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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!

18 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 1 person

        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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  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!

      Like

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