Middle Knowledge in a Nutshell

by Max Andrews

I understand middle knowledge and Molinism can be a little confusing.  To be honest, it took me about two years to really get it down.  Here’s a cheat sheet that I’ve developed for you outlining what it is and the difference between it and other aspects of omniscience.  I hope it helps.™

A Working Definition of Omniscience

  • ™For any proposition p, if p is true, then x knows that p and does not believe that not-p.
  • ™i.e.:  If Alex is sitting is true, then God knows that Alex is sitting and does not believe that Alex is not-sitting.
The Logical Moments to God’s Knowledge

Scientia Naturalis (Natural Knowledge)
  • First Logical Moment
  • ™God’s knowledge of all logical possibilities.
  • ™Possible Worlds:  “can,” “could”
™Scientia Media (Middle Knowledge)
  • ™God’s knowledge of all true counterfactual propositions, or more precisely, conditional propositions in the subjunctive mood.
  • Statements like:  “If something were the case, when in fact it may or may not be the case, then something else would be the case.”
  • Feasible Worlds:  “would,” “were”
™Scientia Libera (Free Knowledge)
  • Third Logical Moment
  • ™God’s knowledge of all true propositions in the actual world.
  • ™Actual World:  “was,” “is,” “will”

A Biblical Witness to Middle Knowledge

  • ™1 Sam. 23.6-10
  • ™Jer. 38.17-18
  • ™Amos 7.1-6
  • ™Jonah 3
  • ™Is 38.1-5
  • ™Mt. 26.24
  • ™Jn. 15.22, 24; 16.36
  • It should be noted that no amount of exegesis will explicate the logical moments of God’s knowledge, rather theological/philosophical reflection.
Foreknowledge vs. Middle Knowledge
  • Foreknowledge exists within the third moment of God’s knowledge–free knowledge.
  • Foreknowledge is a reflection of what will happen in the future.  It is like a divine barometer, as Craig likes to illustrate.  The barometer is a reflection of the atmospheric pressure but it does not determine the pressure (exit fatalism).
  • ™προγινώσκω, foreknow (Rom. 8.29; 11.2)
  • ™πρόγνωσις, foreknowledge (Acts 2.23; 1 Pt. 1.2)
  • ™προοράω, foresee (Acts 2.31; Gal. 3.8)
  • ™προορίζω, foreordain (1 Pt. 1.20)
  • ™προµαρτυροµαι, foretell (Mk. 14.23; Acts 3.24; 2 Cor. 13.2)
  • ™קחר, [to know] from afar (Ps. 139.1-6)
  • The Gk/Heb are from the citations and may not necessarily appear in the English versions as the cited word.


29 Responses to “Middle Knowledge in a Nutshell”

  1. What I find difficult to understand about Molinist middle-knowledge are the following:
    1. If it is true that person x will do action a in circumstance c prior to the creation, then how is x free to do either a or not-a in c come the moment?
    2. Why think that the range of propositions cannot include ‘might’ and ‘might-not’ propositions where ‘will-not’ and ‘will’ are contradictories like the open theist argues?
    3. What good reasons are there to think it’s certain that x will do a in c is true prior to the creation if creatures are libertarianly free?
    It always seems to me that the creature can only “settle” these facts for themselves by resolving possibilities into actualities. It may have become certain at some point for instance that under highly pressurized circumstances Peter would deny Jesus if asked, but Peter would have had to solidify this for himself during his lifetime. I don’t see how it could have been an eternally settled fact without God ultimately determining it?

    • Hey Lucas, thanks for commenting!
      1) With your question, you’re putting middle knowledge into mere foreknowledge in the third moment. So God knows that X will do A in C… so how is A a free action of X? Good question, however, don’t equate middle knowledge with mere foreknowledge, they’re separate logical moments because if we were to ask the question as it pertains to middle knowledge it would read: “God knows that I would do A in C.” Is A still free, yes! A is still free because at the moment it’s still middle knowledge. So what about “God knows I will do A” Is that free? It depends on if there’s middle knowledge, if yes, then it’s free in my opinion and we are not constrained by fatalism. So remember foreknowledge is a reflection of the future. If God knows I will do A it’s only because I would do A given C and if God knows I will do B then it’s iff I would do B in C.

      2) Have you been reading Boyd lol? I don’t see how this is not natural knowledge really. I’ll refer you to some stuff Craig has done concerning the question rather than me repeating it: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6803
      http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=scholarly_articles_divine_omniscience

      3) X will do A in C is true prior to creation only if God actualizes the world in which that proposition is true and it would be true because your question is respects to the third logical moment. Are you trying to get at the grounding objection? If you are that pertains not to mere foreknowledge (what you articulated) but middle knowledge.

      God ultimately determines the actual world, but that determination, if middle knowledge is true, entails human freedom, so it’s not eternally settled (I’m not even sure what that means) until God chooses which world to actualize.

  2. I think there’s a simpler way to think about God’s middle knowledge (as well as His free and natural knowledge).

    Natural knowledge: God’s knowledge of necessary truths over which he has no control. (So, for example, God knows the truth of ‘that God exists’. ‘That God exists’ is necessarily true, and God has no control over its being true.)

    Free knowledge: God’s knowledge of contingent truths over which He has full control. (So, for example, God knows the truth of ‘that the alpha exists’ [where "alpha" is the actual world]. ‘That alpha exists’ is contingently true–God could have created ‘Beta’, say–and God has total control over its being true. As I say, he could have created beta instead of alpha; if He had, He would have known ‘that beta exists’ is true.]

    Middle knowledge: God’s knowledge of contingent truths over which He has no control. Put this way, it’s–at least to me–easier to see why it’s called ‘middle knowledge’. It takes a middle road between God’s natural and free knowledge.

    My two cents.

  3. Thanks for the comment Roger. I got really confused at first because I was expecting it to read natural, middle, then free and I didn’t realize you put free second. I thought, “That’s not middle knowledge at all!” lol. I think your rendition works as well. I think this will help some people who have a hard time understanding it.

  4. Thanks for this post. Very helpful.

  5. What follows may just show that I don’t understand Molinism! But from what I’ve read and heard about it, this are my questions about it.

    I don’t see how Molinism escapes problems of both Calvinism and Arminianism (regarding free choice and sovereignty).

    Re: Arminianism—The objection Calvinists have had with Arminianism is that God couldn’t truly foresee the future if people are free (libertarian freedom). Just to say God knows everything including the future so He therefore knows what everyone will freely choose with no influence on His part is to ignore the main question: How can He know that? Molinists answer that God knows the future because He chose the possible world He wanted in which people, acting freely, accomplish God’s will.
    But how can God know what libertarianly free people will do in any given possible world? The question how is left unanswered. Once the possible world is chosen, there still has to be a way that God knows the future without controlling it. We’re back at the Arminian position. God chose to create the world, and somehow He knew what free people would choose. But if He doesn’t exercise the kind of control more commonly connected with Calvinism, how can He know the future with certainty? (This is, I think, what led to the development of open theism, the belief that God does not know the future free acts of people.)

    Re: Calvinism—Arminians object that, if God determines everything, He is to blame for everything; we don’t really have a choice in what we do, and thus we aren’t responsible ultimately for our actions. Molinists want to protect our (libertarian) freedom. But since God is the one who chose the possible world He wanted, and there is some way He could know that libertarianly free people will choose one thing over another, then He is ultimately responsible for all that happens after all. He could have chosen a possible world where Bill Smith would accept Christ rather than reject Him.

    Molinism seems to entail determinism after all. If God knows for certain (without possibility of being proved wrong) that I will act in certain ways given certain circumstances, a particular history, certain background beliefs, etc., then that implies that in that situation I can only act in one way, the way God foresaw. I am not truly free to break from the predicted pattern. If God can somehow know the future without in some way determining it, then I don’t see what Molinism gives that Arminianism doesn’t.

    • Re: Arminianism—The objection Calvinists have had with Arminianism is that God couldn’t truly foresee the future if people are free (libertarian freedom). Just to say God knows everything including the future so He therefore knows what everyone will freely choose with no influence on His part is to ignore the main question: How can He know that? Molinists answer that God knows the future because He chose the possible world He wanted in which people, acting freely, accomplish God’s will.

      –Not necessarily, I’ve come across very few Calvinists who argue that, in fact, only one. If you find a good Lutheran they’ll be arguing fatalism, but that’s not this objection is not the same as Calvin held to and their objection would begin with man’s inability to choose/respond to God and is so depraved he only chooses evil all the time.

      But how can God know what libertarianly free people will do in any given possible world? The question how is left unanswered. Once the possible world is chosen, there still has to be a way that God knows the future without controlling it. We’re back at the Arminian position. God chose to create the world, and somehow He knew what free people would choose. But if He doesn’t exercise the kind of control more commonly connected with Calvinism, how can He know the future with certainty? (This is, I think, what led to the development of open theism, the belief that God does not know the future free acts of people.)

      –You’re mixing logical moments here. God can know a maximal state of affairs, possible world, with libertarian free creatures, the question is at what point does he know them? Logically prior to the agents choosing or post? You’ll find the response to this part in my post on why I’m not an Arminian.

      Re: Calvinism—Arminians object that, if God determines everything, He is to blame for everything; we don’t really have a choice in what we do, and thus we aren’t responsible ultimately for our actions. Molinists want to protect our (libertarian) freedom. But since God is the one who chose the possible world He wanted, and there is some way He could know that libertarianly free people will choose one thing over another, then He is ultimately responsible for all that happens after all. He could have chosen a possible world where Bill Smith would accept Christ rather than reject Him.
      Molinism seems to entail determinism after all. If God knows for certain (without possibility of being proved wrong) that I will act in certain ways given certain circumstances, a particular history, certain background beliefs, etc., then that implies that in that situation I can only act in one way, the way God foresaw. I am not truly free to break from the predicted pattern. If God can somehow know the future without in some way determining it, then I don’t see what Molinism gives that Arminianism doesn’t.

      –Interesting Idea for a new blog post. I’ll respond.

  6. Max –

    I know that you are a soft libertarian. Obviously you don’t think Molinism is at odds with your view of freedom. W L Craig’s view is that God knows what we WOULD do when confronted with the Gospel, for example. That seems to be in conflict with the self-caused agency of libertarianism.

    Can you explain?

    • I’m not sure with how that is at odds with self-caused agency. I may need you to elaborate. I don’t think we have complete autonomy though, so our response to the gospel isn’t our sole cause and choice to respond, that’s enabled by the HS to allow us and enable us to respond, congruent grace.

      • Self-caused agency eliminates certain ways that God may know the outcomes of future contingencies, since he himself is not the determinative cause.

        Without actually causing the event, there must be a basis for knowledge besides simple seeing (B-theory), since that way of knowing would seemingly be based on free knowledge, not middle knowledge.

        The problem is not that it is contradictory, but that it is unintelligible.

      • As I think more about it, I should add that if you say God can predict what we will choose based upon his profound knowledge of our spiritual state, (I believe this is Craig’s position) then in a sense we are like an algorithm that can be known fully by computation. This seems to be in conflict with libertarian freedom.

        • Even if you want to keep the analogy to an algorithm it is the algorithm set by the agent and it’s not an inductive prediction either where God has only past actions to refer to, it’s not a good guess. So I don’t see how that can go against libertarian freedom any how, if anything it sounds like an argument for openness.

  7. It seems that sometimes the real confusion exists between middle and free knowledge, because people assume an equivalence between free knowledge and determination, which invalidates middle knowledge by saying that freedom isn’t really free, and that the idea of middle knowledge is just a smokescreen to push the inevitability of determinism back one order. I don’t know if this will help, but I tend to think of time as a wrinkled shirt, with the present time being an iron, straightening everything out into a single, rigid “history.” Everything in the future is wrinkled with possibility, but as choices are made in the present, those future contingencies—wrinkles in the shirt—actualize into factual history, becoming part of God’s free knowledge. If you think of all the wrinkles in the future as God’s middle knowledge, it seems to help me understand the undetermined freedom of the future (middle knowledge) versus the immutability of the factual past (free knowledge).

    Also, if you think of the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, and say that it exists in the mind of God, then those wrinkles in the shirt become analogous to the counterfactual worlds of the “many worlds” interpretation. With each creaturely choice, the number of worlds increases, increasing the number of counterfactual conditionals God can be said to know within middle knowledge. It’s obvious to see that there are an un-ending number of these worlds—or timelines if you will. Tons and tons of strands of counterfactual timelines. They are all connected to the beginning of time, each branching off of factual history at some point (starting with the first creaturely choice). Perhaps the “longest” counterfactual timeline might be what would have happened if Eve hadn’t been deceived. But only one of these strands represents immutable “factual” history as viewed from the end of time. This strand is free knowledge, and just because God can see the end of the factual strand doesn’t mean he determines every choice creatures make. I don’t believe the many worlds interpretation is actual reality, but it is a good framework to discuss God’s middle knowledge in my opinion, and a way to show how only an infinite mind can manage the amount of contingencies that exist. To me, middle knowledge makes God more than omniscient. More than simply knowing the end from the beginning of a simple timeline, middle knowledge is the mechanism by which God can arrange events to accomplish his ends and draw people to him without violating creaturely freewill, and a middle knowledge understanding seems to give more weight to the promises that things work together for good, that we won’t be tempted beyond what we’re able, etc.

    • Demas, thanks for commenting! Man, you’ve got a lot in there. I think your analogy with the shirt may help a bit, I still have to think it through a few more times but I get the impression that it’s not wrong either. It would have to be one really wrinkled shirt. As far as QM goes, I’m still working that out in my head, I want a lot of my research for my Masters thesis to be related to that. I’m still open to it being a a reality (but what does that mean? lol)

      • Yeah the shirt is infinitely wrinkled at the creation decree! :-) Also the “many worlds” QM interpretation—although the math seems to work out—is not feasible because there isn’t enough energy in the universe for new worlds to actually spawn with each choice. But that limitation doesn’t hinder in an infinite mind, so Everett may have actually given us a quantum understanding of the middle knowledge of God. Except, to my understanding putting middle knowledge before the creation decree, instead of each choice creating a new world, we’re actually destroying the possibilities that exist in God’s middle knowledge, ironing the shirt, until at the end of time, no possibilities for change exist, and we’re left with that single factual timeline. Moment to moment, though, our choices are effectively taking a wave (if the possible choices of any given moment are part of a “wave” of probabilities) and collapsing it into a particle which has mass and can be measured and is a tangible part of history so to speak. (So, if we revisit that notion that the “many worlds” theory can’t exist unless the source of energy is infinite…well, what if this reality is just a simulation in the mind of God?) Anyway, you could get into the dual wave/particle nature of light in this way, which explains (is explained by?) the dual nature of Christ as wave/particle God/man. The dual nature of light is a perfect metaphor for someone who has access to the infinite wave of probabilities via middle knowledge, and access to our physical world as well. Anyway, I don’t understand enough of QM or theology to venture further. I’m just a filmmaker but a WLC fan and QM fan. I’d love to read what you come up with. Use my ideas if they help!

  8. 2 Demas –

    I hold a simpler view of QM, because it doesn’t make sense that parallel universes can be brought into existence by human choices. There is not a sufficient cause for the putative effect. And the fact that they are not observable removes them from the realm of real science. It makes more sense to speak of choices actually eliminating feasible worlds from the race, reducing contingencies through selective defeasibility.

  9. Kevin, yes I think we are on the same page. I was only trying to say that the Everett “many worlds” interpretation could be a good way of understanding middle knowledge, even if the causality would be reversed (human choice eliminating possibilities which are within God’s middle knowledge, rather than human choice creating new actual worlds). Perhaps the Everett interpretation could help some people ponder God’s middle knowledge “scientifically” even though his mind is off limits to science.

  10. Laudable attempt. I find it funny that the verses you use actually does not even speak or hint at a PHILOSOPHICAL viewpoint. Especially when one is a Jesuit.

  11. You should probably look into Jeremiah. “Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 18 But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.”

    Have you heard of Law and Gospel distinction?

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