graciously given by God and determined repentance (so it’s consistent with efficacious grace) and the Molinist will say the reasons influenced but not decisively. Why think the latter world is nearer–assuming you’re not antecedently disposed to libertarianism, which is what’s in dispute between Molinists and Calvinists. So it seems to me both sides can keep the (relevant) dispositions the same (ability to choose for reasons), and both sides have to go to a nearest world that is not “exactly the same up to the moment of choice” as the actual world (because we’ve been given different reasons). So they seem on a par other than one saying the reasons are decisive for repentance (irresistible grace, remember James said IG isn’t like a “light switch” that gets flicked by a divine finger) and the other denying this.

  3. Hi Paul,
    Thanks; I only gave a one-sentence argument against (2): I said I found it implausible because of the wickedness of the relevant people (Tyre, Sidon, Sodom).

    We know the mighty works are not enough to “trigger” salvific repentance in just anyone: they did not with lots of people in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Given the depravity of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, I would think, a fortiori, that the mighty works would not trigger salvific repentance in them. This is why (3) struck me as the more plausible option open to the Calvinist: we are to imagine the counterfactual scenario, not just in terms of there being mighty works that actually didn’t occur, but also in terms of the relevant people’s being less depraved than they actually were. ((3) is neutral on the mechanism: we could imagine God’s using means that are natural or supernatural, and proximate [e.g. right when the mighty works occur] or remote [e.g. further in the past]. The point is that the people of Tyre, etc., would be different sorts of people, morally.)

    So I don’t have any problem with the kind of story you give in the abstract; I just don’t see it as plausibly obtaining in the specific case with Tyre, etc. My argument could be resisted, it seems to me, either by maintaining that the people of Chorazin, etc., were more wicked/depraved than those of Tyre, etc., or by denying that moral character should be given much weight in assessing the relevant counterfactuals.

    • Hi Daniel,

      Then I’m not sure why you think the Molinist can accept (1). The story you tell about the moralcharacter of Tyre etc., sounds like their will is set, fixed, viscously habituated. So how do they repent on (1)? Well, we’re going to have to go back some time in the past to when they made the free choices that set their wills in the actual world and make them less vicious than they were. But that’s the problem you said (3) had.

      Second, on what basis are these dispositions not subject to finking or masking? If they are (which seems plausible), I can tell a story where those moral traits that, sans finking or masking, would not allow the evidence of the mighty works to ‘penetrate’, are, in the counterfactual situation, finked or masked and, lo and behold, the evidence penetrates. On this story, we keep the moral dispositions the same (as you know, a disposition doesn’t need to be manifested at a time in order for a thing to be said to have that disposition), the people are disposed to choose based on reasons (which is a disposition (or bundle of them) had in the actual case), the evidence penetrates, and they repent.

      • One more thing. You wrote: “My argument could be resisted, it seems to me, either by maintaining that the people of Chorazin, etc., were more wicked/depraved than those of Tyre, etc…”

        It seems to me that we can maintain that: Jesus said the latter would’ve repented in sackcloth and ashes if the mighty works had been done before the latter. That is *evidence* for the thesis that the former are more wicked/depraved (in the relevant sense of being resistant to repenting when faced with the relevant mighty works) than the latter.

        • Let me admit that I don’t recall giving any positive argument *for* the comparative badness (in the relevant sense you describe) of Tyre, etc. over Chorazin, etc., other than the reputation / infamy of the former cities. With that said, it’s not clear to me that, in the current dialectical context, this *particular passage* can provide good evidence *against* that comparative judgment.

          I suppose the evidential power of the passage against the comparative judgment turns on the probability that some interpretation is true that would itself be evidence (perhaps decisive) against that judgment.

          If Jesus is not implying any counterfactuals but rather just emphasizing the gravity of Chorazin, etc.’s sin (and/or the significance of His person/works), I don’t think it’s evidence. If Jesus is implying counterfactuals of repentance of the non-salvific sort James talked about, I suppose it is (decisive) evidence. But we’re currently assuming counterfactuals of salvific repentance are in view, and adjudicating between (1) (2) and (3).

          It seems to me that the passage would only provide good evidence on (2), but the probability/plausibility of that interpretation is what is at issue. But even if (1) or (3) also provide evidence, we are considering whether the passage provides evidence against the comparative judgment in order to undermine my argument against (2), in order to motivate (2). But supposing we end up accepting (2), we would not be in a position to accept any evidential power the passage has against the comparative judgment that turned on (1) or (3).

          • I’ve been assuming that we’re granting a lot of stuff to the Molinist and taking this passage as Jesus implying a couterfactual. We’re assuming both groups (Tyre, etc. and Chorazin, etc.) are pretty bad/wicked, and we’re to assume that the badness/wickedness of Chorazin, etc.’s sin (partly) explains why they don’t repent in the face of the mighty works. Their viscous moral character explains why they stubbornly resist repenting in the face of the mighty works. Then we have Tyre, etc. We’re told that even they would (salvifically) repent. Let’s say that the visciousness of Chorazin’s moral character, which, if left en force, blocks repentance, is of degree d (I find it plausible to suppose viciousness comes in degrees). If Tyre etc. would repent, then it seems that their character is > d. Assume otherwise. That is, assume their viciousness (in the repentance blocking sense) were ≤ d, then, keeping the dispositions en force, Tyre, etc., wouldn’t repent either. It’s important to note that this works on either the Molinist or Calvinist view.

            In any event, I’m not sure I need all of this, it just seems that it’s not implausible to suppose that the fact that they would repent and Chorazin would not shows that even they (known brigands!) are not as bad as Chorazin, etc. So I suggested that there was evidence in the text (after granting a lot of assumptions) that could be used to argue for the inequality in the relevant moral traits that were apparently blocking repentance in Tyre.

          • Thanks for these interesting comments, Daniel. Good interaction with Paul!

            Since I’m pretty convinced that this text should be read as simple hyperbole, I’m disinclined to enter into detailed analyses of the counterfactual scenarios. :)

            I’ll just make one observation though. We don’t need to assume that Chorazin was generally more morally depraved than Tyre, i.e., its inhabitants were more liable to engage in murder, rape, etc. We only need to say that Chorazin was more hardhearted with respect to the specific moral choice in view, i.e., acknowledging Christ’s authority and repenting on that basis. After all, most of us know morally upright people (well-behaved, respectful, considerate, etc.) who are nevertheless thoroughly resistant to the claims of Christ.

      • Hi Paul,
        On the Molinist picture, morally significant choices (actual and hypothetical) of the people in Tyre, etc. are contingent, not necessary (relative to a backdrop of circumstances), whereas on the Calvinist one, they are necessary. My thought was not that a negative reaction to the mighty works would be necessitated per se, but that supposing we grant the Calvinist that some or other reaction *would* be necessitated, it would be a negative one.

        I agree the Molinist could tell a story that would have the same features as (3), but I was taking him to suppose that the relevant people would have the relevant kind of libertarian control at the very time in question. I need to think about it more, but I’m open to the idea that my comparative judgment about moral badness vis-a-vis Tyre etc. and Chorazin etc. does militate against (1). For example, given the depravity of Tyre etc., perhaps it is highly *improbable* that the counterfactuals of salvific repentance would turn out as they would have to do, were Jesus taking the Molinist line in the passage. Maybe there’s something of a dilemma for the Molinist: the less depraved they were, the more likely (2) becomes; the more depraved they were, the less likely (1) becomes.

        I’d guess I’d want to hear more about the finking/masking, since my initial thought is that the proposal would collapse into (3). For example, we imagine that, when the people of Tyre, etc. are witnessing the mighty works, God supernaturally removes their bad dispositions.

        • Hi Daniel,

          You say: “On the Molinist picture, morally significant choices (actual and hypothetical) of the people in Tyre, etc. are contingent, not necessary (relative to a backdrop of circumstances), whereas on the Calvinist one, they are necessary.”

          This may not be right. First, I’m not sure why you think that on Calvinism the choices are “necessary relative to a backdrop” but on Molinism they’re not. To my mind, the question hinges more on the grounding or truth-maker of those choices. But in both schemes, necessarily, *given* the decree, the choice occurs. Second, a worry is that you’re leaving out a majority of significant choices, namely those that result from a formed character or set will. Given the moral character, agents cannot act otherwise (though the agents L-freely formed their character). Molinists, it seems, would need this category, for it’s how they explain, for example, Pharaoh’s hard heart.

          You said: “I agree the Molinist could tell a story that would have the same features as (3), but I was taking him to suppose that the relevant people would have the relevant kind of libertarian control at the very time in question.”

          Well, why are you assuming that they were directly free at the time in question, and how plausible is it to assume that of apparently habituated adult agents? We don’t get that from the text. If their (Tyre, etc.) character was not so wicked that, necessarily, it would “block” the mighty works from penetrating, then on the Molinist view, were the gracious mighty works given to Tyre, etc., the works would penetrate the heart, then I’m not sure why the Calvinist can’t say the same. The only difference, to my mind, is that the Calvinist would say that these new reasons would be, *for Tyre, etc.*, decisively influential in bringing about their repentance. (By the way, yes, your dilemma gets at one of the points I was struggling to make.)

          You said: “I’d guess I’d want to hear more about the finking/masking, since my initial thought is that the proposal would collapse into (3). For example, we imagine that, when the people of Tyre, etc. are witnessing the mighty works, God supernaturally removes their bad dispositions.”

          Okay, let’s take masking. This works not by *removing* the disposition, but masking it. Example: glass is fragile and is disposed to break if struck. Now, wrap the glass in bubble wrap, it doesn’t break when struck, but it still possesses that disposition (dispositions need not be manifested in every case to be possessed by a thing). Since dispositions can be finked/masked/etc., and this so even on determinism, then being disposed to F does not entail necessarily F-ing. So, suppose God “wraps the dispositions in a gracious bubble wrap,” and then the evidence penetrates.

          Again, all of this is based on telling a story by assuming the implausible background on behalf of the Molinist.

  4. I meant but forgot to say this in my first post, but I think there’s another reason for the Molinist to be uneasy invoking this passage. Many Molinists (e.g. Craig) also have a particular view about God’s character / providential priorities on which human salvation takes center stage. This sort of Molinist may not want to affirm counterfactuals of libertarian salvific repentance in the case of Tyre, etc., since that raises the question of why God created all those people in the circumstances he actually did. If God had swapped out the people of Tyre etc. with the people of Chorazin, etc., then it would seem that more would be saved.

    • Good point, Daniel. I’d had a similar thought. If salvific repentance is in view in the case of Tyre and Sidon, and God prioritizes human salvation, why didn’t God arrange for the mighty works to be done there so that they’d be saved? That said, Craig does have a general answer for such questions: this feasible world has overall a “better balance” (whatever that comes to!) of saved and lost than that feasible world.

      • Thanks James, that’s a helpful distinction I hadn’t appreciated (referring to your earlier reply). I suppose Craig can say that, but in and of itself it gives no explanation of why this world indeed has a better balance. As far as facts about Tyre etc. and Chorazin etc. go, it would seem a better balance would be struck by “swapping” their inhabitants. Craig’s proposed in some work that God could have placed transword damned people in worldly regions that never hear the gospel, so he’s discussed the idea that God can manipulate this sort of thing. But his point may have just been about what’s logically possible (I don’t recall), not plausible/probable.

  5. Hi Paul,
    “…it just seems that it’s not implausible to suppose that the fact that they [Tyre etc.] would repent and Chorazin would not shows that even they (known brigands!) are not as bad as Chorazin, etc. So I suggested that there was evidence in the text (after granting a lot of assumptions) that could be used to argue for the inequality in the relevant moral traits that were apparently blocking repentance in Tyre [Chorazin?].”

    I agree that the fact that they would repent shows that, if this fact is grounded in their actual moral character. This is what I called “(2)”, the first option for the Calvinist. But in a context in which we are wondering whether to accept (2), I don’t see how we can legitimately assume (2) and accordingly “get” that evidence. If the fact that they would repent is partly grounded in the fact that they would have different moral character ((3)), then the former fact does not show that they *are* (actually) not as bad as Chorazin etc., but only that they *would* not be as bad as Chorazin etc. *actually* are.

    “Let’s say that the visciousness of Chorazin’s moral character, which, if left en force, blocks repentance, is of degree d (I find it plausible to suppose viciousness comes in degrees). If Tyre etc. would repent, then it seems that their character is > d. Assume otherwise. That is, assume their viciousness (in the repentance blocking sense) were ≤ d, then, keeping the dispositions en force, Tyre, etc., wouldn’t repent either. It’s important to note that this works on either the Molinist or Calvinist view.”

    I don’t see how “this works on either the Molinist or Calvinist view”. The Molinist can deny that d “blocks” repentance in the first place, agreeing only that it is contingently the case that, were Chorazin etc. characterized by d, they would not repent. Further, the Molinist could hold that Tyre etc. have a worse moral character d*, and yet are such that, were Tyre etc. characterized by d*, they would repent.

    However, given that the worse one’s character (in the relevant sense) would be, the less *likely* it is that they would repent, I can agree that the fact that Tyre etc. would repent, as understood by the Molinist, gives us some evidence that their moral character exceeds Chorazin etc. (just as the fact that, say, Curley would but Moe would not accept the bribe gives us some evidence that Curley is more vicious, even though it *could* be that they are equally vicious or even that Moe is more so).

    After I said “On the Molinist picture, morally significant choices…are contingent, not necessary…whereas on the Calvinist one, they are necessary,” you raised two problems. I agree with the second; I was neglecting the point about freely set wills when I wrote that, but what I said would apply to the directly free choices. If I understand you the first worry is a general worry about the intelligibility of Molinism (specifically the idea of infallibly decreed libertarianly free choices).

    I also said I was taking the Molinist to understand the counterfactuals about Tyre, etc., as involving their having direct freedom/control *when* the mighty works were supposed to occur. You then said:

    “Well, why are you assuming that they were directly free at the time in question, and how plausible is it to assume that of apparently habituated adult agents? We don’t get that from the text.”

    I assumed the Molinist (who wanted to invoke this passage as support for his theory) assumed this, for the same sort of reason that the Calvinist option “(3)” struck me as an implausible interpretation of the passage: it involves Jesus as saying (or at least implying or presupposing), not merely that, were certain works done, certain people would have repented, but that, were certain works done, certain people would be different than they actually were and would have repented. This latter view requires us to depart even further from actuality in envisaging the relevant counterfactual scenario (for example, imagining different will-setting choices years before the mighty works), and we surely don’t get this from the text either. Perhaps it is not plausible that Tyre etc. would be directly free at the time in question; I was coming at it from the angle of what the Molinist would be most likely to see in Jesus’ words.

    “If their (Tyre, etc.) character was not so wicked that, necessarily, it would “block” the mighty works from penetrating, then on the Molinist view, were the gracious mighty works given to Tyre, etc., the works would penetrate the heart, then I’m not sure why the Calvinist can’t say the same.”

    Is this the idea? I assumed (on behalf of the Molinist) that Tyre etc. would have had direct (libertarian) control when the mighty works were done. But if the Molinist is really *entitled* to that assumption, specifically, to the idea that the moral character of Tyre etc. would not block off repentance, then those moral characters can’t be *that* bad. And so why can’t the Calvinist also say that such character would, if conjoined to the mighty works, deliver repentance? In reply, the Molinist could say that the probability that Tyre etc. would repent (given their moral character) is low, but nevertheless, as it happens they would. If we now bring in the Calvinist picture, we have to suppose that the circumstances would render repentance either 100% or 0% probable; and it’s less of a stretch to shift it to 0%.

    About the masking. I understand the glass example but am not sure how to cash it out in the case of God’s masking a disposition to resist rather than repent upon witnessing mighty works. Joe is disposed to resist, and he witnesses the works. His disposition is not manifested (and, in fact, he repents), because…?

    • Hi Daniel,

      You wrote: “I agree that the fact that they would repent shows that, if this fact is grounded in their actual moral character. This is what I called “(2)”, the first option for the Calvinist. But in a context in which we are wondering whether to accept (2), I don’t see how we can legitimately assume (2) and accordingly “get” that evidence.”

      I’m not seeing how what I said is “just (2).” I’m assuming you understand (2) such that actions “flow from” or “issue from” moral character. Thus, when altruistic Allen helps a lady cross the street, the view behind (2) has it that this action “flows from” the altruistic module. Similarly, we might say that gluttonous Ginny takes more bacon than she’s entitled to, and that this action “issues from” here vicious character. But now what about acting *out of* character? Since I’m assuming we grant that dispositions to F don’t entail []F, then acting out of character (not manifesting a disposition) occurs from time to time. We might then think that of two people, vicious Vicki and vicious Victor, the former acts “out of character” more than the latter, and that this shows that the former’s character is not as vicious as the latter’s. But we wouldn’t want to say, I don’t think, that the acting out of character is an action that “flows from” the moral character. That is, if Vicki would not steal on occasion O but Victor did, it doesn’t follow that Vicki’s action at O “flowed from” some virtuous character trait (if we assume that character traits are habituated, stable dispositions). If this is right, then more frequency of not acting/acting “out of character” can show a disparity between two moral character traits, and this doesn’t seem to assume (2). But maybe you think it does, I’d like to hear more.

      But furthermore, to piggy back on something James wrote, above I’ve been saying “the relevant moral disposition” to refer to the one Jesus was talking about, viz., not repenting in the face of the mighty works. That is, this is the relevant character trait that matters. It doesn’t seem to be a stretch to see that Chorazin, etc.’s (ostensible) reasons for rejecting the mighty works would have been ones Tyre, etc., would have been hung up on. For example, I’m not sure they (Gentile cities) would have used Jesus’ eating and drinking as an excuse to call him a glutton and a drunkard! Sure, perhaps they were more depraved when it came to sexual abominations, but it’s not clear at all they would be more depraved when it came to acknowledging the mighty works done before them and repenting. I don’t see that this *problematically* assumes (2).

      I asked why you assumed that these habituated agents were directly free when it came to repenting in the face of the mighty works. You replied that “This latter view requires us to depart even further from actuality in envisaging the relevant counterfactual scenario (for example, imagining different will-setting choices years before the mighty works).” Sure, but we’re already at a pretty far off world! We’re at one were Jesus and John the Baptist are living in Gen. 19, doing works meant for one period in redemptive history, and meant for the *Jews* to boot, before an entirely different people, a people who would have had to have been given the OT to make sense of what John was doing, etc. Surely this would have affected their dispositions, dispositions formed without the law and the prophets, etc! So we don’t really know how far we’ve traveled in modal space. I think some tweaks to moral character are the least of our worries ;)

      You wrote: “In reply, the Molinist could say that the probability that Tyre etc. would repent (given their moral character) is low, but nevertheless, as it happens they would. If we now bring in the Calvinist picture, we have to suppose that the circumstances would render repentance either 100% or 0% probable; and it’s less of a stretch to shift it to 0%.”

      Hm, I’d’ve thought the Molinist would give it a probability of 1, that is, it’s “certain without being necessary.” Sure, perhaps its *antecedently* improbable, sans foreknowledge, the decree, etc., but the Calvinist can say *that*, no?

      You asked: “About the masking. I understand the glass example but am not sure how to cash it out in the case of God’s masking a disposition to resist rather than repent upon witnessing mighty works. Joe is disposed to resist, and he witnesses the works. His disposition is not manifested (and, in fact, he repents), because…?”

      Right; so here’s how I’ve thought of our exchange. I told my initial story about how it would happen (both Molinists and Calvinists will say that free choice is the ability to choose for reasons, and Tyre was given new evidence, and thus they both had different evidence at their disposal (which, incidentally, makes us depart slightly further than worlds where the evidence set is the same as the actual world, and this besides the traveling problems I raised above)). You granted the story as fine in general, but then you worried that, when applied to the case at hand, I had to *change* the dispositions. My response was that I did not have to give the people of Tyre, etc., a new set of dispositions, for dispositions don’t need to be manifested to be had. One way to do this is via masking. So, God masks the disposition to not repent (barring that I argued above that it’s not clear that Tyre, etc., even *had* this disposition, especially because it doesn’t seem entailed by the abominable dispositions), and they “repent because…” because they’ve been given new evidence which penetrates the heart and they choose for reasons. The goal here was to meet your challenge of “not removing the dispositions” and still having the choice result from the keeping some relevant dispositions—the disposition to choose for reasons, and new evidence can bring about new reasons which can, in turn, bring about a different action—the same.

      • Argh! didn’t hit ‘edit’ in time.

        Above I wrote: It doesn’t seem to be a stretch to see that Chorazin, etc.’s (ostensible) reasons for rejecting the mighty works //would// have been ones Tyre, etc., would have been hung up on.”

        I meant: “It doesn’t seem to be a stretch to see that Chorazin, etc.’s (ostensible) reasons for rejecting the mighty works //wouldn’t// have been ones Tyre, etc., would have been hung up on.”

      • Hi Paul,
        If I understand you, factors that are “internal” to the agent and that are responsible for or constitutive of dispositions for acting “in character” are just one sub-category of internal factor that can (contribute to) triggering a particular choice when conjoined with certain “external” factors (e.g. mighty works). So perhaps it is in Joe’s “character” to stand up to bullies, but there are other internal factors that lead him, in a particular case, to run away (e.g. he is especially scared of very specific kind of bully).

        By “(2)” I’ve been meaning (I think! it’s been a while) the view that the compatibilist counterfactuals of salvific repentance are grounded in the actual internal states/factors of the relevant agents. I haven’t read back through the thread, and perhaps some language I’ve used didn’t perspicuously convey this. But I think there is a natural reading of “character” on which Joe’s running away “flows from” his “character” (contrast the case with one involving a mad neuroscientist who has implanted a device and flicked a switch…), that is, a reading on which character comprehends internal factors generally. Further, I designed (2) and (3) to exhaust the Calvinist options, and have been taking it for granted that they do. The basic contrast has been that (2) and (3) respectively affirm and deny that the counterfactuals are grounded in the agents’ *actual* internal states. If (2) and (3) were just about a specific kind of internal state, they wouldn’t exhaust the options. Suppose Joe is not in fact threatened by a bully on a specific occasion. The analogue of (2) holds that, were he so threatened, he would react in a particular way because of his actual internal states; the analogue of (3) holds that he would react in a particular way because his internal states would also be different (e.g. a switch would have been flicked, or the bully’s deciding to threaten would itself imply changes in the past that would have also led to Joe’s being different).

        Perhaps the stuff about masking is relevant here. Suppose that, were the mighty works done, God would also have acted directly on the relevant agents so as to somehow (a) suppress the manifestation of a disposition to resist and (b) lead to repentance instead. (Analogy: the neuroscientist flicks a switch.) This is an example of (3); the internal states would be different, since the relevant agents didn’t *actually* have the internal states that would have resulted from this divine activity. To take something on the other end of the spectrum, suppose that, whether by natural or supernatural means, God ensured that each relevant person had, perhaps from early in life, an internal state that is designed to “go into effect” when and if mighty works are observed, that will suppress a disposition to resist and lead to repentance instead. (Analogy: Someone’s brain has factors F that dispose them to stand up to bullies, but the brain also has factors G that are designed to suppress F factors in very specific circumstances C.) This is an example of (2), but nevertheless one that seems to involve acting “out of character” in your sense. However, it seems to be an intrinsically implausible view. It would be as if God gave the relevant people G factors just so that Jesus’ counterfactual statements later on could be grounded in those peoples’ actual internal states. The more plausible versions of (2), it seems to me, are ones in which the repentance results in more ordinary ways, or in less deviant disposition-supressing ways.

        Let me now bring in the point you and James make about the specific kind of moral disposition in view. I agree that this damages my earlier argument against (2). I appealed to the actual wickedness of Tyre etc. as reason to think that their actual internal states would not have led them to salvifically repent in the hypothetical circumstances. I still think their wickedness gives us some reason to think this, but I’m not sure it’s a very strong reason. It is not hard to imagine that they were actually disposed toward certain kinds of wickedness but not toward the specific kind that would consist in resisting the mighty works. I still think the *particular passage* in view cannot be legitimately used as evidence for (2), since, as I’ve said before, we need to interpret it in terms of (2) in order to “get” that evidence. However, this is perfectly consistent with there being other textual evidence for (2), and you’ve indeed appealed to some (e.g. the point about being Jesus’ being maligned for eating/drinking). My point was about using the counterfactual statements of Jesus themselves (which it seemed to me you were doing) as evidence for (2), since what was in dispute was precisely how to understand those statements.

        I said I was taking the Molinist to assume that the agents would be directly free in the hypothetical circumstances, and my reason (I think) was that, supposing (with the Molinist) that the relevant agents would repent, this would involve departing less from actuality in imagining the hypothetical circumstances. (I was assuming that, if they were *not* directly free, their wicked wills would lead them to resist rather than repent.) You then argued that by the nature of the case we already have to suppose some pretty large-scale departures from actuality to adequately make sense of the hypothetical circumstances of Tyre etc. witnessing the mighty works. I don’t have much to say about this, other than that, if this is right, I’m inclined to take it as more evidence for the hyperbolic reading, rather than as evidence that Jesus is asserting counterfactuals that would involve actuality’s being so different.

        I said: “…the Molinist could say that the probability that Tyre etc. would repent (given their moral character) is low, but nevertheless, as it happens they would. If we now bring in the Calvinist picture, we have to suppose that the circumstances would render repentance either 100% or 0% probable; and it’s less of a stretch to shift it to 0%.”

        You replied: “Hm, I’d’ve thought the Molinist would give it a probability of 1, that is, it’s “certain without being necessary.” Sure, perhaps its *antecedently* improbable, sans foreknowledge, the decree, etc., but the Calvinist can say *that*, no?”

        The Molinist distinguishes causal probability from God’s credence. Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for God to infallibly know how a “chancy” process would terminate. If God sees that, were certain circumstances actual, then an intrinsically chancy process would eventuate in a particular way, then that intrinsic chanciness doesn’t dissipate once God makes a decree and actualizes the circumstances. Even with the decree “in place”, the causally relevant factors leave it open how the process will unfold; God just knows how it will unfold. Perhaps there are problems here, but if so they are general philosophical problems with Molinism (it seems to me). The Calvinist doesn’t say this. Divine determinism, requires, it seems to me, that there are causally sufficient conditions for any creaturely event, either mundane / “horizontal” or immediately supernatural / “vertical”.

        The main points, as I see it, are that (A) when we dig into the details of the counterfactuals (e.g. trying to imagine the hypothetical circumstances), it becomes even more plausible to reject this interpretation and take the “hyperbolic” view, but that, supposing we still assume a (salvific) counterfactual view for the sake of argument, (B) the Calvinist option that the counterfactuals are grounded in the actual internal states of Tyre etc. (“(2)”) is not as implausible as I initially thought. Or at any rate, it’s not enough to appeal to the depravity of Tyre etc. to undermine that view.

        • Hi Daniel,

          Thanks. I won’t add anything substantive here since I think we’re both ready to move on from this discussion.

          You wrote: “I don’t have much to say about this, other than that, if this is right, I’m inclined to take it as more evidence for the hyperbolic reading, rather than as evidence that Jesus is asserting counterfactuals that would involve actuality’s being so different.”

          I at least think we agree here. We’re both not keen on the “counterfactuals” reading but more inclined toward the hyperbolic reading. I was just trying to see if one could meet the objections you laid out, ones that only arise after we (graciously) grant the relevant Molinist several assumptions. Anyway, if you’ve read Greg’s latest post on the counterfactuals of repentance, that’s the approach I’m inclined to take if we must respond to this “granted” Molinist read of the passage.

          Best,
          Paul

  6. Pingback: Corazim, Betsaida e o Molinismo – James N. Anderson | Oh, olhai, pois, e vivei ♪

  7. Pingback: The Basis of Counterfactual Repentance | Greg Welty