In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 it says that “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through … belief in the truth.” People often find it difficult to reconcile these two things – God’s choosing us and our believing the truth. One way proposed out of the dilemma is to consider the various types of knowledge entailed in God’s omniscience. Middle knowledge in particular seems relevant to this question. This is a brief attempt to explain it.
interesting. the pdf you linked to seems to be proving the incoherency of the “middle knowledge” theory. i honestly see a number of things that i’d consider contradictory both to biblical teaching and even logic in this theory. the statement “the content of God’s natural knowledge is independent of His will; God has no control over the truth of the propositions He knows by natural knowledge. Consider, for example, the mathematical truth, 1+1=2. No matter what God wills, it will always be true” smacks of platonism (of which aquinas was a HUGE fan and his jesuit friend seems to have borrowed much from him), in that there is the concept of SOMETHING back of God (ironically, this is the theology of eastern religions with the brahman back of all the gods.) not sure if you’ve heard of van til, but he does a pretty good job on debunking how much of chr. apologetics has fallen victim to the aquinian/platonistic assumptions that something is back of God (as this statement from the article you linked seems to clearly show). if you get a chance to check out van til’s arguments on this, i’d be interested to hear what you think. middle knowledge seems to not solve the dilemma and at the same time, make certain false statements about God/logic.
Thanks for the response. You are right that one of the articles linked to disagrees with the Middle Knowledge idea. As I find Middle Knowledge attractive, I do think it’s healthy to hear those voices opposed to it as well.
As for there being something “back of God”, as I see it, this seems a tad like the Euthyphro dilemma and has a similar escape route. A brief explanation:
Is something right because God commands it, or does God command it because it is right? The implications for the person asking the question are normally that either God’s commands are arbitrary or that there is some standard higher than God – something “back of God” if you will.
The solution that many see is that the dilemma is, in the end, a false one. God’s commands are an expression of who He is, His nature, His character, His own personality. Therefore, though from our perspective, it is right for us to do something because God commands us, we need not think these commands are arbitrary. If we could see all of space-time from God’s vantage point we would see that His commands are just and right and accurately reflect who He is.
Now to Natural Knowledge. If God is truly logical or reasonable, as it seems that He is: “Come let us reason together.” Then the content of natural knowledge, i.e., all that is logically possible, is an extension of this aspect of God. It is “true” only in the sense that it is logically possible. “It is possible that I will go out my back door into my back yard today,” is a true statement, even if I never go there by that route. The point is that I am not out of town, which would make the statement untrue. And mathematical things are again only expressions of God’s reasonable and logical nature. He is not arbitrary. And in fact allowing us to understand mathematics enables us to understand this universe He has placed us in.
It’s likely you don’t agree, and I have never read van Til on this, though, yes,I have heard of him. Perhaps a van Til reading project is something I should embark on, but I have no plans at present.
hi dave –
i have heard the euthyphro dilemma before (the contents of it anyway, if not the name 🙂 and i would heartily agree with the “solution” that the dilemma is false, though i would tweak the reasons/conclusions for that. the question itself already implies a theological/epistemological presupposition: that any judgment of rightness/arbitrariness whatsoever can be made on a basis other than God Himself. this is to already assume that there is another criteria for judgment besides God’s own Self. it’s not so much that the dilemma is false (though it is so as a result), but that the question itself is inconsistent with the Biblical view of God. God is ultimately holy, true, right, etc. therefore anything He commands or does is also holy, true, right, etc. to postulate that we could attempt a judgment on the rightness/arbitrariness of anything God does is to set ourselves up as Judge over and against Him (which is what satan has been trying to get us to do from the beginning.) God IS God, God is holy, therefore HE is the reason for His commands and the “rightness” of them is only because the are manifestations of who He is. (maybe that’s what you were shooting at as well in the solution, but i wanted to clarify, and also look at the epistemological implications of even asking such a question.) really, it’s kind of the answer that Paul writes in Rom. 9 “who are you, o man to inquire of God?” now, granted, no unbeliever is gonna really be like “oh yeah! foolish and arrogant me! i repent of placing myself against the Judge and Maker of all.” … unless he is granted repentance and believes. 😉
however, i see the argument on middle knowledge as being not in the same vein with this conclusion, but almost juxtaposed to the conclusion of it. it seems to be an attempt to submit God’s work of salvation to the judgment/logic of man. to be clear up front, i totally agree with God’s sovereign election of certain people to salvation, based not merely on seeing man’s choice “down the corridor of time”, and at the same time, the real choice and responsibility of man to accept that salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. i accept them both because the Bible clearly teaches both, not cause i have an air-tight explanation for how they fit together. my concern is that NO ONE can (and hence part of why i think the “middle knowledge” approach may be mistaken.)
i think we must consider God’s character first (as given by revelation of His Word). first of all, God is holy, He does all things to the end of His own glory, and all that He is and does serves this purpose. one might with good reason ask if God’s supposed knowledge of things that aren’t and never will be (“possible worlds”) serves this purpose and therefore is in line with His holiness. it seems fairly obvious that to give attention to that which can in no way serve this end is, ultimately, vanity. does God indulge in vanity? i should think not. in fact, the concept of “possible worlds” itself seems at it’s root to imply some weird form of open theism. as though God were playing a guessing game about what might be (if S were in C he would do/not do A). but if He has full knowledge of the end from the beginning, and knows and therefore WILLS the only reality that is, it would follow that there IS no other possible reality, because anything that is contrary to His will (in the sovereign plan sense of that word) is not possible.
i would continue that the attempt in “middle knowledge” to say there is a certain “logical sequence” (though not a temporal one) is to subject God to our limitations. for us there is always this sequence. in reality, there is no talk at all of “sequence” of any kind, logical or temporal, without implying change. surely the passages where God is portrayed as “deliberating” (Gen. 1, 3, etc.) are not meant to imply that God had to take things in steps . i’m curious if it’s really biblically tenable that God has “sequence” or “deliberation” in any meaningful sense of those words. actually, there is one kind of “knowledge” which man experiences where the sequence of deliberation is essentially removed, where to “know” and decide are practically the same. that is the knowledge which comes from divine revelation. abraham, paul and others would be great examples. it is at least intriguing that if the knowledge which God does impart “directly” to man is not part of a sequence as we normally think of it. would this not be reason to at least suspect that God’s own knowledge is not subject to the usual “sequencing” we think of?
anyway, i could go on, but this is already really long. i’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on my points. also, the arguments at the end of the article you linked to: http://www.iep.utm.edu/middlekn/#SSH3c.i under “the usefulness of middle knowledge” are very good ones and it doesn’t seem like there’s much of an answer offered. i’m curious how you would answer these. btw, thanks for the meaty theological discussion! it’s a great topic. wish we could do it over coffee. 🙂
van til deals with some of these questions in a very interesting way. if you have a chance, check it out (he is hard-core calvinist, though, so obviously comes off on the “determinism” side of things in the end.) i think his insight is not so much in his conclusion, as his epistemological approach. here’s a brief explanation of his approach: http://bit.ly/qp8i9w
Hi again Benjamin,
Hey, here is a thought. Can you offer something like one comment or a question about one thing so that I can easily respond to it? I realize that though I’ve been back for several days, I’m not getting to all this, mostly, I now realize, bacause I’m not sure where to begin given this cluster of questions and comments. But I want to continue the dialog even in the absence of coffee and face-to-face interaction. So how’s that sound?
🙂 sorry. i realize that was a whopper of a comment. let’s break it down then and start with the first part: your analogy between the euthyphro dilemma and middle knowledge. is that a valid analogy? my further explanation of the euthyphro dilemma was (in short):
a)even asking the question (the dilemma) already implies a presupposition: that any judgment of rightness/arbitrariness whatsoever can be made on a basis other than God Himself. but can there be another criteria for judgment besides God’s own Self? even asking the question seems inconsistent with the Biblical view of God because
b) God is ultimately holy, true, right, etc. therefore anything He commands or does is also holy, true, right, etc. therefore to even subject God to our judgment of rightness/arbitrariness is basically setting ourselves up as Judge over and against Him.
c) the proper response to the dilemma would be: God IS God, God is holy, therefore HE is the reason for His commands and the “rightness” of them is only because the are manifestations of who He is. (maybe that’s what you were shooting at as well in the solution (?), but i wanted to clarify.)
i see the argument for middle knowledge as being similar to the wrong approach to the dilemma. it seems to be an attempt to submit God’s work of salvation to the judgment/logic of man. kind of in the vein of attempting to “explain” (in an exhaustive sense) the Trinity or the Kenosis. it seems that God’s transcendency practically demands that such an argument fail.
to be clear up front, i totally agree that:
a)God’s sovereignly elects certain people to salvation, based not merely on seeing man’s choice “down the corridor of time”, and
b) man has real choice and responsibility to accept that salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
i accept them both because the Bible clearly teaches both, not cause i have an air-tight explanation for how they fit together. my concern is that NO ONE can (and hence part of why i think the “middle knowledge” approach may be mistaken at it’s root.)
let’s start with that part for commentary/feedback. (though it might not be what should come first logically in this discussion, and still isn’t “short”, but hopefully will make it more digestable.)
Thanks for breaking that into something more bite-size for me.
And OK, well now we need to back up. We agree on Euthyphro,
But I only brought it up in response to the idea that mathematical knowledge is necessarliy utterly independent of or above God’s will. In bringing it up, I was only saying that this didn’t have to be so – if God is logical. He gives us things like mathmatical truths that we can fiddle with to help us explain the world he created. We can come up with formulas that help us build bridges, fly airplanes and so on. And I’m not implying that he is only logical, like some kind of machine, but logical in conjunction with all of his attributes. So that if we could ever see from his perspective a given thing that we don’t understand from ours, it would in fact make sense logically as well as be consistent with his love and justice and grace.
As for Middle Knowledge being an attempt to explain God’s work of salvation in an exhaustive sense, it really isn’t that at all. In fact, to quote my own conclusion from the PowerPoint:
“On this view, we are saying:
– Only God fully understands all the reasons why He created this actual world with these actual people in these actual circumstances.
– His Middle Knowledge of what each person would freely do in any set of circumstances helps us to see how our faith and God’s election can both play a part.”
A lot of the Big Things, like the Trinity and the Kenosis, which you mentioned will always remain a good bit beyond our reach. But it’s not wrong, on my view, to consider them deeply – meditate on them, if you will. When I read the Athanasian Creed on the Trinity I’m impressed, but I’m still left gawking at what it all implies. Same for the Middle Knowledge stuff. I marvel at the whole plan of salvation, but I feel one step closer to seeing how election and free will are not simply at loggerheads. I believed both based on the Bible, but in these Big Things we often have to think deeply in order to undrstand, not exhaustively, but even as well as we can.
Jonathan Edwards did a lot of the same kind of thinking and, being more of a Calvinist, came up with Compatibilism. Incredible thinker, really. I like Edwards a lot, as I like a lot of the guys who fully endorse his Compatibilism, but just happen to be less Calvinistic myself, so this view sits a bit better with me. The “free will” aspect is a bit *freer* and I realize that Calvinists won’t find it very attractive. Before I ever posted this I saw where some called it blatant heresy – but that seems to me a poor way to begin a discussion. My view of heresy must be a lot stricter than theirs.
So thanks again Ben!
thanks, dave. i now realize i should’ve started with another point. i think we are essentially saying the same thing with the euthyphro dilemma (even if with slightly different terms), so we can move on from that.
a couple side points: yes, we should definitely meditate deeply on these Big Things! (hence we are having this conversation. 😉 ) not so that we can file things into tidy boxes of course, but so that we can come to the same point Paul does at Rom 11, “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” if we don’t think/meditate deeply, we aren’t stunned by the depth and our worship remains shallow. the primary purpose of theology is worship. btw, i really like edwards, too. his essay on the Trinity is amazing. deeeeep thinking! on to the next point:
the “possible worlds” scenario: my question is if this concept of “possible worlds” is biblical and/or logical. here’s what i wrote before on this (i’ll break it into steps)
a) i think we must consider God’s character first (as given by revelation of His Word). first of all, God is holy, He does all things to the end of His own glory, and all that He is and does serves this purpose. therefore…
b) one might with good reason ask if God’s supposed knowledge of things that aren’t and never will be (“possible worlds”) serves this purpose and therefore is in line with His holiness. it seems fairly obvious that to give attention to that which can in no way serve this end because it doesn’t nor ever will actually exist is, ultimately, vanity. does God indulge in vanity? i should think not. it would be a contradiction to His holiness.
c) the concept of “possible worlds” itself seems at it’s root to imply some weird form of pre-temporal open theism. as though God were playing a guessing game about what might be (if S were in C he would do/not do A). but if He has full knowledge of the end from the beginning, and knows and therefore WILLS the only reality that is, it would follow that there IS no other possible reality, because anything that is contrary to His will (in the sovereign plan sense of that word) is not possible. therefore “possible worlds” are not only contradictory to the character of God in the sense of introducing vanity into His “activity”, but also contradictory to logic itself. the middle knowledge approach seems to create this contradiction by a false dichotomy in God’s knowledge by introducing a sequentialism which seems inconsistent with an eternal being. that is…
d) the attempt in “middle knowledge” to say there is a certain “logical sequence” (though not a temporal one) is to subject God to our limitations. for us there is always this sequence. in reality, there can be no talk at all of “sequence” of any kind, logical or temporal, without implying change. surely the passages where God is portrayed as “deliberating” (Gen. 1, 3, etc.) are not meant to imply that God had to take things in steps . i’m curious if it’s really biblically tenable that God has “sequence” or “deliberation” in any meaningful sense of those words. if not, middle knowledge is untenable in God. this seems to be closely tied with the arguments titled “viciously circular” and “not true soon enough” from the encyclopedia article on middle knowledge: http://www.iep.utm.edu/middlekn/#SSH3c.i
on this note, there is one kind of “knowledge” which man experiences where the sequence of deliberation is essentially removed, where to “know” and decide are practically the same (though not exactly). that is the knowledge which comes from divine revelation. abraham, paul and others would be great examples. it is at least intriguing that if the knowledge which God does impart “directly” to man is not part of a sequence as we normally think of it. would this not be reason to at least suspect that God’s own knowledge is not subject to the usual “sequencing” we think of?
so there’s my next chunk. 😉 looking forward to your thoughts!
Hi again Benjamin,
Here’s another attempt at clarity. Hope it works:
As to a) & b), I hope it doesn’t sound like I or anyone else is implying that God is sitting around “giving attention” to these possible worlds the way we might consider, one at a time, possible stories we might write for a book. I, and I think I speak for the advocates of Middle Knowledge here, are simply saying He knows these things. They are a subset of His omniscience. I would also add that I suspect that God just kind of knows things without deliberating on them. He knows them the way we know things when we know them very, very well. It’s almost not accurate saying we think about them, because we just, well, know them as if by intuition. We might be able to stop and think and explain why or how, but that’s not how we experience the knowledge that we know the best. We just know it.
As to any comparison with Open Theism, I’m not seeing any similarity. Open Theism teaches that God doesn’t know certain things about the future because they would be logically impossible to know, aren’t true yet – or something of that nature. It is a perspective that limits or restricts omniscience in the traditional sense – and then tells us we ought to be OK with that and why.
Middle Knowledge advocates are saying precisely the opposite, that God does know things, possesses the attribute of omniscience in the traditional sense, and they are attempting to describe or label some of the things God knows. If it would be any help, you might Google something with both “William Lane Craig” and “Open Theism”. That way you’d get anything one of the better-known proponents of Molinism, involving Middle Knowledge, has to say about Open Theism. I haven’t done this myself, but I’m sure you’ll find that Craig disagrees with the Open Theists pretty strongly. They are not closely related if one looks to the advocates of each side in that discussion.
Now, finally as to logical sequence. I guess I think it’s OK to think in these terms, even about God. Some see a logical sequence between some of the steps in Romans 8:29-30, for example “foreknew” and “predestined.” Or then there is the whole discussion among advocates of either supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism or sublapsarianism pertaining to God’s decrees. These are about logical sequence and little else. Admittedly these conversations don’t always accomplish much, but when engaged in with a right heart, I don’t think merely having the discussions is automatically disrespecting or misrepresenting God. They can even help us discern, here and there, little snippets of God’s heart and mind and determine what we actually believe. So I think such discussions are OK, to a point, and most people who dig into theology or philosophy at some level get into them from time to time. In the end we have to all pretty much agree that God’s mind works more as I have expressed in the first section of this comment. He just knows stuff and doesn’t stroll down the lane of these sequences the way we do. But such logic is fit to describe his “thoughts” to the extent that they prevent us from thinking of him as being arbitrary or whimsical or capricious – as some of God’s critics might maintain or accuse him of being.
So how’s that? Any help?
I’m hoping for a short question next 😉
And do a good job tomorrow!
you too, dave! 😉 i’m preparing today so won’t get to your last comment till monday probably.
hi dave –
i will tie in my response to your last post with the two points of the encyclopedia article i’d like you to specifically answer (if you still want to hash this out 😉 )
1) i totally agree that God’s knowledge is “tacit” (just knows it). however, since that is the case, it would seem the whole discussion of sequence is out of place. just because imposing sequence on God may help a human to avoid calling him arbitrary doesn’t mean it’s biblical. in fact, i’d be willing to wager that our concessions to the evil heart of man are not going to help him retract his opinion of God as “arbitrary” anyway. again, if God’s knowledge is tacit, sequence is irrelevant (and because of his timeless, eternal nature, even contradictory). this is why the whole discussion of lapsarianism is a)unhelpful b)unbiblical. this is closely tied to the argument from the encyclopedia article:
“i. Viciously Circular
Proponents of this objection point out that, according to Molinism, the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom must be prior to God’s creating activity because they inform His creative decision. However, under the standard possible worlds analysis, which counterfactuals are true is dependent upon which world is actual (counterfactuals are true if they are true in the closest possible-but-not-actual world to the actual world). Thus, which world is actual (and presumably, how close all possible worlds are to it) must be prior to God’s knowledge of the true counterfactuals. But this means that God’s creative decision must be prior to God’s creative decision! Thus, middle knowledge is circular.”
i would take this one step further and say that not only must God’s creative decision precede the creative decision, but in fact that which world IS actual must also be part of His tacit knowledge, and therefore there can be no “sequence” between God’s natural knowledge and His free knowledge. therefore there is no “gap” into which “middle knowledge” might fit. in fact, i’d also argue that even the discussion speaking about which aspects of God’s knowledge is “prior” to the next is to contradict His eternal omniscience. i would like to hear your specific answer to the argument in the encyclopedia point quoted above (and my additions to it.)
2) on the comparison with open theism: i realize that craig or anyone else who is in favor of middle knowledge would ardently deny anything in common with open theism. i’ll try to explain my comparison. you wrote that open theism “teaches that God doesn’t know certain things about the future because they would be logically impossible to know, aren’t true yet.” that’s a fair summary of that teaching. here is the second argument from the encyclopedia article:
“ii. Not True Soon Enough
A variation on this same argument ignores the possible worlds approach to determining counterfactual truth and instead begins with the view that a counterfactual is true by the action of the agent named in the counterfactual. This, however, also leads to a problem because it means that a truth regarding how the agent would act must be prior to the agent’s activity (presupposed in Molinism), but because the agent is free, he could refrain from acting and thereby cause the counterfactual to be false. Therefore, the truth of counterfactuals must be “up in the air” until the agent acts. But this means that God could not use counterfactuals of creaturely freedom to aid His creative decision because they would not be true soon enough for Him to use them (or if they were, the agents named could not refrain from acting and therefore, would not be free).”
this argument basically says what i did, that the middle knowledge theory present a problem akin to a “pre-temporal” sort of open theism. that is to say, it seems like the nature of the free decision in counterfactuals would have to remain open at least till the creative decision and therefore would not be “true soon enough” to have any bearing in the “free knowledge”. i would add here that again if God also already knows tacitly the world that will be, there can really be no discussion of “possible worlds” anyway, because they would automatically contradict His will, thereby making them impossible. i would like to hear your specific response to this argument as well.
basically at this point i find the middle knowledge theory unhelpful at best and unbiblical at worst. unhelpful because the idea of God basing his creative decision on the “counterfactuals” of what agents “would” choose seems like a restructured version of election based on foresight of human choice. on the other hand it seems unhelpful because if God is ultimately the one who wills the world with the exact agents making the exact decisions He knows they will, it seems like this is still a form of determinism. that is, it simply restates the dilemma of God’s sovereign election and man’s free choice without doing anything to really resolve the two, but kind of sprinkling the whole thing with heady (and questionable) philosophical language that does little to actually reconcile the two concepts. also unhelpful because of the logical inconsistencies (stated in the two arguments above). unbiblical because, as far as i can tell, the whole concept of “middle knowledge” presupposes a process of deliberation of which seems contradictory to the concept of God being tacitly omniscient and eternal.
okay i’m done. now convince me i’m wrong. 😉
Hi Ben, thanks. I will get to this sooner or later. Preferably sooner.
Hi again Ben,
If you find the arguments presented by that article persuasive, there is no way on earth I would ever be able to convince you otherwise. The big reason is that he already cut me off at the pass at the end of his article. It’s right here:
“iii. Molinist Responses
A whole host of answers have been presented by Molinists. The most obvious response is to reject the possible worlds analysis of counterfactuals—disallow the contention that the truth of counterfactuals is somehow dependent upon which world is actual.”
I especially like this: “disallow the contention that the truth of counterfactuals is somehow dependent upon which world is actual.” He says it’s the most obvious response, and clearly sees it as totally wrong, so dang, i can’t use it, thought i’m frankly not entirely clear why not.
As for: “if God also already knows tacitly the world that will be, there can really be no discussion of “possible worlds” anyway, because they would automatically contradict His will, thereby making them impossible.” That fits into the same mold.
This seems to collapse “natural knowledge” and “free knowledge” from my perspective, a distinction that I find important. I see no problem with God’s being able to create a totally different world if He wanted to. It’s just that He created this one for reasons that perhaps He alone will ever fully comprehend. No doubt He did the right thing. I would say it is also possible to contradict God’s will in a meaningful enough way to make the possible worlds stuff worth mentioning.
And as far as “ii. Not True Soon Enough
A variation on this same argument ignores the possible worlds approach to determining counterfactual truth and instead begins with the view that a counterfactual is true by the action of the agent named in the counterfactual.”
I just don’t buy this as it seems like open theism, so I have no reason to disagree with the author. But for the record, I’ve yet to actually read it in anything by a professed Molinist, only in publications where it was contrasted with middle knowledge or simply placed alongside it somewhere in a collection.
But, as you can probably see, this all reveals that I really think logical sequence and a tacit, eternal omniscience really are OK together – and that they don’t necessarily imply deliberation in any negative, God-insulting sense – though I see how a detractor might draw a caricature of it in that way. Still I’m unrepentant 😉
It’s no different to me from, say, God’s knowing, in a tacit sort of way, how my life would progress, how human history would unfold or how my digestive system would develop and then work from day to day, how my arteries might eventually clog, etc. The biblical plan of redemption involves sequence. They all involve sequence, logical, temporal, cause and effect or otherwise, and frequently a combination, but He knew it from the beginning without deliberation of the “hmmm, now how can we do this?” variety, that you might find insulting to Him. Yet I still find it OK to say God decided, designed or planned these things without losing sight of tacit omniscience, without implying a process of deliberation that would make Him look less awesome than He is, and yet not saying that God just had to do it this way, with no other way available to Him.
So how can God plan, decide or design a thing without a process of deliberation. I don’t know, but I believe it, because it just seems right as far as reconciling the biblical data and it’s how life works as we relate to Him. And so with the logical sequence involved in middle knowledge and its conclusions.
Perhaps worst of all on your view, I’ve been among those who have questioned God as being arbitrary – especially during the years that I was deeply persuaded by Calvinist thought – a rigorous phase I now view as an overreaction to my Catholic upbringing. So this kind of thinking has actually been a comfort to me and an intellectually satisfying way of resolving not only free will and election, but the problem of evil. In fact, it kind of describes what I’ve been fiddling with in my head for quite a while, just didn’t have a name for it. But maybe “The evil heart of man” as you have said, would describe it better. 😦