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[moh-luh-niz-uhm, mol-uh-]
Not to be confused with the quietist doctrine of Miguel de Molinos.

Molinism, named after 16th Century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, is a religious doctrine which attempts to reconcile the omniscience of God with human free will. William Lane Craig is probably its best known advocate today, though other important Molinists include Terrance Tiessen, Alvin Plantinga and Thomas Flint. In basic terms, Molinists hold that in addition to knowing everything that does or will happen, God also knows what would happen if He acted differently than He does.

God's Types of Knowledge

Taking after Luis de Molina, Molinists divide God's knowledge into three separate categories. The first is God's knowledge of necessary truths. These truths are independent of God's will and have no possibility to be false. Examples include statements like, "All bachelors are unmarried" or "X cannot be A and non-A at the same time, in the same way, at the same place". The third kind of knowledge is God's free knowledge. This type of knowledge consists of contingent truths that are dependent upon God's will; or truths that God brings about, that He does not have to bring about. Examples might include statements like "God created the earth" or something particular about this world which God has actualized. The second kind of knowledge is middle knowledge (or scientia media) and describes things that are contingently true, but are independent of God's will. These are truths that do not have to be true, but are true without God being the primary cause of them. "If I had taken the train instead of driving, I would not have been late for work," is an example of middle knowledge. I did not take the train, so God is not involved as a cause. The train being the better option is not a logical necessity, so it is contingent if true.

Molinists support their case with Jesus's statement in :

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

The Molinist claims that in this example, God will know what is contingently true and independent of God's free will, namely that the Sodomites would have responded in such a way that Sodom would still have been in existence in Jesus' day. This would be an example of a counterfactual statement.

Matthew 11:23 contains what is commonly called a counterfactual of creaturely freedom. But counterfactuals are to be distinguished from foreknowledge. The Bible contains many examples of foreknowledge or prophecy such as where God tells Moses that the Israelites will forsake God after they are delivered from Egypt. But counterfactuals of creaturely freedom and foreknowledge are generally considered to be two separate things.

Some opponents of Molinism claim that God's foreknowledge and knowledge of counterfactuals are examples of what God is going to actively bring about. That is, when Christ describes the response of the Sodomites in the aforementioned example, God was going to actively bring it about that they would remain until today. Molinists have responded to this objection by noting that scripture contains examples of God's foreknowledge of evil acts. For example, the Israelites forsaking God, or Peter's denial of Christ, are both examples of what one would call overt acts of sin. Yet, according to opponents of Molinism, God is actively bringing about these overt acts of sin. This is obviously fallacious according to the Molinist. In order for this account of prophecy to be valid all prophecies must be wholly good, and never contain evil acts; but this is not the case.

Knowledge of Counterfactuals

Molinists believe that God does not only have knowledge of necessary truths and contingent truths but that God's middle knowledge contains, but is not limited to, His knowledge of counterfactuals. A counterfactual is a statement of the form "if it were the case that P, it would be the case that Q". An example would be, "If Bob were in situation X he would freely choose A over B." The Molinist claims that even if Bob is never in situation X God could still know what Bob would do. The Molinist believes that God, using his middle knowledge and foreknowledge, surveyed all possible worlds and then actualized a particular one. God's middle knowledge of counterfactuals would play an integral part in this "choosing" of a particular world.

Molinists say the logical ordering of events for creation would be as follows:

1. God's knowledge of necessary truths.

2. God's middle knowledge, (including counterfactuals).

---Creation of the World---

3. God's free knowledge (the actual ontology of the world).

Hence, God's middle knowledge plays an important role in the actualization of the world. In fact, it seems as if God's middle knowledge of counterfactuals plays a more immediate role in creation than God's foreknowledge. The placing of God's middle knowledge between God's knowledge of necessary truths and God's creative decree is crucial. For if God's middle knowledge was after His decree of creation, then God would be actively causing what various creatures would do in various circumstances and thereby destroying libertarian freedom. But by placing middle knowledge (and thereby counterfactuals) before the creation decree God allows for freedom in the libertarian sense. The placing of middle knowledge logically after necessary truths, but before the creation decree also gives God the possibility to survey possible worlds and decide which world to actualize.

Theological Implications

The Molinism system has theological implications for a variety of doctrines. Under it, God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering man's freedom (in the libertarian sense). Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent will freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, when placed in circumstance C, will freely choose option X over option Y. Thus, if God wanted to accomplish X, all God would do is, using his middle knowledge, actualize the world in which A was placed in C, and A would freely choose X. God retains an element of providence without nullifying A's choice and God's purpose (the actualization of X) is fulfilled.

Molinists also believe it can aid one's understanding of salvation. Ever since Augustine and Pelagius there has been debate over the issue of salvation; more specifically how can God elect believers and believers still come to God freely? Protestants who lean more towards God's election and sovereignty are usually Calvinists while those who lean more towards man's free choice follow Arminianism. However, the Molinist can embrace both God's sovereignty and man's free choice.

Take the salvation of Agent A. God knows that if He were to place A in circumstances C, then A will freely choose to believe in Christ. So God actualizes the world where C occurs, and then A freely believes. God still retains a measure of His divine providence because He actualizes the world in which A freely chooses. But, A still retains his libertarian freedom. It is important to note that Molinism does not affirm two contradictory propositions when it affirms both God's providence and man's freedom. God's providence extends to the actualization of the world in which an agent may believe upon Christ. Molinism splits from Calvinism by affirming that God is not the primary cause of salvation, but also splits from Arminianism because it has a higher view of the role of God's sovereignty in salvation.

Molinism has also been used to describe the biblical canon being formed under God, while still being chosen by humans in the history of the church. If God could survey the various possible worlds and see in which one the correct canon was chosen, then God would be able to weakly actualize that particular world in which the correct canon is preserved. In this way God can provide the modern church with the correct set of books.

Thomas Flint has developed what he considers other implications of Molinism, including papal infallibility, prophecy, and prayer.

Biblical Texts for Molinism

Molinists have often argued that their position is the Biblical one by indicating passages they understand to teach God's middle knowledge. Molina advanced the following three texts: 1 Samuel 23:6-10, Wisdom 4:11, and Matthew 11:23. Other passages which Molinists use are Jeremiah 38:17-18 and I Corinthians 2:8. William Lane Craig has argued at length that many of Christ's statements seem to indicate middle knowledge. Craig cites the following passages: Matthew 17:27, John 21:6, John 15:22-24, John 18:36, Luke 4:24-46 and Matthew 26:24. But, it should be noted that the most these texts indicate is that God has counterfactual knowledge. In order for this knowledge to be middle knowledge, it must be logically prior to God's free knowledge, something the Biblical texts mentioned do not seem to affirm or deny.


The grounding objection is at present the most debated objection to Molinism, and often considered the strongest objection to Molinism. The argument claims that there are no metaphysical grounds for the truthfulness of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. There are no "truth makers" that ground counterfactuals. Opponents to middle knowledge claim that the historical antecedent of any possible world does not determine the truthfulness of a counterfactual for a creature, if that creature is free in the libertarian sense. (Molinists naturally accept this, but deny that this entails that counterfactuals of creaturely freedom lack truth values.)

Many philosophers and theologians who embrace the grounding objection prefer to claim that instead of counterfactuals of freedom being true, probable counterfactuals are true instead. So instead of truths of the following sort: "God knows that in circumstance C creature X will freely do A" God knows truths of this sort: "God knows that in circumstances C creature X would probably do A." Yet, as Edward Wierenga has pointed out, probable counterfactuals are also contingent truths and fall victim to the same grounding objection.

Molinists have responded to the aforementioned argument two ways. First, they claim that there are strong theological and philosophical reasons for affirming Molinism and if current epistemological methods do not align, then they must be reformed. Molinists are much more sure of the doctrine of middle knowledge than they are of this particular theory of truth-making. The second response is that what makes counterfactuals of creaturely freedom true is what makes anything else true--correspondence. William Lane Craig says "[I]n order for a counterfactual of freedom to be true, it is not required that the events to which they refer actually exist; all that is required is that they would exist under the specified conditions.

See also


References/Further Reading

  • Thomas Flint, Divine Providence, The Molinist Account. London, Cornell University Press; 1998.
  • William Lane Craig, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. New York, E.J. Brill; 1991.
  • ______, The Only Wise God. Eugene, Wipf and Stock; 1999.
  • Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans; 1974.
  • ______, "On Ockham's Way Out" Faith and Philosophy vol. 3, nu. 3; 1986.
  • William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge. London, Cornell University Press; 1989.
  • ______, "The Antinomies of Divine Providence" Philosophia Christi vol. 4, nu. 2; 2002.
  • James Beilby and Paul Eddy. Divine Foreknowledge: 4 Views Illinois, InterVarsity; 2001.
  • Tiessen, Terrance. Providence & Prayer : How Does God Work in the World? Illinois, InterVarsity; 2000.

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