Site Updated August 24, 2018

THE GROUNDING OBJECTION

 

 

 

 

The argument

 

Dr. White occasionally brings up a particular philosophical argument in order to show that Christians should reject the Molinist view of God's providence.

 

"And we've especially talked about what's called the grounding objection."

 

White, James. “A Little Molinism, and a Little Oneness.” Alpha and Omega Ministries, podcast audio. January 10, 2018.

 

 

Dr. White presents the grounding objection as follows:

 

"What's important to realize, in Molinism, is that God does not determine the content of middle knowledge. So, if you have person X and they'll do this, in this circumstance, and that, in that circumstance, that is beyond God's control. What determines that is beyond God's control because it's middle knowledge. It's not knowledge of He himself. Its not knowledge of what He's gonna create. And this is what we call the grounding objection: then where did it come from? Who determined this? There is no answer on Molinism. It just is. Its just the way it is. And we have often played the clip where Dr. Craig, in answering a question about evil, as a molinist, uh says, 'well look, God's got to play with the cards he's been dealt by middle knowledge'. To which I go, then we need to be worshiping the card dealer because the card dealer is superior to God because the card dealer determined, sovereignly determined, what free creatures would do in any given certain circumstance. Either that or you have to say, 'well nobody did that', which means now the very form of any possible world is determined by some.... it's fate. It's just fate determined these things. This is the grounding objection. It's been the objection of, uh... Francis Turretin made this the essence of his argument in his institutes of elenctic theology and it's, I believe, it's an absolutely valid, unquestionable fatality to the Molinistic system, aside from the fact that it, from a biblical perspective, is utterly underived from Scripture. It is fatal to the system. There's just no two ways about it."

 

White, James. “A Little Molinism, and a Little Oneness.” Alpha and Omega Ministries, podcast audio. January 10, 2018.

https://www.sermonaudio.com/source_detail.asp?sourceid=aominorg

 

 

Firstly, it is worth pointing out that Dr. White's question "Who determined this?" is an odd one given that he is debating those who do not believe that free choices are determined at all but made freely by agents endowed with libertarian free will. Perhaps he didn't carefully phrase his objection and didn't really mean to imply that he is assuming that choices must be "determined" by something outside of the agent's free choice. Based on the argument above, Dr. White seems to think that the only logically available options are that the decisions of free creatures were determined by God, determined by "the card dealer" (which is Dr. Craig's reference to the constraints of logic itself combined with the decisions free creatures would make) or that decisions were determined by fate. Dr. White does not include, as an option in the argument above, the view of his opponents, namely, the view that the decisions of free creatures are not determined at all but free. Nor has Dr. White provided any reason, in the argument above, for thinking that the view of his opponents should be considered logically inconsistent. Regarding that, he only asks, in reference to middle knowledge, "where did it come from?". But this is not an argument. It is a question. Dr. White has given no reason, in the argument above, for thinking that the Molinist view is logically inconsistent. The only thing we have left to go off of in order to evaluate Dr. White's critique is the name he gives his argument - "the grounding objection".

 

What is the grounding objection?

 

Encyclopedia of Philosophy Definition: "According to the argument, there appears to be no good answer to the question of what grounds the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. They cannot be grounded in God because determinism would follow—the necessity of God's being or His will would transfer to the counterfactuals. Additionally, the prevolitional character of middle knowledge speaks against grounding counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in the will of God. However, they also cannot be grounded in the individuals to which they refer for at least four reasons. First, counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true prior to the existence of the individual to which they refer. Second, the existence of the individuals is dependent upon the will of God, and therefore, the truth of the counterfactuals would also be dependent upon the will of God (which has already been shown to be problematic). Third, counterfactuals, properly speaking, refer to non-actual states of affairs and therefore, the events to which they refer never happen, and fourth, psychological makeup cannot serve as grounding because this suggests that the actions performed are not free and thus, the propositions describing the decisions/actions cannot be deemed counterfactuals of freedom."

 

Lang, John. "Middle Knowledge". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 

Dr. White did not really present this argument but he titled his argument "the grounding objection" so let's now turn to this argument. Dr. Craig has responded to the grounding objection in a scholarly writing titled, "Middle Knowledge, Truth-Makers, and the Grounding Objection" as well as another titled, "Ducking Friendly Fire: Davison on the Grounding Objection". You may decide for yourself whether or not William Lane Craig has given adequate responses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is worth noting that we do have evidence that Dr. White is aware of at least one of the aforementioned writings of Dr. Craig. Dr. White's ministry website aomin.org has a short post by an anonymous follower of Dr. White's which contains a link to the anonymous person's blog. There this anonymous follower shares his personal views on Dr. Craig's responses to the grounding objection. Dr. White thanked this anonymous blogger for posting the link, so we know that James White IS aware of this material.

 

 

 

So far as I am aware, Dr. White has not personally responded fully or even directly to this material. The closest he has come to responding directly would be responding in a podcast to a blog post titled "Philosophy Matters – James White Missing the Mark on Molinism". This particular blog post was written by a molinist blogger who aimed at summarizing Dr. White's arguments and parts of Dr. Craig's argumentation on the grounding objection. Dr. White did not go over Dr. Craig's material in context but only responded to the blogger's summary post. Dr. White did seem to concede that he has trouble understanding the discussion of this topic. On Molinist responses to the grounding objection in general Dr. White said:

 

"Evidently this is not a question you can ask a Molinist because when you ask them they will fly off into some next to impossible to understand discussion."

 

White, James. “Molinism and Michael Rood on a Jumbo Edition of the Dividing Line.” Alpha and Omega Ministries, podcast audio. May 13, 2014.

https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9951915146550

 

 

It is very understandable that Dr. White characterizes these discussions in this way because this is a very complicated topic. The problem here is that this complexity is due as much to the philosophical presuppositions involved in the utilization of this argument as it is to the input of Molinists who are attempting to respond to the argument. In order to respond adequately, Molinists have to dispute certain presuppositions. There is no way around the fact that the grounding objection is a philosophically technical argument about the nature of truth. Molinists cannot be faulted for the argument containing the presupposition of a very particular form of truth-maker theory. Why then should Molinists be restricted from responding fully and precisely to these presuppositions in a very technical response?

 

It is worth noting that Dr. White is obviously a brilliant theologian who is more than qualified to understand all of the issues involved if he were to take the time to do so. That said, he does seem to have misunderstood certain explanations that Dr. Craig has offered. Below is one example. Dr. White said:

 

"A Christian begins with what? Certain fundamental revelations of what the word of God says about God. And if you’re gonna come along and say 'well actually, even though the Bible never mentions anything about this, there are actually these true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom that God did not volitionally create but its your burden of proof to disprove their existence' I go - unh uh. You may be a high powered philosopher, Dr. Craig, but I think everybody can see that you’re ducking that one... as a Christian. You may get away with that in your peer reviewed journals someplace but you’re not going to get away with that within the Christian community.”

 

White, James. “Molinism and Michael Rood on a Jumbo Edition of the Dividing Line.” Alpha and Omega Ministries, podcast audio. May 13, 2014.

https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9951915146550

 

Dr. White then continues by quoting Dr. Craig as quoted in the blog article.

 

"because the grounding objection is a rebutting defeater as opposed to an undercutting defeater, it must have more warrant than the Molinist assumption that there are true counter factual of freedom”

- Craig 2001.

 

"Okay, so that’s supposed, to in some way, alleviate the problem that what we have here is an extra-biblical philosophy being crammed into the biblical text making claims that the Bible never gives. And from the philosophy perspective you go “doesn’t matter. We’re not concerned about that”. From the Christian perspective we are.”

 

White, James. “Molinism and Michael Rood on a Jumbo Edition of the Dividing Line.” Alpha and Omega Ministries, podcast audio. May 13, 2014.

https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9951915146550

 

The above comments demonstrate a misunderstanding on Dr. White's part. In Dr. Craig’s original articles he gave two arguments for why the grounding objector has the burden of proof concerning the truth claims which are implicit within the grounding objection. The truth claims within the grounding objection are the subject here. This is why Dr. Craig notes that the burden of proof with regard to a defeater is not the same for undercutting defeaters as it is for rebutting defeaters. Dr. White does not even seem to grasp this distinction and then conflates the burden of proof with regard to Molinism with the burden of proof with regard to the truth claims that are implicit within the grounding objection. In the above response of Dr. White, the only arguments that he offered concerning the burden of proof with regard to the grounding objection were “unh uh” and “you’re ducking that one”. These are not good arguments. Dr. White then employs the genetic fallacy to say that Molinism is arrived at by cramming philosophy into the text of scripture (as opposed to Calvinism which draws its philosophy solely from scripture). But this does not go any distance to show that Molinism is false. Even if Molinism were discovered by a non-Christian with very questionable motivations, this does not demonstrate that Molinism is false.

 

All of that said, Dr. White was only responding to a summary in a blog and may not have even fully read the original articles by Dr. Craig. This is why it may not be fair to do a full review of Dr. White's responses to Dr. Craig. It does seem fair to at least note that Dr. White did not seem to understand the material and to note that Dr. White has yet to engage directly and fully with Dr. Craig's work on this subject.

 

Later Dr. White added comments to the "Philosophy Matters" blog post and then continued the discussion on the Dividing Line. In response to the blogger asking why Dr. White bothers with the philosophical grounding objection if White's chief objections to molinism are biblical, White claimed in his comments...

 

"As I will show on the DL today, the grounding objection IS biblical because the Bible DOES address God’s relationship to His creation."

 

James White (@DrOakley1689) says : May 13, 2014 at 14:54

 

This is a fascinating claim. Again, the grounding objection is commonly understood to be a philosophical argument which claims that counterfactuals of creaturely freedom have no "ground" of their truth and thus cannot be true. But are we really to believe that scripture teaches such a philosophical argument against Molinism? What I think Dr. White really went on to try to show in the DL podcast that day is something like the following argument:

 

Scripture teaches that God determines all with respect to creaturely decisions. Therefore God's decree is what grounds truths about creaturely decisions in reality. Since counterfactuals of creaturely freedom on the Molinist view are not grounded in God's fully determinative decree, they have no grounding in reality. Therefore molinism must be false and the Molinist is wrong in saying that the scriptures are consistent with a Molinist view.

 

This, however, seems like a different argument than what is commonly referred to as the grounding objection. It is very different from the argument that Dr. Craig has addressed in his writings on the grounding objection.  Perhaps Dr. White would summarize his argument differently but if that is the case I am not sure what his biblical argument for the grounding objection was. It would help if Dr. White himself wrote out or explained the argument in the form of premises and conclusion. We can only hope for such clarity at this point. I am not certain as to how Dr. Craig would respond to this particular construal of "the grounding objection".

 

In my own view, it seems to be the case that Dr. White is using three or four different arguments depending on the situation. He seems to want to throw down the philosophical grounding objection against the Molinist but then retreat to a second and separate exegetical argument (stating that scripture teaches fatalism) when challenged on whether or not the grounding objection holds water. Then when challenged for making a merely philosophical argument (the grounding objection), Dr. White tries to blend the exegetical argument and the grounding objection. Are these the same argument? different arguments? Dr. White has not detailed the arguments well enough for us to discern this.

 

What should we make of these various arguments that Dr. White has offered?

 

1) If Dr. White makes the grounding objection argument as defined by the encyclopedia of philosophy then Dr. Craig has thoroughly responded to this argument and shown that it does not fly.

 

2) If Dr. White makes the exegetical argument (which states that: "the scriptures teach fatalism, therefore Molinism is false") this is not the grounding objection and it should not be called such. Conflating this argument with the philosophical argument known as the grounding objection only brings confusion.

 

3) If Dr. White makes the grounding objection argument as he detailed in the January 10th podcast (quoted above and essentially just asking where middle knowlege came from) he is merely asking a question and not giving an argument.

 

Finally, lets consider the 4th argument which is a blended version of the exegetical argument and the grounding objection. It seems to me that Dr. White's blended argument is functionally the same as the exegetical argument alone. The exegetical argument states that: the scriptures teach fatalism, therefore Molinism is false. It would include exegesis of passages that are taken to teach fatalism. Adding talk of grounding to create this combined argument does not seem to add any credence or strength to the argument because of the fact that Dr. White's definition of "grounding" seems to be based on assuming that the scriptures do in fact teach determinism. If Dr. White's view of grounding were something other than the claim that the scriptures teach fatalism (for example, some commonly accepted biblical truth that Arminians agreed with) I think that it could add further strength or credence to the argument. I am trying to give the benefit of the doubt here but it seems to me that as soon as Dr. White tries to build a combined argument such as this, he is making an argument that assumes the conclusion in the premises of the argument.

 

"Begging the Question

The fallacy of begging the question occurs when an argument's premises assume the truth of the conclusion, instead of supporting it. In other words, you assume without proof the stand/position, or a significant part of the stand, that is in question. Begging the question is also called arguing in a circle." - Texas State Dept. of philosophy

 

http://www.txstate.edu/philosophy/resources/fallacy-definitions/Begging-the-Question.html

 

No one can deny that a significant point of the stand is the question of whether or not the scriptures actually teach determinism. The Molinist agrees that if the scriptures teach determinism then Molinism is false but this is the point being disagreed upon in the first place. This disagreement is why Molinists and Calvinists then take up exegetical arguments or philosophical arguments to support their case. There is everything right about making exegetical arguments. There is nothing wrong with making the grounding objection. But this blended exegetical argument combined with the grounding objection really seems to be guilty of question begging because the premises referring to grounding (as Dr. White defines it) presuppose that scripture teaches that determinism is true, which is the conclusion that the argument is driving at in the first place. To make the argument non-question begging Dr. White only has to remove the premises referring to grounding. But then we're back to an argument that has nothing to do with the grounding objection. Even if Dr. White does not agree that the argument engages in question begging, the conclusion is established in the argument before the premises about grounding are even arrived at so that these premises are superfluous. In that case the argument is a different one than the grounding objection. Again, this is very difficult to assess accurately given the lack of precision that attends Dr. White's discussions of his grounding objection argument. Dr. White really needs to detail the premises and conclusion in the grounding objection argument if he wants the argument to be taken seriously. So then...

 

4) If Dr. White makes his combined exegetical/grounding objection argument (as described in the May 13th podcast quoted above) then he seems to be using an argument that either engages in question begging or contains superfluous premises about grounding and therefore is not really the same argument as what is commonly referred to as the grounding objection.

 

In any case, with regard to William Lane Craig, Dr. White has not personally and fully engaged directly with Dr. Craig's writings on the argument known as the grounding objection. Meanwhile Dr. White continues to raise a somewhat hazy argument that he calls by that name. All of this seems doubly ironic given the irony that William Lane Craig noted in "Middle Knowledge, Truth-Makers, and the Grounding Objection":

 

"What is ironic about this situation is not merely the fact that the many Molinist responses to the grounding objection remain largely ignored or unrefuted in the literature, nor yet again the fact that Molinist solutions to the objection tend to be far more sophisticated philosophically than the almost casual statements of the objection itself; rather the irony is that this allegedly powerful objection has virtually never been articulated or defended in any depth by its advocates."

 

Craig, William Lane. “Middle Knowledge, Truth-Makers, and the 'Grounding Objection'.” Reasonablefaith.org, scholarly writing.

 

 

William Lane Craig's concluding paragraph in "Middle Knowledge, Truth-Makers, and the Grounding Objection" seems to stand as the conclusion to the disagreement between Dr. Craig and Dr. White on this issue thus far:

 

"In conclusion, I think that it is evident that anti–Molinists have not even begun to do the necessary homework in order for their grounding objection to fly. They have yet to articulate their ontology of truth, including the nature of truth–bearers and truth–makers. Nor have they yet presented a systematic account of which truth–bearers require truth–makers. Neither have they applied their theory to counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, much less shown its superiority to competing theories. Of course, it is open to grounding objectors to abjure a theory of truth–makers altogether and to assert that in construing their talk about grounds of truth for counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in terms of truth–makers I have misunderstood or misrepresented them. Perhaps grounds of truth are different from truth–makers. But if this is the case, then anti–Molinists owe us all the more a careful account of what they are talking about. Until they provide that, their grounding objection cannot even hope to get off the ground.

 

In short, I agree with Plantinga that I am far more confident that there are true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom than I am of the theory which requires that they have truth–makers.{42} And if they do require truth–makers, no reason has been given why their truth–makers cannot be the facts or states of affairs which are disclosed by the disquotation principle.{43}"

 

Craig, William Lane. “Middle Knowledge, Truth-Makers, and the 'Grounding Objection'.” Reasonablefaith.org, scholarly writing.