[This is the first in an n-part series, where n>1 and probably n<10.]
Molinism is a theory that purports to reconcile a robust doctrine of divine providence and foreknowledge with a libertarian view of free will by appealing to the notion of divine middle knowledge: God’s eternal knowledge of the so-called counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, that is, contingent truths about what possible creatures would freely choose if they were created by God and placed in particular circumstances. (For previous posts on Molinism, see here.)
Molinism is most often criticized on theological or philosophical grounds, mainly because it’s most often championed on the basis of its supposed theological and philosophical virtues. And there’s nothing wrong with that; I’ve objected to Molinism on theological and philosophical grounds myself. (So it must be okay, right?) Nevertheless, for the Christian who takes the Bible to be the Word of God and the final authority in theological matters, the preeminent question ought to be: How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? (I don’t propose to defend the underlying methodological principle at this time; I’m simply going to take it for granted.)
There are at least two components to the question at hand. First, is Molinism consistent with the Bible? In other words, does the Bible teach some things that are (or appear to be) inconsistent with the tenets or implications of Molinism? Second, does the Bible offer any positive support for the distinctive claims of Molinism, i.e., those tenets that distinguish Molinism from its major alternatives such as Augustinianism or Open Theism? In this series of posts I propose to explore these questions with reference to some key biblical texts. I will focus in particular on how Molinism compares to Augustinianism, which is arguably its leading competitor among orthodox Christian theologians. (Note: I’m using the term Augustinianism simply as shorthand for causal divine determinism. Nothing is assumed about whether St. Augustine himself actually held to Augustinianism in that sense! But Augustinianism so defined would include most confessional Calvinists and, I think, many conservative Thomists.)
Before getting into the meat of it, I ought to address a concern which some readers may have. I’m not assuming at the outset that the Bible answers all philosophical questions and can settle any philosophical dispute. Clearly there are some philosophical questions, such whether time-travel is possible, whether numbers are real entities, and whether rule-utilitarianism collapses into act-utilitarianism, that the Bible doesn’t even begin to address. (And that’s a good thing too!) But at the same time, I do take the view that the Bible makes some philosophical assertions (indeed, the opening declaration of the Bible is deeply metaphysical!) and even more often expresses things (affirmations, promises, commands, etc.) that have reasonably clear philosophical implications or presuppositions.
So to put it somewhat crudely, I take it that the Bible presents us with a number of “data points” which ought to both inform and constrain our philosophizing. Some philosophical theories are consistent with those data points, while others are not. Some philosophical theories better fit those data points than others. Some philosophical issues are underdetermined by the biblical evidence, but not all are. So the questions explored in this series will include: (1) What are some of the important biblical data points when it comes to assessing Molinism? and (2) How well does Molinism fit those data points?
Comprehensive Divine Providence
One of the most prominent themes of the Bible is God’s comprehensive providential control over his creation (sometimes called “meticulous divine providence”). Everything that takes place in the creation does so according to God’s sovereign plan; nothing takes place apart from God’s will. Theologians have made various distinctions here between God’s active and permissive will, his decretive (secret) and preceptive (revealed) will, his antecedent and consequent will, and so on, but the central claim is the same: God has an eternal decree which covers every single event in the creation, and that decree will infallibly come to pass.
Here are some specific texts which illustrate this pervasive biblical doctrine:
The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand…” For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? (Isa. 14:24, 27)
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Isa. 46:8-11)
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? (Lam. 3:37-38)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… (Eph. 1:11)
Particularly striking are the biblical affirmations of God’s sovereign control over the sinful actions of his creatures, such that even those actions form part of his providential plan (e.g., Gen. 50:20; Judg. 14:1-4; 1 Sam. 2:25; Isa. 10:5-19; Acts 4:27-28; Rom. 9:14-21).1
One of the virtues of Molinism is that it seeks to accommodate this major biblical theme. According to Molinism, God does indeed have an eternal infallible decree; every event in the creation has been ordained by God. To cite one leading defender of Molinism:
Not only does this view make room for human freedom, but it affords God a means of choosing which world of free creatures to create. For by knowing how persons would freely choose in whatever circumstances they might be, God can, by decreeing to place just those persons in those circumstances, bring about his ultimate purposes through free creaturely decisions. Thus, by employing his hypothetical knowledge, God can plan a world down to the last detail and yet do so without annihilating creaturely freedom, since God has already factored into the equation what people would do freely under various circumstances. Since God’s hypothetical knowledge lies logically in between his natural knowledge and his free knowledge, Molinists called it God’s middle knowledge.2
On this point, then, Molinism clearly has the advantage over alternatives such as Open Theism which reject the doctrine of comprehensive divine providence. However, since Augustinianism also affirms this doctrine, Molinism cannot claim to be more biblical than Augustinianism on this point. In other words, the Bible’s teaching on God’s comprehensive providential control doesn’t favor Molinism over against Augustinianism.
Counterfactuals of Freedom
The defining tenet of Molinism is that God possesses so-called middle knowledge and bases his eternal decree on this prior middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is God’s pre-creation knowledge of what any possible creature (i.e., any creature God might bring into existence) would freely choose in any particular set of circumstances. For example, according to Molinism, God knows from eternity what I would freely choose to eat for breakfast if I were staying at the Hilton Atlanta on November 18, 2015, and presented with a particular range of options while feeling hungry and slightly adventurous. This knowledge doesn’t in itself entail that I will make that free choice, only that I would make that free choice if God decided to create me and providentially arrange for me to be presented with those options on that particular date in those specific circumstances.
Likewise, according to Molinism, God also knows from eternity what Schmames Anderson — my evil twin, a possible creature whom God mercifully chose not to create in the actual world — would freely choose to eat for breakfast in similar circumstances. (I’m guessing either “grits” or “biscuits and gravy”.)
Molinism therefore entails (i) that there really are such counterfactual truths about the free choices of possible creatures and (ii) that God knows these counterfactual truths from eternity (i.e., prior to his decision to create a world). Both (i) and (ii) have been challenged by critics of Molinism, but that’s not my concern here. Rather, I want to consider whether there is biblical support for these distinctive Molinism claims.
Understandably, Molinists have placed great weight on statements in Scripture which, on the face of it, presuppose God’s hypothetical knowledge of how people would behave if they found themselves in particular circumstances (specifically, how they would behave if the world were otherwise than it is; hence the term counterfactuals of freedom). These biblical texts include: 1 Sam. 23:8-14; Ezek. 3:6; Jer. 38:17-18; Matt. 11:21-24; Matt. 12:7; Luke 22:67-68; John 18:36; 1 Cor. 2:8.
I agree that there’s strong biblical support for God’s counterfactual knowledge of human choices. However, we should something very important about these texts: they don’t explicitly state that the choices made (or that would be made) are libertarian free choices.
It’s entirely reasonable to infer that the choices in question are free choices, since the creatures are (or would be) held morally responsible for those choices. But there’s much debate among philosophers as to what kind of freedom is required for moral responsibility. On the one side are the libertarians, who argue that genuine freedom requires causal indeterminism (i.e., free choices cannot be causally determined by prior events or states). On the other side are the compatibilists, who argue that genuine freedom is compatible with causal determinism.
Molinists by definition hold to a libertarian (incompatibilist) view of freedom. The prime virtue of Molinism, according to its defenders, is that it reconciles human libertarian freedom with comprehensive divine providence. But the biblical texts cited above don’t address the question of what kind of freedom humans possess. They don’t favor a libertarian view over a compatibilist view. If Molinists take them as support for God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of libertarian freedom, that’s only because they’re taking for granted that libertarian freedom is necessary for moral responsibility. But that’s a disputable philosophical claim; it’s not something that can be straightforwardly inferred from those texts.
Augustinians typically hold to a compatibilist view of freedom. On this view, there’s no problem at all in affirming that God knows counterfactuals of human freedom. This knowledge isn’t middle knowledge, which by definition is knowledge of counterfactuals of libertarian freedom. Rather, it falls under either God’s natural knowledge or his free knowledge. (Augustinians can take different views here, but that intramural debate is beside the point; all Augustinians will affirm that God has comprehensive counterfactual knowledge.)
The upshot, then, is that the biblical texts cited in support of Molinism — those texts which imply (1) there are counterfactual truths about human free choices and (2) God knows these truths — are just as consistent with Augustinianism, if we don’t beg the question about the nature of human free choices (libertarian versus compatibilist). That’s to say, these texts favor Molinism over against alternatives which deny (1) or (2), such as Open Theism or the Simple Foreknowledge view. But they don’t favor Molinism over against Augustinianism, simply because Augustinianism also affirms (1) and (2).
We might be tempted to go further and argue that in light of the philosophical objections to the idea that there can be true counterfactuals of libertarian freedom (e.g., the so-called grounding objection), those biblical texts actually turn out to support Augustinianism over against Molinism. I suspect the Molinist will retort that there are philosophical objections to compatibilism (i.e., arguments for incompatibilism) which are no less weighty than the arguments against there being true counterfactuals of libertarian freedom. What that response doesn’t take into account, I think, is that the Molinist has two sets of problems to deal with: objections to middle knowledge and objections to indeterministic freedom (e.g., the so-called luck objection). In any event, it’s clear that at this point the debate has shifted away from the surface implications of the biblical texts cited above to deeper metaphysical disputes.
We’ve seen that with respect to two significant biblical affirmations (comprehensive divine providence and God’s knowledge of counterfactuals) Molinism holds no advantage over Augustinianism, since both positions are consistent with those biblical teachings, at least on the face of it. If we want to show that Molinism has better biblical support than Augustinianism (or vice versa) then we need to find some proposition p which is affirmed by Molinism and denied by Augustinianism (or vice versa) such that p enjoys positive biblical support (i.e., there are biblical texts which, on the most natural and defensible interpretation, and without begging philosophical questions, assert or imply p).
In the next part of this series, I’ll consider some candidates for proposition p.
Addendum: Greg Welty offers some excellent commentary here.
Next post: How Biblical is Molinism? (Part 2)
- For a more extensive discussion of the biblical teaching on divine providence, see chapters 8-9 of John Frame’s Systematic Theology, or chapters 3-5 of Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. ↩
- William Lane Craig, “God Directs All Things,” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Dennis W. Jowers (Zondervan, 2011), p. 82, emphasis added. God’s “natural knowledge” is his knowledge of all possibilities and necessities, which is grounded in God’s essential nature. God’s “free knowledge” is his knowledge of all contingent truths about the actual world, which is grounded in God’s eternal free decree. ↩
23 thoughts on “How Biblical is Molinism? (Part 1)”
You might be interested in this passage, in which William Lane Craig concedes that prospects are dim for deriving Molinism from the Bible: “Biblically speaking, it is not difficult to show that God possesses hypothetical knowledge. For example, Jesus affirms before Pilate the counterfactual conditional “If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36) RSV). The Scriptures abound with examples of such counterfactual conditionals concerning creaturely choices and actions. Unfortunately, this fact does not settle the matter of whether God has middle knowledge. For the scriptural passages show only that God possesses knowledge of counterfactual propositions, and, as I have said, until modern times all theologians agreed that God possesses such hypothetical knowledge. The question remains, when in the logical order of things does this knowledge come? Is it before or after the divine decree? Since Scripture does not reflect on this question, no amount of proof texting concerning God’s hypothetical knowledge can prove that such knowledge is possessed logically prior to God’s creative decree. This is a matter for theologico-philosophical reflection, not biblical exegesis. Thus, while it is clearly unbiblical to deny that God has hypothetical knowledge, those who deny middle knowledge while affirming God’s hypothetical knowledge cannot be accused of being unbiblical” (WL Craig, pp. 83-84 of Stanley Gundry (ed.), Four Views on Divine Providence (Zondervan, 2011), emphasis mine).
Thanks for this, Greg.
I noticed this concession by Craig also. In fact, it was part of the inspiration (if you could call it that) for this series. Craig has made remarks elsewhere (I can’t recall exactly where) that Molinism and Augustinianism/Calvinism are both consistent with Scripture, at least on the face of it, and therefore we have to turn to “theologico-philosophical reflection” to decide between those options. One of the aims of this series (spoiler alert!) is to argue against this notion; specifically, to argue that there are biblical texts which favor Augustinianism over Molinism. I should also say that, while these comments by Craig are quite revealing, I don’t want to treat him as the spokesman for Molinism.
I read your post where you questioned the biblical support for God’s use of middle knowledge rather than (or in addition to) libertarian freedom. One example of God using middle knowledge, might be a case like Exodus 3:19-20: But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.
God knew counterfactuals of Pharaoh’s freedom (minimally in the sense of un-compelled) and used that knowledge to decide to send the plagues.
Other examples might be so called self fulfilling prophecies, like when Deborah tells the people of Israel they will win, and it encourages them to fight on and win.
God be with you,
Actually, your example illustrates just how difficult it is to derive the Molinist conception of providence from the Scriptures, and therefore confirms the wisdom of WL Craig’s position that it cannot be so derived.
Let’s waive the textual differences between the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Vulgate when it comes to the wording of Exodus 3:19, and simply concede that what we have here is a bit of conditional knowledge had by God and then acted upon by him. On this view, when God says, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand,” the ‘unless’ indicates a condition that can be cashed out thusly:
“If the king of Israel were compelled by a mighty hand, then he would let you go.”
Knowing the above conditional, God compels him by a mighty hand (actualizes the antecedent), and as a result the king of Israel lets them go (the consequent comes to pass).
Thus, God uses a bit of conditional knowledge in order to bring about the consequent by actualizing the antecedent.
Now, since you read my post, you know I compress Molinist distinctives into three claims:
1. There are true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, where the freedom is libertarian freedom.
2. God knows these CCFs logically prior to his decree.
3. God’s decree makes use of this middle-knowledge.
As far as I can tell, your observations from Exodus 3:19 support none of these. First, there is no indication that the freedom in question is libertarian freedom. Indeed, the usage of the word ‘compelled’ seems to indicate that Pharaoh isn’t exercising freedom in the envisioned circumstances at all. Strike one. Second, there is no indication that this conditional knowledge is had by God prior to his decree. The entire situation is a post-decretal situation. The decree has already been made, which is why there is such a thing as a world, and Egypt, and Moses and Pharaoh, etc. The decree is from eternity (though, of course, its execution is in time). Strike two. Finally, there is no indication that God’s decree makes use of this conditional knowledge. To be sure, God’s actions here are in accordance with his knowledge of what Pharaoh would do; to act against such knowledge would be irrational. But the knowledge is not being used by God in order to figure out which world to actualize. Strike three.
WL Craig’s sober reflections place us on safer biblical ground, I think. :-)
I was referring to God’s counterfactual knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals rather than his compelled acquiescence. The passage highlights Pharaoh’s stubbornness, prior to the hardening and plagues.
The “so” at the beginning of verse 20 shows the connection between God’s counterfactual knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals, and His decision to send the plagues. It demonstrates God’s use of counterfactual knowledge – in other words, the knowledge helps explain (is logically prior to) God’s action.
As for the eternal decree, based on passages like Acts 15:18 (“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”), I agree with those theologians who say, “what God does in time He decreed from eternity”. So since God sent the plagues in time, He decreed to do so from eternity and His counterfactual knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals to release the Israelites explains and is logically prior to that decree.
As for William Lain Craig, I respect his work a great deal, but he is not infallible. It seems his commitments to the theory of trans-world damnation, conflict with the natural reading of passages like Matthew 11:21-23 or Ezekiel 3:6, which imply God could have saved some that He did not save. I suspect that implication is too high a price for Dr. Craig.
For my part, when I read that God desires the salvation of all, I take it in the sense of “all things being equal, I would save them” rather than in the sense of “at any cost, I would save them”.
God be with you,
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I hope you have been well. One of the classic “proof texts” for middle knowledge also seems resistant to Augustinian/Calvinistic reading and to favor libertarian freedom. Matthew 11:21 says: 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
On Calvinism, irresistible grace (a.k.a. modernistic regeneration or effectual call) determines conversion, such that anyone given God’s irresistible grace cannot resist and will repent. Further, without irresistible grace, no one can convert due to their depravity.
From the verse, we know the people of Chorazin didn’t repent, but the people of Tyre would have repented had the same might works been done there. Tyre was notoriously sinful, so the comparison is to shame the folks of Chorzin – they really had a great opportunity to repent, so their choice to remain in sin was more wicked than the folks of Tyre. Yet on Calvinism, God was not given the folks of Chorzin the one and only thing that He knew could enable and cause repentance: irresistible grace. This alone is problematic and seems disingenuous.
But there is another problem with regards to the folks of Tyre. Neither the people of Chorazin and Tyre actually repented. On Calvinism, we could safely conclude neither were given irresistible grace, because had they being given irresistible grace, they would repent. But the verse gives us the counter-fact: the people of Tyre would have repented, given the same might works. So how is it that Tyre would have repented without irresistible grace? On Calvinism, we are left with the contradiction that irresistible grace both is and is not necessary for repentance.
To avoid the problem, some might say the repentance is not true repentance. But Christ preached about true repentance: repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand! He never uses “repentance” as false repentance and He always denounces any outward pretense of conversion and He exposes any self-deception and false assurance. Further, it invalidates (probably inverts) Christ’s main point of saying the folks of Chorazin were worse than the folks of Tyre. It’s better to refuse the Lord’s supper than to partake in pretense, it’s better not to know the way of righteousness than to know it and turn from it and so it’s better to live in open sin than with a false repentance. So if the repentance is a false repentance, the folks of Chorazin are better than the folks of Tyre, because they avoided false repentance. But that’s the opposite of Christ’s point.
The better solution seems to be to deny grace is irresistible and say man has libertarian freedom with respect to resisting God’s grace.
God be with you,
If Mat. 11 disproves irresistible grace because the text makes no mention of it, does it also disproved prevenient grace sins the text makes no mention of that either?
I don’t think the passage disproves prevenient grace. It’s true, Matthew 11:21 doesn’t mention irresistible grace, but that’s not a fair summary of my argument above.
God be with you,
Then what is the proper summary of your argument? I thought it was something like this:
1. If Calvinism is true, irresistible grace is necessary to repentance.
2. Matthew 11:21 says that Tyre and Sidon would have repented if God would have performed mighty works for them.
3. Since Matthew 11:21 makes no mention of irresistible grace then irresistible grace was not necessary to the repentance of Tyre and Sidon.
4. Irresistible grace is not necessary to repentance.
5. Calvinism is false.
I was pointing out that (3) is dubious for obvious reasons. Most Arminians believe prevenient grace is necessary for repentance. Matthew 11:21 makes no mention of prevenient grace being a requirement for the repentance of Tyre and Sidon.
If this doesn’t correctly capture your argument could you please restate it in a summary fashion as I tried to do above?
You say: “I was referring to God’s counterfactual knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals rather than his compelled acquiescence.”
But there isn’t a reference – at all! – to “Pharaoh’s free refusals,” anywhere in the passage. His ‘compelled acquiescence’ is exactly what v. 19 is talking about. Where are you getting this other thing? The text simply doesn’t say, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go by way of his libertarian freedom, unless compelled by a mighty hand.” You have to read that into the text in order to get the first Molinist distinctive in my numbered list.
You say: “The “so” at the beginning of verse 20 shows the connection between God’s counterfactual knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals, and His decision to send the plagues.”
Again, your overinterpretation of the text. There is no “so” in the Hebrew here; just the ordinary Hebrew word for “and,” as reflected in several English translations of the passage (i.e., the ASV, HCSB, and KJV).
More importantly, as I argued earlier, even if we accept your inferential translation of that particle, it doesn’t get you Molinist distinctive 2 or 3. Sure, let’s assume, as you put it, “the knowledge helps explain (is logically prior to) God’s action.” But that doesn’t mean the knowledge is had logically prior to the decree. The one eternal decree envisions many actions on the part of God, actions which are spread out through history. The fact that one particular divine action is ‘explained by’ God’s knowledge doesn’t mean that the knowledge which explains it is prior to the decree. It may simply be knowledge God has of another of his actions. If the actions envisioned in God’s decree didn’t take account of other divine actions envisioned in the decree, the decree would be wholly irrational!
We can see this at a purely human level. I might decide to do three things: walk home, feed the dog, buy more dog food. These are the three things I plan to do. But my feeding the dog presupposes (‘is explained by’) my knowledge that I am at home where the dog is. And my buying more dog food presupposes (‘is explained by’) my knowledge that the dog ate the last bit of food. One can accurately capture a bit of this by saying, for example, “I know I am at home. So, I’ll feed the dog.” But it would be extraordinarily peculiar to infer from this that therefore my knowledge that I am at home, or my knowledge that the dog ate the last bit of food, is logically prior to my planning any actions at all!
There is an internal rationality to the decree in which each part of it is done in light of the whole (and, in addition, in light of God’s logically prior natural knowledge of possibilities and necessities, of course!) So it makes sense that God deals with Pharaoh given what he knows about him. But what he knows about him is grounded in the decree as well. All of it is. (Except for mere possibilities and necessities, of course.)
You say: “I agree with those theologians who say, “what God does in time He decreed from eternity”. So since God sent the plagues in time, He decreed to do so from eternity and His counterfactual knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals to release the Israelites explains and is logically prior to that decree.”
I agree with ‘those theologians’ as well. But as I’ve tried to explain above, it is tendentious in the extreme to infer that the only kind of knowledge that can be relevant in explaining bits of the decree must be knowledge “logically prior to the decree”.
You say: “As for William Lain Craig, I respect his work a great deal, but he is not infallible.”
Sure. But I didn’t cite Craig because I thought he was infallible. I cited him because he made commonsense observations that (i) remain commonsensical despite his fallibility, and (ii) haven’t been adequately challenged by what you have said so far. As he put it: “Scripture does not reflect on this question [of] when in the logical order of things does this knowledge come… Is it before or after the divine decree?” You have been simply assuming that Exodus 3 addresses this question, but you aren’t considering relevant alternatives. That’s one of the telltale signs of eisegesis.
I make a clay pot. Because of how I’ve made the pot, I know that if I put my calculus textbook on top of this clay pot, that it will form cracks on the side. I want it to form cracks. So I put the book on it. Lo and behold, cracks form.
It clear that I’m not drawing upon knowledge prior to my will in order to ensure events posterior to my will. All of this is a consequence of my plan: the existence of the pot, the fact that the pot will form cracks if a book is put on it, the fact that a book is put on it, the fact that it forms cracks. These four facts are all consistent with each other, and some facts are willed in light of other facts. But one mustn’t confuse bringing out their internal rationale with a kind of mini-display of Molinism!
The text of Exodus 3:19-20 states:
19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.
The compatibilist account of this text is rather simple. God has decided to get Pharaoh to release his people, and the means he has chosen to use, means that demonstrate both his sovereignty and his justice, is to get Pharaoh to release his people by way of first hardening his heart, and then using the plagues to force him to release the people.
On the basis of this plan, God therefore knows two things:
–That Pharaoh won’t release them unless God sends the plagues.
–That God will in fact send the plagues so that Pharaoh lets them go.
v. 19 is talking about the first thing, and v. 20 is talking about the second thing. So both bits of knowledge are grounded in God’s decree, not in some pre-decretal middle-knowledge.
Matthew 11:21-23 has much more to do with compatiblism/libertarianism than Exodus 3:19, but Exodus 3:19 absolutely states God’s knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals (however one understands freedom). Your post seemed focused on God’s use of middle knowledge (I think at one point you granted it for the sake of argument), which is why I brought up Exodus 3:19.
You said: “The fact that one particular divine action is ‘explained by’ God’s knowledge doesn’t mean that the knowledge which explains it is prior to the decree.”
I disagree, that’s exactly what it means. To say one aspect of God’s knowledge or decree explains the next, is to put a logical order to God’s decrees/knowledge.
As for your dog example, I again disagree: you can infer from yours statement “I know I am at home. So, I’ll feed the dog” that your plan to feed your dog logically follows your knowledge of being at home.
We may have to agree to disagree on this point.
You said: “But what he knows about him is grounded in the decree as well.”
God’s knowledge of Pharaoh should be grounded in Pharaoh, not His decree. Your line of thinking here is too close to Aristotelian theology, where God continuously contemplates His own contemplation, and has no knowledge of the cosmos.
As for your pot example, again, it think it is clear that you are drawing on your knowledge that the pot would crack under the books to ensure it cracks when you put the books on it.
You said: God has decided to get Pharaoh to release his people, and the means he has chosen to use, means that demonstrate both his sovereignty and his justice, is to get Pharaoh to release his people by way of first hardening his heart, and then using the plagues to force him to release the people. On the basis of this plan, God therefore knows two things: –That Pharaoh won’t release them unless God sends the plagues. –That God will in fact send the plagues so that Pharaoh lets them go.
I don’t see how that plan would give God knowledge that Pharaoh won’t release Israel unless God sends the plagues. Granted, divine hardening could account for such knowledge, but the divine hardening doesn’t start until Exodus 7 and isn’t mentioned in the Exodus 5 account of Pharaoh’s refusal to release Israel.
God be with you,
You said: “Exodus 3:19 absolutely states God’s knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals (however one understands freedom).”
But this wouldn’t be relevant in supporting *Molinism*, since – as you note parenthetically – the text doesn’t teach libertarianism. As I said, you have to read that into the text in order to get the first Molinist distinctive in my numbered list. So I’m not quite sure why you keep raising this point.
I said: “The fact that one particular divine action is ‘explained by’ God’s knowledge doesn’t mean that the knowledge which explains it is prior to the decree.”
And then you said in response: “I disagree, that’s exactly what it means. To say one aspect of God’s knowledge or decree explains the next, is to put a logical order to God’s decrees/knowledge.”
No, it’s not “exactly what it means,” since – for starters – the decree is never mentioned in the text! How odd to continue to affirm, with great vigor and confidence, that the ‘exact meaning’ of the text is predicated on something never mentioned in the text.
And I didn’t say that “one aspect of God’s knowledge or decree explains the text.” I said that divine *actions* might be explained in light of other divine actions, and in light of God’s knowledge that they indeed are the actions he has chosen. All of these divine actions are specified in one and the same divine decree. You seem to be assuming that if one bit of knowledge helps to explain a decision, then that knowledge must be logically prior to all decisions whatsoever! That can’t be right, and I gave you a commonsense counterexample. I decide to go home, and I decide to walk the dog, and my decision to walk the dog is made in light of my knowledge that I’ll be at home. But *that* knowledge isn’t ‘prior’ to all of my decision-making. It’s *grounded in* my decision-making, with respect to the first action. This seems undeniable.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this passage (or any other) requires this understanding of how God plans things. I’m saying it’s a commonsense *alternative* to the understanding you seem to be imposing upon the text. As a philosopher of religion I’m quite keen to not find my discipline in any text of Scripture, insisting on reading things into the text that simply are not there. Far better to note the various alternatives that are compatible with the text, acknowledge that no one alternative is *required* by the text, and then argue on more general grounds which is overall the more plausible understanding of divine providence. You seem to be bypassing these first two steps.
You said: “As for your dog example, I again disagree: you can infer from yours statement “I know I am at home. So, I’ll feed the dog” that your plan to feed your dog logically follows your knowledge of being at home.”
Yes! Exactly right! At the very least, the decision to feed my dog is *partly explained* in light of my knowledge of being at home. And what is *that* knowledge grounded in? My decision to go home. As I said, some decisions are made in light of other decisions. How odd to think that my knowledge that I’ll be at home is knowledge had by me *prior to making any decisions at all*! How odd to think it’s grounded in some assurance I have, independently of any decision-making at all, that “If Welty were at home, he would feed the dog” or “If Welty would contemplate feeding the dog, he’d find himself at home and then feed the dog.” And then I find myself at home, put two and two together, and decide on the basis of this bizarre counterfactual to feed the dog. No, no one does that. Rather, *my whole series of decisions* (by analogy, my ‘decree’) is internally consistent, and some decisions are made in light of other decisions. No prevolitional conditionals need be consulted (except for those encoding possibilities and necessities, of course).
What I think is happening, Dan, is that you’re rightly recognizing that God’s decree is rational, intelligible, consistent, perfectly thoughtful, etc., but you’re hastily inferring from this that therefore God’s decree must make use of contingent counterfactuals that are true prior to any decision-making on God’s part. There’s simply no way to infer this from the text. And to insist on it seems quite presumptuous.
I had said: “But what he knows about him is grounded in the decree as well.”
And you replied: “God’s knowledge of Pharaoh should be grounded in Pharaoh, not His decree.”
Really? How do you know what God’s knowledge of Pharaoh ‘should be’ grounded in? Isn’t this the entire dispute between us, one of the main things that distinguishes Molinists from non-Molinists? So how can you beg that question? Does Exodus 3:19 actually divulge to you what God’s knowledge of Pharaoh is ‘grounded in’? How?
Of course, God’s knowledge of Pharaoh should be *about* Pharaoh. But you are simply *stipulating* that there are contingent truths about Pharaoh and his nature that are true prior to God’s deciding that Pharaoh should even exist. That seems quite difficult to show from the text.
You said: “Your line of thinking here is too close to Aristotelian theology, where God continuously contemplates His own contemplation, and has no knowledge of the cosmos.”
I think you’re confusing my concern to preserve divine aseity with some love of pagan philosophy. I mean, you’re right: I want God to know the future by knowing himself, in particular, by knowing his plan for the future. None of God’s *other* attributes depends upon anything that obtains distinct from him. So why should his attribute of *omniscience* depend upon him being in contact with a reality distinct from him? Indeed, having an understanding of divine omniscience that preserves divine aseity only enhances the intimacy of his relationship to us. Self-knowledge is the most intimate, intuitive, and natural kind of knowledge we can have, and lo and behold – in the midst of God’s self-knowledge, there we are!
When Paul confronted the inadequacy of pagan philosophy in his address to the Areopagus in Acts 17, he was clear that God has need of *nothing* from us, that the dependence relation is precisely the reverse: it is in him we live and move and have our being. If God indeed depends upon nothing distinct from himself to be who he is, then I would be loathe to embrace a model of divine omniscience according to which he must be in contact with an infinite realm of brute factuality over which he has no control, in order to be omniscient. This was the flaw in Molinism seen by his many Roman Catholic detractors, and it was this perceived compromise of divine aseity, rather than a commitment to Calvinism, that led them away from Molinism. I’m not a Molinist, not because I’m a Calvinist, but because I’m an orthodox theist. Fighting words I know, but sometimes it’s better to be clear than overly polite. Molinists also strive to be orthodox theists, but here I think their theory does an end run around their good intentions.
And your criticism seems internally confused. It wouldn’t follow from the fact that God knows the future by knowing his own decree, that therefore he “has no knowledge of the cosmos”. If the cosmos unfolds *according to the decree* (as Molinists themselves believe), then God’s knowledge of his decree gets him knowledge of the cosmos!
You said: “As for your pot example, again, it think it is clear that you are drawing on your knowledge that the pot would crack under the books to ensure it cracks when you put the books on it.”
Yes, but on the divine analogy to this, such knowledge can easily be subsumed under God’s natural knowledge (it’s just a necessity that a pot with that nature would exhibit cracks under that strain) or his free knowledge (God just *makes it the case* that the pot does that, and his other actions take this divine commitment into account, thus exhibiting the internal rationality of the decree). The fact that some facts are willed in light of other facts is no argument that some of these facts must be prevolitional contingencies.
Perhaps you hold to the doctrine of divine simplicity, and you are applying that to the decree, regarding it as one simple thing that doesn’t admit of further analysis or distinctions. On this view, although you accept a logical ordering among aspects of *divine omniscience*, you have no place for a logical ordering *within the decree*. But surely if simplicity is compatible with the former, then it’s compatible with the latter. When God decrees, he takes into account all of the possibilities and necessities he knows. But in addition, his decree is always going to be *consistent with itself*, and bringing out how some divine actions encoded in the decree are done in light of other actions encoded in that same decree, is a way of displaying that consistency. For all we know, in Exodus 3:19-20 God is divulging to Moses a bit of the *rationality* of his purposes, to assure Moses that God knows what God is doing, that he isn’t acting blindly or randomly, that he has a plan. What God is planning *makes sense*, but one doesn’t need to posit prevolitional contingent truths in order for that plan to make sense!
You said: “I don’t see how that plan would give God knowledge that Pharaoh won’t release Israel unless God sends the plagues.”
If God plans that Pharaoh won’t release Israel unless God sends the plagues, then on the basis of that plan God *knows* that Pharaoh won’t release Israel unless God sends the plagues. The knowledge is based on the plan. If I plan for something, and I know that I can bring my plans to pass, then I know the alternative to my plan *won’t* happen! I don’t see what the problem is here.
You said: “Granted, divine hardening could account for such knowledge, but the divine hardening doesn’t start until Exodus 7 and isn’t mentioned in the Exodus 5 account of Pharaoh’s refusal to release Israel.”
Yes, God’s plan to harden Pharaoh’s heart *would* account for his knowledge of what Pharaoh would do in the envisioned circumstances. You’ve rightly guessed what I would say. And it is immaterial *when* the hardening starts in the narrative. What is relevant is God’s *plan* for the hardening. We shouldn’t confuse God’s plan with the narrative’s retelling of how that plan is executed over time (as if God is making these decisions in real time). Prior to *any* of Moses’s interactions with Pharaoh at all, God lets Moses know exactly what he will do (harden Pharaoh’s heart), and what Pharaoh will do in response (not let them go):
Exodus 4:21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
So God knows what his plan is, and how it will unfold. And for all we know, it is God’s knowledge of his own plan that informs what he says about Pharaoh in Exodus 3:19-20. You are inserting Molinism where it is simply not needed.
BTW, it is quite interesting that in the very next verse, after God states his plan to harden Pharaoh’s heart *so that* he will not let the people go, that God holds this same Pharaoh accountable for *not* letting the people go:
Exodus 4:22-23 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
How remarkable! “I’ll harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he won’t let the people go, and then I’ll tell him that if he doesn’t let the people go, I’ll judge him.” Something tells me that prevolitional contingent truths are probably of little use to guiding God in this situation – his will seems big enough to handle it all.
By “that’s exactly what it means”, I was disagreeing with your statement that: “The fact that one particular divine action is ‘explained by’ God’s knowledge doesn’t *mean* that the knowledge which explains it is prior to the decree.” You seemed to take me to be referring to the meaning of the scriptural text.
You said: “You seem to be assuming that if one bit of knowledge helps to explain a decision, then that knowledge must be logically prior to all decisions whatsoever!”
If aspect R precedes aspect S, then R is logically prior to S. That does not deny other aspects (either decisions or knowledge), might precede R. So in Exodus 3:19, we learn that God’s knowledge of Pharaoh’s counterfactual free refusals explains/logically precedes His decision to send the plagues. In other words, God used His knowledge of counterfactuals.
It’s true that all of God’s choices are unified and in one sense, one big giant choice, but that’s why we break down His decree into logical rather than ontological priority.
I had said: “God’s knowledge of Pharaoh should be grounded in Pharaoh, not His decree.”
You responded: “Really? How do you know what God’s knowledge of Pharaoh ‘should be’ grounded in?”
If Pharaoh is the object of God’s knowledge, then Pharaoh explains and is logically prior to God’s knowledge. Does God’s existence ground His knowledge of His existence? Surely it does, no? Does your existence ground your knowledge of your existence? Again, yes, right? So does your existence ground God’s knowledge of your existence? Seems strange to me to so no, it’s grounded in God’s plan for your existence. If God’s plan is the object of His knowledge, then God knows His plan and not some other thing. If God knows that His plan always happens, then He knows His plans are happening, not some other thing.
You said: It wouldn’t follow from the fact that God knows the future by knowing his own decree, that therefore he “has no knowledge of the cosmos”. If the cosmos unfolds *according to the decree* (as Molinists themselves believe), then God’s knowledge of his decree gets him knowledge of the cosmos!
Deduction adds nothing to knowledge. God’s knowledge that the cosmos unfolds according to His decree, then He knows the cosmos unfolds according to His decree – that does not get Him knowledge of the cosmos. What need does God have of knowing the cosmos if He knows that the cosmos is running according to His plan? The only thing that gets God knowledge of the cosmos is the cosmos – the very thing you want to avoid on pain of losing aseity (or you’re version of aseity at any rate).
You said: Perhaps you hold to the doctrine of divine simplicity, and you are applying that to the decree, regarding it as one simple thing that doesn’t admit of further analysis or distinctions. On this view, although you accept a logical ordering among aspects of *divine omniscience*, you have no place for a logical ordering *within the decree*.
I’ve got no objections to logically ordering the decrees or God’s knowledge. It helps us structure our understanding as well as delineating the objects of God’s knowledge and effects of His actions.
You said: “If God plans that Pharaoh won’t release Israel unless God sends the plagues, then on the basis of that plan God *knows* that Pharaoh won’t release Israel unless God sends the plagues.”
I agree. So do you think God decreed that if Pharaoh were offered asked nicely or God revealed Himself to Pharaoh in a burning bush or if he was offered money, Pharaoh would refuse? Put another way, does God decree all counterfactuals?
You said: “And it is immaterial *when* the hardening starts in the narrative.”
Sure it does – we need to text to tell us when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. The verses you cite (Exodus 4:21-22), refers to hardening happening after the miracles. Common sense would have told Pharaoh that he should give up after the first few plagues, but it looks like the hardening kept him resolved in his course.
You said: “How remarkable! “I’ll harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he won’t let the people go, and then I’ll tell him that if he doesn’t let the people go, I’ll judge him.” Something tells me that prevolitional contingent truths are probably of little use to guiding God in this situation – his will seems big enough to handle it all.”
I could see at least three major differences between us on this point: 1) God’s knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals, 2) will setting and 3) judicial hardening.
Pharaoh wouldn’t freely release the Israelites, so God is hardening him to do something he’s already set on doing. The hardening seems to strengthen Pharaoh’s resolve to carry out what he wants, despite the plagues.
This sounds like a case of will setting, wherein though habit or higher level commitments, a person cannot do otherwise (like when Luther said “here I stand, I can do no other”). Aristotle gave a helpful example to explain why we maintain moral responsibility in will setting. A person who throws a rock may regret doing so midflight, but is still responsible for the results. Likewise a person who freely forms his character, such that he abdicates his freedom in some actions, is still responsible for those actions.
The sequence of events also helps us understand God’s righteousness in hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh first freely refused, then God sent the plagues and hardened his heart. It looks like a judicial hardening – a punishment for past sins. It’s as Psalm 69:27 says “Add iniquity to their iniquity” or Romans 1:24 “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness” or Matthew 13:12 “or whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him”. But if we overlook the sequence and say God hardened Pharaoh from the get go, we risk losing this aspect of understanding God’s righteousness in hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
God be with you,
You said: “By “that’s exactly what it means”, I was disagreeing with your statement that: “The fact that one particular divine action is ‘explained by’ God’s knowledge doesn’t *mean* that the knowledge which explains it is prior to the decree.””
Well, if we’re just talking about the meaning of theological claims, and not this particular Scripture text, then it’s even more obvious that you’re mistaken here. If ‘meaning’ is minimally cashed out in terms of entailments, it’s quite obvious that:
“A particular divine action is ‘explained by’ God’s knowledge”
“The knowledge which explains it is prior to the decree.”
The knowledge can be grounded in the divine action that is specified in another part of the decree. I gave you several examples of that, and a human analogy to boot. If the knowledge is grounded in a commitment to a divine action which God specifies *elsewhere in his decree*, then it isn’t knowledge had *prior to the decree*. I don’t know how to put this point more plainly. I think I’ve stated this point clearly, and illustrated it multiple times.
You said: “So in Exodus 3:19, we learn that God’s knowledge of Pharaoh’s counterfactual free refusals explains/logically precedes His decision to send the plagues. In other words, God used His knowledge of counterfactuals.”
Dan, I already commented on this in our very first exchange in this thread, when I brought out the reason why this passage doesn’t support the second Molinist distinctive:
“Second, there is no indication that this conditional knowledge is had by God prior to his decree. The entire situation is a *post-decretal* situation. The decree has already been made, which is why there is such a thing as a world, and Egypt, and Moses and Pharaoh, etc. The decree is from eternity (though, of course, its execution is in time). Strike two.”
The difference between us is easy to see. You keep insisting that “God used His knowledge of counterfactuals” in Exodus 3:19. From the very beginning, I *conceded* this for the sake of argument. I don’t know why you think repeating it somehow forwards the discussion. Everyone who is orthodox on divine foreknowledge believes that God knows counterfactuals. Non-Molinists in this camp find many of these counterfactuals in God’s necessary knowledge, and the rest in his free knowledge. Your insistence that “God used His knowledge of counterfactuals” in Exodus 3:19 does nothing to support any of the three Molinist distinctives:
First distinctive: There are true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, where the freedom is libertarian freedom.
Second distinctive: God knows these CCFs logically prior to his decree.
Third: God’s decree makes use of this middle-knowledge.
Here’s what you need to do to make your case: show how where the text teaches that God knows these contingent counterfactuals *logically prior to the decree*.
And this you have not done. I don’t see *how* you could do it, given that the text is not nearly that specific. Again, you might as well say that if I decide to do two things (go home, feed the dog), that therefore my decision to feed the dog in light of the knowledge that I would then be home, is a decision based upon knowledge I have *prior to any of my decisions*. And that’s just nonsensical. You are arbitrarily restricting the exegetical options in order to give the impression that the text must support Molinism. (Either that, or you haven’t yet grasped that what you see in the text falls far *short* of any Molinist distinctive.)
Do you not get the distinction between the decree, and the various decisions that are specified in that one decree? For some reason you think that if some of God’s decisions are based on knowledge, then the knowledge must be prior to *the decree*. But God can decide some things in light of other things he has decided, and to do that he makes his decision in light of his *knowledge* that these other things are so decided. But this knowledge isn’t in some realm prior to the decision-making stage altogether. It is *grounded in* that decision-making stage. To simply exclude this alternative in the hopes that the reader will hop to Molinism is not a fair treatment of the options.
You said: “It’s true that all of God’s choices are unified and in one sense, one big giant choice, but that’s why we break down His decree into logical rather than ontological priority.”
Yes, and every decision in the decree is made in light of all of the others. It would be wholly irrational for it to be otherwise. Each decision is consistent with all of the others. So on the view I’m expressing, *God decided* that “that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.” And because God *decided* that, he decided something *else*: that “I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.” So, are some of these decisions done in light of knowledge? Yes! Does it follow that the knowledge must be prior to the decree? No!
You said: “If Pharaoh is the object of God’s knowledge, then Pharaoh explains and is logically prior to God’s knowledge.”
This makes no sense. God *created* Pharaoh. Have you ever created anything? Was your knowledge of that thing logically prior to your decision to create it? I’m not talking about knowledge of possibilities. I’m talking about your knowledge of the thing itself. Of course it wasn’t.
Let’s say I’m a sculptor and I have a crack team of experts. I have a plan to produce a statue of David in two years. I tell my experts to get to work. If I *know* what I have decided, and I *know* I can get it done in this way, then I *know* that two years hence there will be a statue of David. It would be absurd to think that my *knowledge* that the statue will exist is somehow *grounded in the statue*. There is no statue that can ground my knowledge. No statue exists. What grounds my knowledge is my knowledge of my own will for the statue, and my knowledge of my power to bring about the statue. That’s all I need. You seem to be confusing this with another kind of knowledge, perhaps empirical, perceptual knowledge, or knowledge by acquaintance. But Aquinas, among many others, clearly distinguishes these with a commonsense example that doesn’t rest upon any Aristotelian philosophy:
“Natural things are midway between the knowledge of God and our knowledge: for we receive knowledge from natural things, of which God is the cause by His knowledge. Hence, as the natural objects of knowledge are prior to our knowledge, and are its measure, so, the knowledge of God is prior to natural things, and is the measure of them; as, for instance, a house is midway between the knowledge of the builder who made it, and the knowledge of the one who gathers his knowledge of the house from the house already built (Summa Theologica Ia, q. 14, a. 8, reply 3).”
The builder doesn’t “gather his knowledge of the house from the house already built.” And the builder of all things is God (which is Aquinas’s point). So no, it doesn’t follow that if X is the object of God’s knowledge, then X explains and is logically prior to God’s knowledge. Knowledge had by the one who is Creator and Providential Sustainer isn’t had in this way. Knowledge had by *finite earthly creators* isn’t had in this way!
You said: “Does God’s existence ground His knowledge of His existence? Surely it does, no? Does your existence ground your knowledge of your existence? Again, yes, right?”
So far, so good. But now it comes time to transition to knowledge, not of ourselves, but of *the things we create*. For God, this is everything distinct from him. For me, it’s a few things, I suppose. In neither case is this knowledge grounded in the object itself. The builder analogy should make that evident. God’s will is sufficient for the existence of everything else. (Molinists believe this with respect to all concrete substances, God alone excepted.) So in knowing his will, God *can and does* know everything else. By way of contrast, God doesn’t will his own existence, and I don’t will my own existence. So it’s pretty clear that knowledge of our own existence is grounded in us. You’ve said something that is true, but is irrelevant to the case at hand.
Are you aware of the distinction between A-foreknowledge and O-foreknowledge? Most philosophically sophisticated Molinists are at least aware of the views of their detractors. You seem to be reducing all knowledge to O-foreknowledge, knowledge based on observation. But in active-foreknowledge, knowledge that is causally efficacious, what is foreknown is based on the knowledge of what is foreknown, because the same will that ensures the existence of what is foreknown ensures the knowledge of what is foreknown, and typically ensures that knowledge is had prior to the foreknown thing coming into existence (if it concerns future existence). The builder illustration fits this perfectly.
Let’s take humans out of the equation. Think of God’s foreknowledge of our solar system. The only reason it exists is because God willed it to exist. So God, from all of eternity, knows that the solar system will be. How can it possibly be the case that this knowledge is grounded in the thing itself?
You said: “So does your existence ground God’s knowledge of your existence? Seems strange to me to so no, it’s grounded in God’s plan for your existence.”
Seems perfectly logical, and not strange! You seem to be accepting superficial answers to this question without reflecting on the next step. Why do I exist? Because God decided to create me. So God’s knowledge of my existence is *ultimately* grounded in his knowledge that he has decided to create me.
To not go on and ask obvious questions like this is akin to thinking that I’m just this eternal brute fact reality floating around in the universe, and God knows I exist just by being in contact with my eternal brute reality, quite independently of his will or decisions as to what shall exist. He is just ‘confronted’ with my stubborn existence, and so gets his knowledge of me. But we’re not pagans, right?
You said: “If God’s plan is the object of His knowledge, then God knows His plan and not some other thing. If God knows that His plan always happens, then He knows His plans are happening, not some other thing.”
I’m sorry, but what facts about me are somehow missing from God’s knowledge of his own plan for the future? How does he *fail* to know me by knowing his own plan?
I have, ever and always, been speaking of God’s propositional knowledge of me. To have that, he can just have knowledge of his plan, which – as I argued earlier – only enhances the intimacy of his relationship to us. Perhaps you are speaking of some nonpropositional, knowledge-by-acquaintance. If so, we are far from the model of omniscience that Molinists are defending.
You said: “What need does God have of knowing the cosmos if He knows that the cosmos is running according to His plan? The only thing that gets God knowledge of the cosmos is the cosmos.”
You seem to be making an elementary mistake, and departing from what even Molinists (and most orthodox theists!) believe. Just as there is a distinction between logical moments of divine omniscience, and a distinction between God’s omniscience and his decree, so there is a distinction between the decree, and the realization of the decree in time. Are you actually saying that God must *wait* for the realization of the decree in time, in order for him to have knowledge of the future? For that is the view you must embrace, if you think that “the only thing that gets God knowledge of the cosmos is the cosmos”! The cosmos must *be there*, in order for God to know everything about its existence?!
This doesn’t even work on an earthly level. When Jeremiah spoke of the Babylonian Captivity to come, he surely had (infallible!) knowledge of the Captivity. But the Captivity didn’t ‘get’ Jeremiah knowledge. His knowledge wasn’t grounded in any presently existing Captivity. So what grounded it? Here’s a thought: the will of the Creator, who communicated that will to Jeremiah. But perhaps God must wait to get the very knowledge he communicated to Jeremiah?!
You said: “So do you think God decreed that if Pharaoh were offered asked nicely or God revealed Himself to Pharaoh in a burning bush or if he was offered money, Pharaoh would refuse? Put another way, does God decree all counterfactuals?”
God decrees quite a few counterfactuals, namely, the ones depending on his will. (“If Dan were to release this pencil, then it would drop to the floor”: this truth is grounded in God’s contingent decision to implement a law of gravity.) There are quite a few other counterfactuals that seem necessarily true if true at all (e.g., “If there were to be three things on the table, then there would be more than two things on the table”: these are grounded in the necessity of his nature in some way, such as his essential omnipotence or rationality.) So yes, if we want to understand this as a contingent counterfactual it would be that *God decided* that “that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.” (And then in light of that, he decided something else consistent with it and intelligible in light of it: “I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.”) But I’m open to the view that the counterfactual is necessary: it is of the very nature of the king of Egypt that in those circumstances only a mighty hand compels him. To be sure, it is a contingent fact whether or not God creates Pharaoh, but it is not a contingent fact that a person with that nature would only be compelled by a mighty hand. Rather, it is a necessary fact. So we non-Molinists are spoilt for choice here, really! It might be natural knowledge, or it might be free knowledge. It’s the Molinists who prematurely deny themselves options by shoving all of this into the middle-knowledge category.
I said: “And it is immaterial *when* the hardening starts in the narrative.”
And you replied: “Sure it does – we need to text to tell us when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. The verses you cite (Exodus 4:21-22), refers to hardening happening after the miracles. Common sense would have told Pharaoh that he should give up after the first few plagues, but it looks like the hardening kept him resolved in his course.”
OK, I see your strategy a bit more clearly now, but it still mystifies me why you think Molinist distinctives are supported by the text. On your view, Pharaoh’s initial refusal to let the people go (Ex 5:1-5) was made *in the absence of any hardening*. Rather, such hardening only occurred in the subsequent appointment (Ex 7:10-13).
Two points here. First, interestingly enough, Ex 7:13 says nothing about *when* the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart occurred. Was it only after being confronted with the miraculous sign? Or before? Or during it? The text doesn’t say. It just says that his heart “was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said” (v. 13), which is a reference to God’s earlier statement that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart in this encounter (7:3). So we are not told when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart in this encounter. (The words Pharaoh is supposed to ‘listen to’ come before the miracles.)
Second, you are insisting on a chronological ordering to what is stated in Ex 4:21, such that the hardening must take place *after* the miracles occur. But again, the text doesn’t say this either. It is just as easy to take God’s announcement there that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart to be a summary of how God interacts with Pharaoh throughout this whole narrative. Throughout the whole narrative, God is hardening his heart, and throughout the whole narrative, God is performing miracles.
Despite this twofold ambiguity in the text, you are insisting on some kind of pre-hardened ‘freedom’ of Pharaoh in this narrative, and then insisting that the ‘conditional knowledge’ of Ex 3:19 is a reference to *that*. But what makes the inflexibility of your hermeneutical insistence all the more tragic is that it still doesn’t get you what you want. Again, to cite Exodus 3:19-20:
19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.
On your view, v. 19 is saying that God knows a truth about what Pharaoh would do in his unhardened state: he *would* let them go. On the basis of this knowledge, God knows he has to harden Pharaoh’s heart to get what he wants. So he explains in v. 20 that that is exactly what he will do.
But first, that’s not what the verse says. It doesn’t say: if Pharaoh were not compelled, he would freely let you go. It says: he will not let you go, unless he is compelled. It’s not even a counterfactual, in the subjunctive mood. It is a straight-out prediction of indicative fact. It is a fact that he will not let them go unless compelled. You infer from this that he would let them go if he were not compelled. That’s just a *non sequitur*. So what exactly is the *counterfactual* knowledge on which God is basing his decision?
And second, there’s an option you’re overlooking: the conditional claim about Pharaoh is based on God’s will for Pharaoh. The reasoning behind this view is simple:
v. 19: I know Pharaoh won’t let you go unless I compel him, because I have *willed* that he won’t let you go unless I compel him.
v. 20: Because I have willed that he won’t let you go unless I compel him, and because I have willed that he will let you go, I will stretch out my hand and compel him!
Notice that on this view, the divine knowledge enshrined in v. 19 is the ‘basis’ for the divine action announced in v. 20. But both the knowledge and the action are grounded in God’s will, and there’s little hope for Molinism here.
The bottom line is that there’s little reason to think this text gets you divine knowledge of a *counterfactual* truth about how Pharaoh would use his *libertarian* freedom, a knowledge that God has *prior to his decree*. Three strikes and you’re out.
You said: “…God’s knowledge of Pharaoh’s free refusals”
I’m sorry, but *where* is this in Exodus 3:19-20? Why are you reading this into the text? It doesn’t speak of some free action that he *will* do. It speaks of something he *won’t* do. He won’t let them go. Pharaoh won’t let someone go, so he’s free? This is just a bizarre inference.
You said: “Pharaoh wouldn’t freely release the Israelites, so God is hardening him to do something he’s already set on doing. The hardening seems to strengthen Pharaoh’s resolve to carry out what he wants, despite the plagues. This sounds like a case of will setting, wherein though habit or higher level commitments, a person cannot do otherwise.”
That sounds like a remarkably obtuse thing for God to do. Pharaoh has ‘set his will,’ such that through his ‘habit or higher level commitments,’ he ‘cannot do otherwise.’ That is, “Pharaoh wouldn’t freely release the Israelites.” And in response to Pharaoh’s setting his will so that he cannot do otherwise, God hardens him “to do something he’s already set on doing”? But if you’re right, there’s no need for God to do that! He’s already set his will! Unless you’re talking about overdetermination, your explanation makes no sense. God’s going to ensure what Pharaoh ensures on his own? What need is there for hardening? Why does God involve himself in such irrelevancies?
This sounds as bad as the typical Molinist prooftext of libertarian free will from 1Co 10:13. If the ‘way of escape’ that God ‘provides’ is just the presence of alternate possibilities (i.e., libertarian free will), then *the Corinthians already have that* in virtue of being made in the image of God. There’s no need for God to supply a special promise to believers (which is clearly what he is doing in the text, by assuring believers of his provision in the time of temptation). Similarly, if what you are saying about Pharaoh in this text is correct, then there is no need for hardening. Pharaoh set his will on his own, and that is that. How contrary to the spirit of those passages in which God announces his purpose to harden; he makes clear that his decision to do so *matters*; it is the reason *why* “he will not let the people go” (Ex 4:21, 7:3-4). But on your account, what God should have been announcing in these passages is his utter irrelevance to the situation. Pharaoh had his will-setting well in hand!
Well, I’m getting a bit weary of this debate, although I’ve made a good faith effort to respond carefully to all of your concerns. If you think you can still find Molinist distinctives supported in the text, I’m not sure there’s much more I can say to dissuade you, so in that case perhaps it’s best to move on. I do have a lot of things to work on.
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In reflecting on Exodus 3:19-20, the point occurred to me yesterday that there are *two* kinds of exercise of divine power in the Moses/Pharaoh narrative, one external and the other internal. Externally, God brings the plagues, and internally, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. God repeatedly does both things throughout the narrative, and as Paul brings out in Romans 9, God does it to display his sovereignty, justice, and glory. Both externally with respect to the environment, and internally with respect to human agents, God is in control. No one can resist his will.
The hardening of the heart keeps Pharaoh from letting the people go, but the severity of the plagues motivates him to let the people go. Since God’s purpose is that, ultimately, his people will be let go, the external power of the plagues will eventually *win out* over the internal power of the hardening. But using the hardening as a delaying tactic until the miracles compel him only enhances the perception that God is in control. God knows that this is his plan, and he divulges a bit of it to Moses in Exodus 3:19-20.
So, the hardening explains the truth of v. 19: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.” Again and again we see this reflected in the narrative: the hardening keeps Pharaoh from releasing the Israelites.
But the power of the plagues explains the truth of v. 20: “So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.” And again, we see this in the culmination of the narrative in the Exodus.
Perhaps Molinists wouldn’t like this interpretation, but there’s little they can say that can *undermine* this interpretation of the text. At best, they can speculate that at the Exodus 3 point in redemptive history, since God hasn’t hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the knowledge God utilizes in v. 19 isn’t knowledge God has in light of his purpose to harden Pharaoh’s heart. But as Molinists themselves will concede, there’s nothing for God to *learn* by way of the unfolding of temporal history. He knows it all ahead of time. So whatever knowledge God has in Exodus 3:19-20, it’s not knowledge God has by way of observing Pharaoh. So how much of the narrative has unfolded is irrelevant to figuring out the kind of knowledge God has at this stage.
Someone might insist v. 19 is prevolitional divine knowledge of how Pharaoh would behave in the absence of hardening. But the text doesn’t say this, twice over (it doesn’t say it is prevolitional, and it doesn’t say it is in the absence of hardening). One would have to add these two things to the text.
As I’ve explained earlier, I’d insist that it’s God’s acknowledgment of the internal rationale of his own plan: he’s willed to harden Pharaoh (v. 19) and to compel him by miraculous power (v. 20), and he miraculously compels him *because* he’s hardened by divine power.
There’s simply nothing in the text that favors the first interpretation over the second interpretation. And that, I think, is that.
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This post is great fun Dr. Anderson! I’ll be sending some friends this way to read about this shortly!
Thanks again for answering all my pesky questions about this a while back by the way!
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