Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Middle Knowledge: Enemy of Divine Simplicity?

"‘The Tractatus’ is a Deistic, not a pantheistic, work, and Spinoza presupposes the traditional understanding of God. In particular, his argument is based on the CLASSIC DOCTRINE OF DIVINE SIMPLICITY, which states that GOD’S KNOWLEDGE, WILL, GOODNESS, POWER, and so forth ARE ALL REALLY IDENTICAL AND ONE WITH HIS ESSENCE. The question Spinoza raises is, in effect, HOW CAN GOD’S KNOWLEDGE BE NECESSARY AND HIS WILL BE CONTINGENT, IF THESE ARE IDENTICAL?

Now contrary to Spinoza, CLASSICAL THEOLOGY DID NOT CLAIM THAT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE IS CHARACTERIZED BY NECESSITY. For example, God knows the truth ‘The universe exists.’ But God was under no obligation to create the universe. Since creation is a free act, he could have refrained from creating anything at all. If God had not created the world, then he would instead know the truth ‘No universe exists.’ Necessarily, then, whatever God knows is true; BUT IT IS NOT NECESSARY THAT THE CONTENT OF GOD’S KNOWLEDGE BE WHAT IT IS. Had he created a different world or no world at all, the content of his knowledge would be different. Hence, just as God is free to will differently than he does, SO IS HE ABLE TO HAVE DIFFERENT KNOWLEDGE THAN HE DOES”
(William Lane Craig, “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics,” Third Edition. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008, page 264).

In two days, I will begin again in my studies for the Spring 2010 semester. In my preparation for a Christian Apologetics class, I have begun reading “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics” by noteworthy philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. For those of you who may not know enough about him, I suggest you read “Reasonable Faith” as well as “Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time” and “The Only Wise God,” all three having been written by Craig himself. “The Only Wise God” is all about middle knowledge and its theological and philosophical role in academic discourse. These three books will give you quite an introduction to the man himself. And then, let’s just say that you will understand the reason why I admire him so much. Thank God for learned men like William Lane Craig!

Today, though, I’m back to address a statement a friend (named Bill) made to me the other day. I met him out at the coffeeshop, while reading Craig’s “Reasonable Faith,” and he and I began to talk about the doctrine of divine simplicity--- the idea that God is “simple” (not composed of parts, not having “constitution” as humans or objects have). The doctrine of divine simplicity states that God is not divided in essence, attributes, etc. According to Norman Geisler, the doctrine of divine simplicity states that

“God is simple, not composed of parts. He is absolutely and indivisibly one in essence” (Norman Geisler and H. Wayne House with Max Herrera, “The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001, page 17).

My dear friend Bill said to me, “Because God is simple in essence, He cannot have middle knowledge. Why? Because if God had middle knowledge, then He would be POTENTIALITY, not PURE ACT. And God is all actuality, no potentiality whatsoever.”

Let’s assess this, though: could God have middle knowledge and still be “pure act”? Yes. And I think this is where Bill’s argument goes south. If God possesses middle knowledge, then He must “have some use for it.” What is that use? To grant free creatures libertarian freedom. As Molina himself notes,

“even though (and I am mindful of this) the holy Fathers did not use the distinction between free and natural knowledge in God in those very terms, and even though, likewise, they did not distinguish a middle knowledge between free and purely natural knowledge, still BY UNANIMOUS CONSENT THEY TAUGHT THAT THOSE FUTURE CONTINGENTS THAT DEPEND ON OUR FACULTY OF CHOICE ARE not going to exist because God foreknows that they are going to exist, BUT RATHER THAT GOD, BECAUSE HE IS GOD, that is, BECAUSE OF THE DEPTH OF HIS INTELLECT SURPASSING THEIR NATURE, knew that they were going to exist because THEY WERE SO GOING TO EXIST THROUGH FREEDOM OF CHOICE...and this, plainly, is nothing other than to affirm middle knowledge—--at least in fact, if not in our very words” (Luis de Molina, “Concordia, Pt. IV, Disputation 53, Part 2, Section 22. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 229).

Molina writes what William Lane Craig affirms: that God possesses middle knowledge “because of the depth of His intellect,” which stretches beyond the intellect of His free creatures. The church fathers themselves (as stated by Molina) affirmed that God possessed knowledge of creaturely actions. In order for God to grant genuine choice, He Himself must “assume” that a choice involves options that will never be realized (since this is the nature of choice: I will choose to go right instead of left on the highway, etc.).

William Lane Craig wrote above (in the beginning quote) that God’s knowledge is under no necessity to be what it is. Since God did not have to create the world and give humans libertarian freedom, He did not have to “know” of their choices---since He could have created a world where man’s every choice would be determined. The fact that God allows such choice must be something that God does not forget(for He is faithful to His covenant and His promises). If He gave man reign over the earth, God must not “forget” that in His relationship with man. And we know that the same God who promised never to flood the earth again is the same God who will not violate creaturely freedom.

If you know of someone who is philosophical in thinking but is not as well-equipped in theology, please take time to show them 1 Samuel 23. In it, we find God telling David that Saul would hand him over---and yet, it does not happen!! How do we characterize God’s knowledge? My friend Bill would advocate that this knowledge of God would be “natural” knowledge, knowledge of all possibilities; however, if that were the case, then the “possibility” of David being handed over would have existed BEFORE God decided to create one world (according to Molinist theology). However, when God decided to select one world out of infinitely many worlds, God was free to select a world where David’s being captured was NOT a possibility.

Secondly, if David being handed over was not going to “actualize” in the current world, why would the Lord have told David this? If David’s being captured was not an actual possibility, then God was telling David of another world He could have actualized (and was thus deceiving David about the world He chose to create). The Lord’s words to David indicate that David’s being handed over was as “actual” a possibility as his escape. Therefore, on the basis of libertarian freedom, I am inclined to interpret God’s knowledge of 1 Samuel 23 as distinct from His “natural knowledge” (knowledge of all possibilities) and “free knowledge” (knowledge of all actualities, or knowledge of all creaturely decisions). Middle knowledge then, provides a way to reconcile God’s exhaustive infallible foreknowledge with genuine libertarian freedom.

Middle knowledge, in this way, is not seen as an “enemy” of divine simplicity---rather, on the basis of logical moments of God’s knowledge (not chronological), we can gain a better grip on the doctrine itself. However we attempt to reconcile truths of Scripture, we cannot do so at the expense of divine foreknowledge.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

My name is Brandon and I was wondering if I could get a contact email so I could ask a question on losing salvation. I am a struggling backslider that fears all hope is lost for salvation

my email is thebond@sbcglobal.net
any help will be greatly appreciated..