The best of all possible worlds

I’ve had an interesting exchange on a BioLogos thread about C S Lewis with its author, David Williams, and some others. The most striking comment would take us way off-topic if I raised it there, and that was Beaglelady’s one-liner (which she’s used before, actually) concerning the argument about how much evolution actualises God’s purposes, for example in producing mankind as we are rather than as a mollusc:

Clearly, God wanted a white male fundagelicall!

It’s very tempting to analyse this sentence critically and point out that the the first four words are regrettably irreverent, the fifth racist, the sixth sexist, the first half of the seventh what Jim Packer described as a “theological swearword” back in the fifties (and Alvin Plantinga demolishes at greater length here), and the last part mis-spelled. It’s even more remarkable that her remark was made to defend the views of Kenneth Miller, a white male, though a Catholic rather than a “fundagelicall”. Seldom in the field of human conflict was so much said in so few words. I think Winston Churchill said that. It would have been sad to have let such an achievement go completely unrecognised.

More worthy of lengthy discussion was a tangential remark by David Williams, which discussion would again take us off-topic on BioLogos:

For instance, one might take a Molinist tack and say that God chose to actualize the possible world which He foresaw as producing homo sapiens via evolution.

As I understand it, the main purpose of Molinism was to attempt a via media between Augustinian and Arminian views of free will. Notice that David has been unconsciously drawn into the TE habit of applying free-will arguments to evolution, essentially to explain contingency, even though he doesn’t embrace the “freedom of creation” ideas to any degree. It only shows how easy it is to pick up bad habits in this field.

Yet it was a throwaway remark, and I don’t want to read anything at all about David’s own position into it. But it is worth looking at what the Molinist view described actually contributes theologically to creation doctrine. I think the answer is “less than you might suppose.”

First let’s look at some assumptions in the statement. The first is that the randomness in creation is genuinely random, with respect to God. That is, he doesn’t decree the outcome of, say, a mutational event – he plays dice with the Universe. Interestingly he first has to create “chance” to do it.

Second, though, he has perfect foresight of every outcome throughout time and space, so that he can choose which alternative Universe to actualise and so achieve his purposes.

Thirdly, we’ll add the orthodox truth that God sustains, and is therefore the primary cause of, every event – in this context, he is the one who tosses the coins as well as underpinning the lawlike events. Molinism is not Deism.

So let’s envisage God at his drawing board before creation began, viewing the blueprints of possible Universes #1 through #10^n. We can’t really say he “foresees” the results, as none of them actually exists except in his imagination. It’s like my deciding which of half a dozen play manuscripts on my desk I will put into production – not one actually exists in reality until I make that decision.

So what kind of decision is he making? “Shall I create, rule and sustain in being this possible Universe, or shall I create, rule and sustain in being that possible Universe? Given that my purposes for creation are these (a through n), only that particular blueprint will do the job. I will create it, and therefore I foresee that all I purpose will come to pass.”

Take one single example of how that works out. He decides to create the one Universe in which the random mutations he’s empowering and sustaining throw a “six” rather than a “five” on 14th August, 543,827BC, in order that a key component of the evolutionary path to man arises. But how does that actually differ from his decreeing from eternity, “Let a six be thrown at that event”? Well, you may say, the indeterminacy of “chance” was maintained. Well, OK – though as I said he had to actualise chance at the same moment he actualised the creation… only that’s the very moment when he didn‘t actualise every possible outcome of chance except those he determined should occur in order to fulfil his will. And the difference is what, exactly? It sounds like sovereign creation to me.

I’ll go beyond my self-imposed brief and throw in Molinist free-will as well for nothing, on the undertanding that you don’t drag it into the discussion of the non-rational creation, in which “free-will” is a meaningless concept (at least, if it’s not, not a single person I’ve asked about it in the last two years has ever given me any idea of what they mean by it).

So the problem to be addressed is that if God decrees, or infallibly foresees, that Judas will be damned, then Judas does not have freedom to choose. So the Molinists say that there were, before the creation, an infinite number of blueprints in which Judas actually freely chooses the path of life. Presumably in some of those potential Universes God’s prophets foretell his sainthood, whilst others stick to the current prophetic Scriptures and God ends up getting it wrong. If I were God I wouldn’t actualise those, but modern scholars seem to think he did, so I suppose they’re not Molinists. But in any case, Judas retains his free choice … except that none of the other free choices he might have made ever got off the drawing board in God’s mind and will, the only actual Judas that God created, and sustained in existence, being the one who was foretold to betray Jesus, and actually did so.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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8 Responses to The best of all possible worlds

  1. Cal says:

    Fundagelical isn’t a mispelling. It’s a relatively new catchword in America to describe the evangelical christian who is politically conservative and votes solidly in the Republican party. His ancestors are the Moral Majority and he is most likely to line up between someone like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum at the voting polls.

    I’ve used this phrase before and blasted those who adhere, but I don’t understand Beaglelady’s use of it. She’s assuming any leading/creative action of the Lord leads to some theology of glory of the ‘fundagelical’ kind? Jesus said how to lead, not that there were no leaders. He is, after all, the King (must be a tough one to reconcile).

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Two “lls”, Cal? The exclamation mark hides it a bit. I don’t doubt the verbal hybrid has a precedent, but it still seems (to a foreigner like me) to have about as much descriptive worth as “goddamliberal” in intelligent conversation.

    Did you see the thread on BL when David Wilcox was first mentioned, talking about God’s sovereignty in creation? Certain persons (not Beaglelady, in this case) were falling over themselves to say that was an Old Testament idea in the face of texts about the Kingship of Christ!

    But being good democrats (small D) we now know that God as King is a culturally conditioned ANE idea and can make a slight adjustment to say that, in fact, God’s greatest priority is Freedom and the American Way. That’s something I mean to put Jesus right on come the parousia …

  3. Cal says:

    Missed that second ‘l’ and yes, it is a slur.

    Ahh, no parousia, we have yet to have voted on it. We’re not sure if we want the King to end this age and bring on paradise afresh. More committees please!

    I think some of the subtle (and out right) rejection of the Tanakh is a pendulum swing from American styled domonionism and reconstructionism found in the Moral Majority types. That’s why Beaglelady used fundagelical. Sadly, Christianity is NOT an American/British phenomenon. Most the world over still has hope in the sovereign reign of King Jesus, bringing His people together and His edict to renew a new heavens and earth.

  4. Cal says:

    That is, in case it wasn’t clear, that dominionism is just as an egregious error and misuse of the Old Testament that they swung to another error.

  5. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Yet even in America, the current confounding of Christianity with right-wing politics is essentially a recent aberration.

    In the English Civil War, the over-politicisation of religion did lead to an antinomian backlash (Restoration Comedy and all that), but it was the uncommitted who were rejecting biblical constraints, rather than the serious theologians. Babies and bathwater come to mind.

    Looks like BioLogos is voting against the parousia in the terms you describe @ http://biologos.org/blog/looking-at-the-collapsing-universe-in-the-bible. Seems the choice is “Late Great Planet Earth” or “Old Heavens and Old Earth Tarted up a Bit.”

  6. Cal says:

    Well, I would point to someone like Milton as a public intellectual who started throwing all sorts of babies out in his stand against Rome (and those quasi-Papist Presbyterians!) and Cromwellian notion of Britain as Chosen. However, this was theological attacks and not ethical or behavioral unrestraint, though periods like this are good. It unmasks hypocrisy of people who behave but have unchanged hearts. For societal conservatives, it is the end of the world; for those in the Kingdom, it is a revelation of fields to reap.

    Also, I joined the conversation for the collapsing universe post. I’m being confronted by someone who wants me to prove where Scripture says that the resurrection is yet to happen. Is he saying it’s a metaphor? Help!

    Cal

  7. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Yeah, I saw that conversation Cal. It’s pretty hard to argue with someone whose position seems to be that Scripture does say the resurrection hasn’t happened, eg in 2 Tim 2.18, but said resurrection actually did happen symbolically the day after Scripture was completed, in the fall of Jerusalem, so that Scripture no longer applies.

    The bit where it gets complicated is that critical scholars say 2 Timothy is pseudoepigraphic and therefore later than the fall of Jerusalem, so the anonymous author must have written a symbolic and occult prediction of the end of the Old Covenant back from a time when he knew “the resurrection of the dead” HAD occurred … OR … as soon as the “resurrection of the dead” happened, everyone immediately forgot it was symbolic and started believing in the second coming … OR … maybe most readers of that stuff will recognise it as tosh and just take BioLogos that much less seriously than they already do.

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