Middle Knowledge & Molinism

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

February 22, 2016

In the book Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views four theologians discuss God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. This article surveys the essay provided by William Lane Craig defending his position called “The Middle-Knowledge View,” also known as “Molinism.” This view depends upon not only the kind of knowledge God has, but also upon when He has it. To help make sense of this deep philosophical concept, Craig offers a helpful analogy.

The Ghost of Christmas Future

In his opening paragraph, Craig provides an analogy that most of us are familiar with: “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens.  After being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, Scrooge asks,

“Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be only?”

Craig says that Scrooge asks the wrong question, as he does not understand that “between [or the ‘middle’] what could be [natural knowledge] and what will be [free knowledge] lies what would be.” The Ghost of Christmas Future was offering Scrooge specific knowledge of what would happen, if Scrooge kept living his selfish and inconsiderate lifestyle. If Scrooge did not change his life, the Ghost warned him of all of the horrible things that would happen.

Scrooge is quick to change his life, and therefore, these terrible things the Ghost warned Scrooge would happen, do not actually happen. This kind of knowledge the Ghost possessed is called “counterfactual knowledge,” and the middle knowledge (MK) view hinges upon it. If Molinism is true, God must possess the same kind of knowledge logically prior to his creative decree to actualize the universe.

Counterfactuals

Counterfactuals are conditional statements in the subjunctive mood: for example, “If I were on steroids, I would have bigger muscles.” Craig states that “counterfactuals are so called because the antecedent or consequent clauses are typically contrary to fact”; however, sometimes the antecedents are factual. For example, law enforcement relies on counterfactual knowledge all the time: “If you offer to buy drugs from the drug dealer, he would sell them to you.” You make decisions based on counterfactual knowledge every day, including many life and death decisions, like “If I pulled into traffic now, the Mack truck would hit me.”

Now, finite humans seem to have counterfactual knowledge with high degrees of certainty; however, by definition, God is omniscient. If God is really omniscient, then He must know the truth value to every proposition with perfect certainty. Craig affirms this includes counterfactual propositions, and that God has eternally possessed this knowledge. Therefore, it logically follows that God had this MK causally before/logically prior to His creative decree.

Possible Worlds

God, in His omnipotence, could have created a potentially infinite amount of other possible worlds. By “possible worlds,” philosophers mean a state of affairs which could have been different from the state of affairs in which we find ourselves. These possible worlds do not actually exist; however, they could have existed. Moreover, in God’s omniscience, He knows exactly how everything would have occurred in each of these possible worlds if they were to be actualized. From movements of all subatomic particles, birds falling in fields, the number of hairs on heads, and how every person would freely choose in each and every situation, God knows everything that could happen, will actually happen, and would have happened in any and all possible states of affairs.

Since God possessed this exhaustive knowledge of every possible world causally before He freely chose and actualized this world, it logically follows that God predestined all that would freely happen in this world. In choosing to create this world, God also decrees which counterfactuals are true. Moreover, in actualizing this world, He elects all those He knows will freely choose to follow Christ without “causally determining” or forcing their actions or choices. Thus, there is a vital difference between predestination and causal determinism (they are not the same thing).

Biblical Support

Defending MK, Craig provides several passages from Scripture. For example, in 1st Samuel 23:6-14, God lets David know a truth to a counterfactual proposition. Namely, that if he were to stay at Keliah, then Saul would pursue him, and that if Saul were to pursue him, then the men of Keliah would give him over to Saul.  Jeremiah 38:17-18 also provides support for God’s MK. This passage makes it clear that God knows what would happen no matter what course of action Zedekiah would choose to take.

Many Scriptures like these provide illumination regarding the kind of knowledge God has. Additionally, consider that the “test of a true prophet” is the fulfillment of his predictions (Deuteronomy 18:22); however, many predictions given by biblical prophets are never fulfilled because the people who these prophecies were delivered to responded by changing their lives (Isaiah 38:1-5; Amos 7:1-6; Jonah 3: 1-10). This is similar to the “Christmas Carol analogy” offered by Craig.

Jesus himself makes many statements implying he has counterfactual knowledge: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin…. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin” (John 15:22, 24). “If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36). “Woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one to not have been born” (Matthew 26:24).

There are many passages in Scripture that affirm God has counterfactual knowledge, but does he possess middle knowledge? This question hinges upon when God logically possesses counterfactual knowledge. Does God have this knowledge before/logically prior to His creative decree, or does God create the world, and then gain knowledge of it? If God owns this counterfactual knowledge eternally and causally before His creative decree in which He actualized this world, then God possesses middle knowledge.

Theological Arguments 

Scripture is silent regarding when God has this knowledge; therefore, we must appeal to theology to come to the best explanation. If a theologian wants to deny that God has MK, it seems they must hold that God only possesses counterfactual knowledge after His divine decree, but this would logically infer there was a “time” or state of affairs in which God existed, yet was not omniscient. This should make theologians uncomfortable. The alternative is to affirm that God must have eternally possessed this knowledge. If it is true that this knowledge is possessed eternally, then God must have it logically prior to the creative decree. Thus, God possesses MK.

Regarding the theological doctrine of God’s middle knowledge, Craig declares,

“I would venture to say that it is the single most fruitful theological concept I have ever encountered.”

He believes this because this doctrine can explain and make sense of many things like Christian particularism, perseverance of the saints, the problem of evil, biblical inspirationexistence of hell, and even potentially explains evolutionary theory! Divine middle knowledge seems to be the key to unlocking many theological mysteries.

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

Not only does the doctrine of God’s MK answer many of these tough questions, it also explains how God is sovereign and how humanity simultaneously possesses libertarian freedom. Craig points out that

“if our actions are freely performed, then it lies within our power to determine what the course of future events will be…”

With that said, however, God in His omniscience simply knows with perfect certainty how humans will freely choose. Therefore, God knows the future, but we are logically free to act otherwise (there are no “causal strings” attached) even though God knows we will not act otherwise.

It is important to remember that knowledge does not stand in causal relation. If God knows with certainty how you will freely choose, then if God’s knowledge is removed, you would still freely make the same choice. This means we can logically affirm the future is predestined by God; however, we are free to determine the future. At first glance, this might seem confusing, but logically speaking, predestination and human freedom are not mutually exclusive.

The views that deny God’s MK, yet affirm God’s foreknowledge, do so because of God’s foreordination. However, this seems to make God the author of evil, or as Craig indicates, that this “view seems, in effect, to turn God into the devil.” This is so because if God only has counterfactual knowledge after His creative decree, then it is God who causally determines the actions of humans — including evil actions. Therefore, humans are not really responsible for evil, but God is. The MK view escapes this problem by logically affirming our trust in an all good and sovereign God. Moreover, Molinism logically affirms our moral responsibility as genuine free agents.

Craig concludes his essay by stating that while

“not explicitly taught in the biblical text, the doctrine of divine middle knowledge is certainly compatible with it, which cannot be said for at least some of its competitors. Middle-knowledge redounds to the glory of God and illuminates biblical truth in a dazzling way.”

I agree with Dr. Craig! After examining all of the biblical data and thinking about it logically, I am convinced that competing views fall short. Moreover, I believe that Molinism is the only view which can logically explain all of the data.

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5 ESV),

Tim Stratton


Notes:

To learn more about middle knowledge and Molinism, I encourage you to read the book written by my friend and colleague, Kirk MacGregor: “Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge.”

 

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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