Prophecy
August 20, 2009 — 9:04

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Foreknowledge Molinism  Tags:   Comments: 5

For simplicity, I shall ignore the distinction between God talking and Jesus talking. I shall also write “deny” for “deny libertarian-freely” (note: typical libertarians allow for the possibility of free choices that are determined by character and circumstances, as long as the agent had a sufficient role in forming the character through properly indeterministic choices; it is only the latter that I will call “libertarian-free”). Take the case where God tells Peter that Peter will deny him. What divine knowledge was the prophecy based on? Suppose we say: God tells Peter that Peter will deny because God knows that Peter will deny. This would be a simple-foreknowledge (SF) account of prophecy. Now we have an apparent circularity in the order of explanation. God telling Peter that Peter will deny is explanatorily prior (“e-prior”) to Peter’s denial–it affects Peter’s state of mind when choosing whether to deny. But Peter’s denial is, presumably, e-prior to God’s knowing that Peter will deny. (Thomists and Calvinists will likely deny this. And so such Thomists and Calvinists will have no difficulty.) And God’s knowing that Peter will deny is e-prior to the prophecy. So we come full circle.

There is a way out of this argument: God ensures that Peter’s choice whether to deny is causally isolated from Peter’s memory of the prophecy. This breaks the circle, since then God’s prophesying to Peter that Peter will deny will no longer be e-prior to Peter’s denial. Moreover, Scripture says that only after the denials did Peter remember the prophecy, so there is some exegetical ground for supposing some causal isolation.

The difficulty with this SF account of prophecy is that it only makes prophecy possible in cases where the prophecy is isolated from the prophesied event. I shall argue that the Molinist may face a similar problem.

Here’s why. According to the Molinist, the prophecy is issued not because of God’s knowledge that Peter will deny, but, roughly speaking, because of God’s knowledge that Peter would deny in C (where C is carefully chosen–see Tom Flint’s book for details). Now, take two contingent states of affairs:

  1. C obtaining and God’s knowing that Peter would deny in C
  2. Peter’s denying in C

If Molinism is true, these two contingent states of affairs necessary co-occur–in any world where one of the two occurs, so does the other. I think the following principle is plausible:

  1. If the occurrence of a particular libertarian-free choice A in C necessarily co-occurs with a state of affairs S, then the occurrence of A in C is e-prior or identical to S.

Consider some cases. If God is in time, then the occurrence of God’s choosing A in C necessarily co-occurs with God’s later remembering that he chose A in C. And indeed, the choice is e-prior to the memory of the choice. In ordinary cases of foreknowledge without prophecy, likewise, the libertarian will similarly want to say that the libertarian-free choice is e-prior to God’s knowledge of the choice.

One might try to argue for (3) on the basis of the following plausible principle:

  1. If p entails that x freely chooses A, then x has or had or will have a choice about whether p.

This principle is equivalent to Rea’s beta-3. If the antecedent of (3) holds, then the occurrence of S entails that A will be libertarian-freely chosen in C. So, the agent at some time has a choice about whether S occurs. When does the agent have that choice? It is extremely implausible that this is at any time other than when she in fact makes the choice of A. So, the agent has a choice about whether S occurs, and that choice is exercised in choosing A. But:

  1. If x in choosing A exercises her ability to have a choice whether p, and if p, then x’s choosing A is either identical with p’s holding, or else x’s choosing A is e-prior to p’s holding.

That surely is what we mean by saying that x exercises her ability to have a choice whether p. And the consequent of (3) follows.

If (3) is true, then (2) is e-prior to (1). We can also argue for the e-priority of (2) as follows. Its being the case that Peter would deny in C is e-prior to God’s knowing that Peter would deny in C. And (2) is e-prior to its being the case that Peter would deny in C. Why? Because otherwise we cannot explain the odd coincidence that whenever (2) occurs, so does its being the case that Peter would deny in C.

But if (2) is e-prior to (1), then the argument against the SF view applies equally well to the Molinist view. For, (1) will be e-prior to the prophecy, and the prophecy will be e-prior to (2), unless isolation holds.

Comments:
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex, I’m missing the circularity in the SF account. I mean, it could be circular, but it isn’t obvious that it must be. You write,
    Now we have an apparent circularity in the order of explanation. God telling Peter that Peter will deny is explanatorily prior (“e-prior”) to Peter’s denial–it affects Peter’s state of mind when choosing whether to deny. But Peter’s denial is, presumably, e-prior to God’s knowing that Peter will deny.
    But why believe that God’s telling Peter that he will deny him explains why Peter denies him. God knows prior to his utterance that Peter will deny him. True, his utterance that Peter will deny him entails that Peter will deny him. But it doesn’t (seem to) explain it. Had God chosen not to make the utterance, he still would have foreknown, and Peter would still have denied him. So, I’m missing the circularity problem.

    August 20, 2009 — 12:03
  • Mike,
    “p is e-prior to q” does not mean that p explains q. It means something weaker, like that p enters into some explanation of q.
    The circumstances in which a choice is made are e-prior to the choice. One of these circumstances is a memory of the prophecy (unless we have the causal isolation that I say is the solution to the problem). This affects the choice, even if it does not explain it.

    August 20, 2009 — 12:27
  • Mike Almeida

    This affects the choice, even if it does not explain it.
    Would be it right to say that p is e-prior to q iff. p contributes to the explanation of q? And if p contributes to the explanation of q would it be right to say that, if p hadn’t occurred, then q would not have occurred? If not, then what logical relations are entailed by ‘p e-prior q’?

    August 20, 2009 — 12:58
  • Mike:
    p is e-prior to q iff p contributes to the explanation of q.
    But that p contributes to the explanation of q does not entail that if p hadn’t held, then q wouldn’t have held. Cases of explanatory overdetermination, for instance, are a counterexample to that principle.
    e-priority is transitive. It probably has a bunch of other formal properties.

    August 20, 2009 — 14:10
  • Mike Almeida

    I wish I had a better grip on the idea. I more or less understand what it means that p contributes to the explanation of q. Odd that ‘p e-prior q’ should be transitive. Let x and y send a current to z (lighting a bulb, say). Let z transfer some of the current from x together with it’s own (but none from y) to r (lighting a bulb). y is e-prior to z and z is e-prior to r, but y is not e-prior to r. y does not even partially explain the lighting of the bulb at r. Anyway, this might just show that I don’t have a good enough grip on ‘e-prior’.

    August 20, 2009 — 14:32