The following claims seem to be true:
(1) God not be in any way caused to act by anything outside of himself.
(2) Providence requires that God in his actions respond to events in the world.
If one adds the plausible claim:
(3) If God responds to events in the world, then these events are partial causes of his action
one concludes that God cannot have both aseity and providence. This conclusion, however, is theologically problematic: aseity seems to follow from transcendence, and providence is affirmed by all the major monotheistic religions.
Strong Sovereignty (the doctrine that God determines the truth value of every contingent proposition) and Molinism can be seen as providing ways to deny (2). One could also take them as ways to reinterpret (2) in a way that denies (3). I don’t think it matters which option one takes. Anyway, the idea is that given Strong Sovereignty, God simply decides everything ahead of time in such wise that he has no need to “respond” to events, since all the events are always already part of his plan. Strong Sovereignty has a difficulty, however, with free will and with the deductive problem of evil. Molinism, on the other hand, holds that God knows prior (I always understand “prior” as “prior in the order of explanation” here) to any decision what to create how any stochastic processes (including free choices) would turn out in any possible circumstances, and using this knowledge, he can make a complete plan of creation without needing to “respond” to events. Thus, God knows that
(*) were Adam and Eve placed in the garden, they would freely sin.
Thus he does not need to “respond” to their sin with their expulsion. He can simply strongly actualize Adam and Eve in the garden, and strongly actualize their expulsion, knowing that they would sin. Molinism faces two major problems: (a) that the subjunctive conditionals like (*) arguably make no sense, and (b) the problem that Robert Adams raised that it appears to commit one to explanatory loops.
In this post I want to describe a model of creation developed in discussion with Grant Matthews and Sarah Coakley, based on some ideas of theirs, that offers a way to reconcile aseity with providence without making use of Strong Sovereignty or Molinism. I think the model has theological problems, which may be insuperable, but it should be on the table. Interestingly, the model does not even require foreknowledge (though, of course, I believe in foreknowledge).
Keith DeRose reflects on Calvinism and philosophers. Why amidst a resurgence of Calvinism in mainstream evangelicalism (both among theologians and at the popular level) has there been virtually no change in the libertarian orthodoxy in Christian philosophy? Keith seems to agree with Dean Zimmerman that this has to do with having to put up a more serious defense of Christianity with secular philosophers, since most Christian philosophers are in secular philosophy departments, and most Christian theologians are in Christian seminaries and colleges. I think that’s probably right as a sociological explanation.
I do find it somewhat interesting given that I (as a Calvinist) find the Calvinist response to the problem of evil to be more thoroughgoing in its consequences (even if more difficult to motivate in its foundations), as a number of Christian philosophers throughout history have held. After all, if Calvinism is true, then every bit of evil is fully explained with no remainder. But it’s at the foundations of a response to the problem of evil that most Christian philosophers are turning to libertarianism. It’s also in the face of considerable social pressure against libertarianism, given that compatibilism is now the default in the philosophical world (a situation interestingly parallel to the dominance of materialism, with many Christian philosophers holding on to dualism).
I’ve got some more detailed thoughts on this at my personal blog, but I thought it was worth directing Prosblogion readers to this discussion without subjecting all of you to the details of how a Calvinist will view this whole issue. Those who want to see that can read my lengthier reflections there.
Since there’s still little going on here, I thought I’d direct readers to another post in my series based on my introductory philosophy course lecture notes. This time it’s on foreknowledge and freedom. Again, I don’t expect it to include anything newsworthy for many readers of this blog, since we’ve discussed all these issues here in much more depth in the past, but I’ve tried to summarize the main moves in the discussion at a level someone in an introductory course could understand, and some may want to take a look at that or offer feedback. Newer readers less familiar with our discussions on this topic or with the literature on the issue may find it informative as well. I did try to include the most current work on the subject.
In a new issue of Religious Studies, Gordon Knight has an interesting article on universalism and open theism that many PBers may be interested in (“Universalism for Open Theists,” 42 (2006):213-223).
Here is the central thrust of his argument:
I will argue that belief in the openness of God makes a hard case even worse. Furthermore, while this problem is perhaps most vivid in the case of open theism, it also can be generalized for all theists who accept a non-Molinist account of foreknowledge and who accept a libertarian conception of freedom of the will. On the other hand, this very same commitment to liberatarian freedom also precludes non-Molinists from accepting the sort of necessary universalism recently advocated by Talbott. The solution, I will argue, lies in adopting a version of contingent universalism that is able to avoid the moral problems of the [traditional] doctrine of hell while at the same time not doing violence to the strong conception of libertarian freedom to which open theists (among others) are committed (214).
A few comments below the fold.