A Look At Kirk MacGregor's Argument For Middle Knowledge
Middle Knowledge is foreknowledge of counterfactuals which God possesses logically prior to His choice of which possible world to actualize. It's called “middle” knowledge because the theologian Luis De Molina (the founder of the theory known as Molinism) placed this type of knowledge in between God's knowledge of everything that could happen (Natural Knowledge) and everything that will happen (Free Knowledge) in logical priority. The question isn't whether God knows counterfactuals, but whether God knows them logically prior to His decision to actualize the world.
I recently read a blog post about a new argument for this on Free Thinking Ministries. Kirk MacGregor is the originator of the argument, but the blog post was written by Tim Stratton. MacGregor is regarded as one of the leading authorities on Luis De Molina and the theory which bears his name. Luis De Molina penned his works in Latin and much of them have never been translated. MacGregor has taken up the task of translating Molina's work into English. In fact, the Christian philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig has remarked that MacGregor reads Latin as well as he reads English!
I found MacGregor's argument both persuasive and fascinating, and that is why I'm writing this blog post. I want to share this new argument with you.
A Quick Glossary Of Terms
Well, before we look at the premises, let me explain the terminology to people who don't have a background in philosophy.
Logically Prior - For X to be "logically prior" to Y means that X is the explanation for why Y is the way it is. This doesn't necessarily mean that X temporally preceeded Y. For example, some Old Earth Creationist's say that Adam's sin is logically prior to the existence of natural evil and carnivorous activity, even though natural evil and carnivorous activity is temporally prior to Adam's sin by billions of years. Adam's sin is why God cursed the creation, but God cursed the creation billions of years before Adam fell. Regarding God's foreknowledge, the Molinist would say that our free decisions are logically prior God's foreknowledge, but God's foreknowledge precedes our free decisions in time. What we would choose and will choose are the explanation for why God knows our choices.
Logically Posterior - This is the inverse of the former. For something to be logically posterior means that Y is the explanation of X rather than X being the explanation of Y. Most Calvinists hold that God foreknows our decisions because He causally determines our decisions. He knows what we would and will do because He's the one making us do what we do. God's creative decree is the explanation for why God knows the future and counterfactuals.
Libertarian Free Will - When I use the term "Libertarian Free Will", I mean that a person is...
1: The origin and cause of his own actions.
2: In most cases, the person will have the ability to choose between 2 or more options. And whichever option he chooses, he did not have to make that choice. He could have chosen one of the alternatives. For example, if presented with A and Non-A, man chooses A, but he didn't have to choose A. He could have chosen Non-A instead. It laid within his power to choose Non-A. He just didn't exercise that power.
3: The Man's choice was undetermined. Nothing internal or external to the man made the man do what he did. His choice was undetermined.
What Are The Premises Of Kirk MacGregor's Argument?
MacGregor's argument goes as follows:
1: God either possesses knowledge of counterfactuals logically prior or logical posterior to His creative decree.
2: If human beings have libertarian free fill, Then God possesses His counterfactual knowledge logically prior to His creative decree.
3: Human beings have libertarian free will.
4: Therefore, God possesses His counterfactual knowledge logically prior to His creative decree.
This is a logically valid argument. The conclusion follows from the premises. If all 3 premises are true, then it follows that the conclusion is also true. So, are these premises true or are they false?
Premise 1: God Either Possesses Knowledge Of Counterfactuals Logically Prior Or Logically Posterior To His Creative Decree.
The first step in Kirk MacGregor's argument is indisputable. For one, The Bible undeniably presents us with examples of God stating counterfactual truths. Take a look at the following examples:
[Jesus is speaking here] “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.” – Matthew 11:21-23
“No, we declare God's wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” – 1 Corinthians 2:7-8
"Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.’ And the Lord said, ‘He will.’ Again David asked, ‘Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul’ And the Lord said, ‘They will.’ So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there." - 1 Samuel 23:11-13
I don't think that this premise of the argument will be disputed by very many Christians.
Premise 2: If Human Beings Have Libertarian Free Will, Then God Possesses His Counterfactual Knowledge Logically Prior To His Creative Decree.
In defense of premise 2, MacGregor notes,
“Suppose God possesses his counterfactual knowledge logically posterior to his creative decree. Then it is God who decrees what every possible individual would do in any possible circumstances. In that case, no possible individual has soft libertarian freedom (a range of options from which they can choose). For any circumstance, God has locked them into one course of action. From these considerations (2) follows.”
Consider this scenario: if people don't have libertarian free will (LFW), then unsaved sinners wouldn't even be able to choose between varying evil actions (e.g robbing a bank VS. robbing a gas station convenient store). It would be impossible for a Christian to choose between reading an NIV Bible or a KJV Bible. It would be impossible for someone to make a choice between listening to Skillet or listening to Kutless.
If every counterfactual that God knows regarding our choices, He knows as a result of His decision to create, then the statement "If Bob was in circumstance S, He would choose A instead of B" is only true because God decreed it to be true, and if the counterfactual statement is true because God decreed it to be true, then Bob would not be freely choosing A instead of B in circumstance S. He would be choosing what God made Him choose. If all of God's foreknowledge is logically posterior to His creative decree, then this world is a puppet world: God causally determines everything we've done, do, and will do. Moreover, His counterfactual knowledge is, in a sense, merely knowledge of what He would freely do in any given circumstance. It's knowledge of what He would causally determine us to do in other circumstances. If determinism is the logical entailment of logically posterior knowledge, then what that means is that if determinism is false, then what that means is that God knows what He knows logically prior to His creative decree.
Premise 3: Humans Beings Have Libertarian Free Will
In an argument, all of the premises must be true in order for the conclusion to be justified. If even one premise is false or cannot be demonstrated to be true, then the argument won't be any good. Most non-Molinists will be willing to grant premises 1 and 2, but the premise they'll deny in order to escape the conclusion will be 3. Calvinists deny that human beings have libertarian free will. They don't all share the same view on this, but all of them adhere to some form of determinism. They believe that God, or the sinful nature, or our desires, or our moral character causally determine us to make the choices we make. However, I think there are many biblical and philosophical reasons to affirm free will.
In defense of premise 3, MacGregor offers a (non-exhaustive) list of Scriptures that prove soft libertarian freedom. Here are some of the Biblical data to consider:
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, the apostle Paul wrote: "No temptation has overtaken you, except what is common to man. And God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, will provide a way of escape also so that you will be able to endure it." This is probably the most powerful evidence of libertarian free will, the most explicit example of libertarian free will, and the most difficult-for-determinists-to-get-around passage in the entire Bible. Paul says that the temptation that afflicts his readers isn't anything unusual, nothing unique to them. He then goes on to say that God is faithful, and won't allow the temptation to sin to be so overwhelming that it's impossible for them to resist it. Instead, God will provide "a way of escape" so that they'll endure it and ergo avoid sinning.
Paul is assuming here that his readers don't have to sin. Sin is not inevitable. God provides a way out so that we'll be able to avoid sin. If we do sin, it's because we refused to take "the way of escape" that God offered. If we don't sin, it's because we chose "the way of escape". This verse presupposes libertarian free will. It presupposes that the listener does not have to sin. He's faced with A (sin) and Non-A (The Way Of Escape). He can choose either and is responsible for whichever one he chooses. The determinist cannot make sense of this verse. If humans are causally determined to do everything we do, then "the way of escape" was not a possible option for those who sin. "The way of escape" on determinism, was nothing but an illusion! Only if man truly has the power to genuinely choose between alternatives, can we say that "the way of escape" was a possible option for those who sinned?
“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-19
In this passage, Moses was clearly giving the Israelites a choice to serve God or to serve idols. Now, if the Israelites thousands of years ago had a choice, why don’t we have a choice today? In this passage, Moses was saying "I set before you A and Non-A. I'd prefer it if you chose A". Sounds like the libertarian free will to me!
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” - Joshua 24:14-15
Joshua is clearly giving the Israelites a choice to serve God or to serve idols. Now, if the Israelites thousands of years ago had a choice, why don’t we have a choice today?
Other biblical passages MacGregor points to are Genesis 4:6-7; Psalm 119:108-109; Isaiah 5:3-4; Proverbs 1:23, Proverbs 1:28; Jeremiah 26:2-4; Jeremiah 36:3, 7, 17-20; Ezekiel 18:21-24, 30-32; Ezekiel 33:11; Zecheriah 1:2-4; Matthew 23:37-39; Acts 5:4; 1 Corinthians 7:37; and Revelation 2:21.
In addition to biblical passages outright stating or implying that humans have free will, there are good philosophical arguments that can be combined with biblical data to make the case that humans have free will. Consider one of my examples from my blog post "5 Arguments For The Existence Of Free Will".
1: If humans are not free in a libertarian sense, they cannot be held accountable for their actions.
2: But God will hold humans accountable for their actions.
3: Therefore, humans are free in a libertarian sense.
This is a logically valid argument, following the rule of inference called modus tollens. If the premises are true, then the conclusion is also true. Premise 2 is indisputable. Anyone even reading The Bible in a casual manner will see that God has and will hold people accountable for evil doing. Passages like Revelation 20:11-13, Romans 14:12, and 2 Corinthians 5:10 say so explicitly. Ezekiel 18 is another passage one can point to for support of premise 2.
But is premise 1 true? I think it is. If God causally determines our actions, then how could it be the case that we are responsible for our actions rather than God? If God causally determines all of our actions, wouldn't God be the one to blame? If I push a car down a hill and it crashes into your house, who is to blame? Is the car to blame or am I to blame? Obviously, I am to blame. I'm the one who causally determined the car to go down the hill. The car didn't decide to go into your house, I did. Moreover, the car had no ability to choose otherwise. The car would not be the one appearing in court to face a hefty lawsuit. Or again, if I knock a ball off the table, would you blame the ball for falling off, or would you put the onus on me? Obviously, the onus would be on me. You see, causes are responsible for their effects.
If X causes Y to do Z, then X is responsible for Y doing Z. Y is not responsible. If God causes people to sin, God is responsible for people sinning. He, therefore, could not justly condemn someone on judgment day for doing evil. If He did, He would be akin to a man taking his child's hand, causing it to slap the face of the child's brother, and then spank the child for slapping his brother.
Moreover, we all intuitively realize that the ability to choose otherwise is a vital criterion for being held culpable. Usually, if someone couldn't help what they did, we excuse them. For example, if I knocked you over, you would be angry with me if the reason you fell was that I took my hands and shoved you, but you wouldn't be upset if the reason was that my shoe was untied and I tripped on it and fell into you. In the former case, you believe that it laid within my power to refrain from pushing you over. In the latter case, you realize that the circumstances were beyond my control. I don't know what I don't know. If I don't know my shoe is untied, I can't stop to tie it to prevent the fall. Moreover, I have no control over the laws of physics, so if I trip, I'm going down whether I like it or not. Given that in the latter example, I couldn't help what I did, you would excuse me.
It seems then that premise 1 is true, from which the conclusion follows: 3: Therefore, humans are free in a libertarian sense.
It isn't unheard of to use syllogistic arguments to support premises of a syllogistic argument, but I tend to prefer not to do that as it makes the treatment of the argument longer. This is why I only provided you with one example; The Argument From Accountability. For other examples, see my blog post: "5 Arguments For The Existence Of Free Will".
I think we've got more than enough evidence for the truth of premise 3.
4: Therefore, God possesses His counterfactual knowledge logically prior to His creative decree.
Given the truth of the 3 premises, the conclusion follows logically and necessarily. God knows what everyone would freely do in any circumstance He could place them in logically prior to His decision to actualize any possible world. God's counterfactual knowledge isn't the result of His creative decree. In other words: God has middle knowledge.
Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Grounding Objection?
One of the big objections non-Molinists have to middle knowledge is called "The Grounding Objection". The Non-Molinist typically argues that we have no way of grounding these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, and therefore we ought not to believe God knows them. How do we explain how God possesses middle knowledge? What is it that makes CCFs true?
Well, it would seem to me that if MacGregor's argument is sound, then The Grounding Problem becomes a non-issue. If all of MacGregor's premises are true, then the conclusion follows. The only way to deny the conclusion would be to disprove one of the premises. If you grant all 3 premises, then you must grant the conclusion.
The Molinist can simply say, in response to the grounding objection "I don't know". I don't know how God possesses knowledge of counterfactuals logically prior to His decision to create, but that doesn't bother me any more than my inability to explain how God can create something without using previously existing materials. We are finite beings and we will never be able to fully comprehend God. I believe that God has middle knowledge because the philosophical and biblical data point me in that direction. I believe God can create out of nothing because the biblical and scientific evidence points me to that conclusion.
When the Grounding Objection is brought up, my mind translates the objection as "Explain to me how God can be omniscient!" I cannot, any more than I can explain how or why God is omnipotent or omnipresent. But my lack of ability to explain doesn't make me deny that He is omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent.
I was very pleased to have discovered this argument for middle knowledge. I've been a Molinist for 3 years now, because of its superb ability to reconcile God's Sovereignty and Free Will (both of which are taught in The Bible), and because of it' has superior explanatory power and scope regarding theological issues like predestination and eternal security. I accepted Molinism as an inference to the best explanation. It simply exceeds non-Molinist explanations in explanatory scope. However, I struggled to actually prove that God knew counterfactuals logically prior to His creative decree....until now. Thank you, MacGregor for formulating this argument, and thank you, Tim Stratton, for talking about it on your blog.