Ron Digiacomo published an article over at philosophical-theology.com critiquing Molinism for failing to preserve the real contingency of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Digiacomo argues that because Molinism holds that God cannot actualize certain worlds based on the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, that these words are not as contingent as Molinists want to think. Molinism thus fails to achieve what it sets out to do, that is, to reconcile contingent human free acts with God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge.
Summary of the problem
According to Molinism, given a certain possible circumstance and all of the relevant events and causes leading up to it, a free creature, while being able to choose between two possible acts, would, if placed in that exact situation (let’s call it SA), perform one of the acts (let’s call it A). Molinism holds that while the person could do action B, it is true, prior to God’s decree to create the world, that such a person would freely choose action A. If God then wants the person to do B, God would have to change the circumstances in some relevant way. Perhaps in a slightly altered situation (SB), the person would choose B. Put in possible world semantics, the world in which the person does B in SA, while possible, is not a feasible world for God to create. SA, by contrast, is both possible and feasible for God to create. Digiacomo argues that this possibility is in name only and that if a world is not feasible for God to create, then it shouldn’t be called possible.
Now regarding logical necessity, if a particular truth exists in all possible worlds, it exists necessarily. Added to this, if something is logically necessary, then there is no possibility of it being other than what it is… Molinism includes the claim that CCFs such as p are contingent truths because of a supposed logical possibility of p being false even though an instantiation of ~p is a sufficient condition for an infeasible world, i.e., a world which cannot become actual along with ~p! Therefore, for the Molinist some logical possibilities are admittedly impossible for God to actualize, yet those possible impossibilities are supposedly what prevents CCFs from becoming necessary truths.
How might a Molinist respond to this line of argument?
Possible world confusion
I think possible world semantics has led Digiacomo astray in his reasoning here. Possible worlds are best thought of as a device to help philosophers think about possibility and necessity. Possible worlds themselves are not the ground of anything. Rather, they are mental constructs used to aid philosophy. So while it is true that “if a particular truth exists in all possible worlds, it exists necessarily” as Digiacomo says, something’s possibility or necessity is not in any way derived from it’s “existence” in a possible world. Indeed, such worlds don’t really “exist”.
What is possible and necessary is grounded in God’s being and his ability to create. God, being all powerful, can create any world which he pleases. God has the ability to create free creatures as well. If these creatures are truly free, their choices are not determined by external causes or even by their own natures. Rather, they can make at least some rational decisions in and indeterministic way. Despite their indeterminism, God know what these creatures would choose. Such knowledge is evident in the Bible in many places. Any Thomist, Molinist, or other theist who believes in free will would agree with what I just said.
The question that remains would be “when” and on what basis God knows what these creatures would do. Does God know these truths as a result of his decree or does he know them prior to his decree to create (middle knowledge)? Let us for the sake of argument suppose the Molinist position and say that he knows these truths prior to creation. As Digiacomo points out, this knowledge would, in some way, restrict God’s ability to create. God could not put a free creature in a situation and have them freely choose against what he knows via his middle knowledge they would freely choose. If we translate this into possible worlds it is true that this would make some worlds infeasible for God. Does that make them necessary? Not if we remember the true ground of modality, God.
What makes it possible for a creature to do A or B, is ultimately grounded in God’s nature and more proximately in the creature and the world in which the creature finds himself. For example, let’s suppose that John is applying for Jobs and has two competing offers. John has various reasons to go with company A and other reasons to favor B which are roughly even in his mind. Let’s further suppose that John would choose company A if he were placed in some specific circumstance S. Does John, in S have the power to choose A? Obviously since he would in fact do so. Does he also have the power to choose B? Indeed because he has within himself the power to choose a career. The fact that John would freely choose company A, is irrelevant to whether he could choose company B. This counterfactual truth no more compels John or causes or necessitates him to choose A anymore than God’s foreknowledge of the fact does. After all, prior to John choosing A, God foreknows that he will choose A. God’s knowledge is infallible which means it is certain that John will choose A. Despite this, any orthodox Christian can affirm that John still freely chooses A, or at least that God’s foreknowledge does not determine this choice. It seems then that, in this respect, counterfactual truths belonging to God’s middle knowledge do nothing more than God’s free knowledge of future contingent truths to remove contingency from a situation. Both the future tense truth of John’s choice and the counterfactual truth are rooted in God’s ability to create a free creature of a certain sort in a certain situation. Pointing out truths about possible worlds only serves to obfuscate things. John is free to make the decision regardless even if there are truths about the decision that are prior to his existence.
At the end of the article Digiacomo says this:
From an Augustinian perspective God freely determines what a person would freely do in any state of affairs. God is capable of actualizing a world in which I freely do not type this post under the same state of affairs in which I freely do type this post. Therefore, from an Augustinian perspective p is a contingent truth. Yet such future contingents are inconsistent with Molinism.
If Molinism has a problem preserving the contingency of free acts then it is not at all clear how his “Augustinian” solution does any better. Asserting that God oxymoronically “freely determines” an act is no solution whatsoever. After all, it is logically impossible for God to freely make someone do something since freedom and external determination are contradictory. Thus, Digiacomo would have a lot of work to do to explain the nature of this determination.
In summary, Digiacomo’s argument against Molinism is by no means decisive. If any difficulty regarding the possibility and necessity of contingent acts exists for Molinism, it is no greater than any other proposed solution to the problem of divine providence, foreknowledge, and freedom. Digiacomo’s own solution, Augustinian determinism, by all appearances fairs all the worse.
6 responses to “The real contingency of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom: a response to Ron Digiacomo”
I’m hesitant to respond given the lack of appreciation for the article and the unrelated missteps you made.
“Molinism holds that while the person could do action B, it is true, prior to God’s decree to create the world, that such a person would freely choose action A. If God then wants the person to do B, God would have to change the circumstances in some relevant way. Perhaps in a slightly altered situation (SB), the person would choose B. Put in possible world semantics, the world in which the person does B (SB), while possible, is not a feasible world for God to create.”
That’s not true even of your own position, and it’s certainly not what the article depicts! If the person would choose B in (SB), then SB *is* a feasible world!
There were many other missteps, but that’s a more obvious one.
Yes that is a mistake. I meant to say does B in SA. I agree doing B in SB is feasible. I have updated the post and fixed that typo. Sorry for the confusion.
I would be happy to discuss any other mistakes or misrepresentations I may have made in the article. I tried to keep things as brief as possible and so didn’t lay out your position in detail but I think if I were to put it in a syllogism it would be something like this:
1. Worlds that God cannot actualize are impossible
2. On Molinism, God cannot actualize non-feasible worlds.
3. Thus (from 1 and 2), non-feasible worlds are impossible
4. Molinism holds that non-feasible worlds are possible
5. Therefore Molinism entails two contradictory truths namely that non feasible worlds are possible but yet impossible at the same time.
To get around this Molinism would have to hold (contrary to itself) that CCFs are necessary truths independent of God.
Is that accurate?
There’s some ambiguity in some of the premises so I won’t comment lest we talk by each other. What I will say is that all the propositions in my article should be affirmed by Molinists. It is the questions I ask in the context of the Molinist position that I think exposes Molinism.
You’re still mistaken.
“1. Worlds that God cannot actualize are impossible”
Not by Molinist semantics. They are possible worlds but also infeasible worlds. In the land of possible-infeasible worlds Molinists park might-counterfactuals that are not would-counterfactuals. (Even William Lane Craig would agree.) Consequently, your response wrongly speaks of those worlds God cannot actualize as impossible worlds, but for the Molinist they can indeed be possible worlds(!), yet not feasible worlds. Being possible worlds, they’re not impossible worlds by Molinist standards. You’ve not understood my post, possibly because you don’t understand the entailments of Molinism. In a word, not all possible worlds can be actualized by Molinist standards. All else unravels for you, having not understood that tenet of Molimism.
“God, being all powerful, can create any world which he pleases.”
Not for the Molinist. For the Molinist, if God pleases to create an infeasible world, he still can’t, even though it can be a possible world for the God of Molinism.
Pop-Molinist William Lane Craig would agree with everything I’ve said. Therefore, your first problem is with Molinism, then with theological determinism. 🙂