Does God Know the Future via "Middle Knowledge"?

William C. Davis
Monday, July 16th 2007
Sep/Oct 1999

Most evangelical philosophers today affirm God's knowledge of the future, but they deny that the source of God's knowledge is his decree. They insist that God's knowledge of the future does not conflict with libertarian human freedom because God's knowledge is based on an inference. Knowing precisely what every possible free creature would do in every possible circumstance, God directly decrees the (freedom-neutral) circumstances, and deduces what his free creatures will do as a result. This knowledge of what free creatures will do is called God's "middle knowledge." The position is often referred to as "Molinism," since Luis de Molina first proposed it in the sixteenth century as part of a commentary on Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica.

The heart of this position is God's supposed knowledge of every true "counterfactual of freedom," statements about what a specific free creature would do in a specific circumstance. An example of a counterfactual of freedom would be "If he hears the Gospel on June 17, 1969, Bill Davis will freely receive Christ as Savior and Lord." Since 1969 is in the past, I now know that this if-then statement about me is true; but God has always known it, along with every other if-then statement of this kind about me and every other possible creature. This knowledge is "middle" knowledge because its source is neither God's nature nor God's will. He doesn't know these truths by knowing his nature, and they aren't true because he willed them to be. Their truth is an immutable "given" for God. Moreover, although they refer to creatures in time (like myself), since they are propositions, they are outside of time. God has always known all of these truths. Thus, when God freely decided to create a world where I heard the Gospel on that date, he could infer that I would freely receive it with joy. God knows the future while it is still future, but he didn't decree it, at least not directly.

The thesis that God's knowledge of the future is mediated through his middle knowledge is thought to solve a number of problems for orthodox theology. Its most important advantage is allowing for libertarian human freedom while maintaining God's complete providential control. Another supposed advantage of the thesis is that it lays the foundation for what many consider to be a powerful response to the problem of evil. Although a world without evil is logically possible, God's knowledge of the counterfactuals of freedom rendered that world (and many others) infeasible. The amount and intensity of evil in the world is as little as was possible given these constraints.

Unfortunately, this attempt to reconcile human responsibility and God's knowledge of the future compromises his independence. This view ultimately forces God to submit to someone or something outside of himself and beyond his control. If the counterfactuals of freedom have an author, then God submits to their author and there is someone distinct from God to whom God submits. If the counterfactuals do not have an author (and if we can make sense of authorless truths that are not expressive of God's nature), then God submits to an independent uncreated thing-a set of propositions! The Bible authorizes neither of these alternatives, and one of them must be true if God's knowledge of the future depends on middle knowledge. The Westminster Assembly appears to have explicitly rejected this error over three hundred years ago: "Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass on such conditions" (WCF III.ii).

Monday, July 16th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

J. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church