Friday, February 17, 2012

Compatibilist Middle Knowledge

Compatibilism is the view that free will is not inconsistent with causal determinism. This post will not attempt to answer if compatibilism is correct. Rather, it will examine whether compatibilism is consistent with middle knowledge. Recently, I have noticed a growing trend among professors and theologians to embrace both of these truths. Are they compatible? For a discussion of what middle knowledge is, click on any word in this sentence.

One should recall that an essential feature of compatibilism is causal determinism. Yet middle knowledge, by definition, is the logical moment between natural and free knowledge. Everything in the content of God’s free knowledge is present there because of God’s will. Everything present in the content of God’s natural knowledge is there because it is necessary.[1] Middle knowledge describes those truths that, like truths in free knowledge, are contingent; middle knowledge describes those truths that, like natural knowledge, are not up to the choosing of God. This is because those counterfactuals are construed to be logically prior to God’s creative decision to act. These counterfactuals, known to God, would allow God to choose any number of the quadrillions upon quadrillions of possible worlds.

But precisely because of this, compatibilism and middle knowledge do not work together. Since the truths of middle knowledge come logically before God's determining of the actual world, human free choices belonging to a middle knowledge just aren’t determined causally. Now perhaps the compatibilist would wish to argue that these truths are true on God’s free knowledge; but then it would not be middle knowledge after all.

Compatibilism seems to result in the truths of middle knowledge belonging either to necessary or free knowledge. If God causes them, then they belong to free, and if they are true necessarily (and not due to divine will), then they belong to natural knowledge. In short, there is no such thing as compatibilist middle knowledge.

                [1] Of course, a case may be made that the necessary truths in reality are based in God’s nature.

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. I too have found "middle knowledge" to be wanting in resolving the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. To me it seems that it presents God as playing with a "stacked deck" so to speak. He sets the circumstances so as to ensure that we "freely" choose exactly what he wants us to choose by means of his knowledge of counter-factuals.

  2. Hi Stand, thanks for the comment! I do actually think middle knowledge is very useful for resolving any tension between sovereignty and human free will. I simply believe compatibilim and middle knowledge are not consistent with each other, so that one must be rejected (at least). I reject compatibilist free will and I accept middle knowledge. Interestingly, middle knowledge does not require that God "sets" any circumstances. For instance, God could choose to actualize a possible world in which he exerts no influence outside the creation (although I don't think he did). In such a situation, the possible world actualized would contain circumstances informed fully by the contents of middle knowledge, without any divine control whatsoever. But since the contents are informed by what would take place (and not vice versa), then circumstances simply don't override free will; they are formed by free will. Now of course God does act and influence the world, but there's still truth in someone acting freely even while influenced. My wife may influence me to take a vacation to a certain location, and while I may freely refrain, I nonetheless heed the influence of my wife (and thus all remains well lol!), but I do it freely. Does that make sense?


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