Non-Molinists often charge Molinists of reading philosophy into The Bible. They say that Molinism is a philosophical theory not found in the pages of scripture, and this is one reason they give for why they reject Molinism as a viable theological view. But I think there are several good reasons to think that Molinism is true. In this blog post, I’ll give 5 reasons why I accept the theory of Luis De Molina.
1: A Truly Omniscient God Would Know Counterfactuals
Is God omniscient? The Bible says He is. The Bible says “"Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit." (Psalm 147:5), that “His eyes are on the ways of mortals; he sees their every step. There is no deep shadow, no utter darkness, where evildoers can hide. God has no need to examine people further, that they should come before him for judgment." (Job 34:21-23) and that "The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good." (Proverbs 15:3).
After Jesus rose from the dead, he cooked some fish for the disciples. Jesus and Peter then had the following discussion "When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?' “Yes, Lord,” he said, 'you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Feed my lambs.' Again Jesus said, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' He answered, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Take care of my sheep.' The third time he said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, 'Do you love me?' He said, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.'" (John 21:15-17). Peter said that Jesus knew “all things”, and Jesus did not attempt to correct him (which implies that he agreed with Peter’s statement). The Bible affirms that God knows everything.
However, if God does not have knowledge of counterfactuals, then how could He be omniscient? There would be things that God wouldn’t know! God wouldn’t know what would have happened if you had left your house a little earlier or a little later yesterday. God wouldn’t know how your life would have turned up if you turned down your husband’s marriage proposal. God doesn’t know whether or not you would have gotten food poisoning if you decided to eat at a certain restaurant on a certain day. How could God be a maximally great being if He’s less than omniscient?
2: The Bible Depicts God As Knowing Counterfactuals
Those who detract from Molinism usually argue against Molinism by saying that counterfactuals have no truth value (i.e they can neither be true nor false), so to say that God is not omnipotent because he doesn’t know about counterfactuals is like saying He’s not omnipotent because He cannot create square circles or rocks too heavy for Him to lift. God cannot do the logically impossible, but we wouldn’t say that He’s not omniscient because of that. In the same way, God cannot know the logically impossible, so why say He’s not omniscient because of that. Never mind that the logical possibility of knowing counterfactuals seems intuitive (we base our day to day judgments all the time on what we think are true counterfactuals), the biggest problem with these middle knowledge deniers is that The Bible presents several occasions where God asserts knowledge of counterfactuals. A small sampling of verses is provided below.
[Jesus is speaking here] “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.” – Matthew 11:21-23
“No, we declare God's wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” – 1 Corinthians 2:7-8
"Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.’ And the Lord said, ‘He will.’ Again David asked, ‘Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul’ And the Lord said, ‘They will.’ So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there." - 1 Samuel 23:11-13
Now, if you think that counterfactuals have no truth value, you’d have to say that these passages of scripture are neither true nor false. But that seems absurd. If you believe that God’s word is inerrant (like I do, and as passages like Proverbs 30:5, and 2 Timothy 3:16 imply), then a denial of middle knowledge seems to entail that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is false. And worse yet, not only biblical inerrancy, but deity inerrancy as well (since it was Jesus who asserted the counterfactual in Matthew 11, and God answering David in 1 Samuel 23). So if God doesn’t have middle knowledge, then not only is His Word not inerrant, but He isn’t either!
3: When It Comes To Free Will and Divine Providence, Molinism Is An Inference To The Best Explanation
When it comes to divine providence, I know of only 3 possible options. Two of them are unacceptable extremes. On the one hand, we could agree with the Calvinist that God causally determines everything that occurs. The way in which God providentially orders human history is by determining every thought, word, and deed of every single human being who has ever lived. On this view, there is no free will (except, perhaps, a compatiblist freedom, but I don’t think the compatiblistic definition of free will is “free” in any meaningful sense of the word). There are several problems with this view. One of them being that this view logically entails that God is the author of sin; that is to say, God is actually responsible for every single evil act that has ever occurred in history. If God causally determines everyone’s actions, then the reason they do evil things is because God essentially made them do it. If God made them do it, He is ultimately responsible for the evil in the world. If He is ultimately responsible for the evil in the world, then God would be the ultimate sinner, He would be evil. Since we know from both natural theology (e.g Moral and Ontological Arguments) and scripture that God is not evil, it therefore follows that divine determinism is not true. Moreover, there are many large chunks of scripture that make no logical sense unless you assume libertarian free will when reading the passages. For example, all of those various places God gets angry at sin and proceeds to punish people for the evil they’ve done. That wouldn’t make any sense if God determined their actions. If God determined their actions, why is He angry at them? If He didn’t like what those people did, why didn’t He determine them to do things that would make Him happy? Moreover, isn’t it unfair to punish people if you’re the reason they did what they did?
On the other hand, we have the libertarian free will and simple foreknowledge view of Arminianism. This view teaches that all human beings have libertarian free will (meaning we have the ability to either choose or refrain from choosing between various alternatives set before us, and also that we are the ultimate originators of our actions, and there was nothing prohibiting us from choosing other than what we choose). However, like the Calvinist, the Arminian asserts that God has a simple foreknowledge. That is to say, God knows what the future WILL be, what we all WILL freely choose, but He doesn’t know all of the possible futures that would be if we made different choices. He doesn’t know counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. This creates a problem as well. If God only knows the actual future, and not what the future would be if things were a little different, then how do we account for God’s providence throughout human history?
Imagine God creates the world, and he only knows the actual future, but he doesn't know counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. What if Judas, Pilate, or Caiphas didn't make the choices required for crucifying Jesus? What if Judas freely chose not to betray Jesus? Or what if Pilate didn't bow to the pressure of the crowd to crucify him? Sure, God would be able to foresee their free choice, but He wouldn't be able to do anything about it without violating their freedom. And in this case, no atonement would be made because Jesus wouldn't be crucified. So much for receiving atonement for our sins. On Arminianism, it seems God is just lucky that these events went the way that He wanted them to. On Arminianism, God doesn’t seem to have the sovereign control that The Bible portrays Him as having.
So since neither Calvinism or Arminianism are acceptable options (because they entail absurd consequences), the only remaining option is Molinism. Molinism can best account for God’s meticulous providence over human history while at the same time accounting for genuine free will. On Molinism, God has 3 logical moments of knowledge; natural, middle, and free. God’s natural knowledge is His knowledge of all possibilities and necessary truths, everything that could happen. God’s middle knowledge is a knowledge of all counterfactuals, everything that would happen. God’s free knowledge is a knowledge of what is going to actually happen in the future, what will happen. God’s natural knowledge is a knowledge of all possible worlds, His middle knowledge is a knowledge of all feasible worlds, and His free knowledge is a knowledge of the actual world. God’s free knowledge is a result of God’s eternal decree (i.e choosing which feasible world to actualize).
I think this view can best account for God’s orchestration of human events and still affirm a strong view of human freedom. On Molinism, God knows which persons to put in those positions in the first century to get Jesus crucified. He knew that if Caiaphas was high priest in the first century, then he would freely condemn Jesus on grounds of Blasphemy and take Him to Pilate for execution. He knew that if Pilate was prefect in the first century, then he would freely comply with the demands of the crowd. And He knew that if Judas was born in the time and place that he actually was, then he would become Jesus' disciple for a while and would freely choose to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin. On Molinism, God providentially brought about the crucifixion by acting on His knowledge of how people would freely act if placed in these positions. God brought them about by placing them in those circumstances, and the people brought these events about of their own free will because they’re the ones who made the counterfactuals true of them.
And contrary to popular Arminian opinion, this is not deterministic. God does not choose which counterfactuals are true. People decide which counterfactuals are true. All God does is act on His knowledge of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.
For example, God can bring about Bob choosing action A over B by creating Him in circumstance S. Because God knew “If Bob were in circumstance S, He would freely choose action A over action B.” God brings about Bob choosing A by placing him in that circumstance. But Bob did not have to choose A. Bob very well could have chosen B instead. Nothing determined or coerced Bob’s choosing of A and nothing prohibited Bob from choosing B. Bob could have chosen B and refrained from choosing A. If he did, then God’s middle knowledge would not contain the proposition “If Bob were in S, he would choose A over B”. No. God would have known “If Bob were in S, he would choose B over A instead”. God doesn’t decree which counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true, the creatures do that. All God does is choose what circumstances we’re in by determining when and where we’ll be born (as Acts 17:26 says).
Molinism seems to me to be the best explanation. Space does not permit me to go into a listing of the biblical passages showing that God has meticulous providence over history and the passages showing that human beings have libertarian free will, but the teachings are there, and I believe that my view is the best way to reconcile those two sets of biblical truths. I do think Proverbs 16:9 simultaneously teaches free will and meticulous providence (or at least it appears to), so I’ll quote it below.
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” – Proverbs 16:9
That seems to mirror the statement Randy Everist (of the blog “Possible Worlds”) said about Molinism in a Facebook comment once, which is “We choose what we would do, and based on that, God chooses what we will do.”
4: This Hypothesis Perfectly Harmonizes All The Biblical Data On Soteriology
There are biblical passages that make sense on Arminianism, but not on Calvinism. There are biblical passages that make sense on Calvinism, but not on Arminianism. All passages regarding soteriological issues make sense from a Molinist perspective.
For example, The Bible teaches that God “is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), which is why He sent His Son to die for “The world” (John 3:16), “The whole world” (1 John 2:2), for “everyone” (Hebrews 2:6). Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:6). The Bible also indicates that God’s Holy Spirit can be resisted (see Acts 7:51), and that humans have a choice between serving and worshipping God, or living in sin and serving false Gods (see Deuteronomy 30:15, Joshua 24:15, Ezekiel 18), and that forfeiting salvation is possible (Hebrews 6:4-6, 1 Peter 5:8, 2 Peter 2:15-18, 2 Peter 2:20-22).
On the other hand, it also teaches that God predestines individuals to salvation (Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:4-5, Acts 13:48), and that true believers will never ever lose their salvation (John 10:28-29, Romans 8:38-39, Philippians 1:6, Ephesians 1:13, 1 John 2:19).
But if God wants everyone saved and if Jesus died for everyone, then why are only some predestined to salvation? Moreover, if we are predestined, then how is it that we can choose whether or not to receive Christ? And if it’s possible to lose our salvation, why does The Bible insist that we won’t? This is where Molinism comes to ease the tension between these two sets of scriptures. Unlike on the Calvinist view, God doesn’t predestine people by making a seemingly arbitrary list of who He wants to save and who He wants to damn, and then zaps those people with irresistible grace to compel them to salvation. On Molinism, God predestines people by means of his middle knowledge. For example, God knew “If Susan is in circumstance T, she would choose action Y over action Z” in this case, you could let action Y be “choosing to accept Christ as her savior” and circumstance T could be some point in her life where she comes to a place of emotional and spiritual brokenness (which would be the result of several prior events). If God chooses to actualize a world where Suzan endures circumstances culminating in T, which results in Susan choosing Christ, then it can be said that God predestined Susan, since he chose “before the foundations of the world” to actualize the possible world where one of the statements in the conjunct is “Susan is in circumstance T”.
Well, that solves the tension between our freely choosing Christ and God’s grace being resistible with the doctrine that God predestines people. But that still doesn’t reconcile the doctrine of predestination with the biblical teaching that God wants everyone saved and died to pay for the sins of all people. If God wants everyone saved, and He can bring their repentance about freely by means of His middle knowledge, then why doesn’t He predestine everyone to Heaven in this way? There is no one Molinist answer to this question, but all Arminian-Molinists argue that the reason God doesn’t predestine everyone in this way is because for some reason or other, a possible world where universal salvation comes about is an infeasible world for God to actualize. This could be either because anyone who is damned in the actual world would be damned in any possible world that God creates. So God decides to actualize a world where those who would be saved in some possible world, actually are saved in the actual world. I reject this explanation on the basis of Matthew 11:21-23 which I quoted above.
Another option is congruism which teaches that everyone would be saved in some possible world, that there is a just right salvation-prompting-circumstance for everyone. What I mean by that is that there is some circumstance which would prompt a positive response out of everyone, if only God created the person in that circumstance. However, the reason why God doesn’t do this is because it’s likely that all of the salvation-prompting-circumstances cannot be cobbled together in a single world. For example, some or even many of these salvation prompting circumstances may very well cancel each other out! What if a feasible world where Bob chooses Christ is a world where Sam rejects Christ? What if a world where Bob rejects Christ is a world where Sam accepts Christ? If God were to actualize feasible world #1, Bob is saved but Sam is lost. If God were to actualize world #2, Sam is saved but Bob is lost. God cannot bring about the free repentance of both without overriding the freedom of at least one. I go into a lot more detail on this in “A Simple Explanation Of Why Some Possible Worlds Are Infeasible” and in “Molinism: Why Isn’t Everyone Saved?”
As for the delimma between The Bible’s teaching that salvation loss is possible and its teaching on eternal security, space does not permit me to explain how Molinism reconciles these two biblical teachings, but if you want to read about it, I go into this in the blog post “Answering Objections To The Keathley/Craig Model Of Eternal Security”.
Molinism is similar to the Trinity in that while The Bible doesn’t explicitly state the doctrine of the Trinity, The Bible does teach several truths can only make sense in light of Trinitarian doctrine. In the same way, The Bible doesn’t talk about “possible worlds”, “feasible worlds”, “middle knowledge”, or anything like that. Nevertheless, The Bible does teach several things that I think can only make sense under a Molinist interpretation
The difference though, is that one is NOT a heretic if one denies Molinism. One IS a heretic if they deny the Trinity.
In science, one should go with the hypothesis that has the greatest explanatory scope of the data. I think the same should go for theology; the “mother of all sciences”. Molinism far exceeds Arminianism and Calvinism in explanatory scope.
5: It Explains Why Prayer Is Worthwhile
Molinism makes prayer worthwhile, especially prayer for the lost. On Calvinism, if God determines absolutely everything, then why pray for the lost? God has already decided who to save and who to damn on Calvinism, and I know of no Calvinist who would argue that prayer can change God’s mind, so it’s not like you can change the list of elect simply by praying hard enough. So what is the point of praying for the lost? On the other hand, Arminianism cannot explain why prayer for the lost is a worthwhile endeavor either. Given that God wants all people saved, He will therefore send grace to all people. He will be trying to get them to freely choose to repent, and He would be trying to persuade them to repent regardless of whether you pray for them or not.
William Lane Craig, Christian Apologist, and philosopher writes “We should not think of prayer as changing God’s mind or changing events. God knows from eternity everything that will transpire in time, so that prayers do not literally change anything. For God’s foreknowledge already takes our prayers into account. God’s foreknowledge is chronologically prior to the prayers we offer, but the prayers are logically prior to what God foreknows. If we were to pray differently or fail to pray, God would not be caught by surprise but have already factored that into His providential plan.
William Lane Craig writes “So then how do our prayers make a difference if they do not change things? Precisely by being factored by God into which world He has chosen to create! Were we not to pray, then perhaps God would not have done such-and-such. Because God knew that you would pray for a certain thing, God has so arranged the world that that thing happens. Had you not prayed, God would have created a different world instead. So through His middle knowledge of how we would pray in different circumstances, our prayers make a tremendous difference in which world is actual.”
On this view, God’s decision on which feasible world to actualize took our prayers into account. So for example, if He knew that you would pray for Bob to be saved, God might decide to actualize a world where Bob ends up in a circumstance where God knew, if Bob were in such a circumstance, He would choose to repent and receive Christ. If you hadn’t prayed, He might have actualized a world where Bob wasn’t saved, not because He doesn’t want Bob saved, but simply because, as I said above, it’s impossible to cobble together all of the salvation prompting circumstances in a single world. God wants Bob saved, but He may choose to actualize a world where Bob is lost, if for example, it results in several more people getting saved who might not have been were Bob saved.
Summary and Conclusion
We’ve seen that there are several good reasons to accept Molinism. The Bible doesn’t teach Molinism per se, but it does teach that God is omniscient, and it seems clear to me that an omniscient God would know counterfactuals. Secondly, The Bible depicts God and the Epistle authors as asserting counterfactual truths. For those who assert that counterfactuals have no truth value, they would have to say that these verses of scripture are not true. They’d have to deny biblical inerrancy. Thirdly, Molinism best harmonizes the biblical doctrines that man has free will and that God meticulously orchestrates events in human history. It’s an inference to the best explanation because Calvinism and Arminianism fail on this front, being able to explain one but not the other. Fourthly, Molinism has the greatest explanatory scope when it comes to explaining the soteriological data found in scripture, and should therefore be preferred over Calvinism or Arminianism. Finally, Molinism makes sense out of why one should pray for nonbelievers.