Introduction to Molinism

In the evangelical academic world there has been an increase of interest in the philosophical theology of Molinism. The primary point of interest in this system has been its claim to provide a philosophical framework for understanding the relationship between divine and human agency. The most notable proponents of Molinism in the theological world are Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig. In Southern Baptist circles, particularly at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the main proponent has been Kenneth Keathley who has just published a book on Soteriology from a Molinist perspective.

Luis de Molina (1535-1600) was a Spanish Catholic Jesuit scholar of the counter-Reformation who developed the philosophical system known as Molinism. Molinism, in the broadest sense, is simply a libertarian resolution to the puzzle concerning divine foreknowledge and human freedom based on God’s supposed middle knowledge, which would evade determinism.

What’s most interesting about this subject is that Molina’s Catholic views on free will and grace have been far more influential in Protestant theology than most people tend to realize. I also think that the system as a whole fails to achieve what it promises. I have concerns about Molinism theologically which I hope to explore over the next few posts, for now I would like to simply introduce the subject in general terms focusing on two key ingredients, middle knowledge and libertarian freewill.

Middle Knowledge

Molina is best known for the philosophical idea of middle knowledge (scientia media). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy explains “middle knowledge” this way:

Middle knowledge [could be described as] God’s knowledge of what persons would do under any set of circumstances, which enables God to arrange for certain human acts to occur by prearranging the circumstances surrounding a choice without determining the human will.

In other words, it is God’s knowledge of conditional future events. The philosophical system of Molinism attempts to make God’s “way of knowing” intelligible by dividing it into three parts, middle knowledge being distinctive of this system:

  1. Natural Knowledge: God’s knowledge of everything that could happen prior to creation (the world God chooses to actualize). This includes all the possibilities within creation order. Simply put, God knows the range of possible worlds.
  2. Middle Knowledge: God’s comprehensive knowledge of what would happen from any creative decision He might make. Or, God knows the range of feasible worlds.
  3. Free Knowledge: God’s knowledge of everything that will actually happen in the created world that He actualizes. The actual world is often called ‘the best of all feasible worlds.’

What middle knowledge attempts to account for is that God knows what an individual will do in circumstances if grace is offered, and so he actualizes the circumstances to effect the cooperative action of the individual.

Libertarian Freewill

The philosophical idea of middle knowledge was developed during one of the more important quarrels to beset the Roman Catholic Church during the ‘age of reason’ over the relationship between grace and human initiative. Within the ‘bounds of Catholicism’ Molina developed a system which would attempt to preserve human free-will in response to Reformation thought. He wrote of human freedom as follows:

That agent is called free who, with all the prerequisites for acting having been posited, is able to act and able not to act, or is able to do one more thing in such a way that he is also able to do some contrary thing.

This quote espouses what theologians refer to as libertarian freewill. Libertarianism is a philosophical view that seeks to protect human free will by supposing that a free choice is not causally determined but not random either. In other words, for an agent to be free – that agent must be totally free to do the contrary and those actions are completely self-determined. Molina’s whole system was built on the foundation of libertarian free-will.

In Molina’s day his Jesuit views were considered Pelagian by his Dominican Thomist opponents. The Catholic Church in Rome, under Pope Paul 5th, refused to take a stand on the issue and declared that neither Thomists nor Molinists may condemn each other.

Final Thoughts

Again, this is an introductory post. Over the next few weeks I plan on taking certain elements of the Molinism system and evaluating them in more depth. Understand that Molinism has many facets, and in some cases Molinists do not entirely agree, I will try and make those distinctions when necessary. Overall I do have concerns over the theological foundations and implications of Molinism –as it pertains to the doctrine of humanity, Soteriology, the problem of evil, and other theological particulars.

3 thoughts on “Evaluating Molinism: An Introduction to Luis de Molina, Middle Knowledge, and Libertarian Freewill

  1. I’ve read most of Keathley and found his book refreshing. Though I’m not entirely persuaded his case did manage to shake my theological system a little bit (how’s Reformed Molinism sound??).
    I did however, find Timothy George’s ROSES system far more helpful than TULIP (which I vote we retire completely).

    I’m looking forward to watching you interact with his arguments.

  2. “Southern Baptist circles, particularly at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the main proponent has been Kenneth Keathley who has just published a book on Soteriology from a Molinist perspective.” I am completely in agreement with that.

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