Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass …
What is middle knowledge?
Proponents of this theory (known also as Molinism or scientia media) argue that God possesses a special “middle knowledge.” Given an assortment of scenarios, vast worlds in which men and women exercise free choices, God knows what action they would take in every possible circumstance. Molinists purport that God has knowledge of all possible outcomes. In His power and wisdom, God chooses the combination of individuals and circumstances whose expressions of free will best serve His purposes. In their view, God knows the conditionally future, a scientia media. God is, in the molinist’s mind, a brilliant chess player.
Proponents of Molinism have commented in the past to make issue with my claim that Molinism and Open Theism (another heresy) are an inbred herd. Molinists do not want to be compared to Open Theists. I insist to this day that the two heresies are not cousins, but brothers.
The Molinists’ goal is to reconcile the foreordination of God with the freedom of man. They also use the theory to explain the reason why some, and not others, are elected to eternal life. Molinists believe God foresees who will repent and believe. If, by chance or reason, they are convinced of the Gospel and decide to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, these He “elected” to salvation. Hence the fallacy widens.
The biblical view is that God has a specific (single) predetermined plan which embraces all events in all ages, and His plan will come to pass.
Molinists are at odds with Calvinists, who believe that even the sinful acts of men, evil of all sort, and other calamities are included in the plan of God and are overruled for good.
Calvinists do not agree with Dr. Craig’s embrace of Jesuit Molinism. Yet we affirm that Dr. Craig is a philosopher par excellence; this we cannot argue. But he would be all the wiser using the rigors of theology, moreover biblical or Reformed systematic theology, instead of philosophy to guide his understanding of the attributes of God.
The following article was excerpted from Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Vol. 1, page 212). Written centuries ago, it is still the finest refutation of the molinist heresy to be found anywhere.
The Twofold Middle Knowledge
I. Although the knowledge of God is one and simple intrinsically no less than His essence, yet it can be considered in different ways extrinsically as to the objects. But it is commonly distinguished by theologians into the knowledge of simple intelligence (or natural and indefinite) and the knowledge of vision (or free and definite). The former is the knowledge of things merely possible and is therefore called indefinite because nothing on either hand is determined concerning them by God. The latter is the knowledge of future things and is called definite because future things are determined by the sure will of God. Hence they mutually differ: (1) in object because the natural knowledge is occupied with possible things, but the free about future things; (2) in foundation because the natural is founded on the omnipotence of God, but the free depends upon his will and decree by which things pass from a state of possibility to a state of futurition; (3) in order because the natural precedes the decree, but the free follows it because it beholds things future; now they are not future except by the decree.
The Origin of the Middle Knowledge
II. Besides these two species of divine knowledge, a third was devised by the Jesuits, Fonseca, Lessius, Molina. It is not agreed among themselves who is the true parent of this fetus (foetus) (each claiming it for himself) which they called “middle” because it is between natural and the free and differs from both. It differs from the indefinite and natural because it is occupied about future, but not about possible things. It differs from the free because it relates not to things certainly future, but only hypothetically so. The authors explain this middle knowledge to mean the foreknowledge of God about future conditional events whose truth depends not upon the free decree of God (being anterior to this), but upon the liberty of the creature (which God certainly foresees), whether in itself or in the thing (how it will determine itself if placed in certain given circumstances).
III. 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 the good use of free will ought to depend upon, not to precede the decree). This argument they supposed could be escaped in no other way than by inventing this middle knowledge. There is no need to take account of the disturbances this question executed among the Jesuits and Dominicans. The pope, in the meantime, to whose tribunal the whole matter was frequently referred for his infallible judgment, in an affair of so great moment, slept and did not dare to determine anything. It suffices to make this observation— that what the Jesuits contended for as their Helen was fiercely assailed as most false by the Dominicans (among whom were the eminent Cumel, Ripa, Alvarez, Nugno and others with whom the Jansenists of this day agree).
IV. This invention was afterwards adopted by the Socinians and Remonstrants who courageously defend it so as to preserve free will in the citadel; see Arminus ‘Certain Articles to be Diligently Examined and Weighed,’ “On God Considered According to His Nature,” The Writings of James Arminius (1956), 2:480-81; Vorstius, Tractatus theologicus de Deo (1610); Grevinchovius, Dissertatio theologica de duabus quaestionibus . . . controversis . . . inter G. Amesium (1615).
Statement of the Question
V. The question is not whether God knows future contingencies (for all agree that God knows from eternity by a certain knowledge not only things themselves, but all their combinations and connections, whether present, past and future, or necessary and contingent). Rather the question is whether they belong to a kind of middle knowledge distinct from the natural and free. The latter we deny.
VI. The question does not concern necessary conditional future things, which on this or that given condition cannot but take place (as—if the sun rises, it will be day; if Peter heartily repents, he will be saved), for as these are necessarily connected together either from the nature of the thing or on the hypothesis of the divine decree, they fall under either the natural knowledge of God (if the condition is only possible) or the free (if it is future and decreed by him). Rather the inquiry relates to contingent conditional future things, which (the condition being posited) can be and not be; for example, if John would be of Lutetia, he would speak or would sin and the like. The inquiry relates to whether they can be certainly and determinately known antecedently to the decree of God; this we deny.
VII. The question is not whether the knowledge of conditional future things is in God antecedently to every decree (for our adversaries do not deny that a certain general decree precedes by which he has decreed to produce the second causes and is ready to afford at least a general and indifferent cooperation to the creature, as often as he willed that they should determine themselves to act). Rather the question is whether a special decree concerning the certain futurition of this or that thing precedes so that God may see that thing antecedently to such a decree (either in itself or in its causes). This they maintain; we deny.
VIII. 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). The Jesuits, Socinians and Remonstrants affirm this; the orthodox deny it.
Proof that no such Middle Knowledge can be Granted
IX. The reasons are: (1) Natural and free knowledge embrace all knowable things and entities and are not to be multiplied unnecessarily. 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 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.
X. (2) Things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Now conditional future things are not true apart from the determination of the divine will; for example, the Sidonians would have repented if the powers had been supplied to them, for they would have been indifferently disposed in their nature to repent or not to repent, those powers being given; therefore from some other source ought to come the truth that they would repent, those powers being posited, if it is at all true. But no cause of this thing 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 decree.
XI. (3) 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 causes, between the 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 any more the second, but the first cause because if it depended in being upon God, it would not depend upon him in operation).
XII. (4) 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 [adiaphorian] of the will). I ask, therefore, whence can God certainly know what will or will not take place? For either this can be done from the nature of the things themselves when he regards them (either in their causes or in themselves) as free acts in a created will (which pleases Beilarmine)—but how can an uncertain thing afford foundation to certain knowledge—or this can be done from the infinity of divine knowledge, which certainly foreknows in what direction moral persuasion will incline the will (otherwise free) to the opposite (which Vasquez and Suarez hold); but how could infirmity of knowledge change the nature of things and see a thing as certainly to take place which is contingent? 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 others prefer); but since they could have no real being from eternity (but only an 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 the thing, it follows that it is only from the efficacious decree of the connector. Thomas Aquinas says most satisfactorily, “He who knows an effect contingent in its own cause only and not in some superior cause certainly determining it, has only a conjectural knowledge concerning it; since from an indifferent cause as far as it is indifferent, a determinate act cannot flow; and for the same reason from a contingent antecedent, as far as it is contingent, a necessary conclusion cannot flow before the decree of the divine will” (ST, I, Q. 14, Art. 13, p. 83).
XIII. (5) 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.
XIV. (6) On the supposition of such a knowledge, a reason for predestination can be assigned out of God besides his purpose and good pleasure (eudokias) 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. But no reason for that election can be derived from Paul except the purpose (eudokian) of God: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil” not on account of a foreseen good use of free will through middle knowledge, but “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said, the elder shall serve the younger” (Romans 9:11, 12). Nor should it be said that this condition is assigned on the part of God who has the knowledge, not of men; for although it is God who foreknows, yet the object which he foreknows is maintained to be the good use of free will foreseen before the decree, so that the reason of the decree is put not in God, but in man. Thus grace might with greater propriety be called the servant of the human inclination than the mistress, and the companion than the cause, making God depend upon man rather than man upon God.
Sources of Explanation
XV. 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 des¬cend” 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 and 16:27).
XVI. 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,” Matthew 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 either 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 Ezekiel 3:6: “Had I sent thee to a people of a strange speech, they would have hearkened unto thee.”
XVII. In 2 Samuel 12:8, 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 from middle knowledge, but according to the promise made to piety). So in Psalm 81:14, 15, we have a conditional promise with a reproof of ingratitude, but we read nothing concerning the foreknowledge of a future conditional thing before the decree. In the same manner are to be understood the words of Elisha to Joash: “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it” (2 Kings 13:19); not that he knew this by middle knowledge, but because the prophet would from his own wish infer that from a divine revelation made indefinitely.
XVIII. It is one thing for God to foresee or know the connection of one thing with another (for example, of sin with death and of righteousness with life); another to know connection as future in such a subject placed in this or that state. This requires some decree to determine what ought to be done concerning that subject; but the former can be founded on possibility alone and the mutual habitude of things.
XIX. It is one thing for God to know all the connections of all things as necessary and the causes of things about to happen through them antecedently to the decree; another to know the contingent connections of events and of all possibly future things. If the former were granted, it would favor the middle knowledge, but it is false that God knows all the connections of all things as necessary and about to produce infallibly the event of things (especially in free acts) antecedently to the decree upon which all the futurition of things depends. But the latter, which we allow, does not countenance the middle knowledge because contingent connections of this kind belong only to natural knowledge, when considered antecedently to the decree, determining the certain futurition of their connections or means.
XX. What is conceived to be determinately from God can also be pronounced to be determinately; but what is conceived only to be possibly can be pronounced to be only possibly. Now it is denied that the coexistence of a free act on hypothesis can be conceived to be determinately antecedently to the decree; it is granted that it may be possibly. So it is true that Peter would possibly sin if placed in a given order of things antecedently to the decree; but not determinately so as to make it true that Peter would actually and in fact sin if placed in such an order of things. This could not be certain unless from a permissive decree of God.
XXI. Necessity and contingency have a different relation in simple terms from what they have in complex. In the first manner, being is divided into necessary and contingent, nor can they belong to the same; but in the second (inasmuch as they arise from the diverse habitude of causes to their effects) so far coincide that what in respect to the first cause is necessary with respect to the second can be contingent, the first cause so disposing it. This not only insures the existence of the thing, but in its own manner that it is a necessary thing necessarily, a contingent contingently. Yet that necessity as to the first cause does not take away the liberty of free will because it is not a necessity of coaction, but of consequence or infallibility which best conspires with liberty.
XXII. Although God antecedently to his decree can know of the various means which can be used to move the will (that this or that can have a greater influence than others if employed), yet he cannot know that they will actually persuade antecedently to the will of giving those means and of moving the will efficaciously to produce the effect. Nor has the illustration drawn from fire any force, which God knows to be possessed of the property of making warm antecedently to the will of creating fire which will actually warm. For the reason of natural agents determined in their nature to one thing is different from that of free agents, which can be inclined to one or the other of opposite things.
XXIII. The cause of the existence of things differs from the cause of their futurition. Second causes can concur with God to cause the existence of a certain thing because they exist and are active at the same time with God. But no second cause can concur with him to cause the futurition of things because futurition was made from eternity, while all second causes are only in time.
Hence it is evident that the futurition of things depends upon nothing but the decree of God, and therefore can be foreknown only from the decree.
For further study: