Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review of Francis Turretin on Middle Knowledge

Middle Knowledge
The purpose of this post is to define and defend God’s middle knowledge (otherwise known as Molinism after it's first articulator Luis de Molina). Middle knowledge has been underappreciated in theological circles. This is surprising, given that it makes the most progress out of any system at reconciling freewill and predestination. The reasons typically given for not adopting the middle knowledge solution are the grounds for such knowledge, the complexity of the system, and its relative newness to the scene. However, its value is immense, explaining God’s full control, while maintaining libertarian freewill.

Francis Turretin, reformer and Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the school Calvin founded at Geneva, is often cited as the authority on the reformed position. He wrote an important systematic theology, in which he assailed the Arminian and Jesuit position on middle knowledge. Being one of the best anti-middle knowledge writings available, I chose to defend middle knowledge from the arguments Turretin puts foreword.

I am aware that in modern times, middle knowledge has been attacked by Open Theists. They agree with Calvinists that, if God knows the future, then man does not have freewill. But unlike Calvinists who deny libertarian freewill, they deny God’s foreknowledge. Seeing middle knowledge as an explanation reconciling God’s foreknowledge with freedom, they attack it, wishing to leave people with the two more drastic options.

The reason I have chosen not to address some of the recent attacks on middle knowledge, is because I find God’s knowledge of the hypothetical future clearly biblical. Passages saying God knows what would happen under different circumstances are throughout scripture. Calvinists agree that God knows the hypothetical future. Rather, they assert a different basis or grounding. They claim the grounding for middle knowledge is God’s decrees. The Open Theist argument is that there is not, nor can there be, any grounding. So in their view God does not know the hypothetical future, or at least not with certainty. But since the bible says God knows the hypothetical future, this isn’t an option. This is the reason I have chosen Turretin’s position to grapple with, rather then the Open Theist’s, but hopefully this will cover more or the less the same issues.

We will start out by defining middle knowledge as God’s knowledge of if this happens, this will happen, and also explaining its importance in reconciling predestination and freewill. Next, we will examine scripture passages teaching middle knowledge. Next we will briefly cover a logical argument for middle knowledge. Finally, we will cover Turretin’s four big objections: Simplicity, Grounding, Causal Determinism and Logical Determinism.

Definition of Middle Knowledge

Middle knowledge is important in being able to explain the co-existence of God’s decrees and providence, and man’s freewill. Simply put, middle knowledge is the view that God knows that if X happens, Y would happen.

Middle knowledge gets the name middle, because it is logically in-between two other types of knowledge. It comes after natural knowledge and before free knowledge. Natural knowledge is the knowledge of all things that are possible, or things that can happen. Free knowledge is knowledge of the future, or things that will happen. Middle knowledge is knowledge of what would happen, given a circumstance. Simply put, natural knowledge is what can happen, middle knowledge is what would happen, and free knowledge is what will happen.

Middle knowledge includes freewill acts. So God knows that if I am in situation X, I would freely choose Y. This is invaluable in explaining God’s providence and predestination. If God reveals the gospel in this manner, this man would freely respond. If God provides the circumstance in which the soldier knew Christ was already dead, the soldier wouldn’t break Christ’s legs.

Middle knowledge also helps explain how God knows and can reveal the future. In the logical order, God first knows what can happen, then what would happen, then He chooses which possibility to exercise, then He knows what will happen. So to know the future, God does not have to see events that have not already occurred in time, which can be tricky to explain. Rather, He has to know what He chose.

Turretin rightly distinguishes middle knowledge from three separate, but easy to confuse, issues:

1) “the question is not whether God knows future contingencies”
2) “the question does not concern necessary conditional future things”
3) “the question is not whether the knowledge of conditional future things is in God antecedently to every decree”

(Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 214.)

Both Calvinists and those holding to middle knowledge affirm God knows the future. They are not talking about necessary things, like if I light this log on fire, it would burn. They both agree that God must be willing to grant concurrence before anything is brought into existence.

Turretin rightly defines the question as: “Therefore the question is whether besides the natural knowledge (which is only of things possible) and the knowledge of vision (which is only of things future), there may be granted in God a certain third or middle knowledge concerning conditional future things by which God knows what men or angels will freely do without a special decree preceding (if placed with these or those circumstances in such an order of things).” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 214.)

The issue is the order. Does God first decree and then know what would happen, or does He know what would happen and use that knowledge in His decree.

The decree of what will actually happen is not itself, nor could it be, the basis of God’s knowledge of what would hypothetically happen, for any event that will not actually happen. Hence, Calvinists often claim God decreed what would hypothetically happen. Other Calvinists claim that God would hypothetically decree that hypothetically would happen. Either way, they claim God’s decree is the basis of what would happen. Now this seems like a slightly awkward decree, because of its uselessness. Nevertheless, the reformed maintain this position as an alternative to middle knowledge.

Biblical Texts Teaching Middle Knowledge

The bible in a number of places affirms that God knows what would happen under hypothetical circumstances. For our purposes, we are primarily interested in God’s knowledge of what His rational creatures would do under hypothetical circumstances. As noted above, we are not interested necessary relationship, such as, if I were to light this log on fire, it would burn. A special subset of necessary relationships are those based on an unchangeable promise of God such as:

2Sa 12:8 'I also gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!

These passages have at times been mistaken as teaching middle knowledge, but they don’t. On this passage Turretin rightly notes: “the prophet enumerates the blessings of God towards ungrateful David, to which he would have added greater if David had continued in obedience (not from any conditional decree or middle knowledge, but according to the promise made to piety).” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 217.)

Another type of verses that are sometimes quoted as supporting middle knowledge, but don’t are in fact related to our choices. Some verses teach that absent a circumance a choice would not have been made at all. Not that a choice would have been this rather than that, but that no choice would have been made. Consider John 15:22-24:

Joh 15:22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.
Joh 15:23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
Joh 15:24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

The Jews choice to reject Christ would not have been made had Christ not revealed Himself. This is not knowledge of how they would choose, but rather that they would choose.

Rather, the texts which teach middle knowledge relate to what rational creatures would choose under given circumstances.

Passages Which Compare Groups

The first set of texts we come to which teach middle knowledge are those that compare the actions of one group to another. They either say that two groups, which were actually under different circumstances, would have done the same thing under the same circumstance or they say that the groups would do different things under the same circumstances.

In these two cases, one group would have repented or listened, the other group would not.

Mat 11:21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Mat 11:22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
Mat 11:23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Eze 3:6 Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.
Eze 3:7 But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.

In this case, both groups would have killed the prophets.

Mat 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Mat 23:28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Mat 23:29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
Mat 23:30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Mat 23:31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
Mat 23:32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

To these texts Turretin responds: The words of Christ (“If the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” Mt 11:21) are not to be strained to the letter, as if they referred to something which on a certain condition would be determinately future. For it is a hyperbolical and proverbial kind of speech where Christ (by a comparison odious to the Jews) wishes to exaggerate the contumacy and rebellion of their cities (rendered illustrious by his miracles), which, as the searcher of hearts, he knew to be greater and more obstinate than the wickedness of the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon. So Christ does not speak of the foreknowledge of any future conditional things, but wishes by using a hyperbole to upbraid the Jews for ingratitude and impenitence greater than that of the Tyrians and Sidonians; as if a teacher (addressing a slow and dull scholar) should say, if I had taught an ass as long, he would have known it; or of an inexorable judge, if I had beaten rocks and stones as long, I could have broken them; we do not mean that rocks could be softened or an ass taught, but only that the slowness of the scholar and the hardness of the judge are extreme. In the same manner, Christ says, “If these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40); not as if the stones could cry out, but to show that his person, doctrine and works were so clear and indubitable that they could no longer be concealed. There is a similar passage in Ezk. 3:6: “Had I sent thee to a people of a strange speech, they would have harkened unto thee.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 216.)

Turretin’s argument is that Christ’s statement regarding the second group was an exaggeration, and Christ’s only point was to rebuke the first group. It is true that Christ’s main point was to rebuke the first group. However, the question is how is Christ rebuking them, via an actual comparison or via an exaggerated one?

The point of third passage (Mathew 23 which, unfortunately Turretin does not here address) is to rebuke the Pharisees, in part, for their hypocrisy in saying they wouldn’t have killed the prophets. The rebuke would lose its force if they wouldn’t have killed the prophets or even if the implication that they would have was an exaggeration.

Even though Mathew 23 is sufficient to remove Turretin’s objection, it seems unfair, because Turretin didn’t address it. So we will proceed through the details of what he did say.

Turretin’s examples of hyperbolic hypothetical don’t quite line up with these texts. His illustration of the teacher saying they could teach a donkey quicker or break stones quicker is incongruent to a comparison between the two groups. On the one hand, donkeys are incapable of being taught and on the other the group is capable of responding. It’s the incapability of the donkeys that indicates the statement is a hyperbole.

Now, if the teacher said, I could teach this group of students faster then you, the example would line up to the text. And it would still be a rebuke. But it would no longer be an exaggeration. It’s a comparison of the relative abilities of the students. In some sense, because it’s more realistic, it’s a stronger rebuke.

The second example that Turretin gives is Luke 19:40: “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” Perhaps this statement need not be read as a hyperbole, although it would take a miracle for the stones to cry out. But even if it is an exaggeration, it is so because stones are unable sing. Again, the inability is critical to the hyperbole. Again, the example does not match Mathew 11, where the residents of Tyre were able to respond.

To say Christ is exaggerating is in some sense to dismiss what He says. Every other option should be explored before a passage should be interpreted as a hyperbole. It appears Turretin first turns to hyperbole, because he needs a way out. But the texts are plain. God knows what His rational creatures would do under other circumstances.

Passages with Alternate Futures

Another type of passage which teaches middle knowledge are those in which God tells what hypothetically will be chosen, and because the circumstance underlying the hypothesis does not happen, the choice does not happen. Consider 1 Samuel 23:7-13 in which David is told that he will be betrayed by the men of Keilah and he leaves before they get a chance.

1Sa 23:7 And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars.
1Sa 23:8 And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men.
1Sa 23:9 And David knew that Saul secretly practised mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar the priest, Bring hither the ephod.
1Sa 23:10 Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake.
1Sa 23:11 "Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant." And the LORD said, "He will come down."
1Sa 23:12 Then David said, "Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?" And the LORD said, "They will surrender you."
1Sa 23:13 Then David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the pursuit.

Turretin responds that the issue is their intentions. “1 Samuel 23:11-12 cannot favor this middle knowledge because it is not so much a prediction of future things which were still in futurition (as a revelation of things which then existed although secret, viz., of the plans discussed among the men of Keilah about the delivery of David if he stayed there.) For when David was doubtful concerning the design of Saul and the intention of the men of Keilah towards himself, and therefore inquired of the Lord whether Saul was about to descend against the men of Keilah, and they would deliver him up into the hands of Saul (if he stayed among them), God answered that David should withdraw himself and fly from their fury, and that Saul would descend and the men of Keilah would deliver him up (if he remained there), because in truth both Saul girded himself for the journey, and the men of Keilah were even then secretly plotting to deliver David up to him. “For they will deliver thee up,” i.e., they have the will to do so, as the interlinear gloss has it. So the words “to descend and “to deliver up” do not refer to the act itself as hypothetically future, but (as often elsewhere) they are put for the purpose and intention, i.e., to have in the mind to do this (as Acts 12:6 an 16:27).” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 216.)

Here it seems Turretin makes uncharacteristic error. He switches arguments midstream. His first argument is that God told David the hypothetical future, based on their current intentions. The second argument is that God told David their current intentions, not a hypothetical future. These are mutually exclusive arguments.

The second argument, that God told David their current intentions, not a hypothetical future, contains an equivocation error. The passage says the word “will”. Will can be defined as the future or it can be defined as our desires and choices. Turretin also introduces the word “would” which also has two meanings. The first, a hypothetical future, the second desires. In the passage, plainly the text is speaking of the future. This is plain from the Hebrew text itself, every translation and every commentary I have ever read.

Now perhaps Turretin simply means God makes a statement about the hypothetical future, but its basis is their current intentions. But, assuming God’s statement is true, God knows that if this happens, that will happen. Middle knowledge is this far granted.

Now the basis of middle knowledge is slightly different then the classic explanation. Rather then God knowing the counterfactuals themselves, He knows them indirectly through knowing people’s intentions. But the basis isn’t God’s decree, but rather the individual. So although the basis for middle knowledge is slightly off, this explanation essential grants middle knowledge.

There are several problems with intention being the basis of God’s knowledge of the hypothetical future.

First, the passage indicates that David already knew Saul’s intentions. What he was asking was if Saul would be successful or not. Verses 9 and 10 plainly say David already knew Saul’s intent. So if knowing one’s intentions was enough to know what they will do, then David would not have needed to ask.

Second, the passage says nothing about the intentions of the people of Keilah. It doesn’t seem that they were yet in a position in which they would need to choose what to do. Yet God gives their hypothetical future.

Third, this explanation doesn’t leave room for people to change their mind. We often experience ourselves deciding what we will do ahead of time, and later changing our minds. So our intentions don’t absolutely predetermine our actions.

Rather than God knowing that the intentions of Saul and the men of Keliah predetermined their actions, God knew what they would choose, given the hypothetical circumstances.

Middle Knowledge Based On Altered State

There are several passages which teach either, if you had converted, you would persevere, or if you receive initial revelation, you would respond to this greater revelation. For example:

Joh 5:46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
Joh 5:47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

Joh 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

Joh 8:39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.

Joh 8:42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.

1Jo 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Certainly this has more to do with God’s promises to preserve us than middle knowledge. Nevertheless with middle knowledge we have the advantage of explaining how God preserves us without removing freedom.

Middle Knowledge Based on Altered Information

Several passages teach that with additional information, we would have chosen differently or that even with additional information, we would have chosen the same.

With Additional Information

1Co 2:8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Mat 12:7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

Mat 24:43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.

Joh 4:10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

Regardless of Additional Information

Luk 22:67 Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe:
Luk 22:68 And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go.

Luk 16:30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
Luk 16:31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Hence, additional information is not itself the determining factor, yet under the hypothesis of additional information, God knows what we would choose.

Logical Defense of Middle Knowledge

A logical arguments put foreword in favor of middle knowledge is the law of excluded middle. John would accept the job, if it’s offered. This statement is either true or false. The law of excluded middle states that it cannot be both or neither. God, being omniscient, knows all truths. Hence, He knows what would happen in all circumstances.

This logical defense only works against the Open Theist viewpoint that denies middle knowledge. This argument does not disprove the Calvinist position that affirms knowledge of hypotheticals on a different basis.

Turretin’s Objectionable Objections
Simplicity Objection

Turretin objects to a middle state between potential and future. “Natural and free knowledge embrace all knowable things and entities are not to be multiplied unnecessarily.1 There is nothing in the nature of things which is not possible or future; nor can future conditional things constitute a third order. For they are such either from a condition only possible or powerful, yet never to take place, or from a condition certainly future and decreed. In the former manner, they do not recede from the nature of possible things and belong to natural knowledge; in the latter, they are future and decreed by God and come under the free knowledge.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 214.)

Before the decree, and in the sense Turretin is using, events known through middle knowledge are only possible. In the contrast between possible and future, they are only possible. The X or Y in the expression, if X happens, Y will happen, are possible not future. They might be said to be future in divided sense of future: that is, if X is future, Y is future, but not in a compound sense, X and Y are future. Thus, no unnecessary middle state between possible and future is established.

However, in a different sense, the contrast between possible and actual (as opposed to the contrast between possible and future), one aspect of middle knowledge is actual. There actually is a relationship between the two things. If X happens, Y will happen. The expression is actual, but not future. Does this sense of actual constitute an unnecessary third order? No. The actuality is no different then the actuality of possibility. What is possible actually is possible, it may not be future. In the same way what would happen, actually would happen, it may not be future.

Grounding Objection

Turretin objects that there is no grounding for middle knowledge, because conditional things are unknowable. “Things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Now conditional future things are not true apart from the determination of the divine will… But no cause of this thing [a hypothetically future event] can be imagined except the will of God. There was nothing from eternity which could be the cause of the determination of a thing indifferent to either part except the will of God; not his essence or knowledge, for neither can operate ad extra separated from the will. Therefore, as no effect can be understood as future (whether absolutely or hypothetically) without the divine decree (because no creature can be in the world without the divine causality), so no future conditional thing can be knowable before the divine decree.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 214.)

Notice this grounding objection is different then the grounding objection presented by Open Theists. It is not an objection that there are no grounds for middle knowledge. Rather, it is an objection that there could be no other grounds except God’s will.

In this grounding objection, there is a hint of causal determinism. This will be addressed later, however, for our purposes we will assume causal indeterminism is true and address the core objection: why, other then God’s decree, are counterfactuals of freedom true?

Turretin’s denial that God’s knowledge and essences are not the cause may appear enigmatic without a context. Molina taught that God knows men’s natures in an infinite way, in a way that transcends the nature itself. Hence man’s nature is in some sense the basis of our counterfactuals of freedom (nothing else need be considered by God to know what we would do), but in some sense God’s infinite knowledge is the reason He knows what we would do. So per Molina, to know what Tim would do, God considers Tim, and although what Tim would do isn’t a property of being Tim, yet God’s transcendent knowledge of Tim knows what Tim would do. Turretin denied this, saying God’s knowledge itself is non-causative. I agree.

The grounding objection is not so much about how God knows counterfactuals, but rather are counterfactuals true and knowable. Since God’s knowledge is infinite (Psalms 147:5 Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite) we cannot fully comprehend how He knows what He does. But we can logically distinguish His manner of knowing based on differences in what He knows. Hence the differences must be in what God knows, not how He knows it. This is why I reject Molina’s explanation. Molina puts the cart before the horse. Instead of using a distinct object to be known to understand a distinct mode of knowing, he starts with a distinct mode of knowing and arrives at a distinct object.

Are there other grounds for middle knowledge besides God’s knowledge or God’s will? Simply put, God knows that we would do X in circumstance Y, because we would do X in Y. Perhaps this just pushes the question back a step to why would we do X in Y? Now if we are searching for a sufficient cause, we will not find one. Freewill requires causal indeterminism. It should be clear that true statements do not require a cause. God exists. Nothing causes God to exist, yet the statement is true. Thus causes are not required to ground truth.

On the other hand, perhaps we may be looking for something actual, as opposed to something hypothetical, to ground truth. Past and future events are not now actual, yet statements about them are true or false. Negatives statements (like the Boogie Man does not exist) are true without something actual grounding them. It is true that statements about the past had something actual grounding it, and statements about the future will have something actual grounding them. And negative statements have something actual about their inverse grounding them. In the same way, hypothetical statements would have something actual grounding them. So to demand something that is right now, actual as grounds of truth requires a very odd theory about the grounds of truth.

We didn’t actually exist from eternity. However, we hypothetically did. And our “hypothetical selves” determined what we would do.2 Our "hypothetical selves" were grounded in God's power and will to hypothesize and give "hypothetical us" the hypothetical ability to choose.

Causal Determinism

Turretin objects that middle knowledge is impossible, because it implies God is not the first cause of the things known. “If all the acts of the created will fall under the divine providence so that none are independent and indeterminate, no middle knowledge can be granted (which is supposed to have for its object the free determination of the will, depending upon no superior cause). Now that there is such a subjection of the created will is evident from the dependence between the first cause and second cause, between Creator and creatures. Nor can it suffice to save that dependence that the will may be said to be created and its liberty given by God for it would not cease to be the principle of its own determination, if its acts did not depend upon some decree. It would not be indeed the first being, but yet it would be the first operator (nor anymore the second, but the first cause because if it depended in being upon God, it would not depend upon Him in operation).” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 215.)

The will depends upon God, both for its existence and its operation. The will is not the first cause of the existence of a choice. God and the will produce the same effect, a choice, in different ways. God’s concurrence provides existence, the will provides specification. Hence, the will does not create out of nothing.

God’s concurrence sustains the existence of all things. It works alongside secondary causes. Secondary causes specify effects, God as the first cause grants existence to the effect. For example, when a flame burns wood, the flame causes the wood to burn and not get soggy, and God causes the flame to exist, and not be reduced to nothing. Freewill does specify between alternatives, but does not grant existence. Hence, it is not the first cause in any creative sense.

Is freewill the first cause with respect to specification? Fire and wood operate under natural properties, which they receive via creation. They act differently then freewill in that they cannot do otherwise then what they do. Freewill on the other hand, is the ability to select this or that alternative. Even in specification, freewill is not a first cause. But it is a first sufficient cause. Freewill operates via indeterminate causation.

Choices require objects to be chosen. These objects have to be apprehended by our senses and represented by our minds to our will. Without the object and our senses and minds, we would not be able to choose that object. Hence, the object may be said to be a necessary cause of our choices. That is, without which, we could not choose. However, this is not a sufficient cause (given the presence of a sufficient cause, the effect must be produced).

Hence, in no sense is freewill a first cause with respect to existence, which is the primary sense in which God is said to be the first cause. Nor is the will a first cause with respect to specification, unless we assume determinism and deny indeterminate causation.

Logical Determinism

Turretin objects that if middle knowledge is certain, the will is not free. “No uncertain knowledge should be ascribed to God. The middle knowledge can have no certainty because it is occupied about an uncertain and contingent object (viz., the indifference of the will). I ask, therefore, whence can God certainly know what will or will not take place?... Again knowledge either makes the event certain or foresees it as certain. If it makes it so, how can it foreknow it as such; where then is the indifference of the will? If it foresees it as certain, how could the foresight of an uncertain and indifferent thing be itself certain? Or from the eternal existence of things by which they are said to be present to God (as other prefer); but since they could have no real being from eternity (but only intentional, they cannot be said to have existed from eternity otherwise than by reason of the decree in which they obtain their futurition. Since therefore the certain necessity of the event cannot be founded on the contingent connection of the ends or on the knowledge which recognizes but does not make certain the thing, it follows that it is only from the efficacious decree of the connector.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 215.)

The basis of the knowledge has been handled in the section on the grounding objection. Even though these arguments are connected, I will not repeat what was said there, here. However, a different facet of the ground objection arises here. How can God know counterfactuals of freedom before we exist? And a second question, if an act is foreknown, how can it remain free?

Turretin asks: how something that does not yet have “real being” or existence can be known? Under middle knowledge hypotheticals do not have real being, yet they are known.

All past events are certain. But they are certain in different ways. Choices could have been different, but natural events couldn’t have been different. But they are both certain. This distinction is sometimes called accidental necessity verses natural necessity. It’s also sometimes called soft and hard facts.

Counterfactuals of freedom are necessary in the first sense. They could have been, but were not otherwise. The reason past choices are certain is because the actual events have occurred. The reason hypothetical choices are certain is because the hypothetical events have hypothetically occurred. Thus, the answer to the question: how can God know counterfactuals before we existed is that counterfactuals had hypothetically occurred, and were therefore accidentally necessary.

Turretin asks “where then is the indifference of the will?” The will is indifferent with respect to preceding causation. That is, given all preceding causes, the will may do this or that. However, given that the will did this, now it cannot have done that. In this sense its acts are (but were not) necessary. This sense is no more then a tautology. The past cannot not be the past and the future cannot not be the future. However, in a different sense, choices are not necessary. In the sense that choices could have been otherwise (that is prior to the choice) the will’s actions are not necessary.

In the middle knowledge scheme, middle knowledge precedes God’s decrees. Thus, God’s middle knowledge was certain, before He chose what will happen. Thus middle knowledge has the same necessity past events have. But considering the preceding causes of the hypothetical events, they could have been different. So because they are past, they are certain, but before they happened, they were uncertain. This is the indifference of the will.

Perhaps one might further object that although the hypothetical events may have been free, the actual events will not be. The reason God knows the future is twofold. First, the events were hypothetically future and second, God’s decree. Hence, the basis of God’s certainty regarding the future is not the determined nature of the future, but God’s middle knowledge and His decree.

Nor does middle knowledge or the decree determine the future. What hypothetically would happen corresponds to what will actually happen without casually determining it. Since what hypothetically would happen, could have been different, so also what will happen could have been different. The decree does not alter what would happen, so if it would happen freely it will happen freely.

Turretin’s Agreeable Objections

The Dominion of God

Turretin argues that under middle knowledge, free choices don’t depend upon God, but God causes them. “This middle knowledge takes away the dominion of God over free acts because according to it the acts of the will are supposed to be antecedent to the decree and therefore have their futurition not from God, but from itself. Indeed God would seem rather to depend upon the creature while he could decree or dispose nothing, unless a determination of the human will were posited which God would see in such a connection of things. Nor ought the reply to be made that the dominion of God is not therefore taken away because he can remove that connection or some circumstance of it; for example, in the foreknowledge by which God knew that Peter would deny Christ if placed in a certain condition, God could hinder him from denying Christ by taking away some foreseen circumstance (for instance, the fear of death) or by adding greater light in the intellect and a greater inclination in the will to confession and the like. For it is not sufficient for the support of the dominion of God that he could hinder Peter from denying Christ, for he might have deprived Peter of life before the apprehension of Christ (but this would be to have dominion over the life of Peter, not over his free will); but it is requisite that the free acts of Peter, of denying or not denying Christ, should depend upon him (which is denied on the supposition of this knowledge). In fine, if God can take away one foreseen circumstance, he can therefore change the event of the thing: if he can by a decree change the event of a thing, therefore it also pertains to the decree to procure it; for he who hinders the event by a removal of some circumstance ought to cause it by supplying the circumstances.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 215-16.)

Turretin’s argument seems at bit at odds with his conclusion. His conclusion seems to indicate God, through middle knowledge, has dominion over free acts, because He is causing the events by supplying circumstances. The body of his argument however, denies that middle knowledge grants God dominion over the free acts of men, because they are known antecedent to His decree.

His conclusion is in a sense correct. Not that the circumstance causally determines the event, but since God is certain of the circumstance/event relationship, by supplying the circumstance, He is certain the event will occur.

This is of great importance in understanding the dominion of God. He runs everything. He does not causally determine everything, nevertheless, through middle knowledge He controls every outcome. So I agree with Turretin’s conclusion.

I also agree with his argument that God doesn’t determine free acts, because the free acts are known antecedent to the decree. Without this, I wouldn’t know how to affirm freewill. Nor would I be able to explain how God isn’t the author of sin or how to maintain human responsibility.

For the most part, I agree with what Turretin is saying here. I see them as advantages, not disadvantages. Under middle knowledge, God has full providential control without being the author of sin or undermining human responsibility.


Turretin argues that under middle knowledge, predestination is conditional. “On the supposition of such a knowledge, a reason for predestination can be assigned out of God besides his purpose and good pleasure because the foreseen consent of the will of Jacob placed in such circumstances would be at least the condition without which God could not predestine to salvation Jacob rather than Esau.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 216.)

While I disagree with Turretin on the explanation of Romans 9, I agree with these implications regarding predestination. Through middle knowledge, in one sense God predestines unconditionally, in another conditionally. In the sense that God chooses which circumstances to actualize, He unconditionally chooses who will be saved. For example, if he preaches to the citizens of Tyre, they would be saved. But He sovereignly decides not to. (Mt 11:21) On the other hand, under middle knowledge, no one is chosen who would not have the condition of faith, nor rejected without the condition of obstinacy. I see this as a great advantage over Calvinism, balancing God’s love with His sovereignty.


Middle knowledge gives a comprehendible explanation of the harmony between freewill and predestination. It is taught in the scriptures, is reasonable, explainable and stands up against all objections. In many conversations it is so intuitively obvious that it is never questioned. For example, the common question: “since God knew what would happen, why did He allow the fall?” presupposed middle knowledge. More Christians should explore middle knowledge as a solution to some of the toughest questions about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

1 This principle is commonly called Occham’s razor. Interestingly, William Occham developed the theories around counterfactuals of freedom and accidental necessity that are fundamental to middle knowledge.
2 We determine what we do. Our hypothetical selves determine what we would do. The two correspond without causing each other.

1 comment:

Jnorm888 said...

Good stuff!!!! I think more Arminians should embrace aspects of middle knowledge.....if they do, it will expand their Arminianism.

Good stuff! Also, I would like you to know that your belief of being able to choose between different levels of good or choosing between different kinds of good was also tought by Saint Maximus the confessor. His book is hard to find these days. It was translated into English by the name of "Free choice" by Saint Maximus the Confessor. But the book is so hard to find man it ain't funny.

I believe it was you that mentioned choosing among things that were good. If I'm wrong I'm sorry......maybe it was another person.....but I thought it was you.

Take care!!!