When studying Molinism and Molina’s concept of middle knowledge, a very important distinction must be made between two concepts: necessity and certainty. Clarifying and keeping these two terms distinct really goes a long way to eliminating common misunderstandings and mischaracterizations as well as helping to give us a better comprehension of Molinism. What I hope to achieve here is to help clarify this distinction as well as show what happens when this distinction is confused. That in turn will lead us into Calvinism and Open Theism and their distinction from Molinism!
Consider the following claims:
- I can freely choose to go eat, or not to go eat with my wife this weekend.
- God is omniscient.
- God’s knowledge is infallible.
- God knows which choice I will make.
- I choose to go eat with my wife.
- God has known this infallibly will happen since creation.
Given the above statements one may rightly ask, “Am I really free in an indeterministic sense?” Since God knows from creation what I will in fact do infallibly, can I actually do anything else? If I can choose to do something else (which is required for indeterministic freedom) wouldn’t that mean God is not all-knowing since his knowledge is infallible and never mistaken? “How can God know everything about the future?” After all, if I am genuinely free up until the point I choose, how could God know such a thing? These are important questions that need to be addressed but first we will move to discussing our terminology.
Necessity and Contingency
This is where we can begin to define our terms and then relate them to our discussion. Necessity in this sense means that something could not/cannot be any other way, in other words it is impossible that it be any different than it in fact is. This is usually contrasted with something that is contingent. If something is contingent it is possible that it could have been different. Once we explain those concepts better via examples, then we can move forward to discussing the difference in necessity and certainty.
Examples of necessity would include true statements that are impossible for them to be any other way. The statement 2 +2 = 4. is a necessary truth in that 2 +2 will never equal anything other than 4, in other words it is impossible that there be another answer. Another example that might help is God’s existence as necessary. When we speak of possible worlds, something that is necessary exists or is true in all possible worlds because its non-existence (speaking of God) or its being false (speaking of propositions) is impossible. If God exists, then everything else that exists depends upon Him for its existence. God in this sense exists necessarily and therefore He would exist in all possible worlds and his nonexistence would be impossible. Something necessary would also not have any prior cause(s) that brought it “into being” because it has no beginning or end.
An example of contingency would be my being born for instance. If my parents had never met, or broke up before they had me then it was possible that I would never have been born. Since that event, namely my birth, could have possibly not happened then it is a contingent event. In other words I do not exist in all possible worlds. Contingent things have prior causes that brought them into being. So at one time contingent things did not exist, then because of a prior cause they now exist.
Identifying a Problem
Given that we have clarified our terms, let us examine a problem that seems to arise given God’s foreknowledge of future events. In the six statements given in the introduction God infallibly knew whether or not I would go out to eat with my wife this weekend. The question is whether or not I decided that freely. If I am free, then I can choose to do something different right up until the moment I choose? If God has infallible knowledge and He knows that I will in fact choose to go eat with my wife, isn’t my behavior determined in some sense in that I can’t choose differently than what He knew I would do? So the question becomes “Am I going to go out to eat with my wife necessarily?” If God’s foreknowledge is infallible (in other words, since He knows what will in fact happen, nothing different than what He knows will happen will in fact happen) and He has known since creation that I will in fact choose to take my wife out to eat this weekend, then won’t I do that necessarily?
We will explore this problem in the next article by looking at determinism and fatalism, as well as open theism and Molinism, as all of these positions are responses to deal with the questions I posed above. We will also examine the distinction between necessity and certainty, then conclude with a Molinist approach/solution to this seeming difficulty. Continue reading: Molinism: Necessity and Certainty Part 2