Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Providence, Predestination, and Foreknowledge

Paul Hamilton recently asked what my views on predestination and foreknowledge are. My views on this, I think, are pretty basic; to the extent I have any view on it, it's all Boethius and Aquinas. That would make it pretty straightforward except Molinists and Bañezians have also claim the same thing. I'm not Molinist, although I am open in the end to being convinced otherwise -- I find it intriguing, and think it good intellectual exercise to think it through, but I think ultimately that no one has given a good reason to think Molinism even coherent; Molina, in fact, does the most, and the quality of defense of Molinism from then on out seems to me to have deteriorated considerably, being little more than prestidigitation to obscure the fact that no one has much idea how to understand middle knowledge, i.e., knowledge that is neither natural knowledge nor free knowledge. I'm not Bañezian, either; I don't think physical premotion is any better motivated than middle knowledge. (I also think that most of the plausibility of physical premotion comes from confusing what happens under sanctifying grace with what happens naturally.) Neither premotion nor middle knowledge serves any real function, since they both turn out to be elaborate mechanisms for saying we do not know what it is like to be God insofar as He is a knower. Bañezians refer us to mystery when we ask how predetermining motion is compatible with free action, and Molinists refer us to mystery when we ask how it is that free counterfactuals are definite in truth value. They therefore provide no serious advance on simply affirming a standard view such as one finds in Boethius and Aquinas, without all the elaborate machinery that leads to very interesting discussion but does not increase our understanding of the problem. And that's perfectly fine; the things on which Molinists and Bañezians don't agree are not particularly relevant either to our salvation or (at least usually) to what we can know of God by negative theology. This leaves me with a minimalist position on the subject; but it's surprising how resilient and flexible a position that simply insists on holding to the doctrines of creation and divine eternity can be in the face of problems and objections proposed to it.

That's my view on the general topic. Of course, I have more specific views on various particular subtopics, while on others my views are very sketchy indeed. But I think this is the state in which we all find ourselves, whether we wish to admit it or not. After all, providence, predestination, and foreknowledge make for an extraordinarily massive subject: they include everything.

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