Why Calvinists Are Afraid of Middle Knowledge

The idea of Middle Knowledge is naturally appealing to many thinkers. It ascribes a more philosophically robust view on the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility than the traditional views of synergistic systems.

Arminians and Open Theists rightly see the similarities between Molinism and Calvinism, in reality, Molinists are far closer to Calvinists than Arminians and Open Theists are. Which is why it is strange that I will see Calvinists fighting hard for the inclusion of Arminians against hyper-calvinists, but will in the same breath call Molinists heretics.

Now, I speak with a little bit of experience on this topic, as I spent a year with and affirmed myself, synergistic Molinism. I’ve now been a Calvinist for six years. I don’t plan on leaving Calvinism anytime soon, so you might be wondering, “why the title?”

There are two reasons this needed to be written in my view.

1.) The Calvinist rejection of Molinism as outright heretical is unfounded.

2.) Middle Knowledge is not some Jesuit Conspiracy and can be applied to multiple systems.

There are many examples. I have a buddy who believes in limited atonement, agrees with 80 percent of the Westminster confession of Faith and is a Molinist. I have a buddy who is a strong defender of the remonstrance and is a Molinist. The reality is Molinists don’t fit into a nice neat little box that we can label “heretic” with our dogmatist sharpie.

Now, I’m not coming up with anything new. Bruce Ware has already suggested this before I ever thought of it. But I believe he is correct. My objection to Middle Knowledge was not Middle Knowledge itself, it was the Molinist commitment to libertarian free will.

But what I told you that you can have the philosophical robustness of Molinism, the explanatory power of certain “problem” passages and maintain a clear distinction between God’s sovereignty and Man’s responsibility? Well, you can.

It’s called Compatablist Middle Knowledge. Now, I reject libertarian free will in favor of Edwardsean Compatibilism. Contrary to popular belief, there are Calvinists who accept LFW, they call themselves Covenanters. Their rejection of Molinism usually relies on genetic fallacies (Molina was a Jesuit) or confessional statements like the implicit rejection of Middle Knowledge in the WCF. However, if consistent, they wouldn’t have a problem with the LFW.

What is Middle Knowledge? 

Before we go further, it might be helpful to define Middle Knowledge. As well as some of the history on how Middle Knowledge developed. Luckily, I acquired the entire encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967 Paul Edwards Edited, 1972 reprint) that has a brief section on Molinism. It states:

For Molina the essential problem was to maintain both man’s freedom and the efficacy of grace. Given the fact of God’s foreknowledge, Molina wished to preserve such a foreknowledge without lapsing into determinism, to show that although God infallibly what an individual will freely dom, such an infallible knowledge in no way determines the will of the individual.” (Encyclopedia of Philosophy Volume 7, pg. 338)

The later Molinists such as Bellarmine and Suarez are called Congruists. Congruists are the type of Molinist that is close to Calvinism. They aligned themselves closer to the Thomist idea of predestination.

The Internet Encloypedia of Philosophy says of Molinism:

“Middle knowledge is so named because it comes between natural and free knowledge in God’s deliberations regarding the creative process. According to the theory, middle knowledge is like natural knowledge in that it is prevolitional, or prior to God’s choice to create. This, of course, also means that the content of middle knowledge is true independent of God’s will and therefore, He has no control over it. Yet, it is not the same as natural knowledge because, like free knowledge, its content is contingent. The doctrine of middle knowledge proposes that God has knowledge of metaphysically necessary states of affairs via natural knowledge, of what He intends to do via free knowledge, and in addition, of what free creatures would do if they were instantiated (via middle knowledge). Thus, the content of middle knowledge is made up of truths which refer to what would be the case if various states of affairs were to obtain.

What is Compatablist Middle Knowledge? 

Now that you know what Middle Knowledge is, what does Compatibilism do for Middle knowledge? Well;

1.)  With the addition of Compatibilism, you effectually get rid of the grounding objection. Some Molinists dismiss the grounding objection because of an alleged lack of metaphysical knowledge regarding the issue, but this is a cop-out for not having an answer.

2.) There are some questions on how God could know a free action and the action remain free, this objection is not only a Calvinist objection but an Open Theist one as well.

3.) People will choose their greatest desire, if you desire X more than Y, you will do X. Even if X doesn’t give you pleasure. For example, if your mother tells you to take out the trash, you will probably take out the trash, even though it is not your favorite activity or your desire to do so in a joyful sense. However, you desire not to hear your mother yell at you or to disappoint her in some way.

Biblical support

  • Exodus 13:17
  • 1 Sam. 23:8-14
  • Jeremiah 23:21-22
  • Matt. 11:21-24
  • 1 Cor. 2:8

It is not my intention to do an exegesis on each of these passages, perhaps that will be another post. However, some interesting things to note:

Bruce Ware points out the relationship between 1 Cor 2:8 and Acts 4:27-28. He argues that the past fulfillment of what “God’s plan had predestined to take place” involved God’s middle knowledge of what the “rulers of this age” should know or not know. God knew what the rulers would do with knowledge of God’s wisdom in Christ, and he knew what they would do without it. He thus chose to form the circumstances where they would not know and would therefore choose to crucify Jesus” (Ware, God’s Greater Glory p. 119).

Ware begins his argument by affirming that God controls both good and evil (Isaiah 45:7) and that God is good and not evil (Psalms 5:4). When God uses his middle knowledge, God can control specific situations and ultimately the outcome of each choice. For if one person will choose to do “X” according to her greatest desire, if God changes the circumstances even slightly, God can know (and be assured) that she would then choose  “Y” instead of “X”.

“God, through his middle knowledge, can know whether he should permit an agent to choose according to his greatest desire or whether to alter the circumstances” (Ware, pg. 121).

She is still responsible for her actions because she chose them, and God is not responsible because he does not force people to make these choices.

Objections

The objection is that God is still responsible because he controls the factors that influence a person’s choice. Ware points out that it is correct that God cannot directly do evil, and that he cannot force (tempt) anyone to do evil (James 1:13). Ware then shows that it is a mistake to assume that it is the factors (or circumstances) that control one’s choice.

Rather, in light of the nature of that person, when certain factors are present, her nature will respond to those factors and seek to do what she, by nature, wants to do (Ware, p. 122). By nature humanity chooses what they desire. Although circumstances, whether internal or external; can influence a choice, they are ultimately grounded in human nature. God simply permits these choices, knowing through his middle knowledge what each person will do in any circumstance. Therefore, God can both permit evil, and be in control of it without changing the fact that he decreed it.

To my fellow Calvinists who freely use the term “permit”; I’m of the opinion that we do not have a cogent philosophical defense on why we can use the word permit. If we want to remain consistent in that idea and phrase, we need to accept middle knowledge.

This objection would also ignore the problem of natural evil. For example, If a Volcano erupts and kills hundreds of people, is God responsible for this evil? Well, this depends on how you work this out.

Does God control or have the ability to control natural disasters?
Do you think Volcanoes are free moral agents?
Does the Chain-Link to God necessarily make him the author of the Evil?

Until the problem of natural evil is sufficiently addressed, we are stuck with our hypotheses. What Ware has presented would easily dispose of the robot objection presented by Arminians.

Why Calvinists Are Afraid Of Middle Knowledge 

In my experience, I think Calvinists are afraid of Middle knowledge because of a few reasons.

1.) An Overreaction to Rome (common in Reformed circles)
2.) Middle Knowledge is outside of the box, while a lot of Calvinists like to have their views neat and tidy in a box.
3.) They mistakenly think that Middle knowledge commits them to Libertarian Free Will.

Compatibilist Middle knowledge should be an orthodox option for the Calvinist.


Thanks to FreeThinkingMinistries for letting me use the featured image.

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