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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Molinism in a nutshell

Luis Molina

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of the free choices that we individuals would make if we were put into a given situation. For example, imagine that I decide to go out for ice cream tonight and I am given the choice of chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Given God’s knowledge of me and these exact circumstance God knows that in this situation I will would pick chocolate over vanilla. My choice might very well be vanilla in a different situation, but God knows what my choices will be in these situations as well.

God possesses a seemingly infinite array of knowledge of an infinite number of different scenarios. Since each choice we make might be different in a different situation there are a wide variety of different scenarios that God knows. Together all these choices come within a seemingly infinite number of possible worlds. There are possible worlds where I freely choose to go out for ice cream tonight and other possible worlds where circumstances are different and perhaps I choose not to go out for ice cream.

According to the theology known as Molinism God freely chose one of these possible worlds out of a seemingly infinite possible number of choices. God knew just what would happen and what we would freely choose in this world. So, God freely chose to create this world out of all of his possibilities. God thus predestined and foreknew all that would happen in the sense that God created a world in which all possible choices were known by him in advance. In this way, the Molinist would claim to have the best of all worlds (pardon the pun!) by combining several very important theological themes that often seem to contradict one another:
1 – That human beings have the freedom of choice.
2 – That God foreknows these choices.
3 – That God freely chose exactly what world this would be.

The most common objection to this theological system seems to be the so-called “grounding objection.” In a nutshell, this objection calls into question whether a choice can truly be free if it is known ahead of time. In other words, no one (God included) can know my choice of vanilla or chocolate until I make the choice. If a choice is determined ahead of time, then it is not free.

Matthew 11:23 seems to be one biblical example of Middle Knowledge. Here we have Jesus saying that if certain miracles had been performed in Sodom then they would have repented. This seems to indicate that Jesus knew what the free choice of individuals would have been if circumstances were different.

My reaction to Molinism and Middle Knowledge is somewhat favorable. As mentioned above it seems to make sense of key theological themes that are often held in tension. The Matt. 11 passage also seems to lend some support to this view. Furthermore, I do not believe a choice is any less free if it is known ahead of time, so I do not buy into the Grounding Objection. (Although I do recognize that it is a good objection if you are an Indeterminist, however I have always had stronger inclinations toward Determinism, myself.)

The one problem with this neat and tidy system for me is simply the fact that it is so neat and tidy. The Scriptures seem to consistently defy systems by presenting counter examples of a God who just plain meddles with things! God, at times seems to override the free will of humanity in order to accomplish his purposes:
Deuteronomy 2:30 tells of how King Shihon refused to let Israel pass through, but God “made his heart stubborn.”
In 2 Samuel 24:1 God “incites” David to take a census.
The Exodus account tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

The above are just a few examples off of the top of my head, but there seems to be a biblical motif (theme) that God acts on the wills of people in order to get done what he needs to do. Essentially, then I would want to reserve the right for God to sovereignly act in a unilateral way and override the will of human beings. As Creator God this is his prerogative and his right. We might not like it, but this seems to be the nasty truth.

Molinist links of interest:
Some links of William Lane Craig on Divine Omniscience. (Craig is the leading proponent of Molinism):
Alfred Freddoso:
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Middle Knowledge:
Molinism dot com:
“The Heresy of Middle Knowledge”:


john doyle said...

What happens if, instead of choosing just one among all imaginable worlds, God lets a multitude of possible worlds run simultaneously? You get a sense reading the Gospels that two worlds are juxtaposed: "the world" and "the Kingdom." I have a sense that I see the world differently from others not just because my vision is off but because I occupy a slightly different reality. In some realities secret prisons for holding and torturing alleged terrorists is a good thing; in other realities it's a bad thing. Maybe, through the juxtaposition of multiple realities, emergent possibilities arise that even God couldn't have anticipated.

Jonathan Erdman said...

K -
I'm starting to feel like I'm Neo from The Matrix!

john doyle said...


Jonathan Erdman said...

I posted "Molinism in a nutshell" over at Tweb and a very interesting discussion followed:

The discussion is on the more technical side with some excellent thoughts and a few perceived corrections to my summary.

Tweb (theologyweb.com) is a theology discussion message board. I post there under the alias "Spiderman&Co."

Steven Carr said...

'Given God’s knowledge of me and these exact circumstance God knows that in this situation I will would pick chocolate over vanilla. My choice might very well be vanilla in a different situation, but God knows what my choices will be in these situations as well.'

This seems fair to me. I'm curious to know who could possibly dispute that.

Let me list some of the exact circumstances which exist when I make the choice.

Circumstance 1
1) I have a choice between vanilla and chocolate and there is a God who knows I will choose vanilla.

Circumstance 2
2) I have a choice between vanilla and chocolate and there is a God who knows I will choose chocolate.

You write that in one set of circumstances I will choose vanilla, but in a different set of circumstances I would choose chocolate.

Who can deny that set of circumstances 1 are different to set of circumstances 2, and that you did indeed freely choose chocolate rather than vanilla, and that God knew that your choice would be chocolate?

It all seems pretty obvious to me, bordering on tautological, that if we consider the *exact* circumstances in which we make our choices, then God clearly knows what our free choices will be, in each of the bewildering number of possible sets of circumstances that could exist.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Mr. Carr,
I think I would lean a bit closer to your view. Molinism does, most certainly have its fair share of detractors - those who don't find it as compelling. It reminds me of the civil war soldier who put on grey Confederate pants and a blue, Union coat in hopes that he would be universally loved by all armies. Unfortunately things didn't go as planned for the poor soldier and both sides ended up shooting at him!

Here is a general review of some objections from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The principle objection to middle knowledge in Molina's day was that it afforded creatures such a high view of freedom that God's providence was compromised. Although Molina’s detractors were certainly motivated by political concerns, the strength of their theological and philosophical arguments cannot be denied. Today, this form of argument normally takes one of two forms. First, some theologians/philosophers have objected to the assumption that God cannot will the free actions of creatures. This argument will often be based on an appeal to mystery or the transcendence of God. God, it is said, works on a plane above that of creatures, and therefore can will an action of an individual while not impinging on his freedom. Second, and more commonly, some have objected to the concept of libertarian freedom and instead advocate compatibilist freedom. Whereas libertarian freedom is seen as the ability to choose between competing alternatives, compatibilist freedom is seen as the ability to choose in accordance with one's desires. It is argued that libertarian freedom is radically indeterministic or even incoherent—if one's desires are not determinative for his decision, then it appears that no decision can be made. (http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/middlekn.htm#SH3a)

The second type of objection to Molinism is really an attack on the belief, fundamental to the doctrine of middle knowledge, in counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Many scholars have called into question the possibility that counterfactuals of creaturely freedom can be true. Various approaches have been taken to make this claim, from questioning the principle of conditional excluded middle, to arguing that true counterfactuals require determinism, to contending that counterfactuals of creaturely freedom have nothing which makes them true. (http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/middlekn.htm#SH3b)

The third major objection to middle knowledge is similar to the second in that it deals with the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Several forms of this argument have been proffered, but in its most basic form, it claims that the priority inherent in the Molinist system creates a problem for the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom—the verdict is that Molinist is either viciously circular, or counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are not true soon enough to aid God's creative decision.

IntelligentFaith said...

I'm not sure you are being fair to Molinism in your account. Your description of "middle knowledge" doesn't seem distinct from natural knowledge. Non-molinists are perfectly fine accepting that God knows and "determines" (whether softly and indirect or strongly and direct) all future free contingencies. If someone is going to embrace molinism he/she needs to be aware of how the grounding objection raises questions about the how such a category/realm/dimension/set of rules can exist which are not grounded in God's being or action, hence they fall outside the domain of God's sovereignty and independence. After all, aren't the only things in existence creation and God? But if CCF's are independent of God's determination (he doesn't make them what they are, he chooses which one's to actualize) then they are uncreated, but since they are not ENTIRELY reducible to God's nature or will then they are not subsumed by God's nature. Hence we are talking about a third category of reality--not God, not creation, but another coeternal set of counterfactuals that are true independent of God and which God consults to do his work. This does not sound like classical theism anymore. Am I right?

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Troy said...

I do not believe William Lane Craig is born-again.

Jonathan Erdman said...


My access to youtube is limited.

Why do you say that Craig is not born again?

And do you think such a thing effects his theology?

Jonathan Erdman said...


I have not yet had the chance to view the youtube video, but I do want to say that I heard Craig speak in person a few years back and give his testimony of faith. I was quite impressed by his authenticity and sincerity. He inspired me to view intellectual/academic pursuits as acts of faith and love.

Troy said...

For the simple reason he thinks he could lose salvation tomorrow. I don't know that god, for I was not saved by that god. That would be salvation lost by works so it must have been gained by works. But we are not saved by works but by faith.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Thanks for getting back to me.

I will listen to the youtube video when I can. In the meantime, I'm a bit skeptical. From what I know of William Lane Craig, I find it difficult to believe that he does not believe in salvation by faith. I don't see eye to eye with Craig on many philosophical issues, but I've always respected him as a person and his presentation of the Gospel as he uses evidential arguments for the existence of God. He always does so with extreme insightfulness, humility, and deep deep grace. Many many people have reconsidered their atheist or agnostic positions after hearing some of Craig's arguments. I'm not an evidentialist like Craig, but I have always appreciated his approach and his demeanor.

Troy said...

I was drawn to Craig for the same reason, with strong arguments for the existence of God and Jesus being God, but spiritual life is not what people commonly think it is. Spiritual life is regeneration of the spirit, not arguments of the outerman. If you can lose your salvation tomorrow is that salvation by faith? Should you respect his teaching of a false salvation? as would convince many falsey. Though I respect Craig's delivery for most of his arguments of proof, I don't respect his reasoning when it comes to his belief he can lose salvation tomorrow. I see how he misreads the Scriptures each and every time. I truly believe Craig has many talents, but they are misused if he is still an unregenerate not trusting in the God who saves once-saved-always-saved. Pray on this.

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