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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Middle Knowledge by Eef Dekker (Peeters) The theory of Middle Knowledge ascribes to God a particular type of knowledge -- that God sees not simply what each free creature could do in any circumstance, but what it would do in any circumstance. This type of knowledge is claimed to be helpful to explain how God has perfect foreknowledge, while creatures are free. But is such a knowledge possible, even for God? The author argues that the arguments against it do not stand, and that therefore the theory of Middle knowledge is tenable.

The arguments against the coherence of Middle Knowledge are examined, of which the most important is that counterfactuals of freedom could not exist. Then the arguments against the adequacy of the of the    of Middle Knowledge are examined, such as whether or not counterfactual power over the past is implied by the theory of Middle Knowledge. A separate chapter is devoted to `back ground problems’, such as the specific concept of freedom, the notion, of God's concurrence, and our view on the nature of possible.


Throughout this study, it is assumed that God exists, that he has knowledge of all logical possibilities and of the actual world and that he can will and act, especially (but not exclusively) with regard to human beings. In other words, I assume that God is a person. One need not agree with this. But a defense of my position in this respect will be sought in vain here. To those who disagree with these premises, I simply pose the conditional: if God exists and is a person and knows what I assume that he knows and all the rest, then it is highly useful to take into account that special theory of divine knowledge called Middle Knowledge (which I shall explain in a moment).

Given these assumptions, I propose to begin by sketching the historical setting of the debate over Middle Knowledge, as a service to the reader. I will then offer an explanation of the theory of Middle Knowledge and its different versions, followed by an explanation of what the theory is supposed to accomplish, namely, a reconciliation of divine foreknowledge and human free will. I will also give a first sketch of the difficulties the theory has to face. The chapter ends with a brief outline of the other chapters of the book. In a preliminary formulation, my goal is to investigate whether or not the theory of Middle Knowledge can be given a form that is both coherent and adequate, and if so, which assumptions are required to attain that form.

In 1588, the Spanish Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535-1600) published the first edition of his Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Provi­dentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia ("The Compatibility of Free Choice with the Gift of Grace, Divine Foreknowledge, Providence, Predestination and Reprobation"), or shorthand, Concordia. A revised edition came in 1595.2 In this book he proposed his theory of Middle Knowledge. The book ignited a controversy. Could the views presented here be called orthodox? Was free will here pushed beyond its proper boundaries? Was the sovereignty of God threatened? Molina found significant allies and opponents. Important were the Jesuits Francisco Suarez and Robert Bellarmine, who adopted Moli­na's insights,' and the Dominicans Domingo Banez and Francisco Zumel, who vigorously attacked these insights.'

This controversy was not confined to the Iberian peninsula, the domain of Molina, for in 1597 some leaders in Spain and Portugal invoked the help of the Pope, at that moment Clement VIII. He established the so-called Congregatio De Auxiliis, i.e. a theological commission, "... thus initiating a ten-year period of intense study and public disputation which rendered the Concordia one of the most carefully scrutinized books in Western intellectual history." This commission could not reach a decision, and in 1607 Pope Paul V decreed that the parties were forbidden to call each other heretical and that the Holy See would resolve the issue at an opportune time-which has yet to arrive .

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Molinism' remained much debated, not only in the Roman-catholic Church, but in Protestant circles as well.' Only with the decline of scholasticism, the debate came to rest. But not for very long. For in the twentieth century, the concept of Middle Knowledge was re-invented in circles of analytical philosophy of religion. In the sixties, the more general debate on the (in)compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom-which has never been completely absent, of course, in theo­logical circles-was revitalised by philosophers as Nelson Pike, who, by the way, argued for incompabitility.' It was Alvin Plantinga who in the context of this more general debate proposed, in 1973-then unaware of Molinism-a theory very much like that of Molina….

Let us turn back to the theme of free will and summarize the above findings. If a concept of free will is to make good sense in a theory of Middle Knowl­edge, it should fit the following parameters:

(a)        We have (libertarian) freedom, i.e. the power to choose and act otherwise than we do. There are no sufficient causal conditions for our decision prior to our decision.

(b) Freedom presupposes metaphysical, synchronic contingency. In other words: freedom presupposes an open reality.

(c) Freedom comes in `layers': we must observe material or situated, and formal or abstracted freedom. A person can materially be unfree and yet, formally, free.

(d)        There is a contingent relationship between intellect and will.

Such a concept of free will is defensible, independently of its being needed by a theory of Middle Knowledge. Therefore, I conclude, such a theory has legiti­mate access to its concept of free will.

A fifth, indispensable point came up in order to adjust to the divine dimen­sion, i.e. to divine concurrence. We need a distinction between mediate and immediate cause, as well as a counterfactual relationship between creaturely act and divine concurrence. Thus:

(e)        Human will relates to its free volition as an immediate cause. God's will just as well relates immediately to the volition, and it is counterfactually related to the creaturely contribution.

Since human and divine will are so structured, there is no threat of theological determinism here and the theory of Middle Knowledge is not superfluous in this respect…

Let me make some general remarks, and moreover, present the model of Molinist Possibilism in a few theses. The continuous thread in all my sections in this chapter is that the themes of possibility and contingency, free will and determinism, time and eternity are all closely related. Synchronic contingency sets the stage for a model of possible worlds, as well as for the type of freedom we may take as basic.

Synchronic contingency is therefore the starting point of the model of possible worlds that is in my view preferable. It presupposes a model, in which all worlds are accessible for each other. This accessibility relation should not be confused with the way in which possible world are accessible for God, for since we suppose he is in a Creation Situation, there is no access for his will to the possible worlds outside that Creation Situation. But of course, these worlds are known as possible and in that sense, accessible. Possibilities do not cease to be possibilities as a result of lying beyond the limits of a specific situation.

Molinist Possibilism presupposes that individuals exist in possible worlds. The other option here, viz. Actualism, could handle possible individuals, although the question remains whether it is really distinct from Possibilism after all. Existentialism, however, cannot be adequate for a theory of Middle Knowl­edge, for it presupposes that individuals are related to the actual world only. It is not possible, therefore, to have counterfactuals of freedom regarding nonex­istent individuals and their free acts.

As long as we do not mix up eternity and necessity, there is room for a contingent dimension of eternity. So a theory of Middle Knowledge which situates God and his decrees outside of time does not thereby rule out human freedom in the required sense.

I characterized human freedom at the ontological (or formal) level as synchronic, thereby implying that that ontological level itself has a synchronic structure. Such a structure is provided by simultaneously existing, accessible possibilities. These possibilities make up our possible worlds system.

This formal structure does not prohibit us to speak of freedom at other (`material') levels as well. In my view, for example, a normal moral person may have the greatest difficulty in committing a murder, but that phenomenon does not point at the absence of freedom at the formal level. Committing a murder is a real, synchronic possibility. It points at the coincidence of freedom at the formal level with a certain amount of unfreedom (happily) at the material level.

In our picture, human will is a partial cause of its own volition. The other partial cause is the divine concurrence. There is a counterfactual relationship of God's concursus and creaturely contribution: were the creature not to perform a volition, God would not have given his concurrence.

Both the tenseless and the tensed theory of time are acceptable in our pic­ture, for our concept of eternity can accommodate both. It is, therefore, not necessary to provide a detailed survey of the pros and cons of these theories.


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