UnApologetic

Christian Theology and Apologetics

Predestination and Molinism

idea-light-bulbthinkstockCounterfactuals

In order to understand Molinism, one needs to understand counterfactuals. These are conditional statements in the subjunctive mood. Simply put, a counterfactual is a statement like this: If the Columbia space shuttle did not launch, it would not have blown up. The antecedent “if the Columbia space shuttle did not launch” is obviously false, it did launch and explode midair. Counterfactuals are used in everyday decision-making. If I were not so set my alarm clock I would be late for work. If I leave the iron on it would burn down the house. If I take this route I’ll get stuck in traffic. These statements are crucial to sound decision-making.

The Molinist believes that counterfactual truths come prior to God’s decree of which world to create. This leaves room for creaturely freedom by removing counterfactuals from God’s decree. Thus, God does not decree what anyone would or would not do in any given situation. Rather God chooses from a subset of possible worlds, which world is feasible and meets his desired purposes. Possible worlds are truths similar to the necessary truths in mathematics, which are independent of God’s decree as well.

 

Though counterfactual truths are independent of God, it doesn’t mean God has no providential control. The counterfactuals make up possible worlds before the decree to create, but God selects which world to create based on his purposes. This means that God achieves his purposes without infringing human freedom. God places individuals in circumstances where he knows they will choose according to his purposes. God plans a world down to the smallest of details that meets his purposes without infringing human freedom.

 

In a sense, Molinism is similar to infralapsarian Calvinism for the reason that it includes the concept of permission. God did not decree the fall; rather he permitted it to occur. God didn’t predestine people to hell; rather he permitted them to choose that path for themselves. The crucial difference between Molinism and infralapsarianism is Molinism actually accomplishes a robust view of sovereignty and permission that is logically consistent and does not appeal to mystery when there are contradictions.

For instance, Calvin declared, “the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.”[1] If this is indeed the case, then God determines all things and there is no room for the notion of permission if God causes all things. Calvin recognized that if permission was to be included in the doctrine of election, it would make election contingent upon human freedom permitted by God, which is why he rejected it.

 

Moreover, infralapsarianism is inconsistent for the reason that God permits some to be reprobate because they do not believe, then regenerates others who do not yet believe as well. This means God elected and reprobated according to his good pleasure, but if infralapsarian reprobation is contingent upon human freedom as the they would insist, it isn’t according to God’s good pleasure, it’s according to his permission and if it is according to his permission, then why did God elect some to salvation through causal determination and permit others through their free will to be reprobate?

This would be like going into a group of homeless people during the freezing cold, handing out blankets to a few who don’t have them, and allowing others freeze because they do not have blankets. Infralapsarianism renders election and reprobation arbitrary. It attempts to place reprobation on the shoulders of the reprobate but fails because God elects some to salvation and not others. Simply put, it is an inconsistent position.

Molinism and Predestination

Molinism affirms permission in the prima facie sense. [2] This means God has allowed libertarian freedom in causal agents he created. God exercises his sovereignty through his omniscience. In possessing middle knowledge (knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom) God controls all things through his choice of which possible world to create. God knows what each causal agent will choose in any given situation and based on this knowledge, God selects which possible world to create.

Molinism differs from decretal theology in that it posits one decree of God instead of multiple decrees in the case of infra- and supralapsarianism; this is a position that even the Reformed have agreed has its advantages.

 

Louis Berkhof remarks:

Though we often speak of the decrees of God in the plural, yet in its own nature the divine decree is but a single act of God. This is already suggested by the fact that the Bible speaks of it as a prothesis, a purpose or counsel. It follows also from the very nature of God. His knowledge is all immediate and simultaneous rather than successive like ours, and His comprehension of it is always complete. And the decree that is founded on it is also a single, all-comprehensive, and simultaneous act. As an eternal and immutable decree, it could not be otherwise. There is, therefore, no series of decrees in God, but simply one comprehensive plan, embracing all that comes to pass.[3]

 

 

Rather than attempting to discern logical moments in God’s decree’s, Molinism attempts to discern the logical moments of God’s knowledge (Natural, Middle, Free). Kenneth Keathley rightly observes that this is not unique to Molinism and that Berkhof, who is Reformed recognizes logical moments in God’s knowledge as well.[4] Berkhof affirms as a Molinist would that the omniscience of God provides the material for the decree.

 

Berkhof states:

The decree of God bears the closest relation to the divine knowledge. There is in God, as we have seen, a necessary knowledge, including all possible causes and results. This knowledge furnishes the material for the decree; it is the perfect fountain out of which God drew the thoughts which He desired to objectify. Out of this knowledge of all things possible He chose, by an act of His perfect will, led by wise considerations, what He wanted to bring to realization, and thus formed His eternal purpose.[5]

 

So in Berkhof’s understanding natural knowledge supplies the decree and the decree supplies God’s free- and foreknowledge.

 

Berkhof later observes:

The decree of God is, in turn, the foundation of His free knowledge or scientia libera. It is the knowledge of things as they are realized in the course of history. While the necessary knowledge of God logically precedes the decree, His free knowledge logically follows it. This must be maintained over against all those who believe in a conditional predestination (such as Semi-Pelagians and Arminians) since they make the pre-determinations of God dependent on His foreknowledge.[6]

 

 

Thus, we get the following picture of logical moments:

 

Moment 1                                             Moment 2

 

Natural Knowledge   →  Decree  →  Free Knowledge → Foreknowledge

 

 

It seems to be Berkhof’s position is exactly what he is opposed to. Namely God’s decree is based on foreknowledge. Berkhof posits that God selects from the possible worlds which to decree and logically after this decree comes free knowledge of what will occur, but this is nonsensical for the reason that God already knows what will occur based on the possible world he chose—each possible world is planned down to the smallest of details—, otherwise, why choose it? If he had no free knowledge prior to the decree, how would God decree which possible world to be actualized? Berkhof’s position makes the decree contingent upon foreknowledge of the possible world God selects. So, rather than disposing of God’s election based on foreknowledge, Berkhof inadvertently makes election contingent upon foreknowledge.

 

 

In addition to natural and free knowledge, Molinist’s add a third logical moment in God’s knowledge called scientia media or middle knowledge, for the reason that it is logically between natural and free knowledge. The reason middle knowledge is the second logical moment is for the reason that counterfactuals are contingencies that occur due to the agency of free creatures. These counterfactuals cannot be located in free knowledge for the reason that they are hypothetical and not actual, whereas free knowledge is actual and not hypothetical. In simpler terms Natural knowledge is what could occur; middle knowledge is what would occur, and free knowledge is what will occur. This means God knows every scenario in which free creatures would accept the Gospel and out of these feasible worlds, God selects which one to be actualized. This provides God absolute sovereignty in such a way that does not violate human freedom. God elects in a way that free agents choose what God has predetermined. God selects what will occur, but he does not cause it to occur, this means free agents are accountable for their choices in a way that Calvinism cannot affirm.

 

Notes

[1] John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 177.

[2] Permission is defined as “the right or ability to do something that is given by someone who has the power to decide if it will be allowed or permitted.”

[3] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 102.

[4] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 150; Berkhof, 102.

[5] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 102.

[6] Ibid.

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6 thoughts on “Predestination and Molinism

  1. vonleonhardt2 on said:

    Can you help me as to how counterfactuals work? They seem to have no need to be anything but not what forensically occured. They must be false… yet then they are used as proofs of positive statements?

    They seem like a bunch of sophist nonesense to me, because a false statement can’t be probabisticly weighted as it is inherently forensically impossible 0%, and the rhetorical trick is that the speaker switches tense to cover that.

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    • Counterfactuals are conditional statements in the subjunctive mood. For instance, the statement “If I were a billionaire, I’d buy an island” is a counterfactual statement. They are used in everyday decision making. When one is at a traffic light you stop on a red light which is a decision based on the counterfactual “if I were to not stop at this red light, I would get hit by traffic.” When it comes to the issue of divine Omniscience, counterfactuals are in the second logical moment of God’s knowledge, called middle knowledge, which allows God to know which worlds are feasible to create based on the circumstances free agents are placed in and the decisions that follow from those circumstances. It is how God knows, what a person would do if they were in a certain circumstance. I hope this helps.

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      • vonleonhardt2 on said:

        It seems there’s more to it, like it has to be “counter” fact. Like I stopped, so there is no probability that I wouldn’t. I feel this middle knowledge is a rhetorical trick.

        So say I didn’t stop at the light, then my dog would turn around. Technically, that’s just as likely as saying, I’d get a ticket. Forensicly, I stopped. So the forensic probability of ANYTHING else is 0.

        But “counterfactuals” seem to posite reasonable consequences of other actions as “possible” which in a theoretical rhetorical mode still are… then carry that probibility to the forensics logical mode… which locks them out.

        I fail to see “probable”if it forensicly didn’t happen as any different than impossible…

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  2. This was an excellent post on articulating the world-view of Molinism! Thank you!

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