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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is God the Author of Evil? Molinism has no better answer than Calvinism

In the book, Divine Foreknowledge: Four views (ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, 2001), four evangelical Christians present different views on the meaning of Divine Foreknowledge. Greg Boyd presents the Open-Theism View, David Hunt, the Simple-Foreknowledge View, William Craig, The Middle-Foreknowledge View (aka, Molinism), and Paul Helm, the Augustinian-Calvinist (A-C) View. One of the criticisms often raised by those who oppose the latter view is that it makes God the author of sin. That is because it essentially makes no distinction between foreknowledge and foreordination. God foreknows what he does because he has foreordained it.

Craig expresses this criticism of  the A-C view:

The Augustinian-Calvinist perspective interprets the above passages to mean that foreknowledge is based upon foreordination. God knows what will happen because he makes it happen. Aware of the intentions of his will and his almighty power, God knows that all his purpose shall be accomplished. But his interpretation inevitably makes God the author of sin, since it is he who moved Judas, for example, to betray Christ, a sin that merits the hapless Judas everlasting perdition. But how can a holy God move people to ocmmit moral evil and, moreover, how can these people then be held morally responisble for acts over which they had no control. The Augustinian-Calvinist view seems, in effect, to turn God into the devil
(p. 135).
Paul Helm, on the other hand, maintains that the Middle-Knowledge View (Molinism) of Bill Craig has the same problem:

On the question of the authoriship of evil, there's not a hairsbreadth bewteen the Augustinian-Calvinist perspective and Craig's Molinism. According to Craig's description of Molinism, "God decreed to create just those circumstances and just those people who would freely do what God willed to happen" (p. 134). While this description does not ential that God is the author of sin (any more than the A-C perspective does), it does entail that God decreed all sinful acts to happen and decreed them precisely as they have happened. If this is so, the God of Molina and Arminius seems to be as implicated in the fact of evil as much (or as little) as the God of the A-C perspective (p. 159).
I agree with Craig that the A-C view does make God the author of sin. Since everything that happens in the word was foreordained by God, then sin was foreordained by him as well. I also agree with Helm that Molinism does not solve this problem. It inserts "middle-knowledge" between foreknowledge and foreordination but the result is the same. If God chooses to actualize a word in which there will be evil and he knows there will be evil due to his middle-knowledge, then he is no less the author of sin than the Calvinist God is.

Furthermore, as John Feinberg points out, Molinism's attempt to safeguard "libertarian free will" also fails. He writes:
[M]iddle knowledge talks about what would happen, so once God chooses the possible world he wants to actualize, he knows in every situation what his creatures would freely do. Divine foreknoweldge is upheld. However, if incompatiblism is correct, how can he know what would happen if any given "x" occurred? That is, if "y" is an incompatibilistically free human action, it must be indeterminate, but if so, it is impossible for God to know in advance of our free choice which "y" would actually occur in any given "x" situation. In virtue of what would he know the particular "y" that would follow? In virtue of causal conditions that confront the agent at the time of decision making and move him to choose as he does? If so, that is determinism, not libertarian free will (The Many Faces of Evil, 2004, p. 113).
Another author, David Hunt, maintains that the Molinist view does not resolve the "soteriological problem of evil" either. He writes:

The Bible appears to teach that some (many? most?) human beings will spend eternity in hell. Whatever "eternity in hell" amounts to, it is certainly not the purpose for which God created the world--God does not desire this for anyone (2 Pet 3:9). but if he is equipped with middle knowledge, he knew exactly who would reject him prior to creating anyone; knowing this, he could easily have refrained from creating these people. Why didn't he do so? This is a more difficult question to answer for the Molinist than it is for the open theist (whose God lacks this knowledge) or the defender of simple foreknowledge (whose God knows the actual future but cannot use that knowledge to change the very thing he foreknows). This does not show that there are no reasons why God might create people he "middle-knows" would reject him, but the need to posit and defend such reasons is a cost not borne by the non-Molinst (Divine Foreknowledge, p. 152)
So, despite the poplularity among a number of Christian philosophers and apologists regarding middle-knowledge (many seem to think its a panacea for all the sticky issues facing Christianity), it doesn't seem to me that it offers any better solution to the problems than does pure Calvinism.


  1. This beautifully articulates the paradox between humanity's "sin" and God's omniscience.

    I'd also add that we have a bias that favors acts of commission over acts of omission – for example, if we have the ability to save someone who is drowning but walk away, that action is more likely to be judged permissible than actively drowning someone, even though the outcome is the same. That fits with the paradox of God "allowing" sin versus "decreeing" sin; it doesn't matter. If God is omnipotent, "allowing" sin is nothing more than a passive decree.

  2. Mike D:

    I just finished reading Atheism Explained. One thing Steele harped on was that if God is omnipotent then for him to do anything--anything at all--requires no more effort than for him to do nothing. I had never thought about it quite that way, but it's true--and it makes God all the more culpable if he fails to act.

  3. Molinism strikes me as simply a more genteel version of Calvinism.

    While I applaud the sentiment of the Molinist, as Dr. Pullium said, the results are the same.

  4. I've said myself in the past (it used to be on my blog before a relaunch when I erased all the posts) that omniscience is simply impossible because a being who knew everything could not learn or take in new information, and hence could not think. Thinking is the processing of new information. To know everything that there is or ever will be would be to be unable to take in anything new, which would mean the end of processing new information, the end of thinking. An inanimate object perhaps could be omniscient, but a person could not, not even a god. The notion of omniscience is just religion taken too far. The religious love to kiss God's butt in an attempt to win his grace, and that's why they made him omniscient, something that is utterly impossible even for the most powerful being in existence.

  5. When I say omniscience is impossible it is with respect to the future, not the past. If you could see everything going on right now and could live forever, you would be omniscient of the past. But there is no way you could be omniscient of the future.

  6. Frankly, I don't really see what the problem is; in that I don't see how God's foreknowledge/sovereignty/fill-in-the-blank requires it.

    The classic formulation of the problem is a fallacy.

  7. I always admired Ken's ability and patience to critique this stuff, as well as various theories on Jesus' atonement sacrifice. I couldn't do it. To me, this book seems the same as four Star Trek fans discussing how warp drive technology works. Ken, however, could move past such irreverent cheap shots; and that why he'll be much missed.

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