Introduction (This was a paper written for a Reformed Scholasticism class at Westminster Seminary California)
In recent times middle knowledge has been gaining popularity among evangelical theologians and philosophers . As a result many people believe that this view has given a definitive answer to the problem of reconciling human freedom with divine sovereignty. However, this view did not come out of nowhere; rather it came from a Catholic Jesuit named Luis Molina . Furthermore, Reformed theologians like Francis Turretin objected to this solution of the problem of reconciling free will with divine sovereignty. In this essay we will explore Francis Turretin’s response to divine middle knowledge.
A Survey of the Secondary Literature
There is not much secondary literature on how Turretin responded to middle knowledge, but there are two sources that comment on this subject that ought to be mentioned. The first is Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics volume three which has a brief discussion of how Turretin responded to middle knowledge . Muller puts forth what Turretin understood to be middle knowledge as “foreknowledge of future conditionals or conditional future contingencies arising from the free choices of creatures prior to the divine willing .” What Muller means by this is that Turretin believed that middle knowledge is divine knowledge of hypothetical circumstance of how a creature would freely determine itself. Moreover, Muller cited Turretin to support the claim that the Reformed denied middle knowledge . The second source is Paul Timothy Jensen’s work on Calvin and Turretin: A comparison of their Soteriologies in which he gives a lengthy discussion on the six reasons why Turretin rejected middle knowledge . According to Jensen the first reason why Turretin rejected middle knowledge is that God only knows actual and possible things and since middle knowledge is neither then we shouldn’t see them as knowable things . The second reason is that God cannot have knowledge of things that are true that are not true and this is what the object of middle knowledge is by its very nature . The third reason is that since God caused us to exist then we would also need him to cause our actions and this is contrary to the teaching of middle knowledge . The fourth reason is that no uncertain knowledge ought to be given to God and since one cannot know hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom through past causes and through the nature of the thing then God cannot know it . The fifth reason is that this destroys divine providence because there are some events beyond the control of the divine will and it makes God dependent on creatures . The sixth reason is that middle knowledge destroys the biblical doctrine of predestination which is based solely on the purposes of God (Rom. 9:11) and not of man’s libertarian free choices . There is not a lot a literature on how Turretin responded to middle knowledge, but Muller and Jensen do provide a helpful analysis of this issue that may not be sufficient, but is at least helpful for the purposes of this paper.
The purpose of this paper is to show that Turretin rejected middle knowledge primarily because God could not know the hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom prior to God’s decree to be true and it is inconsistent with God’s sovereignty. I will demonstrate this thesis by first defining what Turretin understood to be middle knowledge. In addition, I will then demonstrate that Turretin rejected middle knowledge. I will discuss the two main reasons why Turretin rejected middle knowledge. Furthermore, I will interact with the secondary literature and then defend my thesis from any possible objections. Finally, I will restate my reasons for believing my thesis and I will conclude with restating my thesis.
Explanation of the Thesis
How Turretin defined Middle Knowledge
Turretin began his discussion on divine middle knowledge by the other two types of knowledge that God can have and then he went on to show what middle knowledge is in light of the other two distinctions in the knowledge of God. The two distinctions in God’s knowledge that Turretin makes is the natural knowledge of God and the free knowledge of God . The natural knowledge has to do with the things that are possible (indefinite) or that which God could have decreed . The free knowledge of God is knowledge of things which God has actually (definite) decreed and that of future events in the decree of God . On the other hand, Middle knowledge is different from both in that it deals with hypothetical foreknowledge of how a creature would “determine itself” in a given circumstance apart from the causal decree of God . This hypothetical circumstance of creaturely freedom does not find its truth in the decree of God, but rather in how the creatures determine themselves. Thus, these hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom exist prior and independent from the decree of God . The nature of this creaturely freedom is that this contingent hypothetical circumstance “can be and not be”, that is to say there is alternative possibilities with regards to a given creatures choice . This is how Turretin understood what the proponents of middle knowledge said about their position.
Turretins Rejection of Middle Knowledge
Turretin rejected middle knowledge in opposition to the Jesuits, Socinians and the Remonstrants . As Turretin states “Rather the question is whether they belong to a kind of middle knowledge distinct from the natural and the free. The latter we deny .” In this quote Turretin contrasted “future contingencies” with middle knowledge and when he said the “latter we deny” he is referring to middle knowledge. Thus, Turretin rejected middle knowledge and we will now explore the main reasons he had for rejecting it.
The Reasons Why Turretin Rejected Middle Knowledge
One of Turretin’s major reasons for why he rejected middle knowledge is that God could not know the hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom to be true. One reason he thought why God could not know hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom to be true (or “conditional future things” in Turretins language) is that they could not be known to be true apart from the determination of the divine will . He supported this argument when he stated that our wills cannot act without the determination of the divine will, otherwise our wills would be indifferent and unable act . If we cannot act then it seems that God cannot know the truth value of our actions apart from the decree of God . Another major reason that Turretin had that concerned God’s inability to have middle knowledge is that no uncertain knowledge ought to be given to God and the object of middle knowledge is by its very nature uncertain and indifferent . As Turretin said “No uncertain knowledge should be ascribed to God. The middle knowledge can have no certainty because it is occupied about an uncertain and contingent object (viz., the indifference of the will) .” The basic argument that Turretin gave here and that he expanded upon in the rest of the paragraph is that God cannot know what the creature will choose because he cannot look to it’s nature (since it act’s causally indifferently to it’s nature) and he cannot look to his decree since this free action is causally indifferent to it . Turretin argued that if God were to have middle knowledge it would cease to be knowledge of the hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom since God would know it certainly and knowing it certainly is not compatible with the causal indifference of the will . As Turretin said “Again knowledge either makes the event certain or foresees it as certain. If it makes it so, how can it foreknow it as such; where then is the indifference of the will ?” Turretin’s quote is intended to put the proponent of middle knowledge in a dilemma because God knowing it would only be compatible with God’s knowledge causing it or something else causing it, but this would no longer make the will causally indifferent . On the other hand, if the will is (not caused by God or something else) causally indifferent then God cannot know it and then there can be no middle knowledge . Thus, for Turretin uncertainty in God’s knowledge is a reason why we ought to reject middle knowledge.
A second main reason why Turretin rejected middle knowledge is that it is inconsistent with God’s sovereignty. The reason why Turretin thought this is because in middle knowledge the acts of the will are logically prior to the divine decree and the acts of the will are not based on God and his decree, but in the creature’s self-determination . Turretin argued that this is clearly false since it makes the creator dependent on his creature to have a free act of the will while God does nothing . Turretin then argued that middle knowledge is inconsistent with the biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation . Turretin argued that if middle knowledge were true then God could have a good reason for loving Jacob and hating Esau apart from his purpose and pleasures . This good reason, according to Turretin, would be the foreseen hypothetical faith of Jacob and not Esau, but Romans 9:11 gave no other reason for their election and reprobation other than the purpose of God . Turretin viewed middle knowledge for this reason to be unbiblical . Thus, one of the main reasons why Turretin rejected middle knowledge is because it was theologically inconsistent with God’s sovereignty.
Defense of the Thesis
Interaction with the Secondary Literature
What I have been arguing in this paper is in full agreement with the secondary literature, although there may seem to be some difference in what I have emphasized in this thesis and what Jensen has emphasized in his work. Jensen in his work argues that Turretin gave six reasons for rejection middle knowledge . I don’t disagree with this, since Turretin did separate and number each argument . However, my thesis is that Turretin’s two main reasons for rejecting middle knowledge was that God cannot know the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom to be true and that it is inconsistent with God’s sovereignty. The evidence for God not knowing the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom as being one of his main reasons for rejecting middle knowledge is that in sections two and four there are arguments for God not knowing creaturely counterfactual on the middle knowledge thesis . These are different arguments, but both of the conclusions of these arguments are the same. The evidence for middle knowledge being inconsistent with God’s sovereignty is that in sections five and six there are arguments for God not being sovereign if middle knowledge were true . Both of these arguments are different since one is philosophical and the other is biblical, but they both lead to the conclusion that God’s sovereignty cannot be maintained on middle knowledge. In light of these considerations, the thesis that I have defended is compatible with what the secondary literature says about Turretin’s rejection of middle knowledge.
A Possible Criticism of the Thesis
One possible criticism of the thesis is that it might be seen as misguided because Turretin gave six reasons for why he rejected middle knowledge and not two primary reasons.
A Response to the Criticism
The thesis is not misguided because it is important to summarize the central points of Turretin’s criticism against middle knowledge. The reason why it is important to summarize main points of an important theologian is so that others can understand what the author generally thought about a topic without having to read him word for word in complex and outdated theological/philosophical jargon. This is what I intended this thesis for; I wanted to concentrate on the central points of Turretin’s arguments against middle knowledge without getting bogged down on two small obstructer sections of his response.
The research from how Turretin responded to middle knowledge confirms my thesis. The reason why it confirms it is because Turretin rejects middle knowledge at the beginning of his response to it. Turretin then rejects middle knowledge for two central reasons. The first is that God cannot know the hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom to be true. The second is that middle knowledge is inconsistent with God’s sovereignty. These two reasons are central because most of Turretin’s arguments end with the conclusion that God can’t know the hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom to be true and that it is inconsistent with God’s sovereignty. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that Turretin rejected middle knowledge primarily because God could not know the hypothetical circumstances of creaturely freedom prior to God’s decree to be true and it is inconsistent with God’s sovereignty.
Craig, William Lane. The Only Wise God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.
Jensen, Paul Timothy. Calvin and Turretin: A Comparison of their Soteriologies. Michigan UMI Dissertation Information Service, 1988.
Muller, Richard A. Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume three. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.
Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume 1. New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1992.