In Chapter 2 of Four Views on Divine Providence, William Lane Craig presents a Molinist perspective.
A restatement of William Lane Craig’s model of divine providence
William Lane Craig begins his presentation by noting that Christian theology has traditionally affirmed God’s knowledge of conditional future contingents, what philosophers often call “counterfactuals.” Craig defines these as “conditional statements in the subjunctive mood, such as “If I were rich, I would buy a Mercedes” (79). The antecedent or consequent clause in such statements is typically contrary to fact, which is why the statements are dubbed “counterfactual,” but sometimes they are true. Craig might become rich and buy a Mercedes, for instance. Such statements are common in our ordinary language, and we make life-and-death decisions on the basis of the presumed truth of counterfactual statements (80).
Although Christian theologians traditionally believed that God knows true counterfactuals, they disagreed about when, logically (not chronologically) speaking, God has this hypothetical knowledge. Catholic theologians of the Dominican order held that “God’s hypothetical knowledge is logically subsequent to his decree to create a certain world. They maintained that in decreeing that a particular world exist, God also decreed which counterfactual statements are true” (81).
Luis de Molina and fellow Jesuit theologians maintained that “God’s hypothetical knowledge of creaturely free decisions is logically prior to his creative decree,” and they charged that the Dominicans effectively “obliterated human freedom by making counterfactual truths about creaturely choices a consequence of God’s decree” (81). Molinists posit that, by knowing how a libertarianly free creature would act in particular circumstances, within a particular world, God is able to bring about his ultimate purposes by decreeing the world in which creatures would do freely (in the libertarian sense) what fits within God’s purpose. Molinists called “middle knowledge” the logical moment at which God knows how a particular creature would act in particular circumstances, in a particular world. There may have been worlds in which Peter would affirm Christ and worlds in which Peter would deny Christ, though the circumstances were the same in all of them. If the possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ does not fit within God’s ultimate purpose, then choice of that world is not feasible for God.
Craig’s arguments for Molinism
Craig asserts that it is not difficult to show biblically that God possesses hypothetical knowledge but, since this was agreed upon by Christian theologians until recent times, he cites only John 18:36, where Jesus tells Pilate: “If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight.” What Scripture does not indicate, however, is whether God has this hypothetical knowledge logically prior to or after his creative decree.
Theological arguments for the Molinist perspective are therefore claimed to be the strongest ones, and Craig considers middle knowledge to be “one of the most fruitful theological concepts ever conceived” (84). For the purposes of this essay, its fruitfulness need only be demonstrated in regard to divine foreknowledge and divine providence, though Craig lists numerous doctrines which are illumined by the concept. Middle knowledge offers a conceptualist model of God’s cognition, rather than a perceptualist model. Since the future does not exist, God does not know the future by “foreseeing” it. Rather, “God’s knowledge is self-contained; it is more like a mind’s knowledge of innate ideas” (85). It is based in God’s middle knowledge and his knowledge of his own decree.
The fruitfulness of the Molinist account of providence is cited in reference to Acts, 2:23 and 4:27-28, where God’s sovereignty over human affairs is clearly asserted, the conspiracy to crucify Jesus having “happened by God’s plan based on his foreknowledge and foreordination” (86). On the Molinist account, “via his middle knowledge, God knew exactly which persons, if members of the Sanhedrin, would freely vote for Jesus’ condemnation; which persons, if in Jerusalem, would freely demand Christ’s death, favoring the release of Barabbas; what Herod, if king, would freely do in reaction to Jesus and to Pilate’s plea to judge him; and what Pilate himself, if holding the prefecture of Palestine in AD 30, would freely do under the pressure of the Jewish leaders and the crowd.” Knowing all this, “God decreed to create just those circumstances and just those people who would freely do what God willed to happen” (86).
Proponents of the openness model admit that a strong doctrine of divine providence is impossible without middle knowledge. They cannot explain the coalescence of human freedom and divine sovereignty. Although “openness theologians are fond of comparing God to a Grand Master in chess,” God is not so brilliant that he could “achieve the universal salvation he desired,” and he “regretted having created man” (87). But, if Molinism is correct, “it may be that a world having more saved but less damned than the actual world was not feasible for God” (88). Whereas the open God might “churn up a lot of unforeseen, unnecessary, and pointless suffering,” as he plays the chess game of the world, the God of Molinism only permits suffering in light of his ultimate purpose to build the kingdom of God.
Craig asserts that the revised proposal made by some openness theologians, that God uses his knowledge of what creatures might do in particular circumstances, fails if openness theology is correct about the unknowability of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (i.e., the grounding objection) (89). Furthermore, “knowledge of mere ‘might’ counterfactuals is insufficient to give God the sort of providential control described in the Bible” (90-91).
Craig charges the Augustinian-Calvinist account of providence with making God the author of sin, because his foreknowledge is based on foreordination: “God knows what will happen because he makes it happen” (91). It turns “God into the devil” because God moves people to commit moral evil but then holds them “morally responsible for acts over which they had no control” (91).
Finally, in regard to theological alternatives, Craig assesses the “simple foreknowledge account,” and finds it very weak because, “without middle knowledge, God cannot know prior to the creative decree what the world would be like.” But, Craig charges: “Surely there is more substance to the biblical doctrine of foreordination than the triviality that God decrees that what will happen will happen!” (94).
Philosophically, Craig argues that, “since there are counterfactual truths, God must know these.” God cannot know them posterior to his creative decree, because then “it is God who decrees what choices agents shall make in whatever circumstances they find themselves, and human freedom is annihilated.” Consequently, God must know counterfactuals of creaturely freedom logically prior to his creative decree, which is to say that God has middle knowledge” (95).
In conclusion, Craig commends a Molinist account of divine providence “for serious consideration,” because it gives God “sweeping sovereignty over the affairs of men.” Yet it does so in a manner compatible with human freedom because “the circumstances envisioned in counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are nondetermining” (100).
Items not clear to me in Craig’s presentation
In a later post, I will deal with responses to Craig’s proposal and interact with it myself at that point. Here, however, I want to mention a couple of places at which I can not make sense of Craig’s presentation. These may be his problem, or they may be mine, but either way they render response a bit more difficult.
First, I am puzzled by the way in which Craig describes the Dominican view. He states that, at the moment logically prior to God’s decree, “God knows, for example, that there is a possible world in which Peter denies Christ three times and another possible world in which Peter affirms Christ in precisely the same circumstances” (81 [emphasis mine]). Whether or not Peter denies Jesus in such circumstances is determined by God in his choice of a particular world. I find that description coherent. Later, however, Craig says: “Thus, [God] decrees, for example, that if Peter had instead been in such-and-such circumstances, he would have denied Christ two times” (81 [emphasis mine]). There is an important difference between these two ways of speaking, because of the use of “instead” in the second statement, and this muddies the situation. In the first case, Peter’s libertarianly free choice would account for the difference between a world in which he denies Jesus and a world in which he does not, since everything else is the same. In that case, Peter’s choice would be made for him by God, who chooses that such will be the case in the world he creates. In the second case, however, if the change in circumstances accounts for a difference in Peter’s action in the two possible worlds, then Peter need not be libertarianly free in his choice. But then it would seem likely that God knew the counterfactuals naturally or necessarily, logically prior to his decree. The difference is very significant.
My second puzzlement arises in Craig’s critique of the revisionary open theism which attributes significant control to God on account of his knowledge of “might counterfactuals.” Craig argues that the Molinist God “exceeds the God of revised open theism in that he knows not only how creatures might (or could) choose in any set of circumstances but also how they would choose under any such circumstances” (90 [emphasis mine]). Here, the problem I identified in regard to the description of the Dominican model arises again. Craig speaks as though the actions of libertarianly free creatures are relative to the circumstances, but this appears to me to be a form of compatibilism that belies the libertarian contention that a free being could have done otherwise in precisely the same circumstances.
On page 86, Craig argued, concerning the crucifixion of Jesus, that “God decreed to create just those circumstances and just those people who freely do what God willed to happen.” But I could say that, as a soft compatibilist, without affirming libertarian freedom. It seems to me that what Craig should say is that “God decreed to create the world in which just those people freely choose to do what God willed to happen in just those circumstances.” Essential to the libertarian account of freedom is the belief that there was a world in which the same creatures would have acted differently, even though the circumstances were not different. I assume that Craig has simply been insufficiently careful about his way of speaking, because otherwise it is difficult to be certain of the model he is proposing as a Molinist.
We will return to this subject in the future, God willing.