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A Critique of Molinism
If God knows beforehand with absolute certainty what people will do in the future, do they really have freedom? One solution comes from Luis de Molina who was a 16th century Spanish Jesuit priest. His answer to this question is found in a system of thought called Molinism. Molina believed that God has three kinds of knowledge: natural, free, and middle. God's natural knowledge is His knowledge of all necessary truths, including all the possible worlds He might create. God's natural knowledge includes different kinds of truths such as the truths of mathematics, the laws of logic, the things that are true by definition, and so on. His natural knowledge also includes His knowledge of all possibilities.
God's free knowledge is His knowledge of all contingent truths about the actual world, which includes it past, present, and future. This kind of knowledge involves knowledge of what will be. God's free knowledge is dependent upon what God has decreed. The fact that there are eight major planets in our solar system would be an example of God's free knowledge.
God's middle knowledge is His hypothetical knowledge of what free people would do in all of the circumstances that they could be in. Moreover, God does not determine what people would do in those circumstances. According to Molinism, people have libertarian free will. God's middle knowledge consists of contingent truths that are outside of God's control and this kind of knowledge is logically prior to his creative decree. The truths about how creatures would freely choose under various circumstances are prior to and independent of God's decree. Since this type of knowledge is between natural and free knowledge it is called middle knowledge. God's middle knowledge consists of counterfactuals of freedom, which are hypothetical propositions about what would be the case if something else were the case. God knows which counterfactuals of freedom are true and which ones are false. God's middle knowledge of how people would act in various circumstances forms the basis of what God would choose, not vice versa.
Molinists claim that God's foreknowledge and human freedom are compatible with each other because God has middle knowledge. God places individuals in certain circumstances and those people choose how they will act. God knows what they would do in those circumstances, but He does not decide how they will choose. God's foreknowledge is neither the cause nor the effect of our actions. God knows that I will do X in the future because I will do X in the future- not in the sense that my future action causes God's prior knowledge, but in the sense that God's foreknowledge is logically posterior to my action. The freedom/foreknowledge dilemma is different from the freedom/determinism dilemma. Just because God has foreknowledge of everything that happens does not mean that determinism is true. One could believe that God's foreknowledge does not have any causative effect.
In this paper, I will argue that Molinism is false by giving some objections to this viewpoint and I will respond to some criticisms made against those objections. If Molinism is false, then it does not solve the freedom/foreknowledge dilemma.
The first objection that I would like to raise is called the grounding objection. The idea behind the grounding objection is that God cannot have middle knowledge because counterfactuals of freedom have no truth-value. There are no actual states of affairs to which such propositions could correspond in order to make them true or false. Here is an example of a counterfactual of freedom: If David had remained in Keilah, then Saul would have besieged the city. According to Molinism, Saul has libertarian freedom; he could choose to besiege the city or he could choose otherwise. What Saul would do is indeterminate until he actually carries out his action. If Saul is free to besiege the city or to not besiege the city, there is simply no fact of the matter to what Saul would do. I am not claiming that there is no fact of the matter to what Saul actually does or will do (if God determines what Saul does), but only that any claim as to what Saul would do counterfactually is neither true nor false. There is nothing about Saul nor about his circumstances, which would or could make it true that Saul actually besieges the city in the particular circumstance that he is in. If Saul has libertarian freedom, it is indeterminate as to whether he would besiege Keilah if David remained in the city. He could have the desire to besiege the city, but his desires could change or he might choose to do something that is inconsistent with his character. The truth-value of counterfactuals of freedom would be indeterminate and since they are indeterminate, God cannot know them as true. Hence, God does not have middle knowledge.
Some Molinists have responded to the grounding objection by arguing that the objection is analogous to arguments claiming to show that categorical propositions about the future have no truth-value. To argue that the statement 'If David had remained in Keilah, then Saul would have besieged the city' has no truth-value, is to make the same mistake as those who argue that future-tense propositions such as 'Elvis Presley will be risen from the dead tomorrow' have no truth-value. Thomas Flint, a proponent of Molinism, says that the grounding objection seems very reminiscent of the type of argument characteristically forwarded by antirealists concerning absolute future contingent truths. He goes on to argue that if counterfactuals of freedom are false because they are ungrounded then absolute future contingent truths such as 'Albert Gore will freely decide to run for president in 2000' (The state of affairs in this proposition was future when Flint wrote it.) are false for the same reason. Molinists argue that absolute future contingent truths are grounded and that counterfactuals of freedom are grounded as well. Statements about the past are grounded in something that occurred in the past. In the same way, all statements about the future including counterfactuals of freedom have their grounding activity in the future.
My response to what Molinists say about the grounding objection is that the similarity between counterfactuals of freedom and absolute future-tense is only superficial. A future-tense statement such as 'I will be in Hawaii in 2014' is true just in case the present-tense statement 'It is 2014 and I am in Hawaii' is true in 2014. Hence, it is possible for that future-tense statement to be grounded. However, counterfactuals of freedom are not like absolute future-tense statements. There is no state of affairs, past, present, or future to which one can point in order to ground the counterfactual of freedom. There is no time, past, present, or future, in which a present-tense version of a counterfactual of freedom corresponds to an actual, present state of affairs. It does no good for the Molinist to say if a certain person were placed in a particular circumstance, then that person would do x is true if and only if that person would do x if that person were placed in that particular circumstance. Why not? Because whether that particular person would do x in that particular circumstance is the question at hand. Whether that person does x in that particular circumstance is indeterminate if he has libertarian freedom.
Another objection that can be made against Molinism is that middle knowledge posits passivity in God since things other than God determine the truth-value of the counterfactuals of freedom. According to Molinism, God does not decree what free creatures would do in any set of circumstances; He watches what happens. God does not determine how they would act or what they would choose in certain situations.
William Lane Craig, a proponent of Molinism, makes the following response to this objection:
Despite Molinist protests, I think we shall have to admit that this is true. But at the same time, as I said above, this seems to me of no great consequence. As I argued earlier, God's simple foreknowledge can be understood as determined in its content by what will in fact occur. This sort of determinacy or passivity on God's part seems to me altogether innocuous, and if this sacrifices the Thomistic view of God as Pure Actuality, then so be it.
Craig does admit that Molinism implies that there is passivity in God, but I disagree with Craig's viewpoint that positing passivity in God does not have a great consequence. If God has some passivity in His nature, then He is not absolutely independent. The content of His middle knowledge would be dependent upon the creature. God's plan or His ways would be dependent upon some part of His creation. Positing passivity in God would sacrifice God's pure actuality and this would have a great consequence. Sacrificing God's pure actuality would imply that it is possible for God to change, but the biblical view of God portrays Him as immutable.
Another objection to Molinism is that the biblical arguments claiming that God has middle knowledge are inconclusive. Molinists claim that the Bible contains many examples of counterfactual conditionals concerning our choices and actions. For example, Jesus affirms before Pilate the counterfactual conditional 'If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews' (John 18:36 NASB). According to Matthew chapter 2, if Joseph and Mary were to stay in Bethlehem, then King Herod would kill their child. However, these texts do not say whether God knows this information logically prior or logically subsequent to His decree. If God's knowledge of what people would do in certain circumstances were logically subsequent to His decree to create a certain world, then this would mean that God decreed which actions people would take in certain circumstances. Hence, God would not have middle knowledge. Moreover, if God decided what would happen in those circumstances, then God's knowledge of that information would not be middle knowledge; it would be an example of His free knowledge.
Another objection to Molinism is that God could not use any counterfactuals of freedom to guide His decision-making process because they would not be true soon enough for Him to use them. A counterfactual of freedom is true by the person that is mentioned in the counterfactual. For example, King Herod is the one who determines whether this counterfactual of freedom is true: If Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem, then King Herod will kill their child. If Herod has libertarian freedom, he could kill their child or not kill their child. The truth of this counterfactual of freedom is not determined until Herod acts. If the truth of this counterfactual of freedom is not determined until Herod acts, then God could not have used this counterfactual of freedom to make His plan.
Molinists would respond by saying that this objection assumes that libertarian freedom and divine foreknowledge are incompatible with each other. I would argue that libertarian freedom and divine foreknowledge are incompatible with each other. If God knows that S will do X in the future, then it is true that S will do X in the future, by the definition of knowledge. And if it is presently true that S will do X, then S is incapable of changing that truth and therefore it is certain that S will do X. Someone could respond by saying that God's foreknowledge does not cause a person to do anything. I would agree with this, but if God foreknows that you are going to do something, then it is certain that it will come to pass whether God's foreknowledge has any causative effect. People cannot refrain from doing what God infallibly sees them do.
In this paper, I argued that Molinism is false. Since it is false, it cannot solve the divine foreknowledge/freedom dilemma. I raised a number of objections against Molinism and I responded to some criticisms of those objections. I argued that counterfactuals of freedom do not have any truth-value, that Molinism posits passivity in God, that the biblical arguments claiming that God has middle knowledge are inconclusive, and that the counterfactuals of freedom would not be true soon enough for God to make His plan.
1. William Lane Craig, Four Views on Divine Providence, edited by Stanley Gundry and Dennis Jowers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan 2011), Kindle e-book, locations 1544-52.
2. William Lane Craig, Four Views on Divine Providence, edited by Stanley Gundry and Dennis Jowers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan 2011), Kindle e-book, location 1560.
3. Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account, Icatha and London: Cornel University Press 1998, p.45
4. Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account, Icatha and London: Cornel University Press 1998, p.129
5. Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account, Icatha and London: Cornel University Press 1998, p.129
6. William Lane Craig, 'Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom' The Coherence of Theism: Omniscience, Netherlands: Brill 1991, pp. 272-273.