Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Question To My Arminian/Molinist Friends

This question is generated by genuine curiosity and is aimed at provoking a bit of light discussion. It's not meant to be a trap or a clever argument for Calvinism.

When listening to some of Dr. William Lane Craig's webcasts about Calvinism and Molinism recently, I noticed that he said again and again that he believed that God's plan for the cosmos was to allow the maximum number of people to freely come to salvation in Christ. This was also part of his response to the problem of evil. If men are free to accept or reject salvation and God needs to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the greatest possible number of people choose to accept salvation, then it isn't that unreasonable to assume that God uses evil to bring about that state of affairs. Many people who would not otherwise to turn Christ will do so in the face of pain.

Fair enough. But I'm curious: If God's plan is to get the maximum number of people saved, then why would He ever return? After all, if He had returned 50 years ago, I and other Christians of my generation would not be saved. Likewise, if He were to return tomorrow, countless millions of potential Christians will never be born. In other words, if God truly desires the maximum number of people to be saved, doesn't he have to let things go on like this for eternity?


  1. I'm not too learned in the multiple interpretations of Revelation, so please don't take my thoughts too seriously.

    I could imagine a position that is much different than the typical evangelical, "The world is going to 'hell' and then Jesus will save us." Suppose there is a position where the world is getting better and better. Eventually, we get to the point where Jesus is like, "Alright, that's my kingdom!" Satan is slowly defeated to the point where however many years from now, nobody listens to him or his demons.

    But I would not push the free-will determinism debate on eschatology, because I don't think it's smart to put confidence in what we can speculate about the future. I think it's better to look at the past and the present to figure out free-will/determinism.

    That's just my two cents. I am very much open to giving it thought, so feel free to critique any thing I have written.

  2. Hey Kurt,

    Regardless of your millenial persuasion (or what you believe about the antichrist, tribulations, etc.), the Bible is clear that there will be a Day of Judgment followed by a new Heaven and new Earth. That being the case, God could never have the maximum number of people gain salvation because he could always postpone the Day of Judgment a little longer to allow more people to choose Him, ad infinitum.

    As to your second point, I would say two things. First, it's really impossible to completely separate the two, since much of the debate over predestination regards God's ultimate plans or goals for humanity. Second, this doesn't really constitute an argument for or against either Arminianism or Calvinism, since I could be right (and Dr. Craig would then be wrong about what God's purpose for history is), but Arminianism/Molinism still be true. Of course, it would seriously weaken the Arminian position by depriving it of some of its explanatory power, but that's another issue.

  3. There are three sorts of responses or reasons I think one could reasonably use to answer this question.

    1) Since a Molinist framework presumes libertarian free will, damnation is almost a certainty for many many people. So the longer God lets the world go on not only is the amount of saved individuals increasing every year but the amount of damned individuals as well. So the response goes something like this:

    God wants the maximum number of people to freely come to him. But he also wants the minimum number of people to freely not come to him. In order to balance these two desires the process has to stop eventually, otherwise God is actually continually allowing harm to take place in order for good to take place. While a certain amount of this badness is clearly allowable in order for the good of salvation to take place freely God would not be good if he in fact allowed people to continue to live in sin and go to hell. The damnation needs to stop eventually. So it is the maximum amount of people to freely come to God tempered by the minimum amount of people to freely not chose God. But this still seems insufficent. It must be tempered by another proposition.

    2) God wants all the peoples of the world to experience the Gospel. So we have the first two propositions tempered with the goal of the Gospel to reach the ends of the earth. The limits are always set by human freedom and God's goodness. But ultimately the libertarian framework requires that the maximum amount of people freely come to him with the mininum amount of people freely not choosing him and all the peoples of the world having the gospel given to them.

    3) Bill Craig is the Apologetics Apostle so everything he says is dogma...cept for Apollinarianism. But seriously I'm going to post this question on his web site for his weekly Q&A cause I'd like to hear his actual response.

    It is a good question, and depending on the kind of answer given by an actual Molinist Philosopher, gives us an intuition that Calvinism is a more coherent view of salvation given that the amount of people brought to God corresponds to a direct intentional purpose not only on God's behalf, for his glory, but on our behalf as well, to make known to us the glory of his riches. These seem to be obvious goods that only become problematic if we can't account for how God is just in damning the non elect, which I believe is part of the mystery of Romans 9.

    I'm going to post this question for him tomorrow unless you want to?

  4. David, I believe you may have misheard Dr Craig. The times I have read or listened to him, he argued the possibility that God has actualized a world with the maximal ratio of saved to lost rather than maximum number. Those are two distinctly different things. To achieve merely the maximum number, it's possible that would have entailed a very low ratio of saved to lost. The notion behind maximal number is that God did not create a "gratuitous" number of the non-elect. I am in sympathy with Dr Craig's concept of the maximal ratio, but I haven't been able to find anywhere so far where Molina himself argued the idea. Perhaps he did and I haven't located it yet.

  5. say "huh?" ACgleason 'bout Bill Craig. This dude can hardly distinguish why Roman Catholics are still even disputing. Of course not that it should come to the point of bloodshed like in Ireland. For we battle not flesh & blood...you get it? I firmly believe that the Reformation is not over.

  6. ...R.C.s and evangelicals disputing is what I meant.

  7. Aaron,

    I suppose that might save the theory, but it certainly makes it even more contrived, complicated and unbiblical than the original version. So yeah, it would seem to make Calvinism look better either way, haha.


    There's no mistake, Dr. Craig clearly says "maximum number of people." The source I'm specifically referring to is a lecture that Dr. Craig recently gave at Cambridge where he answers questions about the Problem of evil. You can probably find it online somewhere, or you can listen to James White's podcast from June 16, where he plays clips from it.

  8. i don't personally allege either position (Arminianism or Molinism), but couldn't such a person say that that God foreknows some future point men will stop freely choosing him altogether, thus signaling his need to call it to an end and return?

  9. reborn1995,

    Sure. But not only is that yet another layer of speculation without a shred of Biblical support that (like the other suggestions we've seen so far) seems totally ad hoc, but I don't think many Arminians/Molinists would want to bite that bullet. After all, the so-called "free will theodicy" depends on the intuition that God cannot actualize a world in which everyone would freely choose salvation. Likewise, the intuition would seem to be equally strong that there couldn't be a world in which everyone would freely choose damnation, and not even one single person would choose salvation. Remember, in order for your suggestion to meet my challenge, there would have to be some point in the future where people stop freely choosing Christ, AND that state of affairs would have to continue for eternity (after all, if the whole world stopped freely choosing Christ for only one or two generations, God could just wait until those generations passed away). It seems highly unlikely that a world of free creatures would all choose to reject Christ for eternity.

  10. Hey David,

    You have some interesting thoughts and questions here. In the most recent edition to EPS there is a excellent critique of molinism that you ought to read.

    In Christ,


  11. aight so I'm gonna pose this question to Dr. Craig himself then? Hopefully he answers.

    But I think what Bob said is actually what Dr. Craig believes on further reflection, which I think is actually just another less complicated way of saying what I had already said. Dr. Craig may use the language you say he does, I have no doubt of this, but I think Bob is right in interpreting him this way. I could be wrong of course.

    I do agree that the intuitions you are raising make Calvinism seem more intuitive but I'm not entirely sure the responses laid out so far are quite "contrived" or ad hoc. They seem to be fairly straightforward responses to me. If you could elaborate on maybe why you find the answers unpersuasive.

    Don't get me wrong I think the Biblical data favors the reformed and not the Jesuit take on things, but if we're simply dealing with the philosophical consistency so far Molinism seems to have some sort of answer to the question.

    It would be interesting to do a post showing how the scriptures are outright incompatible with Molinism actually. Sounds like something Mr. Taylor would enjoy. :)

  12. Aaron,

    When I say "contrived" I mean only that they are pure speculation, lacking any Biblical support. The only response so far that I would really categorize as "ad hoc" is the last one, that all free creatures might stop choosing salvation forever.

    I'm not arguing that Molinism can't be philosophically consistent, but what I'm pointing out is that Platonism can also be philosophically consistent without being grounded in Scripture. Plato had a great answer to the problem of evil as well, it just wasn't Biblical.

    Nate would like me to point you to two posts he did that refute Molinism Biblically, "Biblical Arguments For Divine Causal Determinism" and "Biblical Arguments For Irresistible Grace."

  13. OK, no joke. I literally fell over my chair when I read the question. Great question.

  14. True true,

    But Molinists believe their beliefs are grounded in scripture as well as reason. They take certain truths to be biblically based. They think human freedom, God's middle knowledge, God's goodness, omnipotence, and omniscience are all found in the Bible. They've just made a serious philosophical attempt at reconciling these propositions. And in terms of support those are the only propositions they need to get the system off the ground.

    But it could be the case that Nate's two posts, along with other passages, teach Calvinism to such a degree that makes the particular kind of Molinist that someone like Bill Craig happens to be, logically incoherent with scripture. I guess what I meant was doing a post where Molinist passages or readings are refuted. You guys might feel that is redundant, but I would benefit from it. If you're interested in the particular passages I am thinking of I can try to compile them for you but you're probably aware of them already, and have some sort of response or reading that differs already. Or maybe you think that the so called middle knowledge passages aren't incompatible with Calvinism.

    I guess to me the word contrived seems strong, especially when they do in fact believe the Bible supports their view.


  15. Aaron,

    I'm sure I don't know all the Bible passages that Molinists use, so I'd love it if you compiled them for me. I'd be happy to try to do a post on them.

    The problem is that I see no Biblical evidence whatsoever in the Bible for the particular view of libertarian freedom that the Molinist is committed to. So when he says, "Well, we know that we have libertarian freedom of a certain sort, so when passage x says y, it can't possibly mean what the Calvinist wants it to mean, so it must mean..." I consider that sort of reasoning contrived. I'm not saying that that's how they reason about *every* Calvinist "proof text", but I've heard it from Craig on some of them. When a philosophical presupposition becomes the overriding factor that determines how one is going to interpret Scripture, I don't think contrived is too harsh a description. Anyway, you and I both know that just because someone claims Biblical support for their position, that doesn't automatically mean they have a good case. *Everyone* claims Biblical support for their position, haha.

    But like I said, I'm more than willing to look at all the Biblical support that the Molinist is claiming and give it a fair hearing.

  16. True true,

    So I just posted the question on Dr. Craig's web site, and I'll start looking for the Molinist proof texts.

  17. David—

    You wrote:

    “Sure. But not only is that yet another layer of speculation without a shred of Biblical support that (like the other suggestions we've seen so far) seems totally ad hoc, but I don't think many Arminians/Molinists would want to bite that bullet.”

    This seems like it would only be a problem if Molinists were arguing that their view requires that all of the teachings of Molinism be exegeted straight out of the text, instead of thinking that their view is a framework consistent with the text. They only need to offer possible answers, it seems to me, that undercut the argument you are giving here—not positive biblical arguments that their answers are correct.

    You wrote:

    “After all, the so-called "free will theodicy" depends on the intuition that God cannot actualize a world in which everyone would freely choose salvation. Likewise, the intuition would seem to be equally strong that there couldn't be a world in which everyone would freely choose damnation, and not even one single person would choose salvation.”

    First of all, open theists and simple foreknowledge-ists can hold that God did not know, prior to decreeing to create the initial conditions of the actual world, that anyone *would* be damned if He actualized this world. So only Molinism is in trouble here.

    Second. It seems to me like the fwt does not depend on intuitions about “not everyone would choose salvation in any feasible world”. It depends on intuitions similar to these (perhaps the actual intuitions are more fundamental and commonsense)

    (1) it seems God is good from his revelation
    (2) it seems incompatible with the goodness of God that He be morally responsible for the evils that occur
    (3) it seems that libertarian freewill is necessary to have moral responsibility
    (4) it seems that the only way for God not to be morally responsible for the evils that occur is for creatures to be responsible for those evils.

  18. It may *follow* from these intuitions that it is *in fact true* that there is no world in which everyone chooses salvation. This would be implied if the following is true: (P1) the world contains free creatures choosing damnation (P2) God would only actualize a world in which free creatures choose damnation if He could not actualize a world in which free creatures do not choose damnation (P3) God could only be unable to actualize a world in which no free creatures choose damnation if transworld damnation is true.

    Notice how none of this argument for transworld damnation (twd) started with claims about having intuitions about “God cannot actualize a world in which everyone would freely choose salvation”. It doesn’t seem necessary for the proponent of middle knowledge and the fwd to start with claims about the plausibility of twd. It seems necessary for a proponent of middle knowledge, fwt, and twd to start with these intuitions: “it seems God is good; it seems a good God cannot be responsible for evil; it seems God is only not responsible for evil if creatures are responsible for evils; it seems creatures are only responsible for evils if lfw is true”. We move from these intuitions (or perhaps more fundamental intuitions that necessitate the truth of the propositions that were intuited) to the conclusion that twd is true via the argument P1-P3 given above.

    You wrote:

    “It seems highly unlikely that a world of free creatures would all choose to reject Christ for eternity."

    Unless the choices of the damned in heaven or hell could fix their character in vice, making them unable to repent. Even if Craig doesn’t believe that we freely fix our character in heaven or hell, a proponent of a revised theory of middle knowledge can believe it.

  19. MG,

    I can buy that. But I would simply ask you directly, do you not have an intuition that, given two possible options, it is highly unlikely that free creatures (totally unmoved movers, as it were) would continue for all eternity to choose only one of the two? This is really a question of probability. What are the odds that billions of people who are all completely free to go left or right will choose, every single one of them, to go right instead of left? And add in to the equation that going left is equivalent to choosing Heaven and that God would be doing everything possible to make "going left" more attractive to people, and it seems outrageous to think that not one single person over the course of millions and millions of years would choose to go left.

    You said: "Unless the choices of the damned in heaven or hell could fix their character in vice, making them unable to repent."

    I think you misunderstood my point. I'm not talking about people in Hell. I was responding to the person who suggested that a point in time might come where, here on earth, everyone would simply stop freely choosing Christ. When I said "for eternity" I didn't mean that person x would reject Christ for eternity (i.e. in Hell), but that person x and person x's son and person x's grandson, etc., would all freely reject the gospel for all eternity. Does that make sense?

  20. Right, I was being sloppy--of course you weren't talking about the world post-consummation. Yeah, it is very improbable that everyone would choose hell over the course of the rest of pre-consummation human history.

    I wonder: if the restoration of nature in the eschaton is a final goal of God that is equal in value to his goal of the most people having a free acceptance of Christ, why not just think that God could choose at some point to accomplish the consummation? God can will both that as many be saved as He can save, and that He has to make the cut-off at some point in order for the consummation to happen. Therefore it is okay for God to pick some very large number as a point at which to put a cap on the number of new saved persons he could have. Otherwise the consummation will never come.

    Maybe this is silly; I haven't thought it out much. But you (and Craig) may be assuming the only relevant good is the maximal number of persons being converted.

  21. It's too late to actually read what everyone else has said on this issue, so if this has been said already I apologize. If it is true that the world is becoming less righteous, then it may be that with each successive generation there will be a smaller percentage of converted Christians. Perhaps there will come a time when there are no TRUE Christian conversions, no TRUE Christians left, and therefore no possiblity of the TRUE gospel being preached and/or responded to. At this point the Lord could safely return knowing that the maximum number of converts has been attained. This means that things do not have to go on forever. Not a theologian, not a logician, not particularly well educated, but had my say.