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The Fallacy of the Clickable Universe

(Some straight-up philosophy of religion for your weekend.)

When philosophers talk about the Problem of Evil (aka "the POE"), they sometimes cast the question like this: "Why did God create a universe in which Adam chose to sin rather than a different universe in which Adam did not choose to sin? Was there no possible universe God could have created in which Adam did not choose to sin?" Then they go on to discuss these questions.

I think this is a confusing way for philosophers to cast the issue.

The reason that I think it is confusing is that it implies that God, in an act of creation, makes an entire world-history, an entire possible world with all that happens in it. I call this the Fallacy of the Clickable Universe. The picture it always gives me is of a pretty Microsoft Desktop arrangement, with a tasteful blue background, and all the possible worlds laid out on it as little icons. God has a mouse. He decides which one to create by clicking on it, and when he does so, that whole universe, history and all, is then fated to come into existence.

But that's not right. If we take human freedom seriously at all, we have to believe that God doesn't make the whole history of a world, when that world involves causally efficacious free beings, by his own omnipotent act of creation. The history of the world is made at least in part by the choices of those free beings. So God doesn't make a world in which Adam does X or doesn't do X. God makes Adam. Then Adam decides whether or not to do X. The reason God couldn't just choose to create a universe in which Adam didn't sin is not because there is some heavy fact about possible worlds according to which Adam sins in all possible worlds. The reason is much simpler than that: If God is going to create a free being at all, God doesn't decide whether the being sins or not. The being decides.

I think one source of this philosophical inclination is the notion that there must have been something about Adam that specially "accounted for" the fact that man sinned. Then the reasoning is pretty simple from there. Why didn't God instead make some different being, call him Adam*, who didn't have this fatal flaw? Then we would have a universe in which Adam didn't sin. But that, too, is the wrong way to look at it. Adam didn't sin because of something in himself, some dark bit of his nature that God, for reasons mysterious, chose to insert, that pushed him to sin. That, again, would be to take the full freedom and perfection of unfallen man with less than full seriousness. Unfallen man didn't even have a sin nature to deal with, like we do. True, Satan helped matters along with the woman, and then she got her husband into trouble. And poets and theologians from Augustine to Milton have rung the changes on what that all might have looked like and been like. But in the final analysis, the real source of man's sin was man's choice, an originary cause, not a determined billiard ball getting bumped along as part of some other stream of causes. So, no, God couldn't have created some different being who would have been guaranteed not to sin. He made a perfect, free, being, knowing that he would sin, and the story goes on from there.

Fortunately for all of us, of course, God didn't leave it there. He did something about it; he paid the final price. And so in the end, he gently takes up the pen and continues to write the story. When he lets us write parts of it, we blot the page often as not, which is a hard thing to have to admit. But apparently, as C.S. Lewis says, he thinks the game worth the candle. Hard as that is to believe, even we fallen men have the fearful burden of freedom to take up and go on with. May we bear it well.

Comments (34)

I came to the same conclusion the last time I taught the history of Christian philosophy. To allow for human freedom, we have to think of God as creating, not a possible world in the contemporary sense, but a kind of world. Thus, God would have had to create an Adam that couldn't sin to guarantee that the fall would not take place.

Al Plantinga styled the (mistaken, acc. to Plantinga) claim that God could make actual just any possible world He wanted "Leibniz's Lapse." But I *think* -- if I'm understanding your use of "clickable" correctly -- that on Molinist views (like Plantinga's), you still get something of a "clickable" universe: God knows ahead of time (ahead of everything) what each free creature would do in every situation it might be in. God just has to "click" on one of the packages of the parts that are up to him and the whole universe is set. He has fewer options than He'd have if Leibniz's Lapse were correct. (Not every possible world is available: If what he knows is that I'll sin in situation S289, then, though there is a possible world in which I do the right thing in S289, that world isn't available to God.) But God knows which worlds are available, and He can just click on one of those. He could drag this out into a long series of little clicks, if He wants, but, it seems, the universe is "clickable" -- God *could* just click on one of the available worlds. I think it's on "open theism" that the universe is most clearly not clickable. God doesn't know what we would do, and what we will do, in situations in which we're free. So the universe doesn't just await His click. (He could still decide what He will do in any every possible situation that could result, but that's not just clicking on a universe: it's clicking on a formula that will generate a universe, given the results of what all of us free guys do. What universe results awaits our doing our parts (though God can set boundaries).

An interesting question, relevant to your last three paragraphs: Was Christ's redemption "Plan B": God's making the best of a bad situation, whereas what He would have preferred was for His free creatures never to have sinned? (He might have known it was very likely they'd sin. In that case He would know He would almost certainly have to resort to Plan B. But it's still Plan B if what He would prefer is no sin.) Or was it Plan A, all along: The whole basic story (sin, the need for redemption, then the redemption) was what God *wanted* to happen? One scripture that seems to me relevant here is Romans 11:32, which I think favors the "Plan A" answer.

Lydia - Question regarding this part:

So, no, God couldn't have created some different being who would have been guaranteed not to sin. He made a perfect, free, being, knowing that he would sin, and the story goes on from there.

I was tracking along until that point, feeling you were articulating exactly what I've thought as well. But, if God made a "perfect" being, why was it possible for that being to become imperfect? I guess the snag for me is that, well, isn't God perfect and free? What about the obvious next question from the skeptic: "So how come God can't fall? He's perfect and free, too.". To sum up: Q1) How can God create a perfect being capable of imperfection? Wouldn't perfection make imperfection impossible? (I guess that's the "fatal flaw" idea creeping in.) Q2: Isn't God also perfect and free? If so, what is the difference between Him and the "perfect" created being? Maybe something to do with distinguishing between "perfect, but finite" and "perfect and infinite"? (Or is that even valid?)


I missed that part about *knowing* that Adam would sin. Absoultely certain knowledge, too, I would imagine? Maybe then I was over-reading your use of "clickable," and you're ok with something like the Molinist picture?

I certainly think of myself as a Molinist. Hope I haven't backed myself into any sort of wussy open theist corner. :-) More later.

Sorry, I didn't mean to shut down conversation by saying "more later." :-)

1) Molinism and the clickable universe. (Gosh, what a great paper title, huh?)

I think that on a Molinist view it would still be misleading to use a locution like "God chooses to create a universe (or a possible world) in which Adam sins." Such a statement still manages to give the impression, even if only rhetorically, that the whole thing is somehow the object of God's creation, as if he deterministically caused it to be the case that Adam sinned by choosing to create this composite entity--a universe-in-which-Adam-sins. At least, that's how it strikes my own ear. I think that on a Molinist view one says, "God chooses to create a universe knowing that his creatures will sin and what he will do about that." If that's all one means by "chooses to create a universe in which man sins," the other way of putting it still seems to me far clearer and better.

Let's put it this way: God knows that if there are potato chips in my house, I will eat them. But it doesn't follow that if God creates me in a house with potato chips, he is making me eat them. The effect of my free choice to eat them is still ineliminable. Something similar seems to me correct about God's creating man in the garden, forbidding the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, etc.

2) Was the fall God's Plan A or Plan B?

Isn't there better terminology in the theological concepts of God's perfect will and his permissive will? (You guys who know your phil. of rel. and theology better, correct me if I'm misusing these terms here.) It seems to me to follow from the nature of sin and of God that in one obvious sense, God would "prefer" (to put it mildly) that none of his beloved creatures choose to sin. It is against his perfect will that anyone should sin. On the other hand, the fall of man didn't catch God by surprise any more than my own daily sins do, and God is able to bring good out of evil. He permits sin and then works to bring good out of sin. Perhaps it is even the case (as venerable tradition has it) that God in some sense brought some greater good out of the fall than would have been the case if man had not fallen. But that is somewhat conjectural. As far as I know, the felix culpa theory isn't supported directly by Scripture. In any event, it seems to me that the fall should be subject to the same sort of analysis as other sins later in history. In one sense, God would obviously have preferred it if Joseph's brothers had not committed the evil of selling him into slavery. But Joseph said, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." Knowing that they would do so, God prepared to use this means to keep the descendants of Abraham from starving in the later famine.

3) Why couldn't God make Adam like himself, both free and unable to sin by his very nature?

The first and easiest, as well as the most honest, answer to this is that I don't really know. I don't claim to have the answer in my back pocket, and making up terminology could be just a covering for ignorance. But it's pretty apparent just empirico-theologically--that is, by taking revelation at face value and seeing what it seems to imply--that God cannot convey all his perfections in their fullest form to his creatures. He doesn't make his creatures omniscient or omnipotent, for example. Now, it would fit well enough with this if omnibenevolence--that combination of freedom and absolute goodness that literally cannot sin--were another of those incommunicable perfections. It doesn't however follow that man had a fatal flaw. Everything has the perfections appropriate to its nature. (I'm sure St. Thomas said that much better somewhere.) And finite free creatures had the perfections appropriate to theirs. There was not something _wrong_ with man because he was able to sin. There was something limited, and that limitation, built into his nature, meant that he was an entirely new kind of creature, different from God, and capable of becoming not merely a servant but a son. It meant that in order to achieve the full maturity of his nature he had to be tempted and resist temptation. In literary terms, I think Lewis portrays that possibility very well in Perelandra. The king says, "We came to know evil, not as the Evil One would have had us to know evil. For a man who is asleep does not understand sleep as well as a man who is awake." Words to that effect.

Why couldn't God make Adam like himself, both free and unable to sin by his very nature?

God cannot make more of Himself. If He could, He would not be One. Every made thing is liable to corruption. Man's liability depended on his proper use of free will. To suppose that he might have been created in such a way that this misuse were not possible is to suppose the creation of something other than a man, a non-man. "Free and unable to sin" are contradictions in a creature. Besides, God had already made creatures unable to sin. They are called animals - and they are not free.

"God doesn't know what we would do, and what we will do, in situations in which we're free."

Fraid that's rank heresy, the idea that 'God doesn't know', but the concept about free will being truly 'free' appears good. The idea that because God knows what we will do, this somehow affects free will -- is wrong, and perhaps the reason for the mistake above.

Just knowing every single thing a free person will do, does not affect the freedom of that person -- in fact, intervening in that person's life even if you know what the result will be, does not affect that the person is still freely willing and making decisions. Freedom of will is an interior freedom, of 'the will' itself, not of exterior life, nor a freedom from persuasions, or events around it. The freedom of will of man is only OF THE WILL ITSELF. The freedom of mankind's will's point and basis, besides its apparent necessity to 'being' is to make a moral choice, a permanent one between God and self. The details will be judged perfectly, with the affects of any interference or not taken into account.

I tend also to be of the opinion that open theism is heresy. There are contemporary philosophers of religion--often quite orthodox in other areas--who would disagree. I'm aware of that.

"Free and unable to sin" are contradictions in a creature.

Always makes me ponder the "I wonder, then, what keeps sin out after the Second Coming" question...

If, as seems highly plausible from many Scriptural teachings about the final state of those who are saved, there is such a thing as being confirmed in blessedness, it appears (again, this is a matter of looking at the thing a posteriori) that this is, for a creature, a state that is _attained_ by the deliberate and willing union of his will to God's. Again, that doesn't contradict the notion that a nature that is both free and unable to sin _by its very nature_ is an incommunicable divine trait.

It seems kind of basic, but doesn't this conversation requires a common definition of God. I suggest the definition given in Westminster Confession of Faith LC Q. 7

God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness and perfection; all sufficient, eternal, immutable, incomprehensible, omnipresent, omnipotetent, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant is goodness and truth.

This, Lydia: Perhaps it is even the case (as venerable tradition has it)...

I love it when you talk like that.

It's my very poor and only semi-conscious attempt to imitate C. S. Lewis. I don't think I sound much like him. :-)

The question of how we can live as free beings and yet be incapable of sin is indeed a profoundly difficult issue.
But here's an avenue which nobody here has touched on (yet) in this thread:

Perhaps we need to take seriously the idea that God permits certain COVENANT ORDEALS whereby His free creatures (the angels and us) are in some sense left to our own devices, without the sustaining effect of a special grace which sustains us in perfection. What this would mean is that there is a special time of trial in which all of God's free beings get to become masters of their own destiny. To put it another way, they all become in some sense beings who become, beings who do not yet possess their full reality, but need to become who they are called to be, by choosing and acting for themselves. We chose one way in Adam; a third of the angels chose the same way in Lucifer.

The point of this is to suggest that it is not that weird to suppose that a being can be free and yet unable to sin. The perfection of a being means that its nature is complete and that there is no further becoming for that being. Whatever is chosen by the being in this state is chosen with the fullness of that being's nature, with the fullness of that being's mind and love and energy, etc. It is free. It just does not have the wherewithal to choose that which goes against its own nature, and destoys it. The inability to sin is de facto, not metaphysical.

But if your conjecture is correct, Francis, what that means is that a created being can't just be created as "free and unable to sin by its nature" from the outset. If I understand you correctly.

Fraid that's rank heresy

Though the term gets used fairly flexibly, and so might not be all that easy to use in a way that's flatly wrong, I do think this is a case of reaching far too quickly for the "H-word." (Lots of that goin' around.) Some open theists hold views that jeopardize omniscience: they hold that there are facts about what we will freely do, but God fails to know those facts. And these include some of the most prominent versions. (They typically deny that they deny omniscience, but I'm not convinced.) There are some grounds for thinking such views heresies. But others combine their denial of foreknowledge with what is sometimes called "Aristotelianism" - the claim that "future contingents" have no truth values. ("Aristotelianism" isn't a great name for it, both because it's so easily confused with other views that Aristotle is more famous for actually holding, and also because Aristotle's own attitude toward the view isn't easy to decipher. But it gets its name from the fact that a famous discussion of this and related issues takes place in Aristotle -- the "sea battle" stuff -- and was thought (perhaps wrongly) by some to be Aristotle's position. Also, no doubt, some who hold the view *like* for it to be associated with one of the undeniably great philosophers of history.) My understanding of the term "open theism" is that a denial of foreknowledge in the case of free actions is the essense of "open theism," so these "Aristotelian" theists (and this would include me) are open theists. Skipping tricky issues & exceptions, the basic view here is that there are no truths, no facts about what people will freely do. Thus, God's not knowing what one will freely do counts no more against His omniscience that his not knowing that 2+2=38. Omniscience is, roughly, knowing all truths (and believing no falsehoods). The AT's ("AT" for "Aristotelian Theist," a sub-class of Open Theists) God doesn't know what we will freely do while perhaps your God (God as you construe God) does. But this disagreement about whether God knows these things boils down to a disagreement about whether those things are true, and so is the kind of thing that can arise with any controversy: Suppose we're both theists who believe in God's omniscience, and I believe that global warming is caused largely by human activities but you disagree with that. While I believe that God knows that global warming is caused largely by human activities and you believe that God doesn't know this, this disagreement about what God knows is traceable to an underlying disagreement about what is true about the matter in question. Similarly, while we may disagree about whether God knows what will be freely done in the future, that's not because I think there are truths that God does not know, but because I think there are no truths of that kind to be known.

There are a lot of important details here. It's worth mentioning just a couple. One is that what we are talking about here is absolutely certain knowledge. God of course knows the future as well as --& much better than!--any of us do, and we will often claim to know what we ourselves or other will freely do. The OT denies that we lack absolutely certain knowledge. God knows everything there is to know about the future while we do not, so, for instance, if what's true is that it's very probable that so-and-so will do such-and-such, then God knows it is very probable; if there is very precise probability involved, God knows what it is; etc. Second, all the OTs that I know believe that God can know with certainty what He himself will do [this gets into Tobias's worry: freedom for God is quite different from what it is for us, apparently!], and, of course, if He wants to, can know for certain what a particular person will do if God decides He's going to compel that action. It's just that compelling means the act won't be free. There are even ways that you can perform an act such that your act was in fact free, and God also foreknew with absolute certainty that you would perform that act: For instance, God can foresee that you will very likely mow the grass on Tuesday morning. But if it's very important to God that you mow the grass on Tuesday, and "very probable" just isn't good enough, God can decide to compel you to on Tuesday afternoon if you don't mow it on your own on Tuesday morning. Suppose, as was probable, you do mow it on your own Tuesday morning. Then you freely mowed the grass on Tuesday, and yet God knew for certain that you would mow the grass on Tuesday. So God can foreknow that you will perform an act which turns out to be in fact free; what He couldn't foreknow with certainty was that you'd *freely* do it.

Well, that's just a little taste of the details. I put that in because "open theism" has been put on the "Christian radio hit list," and so there are a lot of people out there with very distorted views about what all these dreaded "open theists" believe, having little idea of what the view actually looks like in terms of what God does or can know, what kind of providential control is open to the God of open theism, etc.

But long story short, it's the doctrine of "comprehensive foreknowledge," not omniscience, that ATs, at least, deny -- though, as I said, there are other OTs who do seem to jeopardize omniscience. I wouldn't have thought that CF had the standing to make a denial of it count as a Christian heresy. But I haven't studied the matter closely myself -- I'm mostly here going by what I've heard from others more versed than I am in the history of Christian theology.

The idea that because God knows what we will do, this somehow affects free will -- is wrong, and perhaps the reason for the mistake above.

It's not so much God's knowing what I will do that is *itself* the problem, at least to me; rather, it's that there's already a fact of the matter to be known before I perform the action (and indeed, before I even exist). Skipping some picky details (concerning time lags, cases where one's own past free actions, for which one is responsible, have fixed how you will act in a particular case, etc.), it's fore-truth that the "Aristotelian" thinks is incompatible with freedom. Why? A *very* long story -- but it's also an intuition that many (certainly not all) quickly come to share upon considering the matter. You may -- my guess is this is quite likely -- think "Aristotelianism" is a mistake. But it's worth pointing out that many who have thought a lot about free will, both theists and atheists, both historically and currently, have held the position, and even more have thought it something they couldn't rule out, even if they also couldn't see that it was correct.

I myself am in fact quite familiar with the way that "Aristotelianism" (as good a term as any, I agree) is behind open theism. But my inclination is to use the "h" word in relation to revelation. And I think open theism is clearly and pretty extensively contradicted by revelation. Yes, I know open theists have their own set of proof-texts, too, and I'm not inviting a debate along those lines. I'm merely saying that if I were to say, "An open theist denies omniscience," I would mean that he denies omniscience as I take the concept to be delineated in Scripture.

I don't think the global warming analogy is really a good one. There is a huge difference between saying that some empirical statement is false and saying that an entire class of a posteriori statements about the future is lacking in truth value altogether. The latter has far more sweeping implications for the concept of divine omniscience than the former.

Agreed that it wouldn't be wise to go into a full debate about the Scriptural case for & against. What I will point out is that there is a difference here that is extremely important for the evaluation of scriptural cases between OT as a general view and particular versions of it that may be prominent. As I understand it, once we get "open" and "closed" to mean what they have to mean to distinguish "open theism" from its rivals, then a more accurate name for the view would be "not-fully-closed theism." The point being that there's lots of room for God to do lots of "closing" on the somewhat misnamed view "open theism." You only leave the open theist "big tent" for one of the rival tents when you hold that in the relevant use of "closed" (where fore-truth, and not just causal determination suffices to "close" something) *everything* is closed before we arrive on the scene. This very much impacts the typical scriptural case leveled against the view, since there's lots of room for OT to hold that God can foreknow, with certainty, human actions if He wants to, and indeed (as I pointed out in the previous comment) can foreknow that actions will take place where it turns out that the actions are free. This isn't to get into particular cases of fore-telling (Peter's denial is an especially interesting case); just to point out in general that there are lot of resources available to the OTist to account for cases of foreknowledge and providential control that many opponents don't seem to realize the view has.

Right that there are important differences between the global warming example and the AT position. I was just trying to point to the crucial difference between a disagreement over what God knows that boils down to a difference over what the truths are in the matter in question vs. one that boils down to one of the disputants agreeing about what the facts are, but claiming that God doesn't know those facts.

I came by my Open Theism quite "honestly": I would be an "Aristotelian" quite independent of any theological concerns one way or the other. But, yes, theological concerns do enter in when one marries one's Aristotelianism with theism. Some claim theological advantages for OT, others claim it suffers theological disadvantages -- and maybe both of these are right, at least so far as prima facie advantages/disadvantages go.

I do think it's flat wrong to say ATists "deny omniscience". ("Omniscience" has a fairly clear meaning, and ATists uphold it fairly clearly, I think. Other OTists can be fairly said to "deny omniscience" imho.) But I think I agree with what you instead say here, Lydia: That OT (even in its AT variety) has "sweeping implications for the concept of divine omniscience." There are things God doesn't know on AT that God does know on most other Christian views, and this difference seems to be very important, for better or for worse.

The question is how to reconcile moral impeccability and free will. If agents in heaven can be morally impeccable and free why couldn’t Adam? If God can create part of a world in which moral impeccability is compatible with freedom, why not an entire world? Or another way of seeing the problem is in terms of the Immaculate Conception in Catholic dogma. If God could have Mary immaculately conceived and morally impeccable and free, why not everyone?

There is a multi part solution but you won’t find it in Augustine, Anselm or Aquinas. Rather you will find the solution in nascent form in Eastern Fathers. There are a few parts.
1st if the good isn’t simple then the alternative possibilities condition on free will can be met without implying that either option is of opposing moral value.

2. For contingent beings in order for Kanian type ultimacy and responsibility conditions to be met, they have to be the sufficient cause of the character that they end up having. Consequently, it is not possible for them to be created morally good. Free will is incompatible with moral righteousness or virtue unwilled by the agent whose righteousness it is. The possibility is evil is a temporary use of the power of will, called the gnomic will in the history of theology. It is a personal use of a natural faculty as yet unfixed relative to its nature’s telos. Consequently, Aquinas for example is mistaken in thinking that it is a limitation of human nature which made sin possible. The problem isn’t metaphysical per se, but personal or rather the relation of person to nature in the initial state. If the problem were metaphysical, we would carry it into heaven. This is why sin on the Eastern view is a temporary possibility for Adam. In any case, natures don’t sin, persons do.

3. Free agents form their character over time until it congeals one way (or the other ) such that once their character is fixed they kick away the temporary possibility of sinning like a Wiggenstinian ladder. This is why sin was possible for Adam, but not for the saints in heaven and not for Christ.

4. God is the source of his own moral righteousness, but since God does not have a beginning God never begins a process of character formation. Sourcehood and contingency can be pried apart. God never ceases from goods because God never began them.

5. God, the incarnate Christ and the saints in heaven are morally impeccable and enjoy libertarian freedom since there are a plurality of goods to select between in the eternal state. For the former two, it is impossible for them to commit sin since their persons were always fixed in virtue and so they never had a gnomic will. This is why Christ’s choice in the garden of his passion was between two goods without subordinating his human will to the divine. I have a forthcoming paper on this solution.

My problems with Molinism stem from the idea that persons are essences and that said essences determine what a person will do in a given world. The first seems to run counter to Christian distinctions between person and essence and the latter seems like another form of determinism which seems falsified by the Christian doctrine of creation. (God has the power by essence to create but he could have not created.)
From an Eastern perspective the Fall is an attempt to stop the incarnation from happening because always willed his incarnation.

As for Open Theism, their problem is in explaining how to reconcile God’s moral impeccability and free will. ISTM tha they end up in some form of voluntarism about divine goodness or are led back to an Augustinian framework.

I have no stake in defending the immaculate conception of the BVM, as I'm a Protestant.

I actually am inclined to agree about the necessity for creaturely beings to choose the direction their character will go and its "congealing" at some point by the cumulative effect of their own choices. On the evil side, C. S. Lewis portrays this extremely and rather frighteningly well in the characters of Weston (in Perelandra) and Frost (in That Hideous Strength). Dante's discussion of the good angels in the Paradiso shows it exceedingly well on the good side.

As far as I know, Molinism does not require that essences determine what people will do in a given set of circumstances. God's knowledge of CCF's (I think they are called--contingent [truths] of creaturely freedom) need not depend on his deducing a given CCF from the essence of the person combined with a set of conditions. That knowledge could just be a result of the fact that CCF's do have a truth value and that God knows them, period.


Perhaps I have misunderstood Molinism, but if the ground of the counter factual is not the essence, then I am not clear why Molinists have made that appeal. On the other hand, if they aren't grounded in the essence of an individual person, I am not sure why we would need molinism to say what we'd like to about creaturely freedom.

As I hinted at above, the immaculate conception is not the only problem as the Eastern view conflicts with divine simplicity as understood by say Augustine and Aquinas. If God isn't simple, then there can be multiple divine goods to choose between without any alternative being evil. This in part has motivated the original objeciton brought to the stage by the likes of Mackie.

Ah, I should say that I know whatever I know about this stuff largely through conversation and seeing a _very few_ papers, not through real knowledge of the literature. So it may well be that it's common in the literature for Molinists to make the appeal to essences. From what I know of it, I wouldn't do it that way. I ussually simply use the term to refer to the notion that God has total and certain middle knowledge and that CCF's have truth values (these claims being, obviously, related).

Perry wrote:

Perhaps I have misunderstood Molinism, but if the ground of the counter factual is not the essence, then I am not clear why Molinists have made that appeal. On the other hand, if they aren't grounded in the essence of an individual person, I am not sure why we would need molinism to say what we'd like to about creaturely freedom.

If you want to understand Molinism from a Protestant; at the very least, you might conisder William Lane Craig.

Otherwise, it's best to talk to an actual Molinist in this regard -- and I can assure you, they wouldn't be Protestant.

As a dear friend had once surmised: I understand the Thomist/Molinist debate as being primarily based on Cajetan's version of St. Thomas's doctrine of analogy, which I believe to be different than what St. Thomas himself had in mind. The flaw in Cajetan's reasoning, at least as it seems to me, is that he carried the notion of causation beyond its analogical limits, effectively making God a cause among causes (or a being among beings) in near-Scotist fashion. Such a univocal concept of causation misunderstands the difference between the natural order and the supernatural order (God's mode of operation).

Needless to say, this topic involves extensive research -- even if one were Catholic.

Like you, I'm no open theist. But if I understand them correctly, they insist that their view does not contradict the doctrine of divine omniscience (and therefore is no heresy).

Just as "omnipotence" means "being able to do all that can be done" (rather than being able to do all things period, including the undoable), even so "omniscience" means "knowing all that can be known." If by its very nature the future is contingent, and if contingencies are unknowable, then to say that God cannot know what cannot be known, including the future, is not a rejection of divine omniscience. It's a rejection of a faulty definition of omniscience.

I myself deny that contingencies are unknowable by God. I see nothing in revelation or in reason that leads me to think they are.

Yes, I understand that, Michael. As I said to Keith above, I tend to use both the term 'omniscience' and even the term 'heresy' in connection with the overwhelming evidence of revelation. That is, when I say 'omniscience' I mean "as normally and for that matter traditionally understood by Christians from revelation."

Please note that I wasn't the one in this thread first to say, "That's heresy." That was another commentator. I rather mild-manneredly (for me) said that I am inclined to that opinion myself but realize that others disagree with me. I was responding, not initiating. And the whole subject came up only because Keith asked me if my main post meant that I am an open theist.

Yes, got it. I didn't intend to imply otherwise. My apologies if I seemed to be saying something else.

BTW, by "heresy" I usually mean "a doctrine rejected by an ecumenical council or creed." I think that while many doctrines are unbiblical, far fewer are actual heresies. A heresy is not simply an error, or even a serious error, but an error so huge that, if you make it, your theology is no longer simply incorrect, it actually ceases to be Christian.

You know, like voting for Obama (wink).

"""When philosophers talk about the Problem of Evil (aka "the POE"), they sometimes cast the question like this: "Why did God create a universe in which Adam chose to sin rather than a different universe in which Adam did not choose to sin? Was there no possible universe God could have created in which Adam did not choose to sin?" Then they go on to discuss these questions."""

Consider this an argument of exempt infantility the sin of man, not God made us robots. If the automation were part of creation, love would also be automated. God does not want a remote control!

The man made a mistake, God did not give up on us, down to earth to save humanity, we redirected to perfection through the cross.

God has not passed the rubber in us, because He loves us the truth!


I am familiar with Craig, but I think his Molinism falls prey to Mackie or at the very least simply favors one end of the dilemma rather than resolving it since he thinks that it is possible for the saints to sin but God knows that they never in fact will. This seems to raise problems in Christology as well as in the doctrine of God and anthropology. So for example, is it that Jesus qua divine person (Jesus is not a human person on Chalcedonian Christology) using his human will could sin but just never does? That seems far weaker view of impeccability than Christians have favored. Craig may wish to endorse such a view, but he isn't vindicating historic Christian theology at that point or mapping on to it. Much the same problem arises in considering divine freedom. Is it that God just never in fact sins but could? And is it natural and hence essential to human nature to be capable to sin? If so, then grace will have to trump nature either in terms of circumscribing options in an extrinsic manner(Scotus and Ockham) or of parring down freedom internally (Anselm and Aquinas) to make it compatible with moral impeccability. Of course, this brings us right back to Origen who came upon the original problem-either we will be good but not free since freedom entails choosing between a plurality of objects and the good is simple or free but not good. Origen chose the latter and Augustine the former. For my part the Eastern take seems better since I say what each side wishes to say without any of the intuitive drawbacks of either Augustinianism (Thomism. Molinism, Scotism) or Origenism (Open Theism).

First, a fair bit of praise, this is one of your most interesting posts.
Second, there are obviously many different ways to frame the debate, but I have seen two in the past few months that I will put in separate comments in order to provide links.
The first link raises a point Kant made about how moral asymmetry keeps us honest. Virtue has to be motivated by more than a simple reward/punishment scheme in order for it to be authentically selfless.


The second link is self-described “wounded theism”, but his point about the strong disconnect between here and heaven at the end of the review is powerful.


Thanks very much, Step2!

I see the two posts you link as addressing an aspect of the POE that I didn't get into in the main post and that I'm sort of pondering whether to put up a separate post about myself. Probably I _won't_, because my response to those questions is pretty traditional and prosaic. The aspect of the POE these two linked guys are talking about is not just why God allowed the fall of man or created a world in which he knew the fall would take place but why God allows all the suffering that goes on right now.

Here I'm inclined to disagree with the Kantian response. For one thing, heaven as a reward ("the Cheese" as he calls it) is I think insufficiently profound as an understanding of the kind of reward heaven is. Yes, it's our ultimate and eternal best good, a bliss in comparison with which present sufferings are nothing. But it is that by way of being union with God. And let's face it: How many of us really thrill at the thought of being united with God? How many of us really have much of a sense even of what that means? I know I don't. I think it was C. S. Lewis who said that only the pure in heart will see God for only the pure in heart will desire to see God. Or one can think of that great scene at the beginning of _Perelandra_ where the Lewis character (in his own book) meets an angel and is terribly dismayed. He knows it's a good being, but he recoils from it. Something in that. So I bring heaven pretty much unabashedly into my theodicy and don't worry about its being anti-Kantian.

As for the second link, I think the author fails to realize just how much suffering goes on even in the relatively more miracle-filled books of the Bible. God sends and angel to get Peter out of prison but doesn't send an angel to save James, just a few chapters away in Acts, from the sword, or Stephen. Being stoned to death is no fun, to put it mildly. The apostles had seen plenty of miracles yet knew full-well that they couldn't just _expect_ that God would rescue them when their enemies went after them. The truth is that the whole warp and woof of regular cause and effect is extremely tough and resistant to change. All the miracles in the Bible are a drop in the bucket compared to all the un-interfered-with cause and effect, including cause and effect that brought about suffering and allowed the affects of evil, during the thousands of years represented by those 66 books. And if we bring in the apocrypha, we can contrast the three young men saved from the furnace in Daniel with the Maccabees, who were not saved. The latter are pretty clearly what the author of Hebrews has in mind when he says, "And some were tortured, not accepting deliverance."

At that point, of course, it's just that people don't like the idea that God doesn't _owe_ anyone an intervention to prevent suffering, and hence they say (and even the author of the New Yorker article knows it sounds adolescent), "It's not fair." As if something that is _not owed to anyone_, that is when it occurs a totally free, unexpected, and special grace, must be "fairly" distributed.

How many of us really have much of a sense even of what that means?

It is not that anyone has an intellectual comprehension of what it means, but because the Beatific Vision is always described in blissful terms, there is a normal emotional sense of overwhelming love and harmony. Because of those feelings, direct divine intervention is perceived as something we should expect, not in any programmed way, but in ways that are compelling proof of God's benevolence. There is also a stronger feeling of “cosmic indifference” invoked when large communities are hit by tragedy, which indicates an essential social nature to Providence.

Isn't it just possible that the world in which Adam chooses to sin is the best of all possible worlds? We latin Rite Catholics hear these words at the Easter Vigil: "O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!" Aquinas cites the "felix culpa" line of the Exsultet at ST III.1, 3, ad 3. The entirety of ST III.1, 3 is worth a read on this question. (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4001.htm)

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