Thursday, February 24, 2011

Predestination and Middle Knowledge

            Predestination of the salvation of souls (whether individual or corporate, voluntary or involuntary, cooperative or passive) has been a persistently troubling topic for many Christians throughout the ages.[1] That no clear consensus has arisen suggests this is a difficult topic (and perhaps one that is not necessary to a successful Christian life). Nonetheless, the study of the topic is both fruitful and important. It is fruitful because the doctrine reveals key insights as to the nature and personality of God. It is important because one must be able to combat heresy with truth, reaching a biblically and theologically-acceptable view.
            A view which attempts this is called “middle knowledge.” This view, which relies on God’s omniscience, entails that God knows what any free agent would do in any given set of circumstances, and at least in accordance with this knowledge elects to salvation. This paper will first explain what middle knowledge is as a doctrinal formulation, including some historical information. It will then present common theological and philosophical objections to the doctrine, along with responses.
            First, one must understand what predestination is. Biblically, predestination always refers to an action of God with respect to the life, condition, or ultimate destiny of man. Romans proclaims, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Erickson captures this usage when he says, “ ‘Predestination’ refers to God’s choice of individuals for eternal life or eternal death.”[2]
            That predestination is a matter of salvation is echoed by passages such as Ephesians 1:11 and 1 Corinthians 2:7. The same Greek word is used in each instance: the word προορίζω. The word can be translated “ordain” as well. In each of the above-mentioned cases it is abundantly clear the Scripture intends that God is the sovereign ruler of the universe. He has ordained the end from the beginning. Yet if this is true, how can man truly have a free will? Is God responsible for sin? How can these concepts be reconciled?
Luis de Molina and Middle Knowledge    
            Luis de Molina (1535-1600) was himself wrestling with these very questions. He developed a system which sought to keep a robust view of God’s sovereignty and providence and retain free will (and its concomitant moral responsibility) for man.[3] His overall system, called Molinism, entailed middle knowledge.
            Dealing with God’s omniscience, it posited a sort of logical priority to the thoughts of God (much akin to the logical order of the decrees of God). Laing explains it well.

            This is not to deny the simplicity or omniscience of God, or to say that He gains knowledge that He did not previously possess. Rather, it is simply to acknowledge that dependency relationships exist between certain kinds of knowledge. It is also to acknowledge that something analogous to deliberation may take place in the divine mind. For example, in order for God to know that one plus one equals two, He must first comprehend the meaning of the concepts represented by the numbers, mathematical symbols, and formulaic expressions; they serve as a basis by which the truthfulness of the formula may be evaluated. But this is not to say that there was a time when God did not know 1+1=2.[4]

            The logical moments, then, do not assume that God does not know something. These logical moments are divided into three groupings. The first moment is called God’s “natural knowledge.” Moreland and Craig call this knowledge “unconditioned,” since it neither depends upon God’s will nor does it depend upon choices made by creatures. “God knows all possibilities…[and] has knowledge of every contingent state of affairs that could possibly obtain and of what any free creature could freely choose to do in any such state of affairs that should be actual.”[5] This includes all logically necessary truths, such as 2+2=4, “there are no round squares,” and as mentioned, every logical possibility.
            The discussion, for the sake of clarity, should shift to the third logical moment. If the former moment deals with what can happen, this moment deals with what will happen. This is commonly referred to as God’s “free knowledge,” so named because the content of it depends on what God wills. This means what God knows in this category could have been different (if God had so chosen to make the world differently).[6] Obviously, this world is contained both in God’s natural and free knowledge (for if it were not, it would either be not actual, or not possible [and hence not actual]). But how did God get from natural knowledge to free? How did He move from knowing mere possibilities to decreeing actualities?
            The answer for Molina was found in the second logical moment. Between what free creatures could do and what they will do is what they would do in any set of circumstances (middle knowledge). Keathley calls this knowledge “a perfect knowledge of all feasible worlds—all possibilities which would accomplish what He [God] wanted to have happen.”[7]
            In this way, God may be seen to be provident by ordaining what will happen based off the combination of what would happen in varying circumstances; God instantiates just those circumstances which He desires. “God freely chooses one of the feasible worlds, and He perfectly knows what will happen in this actual world.”[8]
Counterfactuals and Possible Worlds
            In order to understand what propositions God would know under the category of middle knowledge, one must understand counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Counterfactuals are statements in a conditional form indicating what one would do under a fully-specified set of circumstances. Counterfactuals can be found in the Bible. In 1 Samuel 23, David was fleeing from Saul (who sought to kill him). David fled to Keilah and there asked the Lord what he should do. Specifically, David wanted to know what would happen in the event he stayed in Keilah.
            “Then David said, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.” () The counterfactual David was asking was this: If Saul comes down and we remain, would the men of Keilah deliver us into Saul’s hand? The counterfactuals take the form: “If X were in C, then X would do A.” (This is where C=circumstances, X=any free creature, and A=any action.)
            David Lewis has written on counterfactuals and provides the great example of the difference between an “if-then” conditional and a counterfactual.
            1. If Oswald did not kill Kennedy, then someone did.
            2. If Oswald did not kill Kennedy, then someone would have.[9]
            Another classic example concerns the disciple Peter in various possible worlds (or sets of circumstances). Via God’s middle knowledge, God would know precisely in what set of circumstances Peter would deny Christ, and in what set of circumstances he would confess Christ. God could force Peter to do the opposite in each respective situation than he in fact did, but this cause would preclude freedom.
Theological Necessity of Middle Knowledge      
            Next, one must understand the theological reason for this solution. Middle knowledge proponents such as Keathley contend that a middle knowledge solution is necessary to avoid the unpalatable (and unbiblical) consequences of either an impotent or morally evil God. He argues, “[if] God has the ability to bring salvation to all by a monergistic work of regeneration but has chosen not to do so,” then God is guilty of being unloving.[10] In fact, it is this causal responsibility that forms the impetus for middle knowledge.
            The alternative being assessed by Keathley is that of Calvinism. He maintains, according to Calvinism, when God brings about or causes morally good actions, He incurs the praise. Yet when God brings about or directly causes sinful actions, He incurs none of the blame.[11] It seems another view is necessary to balance properly the views with respect to predestination. If moral responsibility is assigned on the basis of acting as the causal agent of the universe, then it seems God cannot avoid the blame (even as He cannot avoid the praise).[12]
Application to Predestination
            Next, the student of the Bible should view the application of middle knowledge to predestination. Acts supports a view of predestination in relation to salvation. It says in part, “they that were ordained unto eternal life believed.” It is clear that God is in control, ordaining and choosing those (or predestining) to salvation. It is also clear man is free to respond to the Gospel call for salvation. In John 6:37, Jesus says there are those who will come to him. In Acts 16:31, Paul implies a choice is available to the Philippian jailer when he says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Finally, Romans 10:9 claims “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
            An application of middle knowledge to predestination would entail an examination of feasible worlds in which people are saved. For instance, God knew that in the precise set of circumstances that the actual world is in, I would choose to accept Christ. However, it may be that under another, separate set of circumstances I would not choose to accept Christ. Hence, utilizing God’s middle knowledge, He is able to actualize a world in which I freely come to a saving relationship with Jesus.
            An obviously positive benefit of this is that God may search the possible worlds in which just those people are saved and His plan for human history is accomplished. This is done without compromising either His sovereignty (since He instantiates and thus is in control of any and which details of the world are actual) or His integrity (since He is not the cause of each individual action nor is He the reason such an act would be committed).
            A potentially troublesome aspect of this application is that not everyone may be saved. This may have two explanations. First, it may be there are some people who would not choose to be saved in any circumstances in which they were instantiated. This is called “transworld depravity.”[13] Second, it may be there are some who would be saved, but the circumstances under which they would be saved are not feasible for God (whether due to overriding deficiencies in that world or to unknown aspects of God’s plan is beside the point).
            The Bible records just such a situation in Matthew 11:21. “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Verse 23 proclaims if the works done by Christ in Capernaum had also been done in Sodom, it “would have remained unto this day.” Although there was a circumstance under which those people would have repented, it seems it required an antecedent situation that was at least less desirable for God (the coming of the Messiah in a different place and time than that in which He did come).[14]
            A thought experiment may show how this brings about a logical difficulty in actualizing certain worlds for God.[15] Suppose Greg would be saved in circumstances C1. Suppose further that C1 entails Jesus’ coming to Israel in 586 B.C. Now suppose C1 results in tens of thousands of fewer people being saved, or greater amounts of evil, or some other overriding deficiency to the present world (labeled C2). Because C1 and C2 are mutually exclusive, God must choose between the two (or neither at all). While a somewhat crude illustration, it demonstrates the reason not everyone is saved-even though God desires the salvation of all (1 Tim. 2:4).
            Craig frames the issue of the will of God and human freedom this way:
            It is…God’s absolute intention that no creature should ever sin and that all should reach heaven. But [God cannot] determine what decisions creatures would freely take under various circumstances…If then God for whatever reason wants to bring about those circumstances, he has no choice but to allow the creature to sin, though that is not his absolute intention.[16]

            It seems to be a logical limitation (like the making of a round square) according to middle knowledge proponents for God to actualize a world in which everyone is saved. Also according to this, predestination finds its application in the choosing of the present world by God, including all of its details. In this way, all of those whom God chose to be saved (by choosing this world over others) will not fail to be saved; their election is certain.
Objections to Middle Knowledge    
            Despite the case made by proponents of the doctrine there have been several objections lodged against it. This paper shall consider four objections: 1. The grounding objection. 2. The truth-value of counterfactuals and/or future contingents. 3. The objection of theological fatalism. 4. It robs God of His sovereignty. Each objection will contain an answer from a middle knowledge proponent.
The Grounding Objection
            The first objection to be considered is the grounding objection. Briefly, this asserts there is nothing that makes these counterfactuals true. Laing makes the point well by saying, “They cannot be grounded in God because determinism would follow… However, they also cannot be grounded in the individuals to which they refer….”[17] If counterfactuals of creaturely freedom must have something to make them true, it seems there are no ready candidates. If this is the case, then counterfactuals of creaturely freedom cannot be true.
            In a middle knowledge response it is noted the grounding objection relies on a theory called “truth-makers.”[18] The question is this: how can there be truths about possible people and possible circumstances that never exist? Hasker gives the example of an offer never made to Elizabeth: how can a nonexistent offer have any truth-value?[19]
            Some responses include the denial of the need for truths to be grounded at all. These counterfactuals, then, exist as simple brute facts about reality.[20] “It seems to me much clearer that some counterfactuals of freedom are at least possibly true than that the truth of propositions must, in general, be grounded in this way.”[21] Keathley offers another possible response when he says a counterfactual “expresses a truth about this actual world.”[22]
Counterfactuals Do Not Have a Truth Value
            The second objection is that truth-values for both counterfactuals and future contingents do not exist. Briefly, it states certain propositions like “I will go to the store tomorrow” are functionally helpful, but realistically neither true nor false until the event occurs. This would also mean counterfactual statements, such as, “If I would ask Jodi to be my wife, then she would not accept” to be meaningless with respect to truth-value. Despite intuitions being that such statements are in fact either true or false, defenders of this objection believe they have good reasons for embracing this. It is pointed out that such counterfactuals cannot be known to be true because of the standard semantics for understanding counterfactuals.[23]
            A response has been given by William Lane Craig in which he argues there are indeed at least some true counterfactuals. 1 Cor. 2:8 states “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Craig expresses incredulity that one could say this statement is false. “Will we have the temerity to say that Paul was wrong?”[24]
            Another potential middle knowledge response concerns the basic logical law of bivalence. This law states any proposition is either true or false and that no middle ground is ontologically expressed. Without this, “we are still unable to assert the truth of ‘The sea battle will or will not take place tomorrow,’ a statement which seems intuitively true.”[25] Dekker also mentions that a counterfactual of creaturely freedom is inherently possible, so that at least some of them must be true.[26]
The Objection of Theological Determinism   
            The third objection to be mentioned is that knowing these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom is inherently deterministic. This means if God knows for certain which counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true, then it is because He has caused such counterfactuals to be true.[27] Because a forced action cannot be free middle knowledge is false.
            The argument can be summarized thusly: Necessarily, God has always believed Nancy would go to the store in C. Necessarily, if God has always believed Nancy would go to the store in C, then Nancy would go to the store in C. Therefore, necessarily, Nancy would go to the store in C.[28] It is undeniable for an orthodox theologian that God does know necessarily the truth-value of every proposition. Since such knowledge is innate to God, there are no truths that escape His knowledge.[29]
            Thomas Flint provides one type of response, in which he argues that there may be no causation associated with free choices. “But they [proponents of libertarian free will] differ among themselves concerning what type of causation, if any, is present in free actions.”[30] It also should be noted that no argument is given in the above-syllogism as to why the student of middle knowledge should take it to be a given that if God necessarily knows something, that knowledge is also distributed to the content of that knowledge. Of particular note is that this objection from theological fatalism not only applies to middle knowledge, but to omniscience of any free acts whatsoever.
            Craig also offers that the objector fails to consider the “complete sense” versus the “divided sense” of the meanings. “Possibly, an event which is foreknown by God will fail to occur, which is self-contradictory…[and] Possibly, an event, which is foreknown by God, will fail to occur.”[31] Understanding this subtle shift from the concept of omniscience to the content of omniscience is vitally important, according to middle knowledge proponents, to avoiding fallacious thinking. In this way, they believe they have persevered against the objection of theological fatalism. In addition, Kowalski offers a different model of interpreting counterfactual semantics that may indeed avoid many of the traditional objections to their truth (including fatalism).[32]
Middle Knowledge Denies God’s Sovereignty           
            The final objection to be observed is concerning God’s sovereignty. In the biblical record, God is clearly sovereign. Isaiah 45:9 says, “…Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou?” Verse 6 of the same chapter claims in part, “I am the LORD, and there is none else.” But the problem, objectors maintain, is that the middle knowledge construal of God’s providence in salvation is not as extensive as the biblical record indicates.
            Himma, for example, mentions God need not be constrained to create a particular style of world—and if He is, then this does not seem to be the world that is the most “morally worthwhile.”[33] Frame, meanwhile, mentions, “The Reformed agree that God knows what would happen under all conditions, but they reject the notion that this knowledge is ever ultimately based on man’s autonomous decisions. Human decisions, they argue, are themselves the effects of God’s eternal decrees.”[34] If this is true, it seems middle knowledge imperils the traditional, biblical doctrine of sovereignty with respect to God.
            A middle knowledge response would include the fact that under this model, God chooses which world will be the actual world. Since a possible world is a description of reality and how it may be, this means God may plan in extraordinary detail (including every last event, trivial or not) what occurs in the world of His creation! Freddoso cites in his commentary on Molina the view that God has “within Himself all the resources to know all future contingents with certainty,” and thus a full description of sovereignty as it appears in the biblical text may be utilized.[35] Flint argues that the issue is not sovereignty per se, but rather one’s own particular interpretation of that sovereignty.[36] If this is the case, then it may be worth reexamining what can be inferred from the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. God may control, in precise detail, every event without being its primary cause.[37]
            This paper has examined the history and terms behind middle knowledge, an application of middle knowledge to salvation, and objections to the teaching. Keathley has observed there is truly only one decree of God; it is merely a matter of discerning the facets of God’s knowledge.[38] It is this knowledge which allows the great and mighty God of the universe to choose what world to actualize, according to middle knowledge proponents. In choosing this God actively ordains those who would be saved under these circumstances to salvation. In this way, this is truly a middle knowledge perspective on the age-old debate of predestination. While it may not solve all of the issues for some, middle knowledge does attempt to keep a high view of God and personal human responsibility.

Boyd, Gregory A., William Lane Craig, Paul Helm, and David Hunt. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

William Lane
. Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1991.

----. “Ducking Friendly Fire: Davison on the Grounding Objection,” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 161-166.

----. “Hasker on Divine Knowledge,” Philosophical Studies 67 (1992): 57-78.

----. “Middle Knowledge, Truth-Makers, and the ‘Grounding Objection,’” Faith and Philosophy 18 (2001): 337-352.

---- and J.P. Moreland. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Dekker, Eef. Middle Knowledge. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2000.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998.

Flint, Thomas P. Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Frame, John M. “Scientia Media,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Hasker, William. God, Time, and Knowledge. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Paperbacks, 1998.

Himma, Kenneth E. “Plantinga’s Version of the Free-Will Argument: The Good and Evil Free Beings Do,” Religious Studies 46, no. 1 (2010): 21-39.

Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010.

Kowalski, Dean A. “Some Friendly Molinist Amendments,” Philosophy and Theology 15, no. 2 (2003): 385.

Laing, John. “Middle Knowledge,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. < > accessed 12/17/2010.

Lewis, David. Counterfactuals. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.

Molina, Luis de. On Divine Foreknowledge. trans. Alfred Freddoso. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Paperbacks, 2004.

Plantinga, Alvin. Alvin Plantinga. eds. James E. Tomberlin and Peter van Inwagen. Hingham, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1985.

                [1] Though the term “predestination” may have many applications, the primary application considered by this paper is with respect to the salvation of mankind; it examines the imputation of righteousness and the role of predestination.

                [2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. (Grand Rapids, MA: Baker Academic, 1998), 921.
                [3] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 5.

                [4] John Laing, “Middle Knowledge,” in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, < >, accessed 12/17/2010.
                [5] William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 561.

                [6] By “world,” what is meant here is the complete description of reality (and not merely the physical earth).

                [7] Keathley, 18.
                [8] Ibid.
                [9] David Lewis, Counterfactuals. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 3. Despite the dubiousness of (2) (in fact, this is the point of Lewis’ listing of such), this serves to identify the form of a counterfactual; to give the reader an idea of what one would look like.
                [10] Keathley, 46.

                [11] Ibid, 98.

                [12] While one may object to this theory of moral responsibility, it is precisely this theory which is employed as necessary by causal determinists to explain why it is God must act causally in the universe. To suggest otherwise would not only be ad hoc, but also logically contradictory.
                [13] Alvin Plantinga, Alvin Plantinga, ed. James E. Tomberlin and Peter van Inwagen. (Hingham, MA: Kluwer Academic, 1985), 88-89. “Necessity” is the term used by modal logicians, and “accidental necessity” would be the term used in relation to people who exhibit the same quality in every possible world in which they exist (but do not actually exist in every possible world).
                [14] Or it may be that such a world is not feasible for God. To paraphrase Craig, it’s not enough that there exists a possible world in which someone is saved. The truth of this counterfactual must also be compossible with other counterfactual truths to form an actualizible world. Any agent still retains his moral responsibility, for it will not do to object that if only he was instantiated in other circumstances he would believe. On most accounts of ethics and morality, it would be immoral to punish for what would have been in other circumstances; why would God then be obligated to reward based on such?

                [15] The fact it is a logical distinction is here stressed since, due to omnipotence, there is no non-logical limit on God’s power.

                [16] Craig, 562.
                [17] Laing.
                [18] William Lane Craig, “Ducking Friendly Fire: Davison on the Grounding Objection,” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 161-166.
                [19] William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Paperbacks, 1998), 43. Hasker’s point is that it seems to be absurd to ascribe a status of truth to a nonexistent proposition.
                [20] Laing.

                [21] Plantinga, 385.

                [22] Keathley, 35. This means that the counterfactual is in fact grounded in what is true in the actual world: this is what the actual world would be were it to be differently!
                [23] Hasker, 47.
                [24] William Lane Craig, “Middle Knowledge, Truth-Makers, and the ‘Grounding Objection,’” Faith and Philosophy 18 (2001): 337-352.

                [25] William Lane Craig, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom, (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1991), 45.

                [26] Eef Dekker, Middle Knowledge. (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2000), 19.

                [27] It is worth noting causal determinism can never be rationally affirmed, according to William Lane Craig. The idea is that even the concept of being determined is itself determined, and the subsequent thought about that is determined, so that if determinism is actually true, it cannot be inferred by a process of reasoning. Victor Reppert has written C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, in which he deals with a similar subject in an argument from reason.
                [28] William Lane Craig, “Hasker on Divine Knowledge,” Philosophical Studies 67 (1992): 57-78. It seems there is also a missing premise needed to arrive at the conclusion, namely: if the antecedent is necessary, then the consequent is necessary as well. But this is a well-known modal fallacy.
                [29] Gregory A. Boyd, William Lane Craig, Paul Helm, and David Hunt,  Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 55.

                [30] Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 32.
                [31] Craig, “Hasker on Divine Knowledge.” The former emphasizes the necessity of the concept of God’s omniscience, while the latter emphasizes the content of that knowledge, which may vary.
                [32] Dean A. Kowalski, “Some Friendly Molinist Amendments,” Philosophy and Theology 15, no. 2 (2003): 385.

                [33] Kenneth E. Himma, “Plantinga’s Version of the Free-Will Argument: The Good and the Evil Free Beings Do,” Religious Studies 46, no. 1 (2010): 21-39.

                [34] John M. Frame, “Scientia Media,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1075.
                [35] Luis de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of The Concordia, trans. Alfred Freddoso. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Paperbacks, 1988), 36.

                [36] Flint, 18. For instance, one may assume that this view of providence entails causal determinism, while another may hold it as a mystery, while another may propose middle knowledge. It would then become question-begging for one to defeat determinism, middle knowledge, or any other view by merely appealing to the text without considering the interpretation of the text.

                [37] The difference between an action’s primary and its secondary cause can be explained in terms of a man breaking a window with a baseball bat. The bat is the secondary cause because it is the means used rather than the sufficiently-acting agent. Were God to be the primary cause of all acts, we would necessarily be the secondary cause; we would be the means to the end. This view would entail God to be the only morally-acting agent in the universe. God would be the only morally responsible agent.

                [38] Keathley, 150.

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