Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Failure of Middle Knowledge

Molinism posits that God's omniscience is expressed in three moments which are logically sequential rather than chronologically sequential. The first moment is God's Natural Knowledge which encompasses everything that is necessarily true apart from God's will. The second moment is God's Middle Knowledge which is aware of all possibilities (particularly free actions of agents) given any circumstance. The third moment is God's Free Knowledge which entails all that he actualized.

What kind of knowledge is Middle Knowledge, actually? At best, it could only be analytical and theoretical, because it is never instantiated, never incarnated (apart from that which becomes Free Knowledge). What isn't actualized is merely hypothetical--a mental "trial run," if you will. Supposedly, Middle Knowledge answers with certainty, not mere conjecture, the question: "What would occur if another state were to obtain? Since those other states are nothing more than whimsy in the mind of God, who purposely selects what is actualized, how is the outcome resultant from using Middle Knowledge distinct from, or better than, compatibilism (soft determinism)?

A Bible passage that purportedly backs this premise is Christ's musings concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. I question whether or not interpreting the passage to teach Middle Knowledge catches the gist of what Jesus was using the illustration for.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day."    Matthew 11:21-23  NASB
Was Jesus divulging precise alternate history or just making a point about how awful was the rejection of Christ by Jews who heard what he said and saw what he did? I don't think there's really much of a question.

If God can forecast the free choices agents would make in any circumstance accurately, without fail, prior to anything created existing, then I submit that those actions are not truly the agents' at all, but are instead mere projections of the mind of God. How could they be proven to be otherwise? The only qualification that withstands scrutiny and averts blameworthiness when it comes to matters of choice is independence (in connection to this, see Genesis 2:19Judges 3:4Jeremiah 19:5; James 1:13-15). Choice has to be made by the chooser and seen by the seer at the moment of decision in order to be free.

If a decision of an agent is known with absolute certainty before anything else was even made, and if in making everything else God opts among various possibilities to instantiate that decision (the agent certainly has no access to those possibilities), God unavoidably becomes the author of that decision. There is no way that choice is free in the sense that it is instigated in freedom by the chooser. The biblical notion of freedom, as I see it, is that choice is derived independently of God. If that choice "happens" before it happens, the choice is illusory.

Middle Knowledge was formulated as a means of attributing meticulous sovereignty and foreknowledge to God without obliterating freewill or having God incur culpability for actions taken which he opposes (sin). It fails to do so. If God knew what every choice an agent would make was before he created the universe, and knowing, then actualized that "blueprint," then culpability for all choices (including sin) adheres unshakably to God, and none of those choices are actually free (independent).

Molinism, it seems to me, reduces to determinism, so why add the extra layer?


  1. If God can know with certainty what a free choice will be before the chooser is even made, then there is no way that choice is free in the sense that it is instigated in freedom by the chooser. The biblical notion of freedom, as I see it, is that choice is derived independently of God. That choice cannot "happen" before it happens or the choice is illusory.

    So are you saying that God cannot know for certainty what our actions will be? How does your view differ from Open Theism (a question, not a slight).

    I am not certain middle knowledge reduces to determinism. If God were to know the various outcomes depending on what choices God made, yet the choices made by men were truly free, and God maximised the best outcome by his choices and actions (knowing how men would act). Is it possible that with sin in the mix, this is the best possible outcome?

    1. I edited the section you quoted to make my stand on the issue more clear.

  2. Hello bethyada, good to hear from you.

    I am saying that God cannot know our actions specifically, meticulously, psychically, before the worlds even came into being (which is the framework of Middle Knowledge) and have those same actions be free. If that is the case then I suggest that the author analogy holds, and what unfolds is determinism. Counterfactuals would have no substance on that approach other than being "discarded edits" of alternate scenarios pondered before settling on the actual plot. They do not truly represent creaturely freedom because they were instigated in the mind of God pre-existent to the mind of creatures that supposedly hatched them. We can't have the cart before the horse in matters of freedom. Freedom, in whatever measure it may be, is a measure of independent impetus.

    My views differ with Open Theism in that, among other things, I attribute no disability to God's omniscience, whether voluntary or involuntary. The apparent mutual exclusivity between freedom and foreknowledge can be resolved with timelessness rather than disability, as I see it. I am sympathetic to some of the Openness criticisms of the classical formulations of the attributes of God, however.

    God may know our thoughts before we think them, but if that knowledge is formative (as in Middle Knowledge) rather than (timelessly) observational, then in my mind, it betrays determinism rather freedom. I actually believe that something along the lines of your last couple of sentences does occur in God's governance of creation. God is perfectly insightful and we are perfectly transparent to him which means that he is not just left twiddling his thumbs waiting to see what we will do, but he does, nonetheless, "wait" (e.g. Genesis 22:12).


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