Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jeremy Pierce on Molinism


Monday 20 July, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

The problem with Middle Knowledge is that it doesn’t really get you a middle view. It gets you Calvinism. Middle knowledge doesn’t work to explain how God knows what free beings will do unless there are truths about what free beings will do in certain situations. That automatically rules out open theism, of course, but I think it leaves libertarian accounts of freedom with serious problems. For a Wesleyan/Arminian view to work, freedom better be libertarian. But if God knows what free beings will do in any situation, then there’s a fact of what those beings will do in those situations.

Philosophers call such facts “counterfactuals of freedom” because they’re truths about what we would freely do given a different set of preconditions. What would generate such facts? What would make it true that I do something different if I had different preconditions applying to me before I act? You lose the preconditions causing me to do something, but you’re left with no explanation of the fact that I would do such-and-such if faced with the alternative case. Somehow such facts exist, but nothing makes them true, because if something made them true then my actions would be caused by what makes them true.

In short, there are truths about what I would do in any situation, and there is absolutely no explanation for why there are such truths unless the compatibilist view of freedom is correct, in which case there’s no objection to Calvinism, because Calvinists insist on a compatibilist view of freedom, and that’s what’s so objectionable to Wesleyans/Arminians.


Wednesday 22 July, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

No, I’m definitely not defining Middle Knowledge as a variety of Calvinism. I’m arguing that the view has no foundation unless Calvinism is true. Molinists are definitely not Calvinists. This isn’t an argument that they are but an argument that the view doesn’t make sense unless Calvinists are right about the one issue where Molinists depart from Calvinism. So they reject Calvinism but then take on a view that doesn’t make sense unless Calvinism is true.

The question is how it is that God knows these facts about what free beings would do in certain situations. If God knows the facts, then there must be such facts. So if I would freely have rejected God’s offer of salvation if I had been raised by a particular atheist pair of parents instead of my Christian parents, then there must be some set of facts that explains why it’s true that I would have done so in that scenario. Molinists have to say there’s no explanation of why I would freely have done so, but nevertheless there’s still a fact. There’s nothing that makes it true that I would have chosen otherwise, but it’s still true that I would have chosen otherwise.

I can’t make sense of the view unless there are facts about the world in such a situation that explain my choice in that alternative possibility. But once you grant that, you better be a compatibilist if you think we’re free, and once you do that it’s not God’s middle knowledge that accounts for our freedom. It’s compatibilist freedom that does, and then the middle knowledge is just a side-effect. So I don’t think middle knowledge is a solution to explaining how God can know the future if Calvinism is false.


  1. Good points. James White made some similar points on The Dividing Line.

    I have pondered problems in the Arminian use of middle knowledge regarding children.

  2. Well put. Of course the Molinists in the thread just respond with something like, "Well, God's smart enough to know what people would do." Which of course completely ignores his argument. And you've got to love it when people who've never thought through compatibilism arguing against it. You have to spend most of your time just correcting straw men.

  3. Mark,

    Yup, that's the nature of Arminianism. It's also why the Big Brained Blog is here to help.

  4. You have to spend most of your time just correcting straw men.

    That's a great line!

    God knew you were going to write that and that I was going to like it.