A few months back I wrote a post entitled “The Fallible God of Molinism” which was prompted by an exchange between William Lane Craig and Paul Helm. Some folk alerted me to the fact that Dr. Craig briefly responded to my argument in a recent podcast. This is what he said:
I think he’s made a misstep in his argument here. It certainly is true that in any particular freedom-permitting circumstances an agent is free to do other than as God knows he will do. But in that other world in which the agent does something different, God’s plans wouldn’t be the same. What this fellow doesn’t seem to remember is that in that world God would have different plans. God would know in that world that S would do something different in C and so in that world he would have plans for that to happen. So what he’s tried to do is keep God’s plans firm and fixed from world to world, but then vary the value of the counterfactuals, and you can’t do that. If you switch to a world in which S does not do A in C then you can’t say, “Well, in that world God’s plans are that S would do A in C.” No, no, in that world God would have different plans.
So when you switch the truth-value of the counterfactuals, you’ve got to switch the providential plans as well, because the providential plans are based upon the counterfactuals that are true in those worlds. So given that God’s plans are based upon what he knows the free agents would do, the plans will change from world to world along with the decisions of the agents. So there’s just not any problem. God’s plans never fail, and he’s not fallible.
Let me say first of all that I’m honored Dr. Craig considered it worthy of comment! But I do have a few things to say in response.
Craig is correct that I made a misstep in the original argument, as I acknowledged in reply to a comment by Greg Welty. I said at first it wasn’t relevant whether God’s decree (or “providential plan,” to use Craig’s terminology) is included in C, i.e., the circumstances in which God places the free agent S, knowing that S will do A in C. But that’s mistaken, because Molinists will say that C doesn’t include God’s decree, such that in those possible worlds in which S does not do A in C, while C is the same, God’s decree is different. (As Craig puts it, God’s providential plan is not “firm and fixed” across worlds in which S chooses in C, even though C is fixed.) The counterfactuals are different in those alternate worlds and therefore God’s decree will also be different in those worlds, since it is based on those counterfactuals.
Fair enough, but as I argued in the comments to that original post, I don’t think that observation gets the Molinist out of the woods. In the first place, it strikes me as special pleading to exclude God’s decree — which is an active decision with causal consequences, not a mere passive knowledge — from the circumstances in which S makes his free choice. The Molinist has to say, in effect, “Don’t worry, it’s possible for S not to do A in C provided we don’t include God’s decree in C, for then it would be possible for S to do other than what God has decreed.” In other words, the Molinist has to restrict C to intramundane circumstances.
But why should the Molinist be permitted to make that move? After all, the circumstances are causally connected to God’s decree (and necessarily so in the Molinist system). The circumstances obtain only because God decided that they should obtain and caused them to obtain. If we can draw the boundary line of C so as to exclude God’s decree and his actions to implement that decree (i.e., his manipulation of intramundane circumstances), why not draw the boundary line even more narrowly, so as to exclude, say, all circumstances more than five years prior to S’s choice, or all circumstances more than fifty miles away from S’s location? Is there any principled reason to draw the boundary line of C where the Molinist wants to draw it other than to save the system? Why think that it being hot and sunny in Charlotte today is a relevant element of my circumstances but God’s making it hot and sunny in Charlotte (partly in order to direct the choices of Charlotteans) is not a relevant element?
On a related point, I think the Molinist preserves divine infallibility only by compromising his commitment to libertarian free will (LFW). One of the core intuitions behind LFW is that S’s choices are free only if they aren’t determined by factors (especially the actions of other agents) beyond S’s control. As I pointed out in my original post and in the subsequent comments, there’s a clear sense in which, on the Molinist view, God determines S’s choices. It isn’t a causal determinism, but it’s still determinism in the sense that God’s decree that S will do A (which is fixed prior to any of S’s choices) guarantees that S will do A. Given that God has decreed that S will do A, S cannot do otherwise than A.
So the Molinist has to say, “Given only that S is in C (which excludes God’s decree) S can do otherwise than A, but given that God has arranged C precisely in order that S do A, S cannot do otherwise than A.” Now why shouldn’t we consider that a gerrymandered notion of LFW? Why would someone who is committed to the idea of LFW be content with the view that his choices are only free with respect to intramundane circumstances and not free with respect to extramundane circumstances (i.e., God’s decree and active manipulation of the intramundane circumstances)? If you can live with such a diluted form of LFW, why insist on it at all?
I think this is one of the reasons why many Arminians (never mind open theists) won’t get on the Molinist train. They sense that Molinism is still a form of determinism and isn’t fully committed to LFW. In short, it still gives God too much control (even though, from the Calvinist’s perspective, it doesn’t give God enough control!).
So I stand by the remarks I made at the end of my original post, which I reproduce here:
As I see it, this tension at the center of Molinism arises because it aspires to be a deterministic indeterminism. ‘Indeterminism’ because of its commitment to libertarian free will. ‘Deterministic’ because God’s decree somehow (we know not how) determines in advance that his creatures will make certain choices. It may not be a causal determinism, but it’s deterministic nonetheless (as many non-Molinist Arminians, such as Roger Olson, can clearly see). If preordaining that S chooses A doesn’t mean predetermining that S chooses A then what on earth does it mean?
For more discussion, check out the exchanges in the comments on the original post.