What About Purgatory?

I never, even for a moment, entertained the notion that the doctrine of Purgatory may be true for the first 30+ years of my life. The only thought I ever gave to the doctrine was for about 20 minutes in high school when a Catholic girl spoke about the doctrine at Youth Alive. It was an awful experience for everyone involved. It was awful for her because she really didn't have a strong enough grasp on the doctrine to speak about it, much less defend it, in front of a hostile and more-or-less biblically knowledgeable crowd. It was awful for the rest of us because a few of us who had less than zero tact went on the offensive and ended up making her cry. I didn't feel so bad about it at the time, but in retrospect it was an instance severely lacking in Christlikeness.

Now that I've come to terms with the fact that doctrinally I'm not as Evangelical as I previously suspected, I've decided it's probably time to start thinking more seriously about Purgatory. This post will be a bit of an outline of why I'm considering giving this doctrine an endorsement. I'm not ready to commit just yet, don't get me wrong. I think, though, that if I were really forced to hazard a guess, my guess would be in the affirmative.

I think the primary source of my skepticism of Purgatory has been an almost complete lack of understanding of some basics about the doctrine. Before moving on to my argument, then, I want to make two points.

First, it is often claimed that Purgatory is a figment of the Catholic Church's imagination, designed primarily for the purpose of collecting indulgences (in fact, when I mentioned Purgatory to my roommates, the first thing one of them said was, "didn't the Catholic Church just make that up?").  In reality, though, it's not clear that this doctrine was ever in doubt at any point prior to the Reformation. References to the doctrine go all the way back to the second century C.E. (Origen, Hippolytus) and it appears from Augustine and Gregory I to have been widespread by the fourth and fifth centuries.  Further, a fairly rich tradition of belief in a Purgatorial state exists in ancient Jewish literature (Talmud and Apocrypha for sure, and possibly Josephus), which lends credence to the idea that early Christians received the belief as part of the Jewish tradition from which Christianity arose.

Next, I think the basic definition of the doctrine needs to be established, since it is commonly misunderstood by outsiders to Catholicism/Orthodoxy.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the doctrine in this way:

1030 "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned."

St. Gregory is then quoted as giving the following argument:

"As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come."

The supposed efficacy of prayers for the dead is also listed as justification for the doctrine, but since I am skeptical of said efficacy, I won't bother quoting this section.

Purgatory is not, as is the common misconception, a place where souls who narrowly missed the cut will go to earn the rest of their salvation by suffering for their sins. It is a place where those who are already saved will go for purification.

I'm not going to spend a bunch of space here defending the doctrine against all comers. If objections come later (and I hope they do), I'll try to deal with them then. For now I want to try to reason through why I believe Purgatory may be exactly the kind of place we would expect an omni-benevolent God to create.  

In the argument that follows, I assume the following controversial beliefs to be true and will not offer independent arguments for them here: Christian orthodoxy, some sort of mind/body dualism, inclusivism, progressive sanctification, and theosis.  I'm sure I've missed some, but these are the ones that come to mind for now.

I think that if God is omni-benevolent, He would provide a possibility for the salvation of the unchurched. Otherwise, He creates certain people (a great many people, in fact) without any possibility of avoiding damnation, then holds them accountable for it. I doubt this can be reconciled with a loving creator. The great theologian Karl Rahner spoke of “anonymous Christians.” This term refers to non-Christians who are saved by the grace of Christ. The view that anonymous Christians exist is called “inclusivism.” Again, I have no intention of defending inclusivism here. Suffice it to say that for the purposes of this argument I'm assuming the truth of inclusivism. This is to say that I believe many who have never heard the gospel, have only heard a distorted version of it, lack the mental capacity to grasp it, etc. may nevertheless be saved by God's grace. This is a pretty widespread intuition in many, if not most, Christians I know.

So under the assumption that anonymous Christians exist, here is my argument.

As a first premise, we'll simply state what we know about anonymous Christians: they will have had no opportunity to undergo any real process of sanctification in their earthly life. After all, how can one undergo a process of becoming more Christlike or of conforming her will to Christ's if she has never heard of Christ or been introduced to His teachings? So my first premise is just that anonymous Christians will end this earthly life without having undergone sanctification.

Second premise: some degree of sanctification is required to be in communion with God (I know “communion with God” is a loaded term. When I use this term I'm thinking about remaining in the presence of God post-judgment). This belief is firmly entrenched in the history of Christian thought, and is a part of any version of the ordo salutis. I won't do any exegesis, so if anyone wants to dispute this interpretation of the verses that follow they are welcome to do so. Here's a little rundown of texts I think support this claim: Lev. 11:44, Rom. 6:22, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Thess. 5:23, Heb. 12:14, and Rev. 3:15-20. Interestingly, Rev. 3:15-20 was the text used in the incident I referenced above to make the poor Catholic girl cry. I thought for sure it created an air-tight case against Purgatory. Now I think actually creates a case for this premise. If God spews the luke-warm out of his mouth, does this not demonstrate that one must have undergone some degree of sanctification in order to be in communion with Him?

So the argument thus far is this:

1.  Anonymous Christians will end this earthly life without having undergone sanctification.
2.  Sanctification is required to be in communion with God.

Now let's add one more:

3.  Anonymous Christians will eventually be in communion with God. I take this to be obvious. The definition of an “anonymous Christian” is just someone who is not a “Christian” by creed, but who is, in fact, saved. If one is saved, she will eventually be in communion with God.


4.  Anonymous Christians will end this life without having undergone that which is  required to be in communion with God. (1,2)

5.  Those who will eventually be in communion with God will end this life without having undergone that which is required to be in communion with God. (3,4)

The conclusion must be that that which is required for communion with God (sanctification) will happen at some point other than this earthly life. Continued sanctification, especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, is the primary purpose of Purgatory. It also meets the qualification of not being part of this earthly life. I think, then, that if one shares my intuitions about anonymous Christians/inclusivism and the benevolence of God, she should very seriously consider the doctrine of Purgatory to be a live option in her theology.

Though my argument above is specific to inclusivists like me, please don't make the mistake of thinking Purgatory is only an option for inclusivists.  It isn't.  The example that comes to mind is the thief on the cross with Jesus.  Surely the thief will have no time to undergo sanctification prior to his death.  Should we say he will never undergo sanctification and will thereby skip an important step in the ordo?  Perhaps purgation is a simple theological solution even for exclusivists who want to retain strong notions of the necessity of sanctification for communion with God.

Project Abandoned

I need to apologize that I was unable (or too lazy...take your pick) to finish my project on creation.  I know a number of people were reading, interested in, and even open-minded to what I was writing.  However, the project just got too big for me at a time when I was busy with a career change and just got busy with life in general.  So, rather than leave an unfinished project on the blog, I just deleted the whole thing.  If any of you are interested in hearing more on the topic or would like to discuss it, just let me know.  I'd be happy to talk about it any time outside the context of the blog.


Songs For Thinkers

A number of years ago I posted about a list of the top conservative rock songs of all time and gave some suggestions for new ones that should be on the list.

I recently found a new list over at Faith & Theology that was quite entertaining (if disappointing in spots).  The list was an effort to pick a rock song to represent the thought of 40 philosophers.  Here's a link to the list.  These were my 10 favorites - the ones I think the list gets most right:

Plato - "Cave" by Muse
Epicurus - "Let's Live for Today" by The Grass Roots
Augustine - "Time and Love" by Laura Nyro
Rene Descartes - "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley
Thomas Hobbes - "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses
Gottfried Leibniz - "Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke
George Berkeley - "It's All in My Mind" by George Jones
Ludwig Wittgenstein - "Vienna" by Ultravox
John Rawls - "Long Black Veil" by The Band
Harry Frankfurt - "Rock N' Roll Bullshit" by Against Me

It's hard to find pictures related to this post, so here's a funny comic instead!

Now, I'll admit that some of the others I probably don't get because I'm not familiar with everyone's work.  And some are probably connected by lyrics in the song that I'm unfamiliar with.  But some are just blatantly wrong.  He gave Karl Marx the song "Money" by Pink Floyd.  Preposterous.  Yes, the song talks about a few of the negatives of money, but mostly just talks about what money gets you and its role in modern life...which, of course, Marx hated.  I would have thought "Money" would be a perfect song for someone like Weber, Hayek, or Friedman.  Another horrible selection was "Uncle John's Band" for John Locke.  Seriously?  You just picked that because it has the name "John" in it.  So this is apparently the theme song for everyone in the world named John.  Such a lazy pick.

This list claims to be "rock songs" but a quick glance through makes it pretty clear that "rock" is being defined quite liberally here.  George Jones?  Since when is George Jones "rock"?  Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, the Bee Gees...these are all pretty questionable for the title "rock".  So instead of limiting my list to "rock" I'll limit it to songs in my library.  Here are some I came up with.  Some are new for philosophers not on the list and some are different options for guys that are on there already.  There are a few who aren't technically "philosophers" but they are at least closely related to philosophy and the songs fit, so I included them anyway.

...And another (from xkcd.com)

Parmenides - "One" by Metallica
Karl Marx - "Imagine" by John Lennon
Ayn Rand - "The Trees" by Rush
Ludwig Wittgenstein - "Vicious Circles" by Aaron Lewis
Peter Singer - "Dirty Deeds" by AC/DC
William James - "Because I Got High" by Afroman
Maimonides - "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" by Weird Al Yankovic
Jacques Derrida - "Ramblin' Man" by The Allman Brothers
Clark Pinnock - "Flavor of the Week" by American Hi-Fi
Sun Tzu - "Art of War" by Anberlin
David Lewis - "If I Could Turn Back Time" by Cher
John Locke - "Fight for Your Right" by The Beastie Boys
Richard Dawkins - "Loser" by Beck
Thomas More - "Shangri-La" by Believable Picnic
Aristotle - "Heaven is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle
Gaunilo - "Antisaint" by Chevelle
David Chalmers - "Zombie" by The Cranberries
Bill Joy - "Armageddon It" by Def Leppard
Bertrand Russell - "White Flag" by Dido
Montesquieu - "Dear X (You Don't Own Me)" by Disciple
Voltaire - "Ordinary World" by Duran Duran
Plato - "My Immortal" by Evanescence
John Duns Scotus - "Everybody's Fool" by Evanescence
William of Ockham - "Razor" by The Foo Fighters
J.L. Schellenberg - "Unanswered Prayers" by Garth Brooks
Cornel West - "Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta" by Geto Boys
Thales - "Liquid" by Jars of Clay
Thomas Kuhn - "Jump" by Kris Kross
Edmund Gettier - "Don't Know Much" by Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville
Gorgias - "I Alone" by Live
Nelson Pike - "Fatalist" by Monarch
Blaise Pascal - "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers
Friedrich Nietzsche - "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears
Peter van Inwagen - "Freewill" by Rush
Emmanuel Levinas - "Epiphany" by Staind

Hope you enjoyed!


A New Problem for Open Theists?

As many of you are well aware, perhaps my favorite theological topics are the problems of divine foreknowledge/providence and human freedom/future contingents, especially as they pertain to free will and God's status as a morally perfect being.  For those of you unfamiliar with these problems, I'm sorry, but I simply lack the time or space here to explicate them.  A good summary can be found here if you're interested.  In the interest of full disclosure, I consider myself to be a Molinist (which I've written about a little before: here), but if I were to be persuaded of its falsehood I'd default Open Theism.  I can't even imagine a world in which Calvinism, Thomism, or any other Augustinian-style view is correct, for many reasons, which I won't go through here.

Lets get to the subject of this blog post.  I've been reading through a book by Thomas Flint called, "Divine Providence: The Molinist Account".  While I was reading a section on the inadequacies of the Open view with respect to prophecy I was hit with what I think may be an original thought.  I'm as skeptical about its originality as you are, don't worry.  I tend to think that truly original thoughts are exceedingly rare and, in any case, when they do occur their occurrence is not in my brain.  That being said, I have at least never heard (nor read) the following thoughts from anyone else.  I wanted to get the thought out in the open while I still remember it and so I may be told by someone reading if (a) the thought isn't actually original or if (b) it's stupid.  And with that, let me set the table for my argument contra Open Theism.

On Open Theism, God lacks complete, definite foreknowledge of the future.  If He had it, our actions would
Even though I'm no Open Theist, I might really want this shirt
not be truly free.  Obviously it would be unjust of God to punish us for actions we had no choice but to perform, and God is just, therefore we must be free and He must lack foreknowledge.  Now, the Christian Open Theist has some work to do to square this view with scripture.  It's easy enough to square the view of free will.  D.A. Carson, for instance, lists no less than nine categories of scriptures that imply significant free will.  Those with a traditional view of providence, however, have pointed out that the Open view of providence is much more difficult to square with scripture.  God, for instance, gives prophecies about how the future will turn out.  The writers of the texts seem to think we should be impressed by this ability of God's to tell us the future.  But the Open Theist views these as more like very well-educated guesses - something I suspect is far less impressive than what the biblical writers had in mind.  I think in general the Open Theists come out behind on these arguments, but I don't find the case to be absolutely slam-dunk.  Anyway, I won't rehash all those arguments here.  I want to add my own.

This can be viewed as an offshoot of the "prophecy doesn't square with Open Theism" argument, but with a philosophical/ethical twist that I think may make it more persuasive than the straight-scripture versions mentioned above.  Here goes:

Throughout scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, warnings are given against falsely prophesying.  Deut. 18 lists the punishment for falsely prophesying as death.  A prophecy's non-fulfillment is listed as a sign that the prophet is false (v.22).  The New Testament, too, is riddled with warnings against false teachers and prophets.  We see Paul cursing one and the false prophet subsequently being blinded.  Jesus calls them "evildoers".  I'm not going to turn this into a Bible study on false prophecy because I think the following facts will be generally accepted by all parties involved: (a) the Bible is univocal in speaking ill of false prophets; (b) prophesying about an event that does not come to pass qualifies one as a false prophet; (c) some sort of punishment of false prophets is prescribed to those who recognize the false prophet; (d) false prophecy is seen as a morally wrong action (i.e. one is sinning when one is falsely prophesying).

Ok, now back to the Open response to the issue of prophecy.  Richard Rice, in his discussion of the biblical issues surrounding Open Theism in the book, "The Openness of God," gives three ways the Openist may interpret prophecy in order to to make it compatible.  (1) "A prophecy may express God's intention to do something in the future irrespective of creaturely decision." (2) "A prophecy may...express God's knowledge that something will happen because the necessary conditions for it have been fulfilled and nothing could conceivably prevent it." (3) "A prophecy may...express what God intends to do if certain conditions obtain."  
It is prophecies of the first type above that concern me.  True, God may intend to take one action or another irrespective of creaturely decision, but what creatures will be doing, where, when, and why will all be guesswork for God when planning his future actions.  It seems to me that it would be very difficult for God to plan such things so far ahead of time if the creatures are free with respect to their actions between the time the prophecy is made and when God performs his prophesied act.  William Hasker, a renowned Open Theist himself, admits there is guesswork involved when he says that these types of prophecy are judgments based on current trends and tendencies.  In fact, many Open Theists would eschew the picture painted by Rice of a God who would NEVER give a false prophecy because they view God as a risk-taker (John Sanders even wrote a book called, "The God Who Risks") and see this as a positive trait in Him.  For there to be no possibility of false prophecy would fly in the face of the idea of a risk-taking God.

So I think the honest Open Theist will admit of at least the possibility of a divinely-generated false prophecy (in the case of a probabilistic prophecy where the probabilities don't work out).  And here's where the problem comes in.  Say God gives a person a prophecy.  One would say, certainly with the example of Jonah in mind, that the person given the prophecy has a serious moral responsibility to let the words from God be heard (lest she disobey and end up eaten by a fish).  Further suppose this prophecy was a "risk" on God's part (a prophecy of the 1st variety above - made on the basis of high probabilities, trends, and tendencies).  Perhaps this prophecy comes to pass at a 99% rate for God.  What if this time is the 1%?  Certainly God cannot condemn her for falsely prophesying, so she cannot be said to have done anything morally wrong.

However, those who heard her are commanded to pass judgment on her.  They are commanded to test what she said and declare her a false prophet if the prophecy did not come to pass.  If she lived in the BCE time period, her punishment would be death.  CE?  Who knows...people will scowl at her?  Perhaps she'll be excommunicated, depending on the church.  I suppose in some eras CE she may have been put to death as well.  At the very least she will be perceived by others as having sinned (and rightfully so, since they are commanded to test her on this).  This result, I think can be seen as an evil - something that is actually bad.  After all, she will undoubtedly feel hurt emotionally by the scowls (not to mention the possible death).  She will begin to doubt her sensitivity to the voice of God and believe that perhaps she made it up.  Her relationship with God and her church will likely suffer.  Who's to blame for this pain/evil?  The prophet?  Surely not - she did exactly as God commanded.  The church who condemned her?  Surely not - they did exactly as scripture commanded.  The only party left to blame is God.

By conceiving of prophecy in a way that would have God giving probabilistic prophecies to people who are at risk of being judged a false prophet, Open Theists have put God in a position to be blamed for evils experienced by true prophets who will inevitably be judged false in this inevitable scenario described above.  Of course, making God the "author of evil" is one of the horrors Open Theists are trying to escape by claiming His lack of foreknowledge.  I think the only escape available is for the Open Theist to claim that no probabilistic prophecies actually exist and all are of either the (2) or (3) variety above.  This, of course, will be much harder to square with scripture given how many prophecies either (a) predict so far ahead that there's no possible way all the necessary conditions could already be met, or (b) don't seem to have any conditional elements to them.

I'm interested to hear if anyone has heard an argument similar to this presented anywhere.  Do you think it's good at all?  I'm sure it could be refined quite a lot, but I'm not going to take too much time doing that.  I think the point is clear enough.  As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  Thanks for reading.


New Year's Resolution (in August)

I know it's far too early to be thinking about New Year's resolutions, but in this case I'm going to need all the time I can get.  I've decided to compile a list of the 50 most important thinkers in Christian theology of the 20th century and read one of each of their books by December 31, 2014.  I thought about going with 100, but that's just not realistic.  I'm not really sure if even 50 is realistic, but it's worth a shot.

The challenge, of course, is coming up with a good, accurate list that represents a variety of genres within the world of Christian thought.  Here are my criteria for making the list:

  • With the exception of Heschel (because Judaism is close enough), the thinker must write specifically about Christian theology or philosophy.  There are plenty of great Christian thinkers out there in the fields of psychology or physics or genetics or archaeology or English or a million others.  I don't really care about those fields and don't have much desire to read about them within the context of this project.  I also don't want a bunch of pastoral and Christian self-help stuff either.  I want great works of theology here.
  • The thinker must be extraordinarily influential within his or her field.  In some sense, the contours of Christian thought need to have changed as a result of whoever makes this list.  Someone may have been brilliant and perhaps hugely influential to me or you as individuals, but that's not enough to make the list.  They must have been influential on a very broad scale within their fields.

Initially I wanted to make this a list of exclusively orthodox Christian thinkers, but I've changed my mind. There are certain gigantic figures that simply, if left off the list, would have made it deficient.  Those of you familiar with theology will notice that my list is probably unreasonably heavy on the mid-late 20th century. This is largely because of three reasons.  First, there was just more Christian scholarship in the back half of the 20th century.  Second, I'm young, and am thus more influenced by and familiar with late 20th century thinkers.  Third, I include more Christian philosophers than most people would in a list of Christian theologians.  Distinctively Christian philosophy didn't really take off (again) until the late 60s and early 70s, so obviously the philosophy additions to the list will tend to be more from the later parts of the century.

Ok, so here is my 50.  This is my first edition of the list and it is subject to change.  I'm not sure yet if I'm going to rank them in the final version.  The reason I'm posting this on my blog is that I'd love some help.  I'm sure that I'll forget some extremely important people, so if you can think of someone who needs to be on the list, please let me know.

Barth, Karl
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich
Bruce, F.F.
Brueggemann, Walter
Brunner, Emil
Bultmann, Rudolf
Carson, D.A.**
Cone, James H.
Craig, William Lane
Crossan, John Dominic
Dunn, James D.G.
Fee, Gordon
Gutierrez, Gustavo
Hartshorne, Charles***
Hauerwas, Stanley
Hays, Richard B.
Henry, Carl F.H.
Heschel, Abraham Joshua
Hick, John
James, William
Kung, Hans
Lewis, C.S.
MacIntyre, Alasdair
Moltmann, Jurgen
Niebuhr, H. Richard
Niebuhr, Reinhold
Pannenberg, Wolfhart
Pinnock, Clark
Plantinga, Alvin
Rahner, Karl*
Ramm, Bernard
Robinson, J.A.T.
Ruether, Rosemary
Sanders, E.P.
Schaeffer, Francis
Schweitzer, Albert
Stott, John R.W.
Swinburne, Richard
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre
Tillich, Paul
Torrance, T. F.
Van Inwagen, Peter
Van Til, Cornelius
Volf, Miroslav
Von Rad, Gerhard
Weil, Simone
Wojtyla, Karol Jozef (Pope John Paul II)
Wolterstorff, Nicholas
Wright, N.T.
Yoder, John Howard

Again, this is a very preliminary list.  Pretty much just the ones that came to mind.  I'd really appreciate some help from some of you out there who are fellow lovers of theology.  I'd be happy to change a few of these if I have a good alternative, but obviously a few are quite immovable.

On a related note: if Vegas were to put odds on my completing this task on time, what would they be?  As of right now (and not including the rest of today in my total), I'd have to finish one book every 9.88 days.  Crap.  This isn't going to happen.  Ok - 25 by the end of 2014 and 50 by the end of 2015.  That gives me 17.18 days per book.  Much more realistic.  The good news is that I have already read a number of these authors, so that makes it much more realistic.

Here are some areas in which I recognize this list is probably deficient: Old Testament theology, narrative theology, feminist theology (and female theologians in general - Marilyn McCord Adams narrowly missed the list in favor of some more classic theologians).  There may be others.  Please help!  I'd like as high-quality a list as possible as I embark on this theological journey than which none greater can be conceived.

*Karl Rahner replaced Alister McGrath - thanks to Derek Pierson for catching this startling omission.
**D.A. Carson replaced William P. Alston - again, Derek Pierson reminded me - I planned on putting Carson on, then he just slipped my mind when I actually created the list.
***Charles Hartshorne replaced Meredith Kline - O.T. studies is already well-represented between Brueggemann, Von Rad, and Heschel, and there aren't any other process theologians on here.  Again, thanks be to Derek for the suggestion.


Debunking the Debunkers: Zombies

This is going to be a new topic for the blog, but I thought it'd be fun to switch things up from the philosophy and theology I've been boring everyone with lately.  Before I get to the real meat of this post, though, I thought I'd share a fun fantasy football fact with you all (and I do hope you appreciate my professional use of alliteration there and below).  A couple years ago I started a new tradition with my fantasy teams: I name them after philosophers.  Not just any philosophers - philosophers I like.  Philosophers I like having various dastardly or dominant traits (exactly what one wants from his fantasy team).  Team names used thus far:

Ascendant Anselmians
Terrible Thomists
Ravaging Rawlsians
Marauding Molinists
Plundering Plantingians (Only in an ESPN league - Yahoo won't allow enough characters)
Loutish Lockeans

A friend of mine took Platonic Pulverizers, which would have been an excellent addition to the collection.  Feel free to pass on suggestions for future years.  The only requirement is, of course, alliteration between the quality and the thinker.  Well, that and that I actually like the thinker.  I will not be a Deriding Derridian or a Nefarious Nietzchean.

But on to the real purpose of this post.  Some of you may know that a number of years ago a few friends of mine and I had a blog about zombie survival.  Now defunct, it was fairly popular at the time.  It was even linked to by Kirk Hammett of Metallica, which helped the traffic flow immensely.  Anyway, some of the things we liked to do was pretend that (a) zombies were/are a real possibility and (b) we were scientific in our approach to zombies.  This led us to the strategy of picking fights with other zombie survival sites and blogs that were inferior.  We'd post about what they had to say and tell everyone why they were idiots and why they should pay attention to us over them.  

All of this led one poor soul from the U.K. to send me an email explaining why I was an idiot for thinking zombies do or could ever exist.  He, of course, gave his credentials as a med student to bolster his claims.  The ordeal was simultaneously hilarious and annoying.  Hilarious because this guy took himself so seriously that he felt the need to give me a resume to debunk something that needed no debunking.  Annoying because this a-hole accused me of actually believing what I was saying.  So, naturally, I felt the need to post his email on the blog, list his email address, and invite any and all readers to email him a piece of their minds.  All good fun.

Anyway, the blog has been inactive for a number of years now, but I read an article today that reminded me of this little kerfuffle: 7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Outbreak Would Fail (Quickly).  Seriously?  Who does this?  Is there anyone out there who really believes a zombie outbreak is possible?  

Here's the thing: the article's not even that good.  In reading it I got that same feeling of annoyance that I did with the fellow from the U.K.  The obstinate part of my soul welled up and I knew I needed to debunk this debunker.  I will go through each of the seven "scientific reasons" and explain why one's hope for the zombie apocalypse should not be deferred by said reasons.

Objection 1: They have too many natural predators.  Some large (dogs, bears, lions, etc.), most small (insects, bacteria, etc.).

Response: In zombie movies and literature three things typically happen to the large predators.  (a)
They are eaten immediately by the zombies (because zombies travel in hordes and are quite strong, it's difficult for the predator to attack one without being attacked.  See also: water buffalo).  (b) They die from the disease they contract by attacking zombies.  Some diseases out there are transferable between species, so this seems plausible (see also: AIDS).  (c) The predators choose not to attack because they know they will become diseased and die (see also: poisonous tree frogs).

Onto small predators.  The simplest solution to this is just to say that since zombism is caused by a virus, it's reasonable to expect that the virus could and would attack and kill the bacteria causing the rapid decay discussed in the article.  As for the insects, they would probably suffer the same fate as the large predators - be eaten or become sick and die.

But here's the biggest point: it's actually possible that the insects would work contrary to the article's claim.  Take mosquitos for example.  They may not attack anyway, given the lack of live blood and blood flow...so maybe take them or another insect.  If they attack and aren't killed by the disease, the odds are actually pretty good that we could have a malaria-type situation on our hands where insects eat the diseased blood, then carry the disease to other, healthy humans, and thus help spread the disease.  Objection 1 sufficiently debunked.

Objection 2: They can't take the heat.  Heat causes one of two things to happen to corpses: they explode or they mumify - either way the apocalypse is over before it starts.

Response: First, this is a bit misleading.  The explosion is not really a violent enough explosion to expect the brain to become damaged.  Since zombie lore makes the claim that it's the brain that keeps the corpse animated (somehow), there's no reason to expect such an explosion from bloating to kill a zombie.  Since they're portrayed often as surviving with guts hanging out (and after having suffered massive bloating), this is a pretty weak objection.

The mummification objection is much better.  Still doesn't work, but it's much better.  Here's the thing with mummification: even under perfect conditions (certain organs removed, salts added to make the process happen properly, dry, hot climate) mummification takes about 70 days.  A 70 day period during which a corpse can wreak havoc is more than enough time to make an apocalypse a possibility.  First, during these 70 days the zombies presumably will be making new zombies, thus essentially starting the 70 day clock over for each new zombie.  Say a zombie infects someone on day 50.  That's 120 days.  Say that one infects someone on day 60.  That's a half a year.  Even if you think they'll be so solid by day 50 or 60, that they'll be too frozen, then drop the figure to 40 and multiply by a couple million times.  I think it's fairly clear that humanity will be more or less extinct before they are saved by mummification.

Objection 3: They can't handle the cold.  Zombies are dead, so they will freeze solid in the cold.

Response: The vast majority of the world's population lives in warm climates, so this objection will be largely irrelevant.  Have a gander at this little visual aid:

How much of that circle is in a warm or relatively warm climate?  Roughly 90%.  And as you can see in this next image, the northernmost parts of that circle are not the most dense (the circle had to be made that large to fit both western India and southern Indonesia - not to include Mongolia/southern Siberia).

But have a look at this second map.  Notice how many people live in more or less temperate climates.  Not too cold, not too hot.  Most of the North and South American and virtually all of Europe.

Max Brooks actually makes a great point about the "cold" issue in World War Z (the book).  A lot of people tried to use the cold to their advantage, as this objection would suggest they should.  What happened?  Millions of people had the same idea, they quickly ran out of food and began starving to death.  The population was then thinned out by surviving humans rather than zombies, but the effect remained the same.  I think this scenario was one of the most plausible original thoughts Brooks had in the book.

Objection 4: Biting is a terrible way to spread a disease.  Traveling by air, sex, and fleas is a much better plan for a virus.

Response: Hey wait a minute...did you say fleas?  Like the black plague?  Yes...oh, and in objection 1 didn't you say insects would be a big threat to zombies?  You did?  Ok.  Thanks for that.

Here's some news: when fleas pass along a disease they do it by biting.  Ditto mosquitos.  It's only an inefficient way to spread a disease if the ability to bite the uninfected is in some way inhibited.  So insects are an option here for slow, Romero-style zombies.  Also, more recent versions of zombies have taken this objection seriously and created fast zombies.  The Dawn of the Dead (remake), World War Z (movie), Warm Bodies, 28 Days Later - these all utilize fast zombies.  

The amazing thing in each is that each dramatically OVER-estimates people's ability to shoot accurately (especially where a head shot is required - so, in all except the 28 Days/Weeks Later movies).  This is not just a bold statement - this is the sober truth: if zombies were to exist and they were fast, humanity would have almost no chance of survival.  What most people know of shooting comes from the movies, and the movies are wrong.  The vast majority of shots miss and head shots at running targets will run less than a 1% success rate, especially when multiple assailants are involved (as would obviously be the case with a zombie horde).  Even when shooting at humans, the majority of shots are not fatal, so to expect that to change when head shots are required is pretty far-fetched.  For fast zombies, then, biting just may be the single MOST efficient way of spreading a disease.

Objection 5: They can't heal from day to day damage.  With all their clumsiness they will be toothless, limbless, and all their bones will be broken.

Response:  So?  Aren't they that already in the movies?  It only takes one tooth to bite.  People can still walk around with broken bones.  One doesn't need a limb to bite.  So long as their brains remain in tact the zombies would still be a threat, just slightly minimized with increasing body damage.  But how long would it take for all, or even the majority, of zombies out there to get serious enough damage that they're no longer a threat?  I'm willing to bet it'd take longer than the food and water supply in your house will last.  What do you think?  Honestly - how long could you survive with what you have at home?  The article suggests you watch all the seasons of "24" back to back and by the time you're done you'll be safe.  Poppycock.  In movies, for the most part zombies know not to walk off buildings unless they're chasing someone.  There's not a lot of reasons for them to break bones walking around as slowly and methodically as they do.  I just don't see why anyone thought this would be a persuasive objection.

Objection 6: The landscape is full of zombie-proof barriers.  Mountains, high-rises, bridges, rivers, canyons, etc. spell the doom of zombies by making them easy targets for shooters and causing vast injuries.

Response: First, the author, David Dietle, is clearly not very familiar with the fact that zombies traditionally have been able to survive water (Brooks suggests that the Solanum [the name of the virus] somehow protects them from the corrosive effects of the water), so falling into a river or lake is nothing more than a softer landing than concrete to a zombie - certainly not a death sentence.

But the most glaring problem with this objection is precisely that it would require the would-be survivors to use these natural barriers as hold-outs.  Dietle writes, "In cities, people would likely congregate in the upper levels of high-rise buildings, where the invasion can be held at bay with simple security doors. Also, the streets themselves would keep the undead corralled in straight, easy-to-aim-down lines where they could be picked off by snipers, or just bored office-workers waiting out the quarantine by dropping office supplies onto the undead from the top floors."

Yes, he actually uses this picture as an example.  I don't know about you, but I'm not super crazy about the prospect of living on this rock for weeks on end.

Where to begin!?!  First, if there are enough zombies below to drop stuff on them to kill them, then the outbreak has been going for a while now and would appear to be quite successful.  Second, how much ammo do these snipers have?  How many "snipers" are there?  Say there's a thousand zombie horde running (or staggering) toward you at, say, 300 yards.  How many head shots would a sniper have to deliver to remain safe and at what rate?  We're talking a few hundred consecutive Lee-Harvey-Oswald-speed head shots while having to stop to reload.  The plausibility factor is lacking in this "scientific" reason to think the apocalypse couldn't happen.  There just aren't enough snipers in the world to take advantage of this situation on any regular basis.  Those of us who actually shoot guns know how dramatically implausible it is to think that non-professional marksmen could be counted on to provide this many consistently accurate shots or to even think that we'd have anywhere near the ammo supplies needed for such a task.

Lastly on this: how are the people "congregate[d] in the upper levels of high-rise buildings" going to survive for even a week?  How many of us have worked in a high-rise?  I have.  I can guarantee you one thing - there are not enough food and water supplies up there to last a day with that many people.  You better be damn sure this outbreak isn't going to last, because if it does you are out of luck, my friend, if you thought a high-rise was a great idea.

Objection 7: Weapons and the people who use them.  There are 14 million hunters in the U.S.  An armed force the size of L.A.  The apocalypse would end before it started.  Also the military.

Response: How many of these hunters actually live in L.A.?  Or Chicago?  Or D.C.?  Most nations have far stricter gun laws than the U.S., so how many hunters are there in Tokyo?  Or Beijing?  Or Mexico City?  Or Paris?  51% of the world's population lives in cities where gun owners are few and far between.  In the U.S. it's 79%.  The gun owners that exist in places like L.A. or Chicago are largely unskilled and/or unable to shoot anything at long-range (because the gun owned is a pistol).  How are all the gun owners/hunters in Montana and Nebraska going to help those poor souls in New York City and Boston?  This objection is unfathomably stupid.  Just have a look at this handy little map showing gun ownership percentages in the U.S.

So Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, the Dakotas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and West Virginia will be fine.  This represents roughly no one when we consider where the majority of the population is located.  If you live in NYC, L.A. San Diego, New Jersey, Baltimore, San Francisco, Honolulu, Chicago, D.C. Boston, or Miami you're positively screwed.

Dietle goes on to suggest that the military and police could handle it.  .50-cals, air support, and MOABs should do the trick.  Yes, because a MOAB is likely an option that will be used on Boston BEFORE things have gotten completely out of control.  These sorts of measures would not even be considered if the zombie apocalypse had not already proven itself a major threat to humanity's existence.  By then it would likely be too late.  Shooting a zombie with a .50-cal isn't much better than shooting one with a .30 cal.  It's actually probably not as good (far less accurate when firing automatic with a .50 from a helicopter than one round at a time with a rest with a hunting rifle).  Combine that with the fact that at any given time about 170,000 active duty troops are deployed worldwide, making it difficult to deploy them immediately against a zombie threat, and this job will be left to the National Guard.  No offense to the National Guard, but they aren't the Marines.  Many of the active duty troops here at home are non-fighting troops, at least for purposes of the zombie battle.  For instance, the Navy won't help much in inner-city Chicago.  Ditto the Coast Guard.  The Air Force can only do so much until the civilian population is entirely overrun and the battle is already being lost (in which case, obviously, the outbreak is/was possible).  You see my point.  Just the mere fact that military assets exist says nothing about their ability to wage and win a war against zombies, especially in the early stages prior to the population having been completely overrun.

Further, the U.S. has one of the most sophisticated and capable military forces in the world.  What happens in other countries that can barely defend themselves from themselves?  What happens in Egypt, where there's already upheaval or in Japan, where there is no standing military?  At the very best, this objection solves for the zombie outbreak in highly advanced nations with extremely capable militaries.  That is to say that it does nothing for the vast majority of the world.

Well, that should do it.  My long-awaited foray back into the world of zombie writing.  Hope you all enjoyed it and, as always, comments are appreciated.


Divine Hiddenness, Prayer, and Agnosticism

This week I was reading through a book I got for Christmas that I've been wanting to read for quite a while.  It's called "Divine Hiddenness: New Essays."  The problem of divine hiddenness, for those of you not familiar, is simply the question of why God, if he is who Christians say he is, hides from (some of) us.  While divine hiddenness is a very interesting topic, I don't really want to write a lot about divine hiddenness here.

I want to talk about Paul Draper's contribution to the book.  Paul Draper is one of the foremost agnostic philosophers of religion in the United States.  I'll give a really brief summary of his essay, then I'll give a few of my thoughts on the topic.  Draper, as I said, is an agnostic, which is to say he's not sure whether or not God exists.  He thinks there is quite a bit of evidence for both theism and naturalism (which entails atheism).  For those of you curious, here's a quick little list of features of our world that he sees as evidence for each:

Evidence for Theism Evidence for Naturalism
The universe has a finite past Earth is not the center of the universe
The existence of intelligent life The universe is much older than humans
It appears we have free will Life came about via evolution
It appears we have immaterial minds Physical processes largely determine mental states
The world is full of beauty Pain and pleasure are systematically connected to reproduction
Some people have religious experiences The existence of tragedy in the world

The distribution of religious experience is very uneven

Now, of course these lists aren't meant to be comprehensive, and I'm sure there are plenty of other things Draper would include if that were his goal, but it isn't.  His point is simply that there is a lot of, at least what seems on the face of it, evidence for both positions.  Further, he says this it's really quite impossible to look objectively at these things and know which evidence is stronger.  One can't simply assign number values for strength to each of the facts about the world, take whichever has the highest number, and believe it.  It's quite impossible to tell what those strength measurements would be.  So unless one has actually had those religious experiences, there's no good reason to sway one direction over the other.

Draper's conclusion is what I find truly interesting, precisely because it's as intellectually honest as they come.  Draper quotes H.H. Price's abbreviated version of the Agnostic's Prayer: "O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have a soul."  I quote his conclusion at length.  He says:

Since...I regard God's existence as a real possibility, I whole-heartedly agree with Price that it is reasonable – indeed, I would say rationally required – for me to behave differently than I would if I were an atheist. For example, I ought to pray – unlike the atheist I believe there just might be a God listening. More generally, I ought to do what I can to cultivate or at least prepare for a relationship with God.”

He goes on to say:

Religious practice is very difficult for an agnostic, and for some there may be value in that difficulty. After all, human beings are psychologically very complex, to say the least. And it is well known that belief is not strongly correlated with sanctification. Thus, if theism is true, then I seriously doubt that the moral and spiritual development of every single human being is best served by belief in this life.”

He concludes with:

I hope and even believe that my assessment is the result of an open mind rather than a closed or tender heart. But if this is so, then is the ambiguity of the evidence just an unfortunate coincidence? Or is it designed, not by me, but by a God whose policy is, 'Don't find me, I'll call you...when the time is right”? I don't know the answers to these questions. So for now I will sit on the fence, lost perhaps but still looking, leaning perhaps but not leaping, listening I hope, but not yet hearing.”

I have three things I want to discuss with regard to these comments.  One is directed to others who consider themselves agnostic along with Draper, one is directed to atheists, and one is directed to my fellow Christians.  

First, how should agnostics think about this issue?  Well, I can't see how an agnostic would get
around Draper's conclusion here.  Draper isn't sure exactly what probability to assign to God's existence, but he's pretty sure it's not zero.  If it isn't zero, it seems to me that a Pascalian decision calculus would come into play.  It's not exactly Pascal's Wager, since Draper isn't prescribing changes in beliefs or affirming a faith, but the reasoning is similar.  It's really just a piece of intellectual honesty.  Here's what really struck me: it seems like many agnostics use their agnosticism as an excuse to simply not have anything to do with religion.  I consider this variety of agnosticism intellectual laziness.  One presumably is an agnostic because she doubts both God's existence AND his non-existence.  So why do the vast majority of agnostics out there treat their agnosticism as license to act exclusively as if he doesn't exist?  Shouldn't one equally as often act as if she doubts that God does not exist, and thus act in a way similar to the one Draper describes (prayer, preparing for a possible relationship with God, etc.)?

So next is the question of whether or not any of this is relevant to atheists.  Here's my answer: so long as the atheist assigns a non-nil probability to God's existence, she should act in a similar way as Draper.  There are obviously quite a few atheists who do assign a zero probability to God's existence, and this shouldn't affect them at all.  But to give that sort of thing an absolute zero probability is a bit extreme and I'd guess probably fairly rare among atheists.  Here's the thing - if one grants that God's existence is logically possible then his existence is logically necessary.  On Christian theism, God is a necessarily existent being, which is to say that it isn't so much as possible that he not exist.  Another way to put this is to say that God exists is every possible world.  Plantinga's modified version of the ontological argument makes this point quite clearly:

If God's existence is possible, then he must exist in at least one possible world (even if it is not the actual world).  In any possible world in which he exists he is what he is - which is to say that he is a necessary being.  So in any possible world in which he exists it is necessarily false that God does not exist.  But necessary truths and falsehoods are true and false in all possible worlds (i.e. 2+2=4 in every possible world). It must, therefore, be necessarily false in every possible world (which includes the actual one) that God does not exist.  This, of course, means that it is necessarily false in our world that God does not exist, which means that it is necessarily true that God exists in our world.  

If you're an atheist, are you willing to assess a zero probability for God's existence?  If so...kudos - you're very bold.  If not, then shouldn't you at least be putting yourself in the shoes of the agnostic discussed above?

Finally, just what is the Christian to think about all this?  On the one hand, we know that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)  John 3 makes it pretty clear that (a) belief is necessary for salvation and (b) that belief must be placed in Christ.  The story of Lazarus the Beggar (and many other scriptures) seems to make it clear that that belief needs to take place in this life.  

On the other hand, we may be the types to be inclined to see scriptures like Matt. 25:31-46, Romans 1:20, or the many teachings on the boundlessness of God's grace and think that inclusivism is the correct view for a Christian to take.  If one is an inclusivist, then I find it hard to imagine that God wouldn't honor these sorts of prayers.  

Suppose, as Calvin thought, we humans are endowed with a sensus divinitatis - a sense of the divine - that allows us to be able to sense God in a way akin to our other senses.  Suppose further that, similar to sight or hearing, this sense may be damaged in a way to where it does not function properly.  The Christian narrative would say that this feature would be damaged as a result of the fall.  Perhaps those who have religious experiences have them because their sensus divinitatis is functional (or at least partly functional) while others' are less functional or entirely dysfunctional.  

It seems to me that it would be reasonable to think that agnostics of Draper's sort, who dedicate their lives to searching for the truth in these areas and who pray and seek a relationship with a deity they aren't sure exists, must not have properly functioning senses of the divine.  Is that their fault?  Hard to say.  But even if it is, isn't it possible (even probable) that God would honor that effort even in the absence of belief?  Further, what if the so-called "soul-making theodicy" is true (and I'm inclined to think that it is)?  What if God remains silent to some people as a means to developing good characteristics in those people's souls that would not have developed otherwise?  Draper, himself, admits to this possibility.  Possibly God uses his own silence to help some people build character.  To me it seems like quite the virtue to be willing to prepare oneself for a relationship with a being she isn't even sure exists purely on the possibility that that being does exists and is worthy of worship.  I, for one, would not be surprised at all if both (a) inclusivism is true, and (b) this variety of agnostic would be "included".

Lastly, I just want to say how pathetic I felt in reading someone like Draper talking about the fact that he prays to a God he doesn't believe in as a means to "cultivate or at least prepare for a relationship with God."  I'm a Christian who believes with certainty that God exists - how much more should I pray to cultivate my relationship with God?  But do I?  Honestly, probably not a whole lot more than Draper does (I have no idea how much he does, but I have a pretty good idea of how much I do, so I think this judgment is fair).  This, of course, is deplorable.  I don't know how many of my friends are in the same boat here, but I confess that I feel ashamed yet motivated to improve that area where my life is seriously lacking.


On Retroactive Impetratory Prayer

As I was driving today I began thinking again on a theological topic that has crossed my mind before, but that I've never actually put to much proper consideration.  When it comes to the problem of divine foreknowledge, I'm generally in the Molinist camp.  For those of you not familiar with what Molinism is, I recommend that you follow that little blue link prior to reading below.  Or you can just read on and try your best.  Or you can (as I suspect most people will choose to do) just stop reading.

Ok, so here is the question: If today I choose to pray that event E that happened yesterday would not have happened, (a) is it possible that God answer this prayer and (b) is it plausible that God would answer this prayer.  I'm calling this "Retroactive Impetratory Prayer" (hereafter, RIP).

I've come to the conclusion that (a) depends on which theological view to you hold to with regard to divine providence.  Let's start there.

Suppose I am an Open Theist approaching this question.  The Open Theist almost certainly has to answer in the negative.  On Open Theism, God does not have complete, definite foreknowledge.  He can be 99.999% certain of most things and even 100% certain of some things, but most things are probably in the "extremely well-informed guess" category rather than the "absolute certainty" category.  If this is the case, then there is no way that God could really justify answering a prayer that He doesn't know with absolute certainty will be prayed.  There's no way, then, that He actually would answer a prayer prior to its being prayed since it's still possible that the prayer won't be prayed.  This could change once all the necessary and sufficient conditions are met for a given prayer's being prayed.  Once that happens, I would think that answering the prayer prior to its instantiation would be fair game for God on Open Theism as well.

The Augustinian/Calvinist (A/C) (determinism or compatibilism, take your pick) view would also have to answer in the negative.  Strictly speaking, the past happened the way it did because God intentionally caused it to be that way in every case.  For God to answer a prayer prior to its being prayed, God would have to essentially admit that His plan was flawed to start with and then change it.  Of course, some of you A/C folks out there may disagree with my interpretation here, and if so I'd appreciate hearing about it.  One reason you may want to disagree is that this exact same reasoning can be used against the possibility of impetratory prayer of any kind on the A/C view, which is something I bet a lot of folks will want to avoid.  And, incidentally, this is yet another great reason not to hold the A/C view.  Just sayin'.

The Molinist, it seems to me, is the only one who can really entertain the possibility of RIP being able to work on any consistent basis.  First, on Molinism prayer definitely has the potential to impetrate.  That is, God's decisions in the world are definitely affected by prayer.  Second, God knows prior to the creation of the world exactly what prayers will be prayed at what time and by whom.  Third, it seems to me to be possible, if not probable, that God would be willing to take those future prayers into account when guiding events prior to the prayer.  So I think that the RIP issue is one that Molinists are (mostly) unique in having to address.  So there is my answer to (a).  (Brief aside: I'm not really sure if it's possible that a Molinist hold to a B-theory of time.  Haven't thought about it too much.  If one were to do so,  there may be some issues there as well...which I haven't bothered considering.  For now, though, I'm going to assume an A-theory of time and move on.) 

Now, if a Molinist answers affirmatively to (a), then what of (b)?  Well, I think first we need to recognize that on the Molinist account of prayer, God makes the decision of whether or not to answer a prayer prior to the creation of the world, so strictly speaking the time at which a prayer is prayed shouldn't affect His ability or willingness to answer it.  The problems really come when we conceptualize the prayer.  Say E happened yesterday and it displeased me.  Now let's say that I choose today to pray that E never happened.  Well, if I know I pray the prayer in the first place I already know that it went unanswered.  If there is but one timeline (and I think it's pretty reasonable to think this is the case, especially on the Christian worldview), it follows that events I have already experienced cannot be changed.  Those events would have never have been able to take place were my prayer answered retroactively (i.e. prior to my prayer having been prayed).  So, then, if I believe in the possibility of RIP, it follows that if I attempt a retroactive prayer I'm already guaranteed that the prayer was not answered.

But this is not the end of the issue!  Far from it.  No, no.  This is right where it gets interesting.  See, the mere fact that my praying for retroactive answers guarantees that those retroactive answers didn't happen does not mean that such prayers are completely superfluous!  God may actually answer some retroactive prayers, it's just that the believer who would have done the praying would never know it.  However, in order for there to be the possibility of such a prayer being prayed, the believer must actually get in the habit of praying such prayers.  Example:

Suppose there are two separate and unrelated events E1 & E2.  Believer B dislikes both and will pray that both did not happen in the past (these prayers will be P1 & P2, respectively).  God decides logically prior to creation whether or not he will answer either prayer.  Say God decides to answer P2 but not P1, so that E2 would not have happened, but E1 still would.  B would still have to have a mindset that may cause her to pray both P1 & P2 in order for P2 to be answered.  Likely, then, prayers of the P1 variety would still have to be prayed (even though B knows the prayers are superfluous) in order to guarantee that prayers of the P2 variety would also have been prayed (and thus not have taken place).  Otherwise there is no possibility that God know via middle knowledge that P2 would be prayed (since it would not, in fact, be prayed), and thus He would not prevent E2 from obtaining.

So the answer to (b) above would be: no. It is impossible that God answer the retroactive request you are currently praying for.  However, the Molinist can (and maybe even should) believe that such prayers may nevertheless be necessary in order for God to answer other retroactive prayers that she will never actually pray.

I really look forward to some thoughts on this from any of you theology dabblers out there!


In a discussion I had on this last night with my roommate, I found that framing the issue in more explicitly Molinist terms was helpful.

Molinism, roughly, is the belief that God obtains His foreknowledge from the combination of three logical moments.  Moment 1: natural knowledge (knowledge of all necessary truths).  Moment 2: middle knowledge (knowledge of the truth value of all counterfactuals).  Next comes the decision to create the world.  Knowledge from moments 1 and 2 are then combined with the knowledge of which world was created, which gives God moment 3: Free knowledge (complete, definite foreknowledge of all circumstances that will obtain in the world and all free choices that will be made by creatures in those circumstances).

Consider the example I gave above in Molinist terms:

Prior to creation, God is presented with 2 counterfactuals:

C1. Given E1, B would freely choose P1.
C2. Given E2, B would freely choose P2.

Assuming both counterfactuals are true, God then weighs whether or not He plans to answer either P1 or P2 (or both) and chooses (still prior to creation) to answer P2, but not P1.

E2 now will never obtain.  B will only ever pray P1 and B will have no idea that E2 (and thus P2) was ever even a possibility.  B will certainly have no idea that God answered P2 without it ever happening.

However, the truth value of counterfactuals is determined by the free creature.  So, the truth values of both C1 and of C2 are in the hands of B.  It just so happens that God knows what B would choose given each circumstance.  So if B does not freely choose to pray retroactive prayers sometimes (already knowing that the prayer will not be answered), then it is a virtual guarantee that the truth values of both C1 and C2 would be false, causing God to not answer P2.