Brief Discussion on Middle Knowledge and Divine Fatalism
In a recent Dividing Line podcast, James White was responding to a recent debate on Calvinism vs Molinism between Paul Helm and William Lane Craig. It’s a rather good podcast in general and I would recommend it. White makes many good responses worthy of consideration. In the future, I may cover some of his other points, but for now, I’m concerned with his closing remarks.
I consider myself to be broadly in the Molinist camp. There is a very common mistake I’ve seen and White makes it here as well. White made the argument that freedom requires the possibility of violating middle knowledge. He used the example that WLC used of the subjunctive conditional “If I were rich, I would buy a Ferrari”. White argues, however, that if you do become rich and are significantly free, you should be able to buy a BMW instead. But Molinism doesn’t allow for that. If God knows that you will buy a Ferrari then you couldn’t buy a BMW. The conclusion being that Molinism must be deterministic or otherwise does not truly preserve libertarian freedom.
Here’s the mistake: White, like many detractors of Molinism, conflates “will do” and “must do”. To go back to our example, if Jones were rich, he would buy a Ferrari. Let’s then say that Jones won the lottery today. Since he is now rich he will go buy a Ferrari. But, White says that since Jones is rich, he must buy a Ferrari. This is a different proposition altogether! The first case (will buy) says that Jones will freely use his financial resources to actualize a state of affairs wherein he owns a Ferrari. The second case (must buy) says that Jones does not have it within his power to refuse actualizing this state of affairs. When we say that Jones will buy a Ferrari, we are not denying the fact that he could buy a BMW instead. It is entirely within Jones’s power to buy a BMW or a yacht or donate his money to charity or anything that he wishes. The fact is that he just won’t do any of those things.
This may seem a bit difficult to understand. Let’s use another example. Assuming that you are a fairly decent human being, what would you do if someone were to hand you an infant? Would you intentionally harm this infant for the fun of it? Of course not! But, does that somehow restrict your freedom to do so? Of course not! You could harm this infant if you so chose to; it’s completely within your power but you will restrain.
This idea that we must do what God knows we will do is called divine fatalism which is dramatically different from what Molinism communicates. In this respect, I think that Dr. White has significantly misunderstood the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human freedom in the Molinist framework.
J.W. Wartick also weighed in on Dr. White’s misunderstanding of Molinism
Further Resources on Molinism
- A brief overview (10 min)
- Kirk R. MacGregor
- Molinist Directory of Max Andrews
- Molinist Directory of Wes Widner
- Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley (book)
- A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology by Kirk R. MacGregor (book)
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