Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Terminology Tuesday: Counterfactuals

Counterfactuals: A conditional proposition (usually expressed in the form "if p, then q") in which the antecedent (p) is false. Examples include such propositions as "If the moon was made of green cheese, then it would be tasty" and "If Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, then racial reconciliation after the Civil War would have been advanced." There is a vigorous debate over the status of counterfactuals that deal with free human actions, such as "If John had been offered a $5,000 bribe, he would have freely refused it." Advocates of Molinism claim that such propositions have a truth value that God does not determine. They claim as well that God knows all such propositions and uses this knowledge in the providential governance of the universe. This allows God to control the outcome of events without impinging on human freedom.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 29.

14 comments :

Ex N1hilo said...

If God knows counterfactuals that He has not determined, then God's knowledge of these things is itself determined by something outside of Himself. (That is, His knowledge is contingent upon the "free choices" of hypothetical beings, whose choices exist eternally and immutably, alongside God, even though most of the beings themselves will never exist.)

If this is so, then God is a creature.

Brian Auten said...

Thanks for the comment.

How do you mean that "if this is so, then God is a creature"?
That doesn't seem clear to me.

Marc Belcastro said...

ExN1hilo:

Would you also mind explaining what you mean by "determined"?

Ex N1hilo said...

Marc,

In my view, a good definition of "determined" would be "brought about as an effect by the decision of a personal agent." Examples: God determined to redeem sinners through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. Fred determined that he would stick to his diet and passed on the cupcakes.

Brian,

If God's knowledge of my free will choices is determined by those choices; if, in other words, my decisions are logically prior to God's knowledge of them, then am I not the creator of those particular aspects of God's knowledge?

Brian Auten said...

Ex,
Thanks for the reply.

"am I not the creator of those particular aspects of God's knowledge?"
That seems a bit different than saying that "God is a creature".

I still don't see how that follows. My decisions don't have a sort of creative power of knowledge. They simply are the things which God knows timelessly.

Can I even know what someone "would do" if they were in a certain situation, even if that situation doesn't come about? For instance, I could know that if I offered my daughter chocolate, she would eat it -- but that doesn't mean that she is creating that knowledge, or that I am a creation of some sort based upon that counterfactual.

Marc Belcastro said...

Ex N1hilo:

Thanks for the reply as well. And sorry I misspelled your name originally.

I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom is determined or constituted by the choices of agents, or that the decisions of agents are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them. I think what the Molinist would want to suggest is that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom is determined or constituted by the truths of certain counterfactuals of freedom. In the state of affairs in which God hasn’t yet created or decreed anything, there are and will be no agents whose choices determine or constitute God’s knowledge of these counterfactuals. But, with respect to God’s free knowledge (or foreknowledge), there are truths about what agents will do, truths which are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them, even if God’s knowledge of these truths is chronologically prior to these agents’ actions themselves. As is sometimes said, God knows these things because they’re true, but these things aren’t true because God knows them.

Does that perhaps address your concern, or have I missed it completely? =)

Ex N1hilo said...

Brian,

Certainly, as creatures, we learn from each other, as you have learned from observation that your daughter is fond of chocolate. But let's not forget who is the ultimate source of all knowledge.

The Scriptures tell us that in Jesus Christ are hidden all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom (Colossians 2:3); and that He is the light that enlightens every man (John 1:9). Now, because He is the source of all knowledge and wisdom and the one who has revealed to us all that we know, we recognize Him as our Creator—among other reasons, of course. (BTW, any system of epistemology that fails to take these truths into account is invalid.)

It is not difficult to see some of the ways in which He accomplishes this; for example, through the creation of our senses and our rational minds, by which we apprehend the world around us. And, of course, He made that world, too. And He awakens us to spiritual truths by the regenerative and enlightening work of the Holy Spirit.

However, according to Molinism, Jesus is not the ultimate source of all knowledge. Rather, there are truths whose ultimate sources are creatures, such as you, and I, and your chocolate-loving daughter. On this view, the revelation of the truth value of propositions related to our free choices came from us, and we enlightened Jesus Christ.

William Lane Craig confirms this The Only Wise God, page 74:

“God’s foreknowledge is chronologically prior to Jones’s mowing the lawn, but Jones’s mowing the lawn is logically prior to God’s foreknowledge. Jones’s mowing the lawn is the ground; God’s foreknowledge is its logical consequent; Jones’s mowing is the reason why God foreknows that Jones will mow the lawn...God’s foreknowledge logically follows Jones’s action like a shadow, even if chronologically the shadow precedes the coming of the event itself.”

Now, if we, recognizing Christ as the source of the knowledge we have of both physical and spiritual things, regard Him therefore as our Creator; then ought He not to regard us, in a more limited sense, as His creators for authoring a portion of the vast knowledge of which He is the Treasure House?

Let us remember that God's knowledge is an aspect of His being, not something outside Himself.

Brian Auten said...

Ex N1hilo,

I would dispute the point where you say that "there are truths whose ultimate sources are creatures" -- if they are creatures, then they are created, and that by God. So these truths ultimately come from their creator.

And even so, I still don't know what you mean by saying that "God is a creature" if he knows counterfactual truths by free creatures. It seems to me that Marc has answered your issue with God's foreknowledge. Did you have any thoughts on that?

Thanks.

Ex N1hilo said...

Marc wrote:

I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom is determined or constituted by the choices of agents, or that the decisions of agents are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them. I think what the Molinist would want to suggest is that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom is determined or constituted by the truths of certain counterfactuals of freedom.

I want to make sure I am understanding you, Marc. I hear you saying that, in the Molinist view, the truth values of counterfactuals of freedom are logically prior to God's knowledge of them, while the freedom to make the choices that these truth values refer to is not logically prior to God's knowledge of free creature's choices. Do I get what you are saying here? If so, how can a proposition concerning a choice exist logically prior to that choice?

But, with respect to God’s free knowledge (or foreknowledge), there are truths about what agents will do, truths which are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them, even if God’s knowledge of these truths is chronologically prior to these agents’ actions themselves.

What God has willed to do may be logically prior to God's knowledge of what God has willed to do, but such knowledge is still grounded in God's will, not grounded in an infinite number of creaturely wills that somehow operate outside of God's will, as Molinism would have it with respect to the free choices of all possible hypothetical free beings.


Brian wrote:

I would dispute the point where you say that "there are truths whose ultimate sources are creatures" -- if they are creatures, then they are created, and that by God. So these truths ultimately come from their creator.

I think this is the crux of the matter between Molinism, and its view of God's knowledge, and more traditional views.

And I agree wholeheartedly with your statement. Maybe I have misunderstood what Molinism is saying about God's middle knowledge. I had thought that the logical order in Molinism was choices of free creatures logically prior to truth value concerning those choices logically prior to God's knowledge of the truth value concerning those choices. Am I mistaken?

Is the Molinist understanding actually truth value concerning those choices logically prior to God's knowledge of the truth value concerning those choices. logically prior to choices of free creatures?

If the latter is the case, it seems to me incoherent, but it is at least less objectionable than the former, which suggests there are rogue wills that operate outside God's decrees, creating circumstances that God must deal with.

WLC's view on the matter seems to be in line with the former. As he has written at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9193

Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.

And what about the choices of hypothetical free creatures that God decided not to instantiate? Are they to be considered among His creatures? If not, does this effect whether the truth values regarding their choices ultimately come from God?

Randy Everist said...

I think the finer points of Molinism confuse some people, especially with respect to these types of objections. They typically rely (probably intentionally, don't get me wrong) on ambiguous terms (in some cases even equivocal terms). Brian already pointed out "ultimate" and "source" being used ambiguously, and I would add (in case it has not been covered) that "determined" as defined by the objector is *not* how proponents of Molinism define "determined." (Or at least, it isn't if it's just any personal agent [for then Molinists happily agree that every event is determined].) Rather, they use determinism as an external causal event, incompatible with free will. One may disagree, of course, but it won't do as a critique of Molinism to use one definition of a word to apply to a different definition or use--that would be equivocation.

Ex N1hilo said...

Randy,

No doubt I have much to learn with regard to Molinism.

And, although I would like to see more engagement with the substance of my critique, it will undoubtedly have to be in another venue. Thanks to all who replied, though.

Marc Belcastro said...

Ex N1hilo:

Sorry about the delay in replying.

>>“I hear you saying that, in the Molinist view, the truth values of counterfactuals of freedom are logically prior to God's knowledge of them”<<

That’s right. The truth of a certain counterfactual of creaturely freedom (CCF) is logically prior to, and therefore explains, God’s knowledge of it.

>>“while the freedom to make the choices that these truth values refer to is not logically prior to God's knowledge of free creature's choices”<<

I’m not quite sure what you mean here, so I apologize if the following doesn’t address your comment appropriately. I think the Molinist would say that the circumstances specified by the CCF are (or include) freedom-permitting circumstances. Take the basic form of a CCF: if an agent S were in circumstances C, then S would freely perform action A. Not only is C fully specified—every relevant detail is accounted for—but the nature of C is such that S is permitted to freely perform A. And the kind of freedom the Molinist has in mind is something like libertarianism.

With respect to your statement in particular, I think the Molinist would suggest that it doesn’t seem to make sense to speak of an agent’s freedom of choice (in a given CCF) as being logically prior to God’s knowledge (of that CCF).

>>“What God has willed to do may be logically prior to God's knowledge of what God has willed to do, but such knowledge is still grounded in God's will, not grounded in an infinite number of creaturely wills that somehow operate outside of God's will, as Molinism would have it with respect to the free choices of all possible hypothetical free beings.”<<

Most (if not all) Molinists would say that the content of God’s middle knowledge is comprised of what creatures would do (in any set of fully specified circumstances), not what God Himself would do. That is, there just are no (true or false) counterfactuals of divine freedom which God knows prevolitionally.

If by “creaturely wills that somehow operate outside of God’s will,” you mean that God’s doesn’t determine the truth-value of CCFs, then that’s right. But if you’re referring to God’s free knowledge (or foreknowledge)—the knowledge God possesses by virtue of His knowledge of His own free decree to actualize a world—then the Molinist disagree that creaturely wills operate outside of God’s will. So, while God doesn’t decide which CCFs are true (and which are false), He does decide which become actual or obtain.

Ex N1hilo said...

Marc,

Thank you for the responses, and for challenging my thinking in this area. Coming in to the discussion, my understanding was that, implicit to the Molinist view, it is the choices of free creatures that decide the content of the knowledge God has of those choices. You and Brian are telling me that is not the case. And yet, the quotes I posted from WLC seem to me to back up the view I had. So, I have more investigating to do.

Sam

Marc Belcastro said...

Sam:

Thanks for your thoughts.

I believe Craig would say that the content of CCFs isn’t determined by the actions of creatures, for no creatures exist “when” God is consulting His middle knowledge (as it were). More precisely: in the situation prior to creation, when God exists alone, there aren’t any and will be no creatures to determine the content of CCFs. In this situation, there aren’t any creatures because God hasn’t created any, and there won’t be any because there’s technically no such thing as the future. (At the moment when God actualizes a world, I think we can sensibly say that although no free creatures exist at this moment, such creatures will exist because the world has a future.)

As you might imagine, this matter has prompted some controversy. Some of Molinism’s detractors insist that if free creatures don’t determine or have any control over the content of CCFs, then it’s unclear how these creatures are capable of exerting control over their own actions.

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment. By posting your comment you are agreeing to the comment policy.

Blog Archive

Amz