The Theological Advantages of Molinism

by Max Andrews

For a context of where I’m coming from concerning Molinism please see my previous posts:

  1. Middle Knowledge in a Nutshell
  2. Why I’m Not an Arminian
  3. Why I’m Not a Calvinist
  4. God Controls Everything–Good and Bad
  5. Overpower–Is God Ultimately Responsible for Everything?
  6. The Pelagian Equivocation
  7. The Singular Redemption View of the Atonement
  8. Does God Ever Literally Change His Mind?–Yes
  9. Is a Molinist Concept of Providence Discomforting?
  10. Word of the Week Wednesday: Supralapsarianism

Advantages

  1. Holds a high view of God’s sovereignty while holding to an equal and uncompromising view of human free will.
  2. Provides a better model for understanding how it is simultaneously true that God’s decree of election while His rejection of the unbeliever is conditional.
  3. Affirms the genuine desire on the part of God for all to be saved in His universal salvific will  (which is problematic for the Calvinist) claiming that God loved the whole world (John 3:16) yet, Christ has a particular love for the Church (Eph. 5:25).
  4. God control’s all things, but does not cause all things.
  5. God accomplishes His will by utilizing His omniscient knowledge.  A view of logical moments in God’s knowledge.
  6. Explains how it is possible for there to be a decree of election without a corresponding decree of reprobation (there is no decree of reprobation).  God did not ordain the reprobate to hell in the same way He ordained the elect to salvation.  It holds a better answer to the question as why the reprobate exists? –Because of God’s sovereign will.  –But why is he reprobated? –Because of his own unbelief.  When God brought the world into actualization, He rendered certain, but did not cause the destruction of certain ones who would reject God’s grace.  “It is up to God whether we find ourselves in a world in which we are predestined, but it is up to us as to whether we are predestined in the world in which we find ourselves.” –William Lane Craig[1]
  7. God is the author of salvation who actively elects certain ones (maintains sovereignty).
  8. God determines the world in which we live.  Whether or not you exist at all, have the opportunity to hear the gospel, or placed in a setting where you are graciously able to believe the gospel are all sovereign decisions made by God (Acts 17:26-27).  This solves the problem of evangelism.  There can be no excuse before God’s judgment by saying, “I would have believed if I had heard the gospel and had the people You sent got there earlier” (a historical/geological problem of existence).  God’s response may [possibly] be, “No matter what situation you were in, no matter what you knew, and even if you had heard My gospel, you would have never believed in Me anyways.”  This presents a clear defense for the justice and love of God.  This solves the problem of the elect going to hell.  No one that goes to hell is elect, and no one that goes to heaven is not elect.
  9. Fits well with the Bible’s simultaneous affirmation of both foreknowledge and predetermination (Acts 2:23), which is more Scripturally consistent than Calvinism and Arminianism (i.e. Rom. 8:29—predestination & I Pt. 1:2—foreknowledge).  What is foreknown [in regards to election] is simply the believer’s faith.  Keep in mind this is logically posterior to election.  Foreknowledge is not the means of election (see my post on why I’m not an Arminian).

Problems

  1. The grounding objection to middle knowledge.  This states that there is not an adequate explanation for how it is that God infallibly knows what choices free creatures are going to make.  On what grounds should one believe in middle knowledge? [2]

[1] William Lane Craig, “‘No Other Name’: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation Through Christ,” Faith and Philosophy 6:2 (April, 1989) 172–88.

[2] The Molinist response is that God innately knows all things by virtue of His omniscience and that it is simply the nature of God to have infallible knowledge of all things.  The Molinist advocate affirms, but may not be able to explain to everyone’s satisfaction, that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of what creatures with libertarian freedom will do.  If an appeal to mystery is made at this point, it is done at a better and more reasonable point.  It is better to not be able to explain how God’s transcendent attribute of omniscience operates, rather than the Calvinist difficulty in making God appear to be the author of sin.  The Molinist difficulties are with God’s infinite attributes rather than His holy, righteous nature and the revealed character and purposes of God.


20 Responses to “The Theological Advantages of Molinism”

  1. I would add that the grounding objection can apply to God’s knowledge of God’s own choices as well as man’s:

    When the Molinist speaks of free knowledge as God’s knowledge of a world or worlds not only possible according to God’s necessary and middle knowledge but actual according to God’s decree, his distinction between God’s various “types” of knowledge implies that God both could or could not have decreed to actualize a possible world. But making God’s knowledge contingent on a “free” choice – even God’s own – requires a succession of ideas in God’s mind (knowledge of possible worlds -> choice -> knowledge of the actual world[s]) incompatible with eternal omniscience.

    • Ryan, I agree with what Roger said about. But note that this sequence of knowledge is logical and intuitive to God. He knows this eternally and it’s not discursive. God’s free knowledge may be prehended in a discursive manner. For example, if God knows what time it is, 11.40am, he does not believe it is noon. When it becomes noon he does not believe it is 11.40am (if you’re an A-theorist on time).

  2. I don’t understand the objection, Ryan. The grounding objection–at least with respect to MK–asserts that there must be some existing thing that makes a proposition true; and this is a problem for MK because God is supposed to know the truth of some proposition for which there is nothing that exists to make that proposition true. But this objection rests on a mistake. In particular, it rests on a mistaken assumption that the Truthmaker thesis (i.e. the thesis that says all truths have truth makers–things that exist which make propositions true) is correct. But Truthmaker is false; for, what’s the truthmaker for the proposition ‘that hobbits do not exist’? I guess there is no truthmaker for that proposition. (What would it be if there was one?) So, if it’s false that all truths require truthmakers, then there’s no reason to think MK truths (i.e. truths about what *would* happen, but don’t, in fact, happen) require truthmakers. Put another way, there’s no reason to think MK truths require any grounding.

    Of course, what I’ve said applies, in particular, to the issue of MK. I don’t really know how your objection is supposed to go with respect to God’s knowledge of God’s own choices (as well as man’s). But, if you’re objection were made clearer to me, I’d bet it rests on a similar mistake as the grounding objection to MK.

  3. Roger, you may not remember, but you’ve already mentioned that example to me:

    http://sententias.org/2011/09/19/middle-knowledge-and-eternal-omniscience/

    I’m drawing an analogy between the so-called counter-factuals of creaturely freedom and counter-factuals of divine freedom. It seems to me to be a clearer argument than the usual grounding objection: even given the restrictions of scientia necessaria, possible worlds are, according to Molinism, unnecessary worlds. God knows what would happen if He chose [not] to instantiate possible world A, B, C, etc. (here is middle knowledge), but in order for it to have ever been a live option for God to [~]actualize them, it cannot have been necessary for God to [~]actualize them. Since the Molinist posits God’s free knowledge as following from His creative decree, there is a succession of ideas in the mind of God. God learns. This learning as to what is or are the actual world[s] may be according to His own choices, but it’s learning nonetheless.

    This is just following my understanding of Molinism. I don’t think I’ve misrepresented it, but let me know if I have.

    • I don’t see a problem with God learning. At 11am God knows it is 11am. When it becomes noon God then pretends the truth of the proposition that it is currently noon and no longer believes it is 11am. He, of course, knows the propositions in tensed forms but comes to know the tensed forms by way of the passage of time. I see no problem with this.

  4. The problem is that eternal omniscience is a precondition for knowledge. But if God learns, He is in the same epistemic boat as is man.

    As for your example, I don’t see why you think it is obvious God’s knowledge is of “propositions in tensed forms.” Does God “experience” time as we do? What is time? These aren’t cut-and-dry answers, at least not to me. I’ve actually been planning to pick up “God and Time” by Craig, Helm, Wolterstorff, and Padgett. Looks interesting.

    • I know they aren’t cut and dry but they’re reasonable. If God is the prime reality, the objective source of reality and if temporal becoming is t merely illusory then I think there’s good reason to believe God is temporal. Obviously we aren’t getting into the physics of time but I guess we can have that discussion later on. I think the philosophical arguments for time are better because physics is undecided. I don’t see a problem with God having come to learn as man does as a problem. Obviously we aren’t omniscient. However, if God knows love and we know love and we know what time it is and god knows what time it is and our epistemic faculty can know these categorically thenWhat’s the problem? We may come to know them differently but we still know. God’s knowledge isn’t utterly different from ours in the sense we can know things he knows and we learn what time it is just as he does. In no eat does this interfere with divine perfection.

  5. One doesn’t know any proposition predicated on an unknown proposition. But if that’s the case, and if God is not eternally omniscient, it begs the question to assert that God knows anything. By what method does He know that what He thinks He knows is not predicated on that which you assert He doesn’t know or hasn’t learned? When you consider that the method itself can be considered an aspect of what God thinks He knows, this leads to infinite regress and an impossibility to justify knowledge. That is why eternal omniscience is a precondition for knowledge.

    Furthermore, thinking about your position a bit more, it seems to me you would have to believe that God is never omniscient, for there is always some future time He has yet to experience. Do you see a problem with this? When Peter said Christ knows all things in John 21, do you think he was just being hyperbolic, that Christ ignored an opportunity to correct a false doctrine, or what?

    • Predicated on an unknown proposition? Huh? I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. If omniscience def= God knows and believes all truths and does not believe non-truths. So, God knows “It is 11AM” at 11AM. God does not believe “It is noon” at 11AM. However, God does know “It will be noon in one hour.” The tense of the propositions changed. So, God learns the present tense of “it is noon” when it becomes noon and knows “it will be noon” at 11AM. It’s the same thing about past tensed propositions. God knows that America HAD a civil war in the mid 1800′s. God does not know/believe that America is in a civil war [in the 1800's]. It’s the same line of reasoning. I don’t see how this means God is not omniscient by any stretch. What’s your def of omniscience you’re using? God certainly doesn’t believe I do not exist, surely he does believe I exist. Is God not omniscient if he doesn’t believe that proposition? Hardly not. I think your example of Jn 21 is without antecedent conditions. What’s your definition of omniscience? I do believe Jesus was ignorant of certain things by virtue of his human nature (i.e. his return). The Logos, Jesus’ person and divinity, is omniscient just like the other two persons of the trinity. Before making these accusations I need to know how you define omniscience.

      Also, this is how Molina responds to the question of how he knows what he knows.

      God does not get his knowledge from things, but knows all things in himself and from himself; therefore, the existence of things, whether in time or eternity, contributes nothing to God’s knowing with certainty what is going to be or not to be… For prior to any existence on the part of the objects, God has within himself the means whereby he knows all things fully and perfectly; and this is why the existence of created things contributes no perfection to the cognition he has of them and does not cause any change in that cognition… [And] God does not need the existence of those things in his eternity in order to know them with certainty.

      Luis de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), 4.49.12, 11.

  6. Good heavens. God doesn’t *learn*, at 11am, that it’s 11am. *I* don’t learn that it’s 11am at 11am. Or, if I do, it’s because I was ignorant of what time it is prior to my being so educated. But God’s never ignorant to what time it is. Whence, then, is his learning?

    At 10:59am God knows that the proposition *that it’s 10:59am* is true. He further knows that the proposition *that in one minute it’ll be 11am* is true. When it’s 11am he knows that the proposition *that it’s 11am* is true. And so forth. God doesn’t learn anything. Acquiring of new knowledge isn’t learning. Learning is the removal of ignorance and replacing ignorance with knowledge. But, again, if I’m watching the clock at 10:59am and the clock flips to 11am, I haven’t learned anything even though I know something I didn’t before. I haven’t learned anything because I wasn’t ignorant about the truth of what time it is. The proposition *that it’s now 11am* wasn’t a proposition I could have known at 10:59; indeed, nobody could’ve known that prior to the fact. But that’s not to say I or anyone else was ignorant of the time and, so, had to *learn* what time it was.

    Even when considering which among the very many possible worlds to instantiate God doesn’t learn anything. He knows exactly what happens in each, or what *would* happen if he were to actualize a particular one. He’s never ignorant about any of it; and he’d have to be ignorant of *something* in order to *learn* something.

  7. Though it seems you two disagree as to whether God learns, I won’t be able to post replies until Sunday.

  8. Well, I hold to divine timelessness, so I think some of these examples beg the question, but I think these are all beside the point. Maybe what I’m saying will make more sense if I cite an observation by WLC:

    “Moreover, God is surely really related to His creatures in the following sense: In different logically possible worlds which we can imagine, God’s will, knowledge, and love would be different than they actually are. For example, if God has not chosen to create a universe at all, He would surely have a different will than that which He has (for He would not will to create the universe); He would know different truths than the ones He knows (for example, He would not know The universe exists, since that would be false in that world)…”

    - Time and Eternity, Chapter 3

    Roger seems to understand the implications of conceding that God learns: it implies God is ignorant. But omniscience entails the idea that God is not ignorant, whether because of indecisiveness at any point on God’s part or whatever. But if what Craig says above is true, then there must really have been some point at which He learned. That point would seem to be the point at which He decreed to instantiate this actual world. But cutting such a sharp distinction between God’s free knowledge and His knowledge of necessities and possibilities requires a succession of ideas in God’s mind and, therefore. Craig himself seems to show glimpses of understanding this but never makes the connection. In the chapter 2 of the same book, he writes:

    “An omniscient being cannot reflect and deliberate because He already knows the conclusions to be arrived at! Even if God is in time, He does not engage in reflection and deliberation.”

    But on the Molinist’s view, did not God deliberate as to which possible world[s] to instantiate?

    Even if we accepted for the sake of argument that God knows from eternity what would happen in any given possible world (and as I argued against that in the post I wrote for this blog, I’m not just going to concede that), the point is that God’s free knowledge is the product of learning. This is why I said I see a parallel between the grounding objection and the argument I’m making here. In both arguments, the idea is that on the Molinist’s view, an allegedly free choice begets God’s knowledge. The only difference is that while the Molinist may contest this with respect to man, he can’t do so with respect to God. God’s choice to actualize a given possible world is that alone which the Molinist can appeal to as the source of God’s free knowledge, which is why I find this to be a more efficient argument than the grounding objection.

    • God being ignorant of a proposition doesn’t mean God is not omniscient. If a propositions truth value is false then God doesn’t know it. If omniscience is defined as God knows and believes all truths and does not believe non-truths then God being ignorant of certain propositions is harmonious. In fact, if you deny this it becomes quite incoherent. For instance, does God believe the proposition “I, God, do not exist” or “Max Andrews is dead on February 18, 2012?” No, God does not know these propositions. So, for God to be ignorant of certain propositions doesn’t impinge on divine perfection. I think if you take the position you’re taking it becomes incoherent and self-contradictory. Check out the link I gave to Roger just now.

      • I understand Craig’s belief that God is in time and disagree with it. He mentions in passing around 10:30 the view to which I would hold, that tensed statements are a subjective aspect of the factual content of a proposition, factual content which can be known apart from tenses.

        But again, I don’t think this is the crux of the matter. The reason God knows what will be is because He allegedly made a decision, in part based on His necessary and middle knowledge, to instantiate this possible world. Craig has said that there is a non-arbitrary reason God has chosen this possible world over against others:

        “God has selected a world containing just those persons in just those circumstances so as to maximize the number of those who would freely respond to His grace and be saved, while minimizing the number of those who would freely reject His grace and damn themselves and that, moreover, He has ensured that anyone in the world who would under any circumstances be freely saved is freely saved.”

        Now, WLC would, I assume, agree that it was not necessary for God to choose to instantiate a world in which the utilitarian principle WLC elucidated above is satisfied, for that would mean God doesn’t have libertarian free will. If God’s will were immutably decisive, then God would not have libertarian free will. So I think the crux of the matter is that Molinists must posit an indecisiveness on God’s part such that it is possible that God’s actual knowledge could have been other than what it is. But since we already have WLC on record as saying that:

        “An omniscient being cannot reflect and deliberate because He already knows the conclusions to be arrived at! Even if God is in time, He does not engage in reflection and deliberation.”

        we have an argument against Molinism which doesn’t rely on and is stronger than the grounding objection.

  9. It’s true that God’s MK depends on the free actions of autonomous creatures; but why does that imply God *learns* anything? Again, my knowledge concerning what time it is, depends on the clock I’m now looking at. The clock says 10:59; so, right now, I know *that it’s 10:59* is true. When the clock flips to 11am I now know *that it’s 11am*; but, I didn’t learn anything; I wasn’t ignorant of what time it was to begin with. So, how could I have learned?

    I think something similar applies to God’s choosing to create a world. Sure, we think anthropomorphically about God’s perusing the catalogue of worlds to create; he finds the best one, then creates it. But surely that’s just anthropomorphism. God needn’t traverse the catalogue of worlds; he already knows what each world contains just as I, as I continue to look at the clock, already know what time it is.

    Indeed, *all* of God’s knowledge depends on the way the world is (whatever world, in fact, is the case). This is true whether or not God creates at all. I mean, that’s just how knowledge works; that’s how *truth* works. And, since knowledge is a kind of true belief, it’s unsurprising that knowledge (mine, yours, God’s) depends on the way the world (whatever world it may be) is. But, since it’s only we finite beings who are ignorant of the way the world is from time to time, it’s only we finite beings that learn anything. But God always knows; he’s never ignorant.

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