Logical Moments & the Structure of God’s Knowledge

By Kirk MacGregor

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October 8, 2019

Recently Tim Stratton wrote a response to the following question:

“On the framework of Molinism, if there are multiple “logical moments” (not to be confused with chronological moments) prior to God’s creative decree, then would this not imply that God knows and does not know a truth simultaneously? If so, is this not a contradiction nullifying the entire idea of middle knowledge and Molinism?”

Tim’s response is good and worth reading (click here). Although I agree with everything Tim said, here is how I answer the same question to students who ask it to me:

A “logical moment” is a figure of speech used by logicians which literally refers to a step in an explanatory, or heuristic, structure. It is not at all the same as a literal moment, either a temporal or a timeless moment. This fact cannot be overemphasized. For it is true that if God both knew and did not know X at the same literal moment (either temporal or timeless), that would violate the law of noncontradiction. So Molinists affirm that there never was a literal moment, either in time or in eternity, when God did not know all truths. What Molinists, just like all other Christians (Catholics, Calvinists, Arminians, open theists, etc.), want to know is the logical structure of God’s eternal knowledge.

Let me give an example to illustrate what a “logical moment” is. I live in Kansas. Suppose I traveled on I-35 from Kansas over the Oklahoma state border. The interstate speed limit in Kansas is 75 mph, but the interstate speed limit in Oklahoma is 70 mph. Suppose I was going 75 in Kansas and did not slow down before crossing the border. It is now simultaneously true that I am in Oklahoma, I am subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws, and I am speeding. There never was a temporal moment when only one or two of these three facts were true. Now let’s suppose that, five minutes before I entered Oklahoma, the fourth dimension of the universe collapsed, such that time ceased to exist. There would still never be a timeless moment when only one or two of the aforementioned facts were true. Either in time or in eternity, it is simultaneously true that at one and the same literal moment I am in Oklahoma, I am subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws, and I am speeding.

However, what is the logical relationship between these facts? Clearly there is a logical order or structure. I would not be subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws if I were not in Oklahoma. Hence, my being in Oklahoma is logically prior to my being subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws. And I would not be speeding if I were not subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws. Hence, my being subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws is logically prior to my speeding. Hence we have a logical structure composed of three logical moments:

  1. I am in Oklahoma.
  2. I am subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws.
  3. I am speeding.

So, either in time or eternity, there is a logical moment (moment 1) when I am in Oklahoma but neither subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws nor speeding. There is also a logical moment (moment 2) when I am subject to Oklahoma’s speed laws but not speeding. But obviously neither of these facts violates the law of noncontradiction, once we understand that a logical moment is a façon de parler. In exactly the same way, to say that there was a logical moment (natural knowledge) when God neither knew what would or will happen or that there was a logical moment (middle knowledge) when God did not know what will happen do not violate the law of noncontradiction. It is important to stress that, historically, all Christians (even Thomists, who affirm the doctrine of divine simplicity) have affirmed various logical moments in the structure of God’s knowledge. The only question is how those moments are arranged.

Historically, most Calvinists and Thomists have claimed that there are two logical moments to God’s knowledge. They agree with Molinists that God, logically prior to his creative decision, has knowledge of all possible worlds (i.e., natural knowledge). Logically between the two moments is God’s decision to create one of these possible worlds. In the second moment, most Calvinists and Thomists have maintained that God apprehends all future truths about the world he chose as well as all counterfactual truths. Both foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge follow God’s decision because God, as part of his creative choice, decided what will be the case (as Molinists affirm) as well as what would be the case (as Molinists deny). Molinists deny that God decided what would be the case, since this entails that God decided what all possible creatures would do in every conceivable set of circumstances. As Calvin saw but Thomas failed to perceive, such a decision rules out any form of what contemporary philosophers call libertarian free will.

To leave open the possibility for some form of libertarian free will (as required by, e.g., Deuteronomy 30:11-20), Molinists place God’s counterfactual knowledge logically between God’s natural knowledge and God’s creative decision. Thus God does not decide but simply knows, logically prior to any act of will, what all possible creatures would do in every conceivable set of circumstances. This knowledge Molinists call middle knowledge. In view of middle knowledge, God makes the decision to create one collection of circumstance-sets (a world), thus deciding what will be the case on the basis of what he knew would be the case. At this point one may ask, “But how does this allow for libertarian freedom?” Let me illustrate how with an example.

Suppose I know that if I were to treat a friend to lunch at Red Lobster, he could order the lobster pizza. I also know my friend so well that I realize if I were to treat him to lunch at Red Lobster, he would order the lobster pizza. At this point I decide to treat him to lunch at Red Lobster, thus deciding that he will order the lobster pizza. Now when my friend orders that pizza, does he order it libertarianly freely? Of course he does! My decision as to what he will do in no way removes his libertarian freedom. It exerts no causal power over him at all. The same is true with God’s decision and our choices.

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About the Author

By Kirk MacGregor

Kirk R. MacGregor (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at McPherson College. He is the author of several scholarly works including Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge (Zondervan, 2015) and A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology (University Press of America, 2007).