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.
The above article is a modified extract from my book God’s Grand Game, which is currently available for free. For further information or to get your copy, visit the Books page.