Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Succinct Explanation of Middle Knowledge

The twin foundations for middle knowledge are the beliefs that the bible teaches libertarian free will and the bible teaches God's providence over all things.  Middle knowledge reconciles the two by stating that God knows what we would choose under any circumstance and He uses this knowledge to accomplish His goals without removing man's freedom.  In middle knowledge, God primarily uses His knowledge rather than His power to achieve His ends.  Middle knowledge gets the name middle, because God's knowledge of what would happen is logically after God's knowledge of what can happen and logically before His decision and knowledge of what will happen.  So for example, God knows if you are in an ice cream shop today you could choose chocolate or vanilla, and you would choose chocolate and He decides to let you choose chocolate so He permits you to be in the ice cream shop today knowing you will choose chocolate.  Man's freedom is preserved in that God does not decide what we would freely do under any circumstance God cannot make you freely do something.  God's providence is preserved in that God decides what circumstances we find ourselves in and therefore what will happen. 

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog this morning, and I was reading some of your other posts. I was actually going to ask you if this is your position (must have been predestined, haha)

So, here's my response: If God simply looks down the corridor of time and chooses those who will choose Him, then He really didn't choose anyone. And if we escape the judgement because we were (smart enough/pious enough/ faithful enough/ whatever..), then God does not get the glory, we do. It's not grace, it is entitlement.

Godismyjudge said...

God didn't have to choose to save anyone and that's true if election is conditional or nor. Even if God chooses to have mercy on believers that doesn't mean we earn salvation.

God be with you,
Dan

Anonymous said...

Where do you think your faith comes from?
- Jon

Godismyjudge said...

In part from God and in part from man.

God be with you,
Dan

Anonymous said...

So, you are saying God chooses people based on His ability to look into the future and see who will have faith. But you are also saying that saving faith is (at least in part) from God.
It sounds like you are saying God has chosen those who He will choose. Which sounds like limited atonement to me (just worded funny).
Not trying to be a jerk, just trying to understand your argument...
- Jon

SLW said...

If God chooses conditions that result infallibly in foreknown "free" actions, how is that any different than straight forward determinism? I see no real practical difference between Middle Knowledge and compatibilism.

Godismyjudge said...

Jon,

Well, I suppose that's not a fair summary. Probably the most helpful thing I can do at this point is point you to my review of Hodge on irresistable grace where I go over conversion in detail.

http://www.arminianchronicles.com/search/label/H.4.a%20Hodge%20on%20Vocation

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

SLW,

A lot of people have that reaction to middle knowledge, but I often wonder if their reaction is to middle knowledge itself. For example, your question:

"If God chooses conditions that result infallibly in foreknown "free" actions, how is that any different than straight forward determinism?"

makes me wonder if you are objecting to middle knowledge or something else, since we don't hold that our actions are the *result* of God's choice or of the circumstances.

God be with you,
Dan

SLW said...

Dan,
I'm not really objecting to anything, just having trouble seeing a distinction. Middle knowledge doesn't look any different to me than compatibilism, there is just a different mechanism posited for explaining the inconsistency of simultaneously holding freewill and sovereign will. Compatibilism "explains' it by invoking mystery, Middle Knowledge seems to merely add a logic layer to make it seem as if things are not really determined.

Godismyjudge said...

SLW,

Some people have that reaction to middle knowledge. It's in between open theism and Calvinism and takes heat from both sides, but being in the middle allows it to be faithful to all scriptural passages, whereas I think Calvinism overlooks man's choice and open theism overlooks God's providence.

God be with you,
Dan

SLW said...

Dan,
How does a Molinist avoid making God responsible for behavior that is anti-God? Even with putting Middle Knowledge in as a buffer, it seems to me that on Molinism God is still responsible for selecting something to occur (e.g. sin) rather than something else. Would not the reasoning for justifying such have to proceed along the same lines as for compatibilism? If so, wouldn't Molinism have to answer the Arminian objection to determinism that it makes God the author of sin?

Godismyjudge said...

"Even with putting Middle Knowledge in as a buffer, it seems to me that on Molinism God is still responsible for selecting something to occur (e.g. sin) rather than something else."

Well one way is to suggest that, given God does not determine the content of His middle knowledge, perhaps in every world He knew via MK had a fall; so there wasn't a "something else".

Another way is to note that in Molinism, God is not causing, so man, not God is ultimately responsible.

God be with you,
Dan

SLW said...

Dan,
given God does not determine the content of His middle knowledge, perhaps in every world He knew via MK had a fall; so there wasn't a "something else".

If in every possible world there was a fall, it means that the fall was determined, does it not? Even if we allow that God's MK is not determined by him, if there is no other possibility then it means the fall was part of the nature of the created agent. If so, God made man, not knowing that he would fall, but to fall, in which case God is the author of sin.

Godismyjudge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Godismyjudge said...

"If in every possible world there was a fall, it means that the fall was determined, does it not?"

Yes. But I am not saying there is a fall in every possible world. I am suggesting there may be one in ever feasible world.

God knows you can choose X or not. That's His knowledge of possibilities and is sometimes call His natural knowledge. In possible world language, this represents two possible worlds; one with X the other with non-X.

God knows via His middle knowledge that if you were place in a circumstance where you could choose X or not, you would choose X. In possible world language, God knows of the two possible worlds, only one is feasible. You can choose non-X, but (contra determinism) God cannot make you choose non X. So a world with non-X is a possible world, but not one that is feasible for God to create.

So even thought there are possible worlds without sin, since pre-fallen man could avoid sin, those worlds might not be feasible for God to create, because perhaps man would choose to fall.

God be with you,
Dan

SLW said...

Dan,
That is actually a very good, clear defense. I think it still suffers in the ultimate sense because it would mean that God knew a world without sin was not feasible. If so, I think the onus is still on him for conscientiously creating the world with sin.

I actually do not object to that principle (i.e.feasibility) on another basis: God cannot create himself. A being created in his image (but not possibly him) will inevitably, unavoidably, at some juncture, freely opt differently than God. It then is not feasible for God to create a world in which beings with freewill akin to his (i.e. in his image) in which at some point they do not sin.

Godismyjudge said...

I agree and I like the way you put it. If you don't mind me asking, what are your views on foreknowledge and freedom? If you have blogged on it before a link will do.

God be with you,
Dan

SLW said...

Dan,
Thanks for the discussion, I found it interesting and helpful.

I have written about foreknowledge:
http://thundersounds.blogspot.com/search/label/foreknowledge

Your comments are welcome.

Anonymous said...

The Jewish rabbis teach that God is sovereign, and yet He permits choice.

This seems to contradict, but we are also told in Scripture that His Ways are far above ours.

Ricardo N. said...

Hello, i´m a catholic, from Brazil, my name is Ricardo.

I like molinism/arminianism, and I think this view is biblical and patristic. But, at the same time, I think thomism/calvinism can be biblical too. And my doubts is not on biblical interpretation, but on the possibility of middle knowledge.

Can you write some about the conflit of God´s middle knowledge and His aseity? Thanks

Godismyjudge said...

Ricardo,

God's knowledge of what we would do comes after His knowledge of what we can do - and what we can do is due to His enabling us. Man is dependent on God enabling him to choose, so I am not sure I see the supposed conflict between God's aseity and middle knowledge. Does that address your question or did you have something else in mind?

God be with you,
Dan

Ricardo N. said...

Dan,

A thomist friend of mine says that "a man capable of moving himself, without God, is an absurdity, because only God is capable of being. And give the "being" does not mean giving only the power but give the very "act". Because the "act", being "existent", cannot not have been given by God".

So even if He is enabling us to do everything we can do, the very act of choice, the choice itself, is not caused by God? God is conditioned by this choice, in His knowlegde, so how can we avoid making this a co-eternal reality with God?

Godismyjudge said...

Ricardo,

Those are deep questions, but one's not particular Molinism. Anyone who believes in freewill must face them.

God does uphold everything in existence, including our choices. Thomists typically say God's work in doing so comes before our actions and determines our actions. Molinists typically say that work of God is at the same time as our actions (as opposed to before) and provides for our existence but does not determine our choices.

For a helpful discussion on this subject; I recommend Book III of Boedder's natural theology:

http://books.google.com/books?id=6jtHAAAAIAAJ&dq

God be with you,
Dan

Ricardo N. said...

Dan,

Thomists believes in freewill, but it is not really different from a infralapsarian calvinist (at least in this aspect we´re talking about).

The french thomist Garrigou-Lagrange summarizes the objection this way:

"The scientia media conceived by Molina, according to which God knows infallibly, before any determining divine decree on His part, the conditional free acts of the future, leads to the admission of an exception to the principle of causality and to the universal causality of the primary agent; being or the determination of these free acts of the future would not then come from God the first being; it leads to the conclusion that the divine knowledge is passive with regard to these conditional free acts of the future, which determine this knowledge instead of being determined by it. The scientia media, thus positing a passivity in the pure Act, cannot be a pure perfection; it is a notion which attributes a human imperfection to God..."

I´m reading the book you recommend. Thanks.

Ricardo N. said...

I think that the 5 points, specially the "perseverance of the saints", are not biblical. Even Augustine, and even Martin Luther, denied this point. They´re totally absent from patristic tradition, and the insistence on them as "the Gospel" are totally absurd, in my opinion.

But the "unconditional election", as held by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Luther (although the early Fathers before Augustine formed a certain consensus on conditional election) seems to be required by philosophical principles.

Godismyjudge said...

Ricardo,

Garrigou-Lagrange's objection seems overstated to me. At least it would be better if he addressed Molinist accounts of causality and divine concurrence first. We are an exception to Thomistic theories of causation, but we hold to different ideas of causation, where 1) agent causation exits, 2) agents require necessary causes, but not sufficient causes and 3) God's causation can be simultaneous and concurrent with our choices.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

I do hold to perseverance of the saints and Augustine held to the perseverance of the *elect* saints. He just also head that non-elect people may believe and be justified & regenerated, but later fall away. But his views on the way God handled the perseveriance of the elect looks very similar to modern treatments of perseverance of the saints.

God be with you,
Dan