Evidence of Divine Guidance
June 3, 2008 — 12:04

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Divine Providence Molinism  Comments: 34

In Molinist worlds nothing is left to chance, not even undetermined events. God does not choose any object or person or circumstance randomly in anyone’s life-history. Tom Flint describes the traditional view of providence captured in the Molinist account.

Isn’t it natural to think that He has arranged it so that, not just some things, but everything fits together in such a way that his love is made manifest? Isn’t it natural to think that nothing is left to chance, that nothing haphazard or unexpected from the divine perspective occurs . . .? (p. 13, DPMA).

If God is directing each and every undetermined event toward his chosen goals, then we should not observe a chance pattern in the occurence of those events. We should rather observe evidence of God’s direction. We should find the frequency of undetermined events diverging from their chances. The problem for Molinism is that there is no evidence that God is using counterfactuals of creaturely freedom to direct undetermined events in the world. We simply do not observe any divergence between frequency and chance.


Suppose God were directing micro-events in accordance with his chosen goals. We should expect to find particular instances of, say, radon or uranium or tritium or krypton that differ from other instances in their rates of decay. It is no doubt possible that the frequency with which tritium atoms decay should change radically.

. . . there is some minute present chance that far more tritium atoms will exist in the future than have existed hitherto, and each one of them will decay in only a few minutes. If this unlikely future came to pass, presumably it would complete a chancemaking pattern on which the half-life of tritium would be very much less than the actual 12.26 years (Lewis, HumSuprvncDeBugged, 482)

We should observe some evidence of God’s direction of micro-events in his instantiation of unstable atoms whose rates of decay are not predictable. But we do not find such variation. We do not find good reasons to alter our estimates of the chances of decay for any of these isotopes. So there seems to be no evidence of God’s direction at the micro level. There is no evidence of the frequency of undetermined micro-events diverging from the chance of these events. We observe instead predicable chance patterns. But there ought ot be lots of evidence of God’s direction, since much of the world is indeterministic.

There are chance processes in chemical bonds, in ionization, in the radiation of light and heat, and so on. The processes are pervasive. So much so that not only is the world as a whole indeterministic, but also it can contain few if any deterministic enclaves. (59 Counterfact. Dep. And Times Arrow).

Consider instead undetermined macro-events such as coin tosses, ordinary plates flying off sideways, tables suddenly disintegrating, automobiles breaking down, physiological decay, illness, epidemics, climatic catastrophes, flooding, tornado, hurricanes and so on. Even robust non-reductionists believe that these events nomologically supervene on undetermined micro-events. But, as J. Schaffer observes, nomological supervenience is sufficient to correlate chance values. If the chance that micro-state S1 occurs is one, and if macro-state S2 supervenes on S1 by the physical laws, then the chance that S2 occurs must also be one. The occurrence of the macro-state is fixed by the occurrence of its micro-basis. (see his ‘Deterministic Chance?’, BJPS, p. 11 ff.)
There is no evidence that God is directing undetermined micro-events in light of his chosen goals. But since macro-states supervene on micro-states, there is also no evidence that God is directing undetermined macro-events in light of his chosen goals. We have no evidence of God using the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom providentially in ways we might expect in Molinist worlds. Since we do not observe the chances of undetermined macro-events or micro-events diverging in interesting ways from their chances, we have good reason to believe that this is not a Molinist world.

Comments:
  • Heath White

    It seems to me that (1) our measurements of indeterministic micro-events are an extremely small sample, and (2) the samples we have include a selection bias against any that would make a significant moral or other difference in human lives. Also, (3) where C1…Cn are circumstances alike except for the decay rates of tritium atoms, there will usually be a whole host of CCF’s with the same truth value, of the form, “If it were C1, then A would do X”; “If it were C2, then A would do X”… “If it were Cn, then A would do X.” That is, generally, microscopic decays do not affect free actions. Finally, (4) there is something to be said for God maintaining a statistically orderly world for the same reasons that he has to maintain a world governed by deterministic natural laws. So although I am not a card-carrying Molinist, I do not think the Molinist is committed to us seeing a evidence of divine guidance at the micro-level.

    June 3, 2008 — 12:46
  • Luke Gelinas

    ‘It is no doubt possible that the frequency with which tritium atoms decay should change radically.’
    I’m not sure Molinists needs to accept this. There are principled arguments for dispositional essentialism, as well as for the claim that, nec, the actual laws are the only laws (or the actual laws necessarily govern actual entities–i.e., there may be alien laws, but if so they govern alien entities). Either one of these positions entails that it’s not possible for tritium to decay at a faster rate. Maybe God just isn’t able to do all that much tinkering on the microphysical level; maybe things are more fixed than Humeans like Lewis think. If so, I don’t see how this would count against Molinism.

    June 3, 2008 — 13:18
  • Thanks Heath, you write,
    It seems to me that (1) our measurements of indeterministic micro-events are an extremely small sample
    I’m not sure I follow you. The sample is huge (it seems not to have change in at least 100,000 yrs., if astronomical evidence is right) and though we cannot predict specific emssions, there is no variation at all in the chances of decay. That is, the frequencies give us no reason to modify our view of the chances.
    (2) the samples we have include a selection bias against any that would make a significant moral or other difference in human lives.
    I didn’t say anything about these events making a difference in our moral lives. I’m not making that claim.
    That is, generally, microscopic decays do not affect free actions.
    I am not arguing that they do. I incidentally have no idea how you would know how many CFF’s there would be governing these events. I haven’t the sligtest idea how many there are.
    (4) there is something to be said for God maintaining a statistically orderly world for the same reasons that he has to maintain a world governed by deterministic natural laws.
    Right, this sounds like something a Molinist might say, but I don’t find this remotely credible. If God is directing each and every event in the world, as Molinists urge, then there ought to be some evidence of that direction. You cannot have both a pattern of chancy events that indicates direction and a pure chance pattern. We have no evidence of anything other than a pure chance pattern.

    June 3, 2008 — 13:19
  • Maybe God just isn’t able to do all that much tinkering on the microphysical level; maybe things are more fixed than Humeans like Lewis think.
    I’m not sure how much this would help. If the laws of decay were fixed in this way, God could himself cause micro-physical events, without relying on the probabilistic laws. Tom Flint tells me that some Molinists in fact believe that God does exercise control in this way. Keep in mind that all I’m doing is looking for evidence of God’s direction. I considered micro-events only because this is the natural place to control unfree undetermined events. God would not thereby upset the supervenience relation.

    June 3, 2008 — 13:29
  • Mike,
    Note that the argument applies even better to Thomistic views on which every event that is stochastic at the level of finite causes has its outcome determined by God.
    I agree with Heath that the Molinist (and Thomist) can say that God ensures that the patterns we find are basically those predicted by the probabilities. This predictability ensures that we humans can have meaningful agential lives. Moreover, having the frequencies accord with the probabilities ensures a certain elegance in the arrangement of the world. It has aesthetic value.
    So there is at least some reason to think a Molinist (or Thomist) God would work in such a way as to ensure that most of our scientific observations do not detect his work.
    That said, there is a fair amount of pretty strong evidence of some events happening in a providential way: look at all the well-authenticated miracles in history, especially the ones used in recent canonizations.

    June 3, 2008 — 14:07
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    I guess I was thinking that, if the Humeans are wrong, if something like dispositional essentialism is true, then, yes, we still wouldn’t see evidence of God’s workings at the microphysical level, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised by this, either. We’d no longer expect to see God speeding up or slowing down the decay of tritium (or whatever), b/c it’s not w/in God’s power to do it.
    Couldn’t a Molinist affirm that God directly causes microphysical events, but that we have no reason to think we’d be willing to make out the causal connection. God’s causing microphysical events might appear the same to us as natural events causing microphysical events. The fact that we don’t see evidence that God causes microphysical events isn’t enough to conclude that God doesn’t.

    June 3, 2008 — 14:08
  • 1. What I think is a more serious problem for the Molinist (or Thomist) is that there is no direct connection between probabilities and frequencies on the Molinist (or Thomist) view. If the frequencies match the probabilities, that is only because God providentially chose to make them match. In other words, the probabilities do not directly explain in the way they are held to. But Mike and I have had a go-around on this.
    And here are two points completely disconnected from the above.
    2. Suppose that we are in fact wrong in thinking that natural processes come with probabilistic tendencies. Instead, natural processes come with a range of possible outcomes, but there are no probabilities associated with the range. The Molinist or Thomist God, then, providentially sets things up so as to create frequency patterns that make nature predictable. If so, then in seeing frequency patterns, we are in fact seeing providence at work, for it is providence that has set things up so that there would be frequency patterns, rather than total chaos.
    3. And, finally, a Leibnizian thought. Maybe God is just such a good designer that he chose the right laws (or chose the right kinds of entities if one thinks laws come from the essences of entities) so as to ensure that providential guidance does not require an observable divergence from the predicted frequency patterns.

    June 3, 2008 — 14:15
  • Alex, you write,
    I agree with Heath that the Molinist (and Thomist) can say that God ensures that the patterns we find are basically those predicted by the probabilities.
    I don’t see how this could be right, Alex. There is a difference between a chance pattern–what we would expect were God not interferring in any way–and a pattern that indicates God’s direction. Your position seems to be that the chance pattern we observe might be what best serves God’s purposes. That would be an incredible coincidence. That amounts to saying that all God needs to do is choose the set of probabilistic laws for a world, and he needn’t worry about the sorts of atoms he creates or the CFF’s governing them, since a random choice of those yielding a chance pattern in frequencies of decay, ionization, chemical bonding, etc. would serve his purposes as well as any more obviously directed pattern. My argument, essentially, is that this is wildly implausible.

    June 3, 2008 — 14:21
  • We’d no longer expect to see God speeding up or slowing down the decay of tritium (or whatever), b/c it’s not w/in God’s power to do it.
    Luke,
    Suppose you’re right. For Molinists it is nonetheless true that God can choose particular tritium atoms to instantiate whose frequency of decay is atypical, just as he can choose a fair coin whose frequency of landing heads is atypical. There are fair coins that land heads 300 times consecutively. They are nonetheless fair. It is just that the frequency of landing heads is not matching the chances of landing heads. Similarly for tritium. There are instances whose frequency in decay does not match its chances. It does not mean that the chances of decay for that particular tritium atom are any different from the chances for other tritium atoms.
    Now we should expect God to be very careful in his selection of atoms to instantiate. The micro-events that occur depend on those choices, and the macro-events that occur depend on the occurences of micro-events (which in turn depend on those choices).

    June 3, 2008 — 14:33
  • What I think is a more serious problem for the Molinist (or Thomist) is that there is no direct connection between probabilities and frequencies on the Molinist (or Thomist) view.
    Alex, what do you mean by ‘probabilities’ here? Do you mean propensities (i.e., chances) or credences or something else?

    June 3, 2008 — 14:41
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    OK, I see this. But I guess I’ve lost my grasped on what it is we’re looking for: What would constitute evidence that God has instantiated just those atoms that best contribute to the providential design of a world?
    For any tritium atom, whether it exhibits a regular or irregular state of decay, what would evidence that God has instantiated it, or lack of evidence that God hasn’t instantiated it, come to?

    June 4, 2008 — 10:04
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    OK, I see this. But I guess I’ve lost my grasp on what it is we’re looking for: What would constitute evidence that God has instantiated those atoms most providentially favorable for our world?
    For any tritium atom (whether its rate of decay is typical or atypical), what would evidence that God has instantiated it come to?

    June 4, 2008 — 10:12
  • Luke Gelinas

    Oops. Something went wrong–sorry about the double post.

    June 4, 2008 — 10:13
  • OK, I see this. But I guess I’ve lost my grasp on what it is we’re looking for: What would constitute evidence that God has instantiated those atoms most providentially favorable for our world?
    I proposed a game like this in a discussion session of a paper Alex was giving. God asks you to play a game of chance. Suppose it costs you $1 for a .5 chance to win $2.50. Your expected utility is $.25, so it is rational to play. As it happens, God knows you will play exactly five times and that you will call heads everytime you play. Since God has Molinist knowledge, he can choose a fair coin that will land in just the ways that will suit his purposes for you (and for others, and for the greater plan of salvation history). What might his goals be for you? I don’t know, maybe it is to teach perseverance or to test your faith. Maybe his goal is to maximize overall value among all of those playing the game (assuming there are others playing). It doesn’t matter. We know–because the Molinists tell us–that God has very involved plans and that he uses his knowledge of CFF’s to fulfill them.
    My claim is this: whatever these involved plans include, it would be extraordinary if the chance pattern of H’s and T’s in the sequence of tosses best fulfills those plans. Rather, we should observe some pattern that indicates God’s direction of these chance events. We should observe the frequency of H’s diverging from the chances of H’s, given that the coin is fair. Suppose God were testing your faith in him. He might choose a coin that would land T’s each of the five times, having you lose five consecutive times. That would indicate to me that, either this is a Molinist world, or that coin is not fair. But the coin is fair, by hypothesis, so we have evidence that this is a Molinist world. Suppose the distribution of H’s and T’s was such as to maximize overall utility. Since again the frequency and order of H’s and T’s that would max. utility would not be the chance pattern (except by sheer coincidence), that would indicate God’s direction as well.
    So look around the world. God is supposed to be directing not this or that little game, but everything: nothing is left to chance, the Molinist’s tell us. I say, if that’s so, I should see evidence of God’s guidance. I don’t have to know what God’s goals or aims are (which is a good thing, since I have no idea what they are). I can tell that there is direction in the world by observing frequency diverging from chance among undetermined events. I can also say, there appears to be no direction at all, since the pattern of chance events is nothing other than a chance pattern. This is what in fact we observe.

    June 4, 2008 — 10:58
  • I am a bit of neophyte here so I understand if you have no interest in weeding through my ignorance but if middle knowledge is about God’s inclusion of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in his planning the world, why should the Molinist claim that absolutely nothing is left to chance?
    Events that arise from acts of creaturely freedom are distinct from sub-atomic events. (That deserves a “duh,” I suppose.) So if the Molinist only wants to say that God is chiefly concerned with the unfolding of human history along the lines of his salvific plan, does it matter that some micro events are chancey?
    Perhaps this is completely inconsistent with Molinism for some reasons I don’t yet understand or perhaps it’s just a sort of modified version that still includes CFC’s so is still, more or less, Molinistic.

    June 4, 2008 — 15:49
  • Mike Almeida

    The main reason is the Molinist commitment to the traditional conception of God’s sovereignty, aseity and providence. That conception of God requires, among other things, a strong conception of providence. Of course, you could defend a more modest conception of providence, where God has less control over the unfolding of history. But you would have to trace out the implications for God’s sovereignty. That is, you’d have to trace out the implications for the attributes you take God to have. Anyway, the obvious place to look for a defense of the Molinist commitment to a tradutional conception is Tom Flint’s Divine Providence Cornell U.P. (1998) chps. 1-4.

    June 4, 2008 — 16:47
  • Thanks for your reply, Dr. Almeida. Perhaps your point about the chanciness of micro-events can be folded into the Molinist scheme by saying that God pre-ordains chancey events in the same way he pre-ordains acts of human freedom.
    That is, in his middle knowledge he accounts for both CFC’s and chancey events when choosing a feasible world. So *these* particular acts of human freedom, as well as *these* particular chancey events, obtain because God chose to instantiate a world in which they would obtain. Other free acts of humans could have been committed and other chancey events could have occurred, but God did not provide the grounds for those things; so they didn’t.
    Could providence then govern both freedom and micro-events in a consistently Molinist way?
    I guess (if I’m making any sense at all) that the problem would be that he’d have to know how these micro-events would turn out in whatever way he knows the truth of CFC’s. I’m guessing that chancey events don’t submit to counterfactual analysis. If that’s the case then I suppose Molinists are committed to denying that there are any truly chancey events. Maybe they don’t mind biting that bullet.

    June 4, 2008 — 17:48
  • Sorry, I keep saying CFC’s and, of course, I mean CCF’s.
    Accidental character inversion is the only obvious connection between aerosol cans and divine providence.

    June 4, 2008 — 17:57
  • I’m not entirely sure what you mean here,
    Perhaps your point about the chanciness of micro-events can be folded into the Molinist scheme by saying that God pre-ordains chancey events in the same way he pre-ordains acts of human freedom.
    The Molinists believe that chancy events, just like free action, are covered by CCF’s. Flint discusses chancy events under the name ‘unfree, undetermined events’ (p. 40ff). I’d prefer ‘non-free, undetermined’ events. I think he finds evidence for such a view in Molina as well, though I don’t have the reference offhand.
    In any case, regarding the quoted passage above, God knows for every possible situation in which he might instantiate a person, what that person would do. Similarly he knows for every possible situation in which he might instantiate a particular atom of uranium, what would occur (whether it would decay unusually rapidly, or slowly, etc.). These CCF’s hold for particular instances of persons, atoms, etc. So God can pick and choose from all possible persons (or creaturely essences) which he will instantiate in a situation that he has otherwise (mostly) strongly actualized, and he knows exactly what that person would freely do. And God can pick and choose from all possible atoms of radon which he will instantiate in a situation that he has otherwise (mostly) strongly actualized and he knows what would “indeterminedly” occur. So, yes,
    . . .*these* particular acts of human freedom, as well as *these* particular chancey events, obtain because God chose to instantiate a world in which they would obtain. Other free acts of humans could have been committed and other chancey events could have occurred, but God did not provide the grounds for those things; so they didn’t.
    But it depends not just on the states of affairs that are strongly actualized in a world, but also crucially on the particular essences that are instantiated and particular atoms are instantiated.
    Molinism, I’m sure, is consistent with there being no chancy events. But our world is very likely indeterministic, so this would not be a Molinist world. In any case, whether chancy or not, we should see evidence of God’s guidance (perhaps all the more so in a deterministic world).

    June 4, 2008 — 18:28
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike–thanks. I see the force of the objection.

    June 4, 2008 — 20:31
  • Mike:
    You write: “Your position seems to be that the chance pattern we observe might be what best serves God’s purposes. That would be an incredible coincidence.”
    I don’t know exactly what you mean by a “chance pattern”. This seems ambiguous between at least two readings:
    1. A pattern in fact produced by chance.
    2. A pattern that looks, in respect of all the standard statistical tests we run, random up to a high degree of confidence.
    Let us suppose I am a Molinist or Thomist. Then, I deny that we observe a chance pattern in sense (1). We observe a pattern produced by providence. But I affirm that we observe a chance pattern in sense (2). But I deny that it takes an incredible coincidence for God to ensure that his providential purposes are satisfied by a pattern satisfying (2). There are infinitely many patterns satisfying (2). In fact, in an important sense most patterns satisfy (2). So is it so surprising that there should be a pattern satisfying (2) which is also compatible with God’s providential purposes?

    June 5, 2008 — 10:32
  • Mike:
    In my claim that Molinism and Thomism severs probabilities from frequencies, I meant “propensities” by “probabilities”.

    June 5, 2008 — 10:34
  • Mike Almeida

    In fact, in an important sense most patterns satisfy (2). So is it so surprising that there should be a pattern satisfying (2) which is also compatible with God’s providential purposes?
    I’m not sure what you mean by the claim that in an important sense most patterns look, in respect of all the standard statistical tests we run, random up to a high degree of confidence.
    If you mean we can trick-up almost any set of laws (using gruesome properties) to explain obvious regularities in nature, then I’d likely agree. But so what? That doesn’t mean there isn’t obvious regularity there.
    What I have in mind by a chance pattern is one in which we find no divergence between the chances of observed events and their frequencies. We have lots of evidence concerning the frequencies of micro-events, and we have absolutely no reason to alter our estimations of the chances of those events. If God were choosing carefully the particular atoms to instantiate so as to suit some purpose of his–or many purposes of his–as the Molinists claim he is doing, then we should observe some divergence. What we find instead is evidence that God is randomly selecting atoms of various kinds to instantiate. This is why the frequencies of micro-events gives us no reason to revise the chances of those events.
    Finally, I am not denying that God has selected a pattern in which chance and frequency do not diverge. That’s possible, of course. My argument does no purport to be deductive. I claim only that this would be extraordinary.

    June 5, 2008 — 11:13
  • Alex,
    Two other quick points. This argument is not so good,
    1. Most patterns appear random up to some high confidence.
    2. :. It is not surprising that a pattern of directed events should appear random up to a high confidence.
    But you need a much stronger conclusion than that. You need this,
    2′. :. It is not surprising that a pattern in which every event is directed should appear random up to a high confidence.
    But neither of these is given much support by (1). To get strong support for (2′), you’d need something like (1′). And I see no reason to believe (1′).
    1′. Most patterns in which every event is directed appear random up to a high confidence.

    June 5, 2008 — 11:47
  • But perhaps most of the events are directed not so much towards accomplishing some concrete goal, as towards ensuring an appearance of randomness.
    Suppose I write down the following sequence of bits: 110001101. This has the appearance of randomness. But every item in the sequence is directed–directed towards the appearance of randomness.
    Consider a related example. One of the problems in computational mathematics is to find good pseudorandom number generators. These are deterministic formulae which produce sequences that have the appearance of randomness. Every item in a pseudorandom sequence is determined by a procedure designed to make every item look random.

    June 6, 2008 — 11:10
  • But perhaps most of the events are directed not so much towards accomplishing some concrete goal, as towards ensuring an appearance of randomness.
    I guess that could be right. But it’s definitely not a Molinist view, I’m sure you’ll agree, and not a traditional view either, of divine providence. I think it’s safe to presume that God is guiding undetermined macro-events towards morally important goals (indeed, the most morally important goals). But in order to direct undetermined macro-events, he has to direct undetermined micro-events, since even robust non-reductionists believe that (at least in our world) the former supervene on the latter. This is why I’m focusing mostly on trying to find some indication that God is choosing to instantiate unstable matter in ways that indicate direction.
    Things might be worse. Probably the best-worked-out view of libertarian freedom is Bob Kane’s. But Kane has a central role for undetermined micro-events in his account of libertarian freedom. If something like his view is right, then God is not providentially directing free, undetermined events either.

    June 6, 2008 — 11:37
  • Luke Gelinas

    Alex,
    This suggestion also strikes me as a bit like the strategy used by young-earth creationists: That God created the world 10,000 years ago (or whatever) with the appearance of it being much, much older.
    In your case, God creates a meticulously providential and ordered world with the appearance of chance. If God’s aim is to ensure an appearance of randomness when the world isn’t really random at all, isn’t God intending to deceive?

    June 6, 2008 — 14:05
  • I took Alex’s point to be (the weaker claim) that it is possible to aim at randomness (or, rather, apparent randomness) or to have apparent randomness as a goal. I think that’s possible. Indeed, there are random generators online that I use to select exam questions. Here’s one: http://random.org/. It is another thing altogether to claim that God might achieve the goal of apparent randomness while also achieving some morally significant goal. Nota Bene: don’t confuse this with a randomly generated sequence that achieves a significant goal (a chimp randomly typing letters might type a sonnet). But that randomly generated sequence looks directed, not random! Alex has to show the converse: a sequence that is in fact directed toward some morally important goal that looks random.
    But, if I may, the problem is more difficult still. This is because we have good evidence that micro-events (e.g., radioactive decay) do not merely appear random, they ARE random. A sequence of events that appears random, but isn’t, would still have to have the frequency of undetermined events pulling apart from the chances of those events. It would have to do that in a way that, superficially, looks random. But we have good evidence that this is not happening.

    June 6, 2008 — 15:07
  • Mike:
    I didn’t mean to say that the events are directed only at the appearance of randomness. Rather, I was supposing that they are directed at the conjunction of the appearance of randomness with various more morally significant providential outcomes. One way of looking at it is this. God first restricts the set of possible sequences of events to those with the appearance of randomness. This is a very large set. God then chooses a particular sequence from this set to fulfill whatever other providential goals he has. (For instance–and I am pretty sure this is false–God chooses from among the apparently random sequences the sequence that produces the best consequences.)
    The resulting sequence may, for instance, include cases of people whose cancer “surprisingly” goes into spontaneous remission because they have a lot of loving dependents. But there will not be enough such cases for them to be a statistically significant departure from apparent randomness, because the first criterion was ensuring apparent randomness.
    Luke:
    I am aware of the fact that this view makes God to be too much like a deceiver. I am not saying that the view is a satisfactory one; I am only saying that it does not succumb to Mike’s objection.
    But in favor of this view, I will say that God has some reason to make there be apparent randomness. The apparent randomness, by enabling us to predict the course of events via statistical laws, makes various important aspects of our lives possible. Moreover, there is a difference between hiding one’s activity and deceiving.

    June 7, 2008 — 0:36
  • Jake

    This whole discussion seems to show a misunderstanding of statistical methods (I’m not even sure what it means to “find the frequency of undetermined events diverging from their chances”). The fact is, any sequence of events in which the number of events and their variability are large enough will always have the appearance of randomness. For example, if I were to keep track of the number of calories I consume each day for, say, a year, my daily calorie intake would look for all the world like a normally distributed random variable. But I think it’s obvious that the number of calories I consume is my free choice. Free choices, if the range of choices and number of choices made are large enough, will always look this way. Therefore, whatever actions God chooses to take in the world will always, statistically, have the appearance of randomness.

    June 7, 2008 — 1:16
  • God then chooses a particular sequence from this set to fulfill whatever other providential goals he has. (For instance–and I am pretty sure this is false–God chooses from among the apparently random sequences the sequence that produces the best consequences
    Alex, It is likely that among the apparently random sequences there is one that produces the best consequences. My claim is that it is unlikely that the sequence that produces the best consequences is among the apparently random sequences. Are you suggesting that the sequence that produces the best consequences is likely to be among those that appear random? I can’t see any reason to believe that.
    Jake,
    There would be the appearence of order were your choices governed by specific goals and not merely by free choice. I don’t doubt that people can choose freely and randomnly. Suppose God keeps track of the molecular or compositional structure of everything you consume. If you are aiming at a vegan diet, then the composition of what you consume, even over long periods of time, will not look random.
    But this is largely beside the point of the argument. The argument assumes Molinism for reductio. God’s providential control for Molinists allows God to instantiate, say, people who have (i) a strong propensity to remember 10 digit numbers and (ii) do poorly on tests where they are required to remember 10-digit numbers. Because of this, Molinist’s urge, God can direct undetermined events without affecting the chances (i.e. propensities) of those events. God can bring it about, for divine purposes, that the chances of recalling 10 digit numbers does not match the frequency of recalling those numbers. The same holds for every chancy event in an indeterministic world. But there is no indication that God is directing chance events in this way.

    June 7, 2008 — 8:55
  • Alex,
    There is one other, I think major, worry for the sort of defense you are presenting. Take all of the fair coins C and assume a traditional Molinistic God. Among the sequences of coin tosses for C consistent with these coins being fair is tossing all heads. There is then a world in which all of the coins come up heads and the Molinist God exists. So it is not in general true that the Molinist God always ensures that the tosses of coins appear random.
    If God’s direction ensures that there is no such world, then it can cost cautious and rational agents everything they have. This is actually the second, unposted, part of my argument against Molinism. Suppose the chances that every coin in a world comes up heads is 1/n. A rational agent should be willing to pay $1 for a 1/n chance at winning $n+2. Suppose I bet that every coin comes up heads with that payoff. If you’re right, then there is no world in which every coin come up heads. So this rational agent, thanks to God’s manipulation of chance events, is guaranteed to lose every cent he has if he contiues to play this rational game.

    June 7, 2008 — 9:27
  • “My claim is that it is unlikely that the sequence that produces the best consequences is among the apparently random sequences. Are you suggesting that the sequence that produces the best consequences is likely to be among those that appear random? I can’t see any reason to believe that.”
    Here’s a reason for believing that: It is very good for us that the sequences should appear to be apparently random, since that makes it possible for us to lead meaningful and predictable agential lives (apparent micro randomness makes for macro predictability), and it makes the universe orderly. Now this doesn’t prove that the best consequences are among the sequences that appear random, but it makes the claim plausible.

    June 12, 2008 — 14:12
  • Here’s a reason for believing that: It is very good for us that the sequences should appear to be apparently random, since that makes it possible for us to lead meaningful and predictable agential lives. . .
    This would be a reason to believe it if I had reasons to suspect that the world is set up for our convenience. I have good reason to think that the world is not set up for our convenience. This is what we’re forever chided about when we note that the world could contain many more happy people in it. Recall, the refrain that this is a naive view about divine purposes. The purpose is not the make lots of happy people, or dancing girls; it is something else altogether. But now when we get in a bind concerning why we should expect the world to be orderly, we cannot immediately act like atheists and say, because the world is designed for our convenience.

    June 12, 2008 — 16:05