Middle Knowledge and Divine Election
The doctrine of Molinism seeks to reconcile God’s sovereign predestination with man’s free will. Through His divine middle knowledge, God can know all possible outcomes of any world that is feasible for Him to create, including all the circumstances required for an individual to come to a saving knowledge of Him. But what if the saving of one individual means the loss of another? Does Molinism provide answers to such a dilemma? In this article, Dr. Craig answers questions on the how God would act if his choices were bound by damning either person A or person B arbitrarily.
Question 1 :
I have been studying the concept of middle knowledge and I would like to know your point of view on the following;
1) Are there people that God cannot predestine unto salvation because they would freely reject Christ no matter what circumstance God throws at them?
2) Are there people that would not respond to an altercall but would respond to a meeting with Christ on the road to Demascus?
3) Would God passively deny the person in Q2 a meeting with Christ on the road to Demascus if God hasn't chosen him.
Question 2 :
I appreciate this opportunity to ask such a great thinker like you a question. I'm fascinated by the middle knowledge debate, but it seems on the surface that it might be overly simplistic. For example,let's say of the possible worlds there are two with the following conditions:
Possible World #1:
1. There are 3 people (A,B and C).
2. Person A finds a Bible and is saved.
3. Person A shares the Gospel with person B who is then saved.
4. Person C is never saved because even though she hears the Gospel she has made up her mind to always disagree with any thing person B believes. (I know people like that!)
Possible World #2:
1. There are 3 people (A,B and C).
2. Person A finds a Bible and is saved.
3. Person A shares the Gospel with person C who is then saved.
4. Person B is never saved because even though she hears the Gospel she has made up her mind to always disagree with any thing person C believes.
Question: Which world would God prefer? The one in which persons A and B are saved (World #1) or the one in which persons A and C are saved (World #2)? When many possible worlds of contingencies exist, it seems God might have to make choices where potentially saved people are never saved.
It’s important to keep in mind that Luis de Molina crafted his doctrine of divine middle knowledge, or what is referred to as Molinism today, in response to the strongly predestinarian views of the Protestant Reformers like Luther and Calvin. He wanted to enunciate an extremely strong doctrine of divine sovereignty, thereby meeting the theological demands of the Reformers, which had the advantage of affirming the reality of human free will as well. People who don’t like the Reformers’ strong affirmation of divine sovereignty are therefore apt to dislike Molina’s views as well. But Molina, like the Reformers, took seriously, like it or not, the biblical affirmation of God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men.
Bruce, let’s take your question first, and let’s assume that these are not just possible worlds but worlds which are feasible for God to bring about (on the difference see Question #138 ). Moreover, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that these are the only worlds inhabited by just A, B, and C which are feasible for God. In a case like this, it is up to God’s free and sovereign choice which world to prefer. All else being equal (we don’t know what the rest of these worlds is like), these two worlds seem exactly the same in value, and so I can’t see any reason for God’s preferring one over the other. It seems to be a choice like the one described in the classic case of Buridan’s ass, the hapless animal which was caught equidistant between two equally appetizing bundles of hay. The debate was whether the ass, lacking free will, would starve to death, having no impetus to choose one rather than the other. A human being would never be trapped in such a situation, since it is of the very nature of free will to make an arbitrary choice between equally good alternatives. So it seems to me that God could choose arbitrarily between these two worlds (though there are countless other options).
Molinism – God’s free choice and man’s free response
Suppose God chooses to bring about world #2. Then B is damned, even though he would have been saved had God chosen to bring about world #1 instead. This seems to make you uncomfortable, Bruce. If so, then what you need to keep in mind is that in every world, God wills the salvation of every person and provides sufficient grace for that person’s salvation. The A, B, C world that God really prefers to create is one in which A, B, and C all freely embrace God’s grace and find salvation. Sadly, ex hypothesi , that world, though possible, isn’t feasible for God to create. One of the three persons will perversely reject God’s saving grace and separate himself from God forever. So although God sovereignly chooses which world to create, it is up to the persons in that world whether or not they will be saved. One French Molinist has put this paradox very effectively:
It is up to God whether I find myself in a world in which I am predestined; But it is up to me whether I am predestined in the world in which I find myself.
Think about that long and hard. So long as the second clause is true, God cannot be blamed for anyone’s damnation.
Now we’re artificially restricting God’s options for the sake of argument. Therefore, it doesn’t follow from your thought experiment that God has to “make choices where potentially saved people are never saved.” For perhaps God has chosen to actualize a world in which the damned are exclusively people who would have rejected God’s grace in every world feasible for God in which they exist. In that case, it’s not true that God created any unsaved people who are, as you put it, “potentially saved people.” (Of course, every person is potentially saved in that there are possible worlds in which that person is freely saved; but such worlds may not be feasible for God.) Perhaps all the damned are trans-worldly damned individuals of their own free will. This is, of course, pure speculation, but it shows that we shouldn’t be too hasty in assuming that there are people who are damned but who would have been saved had some other feasible world been actual.
Molinism – Human freedom and God’s grace
That brings us to your questions, Michael. The short answer to all of them is, “We don’t know.” (1), as we’ve seen, is certainly possible; indeed, maybe all the damned are like that. Again, maybe there are people such as those described in (2). Take, for example, someone who is saved through his reading of Scripture and sensing the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Maybe he would also have been saved had he had a Damascus Road experience like the apostle Paul; but he wouldn’t have responded to an altar call. I can’t see any reason to think there aren’t folks like that.
As for (3), your question is misleading: on a Molinist view the problem isn’t that God hasn’t chosen him, but that he hasn’t chosen God. On Molina’s view God extends sufficient grace for salvation to every human being, but His grace is extrinsically, not intrinsically, efficacious because it requires a free response on the part of the person to become efficacious in saving that person. What God does choose is a world in which that person either freely responds to God’s salvation or freely rejects it. So what I think you’re really asking is this: are there people who are damned because they freely reject God’s grace but who would have been freely saved had a feasible world in which they were in some other circumstances been actual instead? And the answer to that question is, as I say, “We don’t know.” We can well imagine why God wouldn’t create a world in which those people find themselves in the other circumstances: maybe in such a world myriad other people would have been damned instead, so that that world has overriding disadvantages. On the other hand, maybe, as suggested above, all of the damned are trans-worldly damned, so that no one could say to God on the Judgement Day, “If only you had created me in some other circumstances, then I would have freely been saved!”
The doctrine of middle knowledge doesn’t take a position on these sorts of questions, but is a doctrine which can be employed creatively to fashion various options.