Middle Knowledge & Geerhardus Vos

If Al Gore had become President of the United States, America would not have gone to war in Iraq. If the Broncos beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the world would be a better place. If Johnny had asked Susie out on a date, she would say yes.

All these statements are examples of statements called counterfactuals. We use counterfactuals in every day conversation. For example we might say that “If I would have left home 5 minutes earlier, I would have missed traffic.” We say stuff like that all the time. But does God have this sort of knowledge too?

Most theologians agree that God has knowledge of all necessary truths. That is indisputable. Most also agree that God has knowledge of things that “will” be. However a disputed question is whether God has knowledge of things that “would” be. And if God does have this sort of knowledge, when does he have it? Does God have it before or after his divine decree to create?

Luis Molina (a Jesuit), from whose name Molinists derive their own name, believed that God’s hypothetical knowledge of creatures free decisions comes logically prior to his decree to create. The Dominicans, following Thomas Aquinas disagreed. Supposedly this makes room for human freedom, after all truths about human decisions come prior to God’s decree. According to Molinists, God knows what hypothetically humans would do prior to his divine decrees thus this allows room for human freedom but allows God to bring about his ultimate purposes through free creaturely decisions since God decides which world he will create.

According to William Lane Craig, this knowledge, lies between his knowledge of necessary truths and his knowledge of what “will” be, thus Molinists call this God’s middle knowledge.

But we need to ask ourselves a few questions:

Is middle knowledge a coherent concept?

Is middle knowledge a biblical concept?

Now before we answer some of these questions let’s define middle knowledge.

Here are a couple of definitions:

God knows, for any creature he might create, how that creature will behave in whatever circumstances he might be placed. God is able to know this, moreover, even though the creatures in question will, if created, enjoy libertarian freedom. This kind of knowledge…[is] called middle knowledge. –Hugh McCann

What is middle knowledge? This is the doctrine that between God’s natural knowledge, his knowledge of all necessities and possibilities, and his free knowledge, what he has freely planned to bring to pass, there is a middle knowledge, his knowledge of what his free creatures would do in a vast variety of different circumstances. – Paul Helm

So what should we think about Middle Knowledge? Geerhardus Vos helps us to think through some of these things in his Reformed Dogmatics…

First Vos says that – Knowledge is only “knowledge” if it refers to something that is certain. “Only what is certain and sure can be known.” This makes sense, knowledge only consists of what exists. Counterfactuals don’t have real existence – hence it is impossible to know them in the full sense of the word. So the concept is incoherent. (This is basically the grounding objection.)

Second, Vos says that what is free and uncertain in itself cannot be the object of knowledge. This is the same type of objection that Open theists make… Gregory Boyd helpfully points out: “it is hard to understand how agents can be said to possess libertarian freedom when the facts about every choice they will ever make eternally precede their making it.” So for freedom to be truly libertarian, an agent’s actions must be unknown. This is precisely what Middle Knoweldge tries to avoid. Again it seems like Middle Knowledge is an incoherent concept. Either God does not know libertarian actions or they are not truly libertarian – there doesn’t seem to be a way between these two options

Finally, is it biblical? Vos seems says that 1 Samuel 23 and Matthew 11, verses used to support middle knowledge are not in fact biblical. I don’t think the answer is as clear as Vos wants it to be.

But there are a host of issues, not touched upon by Vos, that make the concept of middle knowledge incoherent, or at least muddy. For instance, What is the Ontological status of molinist counterfactuals? These counterfactuals are logically prior to God’s decree to create, so how are they related to the Creator? How is it possible for the truth of these “facts” to exist apart from God’s creative will?

So what is the status of middle knowledge? I don’t know – all I know is that there are some pretty weighty objections against its existence. In my opinion, this last objection regarding the ontological status of these counterfactuals is the trickiest. From where do they derive their existence if they somehow “are” prior to God’s decree to create? Tricky Stuff…

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