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January 16, 2007


Phil W.

What do you think of Pontificator's thoughts? If I understood him correctly, he wrote on his blog that Augustine was wrong: we have all been predestined (if Paul could preach it to people, so should priests be able to preach it to anyone), but we've got the option of renouncing our predestination.


...or other permitted Catholic schools."

I wasn't aware that there were other Catholic schools of thought, besides the Augustine, Thomist, or Molinist views. What are the others?

Eileen R

Jimmy: Given the practical orientation of my work--which involves defending the liberty of opinion that Catholics have rather than trying to prove one particular school of thought correct

This is why I really find your blog helpful, that practical orientation. Other sorts of discussion can be really interesting, but can leave a person confused where the boundaries are. Thanks for your work. It always leaves me feeling and thinking better.

Thomas E. Vaughan

I can't resist asking if anyone has studied whether the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics (QM) would tend to push someone toward Thomism, Molinism, or another pole in the debate. My curiosity is no doubt related to my ignorance of what distinguishes Thomism from Molinism, etc. I'll check out the Catholic Encyclopedia shortly.

Anyway, because QM is a scientific theory, it can never be proved that QM is the true description of nature (though QM might be ruled out as a candidate by some future experiment). Still, QM is quite a good description for a wide range of experiments, and QM can be interpreted to imply that the results of an observation are not completely determined by the laws of nature. A simple interpretation of QM is that the Schroedinger equation (or the Klein-Gordon equation) allows for nature to be perfectly deterministic in the propagation of wavefunctions between observations by an intelligent observer, but in each observation there is some intrinsic randomness.

A materialist might say that if this view of QM constitutes the true description of nature, then the future is not predestined because the only causes that exist are physical causes, and these don't specify uniquely what the future will be, even if the state of the universe were completely specified in the present.

It seems to me that the Catholic could hold hypothetically the truth of QM, so long as he admits that God may suspend the rules of nature to reveal truth through miracles. After all, the special status of the "intelligent observer" in the interpretation above implies that human persons can initiate chains of causality, at least by making "observations". At the same time, one could say that the future is predestined by causes originating outside of nature but nevertheless determining the result of each observation.

St. Thomas employed four distinct notions of causality, I think, and one of them was called "efficient causality". This is the one that I always thought of as being closest to physics. If efficient causality played a role in St. Thomas's approach to predestination, then I wonder about whether the observations leading to the formulation of a theory like QM would render his argument less powerful, or whether they would have no effect at all.

Paul H


Based on your post above, I think that you would really enjoy a book called "Modern Physics and Ancient Faith" by Stephen Barr. I just read it, and it is excellent. The author is a physics professor, and he discusses some of the same topics that you discuss above regarding the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics, though he does not specifically get into the Thomism/Molinism debate.


My favorite treatment is the solution proposed by Fr. William Most in his book "New Answers to Old Questions." You can find the complete text here: http://www.catholicculture.org/docs/most/getwork.cfm?worknum=214


The 2006 Catholic Blog Awards


When are you going to acknowledge your 3 Blog Award Wins:

- Most Informative Blog
- Best Blog by a Man
- Best Apologetics Blog


Jonathan Prejean

I can't resist asking if anyone has studied whether the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics (QM) would tend to push someone toward Thomism, Molinism, or another pole in the debate.

Speaking autobiographically, I can only say that it left me dissatisfied with either and persuaded by the amicable criticism of Barry Miller (A Most Unlikely God, The Fullness of Being) and Gregory Rocca (Speaking the Incomprehensible God), who appear to have taken the position that I consider most faithful to St. Thomas's own position. I understand the Thomist/Molinist debate as being primarily based on Cajetan's version of St. Thomas's doctrine of analogy, which I believe to be different than what St. Thomas himself had in mind. The flaw in Cajetan's reasoning, at least as it seems to me, is that he carried the notion of causation beyond its analogical limits, effectively making God a cause among causes (or a being among beings) in near-Scotist fashion. Such a univocal concept of causation misunderstands the difference between the natural order and the supernatural order (God's mode of operation). Having come from a background in physics (bachelor's and master's degrees), I always found the rigorous, deterministic model of God's causation inadequate anyway, so I was quite amenable to finding a philosophical account that was not so limited (and I believe that St. Thomas provides one).

I think it would be a bit misleading to call this a "philosophy of quantum mechanics." Quantum mechanics provided me an example that it is possible to provide meaningful explanations of forms of "causation" that don't fit into deterministic models, which also convinced me that it was possible to speak meaningfully about God through analogy, even though what we mean in both cases is a bit mysterious (witness Einstein's frustration: "God does not play dice with the universe."). But that doesn't substitute for actual metaphysics, and to think that QM is going to do metaphysical work that it can't possibly do is just the sort of materialism that plagues modern society. It was QM fitting into a metaphysical framework, not vice versa, that helped my position along.

ISTM that St. Thomas was the teacher par excellence on how to speak rigorously about the mysteries of God (even surpassing his sources, Pseudo-Dionysius and St. John Damascene). If anything, I think St. Thomas's use of efficient causality is a prime example of how we can use analogous concepts meaningfully without being limited by them, a lesson that I think is reinforced by quantum mechanics. But let's keep in mind what the lesson is here: our real conceptual limitations do not translate into conceptual limitations on reality.

Jamie Beu


I'd also like to recommend C.S. Lewis' book Miracles, especially one of the last chapters/epilogues(?) which deals with whether certain things are "special miracles". Lewis basically propounds a view that, since God is outside of time and space, "causation" as we see it doesn't really apply to prayer, because we believe that B follows A and C follows B, but we also believe that we can pray for Z to happen. The fact that the alphabet runs from A to Z is both a natural occurance (in that one logically follows the next), but is also a miraculous event, in that God ordained (or even pre-ordained) it so.

This means that our prayers at this point in time (C) are heard outside of all time, and therefore, the events necessary to occur in order for Z to happen will have been put into effect all the way back at A.

This also means that there is no way to successfully debate divine providence from natural order, when it comes to "everyday miracles" or "special Providence" (that is, "miraculous" answers to the prayers of a single person or group of people).

A great example of this reasoning is the fall of communist Russia. Catholics believe that prayers and rosaries, prompted by Our Lady of Fatima, were the cause of the downfall of communism in Russia, whereas historians, politicians, and economists will point to the inevitability of economic collapse brought about by Stalinist policies in communist Russia. But maybe, just maybe, God's hand in it all was in answering all the prayers from 1917 to 1991 by bringing into existence a man named Karol Wojtyla. Then again, the materialist will argue that Karol's parents brought him into existence and circumstances (such as the loss of his parents and the multiple invasions of his homeland) brought about the mindset that would be set on bringing down "the evil empire" (even though he was not the only person in all of history to have experienced those same circumstances, but he was the only one to do something incredible about it).

But I digress... Check out Miracles. It's "popular" theology, but that doesn't mean it's shallow.

Ed Peters

Godd thoughts, Jimmy. thx.

Brian John Schuettler

For an exhaustive discussion of this topic i.e. Grace, Predestination and Free Will I recommend the book Predestination by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P., one of the greatest experts on the subject and the thought of Aquinas.

Mary Kay

echoing what Eileen R said.


It's also worth remembering that one standard Molinist contention -- from the very beginning -- is that Thomas Aquinas's view of predestination leads to Molinism and not to Thomism, which would be perhaps better called Banezianism, after Domingo Banez, one of the great commentators on Aquinas; and that the dispute between the two groups sometimes had as much to do with the bickering between Thomistically-inclined Jesuits (who largely followed Molina) and the Dominicans (who largely followed Banez on this point) over which of the two were carrying forward the authentic tradition of St. Thomas as it did with actual Church teaching on predestination. The key points on which the two groups diverge (the Molinist acceptance of middle knowledge, the Banezian acceptance of physical premotion) involve very complicated philosophical theses about knowledge and causation. So it's not really the sort of topic on which any of us can say much without extensive research.


Aristotelianism is also a scientific theory which is why both the Orthodox and Lutherans have qualms about using Aristotelian language for the conversion of the elements in the Eucharist. It isn't that it is not true, but that they don't want to be locked into Aristotle.

A Theistically-modifed many-worlds interpretation would have it that God would naturally have known all possible future histories perfectly before creation. If, contra the Calvinists, the first decree in the ordo salutis is "Let Us make man in Our Image and Likeness", then naturally God would have chosen the best possible future history, taking that decree into consideration.

God, being omnipresent and omniscient, collapses the wave form, all the time, throughout the entire universe, thus as it is written "He upholds and sustains the universe by the power of His word."

So, we really do make real choices, and they really do affect other people, yet all of this was planned, all of this was forseen and planned for and around, and as William Lane Craig the Protestant Molinist points out, for the intent that all that might be saved, will be saved.

A novel which illustrates this quantum molinism is Connie Willis' excellent _To Say Nothing of the Dog_.

Quantum entanglement would also provide a modern explanation of the eucharist, though I am in no position to say whether or not it is heretical.

nota bene: I'm on the other side of the Tiber, so take with a grain of salt as far as application to Catholic theology is concerned.

Ed Peters

I think I'm a Jimmist.


"Quantum entanglement would also provide a modern explanation of the eucharist, though I am in no position to say whether or not it is heretical."

Seeing as the Incarnation and the Eucharist are similar types of miracles, it would stand to reason that if QM could "explain" the Eucharist, then it could "explain" God becoming man.

If that comforts you.


Ed Peters,

We all know you are a tried and true Deppist.

Take care and God bless,


"It's also worth remembering that one standard Molinist contention -- from the very beginning -- is that Thomas Aquinas's view of predestination leads to Molinism and not to Thomism, which would be perhaps better called Banezianism, after Domingo Banez, one of the great commentators on Aquinas."

I've heard this from modern Dominicans as well; Molinists are considered "Thomistic" in the broader sense of the term, as opposed to the narrow use of "Thomist" refering to a specific school of Thomistic thinkers of the day. Most Dominicans I know fall squarely into the "Molinist" camp, and use St. Thomas' teachings to explain and defend that position.

God bless!

Henry Karlson

My response is neither -- I am Palamite.

Ed Peters

I think one can be a Deppist and Jimmist at the same time. They are not fundamentally incompatible. Speaking of which, just a saw a little gem: Benny and Joon (1993?). He was great.



From what you put on your blog I think you are a bit of both, I admit I have read very little of Molina, but you inform without prejudice

God bless

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