Nolan Whitaker

Schmomism

Molinists think that if CCFs are true postvolitionally rather than prevolitionally, then human beings are not free, because facts about how we would act in whatever situation are up to God. But if God has middle knowledge, Molinists say, then facts about how we would act in whatever situation are not up to God, and hence we are free. Here I dispute the former conditional: I think that even if CCFs are true post-volitionally, their truth values are not up to God. So if all that a person who calls themselves a Molinist wants is that facts about how we would act are not up to God, then they ought to adopt my view instead of Molinism, because my view doesn’t have the rather large theoretical cost of primitively true contingent counterfactuals. In the literature, the view that counterfactuals of freedom are true postvolitionally has been called Thomism, but my view doesn’t really have much to do with what St. Thomas thought about this and I haven’t really seen anyone else say something like this (though I haven’t looked too hard), so I’m going to call it Schmomism instead.

A popular Molinist claim is that if God knows CCFs postvolitionally, then He’s responsible for their truth-values; every CCF is true or false by divine decree. I think this is false, for it doesn’t appreciate the contextual nature of counterfactuals and how the distribution of modal space is more or less relative to the antecedent of whatever counterfactual. More to the point, it seems possible that, given the Stalnaker semantics for counterfactuals, there are some CCFs with antecedents that distribute modal space such that the worlds selected by the antecedent produce true counterfactuals that are beyond God’s control; if this is the case, then there are some CCFs that are not known prevolitionally any still yet are not up to God, and thus the Molinist claim that postvolitionally known CCFs are true or false by divine fiat is false. The upshot is that God’s free knowledge and postvolitional knowledge are not coextensive.

For example, suppose God creates a world where there’s only one spot open at Oxford and two applicants, Harry and Harriet. If Harry were offered the spot, he would take it, likewise for Harriet. Suppose at this world Harriet is offered the spot; then, from this world, it is true that if Harry were offered the spot, he would take it – but this isn’t true by divine decree, it is true because the nearest antecedent world is a world where Harry is offered the spot is the world most similar to world where Harriet is offered the spot. What the Molinist claim requires is that God could make it such that the nearest world where Harry is offered the spot is also a world where Harry declines the offer; but it’s simply not up to God whether or not a given world is more similar than another world with respect to a selected antecedent – the worlds just are what they are. Now, throw in the fact that there are countless counterfactuals that God takes into account for selecting any given world and it becomes clear that the number of counterfactuals that are in both God’s free knowledge and postvolitional knowledge becomes fairly small. Of course, by creating one world instead of another world it is true that God decrees one set of counterfactuals to be true instead of another set, but what’s important here is that it is not up to God which counterfactuals are in that set or which counterfactuals in that set are true or false – the antecedents of whatever counterfactuals are responsible for that.

So, if you’re a reluctant Molinist and all you wanted was a view that said your counterfactuals of freedom were not up to God, then join me in affirming Schmomism, which does just that but without primitively true counterfactuals of freedom.

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Anxiety as a Means to Flourish

Christians are committed to the idea that human beings are designed to flourish in certain environments. There is something like a blueprint or design plan for humanity which is ultimately aimed at human flourishing. When we are are functioning properly in the environment for which we were designed, we will flourish. When we are not functioning properly, we will not flourish. Presumably this includes our cognitive faculties. But being ordered toward flourishing does not entail being ordered toward truth. There is some possible circumstance where a human knower’s flourishing depends on his believing a falsehood. Plantinga (to whom I owe the above ideas) likes to give the example of a person with some terrible disease whose (perhaps irrational) belief that he will survive, via the placebo effect, increases the probability that he will in fact survive. So it’s possible that there is some reason that would justify our being designed to believe a falsehood in whatever circumstance, if our ultimate end is to flourish.

I think this is the case with anxiety. If humans do not have the capacity to be anxious on accident, then it must lead to human flourishing. But how can this be? Anxiety is usually thought to be a form of suffering, and as such incompatible with flourishing. Indeed, Jesus commands us to not to be anxious, but instead to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. I concur, we ought not be anxious, and the anxious person is not a flourishing person. But this does not mean anxiety cannot be a means to human flourishing. God designed us to work in such a way that, given unfavorable circumstances like anxiety or sin, if we will respond accordingly we will flourish. When a human finds himself in circumstances where he is anxious, the proper response to such circumstances will bring about flourishing. In one sense, humans were designed to be anxious.

As a cognitive malfunction, anxiety compels one to believe some awful proposition is true and hinders his ability to properly evaluate evidence for that proposition. What is of concern is that some terribly unfortunate proposition is true. If the anxious person knew the proposition were false, he would not be anxious. Thus, the obvious cure for anxiety is to believe the negation of the proposition in question. But this isn’t really an option to the anxious person, for they cannot properly evaluate the evidence in favor of whatever state of affairs they are anxious about. What’s so interesting about the Jesus’ command is that he seems to know this; his prescription for anxiety calls the anxious person to totally disregard the truth of the matter, and instead embrace the character of God and their relationship to him. Truly grasping the character of God entails all sorts of other beliefs that can mitigate anxiety, e.g. that God is good and wishes me no harm, that worry is fruitless, that God is provident and in control, etc. Now, suppose it’s true that if I were never anxious, I would not have reflected on the character of God and my relationship to him. And if I were to become anxious, I would be driven to so reflect on God. If this is the case, God has good reason to bring it about that I become anxious about something. It is in this way that anxiety is a means to human flourishing. For to flourish just is to know God.

Doubt Your Doubts

Peter Enns has a new book out titled The Sin of Certainty, which “models an acceptance of mystery and paradox that all believers can follow and why God prefers this path because it is only this way by which we can become mature disciples who truly trust God. It gives Christians who have known only the demand for certainty permission to view faith on their own flawed, uncertain, yet heartfelt, terms.”[1] Let’s call this (fairly popular, as of late) approach The New Fideism, or TNF for short. While I understand and endorse approaching the articles of faith with a healthy does of epistemic humility, I don’t think this theological attitude makes much sense.

First, a key term: let’s define fideism as the “exclusive or basic reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason and utilized especially in the pursuit of philosophical or religious truth,”[2] as Alvin Plantinga does. This definition allows for the lauded paradox and mystery necessary for TNF and focuses the conversation appropriately; for TNF is, perhaps inconsistently, not skeptical about ordinary knowledge claims or true beliefs regarding non-theological propositions. Fideism itself is nothing new, but what’s new about The New Fideism is that it’s trendy – doubt and skepticism are treated as virtues or interesting character quirks, doubt is preferred to certainty or concrete knowledge of God. Also, doubt and skepticism are now pragmatically valuable: they supposedly allow for theological discovery and, more importantly, protect one from theological certainty; one’s faith is made richer by virtue of doubt and skepticism. But why think this is the case? Why would doubt, particularly doubt in the objects of faith, make faith any better than the absence of doubt?

I cannot imagine a scenario where faith without doubt is more valuable than faith with doubt – this is because faith and doubt are contraries, they cancel each other out. Although I do recognize that faith and doubt are not binary switches, they come in degrees. However, they are binary in a different sense: faith and doubt both affirm the truth of propositions, which are necessarily binary. For example, for any religious proposition p, faith (in whatever degree) affirms p and doubt (in whatever degree) affirms not-p. Suppose one affirms p in a far greater degree than one affirms not-p, then one will believe p. But, if these values are reversed, then it follows that one will believe not-p. Now, suppose p stands for the proposition “God exists.” If the cherished doubt of the new fideists has its own way, if doubt really is a virtue of some sort, it then leads to atheism. Interestingly, one does not have to be “certain” that God does not exist in order to affirm atheism, she just has to think it more probable than not, or let her degree of doubt overcome her degree of faith in the affirmation of the proposition God exists. The “certainty” card seems to bite both ways. Further, fideism as Plantinga understands it is an entirely different monster than TNF – for fideism is simply faith (or affirming religious propositions and denying their complements) “accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason;” it says nothing about embracing doubt, which if taken to its logical conclusion possibly leads to atheism. Or, replace with any other religious proposition that you like (e.g. God raised Jesus from the dead, There is such person as Jesus of Nazareth), and you’ll see how unrestrained doubt concerning these propositions concludes.

But enough about doubt. I’m curious as to where this “demand for certainty” Enns mentions is coming from. Even in philosophical and apologetics circles, there simply is no demand for certainty. Those who are even superficially familiar with epistemology recognize that certainty is an ideal and nothing more. Interestingly, though, if we are to take TNF’s claims about certainty seriously and consistently, TNF turns out to be self-defeating. Plantinga’s critique of Kant and other philosophers (who suggest that God is so transcendent and other that our concepts do not apply to Him) could be reformulated against TNF. Plantinga points out that if one asserts that our concepts do not apply to God, then at least one of our concepts applies to God, i.e. the concept of our concepts not applying to him. Such thinking does not measure up to its own standards and thus shows itself to be false. TNF’s attitude toward certainty fails similarly by expressing a rather certain attitude that one ought not be certain about matters theological (see the exclusive terms Enns uses above). The same goes for TNF’s exaltation of mystery; by confidently predicating mysteriousness to God, God then has at least one non-mysterious property, (ironically) the property being mysterious. But if one is willing to predicate properties to God, why stop at mystery? Why not the property of having middle knowledge, or the property of aseity, or any other property that one has good reason to believe that God has? Why not take part in the incredibly rich theological conversation about the nature and attributes of God? Is this not what we were created for – to know God and make God known? Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig, and I with him, suggest that immersing oneself in the study of God even inspires worship:

I have found that the more I reflect philosophically on the attributes of God the more overwhelmed I become at his greatness and the more excited I become about Bible doctrine. Whereas easy appeals to mystery prematurely shut off reflection about God, rigorous and earnest effort to understand him is richly rewarded with deeper appreciation of who he is, more confidence in his reality and care, and a more intelligent and profound worship of his person.[3]

So what should we do when we doubt? First, if I am right in suggesting that faith and doubt are in conflict when affirming whatever proposition, then one obviously ought not doubt the truth of essential Christian propositions like God exists, or God raised Jesus from the dead (a different set of religious propositions may well leave room for doubt, e.g. Mankind is totally depraved). So the less one doubts a given proposition, the more room one has to affirm it – the less doubt, the more faith, and vice-versa. Yet, doubt is not merely an intellectual issue, it’s also a spiritual issue. But this does not mean intellectual pursuits cannot solve spiritual problems (indeed they have for me). So one who doubts should recognize and isolate the object of their doubt and pursue it into the ground. Trust me, it’s vastly improbable that you are the first one to doubt whatever proposition in 2,000 years of Christendom – there are resources, good resources, available for any given concern you may have. Do you doubt God’s goodness? Read God, Freedom, and Evil by Alvin Plantinga or Good God by David Baggett and Jerry Walls. Do you doubt that God exists? Read Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig. Do you doubt that faith and evolutionary science are compatible? Read The Language of God by evolutionary scientist Francis Collins. Do you think Paul was a misogynist? Read Paul, Women, and Wives by Craig Keener. I could go on. Finally, one should evaluate the state of their spiritual formation and make the appropriate adjustments (I’m no pastor, so I’ll leave whatever this may entail to the experts). All of that to say: don’t be a slave to your doubts, treat your doubt as an opportunity to reform your mind and let your faith grow; you’ll wish you had done so sooner – I’m certain of it.

 

[1] Emphasis mine. Enns, Peter. The Sin of Certainty.

[2] Reason and Belief in God, in The Analtyic Theist. 157.

[3] Craig, William Lane. The Only Wise God.

Don’t Seek God’s Will for Your Life

In his book titled, Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen presents the model of decision making that has infiltrated modern Christianity. He outlines the view in three propositions:

(1) Rather than asking “What is best for me?” or “What will bring me the greatest amount of happiness?” the Christian should always ask “What is God’s will for me in this decision?”

(2) Given God’s desire and ability to communicate, the believer can have confidence that God’s will can be known with certainty in any situation.

(3)Failure to discern and/or obey God’s leading results in anxiety, frustration, and discouragement that come from living outside the center of God’s will.[1]

The result of this mindset is a lot of vague instructions on how to make the “big” decisions in life, particularly when deliberating between two or more seemingly equal opportunities. One is told to “seek God’s will” or to “surrender your will to God” (which, by the way, one absolutely should do). The problem, however, is that these instructions are too vague and broad to be of any practical value; one ultimately ends up deferring to impressions or gut feelings which we sometimes attribute to the Holy Spirit. But is this a coherent decision making process?
Suppose Jones is making a significant life decision, deliberating between equal options A and B, and the Holy Spirit causes an impression in Jones ordered towards option A. Does it follow that God really does want him to choose option A? Not necessarily. Suppose God knows that Jones is particularly frustrated with impressions and often acts in spite of them. That is to say, he willingly acts to the contrary of whatever impression he holds. Now, suppose also that God actually wants Jones to choose option B – given that God knows what Jones would do in any given circumstance, God would give Jones an impression ordered towards option A in order for Jones to freely choose option B. Therefore, it does not follow that an impression ordered towards one option over against another is indicative of “God’s will for Jones in this decision.”

What then, are we to do? How are we supposed to know “God’s will” for us when we make decisions? Outside of decisions that are delimited by divine commands, this question is a nonstarter, it fails to take seriously the scope of God’s foreknowledge. Even prior to creating the world, God has already taken into account one’s free decisions. Thus, when making decisions one should merely make wise decisions and be confident in the fact that God has already taken his decision and future free actions into account. God is not going to be surprised or be forced to result to a “Plan B” in light of one’s decisions. Thus, while there is such thing as “God’s will for your life,” it is not your job to find it. Moreover, one ought not wonder “what would have happened” if he fails to follow “God’s will” in any given decision, for only God knows the relevant counterfactuals exhaustively. C.S. Lewis accurately captures the attitude one ought to take in response to counterfactual questions in a remarkable passage in Prince Caspian. Lucy, a young girl, asks Aslan what would have happened if she had not made a poor decision, to which Aslan coolly responds, “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.”[2]

[1] Friesen, Garry; Maxson, J. Robin, Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View, 28.

[2] Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, 153.

 

“…for the Bible Tells Me So”

The other day I was discussing the upcoming Supreme Court marriage ruling with a friend, when he made a rather scary remark: “When arguing for traditional marriage, Scripture is the only leg to stand on.” Mind you, this friend of mine is an intelligent person and a sincere Christian, so it was odd to hear him qualify that lone leg as the only leg, as if Scripture were insufficient in and of itself and needed some other, more acceptable external support. Second, and perhaps more importantly, he was completely unaware of the wealth of that “other” support which is available. There are arguments, good arguments, in favor of the traditional marriage position that have been developed and defended by some of intelligentsia’s finest. As such, my friend is stuck in a rather odd social position: he is committed to the truth of Scripture which seems to run contrary to current ethical tendencies, yet is unable to defend his position against any non-Christian criticisms because he simply has no argument to defend himself with.

Granted, he could argue that given his overwhelming personal experience with God, he is perfectly rational in holding his position despite the current moral trends and dearth of argument to support his religiously founded beliefs about marriage. In order to force my friend to give up his position on traditional marriage, then, the detractor will have to offer a defeater for his belief in God, not merely marriage. While such a strategy is surely available, it is utterly ineffective in gaining the intellectual and moral sympathies of non-Christian culture – it murders the cultural dialectic.  I mention my friend’s remark not in order to call him out or chastise him, but because I think it accurately reflects the attitude a large number of Christians adopt concerning contemporary social issues. Instead of responding to criticism with argument and evidence we shrug our shoulders and insouciantly concede, “for the Bible tells me so.”

What, then, should we do? In short, we should attempt to do what Alvin Plantinga did for Christian philosophy. Just 50 (relatively) short years ago, the philosophical climate was mercilessly hostile to any sort of theistic perspective on whatever issue, no matter how large or small. In fact, statements such as “there is such person as God” were taken not merely to be false, but to be literally meaningless. If one was a philosopher who happened to be a Christian, she dare not admit it to her colleagues and certainly did not let her faith “affect her work.” Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Today there exists a rich and respected Christian philosophical tradition both within and without of Christian academia, largely due to Plantinga’s brilliant work. However, Plantinga was certainly not the first brilliant Christian philosopher, but he was the first to approach this hostile environment properly, and I think if we emulate his approach in the social realm we will see social success.

Plantinga’s approach finds its roots in his theology: Plantinga is an ardent Calvinist. If you know any Calvinists or have been within shouting distance of a Calvinist, then you’re familiar with that particular brand of theological stubbornness that is unique to Calvinism (sorry, reformed brethren, I just call ‘em like I see ‘em). When Plantinga went to work, he didn’t leave this stubbornness at home, but instead was unapologetically dogmatic about his Christian philosophy – he brazenly presupposed theism to be true regardless of its unpopularity among his secular colleagues and took advantage of it. Via his dogmatic Christianity, there are certain philosophical options available to Plantinga (options that solve very large problems) that the naturalist simply cannot appeal to and consistently remain a naturalist. Plantinga will form an argument in support of his position which includes these theism-exclusive premises, leaving the rest to the naturalist. If he cannot escape the argument, the naturalist is stuck with whatever problem, all the while knowing that this problem would vanish in an instant if he were to give up his naturalism in favor of theism. This may seem trite, but this is just the sort of intellectual tension that causes people to give up beliefs in favor of others. Plantinga goes so far as to suggest that this quasi-dogmatic approach is a form of evangelism:

Despite the ravages of sin, we are all still in epistemic touch with the world for which he created us, still oriented towards the reality [God] has designed us for. It is therefore extremely difficult for any human being to give up such notions as truth and knowledge; it takes great energy and determination. Consequently there is a constant internal tension in unbelieving thought. It is at this very point that [Christian] contributions to the philosophical conversation can be attractive and useful to those who don’t share our commitments: attractive, because of these fundamental inclinations towards the notion of truth (and knowledge, and a host of other notions [the sanctity of human life, that every child deserves a mother and a father, etc.]), and useful, because such an account, insofar as it really does depend upon notions not available to the naturalist, can serve as a sort of implicit theistic argument perhaps creating the very sort of confusion and turmoil in which the Holy Spirit works.

With the above in mind, let us again ask the question, what should we do? First and foremost, we should shed this fideistic (and frankly, lazy) attitude and at least become aware of the arguments supporting the Christian position concerning whatever social issue – no shrugging allowed. I assure you, they exist – let’s not mistakenly assume that they don’t. Thus, instead of cutting off the trans-partisan dialogue and impeding progress, the Christian can at least refer the opposition to something to interact with. Second, if one feels capable, she should learn and defend the arguments.

I feel compelled to contend that the strategy Plantinga employed in academia will work well for Christians in the social realm. For fun, however, let’s suppose that I’m wrong and that this argumentative dogmatism fails – what do we lose? In a word, nothing. Rather, it seems to me that both sides will benefit from actually having a legitimate conversation. The thing about good arguments (whether they are sound or not) is that they force both sides to critically and closely examine themselves and the opposition, thereby granting an all-around better understanding of the situation. All of that to say, instead of telling others for the Bible tells you so, how about you discuss why the Bible tells you so, and perhaps they’ll end up on your side.

What Would Aslan Do? A Molinist Approach to C.S. Lewis

The alleged conflict between divine sovereignty, providence, foreknowledge, and human freedom is but one of a few of those classic ‘problems’ with theism which will not cease to be discussed so long as there are theists to discuss them. As an apologist, it is no surprise that Lewis partook in the discussion with a characteristically refreshing and original take. Post-reformation, this discussion among evangelical circles has been dominated by Calvinists and Armenians, but those left unsatisfied with either camp have explored other options. As of late, those who are philosophically inclined have turned to the little discussed Jesuit counter-reformer, Luis De Molina. Rather than heavily emphasizing divine sovereignty, per Calvinism, or conversely human freedom, per Arminianism, Molina attempted to reconcile both the sovereignty of God and the libertarian freedom he has endowed his creatures with without compromising either. Lewis was not aware of Molinism, and as such was not a conscious Molinist, yet he shared Molina’s general aim of the reconciliation and preservation of two seemingly paradoxical concepts. Indeed, Lewis’ thought as expressed in The Chronicles of Narnia, Perelandra, and his non-fiction work is, at the very least, consistent with Molinism.

In the introduction to his translation of part four of Molina’s Concordia, On Divine Foreknowledge, Alfred Freddoso rightly notes that at the root of the alleged paradox of sovereignty, foreknowledge, and freedom is the doctrine of divine providence, which “involves the thesis that God, the divine artisan, freely and knowingly plans, orders, and provides for all the effects that constitute His artifact, the created universe with its entire history, and executes His chosen plan by playing an active causal role sufficient to ensure its exact realization” (Freddoso 3). With Molina’s understanding of providence in view, it becomes clear that the doctrine of foreknowledge “derives its lofty theological status from its intimate connection with the absolutely central doctrine that God is perfectly provident” (Freddoso 2). That is to say, it “is because He is perfectly provident that God has comprehensive knowledge of what will occur in the created order” (Freddoso 4). As of yet, only two logical ‘moments’ of God’s omniscience have been discussed: his so-called natural knowledge of all necessary truths and possible worlds which God might create, and his free knowledge of every true proposition about the world which he has created. Molina shared these doctrines of foreknowledge and providence with his catholic brethren, but he differed in his notion of the logical priority of a third logical moment of God’s omniscience, counterfactual knowledge, relative to God’s creative decree. For the Catholic theologians, this knowledge is logically posterior to his creative decree and for Molinists said knowledge is logically prior to the creative decree (Craig 122). Thus, for Molina, this counterfactual knowledge is sandwiched between his natural and free knowledge, appropriately termed middle knowledge:

Therefore, before any free determination of His will, by virtue of the depth of His natural knowledge…He discerns what the free choice of any creature would do by its own innate freedom, given the hypothesis that He should create it in this or that order of things with these or those circumstances or aids. (Molina 119)

As such, Molina contended that placing God’s counterfactual knowledge prior to the creative decree preserves human freedom in such a manner that is not possible if God’s counterfactual knowledge is posterior to the creative decree. William Lane Craig, in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views demonstrates this principle well:

For example, there is a possible world in which Peter affirms Christ in precisely the same circumstances in which he in fact denied him. But given the counterfactual truth that if Peter were in precisely those circumstances he would freely deny Christ, then the possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ in those circumstances is not feasible for God. God could make Peter affirm Christ in those circumstances, but then his confession would not be free. (Craig 123)

By contrast, the catholic theologian is unable to discern which possible worlds within God’s natural knowledge are feasible for him to create, and is left with the unwanted supposition that God could have created any possible world, including the best possible world which God did not create. Merely asserting that God has complete counterfactual knowledge is insufficient to establish Molinism, one must place said knowledge prior to the divine creative decree in between his natural and free knowledge in order to be a proper Molinist. In sum, there are three essential tenets one must assent to if he is to subscribe to Molinism: the libertarian free will of human beings, a robust doctrine of divine providence (and thus exhaustive foreknowledge), and the placement of God’s counterfactual knowledge logically prior to his creative decree. A close reading of Lewis reveals that he subscribed to each of these three tenets.

In a collection of his essays on theology and ethics, God in the Dock, it is evident that Lewis affirms human freedom along with a strong doctrine of divine providence. The Trouble with ‘X’ is largely a pastoral essay, but here Lewis lets his theological principles guide his ministry. When asked why God won’t simply remove the difficulty in ‘difficult people,’ Lewis proposes that “God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him” (Lewis 153). Further, Lewis argues that God “would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else” (Lewis 153). Thus, Lewis affirms human freedom on the basis of moral responsibility and the superiority of a world full of free creatures over-against a world of “machines.”

In an interesting essay titled The Laws of Nature, Lewis attempts to reconcile human freedom with the immutable physical laws of nature. After coming to the conclusion that “in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event,” Lewis notes that God or something like God is necessary for anything to happen at all: “any contrast between His acts and the laws of Nature is out of the question…The laws are an empty frame; it is He who fills that frame – not now and then on specially ‘providential’ occasions, but at every moment” (Lewis 79). For Lewis, then, every occasion is a ‘specially providential occasion,’ for God sustains the world in being.

Lastly, in The Problem of Pain, when discussing the need for humans to endure divinely ordained trials or tests of faith if God, through his counterfactual knowledge knows what would result without needing the actual event to take place, Lewis shows that such trials exist more for the sake of the test-subject than the test-giver. Taking God’s command to Abraham that he sacrifice Isaag as a point of departure, Lewis explains, “whatever God knew, Abraham at any rate did not know that his obedience would endure such a command until the event taught him: and the obedience which he did not know that he would choose, he cannot be said to have chosen” (Lewis 89). Further, Lewis exposes the false assumption underlying such an objection: “To say that God ‘need not have tried the experiment’ is to say that because God knows, the thing known by God need not to exist” (Lewis 90). It is important to note that in this instance Lewis presupposes that the existence of an event in the actual world is not a necessary condition of God knowing said event. As such, God’s knowledge of what Abraham would do is logically prior to Abraham’s actually doing so. A more explicit expression of the properly ordered logical priority can be found in The Laws of Nature, where Lewis discusses God taking prayers into account before ordaining which events are to take place: “And He, from His vantage point of Time, can, if He pleases, take all prayers into account in ordaining that vast complex event which is the history of the universe” (Lewis 79). Thus, the last of the three essential tenets of Molinism have been distinctly expressed in Lewis’ non-fiction work.

Lewis presupposes creaturely freedom throughout his fictional work, but his comments in Perelandra on what exactly freedom entails are interesting and well worth discussing. These comments appear during Ransom’s internal struggle with himself concerning his reluctant acceptance of the daunting task of killing the Un-Man (Perelandra’s Satan archetype) that Maleldil (God) has put before him. He begins this struggle by questioning the Maleldil’s choice of sending Ransom for this mission and not someone or something else: “Did Maleldil want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend of such a man of straw as himself?” (Lewis 270). Taking this concept further, Ransom then contemplates why something of such importance would depend on something so fleeting as free will at all: “Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made. Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it?” (Lewis 270). This false dichotomy sets up his climactic conclusion a few passages later, after a brief aside on the futility of contemplating “what would have happened”:

In vain did his mind hark back, time after time, to the Book of Genesis, asking, ‘What would have happened?’…Almost he felt that the words ‘what would have happened’ were meaningless – mere invitations to wander in what the Lady would have called an ‘alongside world’ which had no reality. Only the actual was real: and every actual situation was new. (Lewis 273)

Ransom’s assertion that the words ‘what would have happened’ are almost “meaningless” must not be misinterpreted. Ransom is not contending that subjunctive conditionals are literally meaningless – Lewis is already committed to the contrary – but rather that it is futile for anyone other than an omniscient being to contemplate them. “Thus, and not otherwise” did Maleldil create the world; to utter the words ‘what would have happened’ is also to question the wisdom of Maleldil. After embracing the actual world, Ransom returns to his former topic of freedom with a new and confident approach: “The whole distinction between things accidental and things designed, like the distinction between myth and fact, was purely terrestrial” (Lewis 275). The Narrator expounds Ransom’s paradox:

You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had been delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical. (Lewis 276-277)

Rather than approaching the freedom-predestination problem from a thesis-antithesis perspective in order to make an attempt at a compromise or victory, Lewis suggests that there is no argument to be had, that both concepts are reconcilable, that both concepts are about the same thing and so closely intertwined that to distinguish between the two is a moot point. The following sentence, however, suggests that Lewis is not literally denying the difference between predestination and human freedom: “He could not longer see any meaning in the arguments he had heard on this subject” (Lewis 277). Lewis is not critical of predestination or freedom themselves, but of the unwarranted polarization of competing theological circles. Again, Lewis is aiming for a synthesis, not a deconstructive compromise or subordination of one of the two. Perelandra, then, contains a rather robust view of creaturely freedom, completely consistent with Maleldil’s ordination and foreknowledge of the world. The fact of said freedom and ordination are even said to be logically prior to the creation of the world:

Before his Mother had borne him, before his ancestors had been called Ransoms, before ransom had been the name for a payment that delivers, before the world was made, all these things so stood together in eternity that the very significance of the pattern at this point lay in their coming together just in this fashion. (Lewis 275)

Consequently, in Perelandra Lewis affirms creaturely freedom, a robust doctrine of divine providence, exhaustive foreknowledge, and proper logical priority of divine counterfactual knowledge, all of which are indicative of Molinism.

Clearly, then, Lewis’ fiction and non-fiction share a common set of theological assumptions, which the Molinist can easily read and affirm without any scruple. This has been established without reference to The Chronicles of Narnia, however. Extracting Lewis’ theological principles from Narnia is difficult, and the exegete ought to be particularly wary of committing eisegesis. The key person of interest, Aslan, is particularly tricky as he is undefined yet explicitly analogous to Jesus Christ in some passages. Moreover, just as Jesus is God, so also Aslan seems to be God. In The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan has counterfactual knowledge, which Lewis typically reserves for God alone: when Digory asks ‘what would have happened’ if he so chose to eat the silver apple and heal his mother with it, Aslan answers affirmatively, “Understand, then, that it would have healed her, but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness” (Lewis 191, emphasis added). In this context, it is unclear whether Aslan is expressing middle knowledge or logically posterior counterfactual knowledge, but nevertheless it is the same sort of counterfactual that Ransom, as a finite being, sees as “almost meaningless.” Likewise, in Prince Caspian Lucy asks Aslan for access to the truth of a counterfactual question, to which Aslan coolly responds, “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that” (Lewis 153). As such, Aslan is not subject to Lewis’ futility objection and is instead placed in the same position of epistemic authority as Maleldil in Perelandra and the God of Abraham in The Problem of Pain.

Yet, there is a lingering uncertainty concerning what exactly Aslan is and how the reader is to interpret his character. In his essay C.S. Lewis and Christological Prefigurement, P.H. Brazier bluntly asks, “how much is Aslan an accurate intimation or echo of the divine truth of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for our redemption?” but carefully frames his question with the hesitant, non-committal qualifying terms “intimation” and “echo” (Brazier 756). While it is hard to say what Aslan exactly is, some are willing to confidently assert was Aslan is not. In The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, James F. Sennett wrote an essay titled Worthy of a Better God: Religious Diversity and Salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia, where he boldly suggests, “the Narnian salvation story is not the Jesus story. There are intentional parallels, of course, in the story of Aslan’s death on the Stone Table…but they are by no means the same story” (Sennett 235). Later, Sennett more firmly asserts, “Aslan is not Jesus; Narnia is not Christendom” (Sennett 235). However, Sennett’s dismissive statements are far too broad in scope and require qualification. If Sennett means to say that Aslan is not a mere allegory of Christ, he is in agreement with Lewis himself. In a letter to a certain Mrs. Hook, Lewis wrote,

If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’ This is not allegory at all.

Sennett’s assertion that Aslan is not an allegorical Jesus holds true. However, one must remember that Jesus of Nazareth was a human and that Jesus Christ is God; Jesus is the incarnate λόγος of John 1. But the λόγος only becomes Jesus of Nazareth after “all things came into being through Him,” after he “became flesh” and by doing so took on an additional human nature. In a sense, then, Aslan is not Jesus Christ, but Aslan is Christ ὁ λόγος, albeit with an additional lion-nature. Brazier confirms: “Aslan is not meant to be a separate incarnation from Jesus Christ…they are rather one and the same. They differ only in form –the form of a man or the form of a lion, – in each case, a form appropriate to its created environment” (Brazier 765).

But if not an allegory, what is the Narnian story? Per Brazier, “Lewis decried the label ‘allegory’, concentrating on his term ‘supposal – a ‘what if’ supposition” (Brazier 764). That is to say, what if the λόγος decided to create Narnia, instead of the actual world? Recall the notion of God’s natural knowledge of all possible worlds – both the actual world and Narnia are present in there. Speaking on behalf of Lewis, Brazier asks, “What if Christ became incarnate in the flesh, the physical reality of another world…not another world within our universe but an entirely different universe, another reality?” (Brazier 765).

The notion that Narnia is not an allegorical world but rather a ‘fictional-actual world,’ coupled with the notion that Aslan is the incarnation of the eternal λόγος and not merely a referential character to Jesus of Nazareth, is pertinent to determining at which logical moment Lewis places God’s counterfactual knowledge. When writing The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis must ask himself, “If God created that world, Narnia, and not our own, what would Aslan do?” Notice that this question is impossible to ask if God’s counterfactual knowledge is posterior to creation, for Lewis’ counterfactual question is not contrary to the fact of this world, but of Narnia. Therefore, the very concept of the eternal λόγος creating Narnia and entering it as Aslan, as opposed to creating Earth and entering as Jesus of Nazareth, demonstrates Lewis’ assumption that God has counterfactual knowledge logically prior to his creative decree – middle knowledge.

Surprisingly, the strongest evidence for Lewis’ subscription to middle knowledge comes from his meta-Narnian ‘supposal’, rather than one of his many theological treatises. This is critical because it reveals that Lewis merely presupposes that God works this way, as opposed to taking a definite theological stance within one of many ‘-isms.’ Ergo, it would be awkward and inappropriate to label Lewis a Molinist, although the essential tenets of creaturely libertarian free will, a robust doctrine of divine providence, exhaustive foreknowledge, and middle knowledge are all well established within Lewis’ thought. As such, Molinism can make easy sense of Lewis, while the other –isms will have to ask, “What would Aslan do?”

Works Cited

Brazier, P. H. “C. S. Lewis & Christological Prefigurement.” The Heythrop Journal 48.5 (2007): 742-75. Web. 4 May 2015.

Craig, William L. “The Middle Knowledge View.” Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001. Print.

Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology. Ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1970. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew. Ed. Pauline Baynes. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Print.

Lewis, C. S. “Perelandra.” The Space Trilogy. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2013. Print.

Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Ed. Pauline Baynes. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1994. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: MacMillan, 1948. Print.

Molina, Luis De, and Alfred J. Freddoso. On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia. Ed. Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988. Print.

Sennett, James. “Worthy of a Better God: Religious Diversity and Salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia.” The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy: The Lion, the Witch, and the Worldview. Ed. Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls. Chicago: Open Court, 2005. Print.

On the Heartbeat

Awareness is more often than not considered to be a virtue, and rightfully so, for to be unaware is to be ignorant, and none wish to be ignorant. Yet there are numerous things I do indeed want to remain ignorant of and therefore numerous things I wish to be unaware of. For example, there is a permanent retainer installed behind the bottom row of my front teeth that I never wish to be aware of, because once I become aware of its annoying existence I cannot help but pester it until another thought has replaced this awareness. Also, there are other sorts of facts that I wish to remain ignorant of due to their uselessness. The number of threads in any given shirt, for example. Moreover, awareness seems to be a state of consciousness rather than the mere possession of knowledge. If this is so, I am indeed ignorant of many things I know – most of them, in fact. This seems unintuitive, however, and we ought to make the distinction between ignorance and unawareness. The former being the complete lack of knowledge or perception of any relevant proposition and the latter being the lack of cognizance of whatever proposition, thus leaving room for one to be unaware of something he knows.

This sort of interplay between knowledge and awareness is interesting, to say the least. It seems to me that awareness of whatever proposition acts as a medium or access point to other relevant bits of knowledge. For example, with my retainer in view I am able to recall various unpleasant memories of my orthodontist’s office. Yet, with my retainer in view, I am unable to recall the premises of Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism because this knowledge does not share a relevant concept with said awareness. Therefore, one’s state of awareness and phenomenological context determines what knowledge is accessible at that particular point in time.

For instance, the awareness of my own mortality is brought about by the perception of my heart. By ‘heart,’ I in no way mean the spiritual locus or whatever is meant by ‘heart’ in the affectionate sense. Rather, I mean the beating, pumping, sustaining, muscle in the center of my chest. Much like the irksome retainer lodged in my mouth, I would much rather be unaware of my heart. For whatever reason, I can usually feel my heart beating. This is often unsettling and/or distracting, given that I also regularly have heart palpitations. It’s as if my heart tries to beat before its current beat is completed, resulting in a jarring and unexpected sensation. I should note that everyone has palpitations like these, but they are usually unaware of them and my experience is only abnormal due to my constant awareness and perception of my heart. Moreover, people of lanky stature not entirely unlike myself often have a genetic disorder known as Marfan’s syndrome, which affects all sorts of important connective tissues throughout the body. Most of these affected tissues are relatively harmless. For example, many Marfan’s syndrome patients are unusually flexible or near sighted due to a lack of structural integrity in the joints and eyes. Unfortunately, Marfan’s syndrome also can weaken the wall in a critically important area of the aorta, the body’s largest blood vessel. On rare occasions, this can cause an aortic dissection, meaning that the aorta has ruptured at its weak point, causing said person to internally bleed to death in a matter of minutes. I do not have Marfan’s syndrome, but I didn’t know this until a few years ago. Before I knew I was in the clear, the fear of this possibility coupled with my ceaseless perception of my heart has made me associate the heartbeat with death rather than life, leading to some unnecessary but fruitful thought experiments.

For example, if God has complete knowledge of the future, then He knows the exact time at which I will die. It need not be said that this time is a finite time from now, and as my heart cannot beat an infinite number of times in a finite amount of time, I only have a finite number of heartbeats left – and God knows this number. What this number is, I cannot know. Is it ten thousand? Ten million? Is it just ten? Whatever it is, it is only getting smaller. Further, the heartbeat is an involuntary action, meaning that I do not choose to beat my heart; it beats independent of any wish or will that I may have. My heart itself seems indifferent to its remaining number of beats, seeing as it will beat rapidly for unnecessary reasons: a nightmare, for instance. This is for the better, of course. I do not want to know what the world would look like if we were directly responsible for beating our hearts. Doubtless I would treat the heartbeat as a precious resource instead of a means to a fulfilling life. All of that to say, the awareness of my heartbeat brings with it the awareness of my own mortality and finitude, “the self-awareness of the finite self as finite.” An odd feeling accompanies the awareness of my finitude. It isn’t fear, for “fear relates itself to objects – for example, a danger, a pain, an enemy – for it is psychological and can be conquered.” This feeling is more akin to Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety: “Anxiety cannot be conquered, for not finite being can conquer its finitude.” I should note that this anxiety is should not be confused with nervousness or skittishness; rather, this anxiety is a sort of morbid futility, more of a disappointed melancholy than anything else.

Yet, it seems to me that anxiety can be conquered. On Kierkegaard’s terms, one is only anxious when he is aware of his finitude. To conquer anxiety then, one must merely be un-aware of his finitude. However, by being willfully unaware, he has merely pushed back his being anxious, for no person believes himself to be infinite in the relevant sense. Thus, “anxiety is always present, although it may be latent.”

There is a second option in conquering anxiety, a much more appealing solution: hope. This is where the distinction between fear and anxiety is important. Each fear has a possibly defeasible proper object, and one is able to have hope by virtue of this perceived potential victory. Per contra, when one is anxious, he is aware of the utter futility of any attempt to redeem himself, there is no potential victory to be perceived. However, for the Christian whose potential victory over death lies not in the finite self, but in God, the indefeasible anxiety of mortality becomes a mere fear by virtue of the hope placed in an infinite God. The disturbing thing about hope, however, is that it can attach itself to a false object. Is there anything more unfortunate than a baseless hope? In Dante’s Inferno, insinuating an act of divine mercy upon the damned, this inscription is fixed upon the gates of hell: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” In fact, when one comes across an individual who is deluded in their hope, it is natural to suggest that he ought to inform them of their ignorance in spite of any negative feelings which may follow. Because of this, one must exhaustively examine the ground on which their hope is based. Even Paul recognized the need for a substantiated and warrant hope, flatly asserting that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Fortunately for the Christian who hopes in the resurrection of Jesus, this hope is very well grounded in history. Scholars like William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, Tim McGrew, Mike Licona, and many more have published an exhaustive amount of literature on this subject that will more than strengthen and ground this hope, enabling the Christian to “know that Christ being raised from the dead, will never die again…For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Works Cited
Kierkegaard, Søren, Reidar Thomte, and Albert Anderson. The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1980. Print