An Essential Tenet Of Reformed Theology *Is* Determinism. The Reformed Need To Embrace It.

When it comes to the question of whether Reformed theology entails a principle of determinism, either disagreement abounds among Reformed theologians or else many within the tradition are talking by each other.

Perhaps some are in theological agreement over this essential aspect of Reformed theology while expressing themselves in conflicting ways. Perhaps. Regardless, there is no less a need to adopt a uniform theological taxonomy by which such theological ideas and concepts can be articulated and evaluated.

Semantics or substantive disagreement?

R.C. Sproul denied determinism yet affirmed “self-determination.” Sproul also rejected spontaneity of choice, whereas Douglas Kelly has favored it. Tom Nettles favors determinism whereas Burk Parsons was relieved to learn it is not an entailment of Reformed Theology. Richard Muller has claimed that Reformed theology does not entail a form of determinism. D.A. Carson and Muller disagree on the freedom to do otherwise. John Frame, James Anderson, and Paul Manata recognize that Reformed theology operates under a robust principle of determinism.

Either we are in need of tightening up our theology within the Reformed tradition or else we need to get a better handle on our terminology. (With the exception of one from above, I am hopeful that there might be general theological agreement yet without clarity of articulation.)

Back to the 1800s:

19th century Princeton Theological Seminary theologian A.A. Hodge rightly taught that Arminians deny that God determines free willed actions whereas “Calvinists affirm that [God] foresees them to be certainly future because he has determined them to be so.” For Hodge, “the plan which determines general ends must also determine even the minutest element comprehended in the system of which those ends are parts.” (WCF 3.1.2)

Reformed theology entails not merely a doctrine of determinism but a principle of exhaustive determinism. Specifically, causal divine determinism is at the heart of Reformed theology.

As the label “causal divine determinism” suggests, adherence to a Reformed understanding of determinism does not consign one to a secular view of bare causal determinism let alone fatalism. Causal divine determinism does not contemplate impersonal laws of nature or relations of cause and effect that are intrinsically necessary. Nor does causal divine determinism mean that God always acts directly. Rather, “God…makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.” (WCF 5.2) Indeed, “second causes [aren’t] taken away, but rather established.” (WCF 3.1)

How exhaustively detailed is causal divine determinism?

The decree of God is so exceedingly all-encompassing that for Hodge God “determines the nature of events, and their mutual relations.” In other words, impersonal laws of cause and effect do not impinge upon God, for there are none! Rather, God gives all facts their meaning and in doing so determines how A would effect B. Surely God could have actualized a world in which the boiling point of water is other than it is!

Common examples – physical and metaphysical causal relationships:

If causal divine determinism is true, then God is not confined to work from mysteriously scripted means of possibility imposed by necessary conditional relationships that are intrinsically causal without reference to God’s free determinate counsel. No, God’s creativity is independent. God is the ultimate source of possibility.

Consider that liquid water freezes at 0 degrees C. (No need to get into pressure, additives, purity and nucleation centers etc.) Does God know this fact of nature according to his natural knowledge or his free knowledge? In other words, is this a necessary truth or could it have been different? What grounds such truth – God’s nature, his determinative will, or something external to God? From whence does God source the objects of his knowledge?

What do fish and ponds have to do with this?

Water at 4 degrees C is at its highest density, which means that at that precise point it will expand whether it is heated or cooled. Must that causal relationship necessarily hold true under identical circumstances? Or, could God have determined that water continue to become increasingly dense as it is cooled below 4 degrees C? Hopefully we recognize that God was not constrained to provide fish a safe haven in winter. God could have determined that the density of water continue to increase upon cooling it below 4 degrees C, in which case ice would not rise to the top.

God’s freedom relates to our freedom:

We can apply God’s creative decree to the analysis of human freedom as well. With respect to our doctrine of concurrence we can employ the same concepts of contingency, possibility, necessity and causality when considering how God knows the free choices of men. Indeed we should.

Given an identical state of affairs, God is free to determine that a fragrance or song from yesteryear causally produces a particular disposition to act freely. Yet the precise disposition of the will that would obtain is ultimately determined by God alone.

Under the same conditions (or relevant states of affairs) God can ensure any number of free choices. In the context of hearing a song, God can actualize that one causally, yet freely, looks at an old photo album, picks up the phone to call someone or something else. These alternative possibilities are not contingent upon libertarian creaturely freedom for their actualization, but rather they are true possibilities that God is free to determine as he purposes. Free moral agents participate with God’s purpose by divine decree and meticulous providence, and not by autonomous spontaneity of choice. The unhappy alternative is God’s foreknowledge is impinged upon by uninstantiated essences, making his sovereign purpose eternally reactive and opportunistic.

In short, God determines the free choices of men. Indeed he can do no other! Consequently, God’s exhaustive divine foreknowledge is based upon his having exhaustively determined whatsoever comes to past including the causes that incline the human will. For God to foreknow choices presupposes his determination of their antecedent causes. Yet no violation to the creature is entailed by God’s determination of antecedent causes. God’s determination of our choices is compatible with our freedom and responsibility. Notwithstanding, God must casually ensure the outcome in order to foreknow the outcome. Yet the outcome is consistent with the person, for God is good.

The current Reformed landscape:

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, a growing number of Calvinists are unwittingly libertarian Calvinists. Many affirm the “five points” yet believe that in other instances we are free to choose otherwise. The logical trajectory of such a philosophical-theology denies (a) the determinative basis for God’s exhaustive omniscience, (b) the future surety of his decree, and (c) God’s independence and unique eternality.

If Christians are not affirming causal divine determinism, they are implicitly denying Reformed theology’s coherent and explanatory grounding of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of contingent free choices. Consequently, whether self-consciously or not, they are implicitly affirming a form of incompatibilism, which in the context of moral responsibility entails libertarian freedom. With libertarian freedom comes a theology proper that is highly improper, and a theory of responsibility that lacks moral grounding.

Let’s address some common misunderstandings along with some implications entailed by the denial of causal divine determinism:

1. Free Will:

Can’t we choose otherwise, surely Adam could have!

How many times have we heard it? Maybe we’ve even said it!

To illustrate the disagreement on matters of the determinative decree as it relates to free will, consider the two quotes below.

Adam alone had the power of contrary choice. He lost it in the fall, making his will enslaved to sin. Hence, all his posterity are enslaved to sin. Their will also is enslaved to sin.

Lane Keister

I don’t know how many times I have asked candidates for licensure and ordination whether we are free from God’s decree, and they have replied ‘No, because we are fallen.’ That is to confuse libertarianism (freedom from God’s decree, ability to act without cause) with freedom from sin. In the former case, the fall is entirely irrelevant. Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense. But freedom from sin is something different. Adam had that before the fall, but lost it as a result of the fall.

John Frame

Kevin DeYoung is correct here, “Arminians argue that we have a libertarian free will, which simply put means that we have the power of contrary choice…” So, whether the other Keister understands this or not, he has asserted that before the fall Adam had freedom in the libertarian sense. Therefore, Frame or Keister is incorrect, and it’s not Frame.*

Although those two opposing views might appear inconsequential because the prelapsarian state has expired, it’s worth addressing because the first quote is a common sentiment among theologically trained (as Frame notes) and has far reaching metaphysical and theological implications with respect to possibility, responsibility, truth-makers and truth-bearers, God’s exhaustive omniscience and more.

Regarding the view of Keister- his point has significant consequences that transcend pre and post fall ontology. In other words, if Adam had libertarian freedom while in a state of innocence (as the pastor wrongly asserts), then there’s no reason to believe we don’t have such freedom today given that libertarian freedom is by definition not nature dependent. (That’s hardly controversial among philosophical theologians whether Reformed or not.) Needless to say, clarity within the Reformed tradition is needed and overdue.

Let’s be clear, if Adam could have freely chosen not to eat of the forbidden fruit, then God’s decree could have failed. God’s decree could not have failed. Therefore, Adam could not have freely chosen not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Modus Tollens**

Regardless of the lapsarian state under consideration, even though free moral agents would never choose contrary to God’s foreknowledge and decree, an ability to do so would undermine moral responsibility and betray orthodox theology proper.

If we can’t choose otherwise, how can we be free and responsible?

That we are responsible is indubitable. Therefore, if libertarian freedom is a philosophical surd, then from a Christian perspective free will is compatible with the determinative causal nature of God’s decree. In other words, our freedom is of another kind than the freedom to choose otherwise.

Without an intention to act there is no act of the will. When an act of the will occurs, the intentional choice is consummated. Both components of the choice obtain. An intention to act gives way to the actual act the intention contemplates. We may say the intention of the moral agent is the immediate or proximate cause of the act. The act is effected by the agent’s intention.

Now then, what causes an intention to act? If it’s a chosen intention, then what causes the intention to choose the intention to act? (Regress)

Agent causation?

Here’s a libertarian solution to the regress conundrum. It’s called agent causation. Rather than choosing our intentions, the agent simply causes it.

The ability to choose otherwise would destroy moral accountability, for how can the pure spontaneity of agent causation produce morally relevant choices? With agent causation comes a break in the causal nexus whereby the agent becomes the ultimate source of his intention to act. Such autonomous independence and regulative control would detach influence, reason, and relevant history from intentions and willed actions. By implication the agent rises above all influences, where-from a posture of dispositional equilibrium forms intentions from a functionally blank past. In other words, given the liberty of indifference that agent causation contemplates, choices would be unmapped to personal history, entailing a radical break from the person doing the choosing.

Nobody rationally determines intentions in a libertarian construct. There’d be no reason to guard the heart for we’d be able to kick inconvenient habits spontaneously according to a will that’s impervious to causal influences. Such radical spontaneity would result in pure randomness of choice, destroying moral relevance by detaching choice from person. In a split moment we should expect to see saints behaving like devils, and devils like saints. The implications of non-decretive metaphysical contingency of choice demand it! Any libertarian appeal to will formation does not comport with libertarian freedom. Libertarians may not have their cake and eat it too. Autonomous freedom precludes moral responsibility.

2. Doctrine of God:

As a point of orthodoxy, does God know how we will choose because he knows us inside and out? And besides, doesn’t God’s transcendence enable his infallible foreknowledge? Doesn’t God know the future because the future is all before him?

If God knows how we would freely choose in certain circumstances because of his intimate insight into our make-up or vis-a-vis his transcendent relation to time, then in both cases God would be eternally informed by uninstantiated essences or timeless beings. God’s knowledge of possible metaphysical (actualizeable) counterfactuals of creaturely freedom would not be according to his natural knowledge. Accordingly, God’s knowledge of what he could freely actualize would be eternally sourced from outside himself. Such knowledge of possibilities would not be natural (i.e., based upon what God knows he can do). Nor would God’s knowledge of how we would choose be solely based upon his free determinative will in the context of what he intuitively knows are possibilities of actualization. Rather, how we would choose would be an object of God’s middle knowledge – knowledge obtained from something other than God himself. There would be no grounding of the eternal truth bearing proposition that God knows. Counterfactuals of creaturely freedom would assume the divine property of self-existence! The eternal truth that you would freely read this article exists without any beginning, source or truth maker.

In simpler terms, if God’s determinate counsel does not eternally ground his foreknowledge of free choices, what eternal (God-like) entity does? (Implicit heresy)

3. Special pleading that certain sufficient conditions are not to be considered causes when prior to freely willed acts:

Molinists like to point to Jesus’ rebuke of the inhabitants of Chorazin and Bethsaida as proof of God’s Middle Knowledge – for had Jesus performed the same miracles in Tyre and Sidon that he had performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon would have repented. The prima facie interpretation of the text is not that Jesus was revealing how others would have responded to those same miracles. Rather, the immediate inference is that inhabitants of Israel were even more hardened to revelatory truth than pagans (and will accordingly be counted more culpable on the day of judgment). It was a rebuke, not a nod toward Middle Knowledge!

Yet aside from the obvious, let’s run with the Molinist interpretation and see where it gets us. Consider possible world Wp with the exact same relevant state of affairs as actual world Wa up to time t. At t in Wp, Jesus performs in Tyre and Sidon the same exact miracles from Wa that he performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida at t. The result in Tyre and Sidon is repentance. If that is not causality, what is? Remove the miracles, no repentance. Introduce the miracles, repentance. Remove the miracles, no repentance. Introduce the miracles, repentance… Like a light being switched on and off, the miracles would have causally triggered repentance. If not, then what? Would the miracles have triggered (inexplicable) agent causation? Even if so, how would that not cash out as causal divine determinism given exhaustive omniscience and purpose? The only escape hatch is that the miracles trigger nothing in Wp, but that would prove too much, as it would highlight the randomness and, consequently, moral irrelevance of libertarian freedom.

4. The two-fold ambition of radical freedom and exhaustive omniscience:

Open Theists deny God’s exhaustive omniscience because they rightly grasp (along with robust Calvinists) that the freedom to do otherwise is not compatible with it. Sadly, their consistency leads to confessional heresy, whereas libertarian Calvinists and Molinists are happily inconsistent and only doctrinally heretical by way of theological implication, not confession of faith. (Open Theists are quick to point out that God’s foreknowledge is not lacking; it’s just that in eternity there’s nothing yet to know about certain future occurrences.)

Let’s see how Molinism and libertarian Calvinism leads to heresy:

In order to lay claim on the doctrine of God’s exhaustive omniscience there must be a surety to future choices. Yet in order to maintain that free choices are not causally determined by God, it must also be considered true that free choices can be otherwise. The question is, how can both be true? How can God know a future choice that truly might be otherwise? The simple answer is he cannot. Mystery cannot solve true contradiction.

An undetermined libertarian free choice implies that what would occur under certain circumstances might not occur under those exact same circumstances. So, although it can be true that Jones would freely choose the taco if offered it under a specific set of circumstances, it is supposedly true that Jones might not freely choose the taco if offered it in those identical circumstances. (In passing we might simply observe that <Jones might not freely choose the taco> is a contrary truth relative to <Jones would freely choose the taco>. Since both can’t be true, at least one must be false and both can’t be known. [The critique readily applies to Adam prior to the fall.])

This is where Molinism becomes most creative.

Only God can possibly define the limits of possibility. Therefore, in Reformed theology all possible worlds are actualizable worlds. They are consistent realities that truly might have been (had God so-willed). Within a Reformed compatibilist framework, a reality that is consistent is, therefore, both possible and metaphysically actualizable. In other words, being a possible world is a sufficient condition for God’s ability to make it actual. Not so with Molinism!

Within Molinism the set of possible worlds cannot all be actualized by God. Those possible yet unactualizable worlds are called infeasible worlds. Molonist William Lane Craig explains.

Notice that because counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are contingently true, which worlds are feasible for God and which are infeasible is also a contingent matter. It all depends on how creatures would freely behave in various circumstances, which is beyond God’s control.

Possibility of actualization for God is creature-dependent within Molinism. Consequently, Molinism allows for some narrowly-logical possibilities that are purely theoretical – so much so that God cannot know them as actualized realities. These alleged possibilities could be actualized a whopping zero number of times, even though there are an “infinite number” of these possibilities. This statistic is all the more striking when we consider the spontaneity of purely random libertarian freedom! At the very least, if we could freely choose contrary to how God knows we would choose, wouldn’t somebody have done it by now? (Complete the reductio.) The philosophical conundrum is apparent. In what meaningful sense are such possibilities possible?

Because Molinism denies that God determines the free choices of his creatures, free choices are beyond God’s control. Such free choices, being beyond God’s control, cannot be causally ensured by God’s decree. Therefore, within a Molinism framework certain possible worlds cannot be actualized by God, yet they are consistent and complete worlds that supposedly might have been. The consistency of such conceptual realities keeps them possible, whereas ungrounded counterfactuals of creaturely freedom determine whether such worlds can be made actual (are feasible). Astonishing? Well, that’s where libertarian Calvinism takes us but without the sophistication of Molinism.

A delicious irony according to the two-fold ambition:

It was noted earlier that from a Reformed perspective a possible world is a sufficient condition for God’s ability to actualize it. In other words, all possible worlds are feasible worlds. So, although Molinism parks certain consistent realities “that might have been” in the semantic land of possible-infeasible worlds, if we treat their actualizable worlds like Reformed ones (as the only metaphysically relevant ones that are within Divine reach) we can see that all Molinist would-counterfactuals functionally reduce to necessary truths. That’s because states of affairs are sufficient conditions for actualizable choices (from point 3 above), which is not the case in Reformed philosophical theology.

In Reformed philosophical-theology compatibilist counterfactuals of creaturely choices are contingently true because God is their truth maker and relevant states of affairs are not intrinsically or necessarily causal. Again, “God is free to determine that a fragrance or song from yesteryear causally produces a particular disposition to act freely. Yet the precise disposition of the will that would obtain is determined by God alone.” Whereas with Molinism, eternal selfexisting facts(!) about creaturely freedom, although claimed to be contingent, are unalterably fixed in order that they might be eternally true, so that they might be divinely known, apart from being determined by the only possible Source of eternal truth.(Again, implicit heresy)

For the Reformed, being a possible world is a sufficient condition for it being actualizable. That is not a tenet of Molinism. Yet if it is true (as Reformed thought claims) that possibility entails possible actualization, then there is something inconsistent with possible-infeasible worlds, which would disqualify them as possible worlds. That inconsistency is rooted in Molinism’s claim of contingent CCFs. What is claimed as metaphysically possible never would obtain in infinite trials. Yet molinism claims such possibilities could obtain. But if they could – yet never would obtain, then in what sense could they?!

Molinism cannot bridge the possible-actualizable chasm because Molinism posits possible-infeasibilities, which are ungrounded truths about facts that are impossible for God to believe as possible, let alone as actualized. Accordingly, such truths cannot exist. They are impossibilities because they have no source!

From a biblically informed philosophical-theology, only causal divine determinism can adequately account for and reconcile foreknowable contingent-truths that are of any moral consequence. Only Reformed theology upholds God’s freedom and man’s freedom. Only Reformed theology upholds the Creator-creature distinction.

5. To deny causal divine determinism is to (a) deny that God causes one to differ from another and (b) limit God’s and man’s free creativity!

All breakthroughs in medicine, science and the arts involve free choices. So, why did Sir James Paul McCartney compose Eleanor Rigby and not Davy Jones? Was Paul’s intention a result of God’s determination or does Paul merit glory? (No, that’s not a false dilemma when we fill in other biblical truths.)

If God wants his creatures to freely advance in medicine for the common good of society, within Molinism God might be restrained to fulfill only half his desire. We may gain the desired medicines God intends, though it might require making robots out of scientists because nobody would freely cooperate in a “praiseworthy” manner. Both God and man are limited by man’s libertarian freedom. Whereas Reformed theology teaches that man’s limits are dependent upon God’s limitlessness to do all his holy will. (In Reformed theology, God determines the free actions of his creatures.)

If we deny causal divine determinism, then we imply that God’s desire to bless us with good things is limited by uncooperative creatures. Sure, from a libertarian perspective God could turn a person into a robot by determining his will, but then what about true inspiration, covenantal relationship and responsibility?

The bottom line is, if causal divine determinism is false, then God’s creative purposes are subject to undetermined possibilities and creation.

6. Inconsistency regarding causality and responsibility:

It’s interesting that many libertarians subscribe to properly basic beliefs that are formed in us but not strictly by us, which they’d say we are nonetheless morally responsible to live by. But how can such incompatibilists consistently maintain that we can justly be held responsible for such unwilled beliefs if we may not be held responsible for causally determined intentions? After all, wouldn’t unwilled beliefs be causally formed in us beyond our ultimate control no less than any externally caused intention to choose? From an evangelical libertarian perspective, why would an infidel be responsible for a causally formed belief in God but not a causally formed intention to choose one sin over a lesser one? In fact, she heartily approves of the latter whereas the former is an inconvenience, which she suppresses because it doesn’t meet with her approval!

Time to wrap things up. How are we free, by the way?

We are free and morally responsible when in possession of certain cognitive capacities that produce different acts given different states of affairs. Freedom is accompanied by dispositional powers to try to choose according to our cognitive faculties. The capstone of our freedom comes in having been endowed with a “mesh” of first and second-order desires (desires to act and the ability to approve of such desires), which differentiate us from creatures of brute instinct, and perhaps those who act according to addictions and phobias too.

It’s difficult to imagine any sensible person thinking we need more than such compatibilist freedom to be held responsible. It’s seems intuitive enough that compatibilist freedom provides sufficient conditions for moral responsibility. I don’t think many Christians would look much further than to those general conditions for responsibility if determinism wasn’t part of the discussion. In other words, if we merely summarize the essence of freedom as the possession of certain cognitive capacities and dispositional powers that produce different willed and self-approved acts given different states of affairs, who’d object? Such freedom would seem to entail moral responsibility. Now introduce determinism and then people feel the need to scramble for something additional to save moral responsibility, but it’s not because compatibilist freedom is intuitively lacking in this regard. That God determines free choices doesn’t somehow take away what makes them free in the first place.

The idea of libertarian freedom is merely an attempt to break the chain of determinism for reasons that don’t impinge upon personal responsibility! After all, isn’t an ultimate cause compatible with a proximate cause? Who killed Saul? (1 Chronicles 10:4,6,14)


* Keister might be confusing WCF 9.2 with “the power of contrary choice”, which is libertarian freedom. 

WCF 9.2: “Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well-pleasing to God; but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it.”

With the fall, Adam lost moral ability to not sin. He did not loose something he never had, namely an ability to choose contrary to how (God knows) he would choose.

That Adam could fall does not imply that Adam could choose contrary to how he would choose. Yet if Adam had libertarian freedom, then he could have chosen contrary to how he did. And, if Adam could have chosen contrary to how he did, then Adam could have chosen contrary to God’s decree. The only question left is, could he have?

We can leave the fall out of it. If Adam had libertarian freedom, then prior to the fall he could have chosen to name the animals differently than he did – differently than God decreed he would! Freedom and power happily comply with compatibilist freedom as discussed above, whereas contrary choice is the hallmark of libertarian freedom.

Before and after the fall, every time Adam freely chose he did so according to the decree by exercising dispositional powers to will. But far from affirming a principle of alternative possibilities that would undermine the exhaustive Divine decree, classical compatibilism of the day thought in terms of hypothetical and conditional terms. As I’ve written elsewhere: “Classical compatibilists have tried to work within the strictures of alternative possibilities. Although classical compatibilists don’t affirm a strict ability to do otherwise, they have traditionally affirmed a version of the principle of alternate possibilities (PAP) couched in hypothetical or conditional terms. Although Jane could not have done other than x; she could have done not-x had she willed.”
Later compatibilists employed a different approach: “Rather than speaking in conditional terms: ‘Jane could have done not-x had she willed,’ it was considered advantageous to speak in terms of: ‘If Jane were feeding her baby, she would have married rather than remained single.’ The focus was no longer fixed on hypotheticals that change a fixed future by altering the past – e.g. I could have x’d had I willed to x. Instead the focus shifted to an agent’s power to act in a way that contemplates a different past.”
** I wrote: “if Adam could have freely chosen not to eat of the forbidden fruit, then God’s decree could have failed. God’s decree could not have failed. Therefore, Adam could not have freely chosen not to eat of the forbidden fruit.”

Of course Molinists can counter: although Adam could freely ~x, he would not freely ~x if God knows Adam would not freely ~x. (We can actually leave God’s knowledge out of it. Molinists can simply say: although Adam could freely ~x, he would not freely ~x if it is true that Adam would not freely ~x.)

Perhaps Molinists will gladly concede the philosophical possibility of God’s decree failing while maintaining the actual infeasibility of the same. After all, the possible actualization of ~x would under such circumstances be sufficient for an infeasible world; whereas the contingent nature of the CCF makes such worlds no less possible.

I’m not suggesting that Molinism entails possible worlds that include as a feature that God’s decree does fail - as I don’t think we may impugn Molinism with the charge that possible worlds include the divine decree given that the decree occurs at a later logical moment than the evaluation of a possible world to actualize and, therefore, takes into account all circumstances and subsequent truth values of CCFs. In other words, some possible worlds God would not possibly try to actualize if he somehow knew which were the infeasible ones.

Notwithstanding, Molinist must offer a defense of how God’s decree cannot fail in any world he might actualize, even though Molinism entails that God’s decree would not fail. (This gets to the might vs would counterfactual loophole of Molinism.) Molinism must give an account as to how God’s beliefs about CCFs can rise to the level of foreknowledge given that the contingency of CCFs within their system defy grounded truth values.)

Appealing to God’s middle knowledge of would-counterfactuals begs the question and does not save God from possible fallibility in the context of libertarian freedom in any actualizable or decreed world. (We might note here that God’s foreknowledge would either seem to secure or else presuppose conditions for certainty that do not comport with libertarian freedom. Since knowledge is receptive of truth and not determinative of truth, how are we not strictly dealing with the latter? Foreknowledge presupposes causal conditions, which for causal divine determinists are contingent upon God’s free determination.)

The very notion of the Molinist employment of might-counterfactuals that are contrary to would-counterfactuals demands the philosophical possibility of the decree failing in any actualized world. Of course, that also defeats any legitimate philosophical claim upon the infallibility of the God of Molinism.

Again, given the order of logical moments, I’m happy to concede that no possible world includes the decree. Nonetheless, all possible worlds with true CCFs (i.e., feasible worlds) are subject to a mismatch relative to God’s “foreknowledge” not coming to pass as believed it would.

At the end of the day, how does infallible foreknowledge comport with indeterminism? (Again we can leave divine foreknowledge out of it. How does ungrounded contingent truth comport with truth, which is an object of knowledge?) If one might choose contrary to how God believes one will, why should it be true that one never would? What turns God’s mere belief into knowledge of true CCFs other than God’s free determination, which Molinism denies.

Natural Knowledge or Free Knowledge of CCFs?

Natural Knowledge: God’s knowledge of all necessary truths, including all possibilities logically prior to his creative decree.

Definition from Divine Foreknowledge Four Views, Edited by Beilby & Eddy, page 211.

God knows all possible worlds according to his natural knowledge. Yet many Reformed thinkers tend to extend natural knowledge to the objects of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) within possible worlds. I believe John Frame and Paul Helm are representative:

When God knows possible worlds, does he not also, by virtue of that knowledge, also know all possible creatures and their possible actions? So, from a Reformed point of view, there is no reason why we shouldn’t regard God’s knowledge of contingencies under the category of necessary knowledge.

John Frame, The Doctrine of God, page 503. (By “necessary knowledge” Frame means natural knowledge. He equates them along with knowledge of intellect, page 500.)

Paul Helm is perhaps more precise:

But if God knows what Jones, if placed in circumstances C, would do, then this is surely part of God’s natural knowledge, his knowledge of all necessities and possibilities.

Paul Helm, Shunning Middle knowledge.

It would seem that Frame presupposes the premise that Helm asserts. Frame infers God’s necessary knowledge of CCFs from God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds. The problem is, CCFs are would-counterfactuals and as such do not merely pertain to all possibilities that God would necessarily know. A contingent (decretive) aspect is being overlooked. To know what is generally possible is not to know what would be specifically true. That God necessarily knows all possible worlds does not imply that he knows counterfactual particulars within possible worlds other than freely and as contingently true.

By cataloguing CCFs under God’s natural knowledge as have Frame and Helm, such counterfactuals are relegated either to necessary truths or possibilities. CCFs are either like laws of logic that actually exist in every possible world and could not have been false, or they are akin to potentially actualized realities that necessarily exist as possible, though might never actually exist (other than as abstract possibilities.)

Although my actual existence is not a necessary truth, it’s true that P, <I would, in this possible / actual world (Wp/a) freely type this post if placed under circumstance C> is true. Given that God believes all truth, God eternally knows P. This particular bit of counterfactual knowledge of my typing this post, X, should be considered transworld by such Augustinians as Frame and Helm. The transworld object of knowledge can be dropped into any relevant states of affairs, C, in any possible world, Wpn, so that in Wp1, Wp2, Wp3… God would know X would occur under equally similar Cs in any Wpn given the implied intrinsically causal power of C, which in the thinking of some is relegated to an object of Natural Knowledge. (We will table the question of whether X in C could be contingently related to which Wpn is in view, which I hope will become obvious later.)

This sort of intrinsically causal necessity is understandable among Causal (Nomological) Determinists, but it is an unnecessary and improper concession among Causal Divine Determinists. Has Christian determinism been so influenced by secular philosophy? (See James Anderson site for the various stripes of Determinism.)

When Augustinians catalogue such would-counterfactuals under God’s natural knowledge, what is implied is some sort of necessity for CCFs without which counterfactual knowledge could not obtain. What is implied is that CCFs are logically, metaphysically or in some other sense still indeterminately caused. After all, if some sort of necessity for there to be natural knowledge is not maintained, then C need not result in X, my freely typing this post, under C. In which case, the fixity of the result of C (i.e., the free choice of X) would defy truth value and, therefore, could not be an object of natural knowledge. Hence the need for some sort of necessity within the confines of natural knowledge. Yet, if the grounding of the counterfactual is God’s will, which it is(!), then the counterfactual would be a contingent truth, an object of God’s free knowledge! (NOTE: This is not to posit the metaphysical contingency of libertarianism, which might be confusing some. True CCFs are not necessary truths, otherwise they’d exist necessarily. Notwithstanding, they don’t fall out purely contingently in a metaphysical sense, but rather they become causally necessary by decree, which is not to be confused with something being a necessary truth.)

Like with Molinism, such Augustinians as these, if consistent, are consigned to a view that would entail that any actualizable (truly possible!) world that includes equally similar Cs (i.e., similar relevant states of affairs), always results in X , my freely typing this post. (In passing we might note, even Middle Knowledge entails causality that Molinism cannot avoid. Molinists engage in a type of special pleading when they introduce might-counterfactuals and insist the set of all possible worlds include infeasible worlds!)

Scott Christensen has this to say:

Determinism refers to the idea that all things that occur in our world are necessarily and causally determined by prior conditions. Thus, given specific prior conditions, only one outcome could possibly take place.

Scott Christensen, What About Free Will page 12. (Scott makes a similar error on page 170 and perhaps elsewhere: “God could ordain any variety of outcomes that transpire in the natural world and the human plane of that world. But if he ordained something different to occur, then the preceding conditions would be different as well.” Page 170 (emphasis mine).

What these Augustinians are suggesting is that it’s the relevant states of affairs, circumstances or prior conditions that necessitate free choice. By cataloguing CCFs under natural knowledge, it is (unwittingly?) implied that the effect is ultimately caused by something intrinsic to the nature of C, otherwise God would not know X like he naturally knows all necessary truths and possibilities. Unlike Dabney who wrongly, I argue, attributed this knowledge to “Middle Knowledge” (yet of non-libertarian choices, gratefully!), these Augustinians would like to attribute God’s knowledge of CCFs to his natural knowledge, which would reduce the object of such natural knowledge either to (i) a brute fact or (ii) a reflection of the divine essence (if they’re not freely determined).

Christensen goes on to liken the causality of choice to our living in a “cause-effect universe…” Even offering as an analogy, “When the temperature cools to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it causes water to freeze.” (Page 13.)

Now clearly Christensen is not a physical determinist when it comes to the mechanics of choosing. He’s a soft-determinist. One of the good guys(!), along with Helm and Frame. Notwithstanding, what is implicitly denied by more than a few is that God pre-interprets the particulars that comprise any C, and in doing so freely determines the causal relationship and truth values of counterfactuals. Therefore, with respect to CCFs, these too are a matter of God’s free knowledge, whereas possible counterfactuals are part of God’s natural knowledge. What must be remembered is that from a consistent Augustinian perspective CCFs are would-counterfactuals, not might-counterfactuals. They have definite truth values (albeit they are contingencies), which presuppose a truth maker. As contingencies, these eternal truths cannot be grounded in God’s ontology or natural omniscience, nor in anything outside of God, which only leaves his will of determination, making Divine Knowledge of CCFs a species of free knowledge.

Take liquid water freezing at 0 degrees C. (No need to get into pressure, additives, purity and nucleation centers etc.) Does God know this according to his natural knowledge? Consider that water at 4 degrees C is at its highest density, which means it will expand whether it is heated or cooled. Must that causal relationship necessarily hold true given all relevantly identical circumstances? Could not God have determined that water continue to become increasingly dense as it is cooled below 4 degrees C? (We could just as easily consider the direct relationship of temperature to gas viscosity and the inverse relationship it has to liquid viscosity.)

Now, of course, there are physical “explanations” for these sorts of phenomenon in this world, but the point should be obvious. “Laws of nature” merely map God’s will, which is to say his pre-interpretation of how new facts introduced into relevant states of affairs, fixed circumstances, or existing conditions would effect outcome. If this is true in the material world, how much more should we expect it to hold true when considering what must be considered pre-interpreted facts that are introduced into fixed circumstances…, which result in free choices? The resultant or subsequent abstract thoughts, motives, desires, intentions etc. are not randomly triggered but rather “caused” – yet according to God’s pre-interpretation of the variable(s). God gives causal facts their interpretive meaning. There are no brute facts. As I’ve noted elsewhere, can’t God determine that the same song introduced into equally similar states of affairs, within different possible worlds, result in different formed intentions, ending in, say, freely writing a letter, making a phone call or something else?

By cataloging CCFs under God’s Free Knowledge we rid ourselves of unnecessary, improper or unintended nods toward brute particulars, while being able to maintain that God is the only eternal propositional truth maker. To maintain what I’ve argued against is to imply that God must know that I would type this post under identical circumstances in any possible world! It would imply that necessarily, ice cubes float under identical circumstances in all possible worlds, and fish must necessarily have a place to live under frozen ponds.

In sum:

I argued that the knowability of CCFs are matter of God’s free knowledge, not God’s natural knowledge. Accordingly, given the exact same state of affairs, it is false that antecedent influences for any intention of the will necessitates the same choice in all possible worlds. The contingency of the outcome would not be due to libertarian freedom or a brute fact but rather a matter of God’s preinterpretation of antecedent particulars, which can vary from possible world to possible world according to God’s will. A non-theistic determinist obviously cannot make that claim. She is consigned to the objects of influence as being brute facts. I find many Christian compatibilists have followed that lead by mapping effects to metaphysical causal influences, overlooking God’s free determination of those relationships. Accordingly, they catalog knowledge of CCFs under natural knowledge. *I am inclined to think this misstep would readily be conceded by those who’ve made it. I tend to think their goal is to remove CCFs from Middle Knowledge. The reason CCFs might have been unwittingly parked in Natural Knowledge is because Free Knowledge is often associated merely with God’s eternal decree, not counterfactuals per se. Yet what tends to be missed is counterfactuals are decretive truths that pertain to possible worlds whether actualized or not.

(*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.)

I alluded to in this post and have developed elsewhere that molinists have no claim on contingent CCFs, whereas compatibilists do in that qualified sense I mention above having to do with God’s giving states of affairs their causal interpretation. There’s somewhat a delicious irony here given the fixity of CCFs in all feasible worlds for the molinist position. Their use of Middle Knowledge requires a fixity of causal influences that compatibilism does not. In other words, Molinism entails an impossibility of contrary choice under identical circumstances once we establish that infeasible worlds (ie, unactualizeable worlds) are statistically irrelevant when considering the possibility of choosing otherwise. Jones freely chooses X 100% of the time in an “infinite number” of actualizeable worlds in which Jones freely chooses between X and ~X given C. That’s a necessity quite foreign to Augustinianism.