Is Molinism Biblical?
Dr. Craig responds to a critique by the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry regarding Molinism.
KEVIN HARRIS: Is Molinism biblical? If you are still not sure what Molinism is, we have lots of resources at ReasonableFaith.org – some writings, some podcasts. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris.
My dear friend Matt Slick of CARM (Christian Apologetics Research Ministry) doesn’t think that Molinism is biblical. Matt is more of the Calvinist persuasion. We are going to look at an article today on CARM that Matt wrote in response to Molinism. Again, Matt is a good friend of mine. I’ve been in his home; stayed with his family. He’s had me speak at a couple of conferences. We’ve been friends for years. I want to tell you a quick story. During the mid-90s when the Internet was growing and still kind of new Matt had the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry (CARM) website. There were some titanic battles on the CARM boards on every topic imaginable. There were some popular atheist websites as well – the Internet Infidels. We would go over there to their boards. They would come over to CARM. We would go at it tooth and nail sometimes. I learned a lot about apologetics and philosophy and every topic under the sun, and also forged some lifelong friendships, not only among Christian apologists and philosophers but among atheists and agnostics. Those friendships were forged and are still around today. Some of my good friends I met online during those apologetics battles back in the mid-90s. A few years ago Matt was able to go full-time with CARM and CARM.org is still there. Internet Infidels are still there. But now there are thousands of websites on both sides of the issues. I just have to tell you, Dr. Craig, I look back on those days with a lot of affection.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I think this is a great illustration of how Calvinists and Arminians and Molinists can all work together in a common cause. We can agree to disagree about certain non-essential issues and yet still support and applaud each other’s efforts to defend the faith.
KEVIN HARRIS: I was up all night typing these written debates. My wife nearly left me; my dog ran away. He begins an article at CARM.org:
According to Molinism, Middle Knowledge is the knowledge that God has about any free will choice any person might make at any time, in any circumstance.
DR. CRAIG: That’s not quite right. It is very important, as he himself recognizes, that the knowledge that God has about how people would freely choose in different circumstances be logically prior to his decree to create a world. Up until the modern era all theologians believed that God had knowledge of what people would do in different circumstances including Matt Slick. The question is when does he know it, so to speak? Does he know it logically prior to his decree to create a world, or does he know it only logically posterior to his decree? Does he himself decree how persons will act in any circumstance he places them in? Is there a kind of divine determinism that Christians have to affirm? Or are God’s choices of which world to actualize guided by his logically prior knowledge of how people would choose in different circumstances? The alternative that God knows them logically prior to his decree would be a Molinist position. The position that God knows them only logically posterior to his decree would be a Thomist or a Calvinist position.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He says,
This means that God’s knowledge about people is contingent on human free will choices in a libertarian sense. This is called middle knowledge because it is in between what is called God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge. Natural knowledge is where God knows all things that are possible and logically necessary. Free knowledge is the knowledge that God naturally has due to his omnipresence so that he exhaustively knows all things that exist.
DR. CRAIG: Again, that’s not quite right. God’s free knowledge is the knowledge that he has of the actual world whether past, present, or future logically posterior to his decree to create a certain world. It is not due to his omnipresence. I find it odd that he says that. It is simply the result of his decree to create a certain world and his knowing how different persons would freely choose in various circumstances. So free knowledge just sort of falls out as a consequence of middle knowledge and the divine decree.
KEVIN HARRIS: He continues on the second page:
Libertarian free will is the freedom that an unbeliever has to make uncoerced, self-generating choices that are not completely incapacitated by his fallen nature. These choices, in particular, the act of receiving Christ, are made possible by God’s prevenient grace, which when applied to an unbeliever’s life, will result in the unbeliever’s ability to choose to receive Christ or not. This foreseen knowledge of choice made by the unbeliever, which is possessed by God eternally, is called God’s Middle Knowledge. Therefore, God’s middle knowledge depends upon what he foresees people will choose to do under different circumstances . . .
DR. CRAIG: Again, that’s not quite right. I don’t want to be pedantic but it is important that we get this correct or it will result in confusion. It is not correct to say that God’s middle knowledge depends on what he foresees people will do. That would be foreknowledge – simple foreknowledge. Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what people would do freely in any set of circumstances, and those people may never exist. God may decide not to create a world in which those people are real. So middle knowledge is not based in any way upon foreseeing what people will do. That’s foreknowledge, not middle knowledge.
The Molinist certainly does want to affirm libertarian free will in the sense that the unbeliever can make these uncoerced self-generating choices, but that doesn’t mean that the Molinist thinks that this person is not incapacitated by sin. He could well think that the person is incapacitated by sin but there is a kind of healing, prevenient grace given by the Holy Spirit that can help to remedy the natural man’s resistance to spiritual things and bring him to a point where he can either acquiesce in that drawing of the Holy Spirit to God or he can further resist it.
KEVIN HARRIS: He goes into the next section: “Is middle knowledge biblical?”
DR. CRAIG: And here he expresses his reservations about it. In this section it is important to characterize correctly my position. He quotes me as saying that the content of God’s middle knowledge is not essential to God. That is to say, God could have had different middle knowledge than what he does have. Since creatures could choose differently than they would, God could have different middle knowledge in terms of its content. But then he characterizes this by saying that, Dr Craig says that God’s middle knowledge is not essential to God. That is apt to engender misunderstanding. I do think that it is essential to God to have middle knowledge, but it is the content of the middle knowledge, which is not essential to God. I’m going to say later that I think even Matt is committed to saying that not all of the content of God’s knowledge is essential to God. The reason he thinks that this is troubling that the content of God’s middle knowledge is not essential to God is he says,
So, now we have things happening in the universe outside of God’s sovereign control . . . how is anything that occurs in a universe that God created and which all things work after the counsel of his will, be outside of his control.
I think that objection is misplaced because it is precisely middle knowledge that gives God sovereign control of a world of free creatures. For the Calvinist, God can only providentially control a world in which there is no libertarian free will. He can only control a world by determining unilaterally everything that happens. The Molinist, I think, has a more exalted view of God’s sovereignty and providence because the Molinist holds that God can control a world of free creatures by knowing how they would freely choose in various circumstances and then deciding to create certain people and put them in those circumstances so that he can actualize that situation without having to unilaterally determine it himself. So I would categorically reject that there are things happening in the universe that are outside God’s sovereign control. On the contrary, it’s middle knowledge that gives him that sovereign control.
“The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him [God] are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.” (William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-and-the-soteriological-problem-of-evil-once-more)
That image there of God having to play the hand he has been dealt. It seems that would be disturbing to people.
DR. CRAIG: The import of this metaphor of playing the hand you’ve been dealt is to say that God doesn’t determine unilaterally everything that happens, that there are truths about how people would freely choose under different situations. The image here is of a deck of cards in which different counterfactuals are on these cards, and God has a hand of the cards that are the true counterfactuals of freedom. This is contingent because different counterfactuals of freedom could have been different. Creatures could choose differently in the same circumstances. They are not unilaterally determined by God. Were they to choose differently in these different circumstances then God would be holding a different set of cards. So God now plays with the cards that he’s been dealt. But in no way is this meant to imply that there are actual entities or things outside of God that he has to deal with. This is simply an illustration of the fact that the truth value of these counterfactuals of freedom is not unilaterally determined by God, that libertarian freedom is truly possible.
KEVIN HARRIS: I knew exactly what you meant by that when I read it! [laughter]
DR. CRAIG: Oh good!
KEVIN HARRIS: But I’ve got the advantage of having a lot of conversation with you but I also read some of your work. I knew exactly – I thought it was a great illustration.
DR. CRAIG: I love it! I think it is very good to illustrate the way in which a sovereign God works with the counterfactual choices that people would make so as to bring about his purposes.
KEVIN HARRIS: The whole thing is . . . Matt is asking whether this is biblical.
DR. CRAIG: Yes.
KEVIN HARRIS: He cites four or five scriptures here that seem to mitigate against Molinism and give a little hard predestinarian view.
DR. CRAIG: Right. He quotes a number of scriptures that affirm that God accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will. The difficulty in interpreting these passages to mean that God unilaterally determines everything that happens or could happen is that the Scripture also affirms things like God is not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance(2 Peter 3:9). Here Peter affirms that it is God’s will that no one be lost, or in other words that everyone be saved. And yet we know that that will is not accomplished. It is these passages that teach the universal salvific will of God for all persons to be saved that persuades me that Matt is wrong in quoting these passages to say that everything that happens is God’s will. God’s will takes into account how creatures would freely choose under various circumstances, and therefore there are things that happen that are contrary to God’s will including human sin and evil, and in particular (as 2 Peter 3:9 says) the fact that some people do not come to repentance and perish eternally. This is not God’s will, Peter says, and yet it happens. For that reason I think that while everything is under God’s sovereign control, that control takes account of the fact that human free decisions are not unilaterally determined by God and that therefore they sometimes do things that God does not will.
KEVIN HARRIS: I heard a theologian quote that verse the other day about God’s not willing that any of us should perish. He said God is an aspiring universalist. God would be a universalist but God knows that sadly it’s not going to happen.
DR. CRAIG: Right. So the Calvinist needs to reinterpret these passages to say it really means that God wants all types of persons to be saved but it’s not really his will that everyone be saved otherwise everyone would be saved. I think that it is a much more plausible interpretation of these passages to take them at face value.
KEVIN HARRIS: He continues:
Therefore, God’s knowledge has areas of contingency. But this makes no sense because whatever occurs does so because God has ordained it to happen.
DR. CRAIG: I find this very puzzling. Does Matt not believe that God is free to ordain differently than he has ordained? If all knowledge is essential to God then that means God could not have ordained differently than he has, and that denies divine freedom, not human freedom. So I think Matt himself, if he thinks about it, will want to affirm God’s freedom to ordain differently. That is what sovereignty means. In that case, God could have had different knowledge than what he does, and so there are areas of contingency in divine knowledge.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
Furthermore, such middle knowledge, which is based on God’s perceived libertarian free will of creatures, risks violating God’s aseity. This is the teaching that God is eternally independent, noncontingent, and self-sufficient in all that he is. But, Molinism says that God’s Middle Knowledge is contingent upon God eternally knowing foreseen, human, libertarian free will choices.
DR. CRAIG: Here I don’t think there’s any violation of divine aseity (which says that God is a self-existent being) because the Molinist can be an anti-realist about possible worlds, counterfactual propositions, and any other sort of thing that you might think to violate divine aseity. On the Molinist view it is perfectly consistent to say that everything that exists is either God or created by God and dependent upon him. So the affirmation of the possibility of libertarian freedom isn’t in any way a violation of divine aseity in the sense of God’s self existence.
KEVIN HARRIS: The conclusion. He says,
Middle knowledge is not biblical because it requires that God’s knowledge is, in some sense, contingent upon the libertarian free will choices of creatures. Therefore, God’s knowledge is not absolute in all things but is contingent upon his creation. This violates God’s aseity which is his non-contingency in all things. And, libertarian free will violates Scripture by assuming that the unbeliever is capable, under the right circumstances, of freely receiving Christ. So, middle knowledge which is based on God’s contingent knowledge libertarian free will creatures is false.
DR. CRAIG: That is just a summary, and I’ve already responded to all of those points. I think Matt himself is committed to God’s having contingent knowledge because surely Matt would want to affirm that God is free to ordain differently than he has. I don’t see any problem in affirming that God doesn’t unilaterally determine everything that happens. Indeed, I think it leads to a higher view of divine sovereignty that God can sovereignly direct and control a world of free creatures rather than just a world of puppets or marionettes whose strings he pulls. So I’m persuaded that middle knowledge is actually a better reading of Scripture than unilateral determinism.
KEVIN HARRIS: I have to say in conclusion that Molinism is really growing as a view just from my own anecdotal look at things. There is tremendous excitement about this view. For a lot of people it is the insight that they’ve been looking for in their Christian faith and Christian walk. There’s a group on Facebook – they are the most enthusiastic people. There is a Molinist group on Facebook! They are downright enthusiastic.
DR. CRAIG: I’ve received email messages or Facebook messages from listeners or readers who have testified to the revolutionary effect that this doctrine has had in their Christian lives. It has revitalized them which is just wonderful. And I think it is growing in popularity. Dean Zimmerman, a fine Christian philosopher at Rutgers University and not himself a Molinist, has said that Molinism is probably the most popular view of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human choices. That doesn’t mean it is a majority view. It might be, say, 35% but every other view is 20% or 15% or less. So it is the most popular view out there, he says, among philosophers.
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