Compatibilist Middle Knowledge -D.S. Smith

***ATTENTION*** I did not write this paper.  A very good friend of mine wrote this for his senior seminar class.  As much as I would like to take credit for this paper, I cannot. D. Skip Smith wrote this paper.


There is no shortage of opinions regarding God’s activity in the world.1 God’s sovereignty and the nature of man’s will have been the source of much dispute since the time of Augustine. Some tip the scale to emphasize God’s sovereignty to the exclusion of mans responsibility, eliminating God’s exercise of means within His overall plan.2 Others tip the scale in the other direction, emphasizing mans freedom to the exclusion, not only of God’s sovereignty, but also His foreknowledge.3 Others have tried to find a middle ground by taking aspects of both views and bringing them together.4 But among all the views expressed, there may be no view more advocated today by top philosophers than that of Middle Knowledge.5 Its appeal is in its apparent reconciliation of libertarian freedom with divine providence and predestination. For the remainder of this paper I will lay out the middle knowledge model with its incorporation of libertarian freedom, and then proceed to analyze and compare it with the compatibilistic middle knowledge model. I will set out to demonstrate that middle knowledge that incorporates libertarian freedom fails to provide adequate grounds for counterfactuals of freedom propositions. I will then demonstrate that compatibilism as a philosophical and biblical model supplies middle knowledge with adequate grounds for counterfactuals of freedom propositions.

Libertarian Freedom

The hinge upon which the entire Molinistic system turns is routed in the type of freedom that it advocates. Molinists, during their heated debates with the Dominicans in the 16th century, pressed man’s freedom to the forefront of the debate with such insistence that they were accused of being Pelagian.6 Eventually, Pope Clement VIII had to intervene and initiate a ten-year period of intense investigation. Finally, in 1607 “Pope Paul V issued a decree allowing both parties to defend their own positions but enjoining them not to call one another’s views heretical.”7

The type of freedom that Molinists advocate is called Libertarian freedom.8 According to this view a person is genuinely free if, and only if, at the moment they chose to actualize A they could have, at that very moment and under those very same conditions, chosen instead to actualize B or not A.9 They argue that there are no necessary causal connections (whether internal or external) that influence our choices so as to make it impossible to choose the opposite.10 True freedom, therefore, consists in the ability to act and choose contrary to what we did.11 Basinger explains that proponents of Libertarian freedom “believe that given the conditions preceding any voluntary decision, more than one decision must be possible- the person making the decision must be in a position to choose differently.”12

Libertarians insist that man’s ability to have chosen contrary to what he actually did under the same circumstances is the only grounding for genuine responsibility. Moreland says “most philosophers agree that in order to have the freedom necessary for responsible agency, an agent must have the ability to choose differently from the way the agent actually does.”13

Such a view of freedom entails that our decisions and actions be self-determined and causally unconnected to our character or desires, indeed, even our nature. Individuals have the ability to rise above their heredity and environment and make free choices.14 Moreland says that “no description of our desires, beliefs, character or other aspects of our makeup and no description of the universe prior to and at the moment of our choice to do A is sufficient to entail that we did A. It was not necessary that anything be different for us to do B instead.”15 If individuals are truly free agents then there can be no causal chain beyond the individuals themselves to explain the reasons for their actions.16

Clark Pinnock defines libertarian free will:

It views a free action as one in which a person is free to perform an action or refrain from performing it and is not completely determined in the matter by prior forces – nature, nurture or even God. Libertarian freedom recognizes the power of contrary choice. One acts freely in a situation if, and only if, one could have done otherwise.17

Libertarians insist that not only can there be no internal influences that necessitate our decisions, but they also claim that external influences cannot necessitate our decisions. Primarily, by external influences they mean God. Basinger explains that Libertarians “deny that a person can ever be said to have chosen voluntarily if God has influenced this person’s decision-making process itself in such a way that he has ensured (determined) that the choice he would have her make has in fact been made.”18 He goes on to explain that it is not that “God cannot attempt to influence free choice or that his influence cannot be efficacious. The claim, rather, is that such influence cannot be compelling. If a decision is truly free, then the person making the choice can choose not to act as God would have her act.”19 Indeed, God, “as a general rule, must allow choice to be voluntary in the sense that it is free from coercive divine manipulation.”20 For Basinger, this type of freedom can only be had if God limits his control over man. He says, “to the extent that God grants individuals freedom, he gives up complete control over the decisions that are made.”21

This leaves the perplexing question; on what basis do individuals make choices? According to Libertarians there is a non-physical part of an individual (soul) that can overcome the bondage of the cause-and-effect conditioning of the body.22 “It is this part of the person that stands above one’s desires, heredity, and environment, and thereby freely makes its choices in the face of genuine alternatives.”23

The motivation to make choices under the libertarian model is governed by adequate reasons within the individual and not on the basis of our personal desires. The difference between acting upon an adequate reason verses acting upon a desire is that the latter inclines us to act in one particular way depending upon the desire, while the former provides options that can be genuinely deliberated over. The latter we have no control over, but the former we do. The latter destroys the ability to choose between multiple options while the second provides the basis for free choice and responsible behavior. If the final cause of a choice rests upon one’s desires then it is a state (belief-desire state) within an individual that causes him to act.24 Desires, wants, and feelings are not actions, nor should they be the grounds for our actions. Often we have no choice as to how we feel, what we want, or what we desire. “Considered in themselves, they are just states that come over us, or which we find ourselves with.”25 They are passive happenings to us, rather than being instances that arise as our own deliberate doing.26 Libertarians, therefore, would not consider an individual free in any genuine sense if their decision to act were based upon an inner desire. This is because refraining from that desire is outside the individual’s control, and therefore, their decision could not have been other than it was.27

Therefore, according to libertarianism, we have acted freely, if we have deliberated between multiple reasons and intentionally chosen one over another. Pinnock says that there are various “factors influencing us in deciding among [options] but the decision one takes involves making one of the reasons one’s own.”28 Libertarians are emphatic that the reasons given for any action will not be determinative of an agent-caused event. They serve as necessary conditions, but not sufficient conditions.29 In the end, if a Libertarian is pressed for an answer as to why he acted one way and not another, he will produce his “reasons.” “Various reasons serve as final causes for the sake of which actions are done.”30

Libertarian Middle Knowledge (Molinism)

Luis De Molina (1535-1600), a Spanish Jesuit, wrote his material regarding God’s omniscience in the midst of the heated debate between Catholics and Protestants. He wrote after the council of Trent had convened, and worked to bridge the gap that he thought had distanced the two groups. Craig says that by the doctrine of Middle Knowledge, Molina “proposed to avoid the Protestant error of denying genuine human freedom, yet without thereby sacrificing the sovereignty of God.”31 It was said that Molina believed that had Middle Knowledge been taught in the early church, then neither Pelagianism nor Lutheranism would have arisen.32

According to the Molinist scheme, there are three logical moments within God’s knowledge. These three stages do not serve as temporal moments as if God is learning something new in successive periods of time. Rather, according to Craig,

“To say that something is logically prior to something else is not to say that the one occurs before the other in time. Temporally, they could be simultaneous. Rather, logical priority means that something serves to explain something else. The one provides the grounds or basis for the other.”33

Therefore, according to the Molinist, God’s knowledge is eternally innate, with every logical moment of knowledge present with God at once. The priority that is expressed within the scheme therefore, is a “sort of conceptual, atemporal priority within the knowledge of God.”34

Moment One: Natural Knowledge35

The first moment of God’s knowledge is His Natural Knowledge. At this moment God knows all necessary truths (such as mathematical and logical truths). Necessary truths, according to Molinism flow from God’s nature and are thus consistently found and applied in every conceivable world. They are truths that every possible world must contain. In other words, there is not a possible world where 2+2=5 because that would be contrary to God’s nature. Within this moment, God has “knowledge of all possibilities, including possible persons God could create, possible situations they could be placed in, and all their possible actions…By his natural knowledge, God knows everything that could happen to every possible existent.”36 This knowledge may or may not become actual or obtain. It is simply knowledge of what could be; it is knowledge of pure possibilities.37 Craig states, “God could not lack this knowledge and still be God; the content of God’s natural knowledge is essential to him.”38

Moment Three: Free Knowledge39

To skip ahead, the third moment of God’s knowledge is His free knowledge. Within this moment God comprehends, not simply what could happen, but everything that has/is/will happen in the world that actually obtains.40 Within other theological models this type of knowledge is sometimes called simple foreknowledge or absolute foreknowledge. It encompasses everything that will happen.41 This knowledge follows God’s free decision to create the world, and “therefore, he has control over which statements are true and which are false in this moment. For example, if God had created a world in which George Washington never existed, then all the statements about things he did would be false.”42 Therefore, by deciding which world to actualize among all the feasible worlds, God has limited and determined which statements are true and which are false.43 “Hence, this knowledge is called free because it is based on God’s free decision to create this world and not another.”44

Moment Two: Middle Knowledge45

As we have seen, God’s natural knowledge presents to Him every possible world and every conceivable situation. It presents all that could happen. Likewise, we saw that God’s free knowledge presents Him with the actual future, the future that He decided to actualize by His free will. This is what will happen. But Molinists suggest a third moment in God’s knowledge that stands between natural knowledge and free knowledge, a moment that Molina called middle knowledge.46 “In this moment God knows what every possible creature would47 do (not just could do) in any possible set of circumstances.”48 Campbell explains:

According to the Molinist, God’s middle knowledge encompasses all counterfactuals of (libertarian) free choices. That is to say, God comprehends through scientia media under which circumstances Peter either would or would not use his libertarian freedom to deny Christ, as well as the number of times he would have expressed his denial. So, speaking hypothetically, had, for example, state-of-affairs “A” obtained, it just so happens that Peter would not have denied Christ; had state-of-affairs “B” obtained, Peter would have denied Christ only once; had state-of-affairs “C” obtained, Peter would have denied Christ only twice; and so on. To be sure, Peter possessed contra-causal freedom to do otherwise under all of these circumstances. Nevertheless, the divine mind knew exactly how Peter would use his free will under any set of circumstances in which God decided to place him. God also knew that Peter would betray Christ three times if circumstance “D” were to obtain. And when God decided to exemplify this state-of-affairs through his divine creative decree, he (freely) knew with certainty that this is exactly what would happen (long before it actually did happen).49

Through middle knowledge God is able to see the free actions of mankind play out, so to speak, before Him from all that could happen (natural knowledge), watching what they will do when placed under differing circumstances. Under each circumstance humanity exercises their libertarian freedom and creates within God’s mind many feasible worlds by which He chooses one to actualize. In other words, middle knowledge reduces the possible futures down from all the variables comprehended by God through His natural knowledge by creating a range of circumstances and allowing mankind to freely choose what they want. Once God has implemented all the various circumstances and allowed man to choose freely, then God freely chooses one world to actualize among them all.

Below is an illustration of the logical moments within God’s knowledge: Moment 1: … O      O      O      O     O      O      O …

Natural Knowledge:  God knows the range of possible worlds.

Moment 2: … O      O      O …

Middle Knowledge:  God knows the range of feasible worlds.

Divine creative decree

Moment3:                          O

Free Knowledge:  God knows the actual world.50

For the Molinist, because man is placed within a particular set of circumstances does not mean he is compelled by the circumstance to act one way and not another.51 He is still free to act contrary to what he did. But some have objected to this, saying that if man possesses libertarian freedom then he would be able to choose contrary to what he actually did under those same circumstances and God’s knowledge would have been incorrect. Molinists reply that if man had chosen differently then God would have seen that decision through His middle knowledge differently. Once God foresees those decisions through His middle knowledge He decides to create and solidifies those actions. In other words, once God decides to create, the future is determined, and what God saw through His middle knowledge will certainly take place.

Middle knowledge for the Molinist is extremely important. Without this moment within God’s knowledge He lacks the deliberative process by which He determines the why and how of the future. Without middle knowledge God would only know what could happen prior to the moment of creation but not what would happen under particular circumstances. In other words, at the moment when God decided to create He would find Himself with unexplained knowledge of the future because it would lack a prior moment of divine rational deliberation. Craig says “there would be no explanation of why God finds himself with this foreknowledge rather than foreknowledge of some other eventuality. About the only answer that could be given would be, ‘That’s just the way it happens to be.’”52


Predestination for the Molinist is not a meticulous determinism as found in the Calvinist model.54 Rather, predestination for the Molinist occurs when God sovereignly implements one world over another.55 Each individual freely chooses within each possible world-order either to receive Christ or reject Him, but in the end, God decides which world-order to instantiate. Therefore, in Craig’s words, “we might say that it is up to God whether we find ourselves in a world in which we are predestined, but that it is up to us whether we are predestined in the world in which we find ourselves.”56

Biblical grounds for Middle Knowledge

Molinists usually reference two biblical texts in support of middle knowledge, or the possibility of “counterfactuals”57. The primary text used is 1 Samuel 23:7-13. Here we have an instance where David is staying in a town called Keilah. Saul comes to this town seeking David’s life, and David inquires of God whether the people of Keilah will deliver him over to Saul if he remains in the city. God’s answer is “they will” (vs. 12), so David flees the city. Here God expresses knowledge, not of what will happen (for the people of Keilah never get an opportunity to betray David), but of what would happen under other circumstances.58

A second text commonly used is found in Matthew 11:20-24. In this passage Jesus says that the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have repented if they saw the miracles that He was performing. But, of course, they never had the opportunity to see those miracles and therefore, they did not repent. These passages demonstrate that if circumstances had been contrary to what they were, the outcome would have been different. According to the Molinist, this “counterfactual” language can only be accounted for through middle knowledge.

Evaluation of Libertarian Middle Knowledge

According to libertarians, an individual is genuinely free and morally accountable for an act only if he has the ability to do contrary to what he actually did. Without the power of contrary choice they deny that someone can be said to have acted freely. But many philosophers are challenging this notion today.59 One such philosopher, Steven Cowan, relates a variation of Harry Frankfurt’s analogy, which demonstrates that an individual can be responsible for an action without possessing libertarian freedom.

Imagine a man named Jones who is pondering his vote in an upcoming election between (say) Al Gore and George Bush. Also imagine, unbeknownst to Jones, that a scientist named Black has somehow implanted in Jones’s brain a device that is able to monitor Jones’s thoughts, and is also able, whenever Black desires, to control Jones’s thoughts and behavior. Now Black would prefer that Jones vote for Gore in the election. And if Black discerns that Jones will in fact choose to vote for Gore, he will sit back and do nothing, letting Jones freely vote for Gore. But if Black discerns that Jones is going to vote for Bush, then he will push the appropriate buttons and force Jones to choose Gore instead, Now, suppose that Jones chooses to vote for Gore on his own without any interference from Black. Is Jones morally responsible for his choice? Absolutely. Did Jones have the ability to do otherwise? Could he have voted for Bush instead? It would seem not.60

The above illustration demonstrates that genuine responsibility and human freedom are not so obviously tied to a libertarian notion of the ability to do otherwise. Indeed, it seems as though an individual can be responsible for his actions even if he only has one option, as long as the option before him is desired and chosen above any others.

But at the heart of libertarian freedom lies a much greater problem with far more devastating implications. According to Moreland, not only do men posses libertarian freedom, but God does as well.61 If we apply the fundamental principles of this type of freedom then we must maintain that when God acts, He always has the ability to act contrary to what He did. Not only that, but when God acts, His character (beliefs, desires, values, etc.) cannot determine His actions.62 If these principles are applied to God, then it seems that we are at a loss as to what restrains God from performing evil. If His nature does not assist Him in restraining from evil behavior, and He always has the ability to do contrary to what He actually did, then how can the Christian community be so sure that God will be good in the future. All we can do is apply the principle of induction and say that God has been good in the past, and assume that it will continue into the future. But even that answer relies upon a past consistent expression of behavior and not anything within the being of God Himself. In other words, when Christians say that God is good, they can only be referencing particular expressions of goodness that God has performed, but not the nature of God Himself. For the moment Christians relate God’s particular expressions of goodness to who He is in Himself (His nature), they have begun to advocate a compatibilistic notion of freedom, and not a libertarian notion.

Furthermore, if a libertarian is to argue that an individual is genuinely responsible only if he has the ability to do otherwise, then we must also maintain that if God is to be responsible for any good action, He must simultaneously posses the ability to do its opposite (evil). That means there is something within God’s being that has the power to perform evil, although He thankfully restrains Himself every time. If a libertarian wants to argue that God is free to choose between multiple good actions, but not have the ability to perform evil actions, then they have to explain what is it within God that causes such options to be eliminated without an appeal to His nature.

Next, we saw that libertarians argue that adequate reasons serve as necessary causes for our actions. They maintain that our actions are not arbitrary as long as reasons are presented. In other words, when asked, Why did Jones perform A?, a libertarian will argue that Jones’s action is meaningful and responsible as long as he supplies a reason. But this misses the point of the charge of arbitrariness. The question is not, Why did Jones perform A, but, Why did Jones perform A, rather than B?63 Is it because Jones preferred A over B? If so, then is it true that Jones would prefer A every time over B? A libertarian certainly cannot concede this to be true, because that would imply that Jones’s action is determined by his preference. But what other option does the libertarian have? If he argues that Jones did not necessarily prefer A over B, then his choice seems to be arbitrary. What other answer can we see available for the libertarian if there are no reasons for his reason?

Lastly, there is a problem with middle knowledge itself as it is expressed within a libertarian context. The primary argument made against middle knowledge is called the grounding objection.64 The essence of this argument claims “there are no actual states of affairs to which such propositions (counterfactuals) could correspond in order to make them true or false.”65 To say it another way, for propositions to be knowledge claims they must in some way correspond to the reality we experience. If a counterfactual is to be true, it must represent something about reality. But the nature of counterfactuals is just the opposite; they never come to pass and therefore never correspond to reality. The grounding objection presses further, arguing that the problem with Middle Knowledge is not simply with counterfactual statements that do not and never will exist or corresponding to reality, but also Middle Knowledge’s problem of explaining “counterfactuals of freedom- counterfactual statements about what free agents would (hypothetically) do in a given circumstance.” 66 To say it another way, given the nature of man as always having the ability to do contrary to what he did under the exact same situation, it seems that the Molinist lacks a creditable grounding for would-be statements. In other words, Molinists can at best argue that the people of Keilah might have delivered David over to Saul if David would have stayed within the city, but because they advocate a libertarian freedom, the category of would have is unavailable to them. The people of the city could have acted out of character and chosen not to deliver David over to Saul.67

Calvinistic Compatibilist Freedom

Contrary to the libertarian model, compatibilist freedom consists in making choices that are consistent with our strongest desires and most preferable to the mind. Peterson and Williams questions the fundamental claim of libertarians that genuine freedom entails the power of contrary choice:

Should we assume that the choice to commit adultery or remain faithful to our marriage vows is as facile as our choice of cereal? Am I responsibly free only if I have the liberty to choose either to embrace my children when I get home from work or bludgeon them with a baseball bat?… A person chooses and acts according to his character. The will is not independent of the person and nature who chooses.68

According to compatibilism, man does not possess the power to choose contrary to what he did, but only choose what he wants most. Therefore, in the compatibilist model of freedom an individual has acted freely if his choice reflects his desire in the matter before him. Those desires relate to the mind what seems to be most preferable to the individual, and on that basis his choice is made. Far from being something that restrains an individual from acting freely, this model argues that acting upon our desires is the ultimate self-expression, and the very basis of genuine responsibility. We can always supply a response (the meaning of being responsible) for our actions when asked because they are inextricably linked to what we wanted to do most. Within this model we can supply an answer for why we preferred vanilla ice cream to chocolate simply by explaining that vanilla adequately met our desire and thus reflected our strongest inclination. Furthermore, without a notion of preferability, we would lack the grounds for giving praise or blame. Sam Storms explains:

How could a man be praised for preferring charity to stinginess, for example, if both deeds were equally preferable to him, or more accurately, lacking any preferability at all? Do we not praise a man for giving generously to the poor because we assume he is of such an antecedent character that such a deed appears more preferable to him than withholding his money? If there is nothing about the man that inclines him to prefer generosity, if the act of giving money is no more preferable to him than the act of withholding it, is he worthy of praise for giving?69

Compatibilists assert that our actions are not random expressions, but a consistent demonstration of our desires and preferences. That is to say, depending on the choices presented before us, whatever our greatest desire is regarding those choices will determine how we will consistently act in response to them. That means that if we could rewind history and make a certain decision again, granting that our desires would be as they were, we would always make exactly the same decision. This is the basis of identifying character traits within individuals. We talk of people as though they were trustworthy, responsible, or honest because they are consistent in how they choose to act. We assume that constant behavior is a reflection of who an individual is, what they value most, and what they desire above all else. This is why there is such a thing as employees of the month of the one hand, and prisoners on the other. Wright explains:

When a choice is made, this act of the will is always the act of a person who is either regenerate or unregenerate. That is, all acts of the will are expressions of a character, whether good or bad…In other words, good people habitually make good choices and bad people habitually make bad choices. While good people may occasionally make bad choices, or bad people make good choices, we recognize that these odd choices are “out of character,” and that they cannot be consistently maintained. The entire body of Western legislation and ethics depends on the universal recognition that actions are the responsible outflow of a person’s character. 70

Compatibilist Middle Knowledge

Philosophical Foundations

The Molinist account of middle knowledge is unable to get off the ground because the freedom it advocates undermines the future potential reality of the would- be propositions (counterfactual statements) that it so desperately wishes to secure. But when the compatibilist model is joined to middle knowledge we find the “missing link” that can adequately ground God’s knowledge of counterfactual statements. In other words, the compatibilist model is able to supply the grounding component that is necessary to make statements like “person A would have performed action x if circumstance p had been the case” because it applies a freedom that necessitates definite actions under particular circumstances. To say it another way, God is able to make would-be statements regarding our actions with absolute certainty because He knows how our desires will incline us to act in alternate situations. Since compatibilism rejects the notion of having the power to act contrary to what one did under the exact same circumstances, it grants God the ability to predict (determine) our actions with accuracy and precision.

According to the compatibilist middle knowledge (CMN) model God is able to determine the future because He knows exactly how particular influences will incline us to act. With this knowledge available to God, He is able to structure the world in such a way that our actions play out exactly how He plans, yet when we act, we act in the way we most desire. Bruce Ware explains,

Is it not possible also for God to know just what impact certain influences will have upon our decisions, so that prior to our choices and actions, God can know the precise choices and actions that we in fact will make and do? That is, God may know that certain influences will result in our acting in one particular way but that with a different set of influences, we will be inclined to choose and act in a different way. Therefore, by knowing the sorts of influences that incline our wills or give us the strongest desires, he can know in advance what choices we will make…is it not clear that God is able not only to know what impact a certain set of influences will have on our decisions, but since He is God, He is able to adjust and regulate the influences that come into our lives, so that by controlling the influences He can regulate the choices we make? Yet, when we make those choices, since we choose and act according to our deepest desires and strongest inclinations, we act freely. Therefore, the picture is complete: God’s sovereign control of human choice and action is fully compatible with our freedom in choosing and acting in accordance with our strongest inclinations and deepest desires.71

This model should not be understood to be mere coercion because God is not acting in a symmetrical fashion and controlling us like we were puppets. Rather, God influences our decisions by structuring circumstances that will induce particular and definite choices on the basis of our strongest desires. Tiessen says,

Consequently, someone who knows all the factors in a situation and all the facets of a person making a decision (e.g., genetic inheritance, hormonal make-up, mood, temperament, values, tastes, habits, relationships, inclinations, moral standards, reasoning patterns, fears, hopes, desires and motives) can know what that person would choose to do in a particular situation.72

He goes on to say,

No one ever acts without influences coming to bear on the decisions to commit the action. To be personal is to be a being in relationship, and all of those relationships and the value that we give to harmony within them play a part in our decisions. People who know us well are able to influence us most effectively because they can appeal to the desires, values and motives that are strongest in our selves. Advertising is effective to the degree that those who create the ads have successfully discerned these factors in the decision-making activity of their target population.73

Bruce Ware proposes two helpful analogies. First, he gives an example of two men who are walking outdoors. One man has a serious smoking habit and the other does not. They are both walking away from any smell or sight of a cigarette and therefore, at present, have no inclination towards a cigarette. But as the two men walk past a little café, where some people are smoking, the sight and smell elicits particular responses from both men. The smoker is now inclined to light a cigarette, while the other man is inclined to rush past the café because he does not care for the smell. The choices these men made with regard to their actions are explained by how their natures responded to the factors presented before them. Those factors do not (directly) cause the choices made, for notice that the factors were identical for the smoker and the nonsmoker, yet the choices made by each were opposite. Nor would controlling the factors cause (directly) the choices made, because whether someone had “planted” smokers at that outdoor café or not would not affect the opposite choices of each in response.74 Furthermore, we would find it a ridiculous notion to say that the non-smoker did not posses genuine freedom simply because he lacked the capacity to act contrary to his strongest desire not to smoke! Typically we commend those who foster and act upon such desires.

Second, Ware proposes an analogy for how God controls circumstances to produce definite choices. He describes how police will often use the mechanism of a “sting operation” for catching criminals in the act of committing a crime.

When this is done correctly, the police do not cause or coerce the criminal to commit the crime, but they do intentionally provide a setting in which the criminal, out of his own nature, will have the opportunity to develop a strongest inclination to commit the crime. Undercover policeman may pose, for example, as buyers seeking to purchase illegal drugs, and by so doing they place before the nature of the drug dealer a set of factors that may lead him to want most strongly to sell drugs to the men posing as interested buyers. When the drug dealer hands over the drugs to buyers and receives payment for them, the crime has been committed and he is arrested and will be held morally (and legally) responsible for his crime. When this operation is done correctly, the criminal is not coerced, nor is he caused to commit the crime. Rather, he is presented with a setting to which his own nature responds the way that it does, wanting most strongly to carry out the illegal activity. The criminal, then, was free; he did what he wanted most to do, and he was not forced or coerced in the process. Yet the situation was “controlled”; factors of a situation were designed and intentionally presented to the criminal so that his nature would be given opportunity to manifest what it truly wanted to do. The cause of the choice was the nature of the criminal; some key factors leading to the choice were provided by others who sought to expose the criminal’s nature for what it was. When he made his choice, he showed what truly was in his heart, and in this he was free, and for this he is morally responsible.75

Biblical foundations for compatibilist middle knowledge

While there are many biblical texts that support CMK,76 I would like to focus upon Isaiah 10:5-19. This is a passage that describes God’s anger with Israel and His plan to bring judgment upon them. What is most interesting within this passage is that God is making definite plans regarding the future judgment of Israel, yet we are told that Assyria “does not so intend, and his heart does not so think” (v. 7). In other words, the future judgment of Israel by Assyria is going to come to pass, not because Assyria is planning this attack within their heart at present, but because God is. But how can God be so sure that Assyria will comply when the time comes for judgment? After all, what if Assyria has a libertarian free will? They could always, at any moment prior to acting in judgment choose to refrain from the action, making God’s word fail to come to pass! So again, how could God make sure that this (evil) action take place by the Assyrians? According to the compatibilist position it is because God knows the inclinations and desires of the Assyrians, and how they will act given the opportunity to expand their territory and have tribute paid them. Verse 7, after saying that the Assyrians at present are not planning this attack, says, “But it is in his heart to destroy and to cut off nations…” Therefore, God can make detailed plans as found here in Isaiah because He knows that the Assyrians are strongly inclined to destroy nations. All that God would have to do is present the right circumstance before the Assyrians to cause them to move against Israel. This is precisely what God intends to do. The passage describes Assyria as an Axe in the hand of God. Just as an Axe is inclined (so to speak) to act in a particular way under specific circumstances, so too, Assyria is inclined to act by their desires in certain ways given specific circumstances. Assyria does not complain about being used by God for judgment because it is their personal desire to judge nations, just as the Axe does not complain about being used to chop wood, because that is what it is designed to do. Therefore, we have a passage that indicates that God is sovereign in that He plans and controls the future, yet He does so indirectly by presenting influences that induce particular actions based upon a natural desire to destroy nations. This passage ends with God’s promise to judge Assyria for their evil action and their evil desires.77


By now I hope that my reasons for incorporating a compatibilistic freedom into a middle knowledge model is clear. We have seen that the libertarian model of freedom undercuts the possibility for counterfactuals of freedom, and therefore lacks the fuel to run the middle knowledge engine. But the fact that the Molinistic model is incoherent should not prevent compatibilists from assessing the validity of the middle knowledge construct.78 As we have seen, a CMK model explains better and more coherently how God can sovereignly relate to His creation without also destroying human freedom and responsibility. We have also seen how compatibilism can best explain counterfactuals of freedom because they are routed in God’s knowledge of how humans will be inclined to act under particular influences. Therefore, compatibilism presents the best model of freedom to incorporate within a middle knowledge scheme.


Basinger, David. The Case for Freewill Thesim: A Philosophical Assessment. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

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