A Third Pillar for Mere Molinism?

By Terry Hollifield


January 4, 2018

Last year, Tim Stratton proposed an outline for Mere Molinism.”

The concept is essentially that Molinism rests upon two fundamental pillars to which all Molinists agree while other components of Molinism are ancillary and can be disagreed upon by Molinists. The two pillars are:

1- God eternally possesses middle knowledge.

2- Humans possess libertarian free will.

This concept, inspired by C.S. Lewis’ approach to “Mere Christianity”, has proven to be quite fruitful in helping boil Molinism down to basic components (it can come across as quite convoluted to those unfamiliar with theological and philosophical language), which has in turn helped in spreading the concept of Molinism to both new initiates in theological discussion as well as to those who have previously been of different systematic theologies.

As fruitful and beneficial as the concept of Mere Molinism is proving to be, I’d like to propose a modest yet, what I believe to be crucial, tweak. I spoke with Tim about what I will propose below and he graciously invited me to write about it here. Essentially, my proposal is that while the stated two pillars of “God eternally possesses middle knowledge” (Pillar 1) and “Humans possess libertarian free will” (Pillar 2) are indeed essential to Molinism and therefore “mere,” it’s not clear that they fully describe what Mere Molinism entails for at least two reasons:

  1. Molinism, at its core, can be understood as an attempt to reconcile the seeming conundrum or horns of the dilemma of divine sovereignty and human freedom. However, divine sovereignty is not represented in the pillars of Mere Molinism. So, as currently stated, the two pillars of Mere Molinism seem to be only dealing with one of the horns and therefore not really addressing the heart of Molinism. Consider that if read as one sentence, the premises simply state that God knows what free people would choose to do in any circumstance in which He might choose to place them. That is fine as far as it goes, but it says nothing about reconciling that truth with divine sovereignty (which is the core attempt of Molinism and middle knowledge). So, Mere Molinism as currently stated doesn’t seem to address what the concept of middle knowledge was proposed to reconcile in the first place.
  2. Secondly, it’s not clear that the current two pillars can actually stand on their own within the Molinist system. Consider the nature of middle knowledge (which is what Pillar 2 is all about). Middle knowledge it can be described this way:

God possess 3 Types of Knowledge Within His Omniscience:

  1. Natural Knowledge: God knows everything that COULD happen in any possible world He could sovereignly choose to create, including the free choices of human beings. Natural knowledge is described as “that part of God’s knowledge which He knows by His very nature or essence, and since His essence is necessary, so is that which is known through it.”[1]
  2. Middle Knowledge: God also knows everything that WOULD happen should He sovereignly choose to create a particular world; and gives God knowledge of counterfactuals (alternative possibilities). This is known as God’s “middle knowledge” because it falls between His natural knowledge and free knowledge.
  3. Free Knowledge: In sovereignly choosing to create/actualize a particular world out of all feasible possibilities, God then knows everything that WILL happen in that world. This is called God’s “free knowledge” since it is the result of His free choice to actualize the world. It refers to things that actually exist as opposed to things that “could” or “would” exist.

Notice, that even in describing what Middle Knowledge is, one must refer to God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge. Further, to refer to God’s Free Knowledge one must necessarily recognize God’s sovereignty in the creative act. Further, I contend that given Pillar 2 divine sovereignty is the only way to assure a particular set of counterfactuals will obtain in the creation. That is, that divine sovereignty is specifically what assures that the creative act does not result in Open Theism (which is not only counter to Mere Molinism but to orthodox Christianity as well).

The THREE Pillars of Mere Molinism:

  1. God is sovereign.
  2. God eternally possesses middle knowledge.
  3. Humans possess libertarian free will.

It seems clear then that “Mere Molinism” actually stands on three principles rather than two. So I propose we make what has been previously assumed to be made explicit by adding God’s sovereignty as Pillar 1, moving His middle knowledge to the middle as pillar 2, and finally human libertarian freedom to Pillar 3. This addition of God’s sovereignty as Pillar 1 insures the outcomes of His actualized Middle Knowledge (making it Free Knowledge) [Pillar 2] which is in congruence with human libertarian freedom [Pillar 3]. Without God’s sovereignty, it would seem that Molinism simply would not hold and that therefore, God’s sovereignty is a “Mere” component of Molinism.


[1] http://www.iep.utm.edu/middlekn/#H2


About the Author

By Terry Hollifield