molinist

This tag is associated with 4 posts

Is Middle Knowledge Uncontroversial?

luis-de-molina-2I was reading a recent blog post at one of the sites from which I read every post–the Pastor Matt blog–and discovered a point of some importance for those interested in the debate over omniscience and divine foreknowledge. His post “Middle Knowledge Misunderstood” is a brief introduction to the concept of middle knowledge. My focus is not going to be on that topic so much as on a claim made in the article: that middle knowledge is uncontroversial. Simply put, this claim is mistaken. Middle knowledge is the subject of much debate to this day.

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom: specifically, God’s knowledge of “If x, then y” in regards to human and other created beings’ freedom. It is more than that, and yes I am simplifying this quite a bit.

Middle knowledge has been the subject of no little amount of my efforts in studying, and when I read the claim that it is uncontroversial, I was taken aback. Frankly, to say that middle knowledge is not controversial is just entirely mistaken. I shall now demonstrate that point.

First, middle knowledge is controversial among those who deny that God has absolute knowledge of the future, namely, open theists. William Hasker, John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, and other open theists each explicitly deny the existence of these counterfactuals that make up middle knowledge. Greg Boyd, another prominent open theist, argues in multiple places that the “would” counterfactuals of middle knowledge (i.e. in situation x, person would do y) should instead be “might” counterfactuals because “would” counterfactuals can have no truth value (see, for example, his response to William Lane Craig in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2001).

Second, middle knowledge is controversial among Calvinists. Paul Helm, a noted Calvinist philosopher, writes:

Since the Reformed held that all that occurs is unconditionally decreed by God and that men and women are responsible for their actions, they saw no need for a third kind of divine knowledge, a middle knowledge, which depended upon God foreseeing what possible people would freely do in certain circumstances.

In other words, middle knowledge is superfluous. Helm goes on to state as much:

Not only is middle knowledge unnecessary to an all-knowing, all-decreeing God, but the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree.

I would contend that most any theological determinist should hold to a similar belief regarding middle knowledge. On such a position, middle knowledge is unnecessary and indeed contrary to their entire system. Certainly Calvinists in general would deny that middle knowledge is necessary or uncontroversial.

Third, Thomists, I believe, would also reject middle knowledge–and historically have–for a number of reasons, including the notion that it entails potentiality in God. The reason it would do so is because of the whole structure of modality–including possible worlds–which advocates of middle knowledge tend to put forward as well. If the assertion is that there is a different way that things God could have created, then that implies that there is a potential there–something that any Thomistic view of the world would deny. I believe the same point would go for Scholastic thinkers in general, but I’m not familiar enough with the range of scholasticism to say that is for sure.

All of this is not even delving into things like whether those who hold to simple foreknowledge would endorse middle knowledge. David Hunt, for example, in the aforementioned Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, also argues that counterfactuals of freedom required for foreknowledge are illogical. Frankly, I think any position of simple foreknowledge would have to deny middle knowledge because on simple foreknowledge the whole concept is just as superfluous and contrary as it is for theological determinists. After all, if we contend that God just knows the future, then there is little room for things like God’s knowledge of what creatures would do in varied situations: God just knows what the future is going to be. Again, I don’t know the range of thought within the simple foreknowledge position to say for sure, but I suspect the majority position would be to deny middle knowledge.

Now when I shared some of these thoughts with Pastor Matt, his response was to grant that open theists deny middle knowledge, but then later he also granted that some Calvinists do. My point is that even were these the only ones who denied middle knowledge, that would not qualify as being “uncontroversial.” But now, having demonstrated that it is theological determinists, Calvinists, some who hold to simple foreknowledge, open theists, and Thomists (and possibly others?) who would deny middle knowledge, I think that the point has carried: middle knowledge is not uncontroversial.

I say all of this as someone who thinks middle knowledge does exist. But I think that we need to confront the reality that Molinism–the position which most closely endorses middle knowledge–is itself highly controversial and hardly above criticism.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Middle Knowledge Misunderstood– Pastor Matt’s post on middle knowledge.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Molinism and Aseity- A knock-down argument against middle knowledge?

stpeters2One of the most recent “Straight Thinking” podcasts–a podcast put on by Reasons to Believe–featured Travis Campbell discussing Middle Knowledge (which is an aspect of the philosophical theological position known as molinism). Middle Knowledge is, essentially, God’s knowledge of counterfactuals–that is, the knowledge of things like “If someone talks about molinism, J.W. Wartick will be interested.” That is a counterfactual because it states something which may be contrary to fact–that is, it depends on some condition to be fulfilled in order to be true (in the example above, it is the occasion of someone to talk about molinism).

On the second part of the interview, Campbell discussed some objections to molinism which he felt made the position intractable. One of the first objections he presented was an objection from “aseity” that is, God’s self-existence. According to the doctrine of divine aseity, God does not rely upon anything else for God’s existence. Now, molinism classically holds that God surveys the realm of possible worlds prior to the creative act and so sees all possibilities related to free creaturely choices. Then, God creates the world God desires. Campbell argued that this undermines God’s aseity because it makes God dependent upon creatures for omniscience–one of God’s essential attributes.

The argument, if sound, has great force. After all, if molinism means one must deny an essential attribute of God, there is a pretty serious difficulty with the doctrine. But does it? Campbell cited William Lane Craig, a leading proponent of molinism, as admitting that molinism entails that God’s knowledge, at least, is in some sense dependent upon creaturely choices. From what I have read of WLC,*  I have found it seems he frequently makes it appear as though molinism presents God as able to choose among any parts of possible worlds to construct whatever possible world God wants. Not correct… but possibly also not Craig’s actual view;* perhaps Craig is only making it seem thus when he discusses molinism in summary. What I’m getting at is that I’m not convinced Craig is as consistent a molinist as, well, Molina (or in modern times, Thomas P. Flint).

Now for the claim itself, I do not think it follows that God is actually dependent upon creaturely choices. And, if it follows from molinism that God is dependent in that way, then it must also be true of any view which holds to foreknowledge whatsoever. In fact, this is where I have a pretty serious bone to pick with any view which denies comprehensive foreknowledge. Unless I am much mistaken–which is quite possible–the realm of possible worlds is a set of necessary truths. That is, each possible world is a complete set of all true propositions for the entire history of that world.*** But if that is the case, then molinism is no different on God’s creative activity than any other view of creation, for God is simply selecting one from a set of possible worlds.

There is debate over how such a set of possible worlds might be populated–does the set of possible worlds come from God, or is it simply a set of necessary truths?** Whatever one’s answer for this, it remains clear to me that molinism is not defective in this area: the molinist simply holds that God selects a possible world from the set of possible worlds. The fact that the molinist emphasizes that these possible worlds include free choices is essentially a moot point so far as aseity is concerned. If there is such a set of possible worlds, then any view of God’s foreknowledge and creation has to acknowledge that God’s creative act is the bringing forth of one such possible world. If there is no such set, then it seems our universe is necessary, which would itself be problematic for the doctrine of creation.

So it seems to me that Campbell failed to make a compelling argument against molinism from aseity. In order for his argument to be successful, he would have to show that molinism’s view of possible worlds is somehow radically different from any other position and then also demonstrate that molinism’s view also necessarily makes God dependent upon creaturely freedom. But of course that would also involve him having to show that the set of possible worlds, on molinism, is itself independent of God. And it seems to me that although perhaps not all molinists hold that God does generate the set of possible worlds, it is entirely possible for a molinist to consistently hold that this is the case: the set of possible worlds is dependent upon God. And, if that is true, Campbell’s argument fails. I conclude that Campbell’s argument fails because it is both incomplete and unsound.

*I have his Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom but I am working through Molina’s work before I transition into it.

**Interestingly, Craig is working in this area for his next major academic work, according to his own discussion of related topics on his podcasts.

***One may hold that a possible world is merely the starting conditions of a world, but I do not see how that distinction could be made coherently. That is, I’m not convinced that a set of possible worlds would not include the entire history of the possible world. Moreover, any who would argue that God has comprehensive knowledge of the future would have to grant that God’s creative act would entail the history of the entire [possible] world.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Consolation of Counterfactuals: The Molinism of Boethius

Whence comes this powerful understanding
That all things sees and all discerns?
…This is a cause more powerful
More forceful and effectual
Than that which passively awaits… (Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book V, section IV)

Molinism is holds that God has counterfactual knowledge of every situation. What this boils down to is that God knows conditional statements for every possible situation, such that God knows statements like “If J.W. has free time, then he will read.”

One prominent challenge to molinism is the notion that such counterfactuals about future choices cannot exist or that God simply couldn’t know them. I was startled as I read Boethius’ (480-525 AD) work, The Consolation of Philosophy, to see that he had anticipated this objection and provided the outline of an answer to it about 1500 years ago.

Boethius wrote the work as a dialog between himself and Philosophy, a woman who represented, well, philosophy. The last book focuses upon God’s foreknowledge and human freedom.

Writing as philosophy, Boethius states

All those things which happen without happening of necessity are, before they happen, future events about to happen, but not about to happen of necessity… But this, you will say, is the very point in question–whether there can be any foreknowledge of things whose occurrence is not inevitable. (Book V, section IV)

Again, it was amazing to see that Boethius had anticipated an objection to molinism–a system of theological thought which hadn’t been conceived fully yet (and wouldn’t be for about 1100 years!)–and provided an answer. The objection was seen above: many modern philosophers and theologians contend that God could not know that which is not necessitated to happen.

Yet Boethius answers the problem in a unique way:

The cause of this mistake [believing that God couldn’t know things that will not happen by necessity] is that people think that the totality of their knowledge depends on the nature and capacity to be known of the objects of knowledge. But this is all wrong. Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature, but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing. (Book V, section IV)

Before developing this argument, it is important to note that it rests squarely within Boethius’ later reflection upon the eternity of God–a being who has “the complete, simultaneous, and perfect possession of everlasting life” (Book V, section VI). Because Boethius holds that God is eternal in this sense–timeless–he can reasonably hold that God’s capacity to know is not limited by temporal constrictions.

Thus, we get back to the nature of his response to the counterfactual objection to molinism. Boethius, holding that God is eternal and therefore not limited by time, grounds the knowledge of counterfactuals not in their own inherent ability to be known or not known, but rather in the ability of the knower to know them.

It is worth emphasizing how radical and powerful this response is to the modern argument against molinism. If God is indeed timeless in the sense Boethius presses, then God would have access to the entirety of time as far as knowledge and action are concerned. Thus, by grounding knowledge not in the objects of knowledge themselves but in the capacity of the knower, Boethius grounded counterfactual knowledge.

Objection

Now, modern opponents of molinism would take this in stride and argue either against the contention that God is timeless or against the contention that knowledge is based in the capacity of the knower rather than the known. Exploring either of these objections is beyond the scope of this post, but it is worth noting that Boethius’ rebuttal to the problem of counterfactual knowledge works if both of his contentions are true. The question is, of course, whether they are.

A Final Objection and Response

Another way to attack Boethius’ defense of God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is to argue that even if it is the case that God is eternal and that His knowledge is grounded in the knower rather than the known, then it still would only mean that God knows what will happen, not what would happen if something were to happen. In other words, one could hold that Boethius’ answer doesn’t actually apply to counterfactual knowledge.

It seems possible, however, to modify Boethius’ defense to counter this argument as well. One could note that because God is eternal, any event that would happen, God would know about it. In other words, if x were z instead, then God’s knowledge would simply be z instead of x. This response turns the counterfactual into a counterfactual about God’s knowledge rather than about freedom. The response offered turns the question from whether God could know that “If x, then y” about John Smith into a question of “If z instead of x, then God knows z.”

Conclusion

It seems clear to me that there is much to develop yet in the objections and responses offered above. The last critique offered and my response certainly opens a number of areas of inquiry. However, for now it seems clear that Boethius has offered a unique way to look at the problem of counterfactual knowledge. Whether his perspective is correct remains a matter for further inquiry.

Boethius offered a unique and stirring defense of molinism over a thousand years before it was fully articulated by Luis de Molina. It is worth looking into his answer, even if it fails, simply for the foresight it provided. But Boethius’ work is known as an astounding discussion of divine eternity as well, among other things. Thus, I encourage readers to look into his short work, The Consolation of Philosophy. Who knows, you may even find the consolation of counterfactuals therein.

Edition Used: For this post I used the Penguin Classics edition of The Consolation of Philosophy (New York: Penguin, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Salvation and Sovereignty: The Molinist Approach” by Kenneth Keathley

Molinism is a topic hotly debated in theological circles. There have been several books on the topic published just in the past few years, which, for a topic of analytic theology, is extraordinary. Kenneth Keathley’s work, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach focuses on the theological usefulness of molinism.

Keathley’s central position is that the Calvinistic “TULIP” (Total depravity; Uncondtiional election; Limited atonement; Irresistible grace; Perseverance of the saints) is the incorrect approach to salvation. Instead, he endorses the “ROSES” approach (Radical depravity; Overcoming grace; Sovereign election; Eternal life; Singular redemption).

The contrast is laid out in detail through the book, but to sum up, Keathley provides a comparison in the introduction. Radical depravity allows for free will while still emphasizing the fallen nature of people. Overcoming grace emphasizes “God’s beckoning that overcomes our wicked obstinacy” (3-4); sovereign election is the affirmation that God desires salvation of all; eternal life is to note that believers “enjoy a transformed life that is preserved and we are given a faith which will remain” (4); finally, singular redemption emphasizes that Christ’s atonement is not limited to the elect (4).

Keathley seeks to wed these concepts of salvation and sovereignty with the analytic theological concept of molinism. Molinism, Keathley argues, is a “middle way between Calvinism and Arminianism” (7). Molinists can affirm that God controls all things, that “man does not contribute to his salvation,” that the believer is eternally secure in Christ; further, they can affirm that “God is not the author of sin” that “God desires the salvation of all,” and that “At crucial times, humans have the ability to choose” (7).

Keathley then turns to a defense of molinism. Here, he touches briefly on some of the philosophical aspects of the molinist account. There are three “moments” of God’s knowledge: natural knowledge, middle knowledge, and free knowledge. These are not to be understood as temporal moments but rather moments of logical priority. The first moment, natural konwledge, is God’s knowledge of all possibilities. God’s middle knowledge is the knowledge of everything that “would” happen in given circumstances. Between this “moment” and the next,  God chooses a world to actualize. Finally, God’s free knowledge is that knowledge of everything that will happen, given the created world (17). Keathley distinguishes these moments as “could” (natural knowledge), “would” (middle knowledge), and “will” (free knowledge) (17-18).

Next, the Biblical account is expounded. Before going into depth with individual verses, Keathley argues that the Bible teaches that God exhaustively knows all things (including the future), that God is holy and righteous and does not cause sin, and that humans do have freedom–contingent choices are placed before people (20). Keathley then turns to exegetical studies of various aspects of God’s knowledge and human freedom. First, he argues that God has exhaustive knowledge of all things (including the future),  meticulous providential control, freedom, and righteousness (20ff). He then turns to a defense of the notion of human freedom in the Bible through a study of “contingent choices” put before people. He draws on both Old and New Testament examples to make his case. [In the interest of length I’ll not go through these arguments, but I would like to note that he utilizes over 30 separate verses in the first two pages of the Biblical evidence sections alone.]

The second chapter covers a side topic: Does God desire salvation for all people? Here, Keathley outlines 4 major positions regarding this. First, there is universalism–all are saved; second, there is double predestination–God chooses who will be saved and who will be reprobate; third, God has two wills–a revealed will in which God desires salvation and a decretive will in which, for unknown reasons, He passes over some; fourth, God has a consequent and antecedent will–“God antecedently desires that all be saved, but He consequently wills that faith is a condition to salvation” (42-43).  Keathley argues that the fourth option is the most defensible (43ff).

Next, Keathley turns his work towards a specific defense of the “ROSES” position discussed above. This defense encompasses the rest of the book.

Radical depravity is a rejection of determinism along with an affirmation that humans are in bondage to sin and fallen (63). Keathley endoreses “soft libertarianism,” which affirms that people’s characters can determine the range of choices, but also that they are the “origin and source of their choices” and that they are genuinely free to reject or choose specific actions (70ff).

Overcoming grace holds that while grace is monergistic–God is the only worker in salvation, it is resistible. “God’s grace is truly offered and available. The difference between the saved and the lost is the continued rebellion of the unbeliever” (105). This is an “ambulatory” model, which basically means that God is drawing all people to Him at all times, such that the only way to not be saved is to resist belief in Him.

Keathley holds “sovereign election” in which “God ordains the salvation of the elect but only permits the damnation of the reprobate” (142). Keathley follows this chapter with “Eternal Life” in which he argues that believers can feel certainty about their salvation. Finally, “Singular Redemption” is the notion that “redemption is provided for all, but applied only to those who believe” (194). This reflects the “penal substitutionary atonement” view (ibid). Thus, God provides salvation to all who believe, and applies it to those who do.

Salvation and Sovereignty is not unique simply because of its emphasis on the theological utility of molinism. The book is also written at a level that general readership will find accessible. Considering the extreme nuances and significant philosophical groundwork which must go into an explication of molinism, Keathley does a simply phenomenal job making the concept accessible to readers who are not philosophically trained.

However, it should be noted that because of this simplification, several of the philosophical issues related to molinism drop off. Not only that, but it seems that Keathley is operating under very slightly different views of what molinism entails. For example he states that molinism is a kind of “compatibilism” (5). This is false for most molinists, because most molinists defend libertarian freedom in conjunction with God’s foreknowledge. Thus, it is not compatibilism but libertarianism. Finally, many philosophical objections to molinism are left untouched. Due to the focus of the book, however, these seem minor flaws for the overall work.

Keathley’s work is exciting in many ways. It brings the molinist discussion to a more general readership. It provides a significant challenge to theological determinism. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, it provides an account which shows the theological fruitfulness of the concept of middle knowledge. Readers interested in any of these topics should immediately get the book and read it. For those who have engaged with molinism on a philosophically developed level, it provides an interesting account of how to apply those studies to a theological framework. For those who know little or nothing about molinism, it provides an excellent introduction. While readers may not agree with all of Keathley’s theological positions, his work will challenge and inform anyone who reads it. It comes highly recommended.

Source:

Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,650 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason