Sunday, February 21, 2010

Middle Knowledge and the Independent God

“1) Middle knowledge is dependent knowledge, dependent upon the responses of creatures. 2) God is a totally independent being. 3) Therefore, God cannot have middle knowledge.”

Yesterday, I went to visit a very well-known force in the evangelical world. Some friends and I went to pay him a visit, and we got to sit down for a while and talk with this wonderful man of God. It was amazing to get to meet this person that I’ve heard so much about in my time at seminary, someone whose work I’ve even read before and am quite familiar with.

With a group of 13, we sat around and asked him questions about various things we’ve been studying in our own schools. One of the students asked this man about middle knowledge. His response was the above quote I provided.

Out of respect for the individuals, I will not publish their names here. However, what I wanna do in this post is examine the response to middle knowledge and assess its veracity.

Do I think the above syllogism provides a powerful statement against middle knowledge? No, I do not.

My reason? Because of the word “dependent.” The word “dependent” can mean a lot of things, but in the syllogism itself, the word “dependent,” while referring to the actions of human beings (as the man assumed), foremost refers to the action of God to create them. Another word for “dependent” in philosophical terminology is “contingent.” According to the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, Second Edition:

“Contingent: ‘conditional; dependent. May or may not occur. Accidental’” (“Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, Second Edition.” New York: Berkeley Books, 2001).

The word “contingent,” as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, means that something is “dependent.” But notice that the dictionary does not tell us “what” the item or object is dependent “upon.”

What is middle knowledge dependent upon? It is contingent (dependent), but the knowledge itself is based upon God’s decision before the foundations of the world to create. Creation and humanity are “contingent” beings, which means that God freely chose to create us. It was not necessary that you and I be born. God was not forced to create us, nor did He have to. The fact that He did attests to the free will of God. If God had chosen not to create us, then we would not exist and God would not have known anything about us.

With this statement intact, let’s talk about “knowledge.” The given formula for knowledge (according to J.P. Moreland and Garrett DeWeese in their book, “Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult”) is:
Where “k” is knowledge, “j” is “justified,” “t” is “true,” and “b” is a given belief.

In order for knowledge to be knowledge, then, not only must the proposition be a personal belief, it must also be “true” and “justified.” It must correspond with reality (“true”) and have solid evidence (“justified”). Since it is the “truth” component that interests us most in the moment, we will examine Moreland and Deweese’s assessment of what it means for knowledge to be “true”:

“So what do we mean when we say that a proposition is true?...truth is a property of a proposition, and a proposition is made true by a fact. Something about the way the world is determines the truth of a proposition, so truth is determined by a relation between a proposition and the world. (The theory of truth we shall defend---the classical correspondence theory---is a metaphysical theory.)” (Garrett DeWeese and J.P. Moreland, “Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult: A Beginner’s Guide to Life’s Big Questions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005, pp. 59-60).

So knowledge is only that which is “true,” and truth is determined by whether or not something is seen or operates in our world. For example, what do we do with the fact that in Jonah, the Lord declares doom and destruction but then forgives them and does not bring the destruction upon them He had so fervently promised? If truth is based on that which corresponds to reality, then the Ninevites had a genuine opportunity to turn from their sin. God’s declaration of doom to them, then, was a “conditional prophecy,” one that was “conditional” in that the Ninevites could choose to repent or not to repent. If we fail to argue that this is “conditional” knowledge, then we make God out to be a liar, which is a direct contradiction of the Scriptures (Romans 3:4).

Since we now know that “conditional” statements are knowledge, we must now get to the bottom of the meaning of the word “conditional” (“contingent” or “dependent”). As I aforementioned, the word “contingent” or “dependent” refers to the idea that first, God chose to create us. Secondly, however, the word “dependent” refers to the choices of human beings. Since God has granted genuine human responsibility and libertarian freedom, God knows what man will do BECAUSE MAN WILL DO IT, not because He has determined it to be so.

And this is where believers of a differing theological persuasion go wrong when they attempt to say that “God’s knowledge here is dependent upon the choices of creatures.” What they desire to do (as did the author of the syllogism above), is to assert God’s “independence” from the creature and make out God’s knowledge of creaturely actions to be an episode of “God needing humanity to know something or respond,” etc. But God knowing creaturely actions is a result of knowing that He gave them the power over their actions. As Alfred Freddoso writes:

“According to Molina, what God knows by His middle knowledge is, to be sure, dependent on what His creatures would do in various situations. From eternity God knew that Peter would deny Christ in such-and-such circumstances. But if Peter had not been going to deny Christ in those circumstances, then God would not have believed what He in fact believed. So we may properly say that God’s middle knowledge is from eternity ‘counterfactually dependent’ on what creatures will do if placed in various circumstances. But this DOES NOT DISTINGUISH MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE FROM ANY OTHER SORT OF KNOWLEDGE GOD HAS ABOUT the mere fact that God’s middle knowledge is counterfactually dependent on what creatures would do is not at all problematic, but is rather A SIMPLE CONSEQUENCE OF GOD’S BEING NECESSARILY OMNISCIENT” (Alfred J. Freddoso, “Divine Passivity,” from the Introduction to Molina’s “On Divine Foreknowledge” (“Concordia, Pt. IV”). Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 67).

So when Molinists discuss the concept of “middle knowledge” and label it as “dependent,” “conditional,” or “contingent,” it is because humans are “contingent” beings, created by the free act and free will of God. Because humans are contingent beings, God’s knowledge of them is also “contingent” (had He not chosen to create us, He would not “know” about us...because God cannot “know” that which is “false” (like contradictions) or “imaginary” (like a half-man, half-beast figure or the “square root of -1”).

To give a quick example, God having middle knowledge regarding Adam and Eve’s choices of whether to eat the forbidden fruit or not to take nothing away from God. Rather, God must possess knowledge of the genuine choice He gave if He would hold Adam and Eve responsible for their sin, and He must also possess knowledge of what choice Adam and Eve would actually make (if they possessed libertarian freedom). This two-part knowledge of God has in some sense a necessary aspect (since He has self-awareness of His actions), as well as a contingent or dependent aspect (God knew Adam and Eve would sin BECAUSE they would sin, not because He determined they would).

Nothing about this takes away from the “independence” of God; rather, we establish God’s independence in arguing that creation (and thus humanity) came about by the free will and act of God, while exalting God’s “exhaustive” foreknowledge. God’s foreknowledge truly becomes exhaustive when we see that God even knows the choices that are available IN ADDITION TO what each of us would actually choose. What about this takes away from God’s independence?

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