Theological puzzles arising from the denial of molinist-type counterfactuals

If we deny molinist type counterfactuals then there may be more difficulties in Christian theology arising from that than I had previously been aware. One might have to abandon the typical and very persuasive apologetic for the problem of evil which stipulates that God has morally sufficient reason for permitting this or that occasion of suffering, and we are never at a good epistemic vantage point to judge whether any occasion of suffering is gratuitous. For instance, God knows that should ‘x’ be allowed to happen (for instance my getting an A+ rather than an A- on my Hebrew final last summer semester) I might get into a different university which I think I desire more, but in which I do not meet my true love, whereas I may have met my true love if only I had gone to a different university, to which I would have gone if I had gotten the A- rather than the A+. This is a very mundane instance of ‘suffering’ (if it even deserves to be called that at all). However, every small action or event has incalculable influence on the whole world. Take as an analogy from some scientific literature, the notion of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which would have us believe that something as seemingly un-influential as a butterfly flapping it’s wings could be the cause without which the hurricane does not instantiate. This same notion of chaos theory is applied in Christian apologetics to the problem of evil, and it is thought that every instance of suffering is only permitted by God when and where he has a morally sufficient reason for allowing it – but this entails that God must be aware of a host of counterfactuals. The kind of counterfactuals of which he must be aware include counterfactuals of the molinist type. Thus, we might have to re-examine either the rejection of molinist type counterfactuals, or else the notion that God has morally sufficient reason for permitting occasions of suffering.

A solution could present itself in two ways; first, perhaps by appealing to an eschatological theodicy which is axiomatically committed to the notion that all things work out to the glory of God in principle, such that no logically possible world is eschatologically preferable from God’s perspective in the ultimate sense. Thus, God may prefer a world in which all men are saved, but has morally sufficient reasons for permitting any number of worlds in which any number of men are not saved. This notion might need further elaboration, and I will leave it to myself elsewhere, as I have in the past, to bear out various dimensions of that kind of theodicy (to which, I note in passing, I have long been attracted). A second solution might be probabilistic. God might know that the majority of nearest (most proximate) logically possible worlds include scenarios where this or that action or event leads to a greater amount of genuine suffering, and that alone might be the morally sufficient reason God has for permitting some evils so that greater evils can be avoided. The problem here is that, phrased this way, it appears as though one is saying that the ends justify the means in God’s case. Such an objection may be another reason we should take the eschatological theodicy seriously.

Another problem with counterfactuals may come with the doctrine of the Church’s infallibility, which is central to the Christian commitment to the creeds, the definitions of ecumenical councils, and of course the Catholic doctrine of the Papacy. Here, if God does not know by way of middle knowledge, and providentially order with a view to molinist type counterfactuals, that the Church will be safeguarded from all error (at least mater et magistra qua mater et magistra), then God must somehow intervene in order to ensure that the Church does not ever err in her teaching capacity. For instance, if a Pope were to wish to teach something ex cathedra which is actually fallible, then God would have to, it seems, take away the Pope’s free will enabling him to teach error while standing ‘in persona ecclesiae‘. Perhaps God could forcefully order events so as to make it the case that the Pope would either not likely teach error presented with this or that circumstance, or else make it the case that the Pope, when acting in his papal capacity, teaches without exercising his freedom of will. Notice, however, that in the case that God intervenes in order to artificially assure the Church’s infallibility, one cannot retain the ‘doctrine’ of the Church’s infallibility. The Church cannot be infallible just because it never actually makes a mistake, any more than a mathematics textbook can be called inerrant just because it happens not to contain errors – to say of something that it is infallible, as to say of something that it is inerrant, means that it is the kind of thing which by its very nature could not be fallible (or errant, respectively). However, the Church would not really be infallible just because it is actually protected from teaching error – it would have to be protected from teaching error by reason of its nature (the kind of thing it is). Catholics make sense of this by appealing to the idea that the Church’s ‘soul’ is the Holy Spirit.

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.
~Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 10

To come back on point: God cannot providentially order events to ensure that the college of bishops in communion with the Pope freely choose to follow the calling of the Holy Spirit when acting in their magisterial capacity ecumenically (universally). At least this is so unless the members of the teaching office do not exercise their free will with respect to what they teach when teaching the faithful formally (authoritatively).

Another problem might be with the virgin Mary, and the fact that God would have no way of knowing counterfactually whether she would reverse the act of Eve by fiat, or else imitate the act of eve, prior to her choice (meaning logically prior – thus the knowledge of which way Mary chooses is apprehended by God by scientia visionis, and not by middle knowledge). Because he would not, strictly speaking, know by way of middle knowledge that, were Mary in x circumstance, she would freely choose A over B, God, it seems, cannot providentially order the world so as to ensure that Jesus is born at all.

Finally, there is a problem with believing that my own life is ordered by God with a view to counterfactuals by way of middle knowledge.

All of these problems accumulate and make the molinist position look very attractive, but perhaps there are other solutions?


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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