Saturday, August 27, 2011

Is Middle Knowledge for Me?

If you believe God knows what would have happened if JFK hadn’t been assassinated on November 22, 1963, then you most likely believe God has middle knowledge.[1] I’ve written on the subject in several blog articles; it’s worth looking into. Molinism is the name given to the very intuitive structure of God’s omniscience. In fact, most everyone to whom I explain the concept remark something like, “isn’t this the view of every Christian?” While the answer is unfortunately “no,” the question reflects the truth that Molinism and middle knowledge represent the common sense view of omniscience in traditional Christianity.

Molinism simply means God knows everything that could happen, everything that would happen in all different kinds of circumstances, and everything that will actually happen in all circumstances. The names may be unfamiliar, but I think it’s been shown the concepts are not. People reject Molinism and middle knowledge all the time, but a majority of the time it is the case they simply do not understand what is being claimed. So, properly understood, under what circumstances should I reject middle knowledge and/or Molinism?

1. You should reject middle knowledge and Molinism if you do not believe God is omniscient (traditionally).

This would be the open theist, or someone who just doesn’t think God actually knows all truths. If God doesn’t know all truths, then one of the three categories (or more) must contain incomplete information. Whether it is future-tensed truths or would counterfactuals or both, if you do not believe God is omniscient then you should reject middle knowledge.

2. You should reject middle knowledge and Molinism if you think that counterfactuals lack a truth value.

Technically, if it is true that counterfactuals lack a truth value, then you may still represent God as omniscient. I think it’s pure common sense, as well as rational, to believe counterfactuals do in fact have a truth value. A counterfactual of creaturely freedom is a statement about how an individual would act given a certain set of circumstances. It seems obvious the statement, “If Adam were in C, then he would freely eat the fruit,” is either true or false. But if, for whatever reason, you believe these are neither true nor false, then middle knowledge is not for you.

3. You should reject middle knowledge and Molinism if you believe God causes all counterfactuals to be true.

If you embrace (3), it means not only do you think God knows which counterfactuals are true, but he has in fact made them true. This does not mean that you think God has made all of them actual. It does mean you think “If Adam were in C, then he would freely eat the fruit,” is true because God made it or caused it to be true. However, it is worth asking why God would bother making certain counterfactuals true; since he causes everything actual on this account, he could merely leave all counterfactuals with a truth value of “false” (in the case of positive would-counterfactuals [though even this necessitates would-not counterfactuals are true]) or one may accept (2) instead.

Basically, if you have understood middle knowledge—God’s knowledge of how any free creature would choose in any set of circumstances—, believe God is omniscient, and reject all three of the above major points, then you are by definition a Molinist. What difference does it make? Middle knowledge can provide great insights on the broad scope of God’s omniscience (I marvel every time I think about the implications of what God must know; it boggles the mind!), shed light on predestination and free will, has something to say about the problem of evil, can apply to the timing and circumstances in which Jesus Christ came to this earth, and so on. It’s a truly great teaching, and I encourage you to click the link at the top of this article to review the few articles I have written on the subject.

Advanced References:

              [1] John Laing, “Middle Knowledge,” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (, accessed August 27, 2011.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.


  1. Open Theists do not reject that God's omniscience, they just say that God knows all things, including that which is possible. Open theism isn't so much about what God knows and what he doesn't know, it's more about future possibilities being real. (ontologically)

  2. Hi Erik thanks for commenting! :) That's why I was careful to write "traditionally" in parenthesees after (1). The orthodox, traditional understanding of omniscience and the open theist's understanding of it differ. Although (1) includes open theists, it also includes process theologians, imperfect-being theists and whatever else might be out there, and is a legitimate reason to reject middle knowledge (were it to be true). Also, (2) encompasses most, if not presumably all, open theists. So those were my thoughts on that issue.

  3. I thought so Randy! Often the open view is misunderstood so I just wanted to check.

  4. If Molinism were true, then God must have knowledge of an infinite number of worlds where Adam and Eve did not yield to the temptation to eat of the tree. Why didn't God actualize that world and end sin altogether?

    1. Hello, thanks for the question! There are a number of considerations. First, what if these worlds are largely deterministic? The point is that deterministic worlds would be ruled out as genuine uses for the "point" of creating humans, anyway. So let's look at a better example: worlds where they *freely* resist the temptation. For all we know, these worlds are not feasible for God to create. Or, as Flint puts it, perhaps all of these worlds lie outside of the available "world-galaxy" for God to create. Additionally, perhaps there are many such worlds that lie within the world galaxy available for God to create, but such worlds have far more deleterious consequences (e.g., in such worlds Adam avoids the sin then, but promptly commits a different one, and that world results in far fewer coming to Christ). The bottom line is this is all speculation, and no one knows which world-galaxy, much less which worlds within that world-galaxy, was available for God to actualize.


Please remember to see the comment guidelines if you are unfamiliar with them. God bless and thanks for dropping by!