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What Is Mere Molinism?
Mere Molinism is the basic theology that all Molinists hold to. According to Luis De Molina1, God’s knowledge can be divided into three “logical moments”. Natural, middle, and free.
God’s Natural Knowledge is His knowledge of everything that could happen in any given circumstance. It’s His knowledge of all the free choices any creature could make in any given circumstance. It also is His knowledge of all necessary truths such as 1 + 1 = 2.
God’s Middle Knowledge is His knowledge of everything that would happen in any given circumstance. It’s His knowledge of what any free creature would freely choose in any given circumstance. For example, God knows “If Evan Minton were given $2,000 worth of Kindle gift cards, he would download all of the books on his GoodReads ‘to-read’ list”, or “If Bob went to Tatsuki’s Japanese Restaurant, he would freely choose to order sushi”.
God had these two logical moments of knowledge logically prior2 to His decision to create any world. Logically prior to His decision to create the universe, God knew everything that could happen in any given circumstance and everything that would happen in any given circumstance.
God’s Free Knowledge is His knowledge of everything that actually will happen. Free knowledge is synonymous with foreknowledge. This knowledge is the knowledge of all future events. The content of God’s free knowledge is a result of the sovereign choice of God to actualize one of the worlds God knew about in His middle knowledge.
On Molinism, Everything that happens, happens because God decreed it, yet all of our choices are free. All Molinists agree on these facts. This is “Mere Molinism”. Now, Molinists disagree on issues such as soteriology. For examples, some agree that Jesus died for all people while others hold to Limited Atonement. Some Molinists (Luis De Molina included) think Romans 9 is teaching unconditional election while others think it teaches corporate election. (I fall into the latter category). Some think you can lose your salvation and others think you can’t. Regardless of these differences, we all agree that God has natural, middle, and free knowledge and that God uses these logical moments in his decision of creation to ensure that His sovereign ends are accomplished without violating human freedom.
The “Pillars” Of Mere Molinism
Molinism’s critics often charge Molinism with being a man-made philosophy imposed on the Christian worldview and read into The Bible. However, I don’t know of any Molinist who would say that The Bible teaches Molinism. Rather, what we say is that Molinism best accounts for what The Bible does teach. The Bible teaches a certain set of facts and the theological/philosophical system that Luis Molina formulated makes the most sense out of all of the biblical facts. Molinism has superior explanatory power and scope, whereas competing theological ideas have an inferior explanatory scope. In this paper, I will exegete the three pillars undergirding the inference to Molinism, show how non-Molinistic systems fail in explanatory scope, and then explain how Molinism can perfectly account for the data.
The inference to Molinism that I’ll make in this paper is similar to The Minimal Facts argument for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a two-step process: (1) Determine what data needs to be explained, and (2) figure out which theory best accounts for all of the data.
So, what are the data in need of explanation?
**Pillar 1: God Is Meticulously Sovereign Over All Things
The first pillar in need of explanation is that God is ultimately sovereign over all things. That is to say; God controls everything that has happened in history down to the smallest detail. As Luis De Molina himself put it; “Not a leaf falls without God’s direct causation or permission.”.3 There are various places in The Bible that tell us this. The following are a few of the biblical examples.
“The heart of man plans his way, but The Lord establishes his steps” – Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” – Proverbs 16:33 (ESV)
“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;” – Daniel 2:21 (ESV)
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” – 1 Chronicles 29:11 (ESV)
“For the kingdom is the LORD’S And He rules over the nations.” – Psalm 22:28
“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way.” – Psalm 37:33
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” – Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)
“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” – Proverbs 21:1
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” – Romans 13:1
These are just a few of the biblical passages asserting the ultimate sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over all things and establishes everything that occurs in the world. Proverbs 16:9 and Psalm 37:33 both say that The Lord establishes the steps that human beings take. Proverbs 21:1 says that kings’ hearts are in The Lord’s hands and that The Lord turns the hearts of kings where The Lord wants to turn them. Proverbs 19:21 says that we humans make many plans in our minds, yet in spite of this The Lord’s purpose will always stand. Nothing we humans can do can thwart the plans of Yahweh. Romans 13:1 even says that people who have positions in government have their positions because God placed them there! Jesus seemed to have been echoing this sentiment when he told Pontius Pilate that Pilate would have no power over Him unless it had been given to him from above (John 19:11). Moreover, Romans 8:28 says that God makes sure that all things that occur ultimately work out for the good of those who love Him, a verse I frequently appeal to in my discussions on the problem of evil. The verse implies that God providentially orders all things, both good and bad, to result in the good of His saints.
In Isaiah 46, God says to Israel ““Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness. I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay. I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” (verses 8-13)
God meticulously controls everything that happens in the world. Nothing occurs apart from Yahweh’s sovereign will.
**Pillar 2: Man Has Libertarian Free Will
The second pillar in need of explanation is the fact that although God meticulously controls all things, nevertheless man has free will in the libertarian sense. Libertarian free will is usually defined as
1: The Man is the origin and cause of his own actions.
2: The Man, in most cases4 will have the ability to choose between 2 or more options. And whichever option he chooses, he did not have to make that choice. He could have chosen one of the alternatives. For example, if presented with A and Non-A, man chooses A, but he didn’t have to choose A. He could have chosen Non-A instead. It laid within his power to choose Non-A. He just didn’t exercise that power.5 This is known in the literature as “The Principle Of Alternative Possibilities” or PAP.6
3: The Man’s choice was undetermined. Nothing internal or external to the man causally determined the man to make the choice he did. His choice was uncaused or undetermined.
There are several reasons to believe that human beings possess this kind of freedom. For example, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, the apostle Paul wrote: “No temptation has overtaken you, except what is common to man. And God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, will provide a way of escape also so that you will be able to endure it.” This is probably the most powerful evidence of libertarian free will in the entire Bible. Paul says that the temptation that afflicts his readers isn’t anything unusual. He then goes on to say that God is faithful, and won’t allow the temptation to sin to be so overwhelming that it’s impossible for them to resist it. Instead, God will provide “a way of escape” so that they’ll endure it and ergo avoid sinning.
Paul is assuming here that his readers don’t have to sin. Sin is not inevitable. God provides a way out so that we’ll be able to avoid sin. If we do sin, it’s because we refused to take “the way of escape” that God offered. If we don’t sin, it’s because we chose “the way of escape”. This verse presupposes libertarian free will. It presupposes that the listener does not have to sin. He’s faced with A (sin) and Non-A (The Way Of Escape). He can choose either and is responsible for whichever one he chooses.
“If you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” – Deuteronomy 30:10-19 (emphasis mine)
In this passage, Moses was clearly giving the Israelites a choice to serve God or to serve idols. In this passage, Moses was saying “I set before you A and Non-A. I’d prefer it if you chose A”. Sounds like a clear example of The Principle Of Alternative Possibilities to me! Philosopher Tim Stratton comments on this passage saying: “Moses commands the unregenerate Israelites to make a choice! He says they have options from which to choose. They are to choose between life and death, between blessings and curses. Moses pleads with them to choose life! Moses precedes his plea for life by making it clear that the unregenerate Israelites actually possess the ability to make this choice. That is to say, this choice is ‘up to them’ and not causally determined by things external to them. He makes it clear that this is not only something they possess the ability to do, but moreover, it is not even ‘too difficult’ for them to make this choice. He says, ‘you may do it.’ The ESV reads, ‘so that you CAN do it’ (emphasis mine). This is not just biblical support of libertarian freedom to choose otherwise; it seems to be libertarian freedom regarding an offer to choose God — or at the least, not to reject Him.”7
Another clear example of The Principle Of Alternative Possibilities is to be found in Joshua 24:14-15; “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
In this passage, Joshua is clearly giving the Israelites a choice to serve God or to serve idols. They can serve (A) Yahweh, or (Non-A) the pagan gods of the surrounding nations. If humans did not have free will, then Moses and Joshua would be insincere in these passages. Even worse, since they’re speaking on God’s behalf, God would be insincere!
In Genesis 4, we read that Cain and Abel had sacrificed animals to God, but God did not accept Cain’s sacrifice while He did accept Abel’s (verses 1-4). In verses 6-7 we read “The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (ESV) The Principle Of Alternative Possibilities is once again plainly evident in this text. God implies that the reason Cain’s sacrificed wasn’t offered was that he didn’t have a change of heart to go along with it (cf. Psalm 51:16-17). This is why God warned Cain about sin crouching at the door of his heart. He says that sin desires to rule over him, but that he must rule over it instead. We see that Cain didn’t listen as he later killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). Nevertheless, God’s warning to Cain would have been worthless unless Cain truly had the ability to fight against his sinful desires and win. Cain could (A) resist his sinful tendencies or (Non-A) give into his sinful tendencies.
“If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you” – Proverbs 1:23 (ESV)
“Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your rules. I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.” – Psalm 199:108-109 (ESV)
How can the Psalmist offer a “freewill offering” if he doesn’t possess free will?
“The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord.” – Zechariah 1:2-4
God, speaking through the prophet Zechariah, seems to suppose that His people have a choice as to whether they return to Him and repent of their evil deeds or not. It is up to them. This would certainly be false is God’s people did not possess libertarian free will. This is another biblical example of the PAP and ergo, libertarian free will.
“But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.” – 1 Corinthians 7:37 (ESV)
The passages above are completely unintelligible if human beings don’t have libertarian free will. If human beings aren’t free to choose between alternatives, then God would either be outright lying in some of these passages (e.g Deuteronomy 30:10-19, Joshua 24:14-15, 1 Corinthians 10:13) and would be insincere in others (e.g Zechariah 1:2-4. Proverbs 1:23).
Besides the biblical passages that outright express libertarian principles like the PAP, libertarian free will is at least assumed in other passages. As I point out in “Something For Calvinists To Chew On” , the Old Testament, especially the latter part, is saturated in God being frustrated and angry at the Israelites for continuing to disobey His laws and commit idolatry with various false gods such as Baal and Asherah. He commands them repeatedly to stop committing spiritual adultery with false gods and to turn back to Him. He warns and threatens them with judgment in the books of the Prophets if they don’t turn from their evil ways. And eventually, He follows through with His threat; allowing Babylon to sieze them and take them into captivity. If human beings do not have libertarian free will, if our actions aren’t truly “up to us”, then why would God behave as though it is up to us. This is especially strange if one holds that God causally determines everything that every person does, for then he would be angry and frustrated over what He Himself caused His people to do!
In addition to the biblical evidence, there are some good philosophical arguments that show that we have libertarian free will, such as Tim Stratton’s FreeThinking Argument.
**Pillar 3: God Possesses Middle Knowledge
The third and final pillar undergirding the inference to Mere Molinism is the fact that God has middle knowledge. Middle Knowledge isn’t simply knowledge of counterfactuals, but knowledge of counterfactuals which God possesses logically prior to His decision to create anything. Philosopher Kirk MacGregor proves that God has middle knowledge by means of the following syllogism.
1: God either possesses knowledge of counterfactuals logically prior or logical posterior to His creative decree.
2: If human beings have libertarian free fill, Then God possesses His counterfactual knowledge logically prior to His creative decree.
3: Human beings have libertarian free will.
4: Therefore, God possesses His counterfactual knowledge logically prior to His creative decree.
This is a logically valid argument. The conclusion follows from the premises. If all 3 premises are true, then it follows that the conclusion is also true. So, are these premises true or are they false?
Premise 1 is indisputable. The Bible definitely teaches that God has knowledge of counterfactuals. Just read passages like Matthew 11:21-23, 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, and 1 Samuel 23:11-13 for some examples. The only question is when, logically speaking, God has this knowledge. There are only two possibilities; God knows counterfactuals logically prior or logically posterior to His creative decree. This premise is proven to be true by the biblical passages saying that God has knowledge of counterfactuals and by the logical law of excluded middle.
What about premise 2? In defense of premise 2, MacGregor notes, “Suppose God possesses his counterfactual knowledge logically posterior to his creative decree. Then it is God who decrees what every possible individual would do in any possible circumstances. In that case, no possible individual has soft libertarian freedom (a range of options from which they can choose). For any circumstance, God has locked them into one course of action. From these considerations (2) follows.”8 Consider this scenario: if people don’t have libertarian free will (LFW), then unsaved sinners wouldn’t even be able to choose between varying evil actions (e.g robbing a bank VS. robbing a gas station convenient store). It would be impossible for a Christian to choose between reading an NIV Bible or a KJV Bible. If every counterfactual that God knows regarding our choices, He knows as a result of His decision to create, then the statement “If Bob was in circumstance S, He would choose A instead of B” is only true because God decreed it to be true, and if the counterfactual statement is true because God decreed it to be true, then Bob would not be freely choosing A instead of B in circumstance S. He would be choosing what God made Him choose. If all of God’s foreknowledge is logically posterior to His creative decree, then this world is a puppet world: God causally determines everything we’ve done, do, and will do. Moreover, His counterfactual knowledge is knowledge of what He would causally determine us to do in other circumstances. If determinism is the logical entailment of logically posterior knowledge, then what that means is that if determinism is false, then God knows what He knows logically prior to His creative decree.
What about premise 3? We’ve already seen in this article that there is a strong biblical foundation (not to mention a philosophical foundation) for affirming that human beings have libertarian free will. So, premise 3 is true.
Given the truth of the three premises, the conclusion follows: “4: Therefore, God possesses His counterfactual knowledge logically prior to His creative decree” which is just another way of saying “Therefore, God Has Middle Knowledge”.
How Does God Control The Free World?
Which theological system can best account for these three facts? The ones that have historically been put on the table are Divine Determinism, Open Theism, Simple Foreknowledge Arminianism, and Molinism. These four views try to systematize the biblical data concerning God’s sovereignty, human freedom, and God’s omniscience. But which one is best?
Divine Determinism asserts that everything that happens, happens because God caused it to happen. As Calvinist Mark Talbot explains; “God brings about all things in accordance with his will. It isn’t merely that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those that love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects. ….This includes God’s having brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Berkneu and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child.”9 The famous reformer John Calvin wrote that “God not only foresaw that Adam should fall, but also ordained that he should….I confess it is a horrible decree; yet no one can deny but God foreknew Adam’s fall, and therefore foreknew it, because he had ordained it so by his own decree.”10 and that “Whatever Satan does, Scripture affirms to be from another point of view, the work of God.”.11 Thus, on divine determinism, God is sort of cosmic puppet master. Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, declared: “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes,—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens,—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as surely as the stars in their courses,—that the creeping of an aphis over a rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence, and the fall of sere leaves from the poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. He who believes in God must believe this truth.”12
There are basically two kinds of determinism; hard determinism and soft determinism. The latter more often goes by the term “compatiblism”. Theologian B.B Warfield explains what compatibilism is as follows: “Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will.”13
Theologian and Philosopher Ken Keathley says that “Compatibilism views human freedom as compatible with causal determinism (hence, the term “compatibilism”), but only after redefining free will. Human freedom is understood merely to be the freedom of inclination (i.e., the freedom to do what you want). Therefore many Calvinists argue for casual determinism, through which God’s will is the cause of all things.”14 (emphasis mine). The problem with any kind of determinism is that it is…well…deterministic. In order to reconcile “free will” with God’s meticulous control, determinists redefine free will as simply doing whatever it is you want to do. The problem is, as Warfield pointed out, we cannot make choices contrary to our desires or nature. We cannot do anything except what we want to do/what is in accord with our nature, and the reason we have the desires/natures we do is that God caused us to have those desires/natures, since nothing happens outside of God’s causal power.
There are at least 3 problems with divine determinism.
1: It Is Incompatible With The Bible’s Teaching That We Have Libertarian Free Will
As we saw earlier in this paper, The Bible is filled with either explicit declarations or implicit assumptions of The Principle Of Alternative Possibilities and Libertarian Free Will. If God causally determined all things, then He would be lying through Paul’s pen when he tells us, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that no temptation is irresistible or unbearable because God provides “the way of escape” that we can take in order to endure the temptation. On divine determinism “the way of escape” would be nothing but a mere illusion. If a person sins, he couldn’t do anything but sin. After all, as Warfield said “Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures.” If you desire to sin or if it is in your nature to sin, you will sin. Only if God causes you to desire to resist sin or changes your nature can you avoid giving in. So, if you give in, there was no “way of escape” for you after all. God decreed from eternity past that you would commit this sin and there was nothing you could do to stop yourself.
Additionally, God would have just been toying with Cain in Genesis 4:6-7 because Cain had no choice but to let his sinful tendencies overcome him. God’s admonition to not let sin have control over him would be meaningless, as God caused Cain to have the nature or desires he had, thereby rendering inevitable the actions he took.
2: It Either Impugns The Goodness Of God Or The Depravity Of Man
Perhaps the worst thing divine determinism does is that it takes all of the blame off of man for sin and puts it all on the shoulders of God. It seems to me that if man is determined to do what he does, then he cannot be blamed for his own actions. If God causally determined man to sin, then how can the man be blamed for that sin? Wouldn’t God be the one to blame? After all, God is the one who causally determined the man to do what he did? How does the human being get the blame but God magically gets off the hook? If our sinful nature causally determined us to sin, why blame us? Why not just blame the sinful nature within us? Causes are always responsible for their effects. If God causally determines people to sin, then God is responsible for our sins. If our sinful nature causally determines us to sin, then our sinful nature is responsible for our sins. Whatever caused us to do what we do is ultimately responsible. This is common sense that determinists of all stripes willfully deny. If we are not the origin and ultimate cause of our actions, then we are not responsible for our actions. Whatever is the origin and ultimate cause, that thing is responsible. And it is that thing that will get the blame.
If I knock a ball off a table, is the ball to blame for falling to the floor? No! Obviously, I am. I’m responsible for the ball falling because I’m the one who caused the ball to fall.
The compatibilist will respond “But Man did what he did because he wanted to. He wasn’t forced against his will. His action was in line with his will.” Okay, but why did the man want to do what he did? The compatibilist will say that God causes people to want X and that want then determines them to do X. In this case, the problem is merely kicked upstairs. Man did X because he wanted to do X, but the reason he wanted to do X was that God caused him to want to do X. So, God is still to blame. Some say that God uses secondary causes to cause man to want to do what he wants to do, but that only kicks the problem farther upstairs. If I knock a ball over using a Rube Goldberg Machine, I’m just as much to blame as if I used my hand!
If what the agent does is sin, then if God caused the agent to do what He did, then how is it that the agent is indicted for the sin, but not God? Now, if you were to argue that it isn’t a sin for God to cause a person to sin, how is it magically immoral for the caused agent to sin? If it isn’t a sin for God, why would it be a sin for the human? If it is a sin for the man who sinned, then how is God off the hook? Why is it a sin for a man to rape, but not sinful for God to cause a man to rape someone? This is why some Arminians (e.g Thomas Taylor)15 have tried to argue in the opposite direction; not that universal divine determinism makes God the ultimate sinner, but that universal divine determinism entails that sin does not actually exist! There is literally no such thing as sin on divine determinism. Divine Determinism logically entails that either both God and man are sinners, or neither are! This is clearly contrary to God’s Word which tells us that God is morally perfect (e.g Deuteronomy 32:4) and that man is a sinner (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14:2-4).
It gets worse when soteriology comes into the picture. John Calvin said “[God] arranges all things by his sovereign council, in such a way that individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction.”16 If God sends people to Hell for sinning, and yet God is the reason people sinned, then God is punishing people for doing what He caused them to do. It would be one thing if man fell into sin of his own free will and volition, but for God to cause man to sin and then punish him for the sins he caused him to do is not justice. The problem for God’s goodness on Calvinism is not simply that he doesn’t want to save all (though that would impugn His love to an extent, and ergo undermine His maximal greatness). The real problem for God’s goodness on Calvinism is that God created a problem for everyone and chooses to solve it only for some.
Calvinism makes God out to be like a doctor who infects his entire hospital and then offers the cure only to some of his patients and lets the rest die. On Calvinistic determinism, how is God better than Dr. Mengele, who infected his patients with diseases and refused to give them the cure. We rightfully call Mengele evil don’t we? Then why wouldn’t God be evil if he did the same thing?
3: Even If Determinism Were True, It Couldn’t Be Rationally Affirmed
William Lane Craig explains this point well. He writes: “There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.”17
Divine Determinism can make sense of the passages that say that God has sovereign control over all things (Pillar #1), but it is untenable because it ultimately makes God a moral monster, it is epistemologically self-refuting, and it cannot account for The Bible passages that assert or entail libertarian free will (Pillar #2).
Open Theism is a view that says that God does not have foreknowledge. Open Theists will argue that God has perfect knowledge of the past and the present, but not the future. God knows everything there is to know about the past and the present (e.g he knows what every human being has done, said, and thought from the time of Adam and Eve to right now) but they’ll say that He doesn’t know what we will do in the future. Open Theists affirm libertarian free will.
Open Theism, like divine determinism, can account for some biblical passages but not others. It can account for passages such as those which describe God “changing His mind” or “being surprised” or “seeming to gain knowledge” (Genesis 6:6; 22:12; Exodus 32:14; Jonah 3:10). The problem is that while it can make sense of some of The Bible, like determinism it cannot make sense of all of The Bible.
The Bible is clear that God has foreknowledge. Psalm 139:1-4 says “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” David, under the inspiration of The Holy Spirit, said that God knew whenever he would sit down and get up, and that God even knew his very thoughts! David, under the inspiration of The Holy Spirit, then said that God was familiar with all of his ways. In other words, whatever David does, God knows about it. Then the passage says “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely”. God knows what we’re going to say even before we say it! I don’t know about you, but this sounds like foreknowledge to me. Or again, in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Jesus said “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8, emphasis mine).
1 John 3:20 says, “…for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” Likewise, Peter said to Jesus in John 21:17, “…You know all things; You know that I love You…” The Bible says that God knows all things. If God did not know the future, He would not know all things. There would be at least a few things God doesn’t know; namely future events. GotQuestions.org said “In light of the many other Scriptures that declare God’s knowledge of the future, these Scriptures should be understood as God describing Himself in ways that we can understand. God knows what our actions and decisions will be, but He “changes His mind” in regard to His actions based on our actions. God’s disappointment at the wickedness of humanity does not mean He was not aware it would occur.”18
The problem for Open Theism isn’t simply limited to the fact that The Bible teaches that God has foreknowledge. Open Theism places a heavy emphasis on libertarian free will. If God doesn’t either control everything via middle knowledge (as he does on Molinism) or if He does not causally determine all things, how can we say “God is in control”? How does Open Theism not logically entail that God is sitting back as the world is left to its own devices, running out of control? Just as determinism fails in accounting for Pillar 2, Open Theism fails in accounting for Pillar 1.
In His article “Why I’m Not An Arminian”, Max Andrews writes “My objection with Arminianism is… If God has merely two logical moments of knowledge (natural and free) then logically prior to God’s decree of creation he did not know what the world would be like. He could know all possible worlds prior to the decree but he would not know the actual world until logically-post his creative decree (via simple foreknowledge).”19
William Lane Craig writes
“On such a view [no middle knowledge] of God [he has], logically prior to the divine decree, only natural knowledge of all possible scenarios but no knowledge of what would happen under any circumstances. Thus, logically posterior to the divine decree, God must consider himself extraordinarily lucky to find that this world happened to exist. “What a break!” we can imagine God’s saying to himself, “Herod and Pilate and all those people each reacted just perfectly!” Actually, the situation is much worse than that, for God had no idea whether Herod or Pilate or the Israelite nation or the Roman Empire would even exist posterior to the divine decree. Indeed, God must be astonished to find himself existing in a world, out of all the possible worlds he could have created, in which mankind falls into sin and God himself enters human history as a substitionary sacrificial offering!”20
Max Andrews points out in “Why I’m not an Arminian” that the Calvinist recognizes the problem as well—The Calvinist’s solution, though, is determinism, which we’ve already seen is plagued with issues.
So, every one of the views we’ve looked at in this paper is plagued with issues that make them untenable. They fail at being able to account for all of The Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and they logically entail absurdities (such as determinism making God evil). What about Molinism? Can it account for the totality of scripture? Does it entail any logical absurdities?
I would say that out of all of the theological systems out there, Molinism is the best one. It can adequately explain “The Three Pillars” examined earlier in this paper. Moreover, it avoids the problems that determinism, open theism, and simple foreknowledge face.
On Molinism, we are “co-actualizers” with God in the world. As Randy Everist once put it “We choose what we would do, and based on that, God chooses what we will do.” What Randy means is that Counterfactuals of Creaturely Freedom (CCFs) that God knows in His middle knowledge were wholly determined by us. If God knows in His middle knowledge “If Bob were in circumstance X, he would freely choose A instead of B”, that CCF is true because Bob made it true. God didn’t make it true. This CCF could have been different. It could have been the case that “If Bob were in circumstance X, he would freely choose B instead of A”. If this latter statement would have been different, then God’s middle knowledge would have always contained a different proposition.
God, knowing “If Bob were in circumstance X, he would freely choose action A instead of action B”, God can decide to create a world in which Bob finds himself in circumstance X and ergo, he chooses action A. On Molinism, God can decree that Bob freely chooses action A. Now, expand this to all contingent events and libertarian free choices. This comprises what is known in the philosophical literature as “A Possible World”. A possible world is simply a list of statements that could or would be true of reality.
I think maybe the best way to think of a possible world is to think of it as a conjunction of true propositions. Let’s imagine some propositions p, q, r, s, and so on. These would be statements like, “Bob Smith goes surfing in Hawaii in the year 2009,” “Bob Smith becomes a Christian in 2011” “Bob Smith reads this Cerebral Faith post in 2018.” and so on. These are all just various propositions. You can imagine a possible world as just a huge conjunction of such propositions:
p & q & r & s & . . .
In descriptions which comprise of mostly contingent events and CCFs, God can decree that one of them come to pass.
God uses His middle knowledge in order to direct human history towards His envisioned goals. If God wants a person to do a certain thing, He will actualize a possible world where the history of the universe leads up to that moment in time where Agent A is in circumstance C and freely chooses the option of X over Y. God accomplishes X by creating a world where the history of human events leads up to that very moment.
This reconciles free will texts like 1 Corinthians 10:13, Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:14-15, etc. with meticulous providence/sovereignty texts like Proverbs 16:9, Psalm 37:33, and Proverbs 21:1.
On Molinism, we can wholeheartedly affirm that Jesus’ crucifixion was foreordained by God, as Acts 2:23 says “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (emphasis mine). Even though free agents were involved in putting Jesus on the cross.
If God has middle knowledge, then he knew which persons to put in those positions in the first century to get Jesus crucified. He knew that if Caiaphas was high priest in the first century, then he would freely condemn Jesus on grounds of Blasphemy and take Him to Pilate for execution. He knew that if Pilate was prefect in the first century, then he would freely comply with the demands of the crowd. And He knew that if Judas was born in the time and place that he actually was, then he would become Jesus’ disciple for a while and would freely choose to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin. If these characters had chosen differently, then God could have put a different set of people in these guys’ shoes so they could get Jesus crucified. God foreordained the crucifixion of Jesus, but He did so without violating the libertarian free will of Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, etc.
In the book of Jonah, God could have used His middle knowledge to accomplish his ends without violating anyone’s libertarian freedom. God knew“If my prophet Jonah preaches to Ninevah, they would freely choose to repent” and he also knew “If I tell Jonah to preach to Ninevah, He would flee to Tarshish” and “If I cause a storm to rage where Jonah is on a ship, he would conclude that I’m doing it because he disobeyed me” and “If I cause that storm to rage, the other people on the ship with him would freely choose to throw him overboard” and “If they throw him overboard, Jonah would get eaten by a whale” and “If Jonah gets eaten by a whale, he would change his mind about preaching to Ninevah” and “If Jonah changes his mind about preaching to Ninevah, he would freely choose to preach to Ninevah” and “If Jonah preaches to Ninevah, telling them that I will destroy Ninevah if they don’t repent, the people of Ninevah would repent and I would spare them”.
On Molinism, we can say that God foreordained, orchestrated, this entire series of events and yet all of the human beings involved were truly free in the decisions they made. Molinism allows us to have a high view of sovereignty like the Calvinists and a libertarian view of human freedom like the Open Theists and Arminians.
Objections To Molinism
1: Molinism Collapses Into Determinism
Some object to Molinism because they think it logically entails determinism. I can understand this concern as I used to have it myself. Theologian Roger Olson, for example, wrote “I have argued, and continue to maintain, once one believes that God uses middle knowledge to render certain that every creature does what they do by creating them and placing them in circumstances where he knows they will “freely” do something, then determinism is at the door if not in the living room and that is inconsistent with Arminianism’s basic impulses. It makes God the author of sin and evil even if only inadvertently.”21
When I was a non-Molinist, I mistakenly thought there was something specific about the circumstances God places us in which get us to do what we do, thereby collapsing into a form of compatibilism. This is a serious objection that needs to be dealt with.
I think the ones who make this objection assume the same kind of fallacious thinking that people make to foreknowledge in general. Fatalism is the view that whatever God foreknows must come to pass, and it cannot not come to pass. After all, if it didn’t come to pass, then God’s foreknowledge would be wrong. Since God is infallible and cannot be wrong, the future cannot be any different than what God foreknows. This same reasoning appears to be applied to God’s middle knowledge as well. Whatever God middle knows I would freely do in a given circumstance, then, if God places me in that circumstance, I must do it. If I didn’t do it, then God’s middle knowledge would be wrong, which is impossible.
In syllogistic form, the argument would go like this:
1: Necessarily, if God middle knows X, then X would happen.
2: God middle knows X.
3: Therefore, necessarily, X would happen.
The problem with this argument is that it commits a modal fallacy. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. All that follows from 1 and 2 is that X would happen, not that X would necessarily happen. X could have been different, and if it were different, then God’s middle knowledge would have been different.
For example, suppose God middle knew “If Evan Minton had the means to attend the 2018 Evangelical Theological Society Conference, he would freely choose to go.” and “If Evan Minton went to the 2018 Evangelical Theological Society Conference, he would freely choose to attend Kirk MacGregor’s lecture instead of another lecture”, and God actualized a world in which I have the means to go to the ETS Conference in Colorado, I choose to go there, and I choose to attend Kirk MacGregor’s conference instead of one of the others occurring at that same time.
I submit to you that I could have chosen otherwise. I could have chosen to have attended a different talk and chose to get MacGregor’s lecture on CD. I could have chosen not to attend ETS at all. I could have chosen differently, it’s just that God knew that I would not have chosen differently. Moreover, if I had chosen differently, then God’s foreknowledge and middle knowledge would have always contained different content. If I chose differently in the above situations, God’s middle knowledge would never have contained the proposition “If Evan Minton attended the ETS Conference, he would freely choose to attend Kirk MacGregor’s lecture”. It would have always contained “If Evan Minton attended ETS Conference, he would freely choose to attend a different lecture” instead.
If I choose to attend MacGregor’s talk, God middle knew“Evan would attend MacGregor’s talk”. But if I chose to attend someone else’s talk instead, God would middle know “Evan will attend someone else’s talk”. You see, just because God knows what people would do in any given circumstance doesn’t mean people aren’t free. My knowing that if I sprayed a random stranger with a Super Soaker, he would get mad at me doesn’t mean that I cause or fate him to get mad at me. Likewise, God knowing the future doesn’t mean that the future is fated to occur. If the future is different, God’s foreknowledge is different.
While God’s middle knowledge is chronologically prior to our choices, our choices are logically prior to God’s middle knowledge. God’s knowledge of free choices are contingent facts which could have been different, and if they were to be different then God’s knowledge would be different.
Think of it this way; let’s say you purchase a car for your son on his 16th birthday. You know how he would react depending on which car you get him. If you buy him a sports car, you know that he would act ecstatic. If you get him an old broken down jalopy, you know that he would act disappointed. Now, let’s say you bring about one or the other circumstance and he behaves exactly as you predicted. Just because you knew how he would act and brought about the circumstance to get him to act that way, does that mean that he couldn’t possibly have done otherwise? No. He could have acted in a different way than the way that he acted, it’s just that you knew ahead of time that he wouldn’t act a different way.
What we have with God’s middle knowledge and Him acting on it is a would-do/would-not-do-differently situation rather than a could-do/could-not-do differently situation. If God knows that if I were placed in situation X, that I would choose A instead of B, and then He places me in situation X in order to get me to choose A, it is not the case that I could not have chosen B instead of A. God just knew ahead of time that I would not choose B. I still could have chosen B and refrained from choosing A, it’s just that God knew that I wouldn’t.
The situation is “would do differently” verses “could do differently”. If you keep that in mind, you’ll see that Molinism doesn’t collapse into either determinism or fatalism. God knew that I would not do differently than write this paper in the situation that I’m in now, but I certainly could do differently
2: Does This Mean That God Sanctions Everything That Occurs In The World He Actualizes?
Not at all! There are many things in this world that God hates with a fiery passion (see Proverbs 16:16-19)! He hates that people all over the world do evil to one another every single day. He hates that some people reject His offer of salvation for those very evil acts which they have committed (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11, 2 Peter 3:9). However, there are many things in this world God does like and wanted to occur. There are two aspects of God’s will; There’s God’s initial will and God’s permissive will. His Initial Will is what God desires to happen. The former involves the things God wants. The latter involves things that God dislikes but permits because something He does want will come out of it.
For example, suppose God wants a particular unbeliever to commit his life to Christ and be saved. In order for God to bring this about, He would have to get me (or some other Christian) and this unbeliever (We’ll call him “Todd”) in the same place where a conversation about Christianity will come up. God knows in His middle knowledge that if Todd talks to me about The Bible, He would make a commitment to Christ. This commitment to Christ is what God intensely desires (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4). So God allows Todd to get cancer. God knows that if Todd gets cancer, he would freely choose to go to the hospital in order to undergo chemotherapy so that he can survive. And let’s say that God knows that if He lets me get into an automobile accident, I would end up at that hospital as well and in fact, in the same room as Todd, and that a conversation about the gospel would shortly ensue. But in order for me to get into that car accidents, God has to actualize a world in which he knew that if George lost his job, he would freely choose to drink his pain away and attempt to drive home. God knows all of this in his middle knowledge. So, God, in fact, allows Todd to get cancer, he allows George to drink and drive, and He allows me to get into a car accident (resulting from George’s drunk driving) so that we end up at the same place, at the same time in order to have a conversation about the gospel.
This relates to the problem of suffering in that this illustration shows that God can allow bad things to happen in order to bring about a greater good. Before the first verse of Genesis 1, God decided to actualize this world in which all of these things so in fact come to pass. In fact, there were probably trillions of complex interactions between free agents and natural events which lead up to that very moment, and if anyone of those interactions or natural events were not to occur, Todd and I would never have arrived in the above situation. Every time travel enthusiast knows what I’m talking about. You change one thing about the past and an entirely different future results.
Now, you might ask “Couldn’t God have managed different scenarios somehow in order to get Todd saved? Why did the situation have to involve such suffering for you, George, and Todd?” Well, I think it is very possible that Todd would have given his life to Christ under a different circumstance. Indeed, even in a circumstance that didn’t involve me at all. I thought about this with regards to my own salvation. There could be different times and places in which God knew I would give my life to Christ. But here’s the thing: the universe doesn’t revolve around me or the hypothetical Todd. Yes, God likely could have saved me and Todd under at least 2 or 3 different scenarios, but in that case, other purposes of God may have been thwarted.
For example, what if Todd, because he became a Christian at that precise moment, he’s able to witness to other unbelievers sooner than he could have if he became a Christian in a different scenario at a much later date. But let’s say that in the hospital scenario above, Todd gives his life to Christ, studies Christian Apologetics and theology, and he writs apologetics blog and/or books on the subject, and eventually becomes a seminary professor. After all this, he ends up converting several people at certain points in time. In a possible world where Todd actually gets regenerated 10 years later than the time of the hospital scenario, he would not have had the impact on these lives that he did in the former scenario.
I think you can begin to see that God’s providence over the whole of human history is so extremely complex that finite creatures can only get a blurry glimpse of how it all works. And even that blurry glimpse is all thanks to the hard intellectual work of Luis De Molina.
In my Todd-Hosptial illustration, there were things God wanted to happen and took pleasure in, and there were also things God did not take pleasure in. God took pleasure in Todd giving his life to Christ, becoming a famous apologist and contributing to the advancement of His kingdom. He did not take pleasure in the suffering that Todd and I had to endure in order to get to that point though. He certainly didn’t approve of George getting drunk (1 Peter 4:3, Ephesians 5:18)
So, no. Even though God foreordained everything to happen via middle knowledge of what everyone would do and what things would happen, it doesn’t mean He takes pleasure out of everything that occurs. Given God’s good and loving nature, He takes displeasure in the means but takes pleasure in the ends.
Even though God foreordains everything by choosing to actualize a possible world, He doesn’t determine our day to day actions and choices. Our own volitions are the reasons we choose what we choose. Let’s say you have one hundred DVDs to stick into your DVD player. Let’s say you’ve seen these movies before and know what’s going to happen in every single movie. Depending on which movie you choose, you are, therefore, by your choice, foreordaining what will appear on your TV screen. Now, does this mean that you causally determined what would appear on the TV screen simply by deciding what movie to put in the player? No! Does it mean that everything in the movie had to happen? Again, not necessarily. For example, the script writers could have chosen a different plot, different character names, different outcomes, different actors, etc. etc. etc. The actors could choose not to participate in the filming of the movie. Nothing you did causally determined what the actors would say, what the script would be, what the characters’ names would be or anything like that. Everyone in the making of the film determined these things. You just knew in advance what would happen on the screen if you chose to insert this particular DVD.
Does it mean you took pleasure in everything that came about on the screen? No. While you might take great pleasure in many things about the movie, there are probably things you don’t like about it. Perhaps one of your favorite characters dies. Perhaps a particular couple doesn’t get together in the end. Perhaps you don’t like hearing curse words and the F-bomb is dropped a few times. Nevertheless, although it’s not a perfect movie, it is an overall good movie. Indeed, perhaps it’s even the best movie you have in your collection (the best feasible world). Even though there are other movies probably better than the best one in your collection (the best possible world). But you don’t have this movie in your collection so you cannot put in into the DVD player.
3: The Grounding Objection
The Grounding Objection against Molinism is based on the correspondence theory of truth known as the theory of truth-makers. The person who makes this objection argues that in order for a proposition (P) to be true, there’s got to be something else to make P true. The objector argues that, therefore, “God cannot know something about a particular world if that world does not actually exist.” The more lay objector might phrase the objection in the form of a question such as “How could God know anything about a world of free creatures if these free creatures do not actually exist?”
Oddly enough, although this is one of the primary objections to Molinism, it has never really bothered me. When we are talking about an infinite God, there are going to be questions that we cannot answer. We can understand much about God through pouring over the scriptures and through heavy thinking and philosophical reflection, but our human minds will only be able to take us so far. As God said in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s mind is unfathomable. His thinking process is as higher than ours as the heavens are above the Earth!
Truth be told: I have no idea how to answer the grounding objection. I appeal to mystery. I don’t know how God has knowledge of feasible worlds that will never actually exist. But neither do I know how God can create material out of nothing. I accept middle knowledge and the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo despite the fact that I don’t understand how God can do them. This is because I have good reason to believe that He does. In the case of the latter, we’ve not only biblical statements that God made the universe out of nothing (e.g John 1:1-3) but scientific evidence as well (e.g The Big Bang). In the case of the former, I think we have reasons for accepting that God has middle knowledge and in fact uses it that overrides the puzzling “how” question.
Remember Kirk MacGregor’s argument for middle knowledge?
1: God either possesses knowledge of counterfactuals logically prior or logical posterior to His creative decree.
2: If human beings have libertarian free fill, Then God possesses His counterfactual knowledge logically prior to His creative decree.
3: Human beings have libertarian free will.
4: Therefore, God possesses His counterfactual knowledge logically prior to His creative decree.
This is a logically valid syllogism. If the premises are true, so is the conclusion. We saw that we do indeed have reasons for accepting all 3 of the premises. So, it follows logically that the conclusion is true. The only real question, then, would be whether God employs His middle knowledge in orchestrating what happens in history. It’s been the goal of this paper to make an abductive case that God indeed does. Given that only Molinism really makes sense of the 3 big pillars, Molinism should be affirmed.
Summary and Conclusion
There are lots of objections to Molinism that I could look at in this paper, but for length concerns, I’ve only concerned myself with the big three. Other objections to Molinism have been answered in various blog posts on my website Cerebral Faith (www.cerebralfaith.blogspot.com).
We’ve seen that The Bible teaches two “pillars”; (1) God is sovereign over all things and meticulously controls what happens in the world, (2) human beings have the libertarian free will./ A Third pillar is arrived at through both scripture and logic; (3) God has middle knowledge. We’ve examined the various options theologians have historically put on the table and found that all of them have various scriptural and logical flaws that make them untenable. Determinism can account for the myriad of Bible passages that teach that God meticulously controls all things (pillar #1), but it cannot account for The Bible passages affirming libertarian free will (Pillar #2). Open Theism can account for biblical passages that seem to imply that God gets surprised or gains new knowledge, and it can account for biblical passages affirming libertarian free will (Pillar #2). The problem is that this view cannot make sense of Bible passages that assert or at least strongly implies that God knows the future and knows all counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (Pillar #3). Simple Foreknowledge Arminianism can account for the biblical passages that support free will (Pillar #2) but cannot plausibly account for scriptures teaching that God is control of all things (Pillar #1). Moreover, Simple Foreknowledge Arminianism outright denies that God has middle knowledge, which is a denial of Pillar #3. Molinism accounts for all three pillars. Molinism has exhaustive explanatory scope of the biblical data. Moreover, it avoids absurd logical entailments that its competitors have. It avoids making God the author of sin unlike determinism, and it avoids making God ignorant or not in full control (as Open Theism does).
1: Molina delineated the doctrine of middle knowledge and its logical implications for divine providence and predestination in his 1588 magnum opus, the Concordia (full title Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia, translated The Compatibility of Free Choice with the Gifts of Grace, Divine Foreknowledge, Providence, Predestination, and Reprobation)
2: The word “prior” obviously means “before”, but people have a tendency to think of “prior” as something occurring in time prior to something else. Just as it’s dark outside “prior” to the sun’s rising. However, temporal “beforeness” or priority isn’t the only kind there is. There is also logical priority or “beforeness”. When I say that God’s natural knowledge is “prior” to His middle knowledge and His middle knowledge was “prior” to His decision to create and His free knowledge, I don’t mean that God first had natural knowledge and then gained middle knowledge, and then he decided to create a possible world thus imbuing His mind with free knowledge. No. I simply mean that God’s natural knowledge is the logical basis on which he has middle knowledge. And these two types of knowledge provide the basis for his free knowledge based on which of the possible worlds God knew about in his natural and middle knowledge to create.
For something to be “logically” prior to something else simply means that the former thing is the explanation for the latter thing.
4: When I say “most cases” I mean that there will be some instances in which only one choice will be available for us to choose from. Libertarians aren’t committed to the view that we must always in all circumstances be able to choose between alternatives. For example, if you jump off a building, clearly your only option is to fall to the ground. If a man snorts cocaine, he is addicted and now can do nothing but snort it unless either God miraculously frees him or rehab rehabilitates him. In the case of jumping off of buildings and additions, man cannot choose Non-A, but man can choose Non-A in many circumstances. Ken Keathley calls these “freedom permitting circumstances”. The circumstance before jumping off the building was a freedom permitting circumstance. The circumstance after you jumped off was not.
5: This does not apply to salvation. I am not a Pelagian. I believe man is free to either choose to receive Christ or to reject Him, but man must be given this ability by The Holy Spirit. Man must be given what Arminian theologians call “Prevenient Grace”. To see the biblical case for the doctrine of Prevenient Grace, see my blog post “What Biblical Evidence Is There For Prevenient Grace?” I believe man’s will must be freeD in order for him to come to Christ.
6: Evan Fales: “International Journal for Philosophy of Religion” 35, No. 2: 1994: 83; Tim Stratton, “FreeThinking Needs The PAP”, March 19th 2018, https://freethinkingministries.com/freethinking-needs-the-pap/; “The Principle Of Alternate Possibilities: Finding Freedom After Frankfurt”, Matthew F Pierlott, Marquette University, https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI3210973/; Wilderker, David, and Michael Mckenna. 2016. “Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities: Essays on the Importance of Alternative Possibilities.” Routledge. 17.
7: Tim Stratton, “Molinism Is Biblical”, June 8, 2017 – https://freethinkingministries.com/molinism-is-biblical/
8: As cited in Tim Stratton’s article “MacGregor’s Argument For God’s Middle Knowledge”, https://freethinkingministries.com/macgregors-argument-for-gods-middle-knowledge/
9: Mark Talbot, “Suffering and The Sovereignty Of God”, Ill: Crossway Books, 2006. Pages 41-42.
10: John Calvin, Institutes 3.23.7
15: Thomas Taylor (1738-1816) writes, in his seminal work, “A Solemn Caution Against the Ten Horns of Calvinism” (1819):
16: John Calvin, Institutes 3.23.6
This Post Has 11 Comments
Thanks for this, Evan. I have been following your blog for a while (although I think this is the first time I post a comment), and have found it very enlightening and edifying.
I have a couple of questions/comments:
First, with respect to te second premise of Macgregor's argument for Middle Knowledge, seems to me that, logically speaking, there are other alternatives. Perhaps God only knows the counterfactuals of freedom of the creatures that he has already decided to create. In other words, Only when he decrees to create (libertarianly( free creature S , he "acquires" the knowledge of the counterfactuals of freedom that are true of S. Or, perhaps, he only have simple foreknowledge of the free choices of the creatures he has decreed to create, and then he determines the truth of counterfactuals relative to them. Now, I myself don't think these alternatives are very plausible, but i would appreciate if you could comment on them.
Second, I agree with the abductive argument for molinism that you present. But recently I have been thinking that we could have even a shorter argument for molinism. If God has Middle Knowledge, I cant' see how he could not use it if he wants to create libertarianly free creatures. It doesn't seem plausible to me that he can just choose to "forget" his Middle Knowledge when he is deciding what creatures to create! If that's the case, from the fact that God has Middle Knowledge and that human beings posses libertarian free will, we could infer the truth of "Mere Molinism". What do you think about this?
Thanks again for this article and your work in general. God bless you!
I have my own understanding of how to solve the foreknowledge problem. That God is capable of foreknowledge of everything humans will freely choose but he simply chooses to withhold himself from knowing exactly what a human will do in a given situation (where it doesn't conflict with his will). This could be likened to a TV where if someone doesn't wish to watch a certain station they just change it to a different one. God has perfect self-control and so I see no contradiction in God choosing not to know certain things. I feel this explanation is better than middle-knowledge because it takes away any argument where God could be blamed for putting people in a situation where they sin (even as I recognise that such arguments are more emotional than anything). If we take Adam and Eve as an example, it could be argued that God put them in a situation where he knew they would freely choose to sin and thus pass this sin on to innocent humanity. One might argue that his is like buying a bag of cocaine and leaving it on the table while telling your son, who you know has a predilection for drugs, not to touch it.
\"Perhaps God only knows the counterfactuals of freedom of the creatures that he has already decided to create. In other words, Only when he decrees to create (libertarianly( free creature S , he "acquires" the knowledge of the counterfactuals of freedom that are true of S."\
If this were the case, then God's knowledge of counterfactuals would be logically posterior to His creative decree, which is one of the only two options. He either knows them logically prior to His creative decree or logically posterior. So your proposal doesn't add a third alternative to premise 2 of MacGregor's argument for middle knowledge after all.
\"Or, perhaps, he only have simple foreknowledge of the free choices of the creatures he has decreed to create, and then he determines the truth of counterfactuals relative to them. "\ — Then these would not be counterfactuals of creaturely *freedom*. If God determines the truth value of "If Evan Minton went to Hawaii, he would choose to go water skiing. " then should that circumstance obtain, I would not FREELY go water skiing, for it was God who determined the truth of the counterfactual, not I. This option basically just says that had God created a world in which I found myself in different circumstances, He would cause me to do something.
As for your shorter argument for Molinism, I would agree. Tim Stratton has said that one can infer the truth of "Mere Molinism" from just two pillars; That God has middle knowledge and that humans possess libertarian free will. If God created a world of free creatures posessing logically prior to that action the knowledge of what they all *would* do, then he ordained everything that they *will* do. From this, Stratton said, we can infer that God is sovereign over all of our free choices. That said, I included a third pillar for several reasons.
First, because divine sovereignty and human freedom are precisely what Molinism seeks to harmonize. This sovereignty that The Bible teaches is of a very strong type. Having spoken to Arminians and read Arminian materials, they have a different understanding of how "God is in control". They hold that while God controls macro events, he doesn't control micro events. I sought to show to the Arminian audience that The Bible teaches that God not merely controls broad events, but He controls everything down to the most minute details. Our very steps are established by him. Even the result of cast lots are decreed by Him. Even the heart of a king goes in the direction God seeks to turn it.
Secondly, It's important for Calvinists to know that meticulous sovereignty is affirmed by Molinists and is one of reasons we hold the position that we hold. We must affirm *all* that The Bible teaches. The Bible doesn't just teach humans are free in a libertarian sense, but that God in some sense directs the course of everything. Molinism is how these two are tied together.
Thirdly, while a case could be made from two pillars, the abductive case is, in my opinion, even stronger with three. As stated in the paper, my reasoning to Molinism is similar to how I reason to the resurrection. By establishing "The Minimal Facts" in need of explanation, and then examining which theory can best account for *all* of the data. If a hypothesis fails to account for even one of the facts, it must rejected on the grounds of inadequate explanatory scope. Determinism can account for Bible passages teaching meticulous sovereignty, but not passages affirming libertarian freedom. Simple Foreknowledge Arminianism and Open Theism can account for passages affirming libertarian freedom, but their views are at odds with The Bible's teaching on God's all encompassing control. I can speak from personal experience that, when I was a non-Molinist Arminian, I felt discomfort reading passages like Psalm 37:33 and Proverbs 21:1.
Thank you, Evan, for your kind reply.
"If this were the case, then God's knowledge of counterfactuals would be logically posterior to His creative decree, which is one of the only two options. He either knows them logically prior to His creative decree or logically posterior."
Yes, of course. I think I didn't explain myself very well. My worry is that this is a posibility in which human beings would possess libertarian free will, but God's knowledge of CCF would be posterior to His creative decree, so premiss two would not be necessarily true. How would you answer to this?
Personally, I have the impression that it would deny God's essential omniscience, and would raise the question of what prevents God from knowing CCF's prior to deciding what creatures to create, so it would be less simple, or more contrived than God knowing CCF's logically prior to the creative decree. Would you agree with this answers to the criticism? Is there something else you would point out?
Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions. Blessings!
" My worry is that this is a posibility in which human beings would possess libertarian free will, but God's knowledge of CCF would be posterior to His creative decree, so premiss two would not be necessarily true. "
I think I explained it fairly well in the paper why CCFs being known by God logically posterior to the creative decree would rule them out as being truly free. If every counterfactual that God knows regarding our choices, He knows as a result of His decision to create, then the statement "If Bob was in circumstance S, He would choose A instead of B" is only true because God decreed it to be true, and if the counterfactual statement is true because God decreed it to be true, then Bob would not be freely choosing A instead of B in circumstance S. He would be choosing what God decreed. If all of God's knowledge about our choices are logically posterior to His creative decree, then all of the propostions regarding our choices were determined to be true or false by God's decree, and hence it's a puppet world. God causally determines everything we've done, do, will do, and even would have done.
To say that God's knowledge of counterfactuals is logically posterior to the creative decree is to say that God chose which counterfactuals of creaturely choices were true and which ones were false. Hence, it isn't really up to me the things I *would* do in various circumstances in which I find myself, nor indeed the circumstances in which I actually find myself.
I'm concerned that you might be conflating temporal priority with logical priority. To say that something is logically posterior to something else is to say that the former is the basis of the latter. If God's creative decree is the basis of His knowledge of counterfactuals, then those countefactuals when they concern creaturely choices aren't free. They couldn't have been otherwise. They were determined to be what they are by God. The only way counterfactuals of creaturely choices could be really free is if they are NOT founded on God's creative decree, but rather that God's creative decree is based on them ((which is to say that they're logically prior to the decree)).
Alexander, your proposal is just Open Theism, which I criticized in my assessment of the competing theological systems.
Hey Evan I don't think my view is consistent with Open Theism – here's why:
You said: "Open Theists will argue that God has perfect knowledge of the past and the present, but not the future."
However this is not my view nor the view I outlined. I affirm that God does have perfect knowledge of the future, where he chooses to exercise such foreknowledge. There is no reason to think God must exercise his foreknowledge in every case – especially given he is a being with self-control. For example, God has used his power selectively and in a controlled way, even though he is capable of destroying the universe in a split second. Likewise, he can use his foreknowledge selectively and in a controlled way.
Oh, I see. I misunderstood. Sorry. Thanks for correcting my misundersting.
I still find several issues with this proposal though. First, it seems ad-hoc. Secondly, it would undermine God as being an omniscient being and therefore, as a Maximally Great Being. Unless you want to say that the future tensed propositions that God chooses not to know are propositions that are logically impossible for him to know ((many Open Theists do this with ALL future tensed statements)) then it would seem like if future tensed statements could be known by God and if they have truth value, then God would know them in virtue of being omniscient.
Like all your posts!
Hi Evan – really like what you’ve written here!
It seems to me most Calvinists exhibit a need for PAP and the ability to “Do Otherwise”.
Peter Van Inwagen correctly states – Determinism is the thesis that every event can only resolve to one single predestined future. And this means any perception of multiple options a Calvinist has must be illusions.
And most Calvinists don’t like conclusions like this and try to find ways around them.
As Dr. Craig states – every determinist must live *AS-IF* determinism is false.
The result is that Calvinists are forced into various forms of double-mindedness and magical thinking.
Double-mindedness is express with double-speak – and we do observe that with Calvinists.
I think this is a very serious indicator that something is wrong with Christian determinism
It imposes its own form of double-think onto the authors of scripture.
Why would God determine the language of Double-Speak to communicate divine truths?
I agree with everything you said here. I think Calvinists live as though we have libertarian free will all the while denying it with their lips. I think it’s humorously evident whenever they get mad at me for criticizing determinism or T.U.L.I.P….as though I had some control over what I believe and say. If they were consistent, they would say at a minimum “Ugh. I wish God hadn’t decreed you to do that.”