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The Molinistic view of Divine Sovereignty and Human Free-Will

       There are four major views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Free-will. They are Calvinism, Open Theism, Molinism and the Thomistic view. They are all trying to explain the question of how to explain divine sovereignty and human free-will. In this post I will give a brief exposition and explanation of the Molinistic view. In my explanation of Molinism I will primarily refer to works by Thomas P. Flint and William Lane Craig, who are some of the leading scholars who hold to the Molinistic theory.

Divine Sovereignty

       The Molinist view of sovereignty sits squarely within the traditional view. Flint describes the traditional view as follows, “Divine control over all that occurs, along with both foreknowledge and knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, are non-negotiable elements of a sound doctrine of providence.”[1] Flint further elaborates on the traditional view in his book, where he says, “…to see God as provident is to see him as knowingly and lovingly directing each and every event involving each and every creature toward the ends he has ordained for them.”[2]

       Put simply, to say that God is sovereign is to say that he is in complete control of everything that happens in the universe, everywhere, and all the time, from the movement of the planets to the free decisions of all voluntary creatures, directing everything according to his divine wisdom and goodness.

 Freedom of Will

            Molinism is the only credible orthodox system by which one is able to maintain that God is sovereign in the traditional sense, and that man has libertarian free will. Libertarianism has already been described, but for the sake of letting each position speak for itself, and due to an important aspect that Flint brings out, we will quote Flint’s description of libertarian freewill. “…the basic idea is that external determination of a person’s action (especially causal determination by some factor not subject to the person’s causal control) is incompatible with the action’s being free…The central idea here seems to be that my actions (or at least my free actions) are the ones that I initiate and control.”[3] Libertarianism holds that in any set of circumstances, the agent ‘A’ is free, if and only if, no antecedent state of affairs, ‘P’, can determine the agent’s actions or decisions, ‘D’.[4]

Putting the Molinistic View of Sovereignty and Free Will Together

            Molinism is not a theological system; rather it is an attempt to solve the problem of sovereignty and free will. Molinism solves the problem by positing the existence of “middle knowledge” in God. The argument is as follows.

            First of all, God has knowledge of all necessary truths and all possible worlds. This is called Gods natural knowledge. This knowledge is of every possible action, thought, event, and all possible variations of all things. Secondly, as traditional Christian Theism affirms, God has immutable and perfect knowledge of everything that will happen, does happen, and has happened. This second type of knowledge is called God’s free knowledge, and is the source of the problem that we are examining. The molinist, in order to solve this problem, posits a third type of knowledge in God, middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is knowledge of everything that would happen, just in case, God created a certain world.[5]

            Based upon these three types of knowledge, the Molinist goes on to say that God, from knowledge of what could happen knows all that would happen if he created any particular possible world. God then declares that one possible world, with all that happens in it, come into existence. He is therefore, seen to be fully sovereign, having declared everything that happens from before time, without removing libertarian freewill. We have libertarian free will not only because God does not make us act, or make us will, but also because there is no set of antecedent truths that determine our action. God simply creates a world in which you perform exactly what he decreed that you would perform, because he decreed what he knew that you would do in the circumstances (in the world) that he created. 

            This view has its obvious merits, however, Robert C. Koons advances an argument against Molinism that claims to show that Molinism is actually determinism disguised as indeterminism. He says, “Is the middle fact about what he [the agent in question, in the case of Koons article—Adam in the garden of Eden] would do under such circumstances causally prior to his actual, future refusal? It’s hard for me to see how the Molinist can avoid answering that these middle facts are causally prior to the corresponding actual choices. God knew all these middle facts before creating anything at all.” [6]

            Putting the problems of middle knowledge itself aside, libertarian freedom is, in my view, the greatest downfall of Molinism. If libertarian freedom is true, then there is no way, even given middle knowledge, that God could know that an agent would perform action A instead of action A1 or A2 or A3, ad infinitum. This is due to the fact that libertarianism claims that no antecedent state of affairs, “especially causal determination by some factor not subject to the person’s causal control”,[7] can have any causal influence on the decisions or actions of the agent. This can be taken to mean that nothing about the mind-exterior world, nothing about a person’s character, nothing about a person’s upbringing, nothing about a person’s desires or personal preferences, or previously determined goals, can determine the person’s choice or action in any given set of circumstances. Therefore, God has no way to know what an agent would do in any given circumstance. In order to know such a thing, he would have to know the character of the agent, or his needs, goals, and desires, but these are all part of the antecedent state of affairs that cannot determine the agent’s goals in any way.

            Perhaps the molinist is willing to accept this problem, there may be answers to this problem, which might satisfy molinists, however we do not have enough space in this article to consider them. 


[1]Thomas P. Flint, “Divine Providence”, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, ed. by Thomas P. Flint and Michael C. Rea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 274.

[2]Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (1998; repr., Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006),12.

[3]Flint, “Divine Providence”, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, 265. Note that the “central idea”, according to Flint, is very similar to Aquinas’s view, as we will see later. Italics mine.

[4]A ↔[(P→D) & (P→~D)]

[5]William Lane Craig, “The Middle-Knowledge View”, in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 121-23.

[6]Robert C. Koons, “Dual Agency: A Thomistic Account of Providence and Human Freedom”, in Philosophia Christi, 4.2 (2002), 401.

[7]Flint, “Divine Providence”, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, 265.  The term “especially” in this quote implies that no determination, not just causal, but any type of determination. In other words, when we say “especially”, we mean, “especially…, but not limited to…”.

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