What is your response to Molinism (a philosophical idea with regard to free will and God's foreknowledge)?
Have you ever heard of the Doctrine Molinism? I haven’t studied concerning the process of salvation in awhile. The last place I essentially left off was being convinced of the ideology of this doctrine. And as of now I still hold to Molinism.
I am copying and pasting an article from Google on Molinism—not exactly the end-all, be-all authority to say the least, but I do think it is a fair description. I will comment here and put the Google article below.
Molinism is philosophical speculation. Such philosophical speculation is not authoritative, and therefore Molinism is not authoritatively true or false. William Lane Craig is a philosopher, so he is predisposed to finding a philosophic system which is consistent with his theology and his understanding of the scripture. I am not criticizing—only describing.
I have read a fair amount on Molinism and I personally find it to be a relatively satisfactory philosophical speculation which approximately matches my own personal understanding of what the scriptures say on these topics.
To me, any philosophical system which protects God’s sovereignty and at the same time preserves our free will—real, not truncated free will such as that found in Augustine—is acceptable. I believe that Molinism, properly understood, may well be the best philosophical response to the biblical view of these topics. It allows that God foreknows, but does not demand that he predestines who will be saved and who will go to hell. Therefore I am relatively comfortable with this philosophical speculation.
Having said all that, I prefer to leave the final description of exactly how God’s sovereignty and our free will interact as a mystery. Historically, Christians have gotten in a lot of trouble when they try to make definite well-defined statements on the nature of God, on the nature of Jesus, on the “trinity” and on questions of free will and predestination. Much of the heretical teaching in the early church, such as Docetism, Nestorianism, Monothelitism and so forth are the result of believers trying to define what is best left as a mystery. So, I prefer not to commit to saying “I am a molinist.” I like molinism as a philosophical system, but I prefer to not commit to somewhat speculative philosophical conjectures. Committing to such views and names of those views is unwise in my opinion.
Molinism, named after 16th Century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, is a religious doctrine which attempts to reconcile the providence of God with human free will. William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga are some of its best known advocates today, though other important Molinists include Alfred Freddoso and Thomas Flint. In basic terms, Molinists hold that in addition to knowing everything that does or will happen, God also knows what His creatures would freely choose if placed in any circumstance.
- 1 God’s types of knowledge
- 2 Knowledge of counterfactuals
- 3 Theological implications
- 4 Biblical texts for Molinism
- 5 Criticism
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References/Further reading
- 9 External links
God’s types of knowledge
Kenneth Keathley, author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach”, states that Molinists argue that God perfectly accomplishes His will in the lives of genuinely free creatures through the use of His omniscience. After Luis de Molina, Molinists present God’s knowledge in a sequence of three logical moments. The first is God’s knowledge of necessary truths or natural knowledge. These truths are independent of God’s will and are non-contingent. This knowledge includes the full range of logical possibilities. Examples include statements like, “All bachelors are unmarried” or “X cannot be A and non-A at the same time, in the same way, at the same place” or “It is possible that X obtain”. The second is called “middle knowledge” and it contains the range of possible things that would happen given certain circumstances (thus, it is limited and does not include all possibilities). The third kind of knowledge is God’s free knowledge. This type of knowledge consists of contingent truths that are dependent upon God’s will; or truths that God brings about, that He does not have to bring about. Examples might include statements like “God created the earth” or something particular about this world which God has actualized. This is called God’s “free knowledge” and it contains the future or what will happen. In between God’s natural and free knowledge is His middle knowledge (or scientia media) by which God knows what His free creatures would do under any circumstance. These are truths that do not have to be true, but are true without God being the primary cause of them. “If you enter the ice cream shop, you would choose chocolate” is an example of a statement God knows via middle knowledge.
Molinists support their case with Christ’s statement in Matthew 11:23:
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
The Molinist claims that in this example, God knows what His free creatures would choose under hypothetical circumstances, namely that the Sodomites would have responded in such a way that Sodom would still have been in existence in Jesus’ day.
Matthew 11:23 contains what is commonly called a counterfactual of creaturely freedom. But counterfactuals are to be distinguished from foreknowledge. The Bible contains many examples of foreknowledge such as Deut 31:16-17, where God tells Moses that the Israelites will forsake God after they are delivered from Egypt.
Some opponents of Molinism claim that God’s foreknowledge and knowledge of counterfactuals are examples of what God is going to actively bring about. That is, when Christ describes the response of the Sodomites in the aforementioned example, God was going to actively bring it about that they would remain until today. Molinists have responded to this objection by noting that scripture contains examples of God’s foreknowledge of evil acts. For example, the Israelites forsaking God, or Peter’s denial of Christ, are both examples of what one would call overt acts of sin. Yet, according to opponents of Molinism, God is actively bringing about these overt acts of sin. This is obviously fallacious according to the Molinist. In order for this account of prophecy to be valid all prophecies must be wholly good, and never contain evil acts; but this is not what opponents believe to be the case.
Knowledge of counterfactuals
Molinists believe that God does not only have knowledge of necessary truths and contingent truths but that God’s middle knowledge contains, but is not limited to, His knowledge of counterfactuals. A counterfactual is a statement of the form “if it were the case that P, it would be the case that Q”. An example would be, “If Bob were in Tahiti he would freely choose to go swimming instead of sunbathing.” The Molinist claims that even if Bob is never in Tahiti, God can still know whether Bob would go swimming or sunbathing. The Molinist believes that God, using his middle knowledge and foreknowledge, surveyed all possible worlds and then actualized a particular one. God’s middle knowledge of counterfactuals would play an integral part in this “choosing” of a particular world.
Molinists say the logical ordering of events for creation would be as follows:
1. God’s natural knowledge of necessary truths.
2. God’s middle knowledge, (including counterfactuals).
—Creation of the World—
3. God’s free knowledge (the actual ontology of the world).
Hence, God’s middle knowledge plays an important role in the actualization of the world. In fact, it seems as if God’s middle knowledge of counterfactuals plays a more immediate role in creation than God’s foreknowledge. William Lane Craig points out that “without middle knowledge, God would find himself, so to speak, with knowledge of the future but without any logical prior planning of the future.” The placing of God’s middle knowledge between God’s knowledge of necessary truths and God’s creative decree is crucial. For if God’s middle knowledge was after His decree of creation, then God would be actively causing what various creatures would do in various circumstances and thereby destroying libertarian freedom. But by placing middle knowledge (and thereby counterfactuals) before the creation decree God allows for freedom in the libertarian sense. The placing of middle knowledge logically after necessary truths, but before the creation decree also gives God the possibility to survey possible worlds and decide which world to actualize.
Craig gives three reasons for holding that counterfactuals statements are true. “First, we ourselves often appear to know such true counterfactuals. Second, it is plausible that the Law of Conditional Excluded Middle (LCEM) holds for counterfactuals of a certain special form, usually called “counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.” Third, the Scriptures are replete with counterfactual statements, so that the Christian theist, at least, should be committed to the truth of certain counterfactuals about free, creaturely actions.”
William Lane Craig calls Molinism “one of the most fruitful theological ideas ever conceived. For it would serve to explain not only God’s knowledge of the future, but divine providence and predestination as well”. Under it, God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering humanity’s freedom. Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent would freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, if placed in circumstance C, would freely choose option X over option Y. Thus, if God wanted to accomplish X, all God would do is, using his middle knowledge, actualize the world in which A was placed in C, and A would freely choose X. God retains an element of providence without nullifying A’s choice and God’s purpose (the actualization of X) is fulfilled.
Molinists also believe it can aid one’s understanding of salvation. Ever since Augustine and Pelagius there has been debate over the issue of salvation; more specifically how can God elect believers and believers still come to God freely? Protestants who lean more towards God’s election and sovereignty are usually Calvinists while those who lean more towards humanity’s free choice follow Arminianism. However, the Molinist can embrace both God’s sovereignty and human free choice.
Take the salvation of Agent A. God knows that if He were to place A in circumstances C, then A would freely choose to believe in Christ. So God actualizes the world where C occurs, and then A freely believes. God still retains a measure of His divine providence because He actualizes the world in which A freely chooses. But, A still retains freedom in the sense of being able to choose either option. It is important to note that Molinism does not affirm two contradictory propositions when it affirms both God’s providence and humanity’s freedom. God’s providence extends to the actualization of the world in which an agent may believe upon Christ.
Difference with Calvinism and Arminianism
Molinism splits from Calvinism by affirming that God grants salvation, but humanity has the choice to freely accept it or reject it (but God knows that if the person were put in a particular situation he or she would not reject it). This differs from Calvinistic predestination, which states that a person’s salvation is already determined by God such that he or she cannot choose otherwise or resist God’s grace.
It also splits from Arminianism because it claims that God definitively knows how a person would react to the Gospel message if they were put in a particular situation. Molinists have internal disagreements about the extent to which they agree with Calvinism, some holding to unconditional election, others holding to conditional election and others still holding to an election that is partly both. Alfred Freddoso explains: “Some Molinists, including Bellarmine and Suárez, agree with the Bañezians that God antecedently elects certain people to eternal glory and only then consults his middle knowledge to discover which graces will guarantee their salvation. Thus, in Peter’s case, God would have chosen different graces if those he actually chose had been foreknown to be merely sufficient and not efficacious for Peter’s salvation. Other Molinists, including Molina himself, vigorously reject any such antecedent absolute election of Peter to salvation. They insist instead that God simply chooses to create a world in which he infallibly foresees Peter’s good use of the supernatural graces afforded him, and only then does he accept Peter among the elect in light of his free consent to those graces.”  Other Molinists avoid the issue altogether by holding to the highly controversial view of trans-world damnation, the idea that the unsaved in this world would have rejected Christ in any world.