Why The Grounding Objection Doesn't Bother Me


Molinism teaches that God has 3 logical moments of knowledge: Natural Knowledge, Middle Knowledge, and Free Knowledge. His natural knowledge is His knowledge of everything that could happen, and everything that everyone could do. Basically, Natural Knowledge is God's knowledge of everything that is possible and necessary. God's middle knowledge is His knowledge of what any creature would freely do under any given circumstance, and what would occur if certain factors are in play in a given circumstance. God's Free Knowledge is His knowledge of everything that will happen in the future. God's free knowledge is a result of God's choice which He made based on His middle knowledge. As Randy Everist put it "We choose what we would do, and based on that, God chooses what we will do." For example, if God knows in His middle knowledge "If Bob were in circumstance S, he would freely choose action A over action B", God can ordain Bob to choose A by choosing to actualize a world where Bob finds himself in circumstance S. As a result of being placed in circumstance S, Bob chooses A according to God's plan, but Bob's free will is not violated. Bob freely chose A.

That's "Mere Molinism" for ya. However, some non-Molinists object to Molinism based on what has become known as "The Grounding Problem". The Grounding Problem objection goes like this:

"Statements about what people with libertarian free will would do in any given circumstance cannot be known by God, given there doesn't appear to be anything to ontologically ground these statements in God's mind. There is nothing to make them true. According to Molinist's, God doesn't decree that these statements are true. The Molinist claims that people make CCFS [Counterfactuals Of Creaturely Freedom] true of themselves. But how can people make CCFs [Counterfactuals Of Creaturely Freedom] true of themselves if they don't exist yet? How can I affect God's middle knowledge if I don't exist? Moreover, according to Molinism, God has knowledge of what people who never will actually exist; what they could and would do. How can God have knowledge of people who won't ever exist?" 

Basically, the objection is that there is no ontological grounding for God's middle knowledge, and ergo, He cannot have middle knowledge, and if He does not have middle knowledge, He, therefore, cannot use His middle knowledge to orchestrate the world. How do I answer The Grounding Objection?

I Don't Know

I'll bet you didn't see that coming! I am not one to appeal to mystery, as readers of this site know. However, there are some things about God that we just won't know in this lifetime. We might not ever know how to answer some theological questions.

I don't know how to answer The Grounding Problem, but here's why it doesn't deter me from being a Molinist. Just because I can't explain how God knows counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, that doesn't mean I should believe that He doesn't. After all, I can't explain how God is able to create all matter, energy, space, and time out of absolutely nothing! How is it that God can just simply speak and *poof* something comes into existence? I don't know. Ask me how God can create ex nihilo and my answer will always be "I don't know". Yet, I believe it to be true because the philosophical, scientific, and biblical evidence points to the fact that He did.

I can't explain God's omniscience anymore than I can explain His omnipotence, but I accept both. Likewise, we have very good reasons to believe that Molinism is true.

*The Bible teaches that God meticulously controls all things, yet human beings are free. 

Molinism is the best explanation for this. All other options have many flaws which make them untenable. Divine Determinism, Simple Foreknowledge Arminianism, and Open Theism are untenable for various reasons, both philosophically and scripturally. Therefore, I reject them all. Molinism, on the other hand, avoids those problems. Molinism also explains the totality of scripture whereas the other 3 aforementioned options can only explain parts of scripture. I explain this in more detail in blog posts here and here.

*If CCFs Have Truth Value, God would know them by virtue of being an omniscient being. 

If CCFs have truth value, then if God is omniscient, He would know them simply by virtue of being omniscient. If God did not know CCFs, then God would not be omniscient. If God were not omniscient, He would not be a Maximally Great Being and therefore would not be the God proven to exist by The Ontological Argument.

My argument can be syllogized as follows:
1; Being omniscient entails knowing all true propositions.
2: God is omniscient.
3: Therefore, God knows all true propositions.
4: Many Counterfactuals are true propositions.
5: Therefore, God knows all true counterfactuals.

Just as God must be able to create without pre-existing materials in virtue of being omnipotent, God must be able to know all CCFs in virtue of being omniscient.

Of course, this begs the question. Do CCFs have truth value? I think it does, and I appeal to the word of God to make my case.

[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 Tyreand 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!

Scripture teaches God knows what people would choose so we know such statements are true even if we cannot explain how they are true or how God knows them.

But I think it's intuitively evident that CCFs have truth values even if we left scripture aside. Think of the statement "If Evan Minton were rich, he would freely choose to take a Hawaiian vacation this year." Now, it certainly seems to me that this statement is either true or false. It could be true statement, or it could be a false statement. But it would have truth value either by being true or by being false. Now, if God doesn't have middle knowledge if you were to ask Him "Is this statement true?" He would have to say "I don't know. Maybe he would. Maybe he wouldn't." Would an Omniscient God really give that answer? 

Are These Counterfactuals Known Logically Prior To The Creative Decree

What I just said might be rebutted by the non-Molinist. They might say "All you've just said so far proves God knows counterfactuals, but it doesn't show that he knows them logically prior to the creative decree." Okay, granted, The Bible passages above don't take us that far. However, there are good reasons for believing God's counterfactual knowledge is not logically posterior to His creative decree.

Tim Stratton has argued that The Fine Tuning Argument demonstrates that God has counterfactual knowledge logically prior to the divine creative decree. I think he's right. Logically prior to decreeing a possible world to come into being, God would have to know things like "If the strong nuclear force were too weak, then nothing but hydrogen would exist in the universe, and therefore no life would exist". He would have to know this logically prior to His choice, otherwise, He could accidentally life-prohibiting universe instead of life-permitting universe.

Moreover, the syllogism I mounted above gives us good reason. 

My argument can be syllogized as follows:
1; Being omniscient entails knowing all true propositions.
2: God is omniscient.
3: Therefore, God knows all true propositions.
4: Many Counterfactuals are true propositions.
5: Therefore, God knows all true counterfactuals.

The problem with saying the conclusion is true only posterior to the creative decree is that it makes God's omniscience dependent on His choices. He isn't omniscient innately. I'll further unpack why this is a problem in the next subheader.

What About People Who Will Never Exist? 

There are some people who would exist if God had chosen to create them, but they never actually will. Yet, on Molinism, God still knows everything about this person; what they could and would do ((though not will, since he won't ever exist)). To me, this does seem like a bizarre proposition, but not a problematic one. For let's suppose that God had chosen not to create any world at all. Let's suppose God decided that the only state of being that would ever exist is the one where He and He alone exists. Christians have traditionally held that creation was a free act of God (i.e something he chose to do and could have refrained from if He wanted), so you have to admit that this kind of "world" is possible. 

Would it still be the case that God knows anything about you? How could that be so? You will never exist! In this hypothetical scenario, God never decides to create anything at all! If you want to say that the only way God can know something about you is for you to either exist or will come into existence at some future point, then what entails is that God must create things in order to have knowledge about them. In other words, what entails is Open Theism! 

From the Calvinist's viewpoint, God's omniscience is not innate. He must causally determine everything in order to know everything. From the Arminian's viewpoint, God's foreknowledge is logically posterior to the divine decree, and so, He actually becomes foreknowing by virtue of actualizing the world. In both cases, it would seem that had God decided not to create anything at all, he wouldn't know anything about human beings, angels, demons, sin. He wouldn't know anything about these entities at all! If the Son were to turn to The Father and say "Want to create some people?", The Father would reply "What's a people?". This is anthropomorphizing God, obviously, but I said that to make a rhetorical point. God would be ignorant of all things that actually exist if He had decided to never create anything at all. 

In this scenario, God wouldn't know the statement "If I create humans, they would sin against me.". In fact, God would not even know the truth of the statement "If I decide to create a universe, then the universe would exist." 

Now, the Open Theists reading this blog post won't have any objection to this, but I think I just made many Calvinists and simple foreknowledge Arminians uncomfortable. If you're as uncomfortable as this entailment of the Grounding Objection as I am, then you should admit that the grounding objection is a failure. 

Summary and Conclusion

The grounding objection has never had much force to me because I hear it as basically the person raising it asking me how God can be omniscient. I don't think I should be expected to explain how God knows what he knows any more than I should be able to explain how God is able to do anything logically possible. I can no more explain, nor should I be expected to explain, how God knows what I would do in any given circumstance any more than I can explain how he was able to bring all matter, energy, space, and time into being out of nothing. I'm content with leaving the issue a mystery. 

Moreover, we have good reasons to believe that God possesses middle knowledge. The Bible contains several places where God makes counterfactual statements. If counterfactual statements have no truth value or cannot or are not known by God, you undermine God and God's Word! Scripture teaches God knows what people would choose so we know such statements are true even if we cannot explain how they are true or how God knows them.

Finally, the fact that Molinism entails that God knows things about people who won't ever exist, while bizarre, isn't problematic. It's actually problematic to say that He doesn't, as it makes God's omniscience not innate but contingent upon His choice to create. I believe God would still know about humans, angels, demons, trees, pizza, etc. even if He chose to be the only existent thing for all eternity. To say otherwise is to undermine the omniscience of God and ergo the maximal greatness of God.