Continued from part 3, on how Molinism gives no account of how God can know what people will do
Now that I’ve canvassed some exegetical and theological problems with Molinism, I’m going to move on to a philosophical one—a contradiction which issues between two Molinist beliefs:
- If a free person (Ali), a general food-lover, were in some Circumstance where she had to choose between chocolate and cheese, then she could choose either (this is the principle of alternate possibility, PAP).
- God knows that if Ali were in the Circumstance, then she would choose chocolate (this is the counterfactual of creaturely freedom, CCF, for Ali in the Circumstance).
There are a couple of important things to understand about (1), so you can see how this contradiction arises:
- Both chocolate and cheese are live options. Ali really could choose either in the moment of the Circumstance. Although the Circumstance (and all the events prior) influence her choice, they do not determine it; her choice is ultimately determined only by her own will (remember the sourcehood constraint). Like all libertarians, Molinists generally believe people must be able to choose against all the influences upon them, or even choose out of character entirely, in order to be genuinely free.
- The Circumstance itself is not just any situation in which Ali has to choose chocolate or cheese. If Ali has to choose chocolate or cheese at exactly 6.31 pm at the party tomorrow evening, that is a different circumstance to if Ali has to choose chocolate or cheese at 8.45 am at the snack bar on Wednesday. Indeed, it is even a different circumstance than if she has to choose chocolate or cheese at 6.42 pm at the party tomorrow. Or 6.31 pm and 1 second. So the Circumstance is the culmination of a complete and precise history of moments going back to creation; it isn’t a vague situation, or a set of scenarios that just happen to be similar.
So the Molinist believes that when Ali gets to the Circumstance, she really could choose chocolate, and she really could choose cheese, and there is nothing that determines this choice except her own will at that moment. But this seems to put him in a bind…
A thought-experiment to illustrate the problem
Imagine God creates a million worlds, all identical up until the Circumstance. If Ali really can choose either chocolate or cheese, we would expect some percentage of these worlds to diverge from the others at the moment of her choice. In some of the worlds, Ali would choose chocolate; and in others, history would proceed identically up until the Circumstance, and then Ali would choose cheese. Maybe in 853,302 worlds she would choose chocolate, but then in 146,698 she would choose cheese. Or whatever. What we would expect to see is that in some percentage of worlds her choice goes one way, and in some percentage it goes the other.
We’d expect this because both chocolate and cheese are live options for Ali. She really can choose otherwise than chocolate—even out of character and against all other influences. So if she only ever chooses chocolate, even in a million identical worlds, this would be overwhelming evidence that cheese is not, in fact, a live option; that she cannot choose it. There would seem to be something necessitating her choosing chocolate, and preventing her choosing cheese. That outcome would be indistinguishable from determinism, which the Molinist repudiates.
Now, leaving aside the well-worn worry that this some-worlds-chocolate, some-worlds-cheese scenario looks like mere chance rather than a responsible choice, here is how the problem plays out:
- God wants to create only one world;
- He wants it to be a world in which Ali will choose chocolate;
- The way he ensures Ali will choose chocolate is by actualizing the Circumstance in which she would choose chocolate;
- But…the Circumstance in which she would choose chocolate is identical to the Circumstance in which she could choose cheese
You probably see the obvious contradiction inherent in (iv). But let me try to draw it out a bit:
How can God “pick out” the chocolate world to create, and distinguish it from the identical cheese world? What could conceivably “privilege” the one over the other, given that there is nothing to distinguish between them with respect to how Ali will choose?
This isn’t an easy problem to get your head around, so let me riff on it some more. Refer back to item (2) near the beginning, which says that in the Circumstance, Ali would choose chocolate. How can this be true? God plans to create just one world identical to the million he created in the experiment above. Those worlds were all identical at the moment of the Circumstance, yet Ali still chose cheese in some of them. But then, in the single world God plans to create—which is precisely the same as these other worlds—there must be some chance that Ali would choose cheese.
But if there is some chance she’d choose cheese in the Circumstance, it simply cannot be the case that she would—as a matter of 100% certain fact—choose chocolate.
Remember: this is not a matter of what Ali does choose once God actualizes the Circumstance. Obviously if he went ahead and actualized the Circumstance, then he would know what Ali chooses—because then she would actually decide on chocolate or cheese, and he would have free knowledge of this event.
The problem is with the hypothetical or possible world God is thinking of creating, as opposed to any actual world which he does create. It looks like the Molinist is simply trying to eat his cake, and then still have it too. He is saying that Ali both (a) would certainly and (b) would not necessarily choose chocolate in the Circumstance. But (a) and (b) are formally contradictory to each other. They cannot both be true.
The Molinist’s dilemma
It seems the Molinist has to either throw out the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, or the truth of the principle of alternate possibility. Either it must be false that Ali would choose chocolate in the Circumstance, or it must be false that she could choose cheese. The problem is, either horn of the dilemma completely skewers Molinism. You cannot have Molinism without both these doctrines:
- If you discard CCFs, you no longer have middle knowledge. If there is no truth about what Ali would do in the hypothetical Circumstance (only truth about what she could do, or does do once the Circumstance is actualized), then God cannot have middle knowledge of free choices, and Molinism is utterly destroyed. You’re left with open theism.
- If you discard PAP, you get to keep middle knowledge, but you pay a high price in admitting that your intuitions were false about the conditions required for morally responsible choices—which throws the entire Molinist enterprise into doubt in the first place (see thorny problem #1).
But that’s chump change compared to the real cost: you are also left having to say that Ali is necessitated to choose chocolate, but she is not necessitated by God. Under Calvinism, of course, God determines what Ali will do—Ali is necessitated to choose chocolate because that is God’s plan for her. But the Molinist doesn’t have this option; he is left denying that Ali can do otherwise and denying divine determinism—which leaves him with a terrible question: what is it that necessitates Ali choosing chocolate, and how can it be outside of God’s control?
This isn’t the place to delve into the philosophical intricacies of each horn of this dilemma; suffice to say it presents a very thorny problem for Molinism indeed, and one to which I can see no solution. Molinism appears to be stillborn.