September 24, 2007
The doctrine of divine middle knowledge holds that God knows what free choices individuals would make in whatever circumstance they might find themselves, even if such conditions don’t obtain. In this series of questions, Dr. Craig explains how that doctrine can be applied to questions about the person who has never heard the gospel or the infant who dies before he is able to understand the message of salvation. He also corrects a misunderstanding of God’s middle knowledge, when the questioner assumes God arrives at such knowledge through deduction. Middle knowledge is actually a form of knowledge that God holds within Himself.
Dear Dr. Craig,
One of the toughest questions within soteriology is “what happens to small children/infants who perish having had no chance to respond to God’s revelation?”. It seems that a popular notion is the “age of accountability” theory, which asserts that any child who perishes prior to a certain age goes straight to heaven. This sort of “universal amnesty” seems fatally flawed to me, however. If this were the case, souls who would never accept Jesus Christ (subjects of “transworld damnation” if you will) would get into heaven along with the others, simply by virtue of perishing before the age of accountability. How could a just and holy God allow souls like that into heaven?
Does it not make more sense that a fair, just and omniscient God would take into account what these children WOULD do were they to be given the opportunity via more time and revelation, and judge them accordingly based on that? He states that He will do just that in the cases of some within Matthew 11:20-24, and I don’t see why He would not extend that same fair consideration to all are “cut short” due to other circumstances.
Thank you in advance if you take the time to respond to this.
Aloha in Christ,
In your article ‘How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God?’, you have attempted to answer the difficult question of exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone. Coming from a country like India with a rich and deeply religious tradition since ancient times, the idea that all their forefathers were wrong is really unconscionable. This is the single most important obstacle. Can it be argued that the judgment is not so much on the basis of what one does not know, but on the basis of what one knows but deliberately refuses to choose the best/highest truth/morality known to that person (or refuses to know deliberately)? (“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.”)? Do you see a scriptural basis to argue that judgment is on the basis of one’s actions/choices considering the best/highest level of moral/philosophical truth known to that person?
Your work in Molinism has been very helpful to me. I still have some difficulties accepting some things about it, though. I believe that we are free with respect to the morally significant choices we do make, and I do believe that God knows all things (future free actions included). But I don’t know how to explain this, and I haven’t yet been satisfied by the Molinist account of things. So, I have formed an argument against Molinism. Not because I wish to attack it or show it to be false, but simply in the interest of sorting out my own position. Here it is:
1. If the act A of choosing x was free, then, prior to the exact moment of A, A was non-existent and, prior to the exact moment of A, there were no specifiable set of circumstances by which to deduce that A would occur.
2. The act A of choosing x was free.
3. Therefore, prior to the exact moment of A, A was non-existent, and, prior to the exact moment of A, there were no specifiable set of circumstances by which to deduce that A would occur. (MP, 1, 2)
4. If prior to the exact moment of A, A was non-existent, and if, prior to the exact moment of A, there was no specifiable set of circumstances by which to deduce that A would occur, then, prior to A occurring, God could not have known A.
5. Therefore, prior to A occurring, God could not have known A. (MP, 3, 4)
In this argument, the most controversial of the premises is (1). The most important part of what it states is that if some action is truly free, then there is no specifiable set of circumstances by which to deduce what choice might result, prior to the choice being made. The reason I take this to be the case is because of what Thomas Flint in his Divine Providence: The Molinist Account has said. (Page 39 of his book is what I am particularly baffled by. Could you respond to exactly what he says about Cuthbert’s iguanas, please?) Although Flint would disagree, it seems to me, then, that if the set of circumstances leading up to Cuthbert’s buying or not buying the iguana are exactly similar, then by these circumstances God could never know what a free creature would do in those circumstances. The reason I think this is because in both the B-world and in the R-world the previous set of circumstances up until the exact point of Cuthbert’s making his decision were similar, with nothing to distinguish between the two. Am I correct in my understanding of Flint? Is this what you think as well?
Finally, I have a question and a comment to make that may help in this discussion. First, do you accept the Principle of Alternative Possibilities as necessary for a choice to be free in the libertarian sense? Are you a libertarian? I’ve heard that you deny PAP...is this true? Second, I’m pretty sure that my argument supposes some type of perceptualism (is this the correct word? I forget...). If it does, I do know that you reject this way of conceiving of God’s knowledge and instead opt for a conceptualist model, but I have not yet read anything of yours to argue for this claim, although, I am told that you defend this notion in your The Only Wise God. Could you also address this? Thanks for whatever help you can provide!
I’ve lumped these questions together because they all relate to the doctrine of middle knowledge.
Let’s take John’s question first because it is foundational. You’re right, John, that (1) is controversial, but I myself accept it. Some might deny it either because they think that freedom is compatible with causal determinism or because they hold to a theory of time, variously called the tenseless or B-Theory of time, according to which future events are just as existent as present events.
If the compatibilist is right, then God could deduce the future free choices of men from present conditions which causally determine how they shall choose. But as you note, I’m a libertarian who thinks that causal determinism is incompatible with freedom. That doesn’t imply that I hold to the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP), which states that a free agent has in a set of circumstances the ability to choose A or not-A. I’m persuaded that so long as an agent’s choice is not causally determined, it doesn’t matter if he can actually make a choice contrary to how he does choose. Suppose that God has decided to create you in a set of circumstances because He knew that in those circumstances you would make an undetermined choice to do A. Suppose further that had God instead known that if you were in those circumstances you would have made an undetermined choice to do not-A, then God would not have created you in those circumstances (maybe it would have loused up His providential plan!). In that case you do not have the ability in those circumstances to make the choice of not-A, but nevertheless your choice of A is, I think, clearly free, for it is causally unconstrained—it you who determines that A will be done. So the ability to do otherwise is not a necessary condition of free choice.
If the B-theorist of time is correct, then future events like A are just as real as present or past events. If God is timeless, then all events in time are equally real for Him and can be known by Him in the same way. There’s nothing about events future for us that makes them more difficult for God to know. Hence, there’s just no need for Him to deduce such events from present conditions. Now I myself do not hold to a B-theory of time. I hold to a tensed or A-Theory of time according to which the future in no sense exists (see my book Time and Eternity for discussion of these competing views). Neither do I think that God exists timelessly since the moment of creation, since I think divine timelessness stands or falls with your theory of time. So, as you note, I reject a perceptualist model of divine knowledge, according to which God “looks” and “sees” what is happening in the world (a terribly anthropomorphic conception of God’s knowledge in any case!). Rather I accept some sort of conceptualist model, according to which God’s knowledge is not acquired by any sort of perception but is more akin to innate knowledge. God just has the essential property of knowing only and all true propositions.
So I accept both of the assumptions behind your premiss (1).
Middle knowledge – God can know future contingent events
Rather I, along with every Molinist, would without hesitation reject premiss (4) of your argument. Indeed, any incompatibilist A-Theorist who believes in divine foreknowledge of future contingents (like free human choices) will reject (4), even if he is not a Molinist. For your argument is not directed against middle knowledge as such but against divine foreknowledge.
The problem with (4) is that it assumes that the only way for God to know future contingents is by deducing them from present conditions. But I see no reason to think that that is true. Indeed, the doctrine of middle knowledge just is a theory of how God can know future contingents without any sort of perception of the world at all. I think that you have mistakenly assumed that according to the doctrine of middle knowledge, God deduces from the circumstances in which a free person is placed what he would do in those circumstances. Hence, your puzzlement with what Flint says in Divine Providence (p. 39). But that is not the doctrine. As Flint says in the very next sentence at the top of p. 40, “The answer to these questions is evident: providence can be exercised. . . only if God knows how his creatures would act if placed in various nondetermining circumstances” (my emphasis). If God has middle knowledge, then He does know the truth of such subjunctive conditional statements (often called counterfactuals), for example, “If Cuthbert were in C, he would freely buy an iguana.” So it doesn’t matter that different possible worlds contain C; the point remains that since God knows what Cuthbert would freely do in C, He can know solely on the basis of that knowledge and of His knowledge of His own decree to create Cuthbert in C exactly what Cuthbert will do! Pretty slick, eh?
So your premiss (4) just begs the question against the Molinist by assuming that God lacks middle knowledge.
Elsewhere I have suggested that God can use His middle knowledge to so providentially order the world that anyone who rejects God’s general revelation in nature and conscience and never hears the Gospel would not have believed in the Gospel even if he had heard it (see Scholarly Articles: Christian Particularism; Popular Articles: Christianity and Other Faiths: “How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God?”). People who never hear the Gospel will be judged on the basis of their response to God’s general revelation, and those who fail to respond to it and are damned cannot complain that if only they had heard the Gospel they would have responded to it and been saved.
Middle knowledge – Does God foreknow those who would’ve responded to the gospel if they had heard?
This solution is something like Sunil’s suggestion in his question. I’d clarify, Sunil, that “the best/highest truth/morality known to that person” is what is conveyed to that person by God’s general revelation. Let’s be clear, moreover: this is not to say that such a person can be saved by his good life or correct beliefs. On the contrary, such a person will despair of ever living up to the moral law written on his heart and will fling himself on the unmerited mercy of the Creator God revealed in nature. As in the case of persons in the Old Testament, God will apply to him the benefits of Christ’s atoning death without his having a conscious knowledge of Christ. The question is then whether there are very many people like this. My reading of Romans 1-2 doesn’t make me very optimistic. Still it remains the case that the unevangelized will not be unfairly judged on the basis of information they never had. They will be judged for how they responded to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience. Middle knowledge enters the picture only to remove any complaint that had they been given the light of the Gospel, then they would have responded.
Middle knowledge – Would God pardon infants because they would’ve chosen salvation?
That brings us to Steve’s opening question. I included this one because many have mistakenly ascribed the view he defends to me. I don’t think, Steve, that your solution to the problem of persons who die in infancy (which is just an instance of the general problem of the fate of those who never have the opportunity to freely respond to the Gospel) is acceptable. For it would be immoral to judge a person, not for things he has done, but for things that he would have done under different circumstances. Had I been born in Nazi Germany, I might have been an ardent member of the Hitler Jugend and maybe even participated in atrocities. Under other circumstances, I might have been a thief or a terrorist. Am I therefore morally culpable for such acts? Well, of course not, for I never committed them! The difficulty with your solution becomes especially evident when you reflect that a person who died in infancy would have done different things under different circumstances. I’m not suggesting that those who die in infancy all suffer from transworld damnation. Under some circumstances those who died in infancy might have grown up to become wonderful Christians; under other circumstances, they might have joined the Internet Infidels. So how could God judge them for the different things they would have done under various circumstances?
So God will judge people on the basis of what they actually do. Re-read Matt. 11.20-24, and I think you’ll see that it doesn’t contradict that principle.
I accept, then, the “age of accountability” solution. God judges people on the basis of their response to light that they have. Infants have, so far as we know, no access to any divine revelation and hence are not held responsible for any response.