This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. Craig,
Thank you for your excellent ministry of Christian apologetics and philosophy. Your work has truly been a vessel of God's wisdom and reason for me, and I am thankful for the many times it has aided me in periods of doubt.
Your newest video titled "The problem of those who have never heard of Christ" has sparked a deep question in me. It is one of the questions that I have "put on my shelf" for a long time as you would say, and I'm now ready to take it off the shelf and earnestly work to come to a resting point in my thoughts on it.
In the video, which attempts to answer the "problem of the unevangelized", the following solution has been offered: it is possible that, through God's middle knowledge, God has providentially ordered the world such that any person who would freely come to a saving knowledge of God in a possible circumstance, has been placed in one such circumstance. And it therefore follows that every person who does not come to a saving knowledge of God is a person who would never come to a saving knowledge of God under any circumstance. The "uncomfortableness" that leads one to seek a solution to this question is that we think it would be unfair of God to condemn people to hell if those very same people would have come to a saving knowledge of God under different circumstances.
I have two questions about this proposed solution. First, is it reasonable to think that nobody who has died without coming to Christ would have never come to Christ under any circumstance? To accept this premise, it seems one would be giving up ground in other arguments for theism.
For instance, take the following two statements:
- “Is it possible the world popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing? Yes, it’s possible; but it’s highly improbable. Therefore, you’re more reasonable in believing that the universe has a cause.” Similarly;
- “Is it possible that God ordered the world such that any person who is not saved is a person who would never have been saved under any circumstance? Yes, it’s possible; but it’s highly improbable. Therefore, you’re more reasonable in believing that there are people who have died without being saved, who would have been saved if they had heard the gospel or had been placed in different circumstances.”
Are you able to explain how one is able to accept 1) and, at the same time, reject 2)?
Second, can you explain how the solution proposed in the video doesn’t simply push the problem back one step? In the video, there is the presupposition that a person’s soul exists before being placed into a body, and each different soul already has a predetermined "personality". For instance, take a person, John Doe, who will die without coming to a saving knowledge of God. Before John was born, a soul existed that could be called "John Doe’s soul". This soul would have had specific traits that would make it unique from other souls. God, through his middle knowledge, would have known before creating John’s soul, that John would not come to a saving knowledge of God before death. So now the problem becomes “How is it fair for God to create souls the he knows have no chance of being saved?” I would love to hear your answers to these questions, and also your recommendations for further reading in this area.
Thank you again for all you have done for the Christian faith. May your ministry be continually blessed.
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
Thank you, Addison, for your interaction with our most recent Zangmeister video! I’m glad it has prompted you to explore this difficult subject more deeply.
Consider your first question: “Is it reasonable to think that nobody who has died without coming to Christ would have never come to Christ under any circumstance?” The question here is first and foremost whether it is possible that nobody who has died without coming to Christ would have ever come to Christ under any circumstances. It seems to me that given a God with middle knowledge, we’re in no position to say that it’s impossible that God has so providentially ordered the world that anyone who fails come to Christ is a person who God knows would not have come to Christ under any circumstances. In any case, this is probably the most radical Molinist solution. You could hold more modestly that there are persons who would have come to Christ were they to hear the gospel but who come to salvation through their faith response to general revelation alone. For other even more modest Molinist solutions see QoW #669.
So what’s problem with such a Molinist solution? You fear that it might undermine our response to alleged defeaters of premises in other theistic arguments. Suppose in response to the premiss “Whatever begins to exist has a cause,” the critic says, “It’s possible the world popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing.” Why is it possible that God has so providentially ordered the world that anyone who fails come to Christ is a person who God knows would not have come to Christ under any circumstances, but not possible that the world popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing? I guess I don’t see these two statements as at all on an epistemic par, Addison. In the former case we can offer an explanatory account of why such a thing is possible, whereas in the latter case no such account is available. Indeed, the suggestion that the universe came into being uncaused out of nothing is, as I’ve often said, worse than magic.
You worry that if we say “It’s possible that God ordered the world such that any person who is not saved is a person who would never have been saved under any circumstance,” then the objector will retort, “Yes, it’s possible; but it’s highly improbable.” This move on the objector’s part is analogous to the objector’s retreating from the logical problem of evil to the probabilistic problem of evil. “It’s possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil and suffering in the world, but it’s highly improbable.” The correct response to the objector is to challenge him to show that the proposed solution is improbable. In my written work on the problem of the unevangelized, I address not merely the possibility of the Molinist proposed solution but also its probability. But please understand that these Zangmeister videos are necessarily very abbreviated summaries and so can’t cover everything. My hope is that people who have further questions will take the time to read my published work on the subject as well (here and here). I argue that a world such as the solution envisions would not be empirically different than a world in which people’s time and place in history are wholly unplanned. Therefore we cannot say that it is improbable that we live in such providentially ordered a world.
Second, you wonder whether the proposed solution “simply push[es] the problem back one step.” Not at all! Molinism certainly does not teach that “A person’s soul exists before being placed into a body, and each different soul already has a predetermined ‘personality’”! But you are correct that Molinism holds that “God, through his middle knowledge, would have known before creating John’s soul, that John would not come to a saving knowledge of God before death.” You think that the problem now becomes, “How is it fair for God to create souls the he knows have no chance of being saved?” Oh, my goodness, Addison, you’ve fallen right into the trap of theological fatalism! I’m surprised that you think John has no chance of coming to a saving knowledge of God before death. Not only are there any number of possible worlds in which John comes to a saving knowledge of God, but even in worlds feasible to God in which John is lost, he has the freedom to respond to God’s grace and come to a saving knowledge of God. His salvation lies in his own hands.
For literature on this subject, I suggest that you read my book The Only Wise God and then graduate to Thomas Flint’s Divine Providence. Of course there’s no substitute for reading Molina himself On Divine Foreknowledge.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.