A Calvinist Considering Molinism

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

December 14, 2021

Question

Hey Dr. Tim,

I’ve been thinking about Molinism for several years (coming from a Calvinist perspective). If I understand it correctly God exercises providential control through middle knowledge of what free creatures would do in any set of circumstances. My question is that given that a huge number of circumstances depend on other choices of free creatures, isn’t God severely restricted in what circumstances he can arrange?

Given the massive providential control the Scriptures seem to describe God having, how do Molinists tend to explain this in light of not only libertarian freedom but the limits such freedom would seem to put on the circumstances that are feasible for God to actualise?

I am close to convinced about Molinism and a good answer to this question would really help me.

– James M.


Dr. Stratton’s Response

I remember those days vividly, James! I was once a committed “cage stage” Calvinist who affirmed and argued for 5-point Calvinism and exhaustive divine determinism (EDD). I would fight with anyone on these matters — including my wife! Today, however, I consider myself a 5-point Molinist who practices Reformed Theology. I invite you to take the same amazing journey after considering the following response to your question.

God is not restricted in any sense if He wants to causally determine all things all the time. An omnipotent God has the power to refrain from creation or have any causally determined world He wants. An omnipotent God also has the power to create libertarian free creatures. In fact, an all-powerful God can create a world in which creatures are often causally determined but occasionally possess libertarian freedom. It follows that if God has access to all knowledge prior to His choice to create, then an omniscient God knows all that He could actualize and all that would happen if He chooses to create any of the worlds an omnipotent God has at His disposal. By definition, this means that God possesses middle knowledge.

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of all things that would happen in every possible set of circumstances, both things that are determined to occur by those circumstances and things that are not determined to occur by those circumstances.[1]

Some think that middle knowledge somehow “delimits” God, but this is absurd. Dr. Adam Lloyd Johnson described this nicely by taking the focus off of soteriological matters and simply discussing blue shorts:

“… let’s say that I would never freely choose to wear blue shorts in any circumstance that God could put me in. Is God therefore constrained in that He can’t create a world in which I wear blue shorts? No, God could easily force me to wear blue shorts. However, let’s say, for whatever reason, that God decides He’s not going to force me to wear blue shorts. If that’s the case, then this narrows down the range of options that God has to choose from. It’s not that I’ve somehow restricted God but that He’s restricted Himself by choosing not to force me to do something that I’d never freely choose to do.”

I recommend reading Johnson’s article Calvinism vs. Molinism: A Commentary on the Debate Between James White and William Lane Craig in its entirety.

We can apply the blue shorts illustration to other important aspects of reality. To reiterate, of course an omnipotent God can causally determine anyone and everyone to think and move exactly as God wants. But what if God does not want an EDD world? If a freedom-permitting world is what God wants, then — by definition — God is “placing limits” on the kinds of worlds He would choose to actualize.[2] I have argued there are many reasons why a maximally great God would not want an EDD world. Here are three of them:

1- If EDD is true, then God cannot have the best kind of love with His creatures.

2- If EDD is true, then God’s creatures are not rationally responsible (in a desert sense).

3- If EDD is true, then God’s creatures are not morally responsible (in a desert sense).

It is vital to remember that God’s knowledge is not restrictive. Indeed, we often make the statement “knowledge is power!” Here’s what I mean by that: it seems that a being who possesses the power to predestine and guarantee outcomes of libertarian free creatures is far greater, more impressive, and more “powerful,” than a being who has to causally determine all things to get what he wants. Moreover, God does not need to create; He is perfectly content, satisfied, and Holy in His static state of Triune aseity sans creation. So, God is not “limited” by anything He has the power to actualize nor is He limited by any knowledge He possesses about what would happen if He actualized a creature who can experience genuine love, is rationally responsible, and is morally responsible.

I discuss these “self-imposed limits” of God in Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism.

Predestination and Libertarian Freedom

I agree with you that there is massive biblical data supporting the idea that all things in creation are predestined prior to God’s creation (I will only reference two passages here). There is also extremely strong biblical support that humanity possesses libertarian freedom in the strong sense — the power and opportunity to choose otherwise in the actual world (I will only reference one passage here). Indeed, the biblical support for libertarian freedom is far clearer than any passage a Calvinist might appeal in an attempt to support exhaustive divine determinism. If that’s the case, then Molinism seems to be the best available option to understand biblical data.

Consider a new argument I’ve been developing which makes this point. There is a strong biblical case to be made for both predestination of all things (not to be confused with EDD), and also that humanity possesses libertarian freedom (at least occasionally). It is vital to know that both Calvinists and Molinists affirm God’s predestination of all things. The question is raised: HOW does God predestine all things? Based on the law of the excluded middle, it is either via EDD or not-EDD. If God does not ensure all that He has decreed via EDD, then it seems that middle knowledge (MK) is the best explanation — if not the only coherent option.

Since there is biblical data refuting EDD, it seems divine predestination of all things which have been decreed is best explained via MK. Consider the Predestination and Molinism Argument:

1- Divine predestination of specific events is Biblical (Rom 8:29–30; Eph 1:4-11) and is either via exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) or it isn’t.

2- Humanity possessing libertarian freedom is Biblical (1 Cor 10:13), so divine predestination of all specific events is not via EDD.

3- Therefore, EDD-Calvinism is NOT biblical (deductive).

4- If God has predestined all specific events, then the inference to the best explanation of both divine predestination of all things and human libertarian freedom is Molinism (abductive).

I first shared this argument while responding to James White (click here to watch this important video I recorded with Tyson James).[3] It seems to me, however, that we might be able to adjust this syllogism and conclude even more than a “best explanation” for Molinism. Consider the fact that once EDD has been ruled out, the only remaining options for predestination of all things is either simple foreknowledge or middle knowledge. But if simple foreknowledge is understood as simply knowing what WILL happen (free knowledge) and not knowing the “what would happen ifs” before God’s choice to create (middle knowledge), then this doesn’t seem to get one to predestination prior to creation or “before the foundations of the world” (Eph 1:4). It certainly seems to diminish total sovereignty over all things.

After all, suppose I have a time machine and travel to the year 2030 to see who wins the World Series. Suppose I discover that the Kansas City Royals win the World Series in 2030 and travel back “home” to December 2021 possessing the simple foreknowledge that the Royals will win the World Series in 2030. How am I sovereign over the Royals winning the Pennant? Mere knowledge of what will happen doesn’t provide me with any sovereignty over what will happen because it was going to happen anyway — if I knew about it or not.

Moreover, if the simple foreknowledge advocate says that this is knowledge of what would happen if God chooses to create (even if God could not have created otherwise but still possesses the power to refrain from creation), then this is a form of middle knowledge (albeit a “weaker” version) — not simple foreknowledge.

Either EDD or MK 

With the Simple Foreknowledge view taken off the table as a viable option of divine predestination of all things logically prior to creation, consider a more forceful syllogism:

1- Divine predestination of all things (Rom 8:29–30; Eph 1:4-11) is either via exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) or middle knowledge (MK).

2 – Humanity possesses libertarian freedom (1 Cor 10:13), so divine predestination of all things is not via EDD.

3- Therefore, divine predestination of all things is via MK.

With this data in mind, if one holds a strong view of predestination, then Molinism is the only biblical option![4] This is the case even if one cannot grasp exactly how a maximally great God knows counterfactuals of creaturely freedom logically prior to His decree. The biblically faithful Christian ought to rest, be still, and know that God is a maximally great being who will be exalted (Psalm 46:10) and who possesses perfect knowledge that imperfect humanity cannot comprehend. God’s perfect knowledge includes middle knowledge.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Dr. Tim Stratton


Notes

[1] MacGregor, Luis de Molina, 11.

[2] It seems there might be more limits on the kinds of worlds God wants and can actualize. Consider the fact that the atonement of Christ might only be possible via a physical incarnation because this would be the only way an otherwise immaterial God could experience death. According to the Fine-Tuning Argument, God seems to be limited in the number of worlds at His disposal in which carbon-based intelligent life could develop, flourish, and come to know God. Moreover, if the traducian view of the soul is true (I think it is), then, when combined with the fine-tuning argument, the number of possible worlds where Tim Stratton exists is drastically limited. Bottom line: Given everything that God seems to want, there might only be a few feasible worlds available for God to actualize as opposed to an infinite number of worlds God could place me in.

[3] I want to thank Tyson James for making some minor but important tweaks to this syllogism before our livestream.

[4] The above arguments can also be crafted in a less forceful manner using “if” language. For example:

 1- If divine predestination of all things is true, it is either via exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) or middle knowledge (MK).

2 – Humanity possesses libertarian freedom (1 Cor 10:13), so if divine predestination of all things is true, it is not via EDD.

3- Therefore, if divine predestination of all things is true, it is via MK.

Tagged with:
Share:

About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

Learn More

More from this author