The Consequence Argument And Molinism

While discussion is still going on in the previous posts on Molinism and Calvinism, I thought I would add one more, hopefully more brief, argument against the Molinist solution to the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will.

Return again to the summary of Molinism in my previous post:

1. God’s knowledge of all possible and necessary truths (natural knowledge — of what could happen).
2. God’s knowledge of all feasible worlds (middle knowledge — of what would happen through free choices under certain circumstances, including counterfactuals).
3. Divine decree to create His selected world.
4. God’s Foreknowledge set through His selected decree (free knowledge — of what will come to pass).

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that 2 is not an impossibility, as my previous post contended. Let’s concentrate on the relation between 3, 4, and the actual world.

Bill Vallicella at Maverick Philospher sums up a good version of the consequence argument for incompatibilism in the following way (I’m only excerpting from his fuller presentation):

1. If determinism is true, then all our actions and thoughts are consequences of events and laws of nature in the remote past before we were born.

2. We have no control over circumstances that existed in the remote past before we were born, nor do we have any control over the laws of nature.

3. If A causes B, and we have no control over A, and A is sufficient for B, then we have no control over B.


4. If determinism is true, then we have no control over our own actions and thoughts.

Therefore, assuming that responsibility requires control,

5. If determinism is true, then we are not responsible for anything we do or think.

Now, consider more basically that on the Molinist system:

1. God’s foreknowledge is based on his decree.

2. God’s foreknowledge, qua foreknowledge, is knowledge of what something will be before it is.

3. God’s foreknowledge, on the classic view, is comprehensive, even of free choices of creatures.

4. God’s foreknowledge, on the classic view, is infallible; what God knows cannot be falsified.

This means that:

5. Whatever you end up choosing to do, God knew that you were going to choose to do that before you did it, and he knew it in such a way that his knowledge could not be false.

If you could not make God’s knowledge false, though, you could not have done otherwise (since God’s foreknowledge is not of a range of possibilities, but of the one course of action you actually took). Sometimes, Molinists will respond to this point in the following way:

Just because God knows I will do something, doesn’t make that action inevitable. … I could have exercised my ability to refrain from reading his book, and that if I had done [so] God would have known this.

But this is actually a non-response. For the issue is not that, if God had chosen differently on the matter of which history would exist, then you would have chosen differently. The issue is not what possible worlds God could actualize. The issue is, *given that God has chosen to actualize the real timeline*, how could agents in that timeline choose differently than God decreed they would?

Agents in the real timeline have no control over the past, and so have no control over God decreeing and creating timeline x (and not y). But by the logic of the consequence argument, if we have no control over the past, and the past (in the decree and act of God) makes it unfalsifiable that that the future will be x, then we who are acting in that future have no control over whether x will be true in the present, or not.

There is one possible response to this problem. One could perhaps suggest that God does not strictly know something before it happens, but knows it timelessly. However, this does not help, from the perspective of someone trying to avoid necessity in history. For, if we assume God has comprehensive knowledge of what happens in history, and we argue that God’s knowledge of this is timeless, then God’s knowledge of history is also unchangeable. This is because what is timeless is by definition unchangeable, and if God’s knowledge was timeless, it would have to be unchangeable. Thus, once again, one could try to parry with “if we had chosen differently, God would have timelessly known us to do something different”, but this would once again be a distraction. For we cannot change what God does know, on the view that God’s knowledge is timeless. Further, one has to do some justice to the language of “foreknowledge” in scripture. If one wants to argue that God’s foreknowledge refers to timeless knowledge, one still has to preserve the significance of the “before”  in scripture. It seems to me that the only way to do that is to recognize the knowledge is independent of what has already happened. In other words, if God’s knowledge is timeless, one must take the biblical affirmations of his foreknowledge to mean that his knowledge of history is independent of the actual existence of history. (Yet further: one could perhaps argue that God’s timeless presence to any moment in the past would mean that his timeless knowledge is also fixed for us by the past. I will not get into this argument in this post, however.)