Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Terminology Tuesday: Middle Knowledge

Middle Knowledge: The philosophical theory that God knows all possible events and all theoretical truths, as well as all actual events and truths. Middle knowledge suggests that God knows not only what humans actually do but also what humans would do under hypothetical circumstances. For example, in the case of persons who die without hearing the gospel message, God knows how they would have responded had they heard it. Some theologians conclude that based on this middle knowledge, God will save those who remained beyond the pale of the gospel in this life but would have accepted Christ had the message come to them.1

1. Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 79.


  1. Brian December 1, 2009

    I talked about this on my blog as well. I call it "Theological Thursday" 🙂

  2. cuwac1 December 1, 2009

    I thought the first sentence of the definition was confusing, as many opponents of middle knowledge would also agree that God knows all possible and theoretical truths.

    My understanding of middle knowledge is that it is most easily defined in context of God's natural knowledge and free knowledge:
    1. Natural Knowledge – God's knowledge of all possible worlds (ways things COULD be). E.g., in circumstances C, Stan could vote for or not vote for Xavier (both are possible).
    2. Middle Knowledge – God's knowledge of all feasible worlds (ways things WOULD be), including counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. E.g. in circumstances C, Stan would not freely vote for Xavier.
    Note: even God could not make Stan vote for Xavier freely in those circumstances.
    3. Free Knowledge – God's knowledge of the actual world (way things WILL be). E.g. in the actual world, Stan will be placed in circumstances C, so Stan will not freely vote for Xavier.

    "Freely" should be taken in a libertarian sense, because compatibilism collapses middle knowledge into natural knowledge (as God could make Stan choose either way and it would still be free).

    See also: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/free-will-foreknowledge/#2.4

  3. Brian December 1, 2009


    Thanks for adding to the discussion, as some of the definitions provided in the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms are a little too concise to be complete.

  4. Anonymous January 23, 2013

    And for some reason some people place this Molinistic theology before God as if He did not know that all men are dead in their sins and trespasses, don't seek after God and are by nature children of wrath who will not respond to the gospel unless He calls them, sanctifies them by His Holy Spirit renewing them to everlasting life and the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father who alone has the power to remove sin as far as the east is from the west.

    Here I stand, I can do no other but to trust in God's sovereign will, Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the salvation of my soul and the proclamation of the message of the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth that can truly save. The weight of the law crushing the soul and the forgiveness of sin at the cross, death, burial and resurrection.

  5. James January 23, 2013

    What do you mean by people placing such a theology "before God as if He did not know that all men are dead in their sins…" ? Molinists never claim that there was a point where God did not know something, if that's what you mean.

    From what I think I understand, they just take it as axiomatic that God knows that for some person P in circumstances C, P would freely do action A, and God sovereignly builds the world and guides all worldly events with that knowledge according to His plan. P never exists prior to God, and there is no such time at which God does not know all counterfactuals about P.

    Additionally, Molinists don't think that counterfactuals of creaturely freedom rob God of his sovereignty, for they don't view Scripture as teaching sovereignty to mean that God must determine what person P would do in situation S. He simply puts P in situation S, thereby guaranteeing action A.

    Now, you'll frequently come across the grounding objection, but Molinists seem to say that the mystery is then placed in how God would know such counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, thus escaping the mystery of genuine human responsibility on a compatibilist view of the will. They simply trade one mystery for another.

    If anyone more well-read on Molinism feels I have misstated something here, please correct me.

  6. Ex N1hilo January 24, 2013


    It is true that molinism (along with most libertarian views of human freedom) does not teach that human choices are temporally prior to God's knowledge. Rather, it teaches those choices are logically prior to God's knowledge of them.

    This makes (aspects of) God's knowledge contingent. It makes his knowledge of us dependent upon us. Man becomes, thereby, the creator of certain aspects of God's being.

    This is why I contend that libertarian free will doctrine is, at root, idolatrous.

    As Molinism-proponent William Lane Craig has stated, "The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him [God] are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt."

    If this is the case, who is dealing the cards? And shouldn't we be praying to him rather than to God?

  7. Anonymous January 24, 2013

    James, When it comes to soteriology, counterfactuals are dissolved by the sovereign will of God to save the elect when they have no free will ability to do so on their own. What is a good work? Undoubtedly trusting in Christ is a good work. The natural man cannot please God. In fact, apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit no man can say that Christ is Lord and trust in Him for salvation.

    And yes, we are agents of free will action. Action according to our nature. When we were yet dead in our sins and trespasses we had a nature that prevented us from trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and enjoying God for eternity. It was when we were crushed by the weight of the law, being convicted by the Holy Spirit of our sin, and heard the message of the Gospel that we sought refuge in our Rock and Mighty Fortress, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    On a good day, perhaps a really good day, a comprehensive view of Molinism is semi-pelagian in nature when it come to the free gift of salvation, robbing God of the fact that he is our Savior and there is no other. All other matters of free will, not so much so – Molinism works just fine. It's that one thing, soteriology, that concerns me. If I chose God then good on me but did I do it apart from the work of the Holy Spirit?

    One brother to another, do you see my concern?

  8. Drew January 24, 2013

    Have you noticed that every Calvinist objection to Molinism is really an objection to non-deterministic free will?

    I already have delivered lectures on this topic. First, free will is incompatible with determinism:

    Secondly, no deterministic being is capable of reasoning. John Searle and Angus Menuge beyond any reasonable doubt: http://messianicdrew.blogspot.com/2011/10/why-no-theist-should-be-compatibilist.html

  9. James January 24, 2013

    While I can respect the Reformed position and concern with the understanding of predestination and the will, there is nothing to suggest that one "ought to pray to him" (i.e., the man "controlling" God's decisions) if middle knowledge exists. It's obviously true that such men are not omniscient, nor do they have the authority to do something in the actual world without God's permission.

    Ought we label God as impotent or limited if He chooses to make His decisions based on something else ? I'm inclined to say, "Most certainly not !".

    Ultimately, the functioning of the will is a great mystery that I'm certain cannot be known until God reveals it to us, should He so choose.

  10. Anonymous January 25, 2013

    Drew, It's funny you say that! I've also made an observation that Molinist objections to Calvinism oppose the fact that apart from God's determined election, none will come to salvation. Perhaps there is an equivocation between definitions of atheistic naturalistic determination and the things that the Lord has determined from the foundation of the world that have to be divided out and well defined. I find this discussion intriguing in that unless Calvin died upon that rugged cross in Judea 2000 years ago for the forgiveness of sins I'll remain a Christian and not a Calvinist.

    I do know one thing though, unless the Holy Spirit regenerated my mind, I could not choose Him by my free will and I can say the same for all believers because it says so in the word of God in 1st Corinthians chapter 2. Perspecuity of scripture, gotta love it!

    There will be a day where we are both together in the kingdom praising the Lord asking ourselves "Soooo, that's how that works, how could we have missed that?" In the mean time we can enjoy discussing the deeper things of God and calling upon Him to reveal them to us.

  11. Jonathan January 25, 2013

    The definition is just flat out bad. It simply won’t due, as Brian tries, to excuse it as “too precise to be complete.” It’s not lacking completeness, it’s lacking accuracy. The definition claims that MK is the view “that God knows all possible events and all theoretical truths, as well as all actual events and truths.” In fact, MK is the narrower claim *regarding the logical order* of God’s knowledge of counterfactuals. Specifically, it is just the view that God knows counterfactual truths prior to his free knowledge. It makes no more sense to define Middle knowledge the view “that God knows all possible events and all theoretical truths, as well as all actual events and truths” than it does to define natural knowledge as the view “that God knows all possible events and all theoretical truths, as well as all actual events and truths.”

    The pocket dictionary then goes on to define MK simply as the view that God has counterfactual knowledge… but that’s not MK! As William Lane Craig himself states, “*Everyone* who had considered the issue agreed that God has such [counterfactual] knowledge” (Four Views on Divine Providence, p. 120). But the pocket dictionary makes it sound like anyone who denies MK must deny God knows what humans would do under hypothetical circumstances!

    I agree with you, Cuwac1, that the first sentence is confusing, because it’s not clear how the pocket dictionary (PD) is using the term “theoretical truths”. Does the PD think a theoretical truth just is a counterfactual truth? Often “theoretical” is used as synonymous with “possible,” so that would be odd if the PD was using it to stand in for counterfactual truths.

    I also agree with your formulation of (1-3) in that it accurately depicts a middle knowledge perspective of all three logical points of God's knowledge. But it should be stressed, which I don't think you do, that the crucial thing about MK is not counterfactuals themselves, but where they fall logically in relation to the others.

    You said that “’Freely’ should be taken in a libertarian sense, because compatibilism collapses middle knowledge into natural knowledge…”

    First, it’s not clear what you think the logical connection is in your “because” clause.

    Second, compatibilism doesn’t require “middle knowledge” to be collapsed into natural knowledge. Some *Calvinists* collapse *counterfactual* knowledge into natural knowledge (e.g., Paul Helm). But as Craig points out, Dominicans saw God’s knowledge of counterfactuals being logically after free knowledge. So I don’t see that Calvinism requires counterfactual knowledge to be joined to natural knowledge, much less various compatibilist systems.

    Third, it’s important to point out that whenever a Libertarian (I don't know that you are one) claims something like “even God could not make Stan vote for Xavier freely in those circumstances” in the context of considering MK as an option over against other systems, they are just begging the question. In terms of the FW discussion generally, they are taking for granted a *very* controversial claim.

  12. teismocristao February 2, 2013

    I talked about translating your posts some time ago, but since I'm low on time, I will just try to translate one little post (like this) per day. Thanks for letting me translate you, man.