Friday, October 7, 2011

Can a Calvinist be a Molinist?

The following is not meant to be combative, but analytical. Can a five-point Calvinist be a Molinist? Not consistently. Molinism is the framework dealing with omniscience and free actions of God’s creatures. Calvinism is the framework dealing with God’s sovereignty and his glory. Hence, there is nothing directly incompatible with these two concepts. Indeed, Bruce Ware has attempted a Molinist understanding of omniscience from the standpoint of a compatibilist free will. Nonetheless, I think this attempt, though noble, falls short of Molinism and fails to escape the logical implications of Calvinism.
First, five-point Calvinism, traditionally, affirms that man cannot respond to God without his active calling. Many, if not nearly all, Molinists would agree. The man in this position will then say God’s movement upon men’s hearts is irresistible, so that man cannot refuse. Because man is determined either way (whether or not he is saved), this is at odds with Molinism.
Molinism is predicated on the twin ideas of God’s omniscience and man’s free will. It was designed in part to solve the “problem” of how it was God could be said to be sovereign and yet man be truly free. Let this “true” freedom mean that in any given situation a creature is the originator of his own choice, and could have refrained from performing the action were he to decide to do so. We will also call this “libertarian free will.” Compatibilist free will, by contrast, suggests that man is free to perform some action by virtue of not being constrained by any outside factors.[1]
Molinism is also based on the idea of middle knowledge. The knowledge is said to be “middle” because they are contingent truths, the truth-value of which God does not control (as opposed to natural knowledge, which is necessary, and free knowledge, which is contingent knowledge of the actual world that God does, in fact, control the content of). Now libertarian free will fits in nicely here. Compatibilism does not quite make it.
By definition, compatibilism means freedom is compatible with causal determinism. Further, compatibilists want to say it is God who causes one to freely accept Christ and be saved. In this case, then, I do not see how the knowledge of these truths can truly be middle. If the truths that are of the saved are contingent, they are only contingent upon God’s choice; hence, they belong to God’s free knowledge. If the truths of the unregenerate are contingent, they can only be so on God’s choice, which again conflates middle knowledge into free knowledge. Only by postulating these are necessary truths can one escape this. But in that case, compatibilism does not lend itself to middle knowledge.
Now, can one be a five-point Calvinist and be an incompatibilist? Absolutely. He may hold to a view of the will as not free given causal determinism (a bit how Luther or Edwards came off in their writings on the subject). But that won’t lend itself to Molinism either. What about those who accept libertarian free will? If there are any five-point Calvinists who also accept libertarian free will, this would at least be sufficient to accept Molinism. However, as we have pointed out, if one is a five point Calvinist, then she cannot accept libertarian free will as defined! So it seems that even though the attempt is commendable,  five-point Calvinists can not, with any consistency, be called Molinists.

[1] This applies to our situation since it is man’s unregenerate nature that makes him incapable of a good response, and thus is a factor within himself. When he does respond, it is only due to his regenerate nature (regenerated by God), and hence is a factor within himself.

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. Hello. I'm from Brazil and here's a Reformed Theology site translated a post from a site in English refuting Molinism. I would like to see an analysis that could neutralize the objections raised. Here is the original link:

    God bless you!

    1. Hello, I'm glad to hear from you! Sorry I took so long in responding. I don't have time to read the entire thing, but I can see quickly he's off to a bad start. Consider this part, that he wrote, "Another way of making the fallacy disappear is to argue successfully that necessarily, God foreknows x. Molinists agree in the validity but not the soundness of the following argument (in other words, they agree with the form of argument but not with all the premises):

      1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen
      2. Necessarily, God foreknows x
      3. Therefore, x will necessarily happen"

      Molinists do *not* in fact agree that the preceding argument is valid. In fact, what follows is not (3) but:

      3*. Therefore, necessarily, x will happen.

      This can make a huge difference.

      But he's right that Molinists will typically deny (2). Why think the content of God's foreknowledge is necessarily what it is? He relies heavily on Edwards as if he were representative on standard Reformed thinking--when he is clearly not. On Edwards' view, God creates of necessity. On most Reformed thinkers, God's creation is a free act of God. This dude is taking a radical fringe line. I've heard of him before. Let me know if you have any other specific questions!

  2. (I chose to be anonymous so I don't have to go through the hassle of all the other options I don't quite understand)

    I don't follow paragraph 5. Middle knowledge, as I've heard William Lane Craig explain it, is the knowlege of what Would Happen given certain circumstances, while free knowledge, is the knowledge of what Will Happen.

    It seems to me that this definition would make your statement false. "If the truths that are of the saved are contingent, they are only contingent upon God’s choice; hence, they belong to God’s free knowledge."

    "If God chooses world A, the person A' will share the gospel with person B', and person B' will be saved, but person C', who always disagrees with person B', will not be saved. If God chooses world B, then person A' will share the Gospel with person C', but person B', who always disagrees with person C', will not be saved."

    This is a statement of God's middle knowledge, where all possible worlds are contained. Notice, God has the power to choose will be elect and who will be reprobate. These are true statements that are contingent on God's choice, whether He will pick world A, or world B.

    "God has chosen world A', therefore, person B' will be saved, and person C' will not be saved."

    This is a statement of God's free knowledge, but it does not contain every possibility. Middle knowledge is contingent on what God can choose, while free knowlege is contingent on what God will choose, but both are contingent on God's choice. In this case, God has chosen that person B' will freely accept Him and be save.

    1. Hello, thanks for commenting! I think I see the issue: counterfactuals are indeed propositions concerning what *would* happen in particular circumstances. However, what makes these counterfactuals located within *middle knowledge* is not their grammatical form, but because they (that is, their truth values) are neither necessary nor decreed by God. With respect to the first quote you give, I'm evaluating counterfactuals *given compatibilism*, which makes these counterfactuals contingent only in the sense of God's choice--this is incompatible with middle knowledge.

      So, to sum up, the confusion lies within the definition of what makes knowledge "middle." I always tell people studying Molinism (since many lay-Molinists do not understand this distinction) and middle knowledge that they must ask themselves, "In the middle of what?" and satisfactorily answer it.

      I hope this helps guide you in your study! :)


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