Posts tagged ‘scientia media’

February 8th, 2013

Defining Omniscience

by Max Andrews

As advocated by St. Anselm, God is a maximally perfect being.  If ignorance is an imperfection, all things being equal [according to Ockham’s razor], then it is greater to be knowledgeable.  To prevent initial detractions from the classical definition of omniscience, omniscience should be understood as knowing all truths.

O.  For any agent x, x is omniscient= def. For every statement s, if s is true, then x knows that s and does not believe that not-s.[1]

If there are truths about future contingents, God, as an omniscient being must know these truths.  Since there are truths about the future, that is to say, since statements about future contingents are either true or false, and they are not all false, God must therefore know all truths about the future, which is to say He knows future-tense facts; He knows what will happen.[2]  One may try to avoid this reasoning by contending that future-tense statements are neither true nor false, so that there are no facts about the future.  Since the future does not exist, it is claimed that the respective future-tense statements cannot be true or false, simply without truth.[3]  To make this assertion is a misunderstanding behind the statement’s truth claim.  For a future tense-statement to be true it is not required that what it describes exist, but that it will exist.  In order for a future-tense statement to be true, all that is required is that when the moment described arrives, the present-tense version of the statement will be true at that moment.[4]  Nicholas Rescher gives an illustration for this assertion: 

September 19th, 2011

Middle Knowledge and Eternal Omniscience

by Max Andrews

The following is a guest blog post by Ryan Hedrich. Ryan is an undergraduate Public Policy major at Georgia Tech with an interest in epistemology and theology, subjects he writes about at his blog unapologetica.blogspot.com.

__________

“If God did not determine [an act], then there must be in the universe a determining force independent of God.”[1]

This argument, stated simply, has been and continues to be the crux upon which the legitimacy of Molinism is hinged. Can the biblical doctrine of an eternally omniscient God be harmonized with a theory that human choices [in particular] are self-determined?

The Molinist claims that God possesses middle knowledge, “…non-determinative knowledge of the realm of creaturely possibility, a foreknowledge of events which depend not on his decree but on the liberty or free choice of the creature.”[2] It is referred to as “middle” knowledge because it is said to logically reside in between – so to speak – God’s knowledge of both possibilities and logical necessities and God’s knowledge of what will be due to His free instantiation of a particular possible world.

In other words, although God’s knowledge is eternal, His “natural” knowledge of that which must and could be can be said to be a precondition for or logically prior to His middle knowledge of what one would freely choose – in the libertarian sense[3] – given individuating conditions of a possible world. In turn, God’s middle knowledge functions as the precondition for or logically prior to God’s “free” knowledge of that which will occur based on His unconditional decree by which He effects the conditions for a particular possible world.

The important idea is that divine middle knowledge as believed by Molinists is with respect to self-determined human choices which would be exercised given the conditions of a particular possible world (including this one). The important question, again, is whether or not an adequate explanation can be provided as to how God could from eternity know what humans would choose in a given possible world by means other than His own determination.

The “grounding objection” to Molinism has consistently been cited as the greatest obstacle to its acceptance. The issue is this: God doesn’t determine what humans freely choose; what possible conditions God could instantiate would not themselves determine what humans would freely choose, though they may limit what could be chosen. It is clear that if one possesses a libertarian free will, nothing extrinsic to him would cause what he would choose in a given possible world.

Hence, on the assumption that humans possess libertarian free will, the question is begged as to how a contingent object of divine middle knowledge – i.e. that person X would choose Y given particular antecedent conditions Z – is certain. An answer was provided by the father of Molinism, who wrote that middle knowledge is:

…the knowledge through which God, before he decides to create a being endowed with free choice, foresees what that being would do on the hypothesis that it should be placed in a particular order of things – this knowledge depends on the fact that the being in its freedom do this or that, and not the other way around.[4]

Human choices are self-determined. Thus, free choices to which God’s middle knowledge corresponds are the grounds for God’s middle knowledge itself. But this has an interesting implication:

…for Molina’s concept to function, the conditions standing prior to the contingent event must be understood as not merely possible, but as having some sort of actuality or quasi-actuality apart from the divine willing – inasmuch as the point is… that God knows what will occur contingently upon certain conditions lying outside of his will: these conditions are not mere possibility nor divinely will actuality, but foreknown conditions, foreknown as actual apart from the decree, at least for the sake of stating the contingency.[5]

That is, if a person’s choices are the result of libertarian free will, God knows what X would choose “on the hypothesis” of Z only if God quasi-instantiates Z such that X is in a position to, after deliberating possible alternatives, choose Y. [That God would quasi-instantiate Z rather than actually instantiate Z follows when it is remembered that God’s middle knowledge is under consideration, not His free knowledge]. Because Molinists believe in a doctrine of libertarian free will, man’s choice is naturally to be considered the means by which it becomes evident what X would choose from the sphere of what it would be possible for X to choose.

Perhaps the reader may think the grounding objection has now been defeated, since an account has been offered as to how God can know the truth value of a counter-factual of creaturely freedom. Parenthetically, it might even be relevant to the possibility of a multiverse, which is (from what I have read) a hot topic on this blog.

However, the explanation comes at an unaffordable price: “…things contingent, till they are determined to come to passe, or not to come to passe, are not knowable that they shall come to passe, nor are knowable that they shall not come to passe.”[6] It is trivial to observe that God’s middle knowledge is not natural knowledge, and one cannot argue that what a man would freely choose in a given possible world could be necessitated by factors external to the exercise of his own will. But on Molinism,

…there are two phases, as it were, of the divine knowing of an event prior to his willing it – namely, that God first knows an entire possible world in an indeterminate way, as containing (possibly!) both an event and its contrary (scientia necessaria), and then knows by scientia media the outcome of the contingency or free choice were he to actualize that world, with the result that God in (or, indeed, temporally subsequent to) his actualization can also introduce other factors into that world order that are consequent on his knowing of the particular outcome.[7]

The problem, then, is that prior to the point in quasi-instantiated Z at which it can be discerned that X would actually choose Y – viz. when X chooses Y – it can legitimately be claimed X could have chosen not-Y, for that is what libertarian free will entails. Arguing that God’s knowledge is predicated upon the outcome of what a person would choose in quasi-instantiated Z is just a roundabout way of saying that the purpose of the quasi-instantiation of Z is that God can observe and thereby learn that X would, in fact, determine to choose Y. This is, of course, incompatible with the biblical doctrine of an eternally omniscient God.

On the other hand, to insist God knew X would choose Y at the point it was possible that X could have chosen not-Y is intuitively untenable and can be quickly demonstrated. “There must be a causal determination that moves any future contingent from the realm of mere possibility into the realm of actuality…”[8] On Molinism, this causal determination is the free choice of X. What possibilities X could choose are eliminated only when X chooses Y given [quasi-]instantiated Z. Only at that point is it certain X would choose Y in Z.

This is why Molina recognized that the way in which God possesses determinate middle knowledge would be by “foresee[ing] what that being would do on the hypothesis that it should be placed in a particular order of things – this knowledge depends on the fact that the being in its freedom do this or that, and not the other way around.” These points are wholly contrary to the suggestion that God could know X would choose Y given Z apart from foreseeing the self-determination of such, as that would mean God’s knowledge is not dependent on anything external to Himself.

To conclude, there can be no middle knowledge, no human indeterminacy, and no eternal priority of contingencies to any facet of God’s knowledge.


[1] Gordon Clark, Predestination, pg. 39.

[2] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 417.

[3] cf. Luis de Molina, Concordia, Disputation 2.

[4] Luis de Molina, Concordia, Disputation 52.10.

[5] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 421.

[6] William Twisse, A Discovery of D. Jackson’s Vanity, pg. 338.

[7] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 430.

[8] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 424.

August 25th, 2011

The Incompatibility of Middle Knowledge and Libertarian Freedom

by Max Andrews

The following is a guest blog post by Roger Turner, a Philosophy Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee.

If you’re a Molinist—at any rate, if you believe that God has middle knowledge—you believe that God knows whether or not any given counterfactual, or subjunctive conditional is true.  What’s more, you probably believe this because you think it helps make clear how it is possible that humans can act freely even though God knows, before they act, how they’ll act.  And you probably want to have some grasp on how all that works because you’re a libertarian with respect to freedom.  That is, you think that determinism and free will are incompatible, but you believe that divine foreknowledge and free will are compatible.  If you are a libertarian, you think that indeterminism is true.  In other words, you think that the theses ‘the conjunction of the past and laws of nature entails a unique future’ and ‘nobody has a choice about the future because nobody has a choice about what God foreknows’ are false.  So, the idea of middle knowledge seems to be the best way to duck and dodge the relevant snares.  But there’s a puzzle here.  There appears to be a significant tension between one’s being a libertarian about freedom, and one’s being a Molinist.  In what follows, I hope to illuminate the problem.

Take your friend, Jones.  If you believe God has middle knowledge, you probably believe that, if you were to ask God what Jones would do in such and such a circumstance, God would know the answer to your question.  God would respond, so you think, with something like the following:  “If Jones were in C, he would freely A.”  And you’d feel pretty confident that God’s having answered this way fails to undermine Jones’s freedom because you think that God’s belief about whether or not Jones A’s in C depends on Jones and whether or not Jones A’s in C and not the other way around (i.e. Jones’s Aing in C doesn’t depend on God’s knowing that, if Jones were in C, he would A).

Quick question, though: what is the truth value of a subjunctive conditional if indeterminism is true?  Here’s why I ask.  If a particular event is an indeterminate event (that is, the event is undetermined) the odds of that event’s happening are something like 50/50.  So, take Jones again and his being in C and whether or not he A’s.  If Jones’s Aing is undertermined, then he’s just as likely to A as he is to not-A given his being in C and an identical past up to the point of his being in C.  This is what indeterminism implies.  Given Jones’s past from t0 to the present moment, the moment just before he acts, Jones is supposed to be just as free to refrain from Aing as he is to A.  It can’t be the case, for example, that, if Jones is libertarianly free, he’d be more likely to A, given his past (or other conditions beyond his control), than he would be to refrain from Aing.  Because if that’s the case, then he’s got factors that are out of his control which bear on whether or not he A’s.  And this would absolve Jones of (at least part of) his responsibility for Aing (or refraining from A).  If we’re libertarians (and we usually are if we believe God has middle knowledge), then we think Jones has just as much chance of Aing, given that he’s in C, as he does refraining from A.

Okay, back to the question about the truth value of a subjunctive conditional given the truth of indeterminism.  The subjunctive conditional (this thing:  €®) expresses what would happen in the closest-by, relevant possible worlds.  So, take Jones again.  And express the proposition ‘if Jones were in C, he would freely A’ as follows:

JC nec. €→ A

The way this is typically read is something like this: in all the closest-by C worlds (i.e. the worlds in which Jones is in C), Jones A’s.  But this implies that it’s not indeterminate what Jones would do in C.  It’s not indeterminate because we can “zoom-out” and see which C worlds are the closest to the actual world.  And, just by doing that, we can see that in any C world that is most closely related to the actual world, Jones A’s.  The odds aren’t 50/50 given the truth of the subjunctive conditional; the closest-by C worlds are such that Jones A’s.  So, if Jones is in C, though it’s not necessary that he A—there are, after all, possible worlds where he’s in C but doesn’t A; they’re just further off—he’ll A.  He’ll A because there is a group of possible C worlds—those closest-by to the actual world—where he A’s.  And whether or not Jones is in a closest-by C world has nothing to do with Jones!  It’s beyond Jones’s control as to whether or not he’s in one of the closest-by C worlds.

But, wait.  On the libertarian view, indeterminism is true; that is, determinism is false.  Jones must, to be libertarianly free, be just as likely to A, in C, as he is to refrain from A.  That is, Jones must be equally likely to refrain from Aing as he is to A in all C worlds.  It can’t be the case that the proximity of the C world to the actual world determines whether or not Jones A’s.  But, if the subjunctive conditional (this bit:  JC nec. €→A) is true, then it can’t be that Jones was just as likely to refrain from Aing in C as he was to A in C.

So, if indeterminism is true, the subjunctive conditional must be false.  The answer, then, to the above question ‘what is the truth value of the subjunctive conditional if indeterminism is true?’: the truth value of the subjunctive conditional, if indeterminism is true, is False.  But this means that it’s false that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A.  And what’s more, it’s false that if Jones were in C, then he would freely refrain from Aing.  And since God can’t have any false beliefs, he can’t believe that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A is true, nor can he believe that if Jones were in C, then he would freely refrain from Aing.  He can’t believe this because it’s false that if Jones were in C he would freely A and it’s false that if Jones were in C he would freely refrain from Aing.  It’s false because there is no would to it; indeterminism implies that the proximity of the worlds in which Jones is in C has no bearing on whether or not Jones A’s.  It has no bearing because, in all C worlds, Jones is just as likely to refrain from Aing as he is to A.

The upshot of all this is that if it’s true that if Jones were in C, he would freely A, then Jones was not libertarianly free to A.  Some factor that wasn’t up to Jones made it the case that his particular C world was closer to the actual world than some other C world, some other C world where he refrains from Aing.  And this implies that, if it’s true that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A, then libertarianism is false.  At any rate, it implies that if the subjunctive conditional is true, then God’s middle knowledge rules out our acting in a libertarianly free way.

So, either you are a Molinist—at any rate, you believe that God has middle knowledge—or you are a libertarian.  But you can’t be both.  So the argument goes, anyway.