Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Failure of Molinism


Recently, I have had a light conversation with a very good friend of mine, and indeed a noble, and honorable man in Christ, regarding the philosophy of middle knowledge. While my friend thinks the work on middle knowledge is akin to that of the order of decrees, I think it is far removed from such work. The motives of the two endeavors are truly at opposite ends of the spectrum in my view. It is one thing to work out a scheme on the basis of exegetical conclusions so that the findings may be framed in a cogent manner. It is quite another to begin with a commitment to an idea and then attempt to come up with how God could have accomplished His purposes consistent with that commitment without regard for the truthfulness or lack thereof of the commitment in question. Middle knowledge, or Molinism as it is called, does exactly this. It begins with a commitment to libertarian freedom and an insistence that God is like “x” without proving its case exegetically, and proceeds from there. The entire idea is built upon baseless speculation in my opinion and it does nothing accomplish the one thing it desperately seeks. It does not get God off the hook of being the ultimate cause of all things.

I am not going to engage in the complexities of the concept of middle knowledge. On the contrary, I am going to take a very complex idea and keep it simple. I realize that proponents of philosophy, and especially those who hold to some form of middle knowledge, be it Arminian or compatibilist will wince at such a treatment. Nevertheless, the reason for Molinism is much simpler than the complexities involved within the framework of the concept itself. The perspicuity of Scripture on God’s sovereignty makes an assessment of middle knowledge easier when you understand its foundational goal. I can see the faces of the φιλοσοφία φιλέω (philosophy love) as a frown runs across it now. We revel in the complex, in the intellectual pursuit, in the accomplishment of working through something that was difficult, challenging, that required great skill. However, is it out of a love for truth so that we may be transformed into the image of Christ or is it because of what it does for our own egos that we love the complex? I think that is a fair question and deserves some consideration.

The Purpose of Molinism

The ultimate goal of middle knowledge is to relieve God of the indictment that He is the ultimate cause of evil and suffering in the world. The only legitimate explanation for the existence of evil is the absolute liberty of the human will, or so it goes. The idea that God actually causes evil is unthinkable and offensive to the human mind in its finite and especially its fallen condition. As the indictment goes, if God willed evil to exist, and everything God wills to exist necessarily exists and nothing exists that God did not will to exist, and it is true that evil actually exists, then God, not man or even the Devil for that matter is responsible for evil. This portrait of God is simply unacceptable to those who would argue that God is not only pure good and pure love, He is pure good and love in how they would define pure good and love. Some have gone so far as to say that the sovereign God of the bible is a monster. He cannot be sovereign in the manner in which reformed thinkers frame it! Enter the Jesuit priest Louis Molina.

Louis Molina brought the idea of middle knowledge into its own in an attempt to solve the tension that exists between God’s decretive knowledge and man’s ‘free-will.’ Molina’s goal was to harmonize how God could know future acts of human beings without resulting in the kind of determinism represented in reformed theology. While more than one iteration of Molinism exists, the simple truth is that it exists for the purpose of preserving free will. In essence, Molinism is an attempt to reconcile the exhaustive foreknowledge of God with the free will of man.

The Proposal of Molinism

Molinism proposes that God’s knowledge of things that would be occurs logically prior to God’s necessary or decretive knowledge. Molinism proposes that God’s election is conditioned on what He knows free creatures would do if they were given prevenient grace. Molinism is interested in preserving a libertarian view of human freedom. This is essentially the primary goal of middle knowledge. The view is far more philosophical than it is theological. I say this because no amount of biblical exegesis will even come close to lending itself to the speculative propositions that are reflected in Molinism.

The Product of Molinism

In summary, the question comes down to whether or not Molinism actually succeeds in its goal. Francis Turretin writes,

“The design of the Jesuits was to defend the semi-Pelagian heresy of foreseen faith and good works in election, and to support the figment of free will in order the more easily to free themselves from the arguments of the Dominicans who rejected such a foresight (principally for this reason – that since there is no knowledge in God [unless either natural – of things possible – or free – of things future] all foreknowledge of faith and of good use of free will ought to depend upon, not precede the decree).”[1]



At bottom, middle knowledge exists in order to get God off a hook He is actually not on to begin with. The indictment against God is based on arrogance and a fallen understanding of necessary prerequisites for culpability. The tension that exists between sovereignty and responsibility exists by God’s design. The truth is that Scripture clearly and explicitly reveals that Adam was responsible for his decision to rebel against God and that God sovereignly decreed that he would do so. How those two revealed truths cohere is a profound mystery to the finite mind. However, this mystery is one we should appreciate instead of solve. It is a test of humility for the human mind. The typical tendency is to try to discover the answer, which in and of itself, is also a glorious wonder of human creation. However, the effects of sin tends to corrupt and pervert this aspect of the human intellect so that we engage in wicked speculation, arrogantly demanding answers that God obviously chose not to provide.

A very serious problem for middle knowledge is the tendency to place creation in an awkwardly arbitrary position. What was God’s criteria for creating this world rather than any of the other possible worlds? Most proponents of middle knowledge contend that it is because the actual world is the one that most people would exercise their freedom to place their faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, God created the world that He saw would result in the redemption of most people. This logical order of things places the redemption and salvation of human beings squarely in the hands of human will rather than divine choice. It also fails to prove what it assumes. After all, how does anyone know that the number of redeemed was the determining piece of criteria? The simple answer is we do not know and we have no earthly way of knowing.

Suppose there was another world God could have created where more people would have been redeemed but their fruit production would have been less on whole and far less on average than the world God did create. Which world is better and by what criteria can we say? Suppose there was another world God could have created where more people would have been redeemed but the degree of wickedness among unregenerate humans would have been far worse than the one He did create. Which world is better and by what criteria can we say? The point here is that even if Molinism were a valid way of looking at divine knowledge, it lacks the explanatory power to provide us with the criteria it requires and therefore, it is left with very flimsy assumptions for why this world and not another.

This is not the best of all possible worlds because it is the world in which the most people would freely choose to follow Christ. The best world is the world in which God is most glorified. Moreover, what glorifies God the most may be something different from what we actually think it is. Hence, the basic assumption of Molinism is just that: an assumption. It is an unproven assumption and in fact, it is an assumption whose proof is impossible given the revelation of God we have in Scripture. Another problem for Molinism is the fact that God must have recgonized that the in order to bring about circumstanes resulting in the salvation of one person, somewhere along the lines, the contingents that were necessary to produce those circumstances also produced circumstances that resulting in damnation for someone else. This scenario is unavoidable within the scheme of middle knowledge.

In summary, Molinism does nothing to disarm the skeptic’s contention that God is actually culpable for all the wickedness we see in the world. God could have decided not to create any world where any evil would have existed at all. Why is freedom to commit evil better than bondage to do good? The skeptic will say God still made the choice, knowing that evil was the price tag that came with freedom, to create human beings. God knew that the world He would create would result in most people ending up in eternal damnation and yet He still decided to create it. He knew that under these circumstances, an innocent 6-year-old would be gunned down while watching Batman in Aurora, CO. Still He created. Molinism does not get God off the skeptic’s hook.

Counterfactuals do not exist. Molinism has no way of showing they do outside of baseless philosophical speculation. There is no exegetical proof to show that counterfactuals are anything other than exegetical exaggerations of men attempting to reject God’s sovereignty to one degree or another. In addition, Scripture does not imply, suggest, or reveal anywhere than man is actually free in the libertarian sense. Of course, man is in control of his actions, but sin is in control of man. He has been taken captive by Satan to perform Satan’s desires. (II Tim 2:26) Satan has taken control of fallen man. ζωγρέω expresses the idea of control over behavior. It means to bring under control and to continue to restrain. The idea of prevenient grace is incongruent with Paul’s description of fallen man. Paul is telling Timothy that Satan controls the behavior of men in order that they would perform his desires. Freedom in the sense that middle knowledge expresses it is clearly not consistent with biblical revelation. Molinism expresses ideas that are built on baseless speculation. It argues for a model of libertarian freedom that contradicts Scripture, and that it cannot show is the best model to begin with. It does not actually accomplish its goal of smoothing the tension between sovereignty and responsibility and hence, God is still on the skeptic’s hook. Molinism fails on every front, exegetically, theologically, and even philosophically.



[1] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992), 213.

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