Four Views of Divine Providence: Molinism

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Continuing on with my series summarizing the book Four Views of Divine Providence, this post will cover the the view of Molinism, defended by William Lane Craig. Previous posts in this series can be read here, here, and here.

Craig begins his section by noting that orthodox theologians have always agreed that God's omniscience includes his "hypothetical knowledge of conditional future contingents."1 This knowledge is called knowledge of counterfactuals, which are "conditional statements in a subjunctive mood."2 For example, God knows that if Austin owned a Nintendo 64 with Mario Kart, he would be playing it right now instead of typing a blog post.

 What Christian theologians have disagreed on for centuries, however, is "when" God has this knowledge.  Since God is timeless and eternal, I am not referring to some actual time when God obtained such knowledge. Rather, the question is where this knowledge falls logically relative to God's other knowledge: that is, his Natural Knowledge and his Free Knowledge. Theologians have always agreed that God's Natural Knowledge came logically prior to his creative decree. This includes knowledge of those propositions which are necessarily true, such as his knowledge of all possible worlds that he could create. His Free Knowledge, knowledge of contingent truths that obtain in the actual world that he created, is agreed to be logically subsequent to his creative decree. But what about his knowledge of counterfactuals? Traditionally, the Dominicans and Calvinists have argued that God's knowledge of counterfactuals is also subsequent to, and a result of, his creative decree. God knows what is because he created it as such, and he knows what would have been, because he could have created it as such. The Jesuits, influenced by Luis de Molina, argued that God's knowledge of counterfactuals is prior to his creative decree; this would put it in between his Natural and Free Knowledge, which is why it has been called God's Middle Knowledge. Under this view, instead of exhaustively determining a world which would bring about his ultimate purposes, God created a world in which he knows that his creatures will freely choose those actions that will bring about his ultimate purposes.

To help understand this, Craig's section includes a diagram similar to the following one I have created:

Biblical Arguments for Molinism

Craig admits that while there are many examples of scriptures which affirm God's knowledge of counterfactuals (e.g. John 18:36), there are no verses which show whether or not this knowledge is logically prior to his divine creative decree. Thus proof-texting will be of no help in this discussion.

Theological Arguments for Molinism

While the concept of Molinism can be used to bring clarity to many different theological topics, our debate here concerns mainly God's providence. Thus Craig breaks down each different view of God's providence, and attempts to show how Molinism stands above the rest. For the purpose of drawing out contrast, let's consider two verses in scripture: Acts 2:23 and Acts 4:27-28.

[T]his Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

[...F]or truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.


Under Molinism, "God knew exactly which persons, if members of the Sanhedrin, would freely vote for Jesus' condemnation; which persons, if in Jerusalem, would freely demand Christ's death, favoring the release of Barabbas; what Herod, if king, would freely do in reaction to Jesus and to Pilate's plea to judge him; and what Pilate himself, if holding the prefecture of Palestine in AD 30, would freely do under the pressure of the Jewish leaders and the crowd."3 Just as Luke stated in the Acts verses, the whole thing unfolded according to God's plan. When we think about how mind-boggling this is, it should evoke a feeling of awe toward God. It wasn't just the specific situation, but every situation prior to it since the beginning of the world, that God would have had to orchestrate in order to bring about this event exactly as he ordained it!

Open Theism

Open Theism denies that God can have either Middle Knowledge or Foreknowledge, and thus denies that God truly has the kind of sovereignty that the Bible describes him as having. Open Theism appears to implicitly agree with the idea that God cannot know the future (foreknowledge) without determining it, and thus argues that he doesn't know the future with certainty. Under Open Theism, therefore, God has no reason to believe with certainty that some good might come out of any particular evil act. This calls forth the question: why does God do nothing to stop such evil? It seems that the God of Open Theism is unable to sovereignly bring about his ultimate purposes.

Some Open Theists have revised the view to say that while God can't know for certain what his creatures will or would choose, he can know with certainty what they might choose. In making use of these "might counterfactuals," it should be noted that the Open Theist has given up his strongest objection to Molinism: the so-called Grounding Objection. This will be covered in the next post. If this is true, why not just adopt the truth of God's Middle Knowledge and become Molinists? Even under the revised view, God allows particular evil acts and suffering without knowing that some good may come out of it, but just having some inscrutable chance that good might come out of it. This leads to something far from the sovereignty that God is said to have in the Bible; referring again to the Acts verses, how could God have known from the beginning that Jesus would be handed over to Pilate by the Jews and crucified by if he only knew what his creatures might do?


The Augustinian-Calvinist position holds that God's foreknowledge is based on his foreordination. That is, God knows some future contingent will be true because he will cause it to be true. This disallows true human freedom and makes God the author of sin. For example, under this view, God moved Judas to betray Jesus, a sin that merits everlasting perdition. In response, a Calvinist might argue that Molinism is too successful, making it suffer from the same criticism. For example, it seems like there could be an infinite number of possible worlds, only imperceptibly different from the actual world, in which a free creature would choose to do something different than what he chooses in the actual world. If this is true, then Molinism is no better able to solve the Problem of Evil/Suffering because God could have (and arguably should have) created a slightly different world in which some particular evil event did not occur. However, even if this holds, the Molinist still has the advantage of allowing for human free will.

This criticism misunderstands the concept of human freedom. Human decisions are not indeterministic in the sense that they are random; rather they are indeterministic events done for reasons. The possible world that the Calvinist speaks of, then, would have to be different in a way that would affect the subject of an action (close in both space in time), without altering the circumstances so drastically as to change the reasons of the subject. With these restrictions, there would nothing close to an infinite number of possible worlds from which God could choose.

Philosophical Arguments

Craig gives one philosophical argument for Molinism in the following form:
1. If there are true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, then God knows the truth of these.
2. There are true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.
3. If God knows true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, God knows them either logically prior to the divine creative decree, or logically posterior to the divine creative decree.
4. Counterfactuals of creaturely freedom cannot be known only logically posterior to the divine decree.

From premises 1 and 2, it follows logically that
5. Therefore, God knows true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.

From premises 3 and 5, it follows that
6. Therefore, God knows true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom either logically prior to the divine creative decree or only logically posterior to the divine creative decree.

And from premises 4 and 6, it follows that
7. Therefore, God knows true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom logically prior to the divine creative decree.

--which is the essence of the doctrine of divine middle knowledge.4
Premise 1 is fairly easy to accept. If God is omniscient, then he knows all truths, including counterfactual ones, if they exist. Premise 2 can be argued on the basis of intuition (we make decisions all the time based on what would happen, in a given circumstance), and because examples can be found in scripture (1 Cor 2:8). Premise 3 is obviously true because it includes an exhaustive set of options. Lastly, premise 4 is true because if a counterfactual of creaturely freedom were only known logically posterior to the creative decree, then freedom would be annihilated.


Craig concludes as follows: "Via his middle knowledge, then, God can have complete knowledge of both conditional future contingents and absolute future contingents. Such knowledge gives him sweeping sovereignty over the affairs of men. Yet such an account of God's knowledge is wholly compatible with human freedom, since the circumstances envisioned in counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are nondetermining and, hence, freedom-preserving. It is because of these advantages that I commend a Molinist account of divine providence for serious consideration."5


1. Craig, Four Views of Divine Providence, 2011, p. 79
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid. p. 86
4. Ibid. p. 95
5. Ibid. pp. 99-100
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