Does Molinism Solve Compatibilist Problems?

I’ve lost my grasp on the alleged advantage of Molinism over compatibilism.* It seems to me that both have similar problems. Take this example (which I got from Alexander Pruss): prays that will avoid some sin (where may or may not = y). I think the theist would concede that this prayer is not always answered; people do not always avoid sin even when they pray or are prayed for. Libertarians can say that God can’t always answer this prayer because that would entail either taking away the temptation or taking away y’s freedom. As Pruss notes, a compatibilist will have a problem with this kind of answer. It seems that on compatibilism, God could answer the prayer every time. If God wills to answer the prayer, the prayer will be answered. If the prayer isn’t answered, one would have to say that God willed that y sin. Now, it seems to me that the Molinist has the very same problem in this case. It seems that God, knowing every counter-factual of human freedom, would be able to place y in circumstances in which freely resists temptation each time prays to do so. It gets a bit more complicated if one considers that there are counter-factuals in which such prayer is not offered, but that needn’t concern us here. The Molinist, like the compatibilist, seems (to me) to have no good reasons why God doesn’t answer this prayer every time. Of course, the Molinist, like the compatibilist, could say that God has reasons that we don’t know about, or they could say that y’s sin somehow glorifies God (i.e. God’s just punishment of y’s sin constitutes a good for y) but I don’t find these answers very plausible.

I don’t know if this narrow case can be extended to other theological problems Molinism is called upon to solve. I understand that its supposed advantage is preserving human freedom while allowing God a high degree of providential control over the world. But this often seems to me, in practice, to be a refined form of compatibilism. If God, according to his purposes, places persons in situations in which he knows they will freely act in one way and not another, then ‘freely’ is constrained by various external factors including God’s will and the circumstances in which a person finds herself. This sounds very similar to compatibilist (theological or otherwise) definitions of freedom. For the compatibilist, as long as the agent doesn’t act contrary to her own inclinations and desires, then that agent is free, even though we can tell a causal story about those factors (over which God exercises providential control on both Molinism and compatibilism) external to the agent which decisively incline her will in one direction or another. This seems to be what’s going on in Molinism. In the prayer case above, it seems that God, given that he has providentially ordered the world such that y pray in the first place, can further providentially order the world such that y’s prayer is efficacious every time it’s offered by placing y in circumstances in which y ‘freely’ resists temptation. In other words, I don’t see how Molinism is relevantly different from compatibilism in this case. Am I missing something here?

This is more than just an in-house theological debate. It has evidential implications. If one is a Christian theist one should, I think, expect that prayer, like that described above, will be efficacious and, as a consequence, that Christians will be morally superior to non-Christians, i.e. they will have a distinct advantage with respect to the moral life — the power to resist temptation to wrongdoing — that non-Christians lack. If one is not a Christian, one will expect to observe no appreciable moral difference between Christians and non-Christians. It seems to me that Christians do not significantly outstrip non-Christians (which would include adherents of other religions as well as secularists) in moral virtue. This fact doesn’t mean that Christianity is false. It may, however, put the onus on Christians of a Molinist persuasion to explain why such prayers aren’t efficacious more often.

*Note that I’m not assuming that compatibilism is identical with Calvinism. As I understand it, some Calvinists are compatibilists while others are effectively theological determinists.


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