Hey Max,I read your blog often and really enjoy it. For your Q&A section I have a molinism question for you if you’d be interested in answering:God considers world A in which God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar at time TAbraham curses God and refusesGod does not actualize world AGod considers world B in which God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar at time TAbraham proceeds to attempt to carry out God’s commandGod actualizes world BMy hang-up is that even in world A – God had to “look” or “wait” to see what would happen if He didn’t directly cause what happens (which means there is some type of split-second/logical moment or whatever of not-knowing). If that is the case, I’m not sure how that’s much different from open theism; the only difference is that God didn’t actualize the world until He knew.Now even if you help me understand the above, I still have another problem. As a very simple example, I happen to really like oysters; I have a friend who does not. God can know with certainty that if I’m invited to the oyster roast that I will freely attend and eat oysters – but He created me with taste buds that appreciate oysters. Had he created me with different taste buds, I would choose differently – which seems Calvinistic – I’m destined to say yes.Any help clarifying where I’m wrong would be greatly appreciated – thanks Max!Larry
Thanks for the question, Larry. I’ll wrestle with your first question before proceeding to to your second. For those who may not be familiar with the nature of your question let me give a brief recap of divine omniscience.
Def. 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.
God’s knowledge is typically broken down in two different logical moments: the first moment is God’s natural knowledge and the last moment is God’s free knowledge. Molinism makes the commitment to a another logical moment that rests between those two called middle knowledge. Thus,
- First Logical Moment
- God’s knowledge of all logical possibilities.
- Possible Worlds: “can,” “could”
- 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”
- Third Logical Moment
- God’s knowledge of all true propositions in the actual world.
- Actual World: “was,” “is,” “will”
You’re correct to say that there seems to be a second logical moment within middle knowledge (this isn’t a temporal issue). I would argue that a multi-layered middle knowledge is the best approach in reconciling the issues you’ve presented.
In God’s middle knowledge there rests two additional layers: the first layer being reaction and the second layer being action. The first layer is God’s progressive apprehension of the truth-value of all would-counterfactuals of creaturely freedom as they unfold in the logical sequence coupled with his original reactions to these counterfactuals. The second layer is God’s transformation of each practicable world into a feasible world by fine-tuning it according to his full knowledge of everything that could or would happen in the entire history of that world as a result of different divine responses to creaturely choices.
We don’t have any counterfactual accounts particular with your example so let me use another:
[T]he Lord said to Moses, “ I have seen this people and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” 11Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “ O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the Land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them about to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them in the from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Ex. 32.9-14 NASB)
God’s original reaction, only having apprehended the truth of the circumstances logically leading up to this, was to literally destroy the Israelites and make a new nation from Moses to uphold his covenant with Abraham. Upon apprehending the logically successive knowledge that Moses, if apprised of this reaction, would implore God to spare the Israelites, God’s mind, or planned reaction, literally changed to a new course of action which left the Israelites intact.
Now, I don’t think these reaction/action lead to divine ignorance or a moment at which God did not know anything. His apprehension of certain truths don’t impede on divine perfection. His reactions are the conditions needed to bring about the action taken by the free creature (Abraham or Moses). So I think this preserves divine perfection. This approach isn’t as controversial as you may think (regarding divine perfection) because these logical moments are known logically prior to the creative decree. Not only does this preserve divine perfection but it also preserves the veracity of biblical statements regarding God’s cognitive discourse without diluting the reality of the relationship in prayer and God’s sovereign control of history.
Also, there are logical moments at which God does not know certain facts. Let’s simply remove middle knowledge for the sake of illustration. Divine foreknowledge rests within God’s free knowledge, which he ascertains logically posterior to his creative decree. Logically prior to creation God knows all possible worlds but he does not know what will happen in the future, posterior to his creative decree since he had not made such a decree (remember, logically succession). In other words, in order to know what will happen God has to know what can happen. Modal logic teaches us that possibility is a necessary condition for truth claims. For instance, if P is true then P is possible. Or, if P will be true, then P is possible. (Also, see my post on what would be the case if God didn’t have middle knowledge.)
Concerning your last question, I’m not quite sure I can sufficiently answer it. I’m not up on the neuroscience on the relationship between one’s sensory apparatus and one’s cognitive response to it. It’s an issue of subjective preference. For instance, the traditional Christian position on aesthetics is that there is objectivity to beauty (grounded in God). However, we all seem to have different responses to beautiful images. I think our subjective preferences account for this. So, if your enjoyment of oysters is a matter of subjective preference then that’s an issue of the subjective will. However, if taste is something that is not like subjective preference and that your taste buds were created as they are, and haven’t changed as a result of any choices you made about previous foods or physical changes due to, say, burns, then I’d say your preference for oysters is something that God strongly actualized. I don’t see how this is deterministic. God weakly and strongly actualizes every state of affairs. As Alvin Plantinga defines the terms: God weakly actualizes S if and only if there is an S* such that God strongly actualizes [direct causation] S* and S* → S, where → is “counterfactual implication” (Let S be a state of affairs). If it’s the case that your response to the taste of oyster is a strong actualization then that would simply be a cause that God uses as a providential means. You still have a responsibility and freedom to act and respond to such states of affairs. It would be akin to other deterministic states of affairs that you are presented with (i.e. physics–how do you respond when you fall down some stairs due to purely natural reasons?). So, I think it’s safe to say that no matter what the relationship between taste and human freedom is, be it purely free or strongly actualized by God, I don’t think it impugns our freedom. What would impugn our freedom if God were to strongly actualize our mental faculty of the will.
 For more in the multi-layered middle knowledge see Kirk MacGregor’s A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007), 87-107.
 What would you do with cognitive, so-called, anthropomorphisms concerning peitionary prayer or changing his course of action (i.e. God changing his mind in response to prayer or sparing Ninenveh)? The traditional hermeneutic concerning anthropomorphisms approaches these statements as literary elements in which God expresses himself through human or animal terms that teach something true about God. Expressions like “the right hand of God” or “the eyes of the Lord,” for example, communicate something true of God’s strength and knowledge. But what does the concept of God’s changing his mind communicate? For example, if indeed it is anthropomorphistic? If God in fact never actually changes his mind [due to prayer], saying he does so doesn’t communicate anything truthful. It is simply inaccurate. This is an objection that Greg Boyd makes concerning divine changes of thought. I don’t go that far because he places divine changes of mind in God’s free knowledge when I place it in God’s middle knowledge. See Greg Boyd, “The Open Theism View,” in Divine Providence, 39.