Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do permissible options imply libertarian freedom?

Dan Chapa has done a couple of oddball posts:

Do Permissible Options Imply LFW?
Numbers 30:13 Every vow and every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void. (NKJV)
This passage teaches that both options were permissible, neither option being a sin. Calvinists would probably respond by saying permissible options do not imply that the man can choose either option but why it does not is beyond me.

The fact that two (or more) hypothetical options are morally permissible doesn’t mean those are both live options. It doesn’t even mean that either one is a live option.

For instance, let’s say it’s morally permissible for me to study at either Wheaton or Caltech. But suppose I can’t afford to study at Wheaton? Suppose I don’t have the test scores to be admitted to Caltech? Either is permissible but neither is viable.

One of the criticisms I repeatedly hear of middle knowledge is that it’s a philosophical system rather than scriptural. Now the two scriptural pillars of middle knowledge are the many passages saying men choose and the many passages saying God is in control. Middle knowledge reconciles the two.
However, there’s no shortage of the passages more directly supporting middle knowledge – those passages showing that God’s knows what we would choose under different settings. It’s not as if scripture limits middle knowledge to the famous examples of David in Keilah or the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon. Here’s a list of passages showing God does know what we would choose in various circumstances : Deuteronomy 28:51-57, 1 Samuel 23:6-10, Ezekiel 3:6-7, Jeremiah 49:9, Obadiah 1:5, Matthew 11:21-23, Matthew 12:7, Matthew 23:27-32, Matthew 24:43, Luke 16:30-31, Luke 22:67-68, John 8:39, John 8:42, John 14:28, John 15:19, John 18:36, 1 Corinthians 2:8, Galatians 4:15, and 1 John 2:19.

Dan must really be slipping:

i) Dan is illicitly acting as if counterfactual knowledge is interchangeable with middle knowledge, but even Craig denies that:

I think it is plain, then, that the God of the Bible exhibits counterfactual knowledge…Unfortunately, this does not answer the question of whether God has middle knowledge. For the scriptural passages show only that God possesses counterfactual knowledge, and, as I have said, until modern times all theologians agreed that God possesses counterfactual knowledge. The dispute among them concerned when in logical order of things this knowledge comes: is it before or after the divine decree. Since Scripture does not reflect upon this question, no amount of proof-texting can prove that God’s counterfactual knowledge is possessed logically prior to his creative decree. This is a matter for theological-philosophical reflection, not biblical exegesis. Thus, while it is clearly unbiblical to deny that God has simple foreknowledge and even counterfactual knowledge, those who deny middle knowledge cannot be accused of being unbiblical, J. Beilby & P. Eddy ed., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (IVP 2001), 124-25.

ii) Assuming (arguendo) that Dan’s prooftexts successfully attest counterfactual knowledge, that doesn’t single out Molinism rather than Calvinism.

Middle knowledge is a more specific claim than counterfactual knowledge. According to middle knowledge, God knows the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Not just that God knows counterfactuals, but counterfactuals which are (said to be) indexed to the libertarian freedom of human (or angelic) agents.

Put another way, middle knowledge is God’s prevolitional knowledge of what libertarian agents would do in various situations. But that’s not equivalent to counterfactual knowledge. Rather, that builds libertarian freedom into the definition.

This is further complicated by the fact that there’s more than one model of libertarian freedom. Does libertarian freedom require alternative possibilities, ultimate sourcehood, or both? Libertarian philosophers differ.

So Dan is overinterpreting his prooftexts by trying to extract a far more specific construct than his prooftexts will yield.

iii) Counterfactual knowledge is perfectly consonant with Reformed theism. God knows what might have happened because he knows how things would turn out had he decreed that alternative.

And that’s also consistent with God as the final source of every alternate possibility. What’s possible is a measure of divine omnipotence. God knows what God is capable of doing.  Divine omnipotence is the engine generating those possibilities.

iv) Finally, although I’m not opposed to the counterfactual interpretation of certain scriptures, that’s not the only plausible interpretation. And you don’t have to be a Calvinist to present a different interpretation. Here’s how a Catholic philosopher fields some Molinist prooftexts:


  1. You're correct to point out he's smuggling middle knowledge into scriptural statements ascribing counterfactual knowledge to God.

    The issue of permissibility implying ability to bring about multiple futures given identical histories leading up to the action is just odd. In ethical theory, more 'permissibility' is generally understood as:

    X is permissible for S iff X is neither obligatory nor impermissible for S.

    On this analysis, it shouldn't be "beyond [Dan" anymore why X's permissibility doesn't imply forking paths.

  2. Hitchens is dead and we await your obligatory tasteless post about it, Steve. You don't want Theodore Beale over on Vox Popoli to beat you, do you?

    Lots of Christians in my RSS feeds are having surprisingly nice things to say. Time to balance the scales.

  3. You're inciting me to do a "tasteless" post on his demise so that you can turn around and wax indignant at the tasteless post which you incited. Thanks for illustrating misotheist morality.

  4. Did I win? Yay! No tasteless post on Hitchens' death from Steve Hays. That's horrendously improbable, but I succeeded in preventing it. Go me.

  5. Taste is in the mouth of the beholder ... or something.

  6. LOL at Ben. What a child.