The Molinist Speculation


WhatIfSpiderManMarried

Spider -Man marries Mary Jane

If you were a fan of super-heroes and comic books (and who isn’t) then you might remember the What If series (here is a list of them). For the few of you who don’t know what these are. They explore alternate versions of the Marvel Universe.

Our favorite web-slinger married Mary Jane. But what if Mary Jane had rejected Peter Parker’s proposal? Or what if Parker decided to cancel the wedding to protect Mary Jane? The What If story line tackles just these kinds of questions.

The philosophical idea of “middle knowledge” is credited to Luis de Molina. In this view God not only has foreknowledge of the actual future but also of all possible futures. It is similar to the Marvel What If comic series.

WhatIfSpiderManNotMarried

What If … Spider -Man had not married Mary Jane

Middle Knowledge (aka Molinism) attempts to balance libertarian free will (the ability to make a non-determined, different, choice), God’s foreknowledge, and God’s providential activity within creation.

In a simplistic description of this view God foreknows all the possible future choices that could occur. How God acquires this knowledge varies among proponents of the view, just as it does among those holding to simple foreknowledge. But, again for simplicity, God “sees” all of these possibilities “play out” in alternative “universes” where people are making decisions in accordance with libertarian free will.

What if you chose a different college, did not ask out your spouse, married a different person, moved to a different state? God has “seen” all of these different possibilities (known as counter-factuals).

Knowing all of the possible outcomes in all of the possible universes, God determines which outcome is best and actualizes that universe. For more details on this view check out the IEP article (here).

Returning to Dave Hunt’s rock-paper-scissor game, in which God and Satan are playing the game we can see how middle knowledge works. God sees the following possible worlds (for simplicity sake God always chooses rock):

World #1: Satan chooses rock

  1. God foreknows that He will pick rock at T1 (E0)
  2. God foreknows that Satan will pick rock at T2  (E0)
  3. That round ends in a tie.

World #2: Satan chooses paper

  1. God foreknows that He will pick rock at T1 (E0)
  2. God foreknows that Satan will pick paper at T2  (E0)
  3. Satan wins the game.

World #3: Satan chooses scissor

  1. God foreknows that He will pick rock at T1 (E0)
  2. God foreknows that Satan will pick scissor at T2  (E0)
  3. God wins the game.

If God wants to win the game then He actualizes World #3 and wins the game.

In viewing these multiple “universes” that means God may have seen such possibilities as

  • Adam did not eat from the forbidden tree
  • Abraham did not leave Ur
  • Pharaoh let the people go when Moses first asked
  • Saul was a good and capable leader for Israel
  • There was room of Joseph and Mary at the inn
  • Pilate decided to let Jesus go instead of Barabbas

These would all change the Biblical narrative that we are familiar with.

There are many challenges to middle knowledge. I am not going to address them in this post. However, there are two questions that jumped out at me regarding Molinism and how it relates to the Providence Problem.

The first is, related to how God would both know of a choice in advance and base His own actions on the information He knows. It seems that God could not decide how He would act based on His knowledge of future choices (possible or actual) if He knows His own action and the person’s at the same “moment”(see last post and the objection raised by Tiessen). If Tiessen’s challenge is valid, it seems that even in middle knowledge, regardless of how God acquires His advance knowledge of possibilities, He must still obtain the foreknowledge of future possible choices that could be made by people with LFW in a possible world, and act providentially in response to them. This would seem to imply that Molinism would face the same challenge as the simple foreknowledge view – how can God both foreknow a choice and simultaneously respond to that choice.

The second, is after God actualizes a particular universe what causes an agent with libertarian free will to choose in the same way that God wants? Asked another way, how does God get the possible world to turn out just the way He determined it should. In the simple view in which God knows the actual future, foreknowledge is (often) based on “seeing” what an agent will choose. The foreknowledge God has aligns with what the agent actually chooses, not the other way around. In middle knowledge there seems to be an interdependency. God is determining a world in which He wants the agent to choose X, but that choice is also supposed to be free (un-caused and contingent) at the time it occurs. It would seem that the choice must now align with the world God wants to actualize. This is one of the challenges to foreknowledge posed by those who hold to determinism or open theism.

Discover had an article that explored science’s version of middle knowledge: the Multiverse. In that article John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist and Anglican priest, had this to say about multiverses:

If you allow yourself to hypothesize an almost unlimited portfolio of different worlds, you can explain anything

When ever we are trying to understand how God foreknows we are venturing into speculative areas. Middle knowledge is certainly a rather complex and interesting philosophical idea and it certainly is speculative. Further, based on my understanding of the idea I am not sure if it solves the Providence Problem.

10 thoughts on “The Molinist Speculation

  1. Interesting science fiction. The problem is, we don’t know what we don’t know. This idea is as provable as there being infinite Earths in the universe, where God has made many Adams and has sent Jesus to die for multiple worlds. It’s not just that we don’t know what we don’t know, but the absence of this knowledge in the Bible is actually proof (in my mind) against such a hypothesis.

    It seems like the motivation of thinking this way is the belief that every person MUST have free, unbiased will to choose God, and that God can’t possibly make us do anything. I disagree. Adam had free, unbiased will to choose God. As our representative, he chose to disobey and thereby damned the rest of humanity. As fallen humans, we are born with a will that is in bondage to sin. By nature, we all choose to reject God (Romans 3:12). Everyone. Every time. 100%.

    God providentially draws us to Himself by making us born again, or regenerating us. Without being born again (surely an act of God and not of man), we can’t even see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). And 100% of those who God calls (makes alive, regenerates, gives new birth, draws to Himself) come to Him (John 6:37-39).

    Dead men have the “free” will to choose death all day long. But dead men can’t choose life, nor will they ever want to (Romans 3:11).

    God doesn’t need to “get around” the “problem” of free will. Free will was shown by Adam to result in disobedience. Free will failed. That test is long over. God made another way. His providential plan was to create a world and a race of humans that would fall and that He would redeem. That IS the plan. His plan was not thwarted by sin. He expected it. The fall, redemption for some, damnation for others — all of it glorifies Him. He doesn’t need alternate storylines. He’s the main character of this story, not us. He’s the author. All of life and existence is God’s autobiography. The story is unfolding exactly as He intended.

    • Thanks for the comment Michael.
      Just to be clear the last 4 posts on the blog have examined the major views on God’s Foreknowledge.

      1. Determinism
      2. Open Theism
      3. Simple FK
      4. Middle Knowledge

      This post is basically a part #2 to the Providence Problem – which explored the challenge that #1 and #2 pose to #3.

      BTW: I currently hold #3

      Regarding the rest of your comments, I think the key thing to keep in mind when examining God’s Foreknowledge is that are looking at how this works prior to creation. Nothing has actually happened yet. The question is how does FK impact what will happen. Is there a cause-effect at work or not? If not is FK dependent on decrees or on an agent’s actions?

      So when you say Adam had “free, unbiased will” then how did God foreknow He would choose to disobey? Was it determined (#1), unknown to God (#2), known b/c God “saw” the all of Time as one Now (#3), or just one on many possibilities (#4)?

      • So when you say Adam had “free, unbiased will” then how did God foreknow He would choose to disobey? Was it determined (#1), unknown to God (#2), known b/c God “saw” the all of Time as one Now (#3), or just one on many possibilities (#4)?

        I would say #5: God knows exactly what will happen based on his design and the impact of infinite variables on man’s decisions. He didn’t force Adam to sin (#1), but He know that if he created a being with free will, and that there were variables like sin and Satan, man would always choose sin if left to himself. When God created Adam, He knew what would happen. It’s like when someone cooks a brownie — if you put in all the ingredients and cook it for the right amount of time, you’re going to get a brownie. Some batches differ from others because of variables like fresh/non-fresh eggs, so humanly speaking, we can’t predict with certainty the outcome of our baking. But that’s not true with God. He knows every variable and knows how to manipulate every variable. So when He bakes, He knows with certainty the outcome (providence?).

        He didn’t force Adam to sin. He just knew 100% that if evil exists in the world (Satan), then someone with free will will always succumb to temptation.

        He created the story of redemption, knowing ahead of time how it would unfold by design, not foresight.

        But I could be wrong! 🙂

  2. Michael

    Here is a quick reply to some of the other things in your comment:

    For the most part we agree on a lot.

    As our representative, [Adam] chose to disobey and thereby damned the rest of humanity. As fallen humans, we are born with a will that is in bondage to sin. By nature, we all choose to reject God (Romans 3:12). Everyone. Every time. 100%.

    Agreed.

    Without being born again (surely an act of God and not of man), we can’t even see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).

    Agreed.

    Dead men have the “free” will to choose death all day long. But dead men can’t choose life

    Agreed.

    God providentially draws us to Himself

    Agreed.

    God providentially draws us to Himself by making us born again, or regenerating us.

    Here is where we disagree. I hold that God providentially draws us through “prevenient grace” and not “irresistible grace”. Regeneration follows faith and does not precede it.
    – see Grace Reaction and the Justification Transposition.

    Basically I agree with the need for God to act and enable so that people can respond in faith but am not a monergist. God calls and enables but does not make the decision for us. We can accept or resist the gift of salvation.

    It seems like the motivation of thinking this way is the belief that every person MUST have free, unbiased will to choose God

    the motivation for most non-deterministic views in theology is not to preserve FW but to remove the logical conclusion that God is responsible for the sin/evil that occurs.

    It also provides a rationale for how God could desire to save all people and yet not all be saved.

    It also removes the Reformed paradox that God offers a genuine gospel call to all people yet the gospel is only effectual for those whom God unconditionally elected.

    LFW does not require an “unbiased” choice. Nor does it mean that God does not influence us in any number of ways. We would both agree that He does. LFW also does not require the ability to do anything. It does require the ability for the agent/person to determine what they will choose and the ability to make an alternative choice when confronted with a decision.

    That includes normal everyday decisions as well as the biggest decision of all, whether one will be saved by Christ through faith.

    As a synergist I still see all of salvation as from God.

    • He graciously sent Christ to deal with the sin debt we all have through the cross.
    • He graciously chose to cancel sin debt for everyone in Christ
    • He graciously chose to redeem everyone who is in Christ.
    • He graciously chose to give new life to everyone in Christ
    • He graciously chose to indwell everyone who is in Christ.
    • He graciously offered to place us in Christ through faith.
    • He graciously gives us the grace to accept or reject being placed in Christ through faith.
  3. Mike

    (seems WordPress is limited in the number of nested replies)

    Not sure how to asses your comment on how God foreknow that Adam would choose to disobey. If God “know[s] ahead of time how it would unfold by design, not foresight” then that description sounds a lot like #1 (ie determinism). And your description aligns well with classic Calvinism and what Westminster would assert.

    Of course you don’t seem to like the causality that logically flows from that.

    When God created Adam, He knew what would happen

    Based on your description God knew because it would unfold as designed.
    Based on your description God knew but not by foresight of Adam’s FW choice.

    if God does not posses foreknowledge by foresight but by design then how does He insure that His design (aka decrees/plans) actually occur as He wants? How does He make sure “free will” agents act as He plans and wants them to?

    If you say it is like “cooking a brownie” and that “He knows every variable and knows how to manipulate every variable” then that sounds like determinism.

  4. Came across this [sometimes humorous] Doug Wilson take on causation & divine foreknowledge.

    “[Olson] says, ‘Divine foreknowledge is no more causative than human foreknowledge.’

    This misunderstands the objection entirely. If we could isolate divine foreknowledge, detaching it from God’s other attributes and actions, then this could be a reasonable point. If God’s foreknowledge were just like mine, only vast, then what is true of my foreknowledge at a given instant would be true of God’s foreknowledge at all those other instants. Fair enough. If I see a bicyclist hurtling toward a tree, I can have certain foreknowledge that he will hit that tree, and yet, because I am fifty feet away, my knowledge is in no way responsible for the collision. Why would this be different just because God can see ten bicyclists, or a thousand of them?

    The answer is that He is the Creator of these bicyclists, and His foreknowledge includes all contingent foreknowledge. Contingent upon what? Upon His decision to create. That means that He knows what will happen on Planet Xtar if He decides to create it. The decision to create is therefore causative. The decision to create is causative of all the things that the Creator knows will follow from that particular creation.

    This means that divine foreknowledge is not — as mine is — the knowledge of a mere observer. You cannot grapple with the implications of this point unless you combine two points together. God knows exhaustively what will happen in this world if He creates, and because He created it, that act of creation was a decision that willed everything contained within the bundle.

    God knows what will happen if He creates the tree and if He creates the bicyclist, and therefore the decision to create is nothing more nor less than predestination in a cheap tux.”

    http://dougwils.com/s16-theology/predestination-in-a-cheap-tux.html

    What’s your take Mike?

    • BJ:

      Interesting article/post. Thanks for sharing.

      His foreknowledge includes all contingent foreknowledge.

      if by contingent FK it means God knows everything that will happen and everything that might have happened (but will not) then that assumes too much. That is a characteristic of Middle Knowledge / Molinism that is not held/required in other views of FK.

      That possibility opens up the rather interesting question: what does it mean to FK something (there is a sea battle tomorrow in universe 2112) that never happens and thus is not real? This arguably could be put in the category of asking God to create a “square circle” and thus be considered something that is not logically possible.

      In MK, if God does have contingent knowledge of all realities and non-realities and then chooses which world to create based on this knowledge then I would agree that this is a form of determinism as the author’s quote asserts.

      The decision to create is causative of all the things that the Creator knows will follow from that particular creation. … that act of creation was a decision that willed everything contained within the bundle.

      It seems to presuppose that FK is causative. But for me the question would be how does God make sure the creatures in the world he creates act in accordance w/ what He chose if those choices are actually free? If it is truly LFW acts that God FKs then God could choose to create Xtar universe 5150 but people could freely make choices (unless constrained by external forces) to act as if it was universe 42. The act to make people act in accordance with what God saw and willed in universe 5150 would open up further questions like are the the choices actually free according to some notion of LFW. And it also opens up questions regarding the true cause of evil.

      The decision to create is therefore causative.

      But isn’t it also true that the decision to create is “causative of all the things that will follow from that particular creation” regardless of whether the Creator knows they will occur or not. Yes I know I am undoing the author’s premise for the moment.

      What I mean is that God’s decision to create Planet Xtar allows for a reality on that planet to unfold over time in which Xtarians make unneccesitated choices. The reality exists therefore decisions can be made and acted out but only because God created the planet and the Xtarians that live on it. And (I’ll assume for the moment) because God gave the Xtarians the ability to make LFW decisions.

      But does that mean God causes all that occurs on that planet? In a way, that can be true b/c the act of creation made it possible for Xtarians to have the ability to choose, and to perform activities that would not be possible otherwise. But does that mean that God causes (in a determines or pre-plans sort of way) every event that does occur on Xtar just b/c He created it?

      I think the answer is no. I am not arguing for open theism, but consider, that it could be possible for God to create Planet Xtar in such a way as to not know the future. He does not know whether the Xtarians will engage in a sea battle tomorrow or not engage in a sea battle tomorrow. In this scenario He is still the Creator and thus the cause of the reality that results. But does He cause the sea battle to occur or not occur? Absent direct intervention,again, I would argue no.

      Adding FK back onto the scenario does nothing to change that. Why? Because FK is caused by reality. The choices of Xtarians (or people) in the future are the cause of the contents that comprise the FK. So even if God knows the Xtarians will have a sea battle tomorrow it does not mean He caused it (at least not in a SFK view). It just means He knows it and permitted it.

      Now, how does God acquire such FK of future events? I don’t know.

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