God’s Knowledge and Necessity Part 5: Calvinism v. Molinism

Recently, I have been studying the topic of Molinism, which some view as an alternative to the classical Reformed understanding of “Compatibilism.” While studying this topic, I contacted a philosopher that has debated this issue in favor of the Molinist view-point and we agreed that the following is not valid:

p1: Necessarily (if God foreknows X, then X will occur).
p2: God foreknows X.
C: Therefore, necessarily (X will occur).

As mentioned in previous posts, just because God perfectly foreknows a future event (event X), and because of this foreknowledge, the event (X) will certainly come to pass, it does not follow that the event in question comes about necessarily. It is not a truth of logic. As noted, we agreed on this point, as have all Calvinistic theologians that I know of since the Reformation. So, this is not new to the Reformed position. What we disagreed on is the basis of that foreknowledge. The Calvinist believes that the foreknowledge of God is based upon His sovereign decree of all things (Isa. 46:9-11, Acts 4:27-28, Eph. 1:11); with the Molinist believing that God has a sort of Middle Knowledge, whereby He can know what a free creature will do in any and all circumstances.

One of the interesting aspects of our discussion took place when this philosopher stated the following;

Thus, when God is said to be delimited by human free will it isn’t because God caves to a libertarian idol, but that God cannot bring about contradictions. God cannot (per impossibile) make someone freely do something. Therefore, God’s inability to create just any possible world is no more a hindrance on His sovereignty than God’s inability to create “a rock so big He can’t lift it” a hindrance on God’s omnipotence. (emphasis mine)

Pay close attention to what is being stated above because this philosopher is claiming that the Law of Non-contradiction (Law of NC) prohibits person “X” from doing freely, what God has decreed in eternity past. This individual buttresses this comment with another example of the Law of NC when he cites God’s inability to create “a rock so big He Can’t lift it…” Now I grant that the latter of these is a violation of the Law of NC. It is a logical impossibility. But, is the former a problem for the Calvinist? Is it a violation of the Law of NC to proclaim that man does what God has ordained and that he does it freely? To figure this out, let us first look at what the Law of NC is. The Law of Non-contradiction states, in general terms, that something cannot be both ‘A’ and ‘Not A’  at the same time and in the same sense. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why God could not in fact create a rock so big that He could not lift it.

But, what about the issue at hand? Is it beyond God’s power that man freely works out what He has previously decreed? Well, it certainly is not a violation of the Law of NC, because on this issue, we are speaking of different senses of the word “can.” The great philosopher Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen states it like this to his seminary class;

Bahnsen: Can I get to California today?

Class: Yes, you can get on an airplane and fly to California.

Bahnsen: Not at all. All the willing of that in the world won’t get me to California today. It’s not within my physical ability to get to California today. What am I getting at when I say that? I’m saying that over and against the conditions, the friction of the world, the strength in my legs and so forth, even if I run as fast as I can, I can’t get to California by midnight tonight. So you see, my saying that I ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ is always ‘can’ over and against what condition. So someone says ‘Of course you can get to California tonight; you get on a plane and you’ll get there on time.’ And that person who says ‘yes, you can’ is speaking of ‘can’ over and against another set of conditions. Over and against another boundary, if you will, of conditions. Namely, the conditions that you have a mechanical device that can go so fast and it’s in good working order and you get to the airport on time and all that. Can you? Well, yes you can. Can you? Well, no you can’t…[the word] ‘can’ has to be understood over and against its condition; over and against the limits you have in mind when you ask a question. http://www.cmfnow.com/search.aspx?find=foreordination&log=false&category=207

In short, what Dr. Bahnsen is stating here is that the Bible teaches that man cannot do other than God has ordained (the question is asked; “’Can’ man do other than God has ordained?” with the answer being, obviously, no. This is speaking in regards to God’s decreedal will and not His prescribed will). But, man can do other than that which he has done. And, these two senses do not in any way conflict with each other or violate the Law of NC because they are different senses of the word “can.” Hence, man is responsible for his actions (God coerces no one to sin) and God’s sovereign decree is seen to be standing. And, both of these teachings are clearly present within the pages of the Bible. Hence, this is not, as the Molinist states, a logical problem for the Calvinist because there is no logical contradiction involved in the Calvinist’s claim of Compatibilism. Rather, this is a metaphysical issue. How does God bring about that someone does what He has ordained, freely, of their own will and without coercion? To quote Dr. Bahnsen; “I don’t know and I don’t own an answer to that question. That just means that God has a lot more power than I do. I don’t know how He parted the Red Sea either and I really don’t know how He’s going to bring about the New Heaven and New Earth.” I believe John Calvin said it best when he proclaimed about the mystery of predestination, the following;

The discussion of Predestination—a subject of itself rather intricate—is made very perplexed, and therefore dangerous, by human curiosity, which no barriers can restrain from wandering into forbidden labyrinths, and from soaring beyond its sphere, as if determined to leave none of the Divine secrets unscrutinized or unexplored . . . First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into Predestination, they penetrate into the inmost recesses of divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity . . . For we know that when we have exceeded the limits of the word, we shall get into a devious and irksome course, in which errors, slips, and falls will be inevitable. Let us then, in the first place bear in mind, that to desire any more knowledge of Predestination than that which is unfolded in the Word of God, indicates as great folly as to wish to walk through impassible roads, or to see in the dark. Nor let us be ashamed to be ignorant of some things relative to a subject in which there is a kind of learned ignorance. (Institutes, Ch. XXI, sect. I, II.)