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What is Next to middle-knowledge?

This post follows on from the previous post entitled “What is Next to election?” I recommend reading it prior to reading this one, as it contains some explanation of terms necessary to fully comprehending the following part. This is about Molinism – the doctrine of middle knowledge, that seeks to provide a way in which divine sovereignty and human freedom can fit together, side-by-side, without bending the other out of shape, and outlines various applications including for the doctrine of election.

Chris Johnson dodges bullets by knowing what would happen if he walks at the gunman. This picture visualises his knowledge of these counterfactuals he perceived prior to his choose the alternative route.

The film provides many visual explanations of how having such knowledge can works out. In the following clip Chris is escaping the assassins who are trying to kill him while avoiding the mechanical avalanche he arranged. At the end he meets Agent Ferris, played by Julianne Moore, on the road. She sees her life is in immanent danger, but also has the presence of mind to see Chris Johnson’s dilemma: escape at the cost of her own life, or save her at the cost of his freedom. She asks with a hint of incredulity, “You’re gonna let me die?” At once trusting in his ability to save her and asking to be saved. A good man, Chris saves her from certain death. In the process however he hits his head, allowing him to be taken into custody while dazed. We know he must have known prior to saving her that pain and his own capture would be the result, yet he chose this option: pain and imprisonment in order to save her life. While Agent Ferris is cuffing him on the side of the road, she says “No good deed goes unpunished,” – an important line for the film. Chris here is like Christ, voluntarily choosing to undergo suffering to save the life of another another. Watch it here.

A another example where we can see a profitable parallel is in the climax of the “hostage rescue scene.” Liz Cooper has been dragged around a factory at gunpoint captive to the villain Mr. Smith, played by Thomas Kretschmeann. In pursuit are Chris and Agent Ferris. Eventually they corner him and there is a standoff, Liz being used a human shield with a gun to her head. Johnson tells her everything is going to be all right, and tells Mr. Smith “I’ve seen every possibility here, and none of them are good for you.” Smith sneers unbelievingly. Chris advances, dodging the bullets as Smith empties his clip, until they are face to face, to tell him “You have one way out of this.” When Smith shifts his position he has his gun shot out of his hand by Agent Ferris. “That wasn’t it,” Chris replies as Mr. Smith is shot between the eyes. You can see the clip below. If you don’t want to spoil the movie for yourself, stop the video when he says “It’s over,” and the scene changes.

On close inspection there is a dilemma here. One moment he says, “I’ve seen every possibility and none are good for you.” And in the next he says, “You have one way out this.” Which statement is Mr Smith to believe? The one that gives him hope or the one that says there is none? If there is one way out, then there is an option available to him that is good for him. On the assumption that both statements were true and Chris was not lying, the only way to reconcile both statements is to understand that Chris Johnson not only knows all the counterfactuals involved, but also the subset of counterfactuals that involve Mr. Smith’s choices and his own choice to ensure Liz was rescued.

I will explain utilising possible world semantics. Chris comprehended all relevant possible worlds and understood that there was only one where Mr. Smith survived. He knew for instance the counterfactual indicative, “If Mr. Smith surrenders now, then he will live.” Thus when Chris says, “You have one way out this,” that was true. But Chris must also have known the narrower selection of possible worlds that Mr. Smith would actualise with his choices. He must have known for instance the counterfactual subjunctive, “If Mr. Smith is left to his own devices and I cannot persuade him to surrender, he would choose an action that results in his own death.” Thus, when Chris says, “I’ve seen every possibility and none are good for you,” that also was true.

Knowing both of these, Chris therefore manoeuvred Mr Smith into one of the feasible worlds where Liz survived her encounter with the terrorist.

Middle knowledge

This understanding of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in the subjunctive mood was utilised by Luis de Molina, the French Jesuit and counter-reformer, to settle what he saw to be the chief issue of the reformation: the sovereignty of God and the freedom of human persons. He was concerned to develop a sophisticated philosophical reconciliation of the two understandings, and thus proposed scientia media – middle knowledge. This Middle Knowledge was so called because it was specific knowledge logically subsequent to his natural knowledge and prior to his free knowledge. Natural knowledge was called such because it is essential to his being, and includes all possibilities known antecedently and by necessity. Free knowledge is that which God would know if he were to create any state of affairs. This knowledge is therefore contingent to his being – he didn’t have to know these things to be true. Middle knowledge is that,

“…by which, in virtue of the most profound and inscrutable comprehension of each free will, He saw in His own essence what each such will would do with its innate freedom were it to be placed in this or in that or, indeed, in infinitely many orders of things – even though it would really be able, if it so willed, to do the opposite.”[1]

Hence, everything that happens does happen by God’s decree, but God takes into account how people would freely respond in various circumstances in decreeing which circumstance and which persons to create in the first place.

Now Calvinists and Arminians all agree that God knows the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. They just disagree where such knowledge is placed in the logical sequence. But if, as Molina proposed, God has the knowledge of these counterfactuals between his natural and free knowledge, then this provides a harmonious reconciliation to the understandings of divine sovereignty and providence with human freedom. As one theologian puts it,

“It is up to God whether we find ourselves in a world in which we are predestined, but it is up to us whether were predestined in the world in which we find ourselves.”[2]

Applications of middle knowledge

In relation to the doctrine of election the logical order of God’s decrees on a Molinistic framework would be;

  1. God’s decree to have a love relationship with the maximal number of free beings throughout all eternity.
  2. God’s decree to actualise the maximal number of free beings who will freely accept Christ.
  3. God’s decree to actualise the minimal number of free beings who will freely reject Christ in order to bring about #2.
  4. God’s decree to actualise the possible world that is the greatest possible way to achieve the greatest possible world – which is #1.

The benefits of such an understanding applied to the doctrine of election are as such. This means the efficient cause of the elect we can say are the free choice of the individual responding to a genuine general call of salvation. The moving cause would be God’s loving desire to save the maximal amount of free people. Thus, reprobate are damned on the basis of their choice not to accept Christ or on what their choice would have been if they had received the gospel message, and not on the basis of God’s failure to elect them through his effectual call (on Calvinism), nor on his inability to persuade (on Arminianism). The instrumental cause would be any method so chosen by God consistent with nature and over-arching plan.

Molinism has excellent applicability to other troublesome areas of theology. It provides the solution to the soteriological problem of evil, otherwise known as the problem of the unevangelised.[3] As Paul seems to indicate in his sermon at the Areopagus,(Acts 17:26), God could have so providentially ordered the world such that those whom he knew who would not respond even had they heard the good-news, would not hear it. It also provides a motivation for missions, for God, knowing who would freely respond from eternity to the gospel if they heard it, could providentially order the world such that those people would be in the path of those who would help spread it if they were so instructed (see Mark 16:15). Thus, it is up to us to evangelise, and it up to God to know prior to our evangelising and order the world so those actions prove fruitful. This also provides motivation for prayer, for God, knowing you would pray for something, could arrange for it – if in his plan – logically subsequent but chronologically prior to you praying. Molinism can assure us that the amount of evil and suffering in the world is the right balance to achieve for the maximal knowledge of God. It provides a philosophical understanding of the coherence of the verbal, plenary doctrine of inspiration.[4] The theological benefits are overwhelming.

William Lane Craig notes that Molinism need only be possible to establish the coherence of Christian theism, but concludes,

“Indeed, the account which middle knowledge affords of God’s providence is so compelling and intellectually satisfying, as well as biblically unobjectionable, that I am inclined to regard the doctrine as true.”[5]

Footnotes:

  1. Luis de Molina, On divine Foreknowledge (Part IV of the Concordia), trans. Alfred J. Freddose (Ithaca, N. Y.: Correll University Press, 1988), Disputation 52, par. 9.
  2. Willaim Lane Craig, “Middle Knowledge and Christian Exclusivism.” Sophia 34 (1995): 120-139.
  3. Idib.
  4. William Lane Craig, “‘Men Moved By The Holy Spirit Spoke From God’ (2 Peter 1.21): A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Biblical Inspiration,” Philosophia Christi NS 1 (1999): 45-82.
  5. William Lane Craig, Divine Foreknowledge and human freedom, The Coherence of Theism: Omniscience (New York, N.Y.: E. J. Brill, 1991) p. 278.

Bibliography:

  • Beilby James K. and Paul R. Eddy. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Dovers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2001.
  • Basinger, David and Randall Basinger, eds. Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Dovers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2001.
  • Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1986.
  • Shank, Robert. Elect in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election. Springfield: Westcott, 1970.
  • Hasker, William. God, Time and Knowledge. New York: Cornell University Press, 1989.
  • Thiessen, Henry C. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.
  • Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946.
  • Gonzalez, Justo L. History of Christian Thought. Vol. 3. Nashville: Abington Press, 1975.
  • Craig, William Lane. “Middle Knowledge and Christian Exclusivism.” Sophia 34 (1995): 120-139.
  • Craig, William Lane. Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom, The Coherence of Theism: Omniscience. New York: Brill, 1991.
  • Craig, William Lane. “How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God.” Reasonable Faith. Cited 26 Oct 2009. Online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5347
  • Craig, William Lane. “‘Men Moved By The Holy Spirit Spoke From God’ (2 Peter 1.21): A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Biblical Inspiration.” Philosophia Christi NS 1 (1999): 45-82.
  • Laing, John D. “Middle Knowledge” No Pages. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Cited 2009. Online: http://www.iep.utm.edu/middlekn/
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