5 Point Molinists & Pervasive Confusion

I have been convinced for well over a decade not only that many professing Calvinists are latent Molinists but that most are.

Here we find what I believe to be a representative sample of how Calvinists relate free will to the decree of God. The author of the piece earned a Masters in Divinity (minor in Systematic Theology) and his Doctorate at a renowned Baptist theological seminary.

I’ll interact below with pertinent excerpts from the piece, though it brings me no pleasure to do so. It’s actually rather discouraging for me, which might explain why I’ve procrastinated for nearly a month on offering this brief interaction after having recently read the five year old piece.

Sadly, the post can be found on the Founders Ministries website, an organization “committed to encouraging the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches.”

With respect to the human will, the confession states, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (2LCF 3.1). To understand what this means, it is critical to understand the meaning of the word “contingency.” J.V. Fesko explains:

Contingency does not mean that something does not have a cause, as Jonathan Edwards argued. Rather, it means that something could be otherwise. God’s decree, for example, is contingent in the sense that he was under no external or internal necessity to decree anything – He was free to decree and free not to decree

(A common error among Calvinists is that they aren’t acquainted with the distinction between contingent truths and decretive metaphysical necessity.)

When Edwards spoke of contingency in this respect, he was correct. The contingency of Arminian freedom implies a pure spontaneity that renders choices causeless (thereby morally irrelevant). Yet this Arminian notion of human freedom is now pervasive among Calvinists, that a choice could be otherwise.

In the immediate context of God having been free to decree and free to not decree, the author claims that the same is true of free human choices.

The same is true of free human choices. When human beings choose freely, the confession says they have the ability to choose other than what they chose.

The Confession says no such thing; nor does it imply the Arminian notion of “the ability to choose other than what they chose.” That’s libertarian freedom of the non-Frankfurt variety!^

In the chapter on divine providence, the confession says that God orders all things “to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently” (2LCF 5.2). God decrees contingent things without imposing any necessity upon them. His decree renders contingent things certain but not necessary.

(I ache in the depths of my soul.) Reformed scholastics and contemporary compatibilists appreciate that certainty presupposes causal necessity.#.

In the case of sin, human beings can always choose otherwise, but God’s decree makes their choice certain.

That sentiment is straight out of the Molinist play book. Molinism affirms both the certainty of the fruition of the divine decree and the ultimate sourcehood essential to choosing otherwise.+ (Given the Edward’s remark, I doubt we can salvage the “can always choose otherwise” with the conditional analysis of classical compatibilism. Surely there’s no basis to read into the statement an Edwardsian use of hypothetical ability.)

Surely something must ensure the certainty of choices if they’re to be certain at all. What ensures their certainty is not some vague notion of “God’s decree” but rather the causal necessity that God’s decree contemplates; yet that is precisely what the author denies by denying causal necessity and positing ability to choose otherwise. Certainty presupposes not ability but inability to choose otherwise. Certainty presupposes causality.

Whatever the Confession is looking to teach by “necessarily, freely or contingently”* we may not separate those concepts from the explicit statement that immediately precedes those adverbs. Those things that fall out in such a way that make them certain do so according to the nature of “second causes”. Now surely where there is cause, there is effect. And where there is cause and effect, there is causal necessity!

With respect to human freedom, the Reformed tradition on the matter of volition entails a metaphysic of causal necessity. Accordingly, to say that God’s “decree renders contingent things certain but not necessary” is not only confused – it bespeaks incompatibilism. What is being offered as a Reformed understanding of the mechanics of choosing is that freedom is incompatible with causal necessity, which is an outright denial of a Reformed view of compatibilism – a view that human freedom is compatible with the causal necessity of Causal Divine Determinism.

This means that “certainty” and “contingency” are not mutually exclusive.

Not so. In the sense that contingency is being employed by the author – as the ability to choose contrary to how one would – it most surely is incompatible with certainty and consequently exhaustive omniscience. (Enter Open Theism)

After private interaction with one Augustinian thinker, it has become clear to me that it is believed by some that by virtue of God decreeing a counterfactual true it, therefore, becomes a necessary truth, which in turn makes it an object of natural knowledge. That is simply wrong by definition and entails dualistic implications, not unlike Molinism. Perhaps the renown Reformed philosopher doesn’t recognize that non-necessary contingent truths can be decreed as causally necessary. Other Augustinian thinkers more steeped in contemporary taxonomy, analytic philosophy and philosophical theology will grasp the error and its implications immediately.

^ The ability to do otherwise is not a necessary condition for libertarian freedom as long as the agent performing the choice is not caused to do it other than by herself. There are Frankfurt libertarians who subscribe to agent causation.

# What’s commonly missed is that contingent truths can be causally necessary. In other words, a counterfactual can be causally necessary without being necessarily true. That distinction is surprisingly missed by many Reformed compatibilists who have a seat at the Free Will discussion table.

+ God can, by decreeing to place just those persons in just those circumstances, bring about His ultimate purposes through free creaturely decisions. William Lane Craig, Molinist

* In passing we might note that a consistently Reformed rendering of caused effects falling out “necessarily, freely or contingently” is to apply those descriptors to (a) physical laws of nature, (b) human intentions and (c) apparent chance, respectively: Genesis 8:22; Proverbs 4:23; Deuteronomy 19:5