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Molinism and the Problem of Evil

June 07, 2015     Time: 16:30
Molinism and the Problem of Evil


Dr. Craig contributes to a new book on the Problem of Evil, offering a Molinist perspective

Transcript Molinism and the Problem of Evil


KEVIN HARRIS: It’s another “Four Views” book but this one has five views. Dr. Craig, this book is in the works right now. You are offering a segment on a Molinist perspective of the problem of evil.

DR. CRAIG: This is a book that has been conceived by Chad Meister who is a Christian philosopher who teaches as Bethel College in Indiana. He wanted to collect diverse perspectives on the problem that evil poses to the existence of God. He has assembled five scholars to present their respective take on the best answer to the problem of evil. He has got Philip Cary presenting what is called a classical view. I don’t know Cary so I am not sure what he means by a classical view. I’ll be doing a Molinist perspective. William Hasker, a Christian philosopher retired from Huntington College, is going to do the open theist view. Thomas J. Oord is going to do a panentheist view. Steve Wykstra, who is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, is going to do the view called skeptical theism. Those are the different perspectives on the problem. We’ve each written our main essay for the book. Now Chad will distribute them among the participants and we will each write a response to the other participants before finally being able to give a final counter-response to our fellow colleagues.

KEVIN HARRIS: At this point you don’t know what the others have written? What their views are?

DR. CRAIG: No, not yet.

KEVIN HARRIS: When you are given something on the problem of evil, usually we will argue what the problem of evil entails and that there are two aspects of it – the philosophical and the emotional. It seems like you’ve been even more specific in this essay, bringing about the Molinist perspective.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I did include those other distinctions. I think it is important to situate this within the broader problematic. So I do make those distinctions between the intellectual or philosophical problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. Then within the intellectual problem of evil distinguishing between what is sometimes called the logical version of the problem of evil and the evidential version of the problem of evil. I like to make the distinction between an internal problem of evil for Christian theism and what I would call an external problem for Christian theism posed by the evil and suffering in the world.

I don’t think that the Molinist point of view has anything special to contribute to the solution to the logical version of the problem of evil. I think there simply appealing to libertarian freedom and saying that for all we know there may be a possible world in which God is not capable of actualizing a world with free creatures in it but no evil in it would be enough to defang the logical version of the problem of evil. Where the Molinist perspective, I think, is helpful will be with regard to the external problem of evil or the evidential problem of evil. That is where I would see Molinism having a positive contribution to make.

KEVIN HARRIS: By the way, was John Wesley – would you categorize him as a Molinist?

DR. CRAIG: I don’t know Wesley’s thought well enough to know if he believed in middle knowledge. He was certainly Arminian and Arminius himself was a Protestant Molinist. But I don’t know if Wesley spoke about the issue of middle knowledge or not. So I couldn’t say. Since nobody has ever said that he is, and surely some of my Methodist friends would have made that assertion had it been true, I suspect that he was just neutral on the question. But I don’t know that.

KEVIN HARRIS: In the Molinist perspective, what are some more of the distinctives? What about natural evil? Where would that come into play?

DR. CRAIG: I think that the contribution that Molinism has to make to the evidential problem of evil is showing why we are not in a position to judge (when some instance of suffering comes into our lives) that God probably doesn’t have a good reason for allowing this to occur. This is the same move made by the skeptical theist – the view that Steve Wykstra will be defending. But I think that Molinism can help in explaining why it is that we can’t make these kinds of probability judgments.[1] It is not simply a matter of God having unknown reasons that are not evident to us. It is rather that the providential planning of a world of free creatures that God could do given his middle knowledge will be so complicated, so complex, that only an omniscient mind could grasp it. Therefore, we should not be at all surprised that many of the evils that occur in our lives appear to be pointless and unnecessary. God’s reasons for allowing them to enter our lives might not emerge until centuries from now, maybe in another land. Every event that occurs in human history sends a ripple effect through history so that the repercussions of an event will be felt far, far into the future. When you understand God’s middle knowledge and providence over the whole of human history, it is not at all surprising that within his broader frame of reference he could have good reasons for allowing suffering that wouldn’t be evident to us within our limited frame of reference.

Again, this is the point that a so-called skeptical theist like Wykstra will make. I dislike that name “skeptical theism.” I think it carries wrong connotations. But the Molinist perspective, as I say, explains why we shouldn’t expect to be able to make these kinds of probability judgments with any confidence at all.

KEVIN HARRIS: What do you think is more difficult – the existence of natural evil or moral evil that people do?

DR. CRAIG: I think that natural evil is probably more difficult because moral evil can be immediately attributed to the free will of persons and this is a great good. Without free will we wouldn’t be responsible moral agents. We would, in effect, just be animals and animals are not morally responsible for the things that they do. So there is an immediate explanation available for moral evil.

But natural evil, like falling down the stairs, diseases, perishing or being injured in a hurricane or flood or earthquake, or being burned, or other horrible sorts of accidents that happen to people, don’t have any moral dimension to them. They are morally neutral. These are just nature operating according to natural laws, and human beings get caught up in the mix and are often injured or killed. So you need some further account of how it is that an all-loving and all-powerful God would allow these natural evils to proceed without interfering to stop them.

This is, again, where Molinism is helpful because we don’t know the way in which these natural evils contribute to the overall achievement of God’s plan in human history. It may well be that only in a world suffused with natural evil and moral evil that God’s Kingdom would be most effectively established in the world. This is not some airy-fairy speculation. I think this is born out demographically. The history of mankind has been a history of suffering and war, and yet it has also been the story of the expansion of the Kingdom of God. When you look at missions handbooks on the growth of Christianity down through history and around the world today, you can see that the advance of God’s Kingdom often goes hand-in-hand with intense suffering. In the world today, in nations like Myanmar, China, Haiti, Philippines, and other countries, the places where evangelical Christianity is growing at its most rapid rates are the places that are experiencing tremendous suffering from both natural and moral evil. Whereas in the indulgent West – in Europe and North America – the growth rates are flat or even declining. So I don’t think it is at all improbable that natural evils serve the wider purpose of God’s building his Kingdom by bringing men and women freely into relationship with himself.[2] All that needs to be added then is that the good of eternal life and the knowledge of God is an incomparable good, an incommensurable good, such that the suffering of this finite existence can’t even be compared to it.

KEVIN HARRIS: I noticed that one of the segments will be on open theism. That was very controversial ten or fifteen years ago. A big battle going on.

DR. CRAIG: It continues to be.

KEVIN HARRIS: It is not slowing down?

DR. CRAIG: Not that I can see. I thought it was a fad, but it still seems to be going very strong.

KEVIN HARRIS: It kind of diminishes God’s knowledge, sovereignty.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, absolutely.

KEVIN HARRIS: We have talked about that in podcasts past. An open theist would also have, I guess, some ready answers for the problem of evil.

DR. CRAIG: Some open theists think that it helps with the problem of evil because if God doesn’t have knowledge of the future and doesn’t know what is going to happen, as open theists claim, then most things in a sense catch him by surprise. He can only foresee things in the relatively immediate future. But he has no long-range vision of what is going to happen. So they claim that in one sense he is just as much a victim of the evils and suffering in the world as we are. They catch him off guard in a way because he didn’t anticipate, say, that Hitler was going to kill six million Jews in the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald so he can’t be blamed. It is not as though God in his providence planned for the Holocaust to happen. It just happened due to human freedom and God deplores this and suffers along with its victims. But the open theist would say he is a powerful God who will overcome these evil things and will ensure victory in the end. He is sort of like a cognitively limited Superman that is on your side. This will give you comfort that when things go bad in life, it is not due to God’s planning, it is not as though he had a good reason for allowing this to be planned into your life, it just caught him, too, by surprise, and he deplores it, he suffers with you, and he will work to bring some kind of good out of this insofar as he is able.

KEVIN HARRIS: I had no idea all these people would move to Oklahoma where all those tornadoes were happening. I wouldn’t have made the weather systems that way! I don’t like that, Bill.

DR. CRAIG: I don’t either. I am trying to present it in a good way but it doesn’t take a whole lot of genius in the early 1930s to see what Hitler was doing in National Socialist Germany and to see where this was leading. Yet, the open theist God stands idly by letting this go on. In the end, I think he is just as responsible as the Molinist God for allowing these things to occur rather than stopping them. The benefit of the Molinist view is that when these things happen we can have confidence that God in his providence has allowed it to happen only because he knows there is a morally justifying reason for allowing it to occur. I think that can be a source of tremendous comfort. On the open theist view, there may be some comfort in it for people in knowing that God didn't really intend for your daughter to suffer in this way – he doesn’t really want this to happen. But at the same time you have to then live with the consequences that he didn’t really have a good reason for allowing this to happen. He is not in control.

KEVIN HARRIS: People often get pantheism and panentheism confused. This is a panentheistic view of the problem of evil.

DR. CRAIG: That isn’t, but another contributor, Thomas Oord, is contributing a panentheist perspective. I don’t know what to anticipate from him except I am confident that these panentheists (who believe that the world is part of God, the world is like the body of God, God is like the soul of the world and the world is his body) also deny God’s foreknowledge of the future.[3] So they are not really all that different from open theists in that they deny a strong sense of sovereignty and providence because God has no knowledge of the future except for the very immediate future.

KEVIN HARRIS: The classical view? We don’t really know exactly what he means by that?

DR. CRAIG: No, I am not sure. That may be a euphemism for the Reformed view, I am thinking, where the Reformed thinker believes that in a sense God is the source of good and evil alike and that he visits these upon people according to his sovereign will. And if you don’t like it, well who are you the clay to say to the potter Why have you made me thus and so, to paraphrase St. Paul in Romans 9. The sovereign and all-mighty God has the right to visit goods and evils upon us as he deems fit. I don’t know if that’s Cary’s view but if it is not that view would otherwise be unrepresented in the book which would be a big oversight.

KEVIN HARRIS: Any idea when we might expect this to be published and when it comes out?

DR. CRAIG: Probably not until next year. These things take a long time – a long period of gestation – before the publisher finally brings it to light. This is probably a good ways out.

KEVIN HARRIS: We will definitely do some podcasts on it when it’s completed and we can go through the chapters.[4]


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    Total Running Time: 16:31 (Copyright © 2015 William Lane Craig)