Molinism and Alleged Loops



(The FreeThinking Theist)


October 12, 2021


Philip Swenson has recently offered an argument against Molinism. Although he opposes determinism and is a fellow libertarian freedom-fighter, he does not believe that God possesses middle knowledge. Thus, he believes that Molinism is false. 

I have argued, however, that Swenson’s view is extremely similar to “Mere Molinism.” The Mere Molinist merely affirms both (i) humans possess libertarian freedom, and (ii) God possesses “what would happen if knowledge (with perfect certainty) regarding libertarian free creatures logically prior to the divine decree and sans creation” (aka, middle knowledge). Swenson affirms (i) humans possess libertarian freedom, and (ii) God possesses “what would *probably* happen if knowledge (perhaps with 99.9% certainty) prior to the divine decree and possesses certain knowledge of what WILL happen prior to and sans creation. Indeed, there are subtle but important differences, but these two views are almost functionally equivalent. 

I do find Swenson’s view odd. After all, if an omnipotent God — possessing the knowledge of what WILL happen upon His decree then chooses to use His power to refrain from actual creation (since He didn’t like what He foreknew) — then God would possess knowledge of what would happen if He created (including how libertarian free creatures would choose and act). This is middle knowledge. I expressed this to Swenson in a personal conversation and he replied by saying that he doesn’t think God would have the power to refrain from creation “after” knowing what will happen.

This seems ad hoc to me, but perhaps he is on to something. 

This view seems to entail that God possesses natural knowledge of how libertarian free creatures would probably choose in freedom-permitting circumstances. Then (to use temporal language), God decides what freedom-permitting circumstance to create and gains knowledge of what WILL happen (including how libertarian free creatures WILL choose). On this view, if God is “surprised” and does not like the world He has chosen to create, He is seemingly “stuck with it.” He does not possess the power to refrain from creating the world that does not actually exist (or the power to destroy it immediately after creating it). I do not see a logical reason why an all-powerful God could not do this. Thus, it seems to me that this view is not only ad hoc, but also questions the omnipotence of God.

It seems to me that Molinism should be preferred as a better explanation. 

Kirk MacGregor and I have been discussing Molinism-related issues for nearly a decade. I consider him to be a good friend and the world’s leading expert on all things related to Luis de Molina. I recently encouraged Kirk to take a look at Swenson’s argument and shortly thereafter Kirk received an email which led to an enlightening conversation regarding Swenson’s objection to Molinism. 

Both Kirk MacGregor and Chris Bandy have given me permission to share their email exchange. Please enjoy. 

– Tim Stratton


Hello Dr. MacGregor, 

I have asked you a couple questions in the past and you have always been gracious to answer, so thank you so much for that. I have a quick question about Molinism. This comes from an objection that I got from Philip Swenson and Andrew Moon and have reworded as follows:

Let “L” be the proposition “If P were in C, P would do A”.

Let “M” be the proposition “P is in C”.

Let “E” be the proposition “P does A”.

  1. Necessarily, L&M entails E.
  2. L&M is wholly explanatorily prior to E.
  3. If (1) and (2), then L&M determines E.
  4. Therefore, L&M determines E.

(1) seems obvious, and (2) seems obvious on Molinism, since God used God’s knowledge of L to bring about M, and E arose out of M. So to avoid an explanatory loop, we cannot say that E explains either L or M. (3) seems obvious since that is just what it means to determine something (to entail it and not be dependent on it). So it looks like any situation where God uses God’s middle knowledge to bring about some event results in that event’s being fully determined. I am wondering how you would respond to this from a libertarian Molinist perspective.

Thank you so much for your time,


Kirk MacGregor’s Response

Hi Chris,

I dispute both premises 1 and 2.

Regarding 1, it is true that L&M entails E. But it doesn’t logically follow from this that necessarily, L&M entails E. That just seems like question-begging in favor of determinism, since that’s precisely the point that needs to be argued for! L&M’s entailing E could either be necessary or contingent. That brings us to 2.

Regarding 2, it is again question-begging to assert that L&M is “wholly explanatorily prior to,” i.e., deterministic of, E. The circumstances C are freedom-permitting. There’s nothing about L that renders it a logically necessary proposition. L is simply a contingent fact. So E still depends on the agent’s free choice.

I also wonder why the Molinist has to be committed to the view of divine intent you enunciate, namely, “God used God’s knowledge of L to bring about M, and E arose out of M.” God may not have used his knowledge of L to bring about M. God may rather simply know L, and for reasons completely unrelated to E, chooses to create M [see Dr. Strange, Dr. Stratton, and Dr. Swenson]. If A is evil, then God does not possess the intent to bring E about. Instead, God may intend for something good to happen, and a side effect of that good occurring is M, which gives rise to the unwanted C.

The definition of “determine” you use seems faulty, namely, “to entail it and not be dependent on it.” Logical entailment is consistent with either necessity or contingency. I don’t see that adding independence, even if granted (which is a highly technical issue), to logical entailment gets you determinism.

Also, so long as God’s bringing something about is through weak actualization rather than strong actualization, it doesn’t lead to determinism.

Hope this proves helpful!


Follow-up Question

Thank you so much Dr. MacGregor! 

I am having difficulty understanding some of these distinctions.

Regarding (1), it is impossible that L&M&~E, since such a scenario would involve a person’s contradicting a true CCF. So necessarily (if L&M, then E). Doesn’t that mean “Necessarily, L&M entails E”?

Regarding (2), suppose that God does use God’s knowledge of L to bring about M and thus E. In such a case, L partially explains E. In addition, M also partially explains E. Now if you say that E partially explains either L or M, then you have an explanatory loop. To avoid the loop, you have to say that L&M is wholly explanatorily prior to E. So do you embrace the loop? Or do you say that God can never use God’s knowledge of CCFs to bring about libertarian free choices?



Kirk’s Response

Hi Chris,

Thanks for writing back. I hope you recognize that the questions you’re asking concern the issue of theological fatalism, which is simply the issue of fatalism with God added in. Fatalism, and hence theological fatalism, has been endlessly refuted in the literature. Apparently some people think it’s making a comeback! Just as a refresher, I’d ask you to read Bill Craig’s refutation of fatalism in Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom (1990) and The Only Wise God (1987). Consequently, my answers to your questions are not original. Craig and many others before him have dealt with fatalism.

L&M&~E is false but not impossible. We can’t confuse truth and falsity with possibility and impossibility. Doing that is a modal fallacy. Obviously it is possible for me to contradict a true CCF—otherwise it wouldn’t be a CCF (counterfactual of creaturely freedom)! But it is false that I will contradict a true CCF. So it’s not the case that necessarily (if L&M, then E). It is rather the case that if L&M, then E.

However, even if it were the case that necessarily (if L&M, then E), it doesn’t follow that if L&M, then necessarily E. The former is the necessity of the consequence, and the latter is the necessity of the consequent. Confusing the necessity of the consequence (the necessity of the causal arrow in L&MàE) with the necessity of the consequent (the necessity of E itself) is a textbook fallacy.

Let me give an illustration to help explain. Let P be me, let C be the circumstances of tomorrow, and let A be going to Burger King. My wife, my son, and any student of mine knew yesterday that if L&M, then E. Since they knew it yesterday and I cannot change the past (says the fatalist), the fatalist controversially alleges that necessarily (if L&M, then E).

Granting arguendo the allegation, it still does not follow from L&M that I must go to Burger King tomorrow. How do the mere facts of L and M, which are abstract objects, magically acquire some sort of causal power over me and make me go to Burger King tomorrow? How do they compel me to get in the car and drive there? They obviously don’t! Facts and knowledge simply have no causal power. Rather, when I go to Burger King tomorrow, I go there just as freely and contingently as I would if my wife, my son, and my students had no prior knowledge at all that if L&M, then E.

Accordingly, I fail to see how either L or M explains E. Let’s imagine that going to Burger King were illegal. I go there tomorrow and get arrested. When I’m brought to trial, my attorney would be laughed out of court if s/he argued that the facts “If P were in C, then he would do A” and “P is in C” explain my going to Burger King! These facts are entirely incidental to my going to Burger King and possess no explanatory power. I’m still guilty of breaking the law. In that case, saying E partially explains L does not give rise to any explanatory loop. Hence there is no problem with God using God’s knowledge of CCFs to weakly actualize free choices.

Hope this proves helpful!


Final Follow-up Question 

Thank you so much again, I appreciate it. I read The Only Wise God back in December and loved it, but I am not quite convinced that this issue boils down to fatalism. If you have the time, I would like to ask two follow up questions. (If I do not address something that you have said, that just means I agree with it :).) 

1. Is there a possible world in which L&M&~E? A possible world in which there is a contradiction between a true CCF and a true statement about some action? If so, I guess this is just a position I cannot accept. But if not, then premise 1 is true, because every possible world containing L&M also contains E.

2. If God uses God’s knowledge of L to bring about E, is L logically prior to E? If so, then either we have a logical loop in which E and L are logically prior to each other, or L is wholly logically prior to E, in which case I could modify premise 2 and I feel like the conclusion would still follow.


Kirk’s Final Response

Hi Chris,

Let me take your questions in order.

  1. No, there is no possible world where L&M&~E, but not for the reason you surmise. It is because possible worlds (and feasible worlds), by definition, can only contain indicative propositions. Possible worlds cannot contain counterfactual propositions. So there is no possible world containing L, and hence there is no possible world containing L&M&~E.

  2. No, L is not logically prior to E, no matter whether God creates M (i.e., uses L) to obtain E or M just comes about by blind chance followed by the emergence of E. This is, among other reasons, why I said the alleged “loop” is just the argument for fatalism (dressed up like an argument against Molinism).    

Hope this proves helpful!



Thank you for the enlightening conversation, Chris and Kirk. And thank you for granting me permission to share your exchange.

Kirk and I plan to partner together to continue discussing this argument in the near future. In the meantime, as I continue to dwell upon Swenson’s intriguing argument more details percolate to the surface. He says that if the fact, “Sally would choose X,” is true, then it does not “look like” Sally has libertarian freedom if this fact explains her actual choice. Looks can be deceiving, especially when the the fact is incomplete. Consider the complete fact:

“If Sally were created in a freedom-permitting circumstance C where the antecedent conditions were insufficient to necessitate her choice between X or not-X, Sally would freely choose X.”

For the sake of argument, even if this complete fact “explains” Sally’s choice, it still seems (at least to me) that Sally’s decision is still a free choice in the libertarian sense (even the alternative possibility sense). I have argued that libertarian freedom can best be described as either (i) referring to an agent’s choice, action, evaluation, or judgement that is not causally determined by something or someone else, or (ii) an agent’s opportunity to exercise an ability to choose among a range of options, each of which is compatible with the agent’s nature in a circumstance where the antecedent conditions are insufficient to causally determine the agent’s choice.

Sally’s freedom is not in any way compromised by some fact about what she would freely choose to do if God were to create her. Facts are abstract objects (or useful fictions) and have no causal power. As William Lane Craig has explained, abstracta are “causally effete” and do not stand in causal relation. 

Consider the following:

Let “L” be the proposition “If Sally were in non-causally determined circumstance C, Sally would freely choose X.”

Let “M” be the proposition “Sally is in non-causally determined circumstance C.”

Let “E” be the proposition “Sally freely chooses X.”

Bottom line: Just because (L) Sally WOULD freely choose X in C if she were created in C, and (M) God creates Sally in C knowing that now (E) Sally WILL freely choose X in C, the word “freely” does not magically disappear.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Dr. Tim Stratton


About the Author



(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.

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