Theology: November 2009 Archives

Molinism as a response to the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom accepts the existence of counterfactuals of freedom. Counterfactuals of freedom are facts about what free human beings will do under various circumstances, and the Molinist claims that God knows these facts and uses them to predict our responses and then does what he does to ensure complete sovereignty over human affairs without violating human freedom.

I don't happen to hold to the libertarian notion of freedom that might lead someone to resort to Molinism, and I don't think Molinism works without either (a) accepting facts that have no explanation whatsoever [i.e. why is it true that someone will freely do that thing rather than another when confronted with a given circumstance] or (b) require a compatibilist account of freedom, which defeats the purpose. [But I do think there are counterfactuals of freedom. There are facts about what I'd freely do in various circumstances. A compatibilist should have no problem with this.]

On common biblical example of God knowing counterfactuals of freedom is in Matthew 11, where Jesus says that if Sodom and Gomorrah and Tyre and Sidon had experienced what Jesus' generation of Israel experienced then they would have repented. Jesus seems to be saying that he knows what they would have done in a different circumstance, and there's no indication that this is because he would have forced them against their will to have beliefs that would not have come about in the normal way. So those who deny counterfactuals of freedom are against at least this statement of Jesus.

A few days ago I discovered another counterfactual of freedom in scripture, this time one that I've never seen bandied around in the literature on the subject. In I Samuel 23, God gives a message to David about what Saul will do if David is at the city of Keilah. The message God gives to David is that Saul would come and that Keilah would hand him over to Saul. But because of this information David did not get captured. So God must be indicating what would happen if David were present, when in reality David would not be present. So this is a counterfactual situation, the case where the actually absent David were present. So God spoke based on knowledge of what these people would do in a counterfactual situation, and that means God has knowledge of what they would freely do in that non-actual situation. Molinists ought to add this text to their arsenal.

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