Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Scientia Media (Middle Knowledge) According to Arminius

As I stated in my last post, Classical Arminian scholar Roger Olson fears that acceptance of middle knowledge necessarily forces one to embrace determinism; however, as I stated in that post, Olson’s claim is not necessarily true: Arminius himself embraced middle knowledge, but was never a Molinist (despite many claims to the contrary).

Kirk R. MacGregor, in his “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” emphasizes the distinctions in the affirmation of middle knowledge between Arminius and Molina:

“Profoundly trouble by Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination, the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) formulated an alternative theological system of creation and providence which he claimed was rooted in the theory of scientia media. Such an allegation is highly ambivalent, FOR IT DEPENDS UPON THE NARROWNESS OR BREADTH OF DOCTRINAL SUBSTANCE ONE ASCRIBES TO THIS THEORY. On the one hand, if the theory simply denotes THE DOCTRINE OF GOD’S PREVOLITIONAL COUNTERFACTUAL KNOWLEDGE, then Arminius’ system is undoubtedly based upon scientia media. On the other hand, if the theory is taken as shorthand for the full range of divine cognitive activities posited by Molina from God’s counterfactual knowledge to his creative decree, then Arminius’ system is not grounded in scientia media, as it deviates quite sharply from MOLINA’S DEPICTION OF GOD’S COMPLETE AND UNLIMITED DELIBERATION. This is a fact not sufficiently appreciated (if appreciated at all!) in the philosophical academy, which is all too quick to generalize that Arminius was a Molinist simply from his appropriation of middle knowledge, despite his severe but little-known departure from Molina on the immediately ensuing issues of election and reprobation...” (Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.” Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007, pp.64-65).

According to MacGregor, whether or not Arminius was Molinist depends on how one defines “middle knowledge.” From what I’ve read of the literature, it seems that even modern Calvinists such as Terrance Tiessen (“middle-knowledge Calvinism”) and Bruce Ware (“compatibilist middle knowledge”) incorporate middle knowledge into their theologies. In my last post, titled “The ‘Paradox’ of Classical Arminianism,” I noted that Thomas Flint (“Divine Providence: The Molinist Account”) believes that middle knowledge is not native to the system we call Molinism---but that middle knowledge (God’s knowledge of counterfactuals) is something that every believer in Classic Theism(as opposed to Open Theism)should affirm. As a result, to affirm middle knowledge is not necessarily to affirm Molinism. That point needs to be made clear. So, Classical Arminians who affirm middle knowledge would still be in the Classical Arminian tradition. The Molinist system is “middle knowledge” PLUS unconditional election (which is something Arminius himself never affirmed). He considered the doctrine of unconditional election to be “repugnant to the nature of God,” “hurtful to the salvation of men,” and “injurious to the glory of God” (Jacob Arminius, “Declaration of Sentiments,” in “Writings,” 1:221-22, 230, 228).

For Molina, scientia media was predicated upon God’s unconditional predetermination of states of affairs, God choosing to do whatever He pleases. For Arminius, God’s scientia media (God’s knowledge of counterfactuals) was predicated upon man’s choice: “That ‘middle’ kind of knowledge must intervene in things which depend on the liberty of created choice or pleasure” (Arminius, “Public Disputations, 1:449; Arminius, “Private Disputations,” 2:39).

As we’ve seen, middle knowledge was utilized by both men, but differently. For Arminius, middle knowledge was “simple” knowledge---simple in that God “knew” (but did not determine) the future actions of His creatures. With Molina, however, God’s middle knowledge was “proactive” knowledge---God used His middle knowledge to meticulously plan every little detail of life as we know it.

It is at this point that someone may ask, “Well, how does Arminius’s view of scientia media fit into his system?” Arminius, like Molina, believed that God had three logical moments to His knowledge before creating the world. MacGregor shows us the details of Arminius’s system:

“First, not surprisingly, is God’s scientia naturalis (natural knowledge), which he [Arminius] defines as the knowledge ‘by which God understands himself and all things possible’ (Arminius, “Public Disputations,” 1:448). Having perceived all possible free individuals he could create, in his creative decree God chooses a particular subset of these individuals which will, at the moment of creation, comprise the actual world [creation decree]. At this point God lovingly decrees to appoint Christ as Redeemer, Mediator, and Savior of all future created persons. Then God decrees both to save anyone who will receive Christ and to minister sufficiently and efficaciously the means (i.e. the Word, sacraments, etc.) for human appropriation of Christ. Next comes God’s scientia media (middle knowledge), by which He apprehends who would make good use of these means by freely receiving Christ and who, contrariwise, would freely reject Christ. Consequently, God decrees to save or damn particular persons based on his middle knowledge of who would or would not believe. Finally, simultaneous with the moment of creation is God’s scientia libera (free knowledge), by which his logically prior knowledge of all individuals in the actual world and his freely decreed dealings with them are now converted into foreknowledge. It is noteworthy that for Arminius, there is no divine deliberation (let alone Molina’s ‘absolutely complete and unlimited deliberation’) between God’s scientia media and scientia libera, as the rubric for the intervening predestinary decree has already been determined by God’s pre-counterfactual decree to elect believers and reprobate unbelievers. Rather, the divine deliberation transpires between scientia naturalis and scientia media, as it is there that God carefully ponders and decides upon which subset, if any, among the infinite range of possible individuals he wishes to actualize, the plan of salvation and the involvement of the second Trinitarian person within, and the means by which humans can appropriate his saving grace” (MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” page 72).

Arminius’s system, then, incorporated middle knowledge as a way for God to predestine to salvation those who would believe (with libertarian freedom) and to reprobate those who would not believe (with libertarian freedom). One will not find in Arminius’s system of pre-creation what Molina contained: in other words, Arminius didn’t believe that middle knowledge was used by God to “select” a particular world containing divinely predetermined actions; no---instead, the world created was a world where humans would make their own choices and “not be placed into situations where they would freely choose what God had predetermined.” If God really predetermined that humans would have libertarian choice (according to Arminius), then God could not “pick” the choices of His human creation---for then, God’s granting of “choice” would be anything but free...

We’ve looked at Arminius’s system and how middle knowledge fits within it. However, we have not looked at Molina’s system and how it incorporates middle knowledge. I will begin wholeheartedly to examine Molinism as a system in the coming days.


Terry Tiessen said...

FYI, I have changed my mind about the middleness of God’s knowledge of counterfactuals. I continue to affirm that God makes use of his knowledge of counterfactuals in choosing the world he will create but I now affirm with the classic Reformed tradition that he had that knowledge as part of his natural knowledge. You can find my most recent published thoughts on this matter in a recent article co-authored with Paul Helm. (“Does Calvinism Have Room for Middle Knowledge?,” Westminster Theological Journal 71/2 [Fall 2009]: 437-54.)

Terry Tiessen said...

The comment about change of mind was by Terrance Tiessen. I didn't recall how Google would identify me. Sorry.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...

Mr. Tiessen,

What an honor it is to have you respond here at the site!!! Thanks so much for writing.

I will certainly do what I can to get ahold of that article as soon as I can. Thanks for informing me on that. By the way, I imagine your article with Paul Helm will explain---but I just wanna ask: what changed your mind of them?

I'm glad that you wrote back and identified yourself. It is such an honor to hear from you. Btw, I have read your work on "Providence and Prayer" and I consider the work to be one of my most valued resources on the various theological models. That is why I assumed here that you still argued for counterfactuals. I am sorry for not being up-to-date. The last thing I wanna do here is misrepresent anyone.

Thanks again for writing, and please, keep reading the blog.

Godismyjudge said...

Dear Deidre,

Are you saying William Lane Craig is not a Molinist because he doesn't hold to unconditional election? One way to look at it would be that unconditional election in the sense that Molina held it and Arminius denied it, is a side issue to Molinism.

God be with you,

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Yes, I would say that William Lane Craig is not a Molinist (although he clearly believes he is). The reason why I would say this is because Molina himself held to a view of "unconditional" election.

Kirk R. MacGregor notes this in his work, "A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology":
"On the basis of the Pauline statement, 'Before the twins were born or had done anything good or evil...not by works but by him who calls...[God said], Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom. 9:11-13), Molina declares that 'foreseen faith cannot be the ground of justification or predestination' (Concordia 7.23.4-5.4)" (MacGregor, "A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology." Lanham: University Press of America, 2007, page 66). As you can see, Molina would not have agreed with Arminius (who believed that foreseen faith was the ground of predestination).

Last but not least, I will provide a quote from Molina's exposition of Romans 9:15-18--
"Paul adds that God said to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion; that is, I will use mercy with whomever I wish and just as it gives pleasure to me. And Paul concludes: Therefore it is neither he who wills, nor he who runs, but God who shows mercy...he has mercy on whom he wills, and whom he wills he hardens...therefore neither predestination nor reprobation is according to foreseen merits, but it leads back ONLY TO THE FREE WILL OF GOD" (Concordia 7.23.4-5.1; Kirk R. MacGregor, "A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology." Lanham: University Press of America, 2007, page 67).

I argue this point because, in order to remain Molinist, a modern-day Molinist must uphold the views of Molina (one of which was unconditional election). The reasoning behind Craig not being a Molinist is the same reasoning behind why Amyraldians (those who hold to four points of "TULIP") cannot call themselves "Calvinists"...or why someone cannot call themselves "Classical Arminian" and hold to "unconditional election." I hope this helps.