Does Molinism Entail Compatiblism?




Molinism teaches a lot of things that Arminianism does. Molinism teaches that God loves all people, that Jesus died for everyone (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:6, Hebrews 2:9), that God wants all people saved (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4, John 3:16-18), that men are totally depraved (John 6:44, John 6:65) but that God enables us and tries to win us over to Himself through a prevenient and resistible grace (Acts 7:51) and that we have the ability (thanks to that enabling grace) to receive salvation or reject it (Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15), and people go to Hell because of an unwillingness to repent (e.g Matthew 23:37). Molinists also stresses like Arminians do that human beings have libertarian free will. Molinism is very much like Arminianism in many, many respects. So much so that people often confuse the two. I even sometimes call it a “Modified Arminianism”. Because it’s pretty much Arminianism with a few things attached to it.

There are things though which distinguish the Molinist view from the Arminian view and that is a view called Middle Knowledge. What is Middle Knowledge? According to the Molinist, God has 3 types of knowledge. The first is God's knowledge of necessary truths or natural knowledge. These truths are independent of God's will and are non-contingent. This knowledge includes the full range of logical possibilities. 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" or "It is possible that X obtain" or “It is impossible for squares to be triangular”. The second is called “middle knowledge” and it contains the range of possible things that would happen given certain circumstances, for example “If Evan Minton goes to Japan in 2035, He would die in a Tsunami” or “If Evan’s dog breaks his leash and starts running after a squirrel, he would chase after it”. 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; that is to say, truths that God brings about. Examples of this would include “God becomes incarnate in the first century A.D” or “God created the universe”. This is knowledge that God has because He has chosen to bring it about.

So, according to the Molinist, God not only knows what will happen and what could happen, but also what would happen. God literally knows everything there is to know about everything. He even knows counter-factuals (“If X happens, then Y would happen after it”). This is was beautifully illustrated in the moving Christmas film “It’s A Wonderful Life” In which God shows George Baley what the would would have been like without Him. It’s A Wonderful Life shows God’s middle knowledge in that, while God knew that George Bailey was indeed going to be born when he was, He nevertheless knew what the world would have been like without Him.

William Lane Craig calls Molinism “one of the most fruitful theological ideas ever conceived. For it would serve to explain not only God’s knowledge of the future, but divine providence and predestination as well”. Under it, God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering humanity's freedom. Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent would freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, if placed in circumstance C, would 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.

But one objection I had to this view is that it seemed to entail compatiblism. It seemed like on this view, our circumstances determine everything we do. If God were to place us in a different circumstance, then we would behave differently. But the Molinist, as I said, emphasizes libertarian free will, not compatiblism. So how does the Molinist answer this objection? Do our circumstances really casually determine what we do and hence remove our genuine free choice? Did Judas Iscariot’s circumstances causally determine him to betray Jesus to the religious and Roman leaders? Was I causally determined to write this blog post by the situation I was put in?

This used to be an objection I had to Molinism, but I don't think that it entails a sort of compatiblism, or that it negates the possibility of a person doing otherwise. Think of it this way; what if you were going to buy your child a car for his 16th birthday. You know how he would react depending on which car you get him. If you buy him a sports car, you know that he would act ecstatic, he’d just be extremely grateful to you for the awesome viper or Ferrari or whatever. Now, if you get him an old broken down jalopy, you know that he would probably act disappointed. He might even be angry at you for getting him such a car. Now, let’s say you bring about one or the other circumstance and he behaves exactly as you predicted. Just because you knew how he would act and brought about the circumstance to get him to act that way, does that mean that he couldn’t possibly have done otherwise? It doesn’t seem that way to me. It seems like he very well could have acted in a different way than the way that he acted, it’s just that you know ahead of time that he wouldn’t act a different way. Of course, God has absolute knowledge of what we will or will not do according to our circumstances whereas we human beings can only make predictions of how a person will act in a given situation. Often times, those predictions are very accurate, though sometimes people surprise us by acting in a certain circumstance in a way in which we didn’t expect them to. While we can make very accurate predictions of how people will act in a certain situation, God knows with absolute certainty how we would act given a certain situation.


Or think of this, as children, we had a pretty good idea how our parents would react depending on how we behaved. I knew my parents well enough to know that if I talked back to them, they would get even angrier than they already were. I knew that if I spit on them, they would be even angrier still. So, because I don’t want that situation to come about, I refrain from speaking. Now, if I in fact was disrespectful to my parents, thus bringing about their anger, does that mean they were causally determined to get angrier? No. They could have very well refrained from displaying any anger. They could have chosen to just walk away. My actualizing a situation to get a response out of them does not mean in any sense that I causally determined them. I see God’s providence is the same way.

So it seems to me that what we have with God’s middle knowledge and Him acting on His middle knowledge is an instance of would-do/would-not-do-differently situation rather than a could-do/could-not-do differently situation. If God knows that if I were placed in situation X, that I would choose A instead of B, and then He places me in situation X in order to get me to choose A. It doesn’t seem to me that I couldn’t have chosen B instead of A. God just knew ahead of time that I would not choose B and that I would choose A. I still could have chosen B and refrained from choosing A, it’s just that God knew that I wouldn’t.

So, the situation is would do differently verses could do differently, and would not do differently verses could not do differently. We can do differently in a situation then what we do, it’s just that God knows that we won’t. In the same way that your son could act thankful for you getting him the jalopy even though you might know ahead of time that he would not act thankfully.

Given that this is the case, no matter which possible world God chooses to create, people are still responsible for their actions and also where they end up for eternity. The people in this world God created who end up in Hell could have chosen not to resist God’s grace and accept Him as their God and Savior, but He knew that they wouldn’t, and He grieves over their loss (Luke 13:34, Luke 19:41-44, Ezekiel 18:23).

Although if I became a Molinist, I’d have to agree with William Lane Craig that God chooses to create a world in which the circumstances all come about so that God gets as many people saved as possible (since Molinists believe, like Arminians that Jesus died for everyone and strongly desires all people to be saved). Or that He creates a world where there’s an optimal balance of saved over lost. Those who are lost on judgment day can’t stare God in the face and say “If only you had created a world in which different circumstances came about in which I would choose to be saved. If you had done that I would have been saved. So this is your fault God for not actualizing that world!”. I don’t think a person could say that to God on judgment day on the Molinist view. Remember, on the Molinist view, man has libertarian free will, God sends his prevenient (i.e enabling) grace to all men and also sends resistible grace to all men to get them to repent (see John 12:32). God is fair in His dealings with human kind no matter which possible world God chooses to actualize because He sends sufficient grace to all human beings (just like on the Arminian view). And therefore anyone who is lost to the fires of Hell is self condemned.

I have to say, I’m leaning towards a Molinist view on soteriology. I don’t want to label myself a Molinist just yet (I want to study more about it and make sure I completely understand everything first, that I didn’t miss anything). But what I know about it so far, I agree with. However, I do want to do an in depth study of this view to make sure that I didn’t miss anything, that I didn’t misunderstand anything, and perhaps look at objections to Molinism and the answers a Molinist might provide to such objections.