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Molinism Refuted

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A theological position that has risen to prominence in recent years is that of Molinism. Getting its name from the 16th century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, but brought to prominence in our time by the American debater Dr William Lane Craig, the position attempts to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human free will.

Anyone who has read much of my writing will know that this subject is one I believe is at the heart of Christian theology, and theology in general. In this article I will explain the central tenet of Molinism, and will suggest that while it may be philosophically interesting, when we relate the theory to the real world, it actually makes no sense at all.

Molina’s theory is a complex one. He posits that God has three different types of knowledge; natural knowledge, free knowledge, and middle knowledge. To explain the difference between these types of knowledge would require a lengthy exposition, and I want to keep this post as brief as possible. For those who would like to read such an exposition, I recommend this article.

For our purposes we will focus on ‘middle knowledge’, which is the aspect of Molina’s theological perspective that has been considered to hold the answer to the divine sovereignty versus human free will predicament.

Let’s allow Dr Craig to explain the position:

“What Molina said is that logically prior to God’s creating the world, God knew what any free creature that He might create would freely do in any set of circumstances in which He might place that person…”

(Source: YouTube video)

This is so-called ‘middle knowledge’, which Dr Craig also defines as follows:

“Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what people would do freely in any set of circumstances, and those people may never exist.”

(Source: ReasonableFaith.org article)

So as I understand the position, Molinists believe that prior to creation there are an infinite number of possible worlds, all of which God knows everything about, and within those worlds God knows every choice that any free person would make in any set of circumstances (and this is true before He has even decided to create a person). God picks one of these possible worlds to be the actual world and thereby puts each person in a set of circumstances that He is perfectly in control of, so He knows exactly what they will do, but they are still free to act in whichever way they choose.

To even conceptualise this is a real struggle, but as I mentioned above, it’s a complicated theory. In terms of the specifics, I am willing to hold my hands up and say there are some aspects of the theory that I don’t fully understand. But I am confident that I am able to grasp enough of the theory to see why it fails. So I will now offer three refutations in response to the theory, all of which are interrelated:

1. It is impossible for anyone to do anything freely. God, by His very nature, is omnipresent, which means that there are no boundaries to God’s being. If God has no boundaries, it logically follows that every atom in existence is a part of God and therefore under God’s control. In this context, free will is impossible.

2. There is no separation between God and man. Molinism says that we have man on the one hand (who is free), and man’s circumstances on the other hand (that are determined by God). But in reality, it is impossible to draw a distinction between man and his circumstances because there is no dividing line where one ends and the other begins. For instance, is your breathing caused by you or your circumstances? How about your choice of clothes or food? If you consider the answers to these questions it should be obvious that you cannot separate man and his circumstances into two separate categories. Really, all that exists is a single present moment unfolding that is not ontologically distinct from God. Entities within this unfolding are merely aspects or appearances of God, and crucially, that includes human beings.

3. Creation is an ongoing process. Dr Craig’s view of the universe is that it was created at a specific point in time long ago (in a ‘Big Bang’ event). But if this is the case, what is God doing right now? The separation between God and creation is a fiction – creation didn’t happen at a specific point in the past, but on the contrary, God is unfolding all events right now in the present moment. The past and future, which are necessary components of Dr Craig’s take on Molinism, don’t exist in reality, they are just ideas in the minds of creatures.

If we deeply consider the nature of God, it is easy to see why Molinism fails to reconcile the divine sovereignty versus human free will predicament. The solution to that predicament is the realisation that all that exists does so within God, and is therefore under God’s control. There is no free will, and once we realise this the need to posit God’s ‘middle knowledge’, as Molina and Dr Craig have done, evaporates.


For a more detailed explanation of why I believe God is in control of all events, I invite you to read my book entitled Ultimate Truth: God Beyond Religion. To watch a book trailer or buy the book, click hereWhat are your thoughts on Molinism? Feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

38 comments

  1. This was a very interesting read. As I gather my thoughts, I am in more agreement with your point of view. I do believe that everything exist within God. I also believe in free will/ the ability to choose. I am going to read further to gain a better understanding. Thank you for sharing this insightful piece Steven.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Elena! Thank you so much for reading. As you ponder these things I would be interested to know whether you are able in the end to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human free will, which is something I believe many have tried, and failed, to do. Blessings upon you! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Steve, I don’t think your refutation of Molinism works. All three of your arguments rest on the false supposition that the physical universe is part of God. Panentheism, I think it is called. But God is spirit, not a physical being. He does not have a location in space (after all, he existed before there was even such a thing as space), hence does not enter into spatial relations with his creatures. Hence they are not “in” God or “part of” God (at least not physically — spiritually, yes).

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hi Thomas! I’m sorry to hear you don’t agree with my refutations of Molinist theology. Here are a few thoughts in response to your comment.

          1) I agree with you that God is spirit, but I believe that matter is just spirit manifested and expressed in a different way (If you break down matter far enough what you get is basically empty space).

          2) You know when you have a dream and all the objects in that dream seem very real? Most people would say those objects don’t really exist at all. I believe that the matter we experience in waking life can be viewed in a similar way.

          3) I didn’t say that God has a location in space, I equated God ontologically with the entirety of existence, and I believe I am correct to do so.

          4) You say that it is a false supposition that the universe is part of God, and I simply disagree. I believe if you take that view you are placing boundaries and limitations on God, which I am not prepared to do.

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  2. Interesting concepts. I would have to agree with you for the most part, but I would make one addition. Our perspective vs. God’s. We have “free will” in the sense that we make decisions in this world and have choices. As evidenced in the story of Pharaoh and the ten plagues in Egypt. God’s hardened his heart, but the Bible also tells us he hardened his own heart. Both are true. In our limited understanding, we think it has to be one way or another. I have control over my choices or God does. But I would hypothesize that God is beyond our understanding, and what we think impossible is possible for Him. So, as we see the world, these are our decisions. And at the same time, it’s all in His control.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there! I’m so grateful for your comment, which I think raises some important points. I believe you are correct that evidence can be found in the Bible both for God’s sovereignty over all events, and human free will. However, I think that in reality these two ideas are in logical contradiction. I believe the solution is that God is in control of all events, whereas you say the predicament is beyond our understanding. I believe I understand it very well, but I respect the views of those who feel they must defend a ‘compatibilist’ reading of the Bible. It will be up to each individual to make up their mind on the matter. Blessings upon you!

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      1. Hey Steven. I appreciate your article. You assert from the beginning that Free Will is an impossibility. Why do you believe this necessarily? It isn’t logically contradictory, and it isn’t that lofty of a claim. In fact, it’s rather intuitive. The only requirement for LFW to exist is for an agent to be able to decide between A and ~A. That is what the definition entails. Would you agree? Blessings.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi there, Ray. Many thanks for your comment.

          I believe that divine omnipresence and free will are logically contradictory. If God is literally omnipresent (I believe He is), it means that there is no atom anywhere in existence that is not part of God, and therefore under God’s control. In this context, free will is impossible.

          I hope you understand the argument.

          Thanks and blessings,

          Steven

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          1. Thanks Steven. Yeah, I am not sure that follow why God would have to be *part* of every atom to be omnipresent, but that idea is interesting. Further, I am not sure why this would necessarily entail that God controls each atom. I do not question the validity of your argument, but just the premises. Thanks for engaging!

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            1. Hi Ray,

              Many thanks for your response. I’m not sure where you disagree, but you’re welcome to elaborate a little. I didn’t say God is part of every atom, but I did say that every atom is part of God. I believe that in order to deny this one would have to have a non-literal definition of omnipresence, or deny God’s omnipresence altogether. If someone were to do that, I would need to understand what they believe about the nature and being of God, i.e. Is God embodied somehow? Why is He limited? Where does God’s being end and freedom from God begin?

              Perhaps you could let me know your thoughts on these questions so I can better understand where we disagree?

              Best wishes,

              Steven

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            2. It seems to me that God being part of every atom and every atom being part of God is a distinction without a difference. Even so, it seems that even if every atom is part of God, that it doesn’t seem logically necessary that God control every atom? Why would God being present equate to God controlling or being casually connected? Asking why God would limit Himself in this way doesn’t present any logical contradictions, but rather leads to the age old appeal to mystery, which really is what we all do anyways to some degree.

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            3. Hi Ray,

              God is not a part of an atom; all atoms are contained within God, and are therefore part of God. Here’s an analogy – my hands are part of my body, but my body is not part of my hands. It’s difficult to know what to say to you if you can’t see there is a distinction, because I think it’s very clear.

              Saying God is literally omnipresent is the same as saying God is all that exists. It logically follows from this that of course everything is under God’s control. Even if you disagree, I would be surprised if you can’t see the logic.

              Best wishes,

              Steven

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  3. Steven, I would love to have coffee with you sometime. I doubt I will be in London anytime soon. I’ve enjoyed your blog. I used to consider myself a Molinist. I do consider myself “reformed.” I’m curious how you reconcile man’s responsibility without any form of free will. It seems we must be “bound” to at least freely do all kinds of evil, since God is omnipotent and has nothing to gain from it himself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello there! Coffee would be wonderful if you are ever in London – let me know!

      It’s a great problem that you pose: how can we be responsible if God is in control of all things? In a nutshell, I believe that ultimately God is responsible for all we do, but we do often have the illusion that we are acting freely, which is merely a mode of mind under God’s control.

      I have discussed this idea in more depth in other posts (check out this post, for example).

      Also, my essay ‘An Almighty Predicament’ goes into more depth, and in that essay I focus on the struggle I have had with Christianity. You can download it as a PDF here. Or just email me any time about anything you like via the Contact page. Peace and blessings!

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      1. I haven’t read it yet, but I will, and I’m only upset that I didn’t write something similar yet. I can’t believe you have just said what I have not yet dared to write publicly. My theory lately has been that we are responsible because we are under the illusion that we are free which is as bad as being so. Our evil then becomes truly ours and not God’s. It doesn’t sit well though that God would give us an illusion of freedom, which seems deceitful. I’ll have to read your paper.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Very interesting! I wouldn’t see it as deceitful, but rather just one aspect of the grand play of existence that God is unfolding. I think it’s quite wonderful that we, who are expressions of God, can be made to forget God even exists. It’s one of the marvels of His creation.

          Great to meet someone who’s been thinking in a similar way. It does take guts to write/talk about these things because Christians are, understandably, gripped with the fear of disobeying God, and therefore can be quite scathing.

          However, from my perspective, it’s just a genuine desire to understand what’s true. Not a theory just for the sake of it, or to put anyone down, just speaking from a place of truthfulness after carefully considering these things.

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  4. You write well and I appreciate how you articulate your position. I’m not a guy who loves endless internet debates, so please don’t think I’m trying to stir the pot. I just happened to be studying creation recently and I can see little separation because what you said about God and matter and a belief in pantheism. Obviously, you are not a pantheist, but that is how their position is summarized.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Pastor Jimmy Reagan, thank you for your comment. I don’t much enjoy endless internet debates either, so I’m grateful to agree with you there! I think I’m pretty close to being a panentheist (rather than a pantheist) because I believe all of creation could cease to exist and God would still be perfectly whole. So creation is ‘in God’. But in any case, thank you for reading and for your kind comment, and I wish you well. Always happy to discuss anything you’d like to via email.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I used to love philosophy and conversations regarding fate, is it random or predestined? In my many years experience, I do find it hard to believe that God controls what happens to us. That being said, I have seen acts that appear to be miracles. I have also seen much tragedy and unanswered prayers. I choose to believe I will never know or understand much while I am here so I just try to keep the commandments and follow the Golden Rule. I am not familiar with Molina myself. I was never that interested in other philosophers writings but loved discussing life with friends and acquaintances. I found many writers to be “full of themselves” or long winded. I used to have a friend that was a professor of Philosophy at a local college and I never sat in on one class. Have you ever taken a philosophy class? Great post by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Po’ Girl! I hear what you’re saying about philosophers. True philosophy for me is about engaging with a fascination about life’s mysteries – an honest search for truth, rather than some brain-straining intellectual exercise, which appears to be the approach of many (each to their own!). I need to keep myself in check so I don’t become one of those!

      And to answer your question, yes I have done a course in Philosophy and Religion. It was good fun 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  6. The only reason I can find to believe in free will is that it reconciles certain paradoxes in evangelical Christianity. Anyway, since I’m not committed to that – in the way the WLC is – there really is no need for middle knowledge. Like you, I think it doesn’t make a wit of sense. Free will never made sense for me. It was only while I was committed to EC that I felt like I needed to defend it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Thomas,

      That’s very interesting. I’d love to learn more about your story, and the things that led you away from evangelical Christianity.

      I’ve always found the ‘compatibilist’ solution to the free will problem unconvincing, because I believe God’s omnipresence (specifically) and free will are logically contradictory.

      Thank you for following back, it’s good to be connected! Will look forward to checking out more of your work.

      Best wishes,

      Steven

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Steven, I think you bring up some very interesting points regarding the free will problem. I’m curious to understand your position a bit more. A few questions come to mind:

    1. Do you believe God is or is not distiniguishable from all things?
    2. Do you believe good and evil are actual values and that we have moral obligations?

    Thanks so much for your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brett!

      Oh good, I love to discuss free will and God!

      1. Do you believe God is or is not distiniguishable from all things?

      I believe all things are contained within God and are a part of God.

      2. Do you believe good and evil are actual values and that we have moral obligations?

      I believe moral obligations and good and evil are subjective. All rules, whether written or not, must be interpreted by a subject.

      I’d be very happy to elaborate if you have further questions.

      Thanks and best wishes,

      Steven

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      1. Steven,

        Thanks for replying! I’m interested in your view of God as you deny objective morality it seems. I’m wondering how God can be a perfect being if there is no such thing as moral perfection? That seems to be a requirement for a being to be perfect, at least in my mind.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi again, Brett. It seems to me that ‘perfection’ is a kind of value judgment. I wouldn’t make such a judgment about God. I would simply say that God does whatever He pleases. Who are we to judge God’s actions?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I would partially agree with you on that Steven. I think in regards to moral standing, perfection can be considered a value judgement, but not necessarily of one’s actions, but one’s nature. In other contexts, I view perfection as a being having a certain property(ies) to the greatest logical possible degree; or maximal greatness.

            In a sense I agree with you that God does as he pleases but I would add the caveat that His actions would not clash with His nature.

            (I have a feeling we may be sharply divided on this given my propensity towards objective morality and yours towards subjective.)

            Really appreciate you taking the time to discuss with me!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Hi Brett,

              I’m always grateful for discussions such as these, and I love drilling down into the assumptions and arguments. It’s one of the main purposes of this blog. So thank you, too 🙂

              I suspect that when you say ‘His actions would not clash with His nature’, you would be making the argument that God is all good in nature. If this is true, then your definition of perfection or maximal greatness would indeed be a value judgment in relation to God’s ‘goodness’. I don’t want to put words in your mouth so please do correct me if my understanding of your position is wrong.

              Do you believe God is in control of everything that happens, or just the good and not the bad?

              Steven

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            2. That’s great, I love deep conversations as well.

              You are right that my statement regarding God’s nature would be that His nature is morally perfect. That’s right. But to make sure there isn’t any misclarification, when I use the term ‘maximally great’ i mean that God possess great-making properties to the highest possible degree. These would include moral goodness, knowledge, power, among others.

              Good question! I am somewhat perplexed by your usage of good and bad as you are a subjectivist. Are you asking me if God is in control of states of affairs I think fit (or may not) in my subjective moral framework?

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Hi Brett,

              Yeah I’m asking about your perspective. If you believe in good and evil, do you believe God is in control of good and not evil? I’m pretty sure God is in control of all things, but that’s something that doesn’t make sense from a Christian perspective (judgment, the Fall, sin, etc, depend on free will, which we don’t have if God is sovereign over all events, which I firmly believe He is).

              What are your views on this?

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            4. I see, thanks for clarifying.

              Yes, I do believe God is sovereign over good and evil acts but I think there may be some equivalence going in with your use of control and sovereign. I do not think control is necessarily the same as sovereign. I would view Gods sovereignty as Him being able to accomplish His will. I do affirm that mankind has libertarian free will regarding at least some of their actions, so God is in control and man is free so he is morally culpable for his actions. I lean towards Molinism currently (but not nailed down too solidly yet) and so God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is how He accomplishes his will while man remains free. Sovereignty and freedom are not logically incompatabile concepts in my view. I dont want to have one huge comment, so I’ll post another in regards to the problem of evil. Does this make sense so far? Thanks for asking!

              Liked by 1 person

            5. Hi Brett,

              Okay, to help me understand your worldview, would you be able to give me some examples of some things that you believe man does freely (outside of God’s control), and some things that man does that are under God’s control?

              For instance, your growth from a baby to an adult? Or your blood circulation? Or your dreams?

              Some practical, real life examples of this kind might help us to establish where we agree or disagree.

              Many thanks,

              Steven

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            6. Steven,

              Thanks for the questions, I will give you some examples but want to give a quick clarification/preamble. I would not say that my actions which are free are outside of God’s control, but that He does not provide the sufficient conditions for my action to obtain.

              For example, I think that I had a free choice when I chose to trust in Christ. God has control of the situation because he works circumstances so that I would choose Him given those circumstances, but my choice to do that was based off of my nature, and not solely on the circumstances I was in.

              So I think the question you are asking doesn’t make sense because I don’t think some things are not under God’s control and some are, rather I think all things are under God’s control, including my free actions.

              Some things I do not have control over would be my blood circulation, growth in certain times etc. Hope that clarifies things.

              Liked by 1 person

            7. Hi Brett!

              I think all things are under God’s control, including my free actions.

              This is where the problems lies, from my perspective. What you’re saying here doesn’t make sense to me, even within the very complicated framework of Molinism.

              It seems to me that Molinism works as a kind of trick of logic, but when applied to the real world it doesn’t make sense at all. For instance, as I argued in my article, it’s not possible to draw a distinction between man’s actions and the circumstances of those actions. There is no dividing line, because in reality everything is under God’s control (in my view).

              I’ll rest my case there.

              Thanks again for the discussion, and God bless you!

              Steven

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