Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On Molinism and Scripture

In response to one of my old posts about Molinism, Will R. Huysman asks:

Dear Brandon,
Since Christ is truth itself [Jn 14:6], everything He says must be true. So any counterfactuals He states must be grounded. How is the non-Molinist to respond to the following scientia media prooftexts; i.e. what grounds these counterfactuals such that they belong only to natural knowledge, free knowledge, or some combo of the two and not middle knowledge?

Jeremiah 23:21-22: "I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have proclaimed My words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings."

Matthew 11:21-24: "Woe to you, Chora'zin! woe to you, Beth-sa'ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Caper'na-um, will you be exalted to Heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you."

1 Corinthians 2:8: "None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."

Happy St. Patrick's Day and God bless!


Will,

I wouldn't presume to speak for all non-Molinists, but there are a number of different ways these can be understood. For instance, the claim about Capernaum can be easily understood as a figure of speech about how hard-hearted Capernaum is. That is, it's a vivid way of saying that Capernaum is even more hard-hearted than Sodom, because it lacks the excuse Sodom had that it did not see the great wonders that Jesus performed in Capernaum. Similarly with Tyre and Sidon (indeed, note that the conclusion drawn from it is that Tyre and Sidon will be better off in the day of judgment, namely, they will have more excuse). Jesus does use a great many figures of speech, so there is nothing untoward about this; moreover, we ourselves regularly use counterfactuals as figures of speech, i.e., indirect ways of making non-counterfactual points. No doubt preferences will differ, but this strikes me as easily the most plausible interpretation of these claims.

In Jeremiah 23, I think it's pretty clear from the whole context that vv. 21-22 are not making a counterfactual prediction but simply reiterating a point that is made elsewhere in the chapter in many different ways using many different images: namely, that these false prophets are not doing Israel any good, precisely because they are false prophets. If they were true prophets, they would be doing God's people good by doing the sorts of things and saying the sorts of things that generally lead people to turn away from evil. Further, given that the lead-up to the passage is about how the false prophets have led the people astray, it is possible to interpret the verses as saying that if they were true prophets they would lead people away from the things that they led them to.

In 1 Corinthians 2, it must be understood that this is a negative claim, and thus it does not tell us what the rulers of the age would have done. Rather, what it tells us is that crucifying Christ is inconsistent with understanding the message of wisdom; which makes sense, because to understand the message of wisdom (as the chapter fairly clearly suggests) requires having the Spirit of God. You can think of it in terms of a parallel. A person who truly has the virtue of courage will not act cowardly; acting cowardly is inconsistent with having that virtue. But it does not follow that there is any particular fact of the matter about what that person will do: he can do anything consistent with the virtue of courage. If there is one and only one thing consistent with the virtue of courage, there is no choice, just consent following from his nature and disposition. Then the need for middle knowledge collapses; we are just dealing with natural knowledge. Similarly, if a person has the Spirit of God, there would be an inconsistency in doing anything that could only be done if they didn't have the Spirit; but it does not follow that there is any particular fact of the matter about the many things they can do that are consistent with having the Spirit.

Cheers,
Brandon

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