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#77 Middle Knowledge and Christian Particularism

October 06, 2008

Dear Dr. Craig,

I wonder how you would respond to the following argument.

1. The Christian God strongly desires a loving relationship with almost every human being, and desires it to last for all eternity. [Christian assumption]
2. A loving relationship with God is possible only if one (a) believes that he exists and (b) chooses to be in a loving relationship with God.
3. Therefore, if the Christian God exists, since he wants humanity to have a loving relationship with him, he would make his existence well-known to almost everyone, thereby ensuring condition (a). (from 1, 2)
4. There are multitudes of conflicting religions and religious beliefs (Christianity, Islam, Hindus, Buddhism, secularism, etc), and more people who don't believe that the Christian God exists than those who do. [empirical assumption]
5. Therefore, not almost every human being believes that the Christian God exists. (from 4)
6. Therefore, the Christian God's existence is not well-known to almost everyone. (from 5)
7. Therefore, the Christian God doesn't exist. ( from 6, 3)



I have heard you lecture on religious pluralism a couple of times, and both times you presented what you believe to be a plausible solution to the problem of the unevangelized. If I understand your view correctly, you propose that God determines the time and place of each person's existence, based on His middle knowledge of how they would respond to the Gospel if they were to hear it. Those whom He knows would not believe the Gospel if they heard it are consigned to live in a time and place in which the Gospel will not be heard. Those whom He knows will believe if they heard the Gospel are consigned to live in a time and place where they will hear the Gospel.

While I find this proposal attractive, its success seems to require belief in the preexistence of souls, in which case God is assigning certain souls to certain bodies as they are created: the unbelieving souls are infused into bodies in areas where the Gospel will not be heard (and even some places where it will be), and believing souls are infused into bodies where the Gospel will be heard. How else could God consign persons to live in a certain time and place? I'm fairly confident you do not subscribe to the preexistence of the soul, so how do you explain how God is able to ensure that unbelievers--and only unbelievers--will be born at a specific time and place?


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Dr. craig’s response


To take your question first, Spencer, I’ve dealt with this argument in a couple of places, for example, in my debate with Theodore Drange and in my discussion of divine hiddenness in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. The fatal flaw in the argument is (3). Given that God has middle knowledge, that is, knowledge of what every possible person would freely do in any circumstances in which God might place him, God knows what sort of evidence will be non-coercively conducive to belief on the part of each human person. So He knows, for example, that even if more evidence were given to such and such a person, that person would still not enter freely into a loving relationship with God. Sure, that person might come to believe that such a being as God exists, but that is not to say that such a person would come to love and know God. In such a case, given that God has provided that person with sufficient grounds for belief (including the witness of His Holy Spirit), God is under no obligation to provide any more evidence to such a person, since He knows that it wouldn’t do any good. In fact, for all we know, doing so might result in circumstances in which another person would then not come to a saving knowledge of God, so that the overall balance of saved and lost would be worse! For all we know, in a world in which the existence of God were as obvious as the nose on your face, an even smaller percentage of the world’s population would come to know and love Him than in the actual world. So I think you can see that the non-theist is really way in over his head regarding (3), speculating about matters beyond our ability to know.

Now this middle knowledge perspective has obvious application to the question of the fate of the unevangelized, which is raised by Jason. You don’t state the view quite accurately, Jason. The view holds that it is possible that God has so ordered the world that all those who never hear the Gospel and are lost are people who would not have embraced the Gospel and been saved even if they had heard it. But obviously, there are plenty of people who would not receive the Gospel if they heard it and who do in fact hear it! Again, not all persons who would believe the Gospel if they heard it are born at a time and place where they do hear it, for it’s possible that some of the unevangelized do respond positively to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience are so are saved through the atoning death of Christ without having a conscious knowledge of Christ. My concern is with the unevangelized who reject God’s general revelation and are damned, but who would have accepted the Gospel if they heard it. The proposal is that it’s possible, in the providence of God, that there are no such people. God is too loving to allow anyone to be damned through the historical and geographical accidents of his birth.

Such a proposal doesn’t in any way require the pre-existence of souls prior to their incarnations. Such a hypothesis is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of my proposal. Rather what is required and suffices is just middle knowledge. If God in His omniscience knows what any possible person whom He might create would freely do in any possible set of circumstances in which God might place him, then God knows the conditions under which every possible person would or would not freely accept salvation. Remember: God has middle knowledge prior (logically speaking) to His decree to create anything at all, so there aren’t any pre-existent souls about prior to His decree.

Since the Bible says that God wants all persons to be saved, we can trust Him to so providentially order the world that every person is given sufficient grace for salvation and sufficient evidence to believe. No one can stand before God on the Judgement Day and complain of want of greater evidence, for God knew that even had He given him greater evidence, that would not have resulted in his freely embracing His salvation.

- William Lane Craig