Molinism Defended: A refutation of Steven Colborne

Steven Colborne has published an article over at his blog offering three very brief critiques of Molinism. In this brief rebuttal I will respond to all three.

The Critiques

1. Freedom is Impossible

Colborne writes:

God, by His very nature, is omnipresent, which means that there are no boundaries to God’s being. If God has no boundaries, it logically follows that every atom in existence is a part of God and therefore under God’s control. In this context, free will is impossible

Colborne is wrong or confused here on multiple counts. For one the claim “If God has no boundaries, it logically follows that every atom in existence is part of God” is is simply false. God’s omnipresence does not mean that all the atoms in existence are part of God. In fact, God has no parts whatsoever for he is utterly simple. Rather, the claim that God is omnipresent, has classically been understood to mean that God is present in all things by being their cause. As Thomas Aquinas says, “God is in all things; not, indeed, as part of their essence, nor as an accident, but as an agent is present to that upon which it works.” (Summa .Theologiae. Prima pars Q.8 a.1) An agent is distinct from that upon which he works just as the infinite, timeless, and immaterial God is distinct from the finite, changeable, and material world.

If God were composed of all of the matter of the universe, he would not be God at least classically understood. In Classical theism, God just is the sheer act of being itself, in Latin ipsum esse subsistens. Accordingly, God is without any parts whether physical or metaphysical. Colborne seems to be conceiving of God pantheistically. Pantheism it outside of the scope of this article but I will at least say that if even some of the classical arguments for God’s existence are sound e.g. the argument from motion, then pantheism is false since the classical arguments imply an immaterial, uncaused, first mover rather than some physical composed being.

Secondly, Colborne simply begs the question against Molinism when he states “it logically follows that every atom in existence is a part of God and therefore under God’s control. In this context free will is impossible.” Molinism exists to try to explain how free will and divine control of all things are compatible. To assert that because something is under God’s control, freedom is impossible is just to assume that Molinism is false. Perhaps when Colborne says “In this context” he is referring to the pantheistic image he claims is implied by Molina’s views. In that case, if creatures were truly parts of God, and God were free, it would seem that creatures, by literally being God, could be said to be free in some sense. Thus, even on Colborne’s own view, his comments are dubious.

2. No Separation between God and Man

Colborne continues,

Molinism says that we have man on the one hand (who is free), and man’s circumstances on the other hand (that are determined by God). But in reality, it is impossible to draw a distinction between man and his circumstances because there is no dividing line where one ends and the other begins. For instance, is your breathing caused by you or your circumstances? How about your choice of clothes or food? If you consider the answers to these questions it should be obvious that you cannot separate man and his circumstances into two separate categories. Really, all that exists is a single present moment unfolding that is not ontologically distinct from God. Entities within this unfolding are merely aspects or appearances of God, and crucially, that includes human beings

The crucial error Colborne makes here is to claim “it is impossible to draw a distinction between man and his circumstances because there is no dividing line where one ends and the other begins”. He tries to support this claim by giving two examples, breathing and choice of clothes and food. These are rather poor examples since, on analysis they do not support his claim.

Consider breathing. Normally, breathing is an involuntary action which would therefore be irrelevant to the current context regarding free will. If then we consider breathing only when voluntary, for instance when someone holds their breath on purpose, it becomes clear that we can distinguish the choice to breath or not to be distinct from the circumstances. If I am in a pool for example and I decide to dip my head under water for a few seconds and hold my breath, is that decision caused by the circumstances? It seems not for, given the same circumstances, I, or anyone else we might conceive of, could, or would, not put go underwater and hold their breath. There is nothing in the circumstances that forces me to go underwater. Does the water force me beneath? Obviously not since I was above it and could have remained so. How about the air? The people at the pool? The sun? None of these things caused me to go underwater. This is proven by the fact that, with all of these exact factors in place, I was not underwater the moment before and could have remained so afterwards. It is clear that conceptually, we can distinguish between an agent and his circumstances. If Colborne wants to eradicate this distinction and show that the circumstances do cause me to act in a certain way he needs an argument to do so and none was presented.

3. Creation is an ongoing process

Colborne states his third objection as follows

Dr Craig’s view of the universe is that it was created at a specific point in time long ago (in a ‘Big Bang’ event). But if this is the case, what is God doing right now? The separation between God and creation is a fiction – creation didn’t happen at a specific point in the past, but on the contrary, God is unfolding all events right now in the present moment. The past and future, which are necessary components of Dr Craig’s take on Molinism, don’t exist in reality, they are just ideas in the minds of creatures.

Again Colborne is mistaken. Whether the universe had a beginning some time ago or not is utterly irrelevant to Molinism. After all, Molinism is the doctrine that, (logically) prior to creation and from all eternity, God has knowledge of various contigent conditional truths about free creatures. Thus, even if God chose never to create a world, according to Molinism, God would still possess middle knowledge.

Moreover, Colborne doesn’t even understand (William Lane) Craig’s views about time and creation. Craig agrees that “the past and future…don’t exist in reality”. Craig is a presentist, that is, he holds that only the present moment of time exists. In his words:

According to presentism, past and future entities do not exist Thus, there really are no past or future events, except in the sense that there have been certain events and will be certain others; the only real events are present events.

Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time pg. 148

Thus, Colborne fails to even represent Craig accurately let alone refute his view.

In summary, Colborne’s jump to bizarre pantheistic claims fail to refute Molinisim. It is not true that Molinism implies that people are parts of God, nor that agents cannot be distinguished from their circumstances nor again does Molinism in any way depend upon the past finitude of the universe or the reality of the past and future. Neither Molina nor Craig even held the view attributed to Craig by Colborne.

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