Metaphysics Philosophy


Robert Adams, in “Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil” sought to address the reemergence of a Jesuit theory of divine providence Scientia Media – by offering the grounding objection to God’s MK.

Adams first addresses Scientia Media historically – leaning heavily on Luis de Molina’s offerings in “Part IV: On Divine Foreknowledge” in Concordia (1588). Middle Knowledge describes God’s knowledge of, “what every possible free creature would freely do in every situation in which that creature could possibly find himself,” (109). Theologians are drawn to scientia media because it explains how God could sovereignly actualize a world wherein He utilizes the (libertarian) free actions of creatures to accomplish His will.

Adams’ contends that conditional propositions supposedly known in MK cannot be true (109). He substantiates this claim by appealing to the text of 1 Samuel 23. Before settling in Keilah, David asks the Lord if Saul of Israel will come into Keilah. God responds in the affirmative. David then queries if the men of Keilah, “will surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul.” God responds, “they will surrender you.” As a result, David evacuates from Keilah, giving Saul no opportunity to besiege his men and removing the occasion for the men of Keilah to surrender him (1 Samuel 23:1-14). Jesuit theologians use this passage to assert God’s knowledge of two propositions:

  1. If David stayed in Keilah, Saul would besiege the city.
  2. If David stayed in Keilah and Saul besieged the city, the men of Keilah would surrender David to Saul.

Since both actions would have been free in a libertarian sense, this is understood as a case of God’s MK (110). But what, if anything, makes these two propositions true? Adams states, “Most philosophers … have supposed that categorical predictions, even about contingent events, can be true by corresponding to the actual occurrence of the event that they predict. But propositions (1) and (2) are not true in this way.” (110).

Given a correspondence theory of truth, subjunctive conditionals require a truthmaker. Rejecting the idea that Saul’s besieging of Keilah follows by logical necessity from David’s staying there, a more plausible suggestion is one of causal necessity. But both types of necessity would eliminate libertarian free will (111)! Any non-necessitating basis for the truth of (1) and (2), Adams continues, would result in mere probabilities. This means God would not infallibly know what definitely will happen.

Suarez appealed to a primitive understanding for the truth values of relevant subjunctive conditionals. A merely possible being, under Suarez’s view, need not find actualization, yet has a property of being a possible agent who may or may not insatiate a situational action. Only God knows which property this possible agent has (112). This ontology is rejected by Adams.

Alvin Plantinga assumed the theory of MK in formulating his “Free Will Defense” to the problem of evil. Adams refutes Plantinga’s possible worlds explanation of counterfactuals – adapted from Robert Stalnaker and David Lewis (112). By this analysis, the actual world must be more similar to some possible world wherein David stays in Keilah and Saul besieges the city, than to any possible world in which David stays in Keilah and Saul does not besiege the city (112). Adams objects to the conclusion that such a world as described above is relevantly similar to the actual world. Rather, his argument goes, it seems a relevantly similar world would be one in which David stayed in Keilah but wasn’t given over to Saul. Additionally, Adams appeals to the argument of probability presented previously – that one can only posit what Saul might have done, and so would have only probably laid siege to Keilah (113).

Adams rejects Plantinga’s application of deliberative conditionals (If I did x, y would happen) to the possible worlds explanation of counterfactuals (113). Here the order of explanation in God’s creative act is questioned – “the truth of crucial conditionals cannot be settled soon enough to be of use to God,” (113). The problem is that this conditional may only be considered true if the actual world is more similar to a world wherein x is done and y happens, than a world wherein x is done but y does not happen. Thus, the truth of this deliberate conditional depends on the truth or falsity of its antecedent. Which world is the actual world is seen as dependent upon whether x is done or not done. Adams argues that if God simply believed a deliberate conditional prior to the settlement of this conditional as true, then He acts based on luck, not wisdom.

Philosophy Theodicy

The Problem of Evil: A Molinist’s Theodicy (Pt. 1)

Throughout the millennia, philosophers and laypersons alike have struggled with the existence of evil. Augustine passed on a dualistic vision of morality reminiscent of his former Manichaeism, wherein the body is essentially evil while the mind good. This elevation of the mind, intellect, and reason proved pervasive – bleeding into the Catholicism via Aquinas and defining European society by popular literary artists such as Dante. Evil and suffering have thus historically been viewed in the post-Greco world as a product of man’s inability to transcend the physical.

Given our modern setting, new challenges have arisen where atheism has been offered as an acceptable and complete worldview and naturalism permeates a society inclined toward monistic thought. In this climate, philosophers like Nietzsche are welcome to categorically deny distinctions between “good and evil”, at least as they exist in traditional thought. Moreover, Judeo-Christian values and duties are mocked as simplistic and illogical, due to the still pervasive influence of Aristotelian asceticism, Calvinistic determinism, Descartes’s extension of divine omnipotence, and so forth. Common association of these philosophies with theism in general have caused many to back away from, or unapologetically ridicule, Christianity. It is thus crucial for the Christian to develop a fuller theodicy, expounding upon both proper theology, philosophy, and logic.

In modern times, the derision and rejection of religion continues. The issue is not so simply dismissed by the Christian as through an appeal to wrongheaded yet pervasive philosophies. Rather, these enduring issues involve complex emotional struggles with tangible evil and personal suffering. Within our world exists not only moral evils, explained by some fault in humanity, but also the seemingly gratuitous natural evils devastating the masses. At the base of this problem lies the question, why would God allow evil? Or more personally, why has God allowed me to suffer thus? To properly formulate a theodicy, one must address not only the logical problem of evil, but also the evidential or probabilistic. In upcoming posts, this author will differentiate between these facets of this quandary and explicate their validity from a Christian worldview, all the while utilizing logic and philosophy.