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#38 Molinism and Free Will

January 07, 2008
Q

My question is about Molinism.

Molinism claims that a person will freely choose one particular way in each set of logically possible circumstances that could occur in a real world.

Is this true?

Let us take two sets of logically possible circumstances which could have occurred in the real world, but did not.

1) I am sitting down to breakfast in an hotel at 8:30 am on Sun 30/12/2007, and a waiter is asking 'Tea or Coffee’, and an omniscient being has infallible knowledge that I will choose tea.

2) I am sitting down to breakfast in an hotel at 8:30 am on Sun. 30/12/2007, and a waiter is asking me ‘Tea or Coffee’, and an omniscient being has infallible knowledge that I will choose coffee.

Are these logically possible, and distinct, sets of circumstances?

What are my counterfactuals of freedom in each of those 2 sets of circumstances?

Which way would I freely choose in each of those sets of circumstances?

If there is a definite fact of the matter about how I would choose in each of those sets of circumstances, has Molinism now been proved to be true?

Steven

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

Molinism and free will

Your statement of Molinism isn’t quite accurate, Steven. What Molinism holds is that God knows logically prior to His decree to create a world what any person would freely do in any fully specified, freedom-permitting set of circumstances in which God might place him. If the circumstances are not sufficiently specified, then it may not be the case that a counterfactual concerning what a person would do in those circumstances is true; instead we may have a true counterfactual stating merely what he might do.

The circumstances you describe are vastly underspecified, which might at first blush lead one to think that only a “might” counterfactual would be in order here. But the joker in the deck is that you include as part of the circumstances the knowledge of your choice on the part of an omniscient, infallible being, which entails that you will choose a specific way.

So as to your four questions concerning the circumstances you envision:

(i) Are these logically possible, and distinct, sets of circumstances? In one sense, yes, for you partially describe two possible worlds up to the time t of your choosing, one of which includes an omniscient, infallible being’s foreknowledge (N. B. not middle knowledge!) of your choosing coffee and one of which includes an omniscient, infallible being’s foreknowledge of your choosing tea. On the other hand, when contemporary Molinists talk about the different “circumstances” in which a choice is made, they do not include “future-infected” facts such as an omniscient, infallible being’s knowledge of the future. Since such future-infected or “soft” facts track one’s free choices, varying as they vary, they are not useful guides in determining what free choices are available in certain circumstances. In this technical sense, then, (assuming that the hotel, waiter, etc., are the same) you haven’t described distinct “circumstances.” Otherwise, you may wind up with a so-called “collapsing counterfactual,” that is to say, the truth of its consequent clause entails the falsity of its antecedent clause, so that it cannot be true.

(ii) What are my counterfactuals of freedom in each of those two sets of circumstances? There are indefinitely many free choices that you could make in those circumstances, e.g., you get up and leave, you order a Coke, you tell the waiter to get lost, etc. Of course, if you were to do any of those things, then the omniscient being’s knowledge of what you will do would have been different. Because the omniscient being’s knowledge of what you will do is a soft fact about the past, it is not independent of how you will freely choose. In cases like this you have the power to act in such a way that if you were to act in that way, some past fact would have been different than it is. Cases like these justify the use of certain so-called “back-tracking counterfactuals” to the effect that if you were to perform some action A at t, then some fact prior to t would have been different. We run into the same sort of situation in thought experiments involving cases of time travel or backward causation.

(iii) Which way would I freely choose in each of those sets of circumstances? You’ve already let the cat out of the bag as to which counterfactual is true with respect to each set of circumstances by telling us what the omniscient, infallible being knows you will do. For this is just logically equivalent to what it is true that you will do. So, of course, if it were true that you would choose tea, then you would choose tea, and if it were true that you would choose coffee, then you would choose coffee. No mystery here!

(iv) If there is a definite fact of the matter about how I would choose in each of those sets of circumstances, has Molinism now been proved to be true? Obviously not, for what is critical for the doctrine of middle knowledge is when God has knowledge of such true counterfactuals: logically prior to His creative decree or only logically posterior to His creative decree? Traditionally all theologians agreed that God has knowledge of such counterfactuals; what was distinctive about Molina’s view was his contention that God knows them logically prior to His decree of a world, that is to say, their truth value is independent of His will. So in order to prove the doctrine of middle knowledge it is not enough to show that in any circumstances there are true counterfactuals about our choices which are known by God; it still remains to be shown that He knows them prior to His selection of the actual world.

- William Lane Craig