In our previous article (Molinism: Necessity and Certainty Part 1) we introduced the concepts of necessity and contingency. We then examined a seeming problem with divine foreknowledge and human free choices. Having set up and discussed the problem in our last article what I would like to accomplish here is an examination of the problem in light of three different stances one may take on the issue: Calvinism (deterministic and fatalistic models), Open Theism and then show why Molinism is superior in explaining and clarifying the issues involved. In our conclusion we will see why it is so important to distinguish between not just necessity and contingency, but also between necessity and certainty, as the title suggests.
One Argument, Three Responses?
The following is a form of an argument that is a summary of what many think is entailed by God’s foreknowledge and human freedom, although the argument is fallacious and needs reformatted, which we will examine below.
1. Necessarily, if God knows x, then x will happen
2. God foreknows x
3. Therefore x will happen necessarily1
Given the above argument, theologians and philosophers have generally taken two different routes of escape concerning the issues (I will offer Molinism as the third option). On one hand you have the Calvinists who either are theological fatalists or theological determinists2 who try and solve the problem by just denying human freedom in an indeterministic sense and try to redefine freedom so as to be compatible with determinism (a view known as compatibilism).
On the other hand we find that Open Theists agree with this argument as well but move in the opposite direction of the Calvinist, namely that we are free in an indeterministic sense. They conclude that the future must be at least partially “open” to God because future tense statements have no truth value , which is a denial of the law of bivalence in logic.3 Since nothing grounds the truth of future tense statements until the event comes to pass, then they are neither true nor false. Of course God does fix and determine some things in the future, hence an explanation of Bible prophecy, however anything that hinges on a future free action is neither true nor false until it actually comes to pass. God on that view would still be omniscient/all-knowing (according to the open theist) because omniscience entails that He knows any and all true propositions, but again, future tense statements have no truth value and as such are not knowable.
The third alternative is Molinism, which challenges the truth of the argument altogether and provides a different solution which preserves human indeterministic freedom (what the Open Theist wants to affirm) as well as God’s having complete and exhaustive foreknowledge and sovereignty (which the Calvinist wants to affirm). The Molinist would offer that there is no need to accept the argument because it commits a basic error in modal logic. If one of the premises is necessary, as well as the conclusion, then the other premise must also be necessary (according to modal logic) for it to be a valid argument.4 So the argument needs to be reformulated as follows:
1. Necessarily, if God knows x, then x will happen
2. Necessarily God foreknows x
3. Therefore x will happen necessarily5
Evaluating the Argument
But why think any of these premises, or the conclusion, should necessarily happen? Remember that by necessary we mean that it could not have been otherwise. It is not even possible that it could have been different. This would mean that even God Himself had to create the universe that He did out of necessity, in other words this is the only possible world open to God to create and He did so out of necessity! One implication of this is that even God Himself is not a free agent! This is because if He did so necessarily, then God had no choice in creating the universe, in fact He wouldn’t have genuinely had the option of not creating, as that would be another possible world, so even God doesn’t have freedom if that were the case.6
The Molinist Solution
The Molinist would offer that “if God foreknows x, then x will happen,” but it will not happen necessarily. It will certainly happen, but not necessarily happen. This is where we get into the distinction that is so important and helps us clarify things a little easier once we have the terms down. The Molinist would offer something like the following concerning God’s knowledge of an event:
In God’s natural knowledge God knows what could happen, namely all worlds that are logically possible for Him to bring about. In the next logical moment of His knowledge God knows what would happen if certain circumstances obtained. This is referred to as middle knowledge (also referred to as His knowledge of true counterfactuals), and it is His knowledge of what any free creature would do in any set of circumstances God might place them. This reduces the number of the possible worlds from God’s natural knowledge to a smaller subset of worlds that are feasible for Him given human freedom. God then chooses one of those feasible worlds to create. Once the decree to create is given God then knows what will in fact happen, which is called free knowledge or foreknowledge. This means that God knows with certainty what will happen, even though it will not happen necessarily because God could have chosen a different feasible world to actualize, and necessity requires that it could not have been any other way.
Necessity and certainty are critical in understanding the issues involved in reconciling indeterministic human freedom with God’s foreknowledge. Molinism gives a coherent model of how that works, again, once we can draw the distinction between an event occurring for certain as opposed to it happening necessarily. So if God has middle knowledge He can choose from a set of feasible worlds given human freedom and actualize one of them and then in His free knowledge/foreknowledge He knows what will in fact happen. So we find that God’s foreknowledge is not necessary, but rather it is contingent upon His middle knowledge. This has a lot of explanatory power Scripturally as well, because Biblical prophecy can be the result of God’s free knowledge which was based on His middle knowledge of the events in question. This can ensure us that the event(s) will certainly happen and still preserve human freedom with God remaining in control throughout all of human history. I pray this helps us to better understand God’s nature and attributes, as I have drawn closer to the Lord from studying the material and reflecting on His attributes!