Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mailbag: Q and A on Molinism

I have recently started reading into molinism.  I agree with it and seems to be something that I have always believed but just know it had a name. I started out by reading Kenneth Keathley’s book “Salvation and Sovereignty.” I’m really enjoying his book.  I’m having one issue that I can’t seem to get and that is the difference between natural and middle knowledge.  This may be too long but being new to molinism, I will have to explain as best as I can.

From what I understand God’s natural knowledge is that God knows all possibilities, everything that could happen, all things of potential existence. God knows all possible worlds and all possibilities and there are an infinite number of these possibilities. Then Keathley goes onto explain that within natural knowledge is God’s middle knowledge.  That God knows all possibilities which would accomplish his goal or what God wanted to happen.  Keathley writes, “God’s middle knowledge contains all of the choices and decisions that free creatures would do if they were created in a particular world.”  Keathley uses:  could, would, and will for natural, middle, and free knowledge.

The main problem I have with these two types of knowledge is that I don’t see the difference between them.  In natural knowledge God knows all things of potential existence influenced by individual creatures.  Therefore, God knows all possibilities that “could” happen. So, how does this differ from middle knowledge?  Just because God creates a world to achieve a certain goal, the fact still remains that God knows all possibilities that “could” happen.  Changing the word from “could” to “would” doesn’t mean God changes anything about knowing all possibilities.  God already knows what we “would” do in an infinite number of worlds, and what “would” do in one particular world.  I think the focus is wrong in natural knowledge. I will have to give two examples to help explain what I mean.

Example 1 – With God’s natural knowledge God knows all the possible worlds and all the possibilities of what we “could” do in these worlds. God wants his creatures to love him, so he decides there are two feasible worlds that we “would” be able accomplish this goal, world A and world B.  So, in God’s middle knowledge he knows what his creations “would” do in all possible circumstances in these particular worlds. God decides to create world A.  In world A, God knows all the circumstances that we “will” encounter and what we “will” choose.

Example2- With God’s natural knowledge God knows all possible worlds and possibilities.  God “could” choose to make any one of these worlds but God wants his creatures to love him, so he decides there are 2 feasible worlds to achieve this, world A and world B.  In God’s middle knowledge he knows what we “would” do in the feasible worlds.  God decides to make world A, and now God knows what we “will” do in world A.

The difference in my two examples is in example 1, with God’s natural knowledge he knows all possibilities we could do, but God also knows this in middle knowledge. Just narrowing it down to two feasible worlds doesn’t change God’s knowledge of the possibilities.  In example 2, God is the one who “could,” instead of what we “could” do.  That puts the focus on what God “could” do, and not what we “could.” Then in middle knowledge it is what we “would” do. 

I’m not sure if I have explained myself that well. I just don’t see the purpose of having natural and middle knowledge, if God knows what we do in both forms of knowledge.  Any info you can give would be very helpful, or just tell me that my question really doesn’t make sense.  I have never taken any official classes in philosophy or theology, so please try to explain where a layman could understand.

Thanks for your time


Thanks for the questions, Steven!

I’m glad you’ve been reading Dr. Keathley’s book. I think I have seen the problem already! Dr. Keathley’s view, and Molinism's, is not that God’s middle knowledge is located within his natural knowledge. On p. 17, Keathley includes a chart that shows the three distinct moments, so that none of the moments are located within the other in terms of the exact propositions they describe. However, on p. 18, Keathley does say, “Within His natural knowledge of all possibilities—everything that could happen—God possesses a perfect knowledge of all feasible worlds—all possibilities which would accomplish what He wanted to have happen.” That Keathley is not speaking about logical locations for the knowledge moments is evidenced in that same paragraph. So what does he mean here? Well, Keathley has a strong background in mathematics (a master’s degree in it, in fact) and is speaking here, more or less, in terms of set theory. We can see that from the next paragraph. The things that would happen are subsets of things that could happen, to put it in math terms. That’s all Keathley’s doing here (or else he would be in blatant contradiction mere moments after he said this first sentence that you’re speaking of!).

Now with that cleared up, maybe we’ll be able to solve the overall problem. After all, I’m sure you don’t think that everything that could happen would happen, do you? At least, most people don’t think this way, when they really think about it. Suppose you are in a conversation with a family member or close friend, and you snap at them and say something a little unkind. Now it’s obviously true that, were you to be in the situation you were in, you would freely snap at that person. But it also seems true that you could have refrained from snapping at them at that moment, couldn’t you? But if everything that could happen, would happen, and if you could have refrained from snapping at them, then it follows that you would have refrained from snapping at them. But you didn’t. You did snap at them, remember? So something has gone wrong! It seems that it’s not true that everything that could happen, would happen.

So what’s my point? My point is that if there is no difference between what could happen and what would happen, then everything that could happen would happen (otherwise there would be a difference). But not everything that could happen would happen. Therefore, there is a difference between what could happen and what would happen. Namely, the number of things that could happen is greater (or higher) than the number of things that would happen.

Now to the examples, just to be sure we clear everything up. Because Keathley’s only speaking of set theory in that particular quote, and he is emphasizing logical distinctions, we would not want to say that the counterfactual form (the “would” statements) are located in natural knowledge. The object, for lack of a better term, of the “would” statements are part of God’s natural knowledge. So, consider, “If Randy were in C, then he would freely answer this question” is not the same as “If Randy was in C, then he could freely answer this question.” So everything that would happen could happen, but not everything that could happen would happen. So the set would look like this:

Could happen-->Would happen-->Will happen

The need for middle knowledge in order for God to be omniscient and sovereign, and for us to have genuinely free will is great. If God knows everything we could do prior to the divine decree, and not what we would do, then God actualizes a world in which he literally has no idea what we will do, since he doesn’t know what we would do! In this case, God would lack omniscience, because there are truths about reality that he doesn’t know (namely, how we would act in various circumstances). Since how we would act helps inform how we will act (since God actualizes the world by acting within it to bring about the circumstances in which we all live, and we actualize the world by making those propositions true about the actual world that we would do were the actual circumstances to be made actual), middle knowledge is necessary.

On the other hand, we could just say God, at the divine decree, takes the mere possibilities and causes us to act the way we will act. This means God knows all possibilities, but it also means we lack geunine freedom. In order for all of these things to be true, God needs to know how we could act, how we would act, and how we will act!

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