Molinism again

A quick thought here, based on a heads-up to me on Peaceful Science on a thread that, for some reason, doesn’t give me the ability to reply. No matter, because I have more space to reply here.

Matthew Dickau says: “Also, on some versions of Molinism, God could still make that pool shot even if there is fundamental indeterminism in the laws of physics. Omniscience is useful like that.”

And Joshua Swamidass replies in agreement: “Yup there is that Molinism thing too, even though @jongarvey hates it.”

I hate it mainly because it seems to confound logic. Consider, for example, any normal situation of cause and effect whatsoever. That is, the causes “A” determine the outcome “B”:

<1> A [entails] B

Now consider the indeterminate situation – essentially one of ontological randomness – apparently posed by Matthew and Joshua (and presumably other Molinists like Willam Lane Craig). In that case, definitionally,

<2> A [does not entail] B

In other words the causes A either have no predisposition whatsoever to cause B, or at least only have some ontologically unpredictable chance of doing so.

But in the Molininist scheme, God’s purpose (B) nevertheless does arise infallibly from (A). A “truly random” quantum event, say, does exactly what God wishes it, and foresees it, to do. In that case, the situation is not <1>, but <2>, because A, de eventu leads infallibly to B in the only world that exists.

What, then makes the difference, that a set of events A, which has of itself no causal entailment of B, nevertheless infallibly produces B? The sole difference is that God has created A with the purpose of causing B, rendering an ineffective chain of causation effective despite its insufficiency. That makes God the direct efficient cause of the situation, ie,

A [entails] B

but only because “God” is now associated with A.


Now consider another situation. The circumstances in the world (A´) are insufficient to cause the resurrection of a crucified man from death (B´). This leads to exactly the same situation as before:

<2´> A´ [does not entail] B´

Yet by God’s efficient causation, that situation is changed for Jesus, and so the crucified Christ must rise, and de eventu,

<1´> A´ [entails] B´

In this case we call this a purposeful act of God within creation, perhaps even a miracle (though more properly actually an act of new creation). We do not speculate about God’s choosing to create, Molinistically, a possible universe in which he foresees his Son rises from the dead by chance.

The point is that, once God’s final purposes and role as Creator are taken into account, the whole concept of “indeterminacy” loses all meaning. It is a redundant term. It all boils down to insufficent causes being non-causes, but God the supreme efficient (First) Cause bringing into being what would otherwise not be.

Is there a problem with my reasoning there?

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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4 Responses to Molinism again

  1. Robert Byers says:

    on PS there are certain threads that are for folks who have been longer there. the words beside the threads indicate. Conversation, frontb porch etc.

    My only point here, possibly off thread, is that I understand all creation was finished on creation week. on the seventh day there was rest and there was no eighth day.
    So miracles can happen but no creation. god does not control or change things.
    Everything works on its own including the decay after the fall.
    Including women gaining childbirth pains and snakes losing legs.
    God has been resting ever since.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Robert
      A couple of problems withyour conclusion:

      (a) The actual word “create” is used of God for a number of post-Genesis events.
      (b) Jesus, in his Sabbath teaching, reminds the jews that his Father is nevertheless always about his work.
      (c) Most crucially, for biblical theology, God is in Chroist making a new creation, which continues with each new birth in Christ, and continues until the whole cosmos is transformed. The question is when that new work started – and there is a good case for saying it begins in Genesis 2.

  2. structureoftruth says:

    Hi Jon! Here’s a rough sketch of how I see things in response to what you’ve said in this post. Note that I do think there is an important distinction between logical entailment and the cause-and-effect relation, or explanation in causal terms.

    In your first situation, you describe the effect of a _determinate_ cause with logical entailment. I think this is actually not strong enough, however: mere logical entailment A -> B means the same thing as (NOT A) OR B. If B is true then everything entails it, and if A is false then it entails everything.

    So if A describes the cause along with the situation in which the cause is acting, and B describes the effect along with the fact that the effect is caused by the cause, a determinate cause means that: (at the very least)

    1. [] (A -> B)

    in other words, A _necessarily_ entails B; it could not be otherwise.

    A genuinely _indeterminate_ cause, supposing such a thing exists, is different. (And you’re absolutely right that indeterminism in chaotic systems, and even in some interpretations of quantum mechanics, is merely epistemic – that isn’t the kind of indeterminism that Molinism is concerned with. I’m sure you know that, just pointing it out for any other readers of this comment.) An indeterminate cause is described this way instead: (at the very least)

    2a. (A -> B)
    2b. (A -> B’)
    2c. (A -> B”)

    in other words, the entailment is only _possible_ rather than necessary, and there may be a range of effects that the cause can produce in the same situation.

    Now, in Molinism, in addition to the statements 2a, 2b, and so on, it is postulated that there are certain _subjunctive conditionals_ that are contingently (rather than necessarily) true for indeterminate causes:

    3. A -[]-> B’

    in other words, if the cause _were_ in a certain situation A, it _would be_ the case that it produces effect B’ (say). Molinism says that God knows these subjunctive conditionals, so he knows that if he creates situation A, B’ will result, even though it could have been otherwise.

    (The difference between the subjunctive conditional A -[]-> B and the material implication A -> B is kinda subtle and I admit I don’t fully know how to explain it. Stalnaker-Lewis semantics for counterfactuals seem to be an okay starting point, but I’m not sure that they work in the end; I suspect that cause-and-effect type relations might actually be more fundamental than both counterfactuals and possibility / necessity, rather than the other way around. But that is an aside.)

    The hard part of Molinism to swallow, of course, is that the subjunctive conditionals are supposed to be somehow _made true by the contingent causes_, rather than by God, even though those contingent causes don’t exist yet and might never exist at all. But the “making true” relation isn’t a causal relation, so this isn’t as crazy as it first sounds.

    I suppose the main point of this comment is, you seem to be saying that Molinism confounds logic by making indeterminate causes determinate simply because God says so, and I think that is incorrect. (Forgive me if I’ve oversimplified the thrust of your post.) Rather, the causes are still indeterminate (it is possible for them to produce a range of effects in the same situation), but contingently there are facts about what effects they would produce, and God knows those facts.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Hi structureoftruth, and welcome to The Hump.

      I follow your reasoning – it seems to hinge partly on ones definition of “determinate,” and that in itself seems to me to underline the incoherence of Molinism with respect to its use in seeking to justify the existence of ontological randomness alongside God’s de facto determination of events.

      It all gets rather baroque, and given that nobody has any good scientific grounds to say that indeterminate events occur in classical nature, completely pointless.

      We need to remember, of course, that what is being discussed isn’t really Molinism at all, which was developed in an attempt (I don’t think any more successful) to deal with events that are held to be determined, but not by God, ie the free choices of humans.

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