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Questions on Molinism, Prayer, and the Incarnation

April 12, 2011     Time: 00:15:58
Questions on Molinism, Prayer, and the Incarnation

Transcript Questions on Molinism, Prayer and Incarnation


Kevin Harris: Have you been keeping up with the news lately? Welcome to the Reasonable Faith podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. And it seems the entire internet lit up with talk about the recent Lawrence Krauss and Sam Harris debates in which Dr. Craig participated. And very soon we will have some podcasts that are going to deal with the fallout, responses, the encouragement, and just a whirlwind of noise and fury surrounding these very important debates. You can count on it. Dr. Craig has a lot to say about that in the aftermath, and upon reflection after they've happened. So stay close right here at Today, however, we're going to deal with some questions that people have sent in to us. I was in the studio recently with Dr. Craig and we talked about questions on Molinism, middle knowledge, if God knows what we're going to pray before we pray then why pray? Some questions about the incarnation and some other fascinating topics. So, let's go to that first question now on Reasonable Faith.

In reading Kenneth Keethly's new book On a Molinist Approach to Salvation and Sovereignty. It brought back memories of a nagging question I've had over the years. I am also a Molinist, although I am surrounded by Reformed believers. My question relates to the issue of earning one's salvation, which falls directly within the Reformed-Arminian-Molinist debate. The biblical answer is clear, that one does not earn one's salvation. However, here is the nagging doubt: I believe that necessarily God by definition is omniscient and all-good. I define these terms in the exact same manner that you define them—I follow the Anselmian perfect being theology on this score, and I do not deny issues such as God's foreknowledge of future contingents, etc. If we agree that God is maximally good and omniscient, then the issue is that God, given his middle knowledge of future contingents, counterfactuals and feasible worlds, he knows the best of all possible worlds in which to actualize. I would submit that, given his goodness, such a world that he actualizes is one in which includes a maximal amount of creatures that freely choose to follow Christ and go to heaven. Given God's middle knowledge, then, God knows the actions of what people would do and given God's goodness I would argue that God would have to choose a world in which he knows people are going to do more good deeds than bad deeds, including following the Great Commission. I'm not arguing that God has to create the world necessarily. In other words, given God's omniscience it seems that once God chooses to create this world he must choose the best world, which entails the maximal amount of goodness, including free creatures that fulfill the Great Commission. I would love your input on this issue.

A lot there.

Dr. Craig: This is a real good question. Notice that he's not assuming that there is a best of all possible worlds—that would be very controversial, and I think many Christian philosophers would say that possible worlds can just get better and better and better without end and there is no top best of all possible worlds. Rather what this reader is writing about is what we might call the best of all feasible worlds. Given the worlds that are feasible for God to create, given his middle-knowledge of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom about how finite persons would freely choose in any circumstances God might create them in, is there a best feasible world that God would create? And, again, that's controversial, Kevin. It's not clear that there is a best of all feasible worlds, any more than there is a best of all possible worlds. It could be that the feasible worlds, too, simply can get better and better and better, and that what God must do is choose a good world, but that's no reason to think that there couldn’t be a better world, if there is no such thing as a best of all feasible worlds.

Now, if there is, say, a class of worlds which are the best feasible worlds, maybe a range of worlds and they're all the same in overall value and there's nothing better, there is a best of all feasible worlds, let's assume that. What would such a world look like? Well, here I'm inclined to agree with the reader, that the balance between saved and lost in such a world would be an important contributing factor to the overall goodness of a world, that all things being equal a world in which as many people as possible came to know God's salvation and as few as possible were lost, and also that these were large numbers of persons rather than just a handful, that there would be what I call a sort of optimal balance between saved and lost that God would actualize. Now, that doesn’t mean that he would choose a world in which good deeds outweighed bad deeds—as the reader seemed to think.  [1] We're talking here about eternal salvation of persons, and it's hard to imagine anything that would be more important than that in God's economy. So if there were such a thing as the best of all feasible worlds it does seem to me plausible to think that a major, major factor in weighing what is the best of all feasible worlds would be the balance between saved and lost in such a world, and that God would go for that world, having an optimal balance. And so I think it's quite possible that the actual world has such a balance, that the actual world, and by that one means the past, present and future of this world, is a world that has an optimal balance between saved and lost, given the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom that are true.

Kevin Harris: And there's a word that you insert in there that I think is very important, that is a world in which an optimal number of people freely come to God.

Dr. Craig: Yes, right.

Kevin Harris: He goes on to say, “In other words, once God chooses to create this world he must choose the best world,” and so on. It's problematic and difficult to say, “Once God chooses.”

Dr. Craig: Right, the word 'once' there is misleading. I think what he means to say is, given the assumption that God wants to create a world, what sort of world would he create? And I think we would all agree that given God's goodness he would not create a world which was on balance more evil than good. God would try to create a world that was one balance more good than evil, and then the question would be, well, is there is a kind of limit, is there a best world that he would create, a best feasible world? And I don't think there's any way to answer that question, frankly. There's no way to know whether there's a best feasible world. But if there is then I think that the reader is right in thinking that having an optimal balance between saved and lost would really be a major factor in weighing worlds to determine which one would be the best.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, and he seems to be trying to define the best of all possible worlds, or best of all feasible worlds, as one that would include following the Great Commission. So he kind of uses that as a criteria.

Dr. Craig: Right, and I take it by that he means the number of people that would be saved verses the number that would be lost. For example, Kevin, if God has a choice between world A and world B, and in world A myriads of people were lost and a few were saved, freely, and in world B myriads were saved and a few were lost, freely, it seems to me that God's goodness would prompt him to choose B. He would prefer the world in which more are saved and fewer lost than vice versa. So that seems to me to be quite plausible, that is because God is essentially good. One would simply add here that it's not as though there's anything constraining God, there's no eternal constraint on God. Rather this is just a reflection of the fact that God is essentially good and loving, and therefore he would do the best thing—that's the kind of God we want. We want a God who would do the best thing, if there is such a thing as the best.

Kevin Harris: Lots of resources on Molinism at You addressed that in the Q&A, look in the archives. We've done podcasts on it, you've written on it. Lots up there on Molinism if anybody would like to know further—fascinating, fascinating.

Here's another question, Dr. Craig:

Here's my problem, and from it my question: If God by nature is unchanging then how can we, by praying, affect a change in his will and his action, and when it would appear to be toward the greater good. The Bible does seem to complicate this by giving us situations when it appears that God does in fact change what I would call his mind.

Dr. Craig: I would say that middle knowledge also provides the solution to this question. When we pray we don't change God's mind in the sense that God at some point in the past was going to do one thing and then later subsequent to our prayer he reverses course and decides to do something else. That would be changing God's mind. And the reason that's impossible is because God knew all along what we were going to pray, and the Scripture says “God knows your requests or your needs before you ask them.” So he doesn't need to wait around to hear our prayer to know what we need or what we're going to ask. And this can be built into his foreknowledge. But what our prayers can do is affect God counterfactually. That is to say, he can do things in answer to our prayers that he would not have done had we neglected to pray. [2] So that we can have this counterfactual effect upon God in that were we to pray certain things would happen as a result, and were we not to pray those things would not have happened as a result. And that's something like a change. It means that our prayers really do affect God and really do affect the outcome of the events, even if they don't cause this sort of reversal of course on God's part.

Kevin Harris: So the study of counterfactuals can bring some clarity to that.

Dr. Craig: Exactly.

Kevin Harris: But we don't change his nature by praying.

Dr. Craig: No, not at all. On the contrary, his nature is that he has knowledge of all of these counterfactuals such that he knows that if I were in circumstances C I would pray for his deliverance. And therefore knowing that he's going to put me in those circumstances and that I would freely pray, he will then act to deliver me. Or if I were not to pray, say I were to refrain from prayer through lack of faith, then perhaps God would not have delivered me. So my prayer really does serve to affect what he does and affects my deliverance. Prayer changes things in that sense, counterfactually.

Kevin Harris: Prayer changes us, as well—to pray.

Dr. Craig: Sure, though that's not the issue that's being raised here.

Kevin Harris: No, it's not. I just thought I'd throw that in. I mean, if Jesus had to pray certainly we do – you know? – I mean, he spent time in prayer.

Dr. Craig: Right, though I don't think he did so just, again, for his own benefit. I mean, prayer is a spiritual discipline. But I think prayer makes a real difference in the world, in that because one prays things go differently than if one were not to pray, because of God's middle knowledge. Often we'll pray for others and for their well-being in faith that God will hear and act. And one isn't praying just for one's own spiritual formation or improvement, though, as you say, it will have that effect as well.

Kevin Harris: Question number three:

Dr. Craig, I have some reservations about your view of the incarnation. You view the incarnation as a conjoining of a divine mind to a mortal body. Furthermore you claim that in the early stages of Christ's development his omniscience existed within his subconscious. This would allow for us to accept the idea that Christ was divine and that he learned and grew in wisdom, which Scripture tells us. However, within your view of the incarnation, if Christ's omniscience exists within his subconscious, does that not mean that at that point in time there were things that he did not know? What does it mean to know something subconsciously?

Dr. Craig: It does not imply that at that time there were things he did not know. It implies that there were things of which he was not conscious, and that's very different. I am not now conscious of the multiplication table up to twelve, but I know it. I'm not conscious or I wasn't conscious of my son John in Phoenix – I am now because I just mentioned it, but I wasn't – but I knew that he was there, I know about it. So there are all kinds of things that you know that you're not conscious of. In fact, most of the things you know you're not conscious of. You would go insane if you were conscious of everything you know. Your mind would be so cluttered, so filled, you would go mad. So clearly much of what we know is not in our conscious experience—it's subconscious. And we can call it to consciousness through remembering. So the really interesting question here with regard to Jesus is if there were in these subliminal elements of divine omniscience facts in his subconscious, to what extent could he call those up voluntarily by memory? Were they accessible to him, but he simply refrained from pulling them up, or during the incarnation were they inaccessible to Jesus, and it was only, say, through the Father or the Holy Spirit that these elements might rise in consciousness and inform him in a supernatural way of some prophetic development, or something of that sort? I think that's an open question—my model doesn't address that. But I think it's very clear on my model that Jesus does know these things even though he may not be conscious of them during the pre-crucificion-incarnate state.

Kevin Harris: In his human state.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: In addition, how would you explain the omnipresence of God within your view of the incarnation. How would omnipresence work for an incarnated being?

Dr. Craig: Well, what does omnipresence mean? It means that this being, or God if he's omnipresent, is aware of and causally active at every point in space. And I would want to say that that's true of the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, even during the incarnation. During the incarnation in his subconscious life the Logos knew what was happening at every point in space, and he causally sustained the universe in being, so that he is omnipresent in his divine nature. Of course in his human nature he's not omnipresent. The Logos took on a humanoid body that lived in Palestine, and had a certain height and stature, and spatial shape . . .

Kevin Harris: . . . and location.

Dr. Craig: Right, a location. So he wasn't omnipresent in his human nature.

Kevin Harris: Okay, thank you for your answers and your time, Dr. Craig. And we'll see you next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. [3]