Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.



Essays by Me

Essays by Others


David Gordon

From Religious Studies, 25, 1989(?), pp. 75-87.

Does Theism Need

Middle Knowledge?


David Gordon and 

James A. Sadowsky, S.J.



David Basinger, in “Middle Knowledge and Classical Christian Thought,”1 has claimed that whether the concept of God’s middle knowledge is coherent “cannot be dismissed lightly or ignored by those interested in classical Christian thought.  For what is at stake is the very coherence of Christian theism itself” (p. 422).

Why is this so?  Put briefly, Basinger’s argument is the following: Assume that God does not have middle knowledge (MK).  Then, for either of two views about God’s knowledge, first that he is confined to present knowledge (PK) or, second, that he has simple foreknowledge (SFK), God is a “cosmic gambler” (p. 418), so long as persons have indeterministic free will.  Since God does not know in deliberating on creation how persons will freely choose, he is limited in the extent to which he can control the future state of the world.

We shall endeavour to show that Basinger’s argument does not succeed. That is, he has failed to show that if God possess only PK, he is unable to control the world; a fortiori, his argument fails if God has SFK.  Possession of MK offers no significant advantage to God in his deliberation on creation.  MK generates a problem for God’s own free choices and in fact is of questionable coherence.

Before we can proceed, a brief clarification of terms is necessary.  Suppose that Peter acts freely when he denies Christ.  PK, SFK, and MK concur that when Peter decides, and at all subsequent times, God knows that Peter so decided.  SFK, but not PK, maintains that as soon as the world exists God knows, though without determining, Peter’s decision.2  If God does not exist in time, then he on an analogous view knows, rather than foreknows, Peter’s decision.

But what of God’s knowledge of Peter’s decision when God deliberated on creation?  Having PK, of course, God does not know what it will be. And SFK does not change things––according to this doctrine, what God foreknows is what will occur in the actual world, once the actual world exists.  (Here, of course, “actual world” means “actual created world.”)  Since, apart from creation, there is no created world, nothing exists for God to foreknow.

Although apart from creation there is, of course, no actual world, God does know all possible states of affairs he could directly create.  Also, he knows everything that the existence of any of these states of affairs entails. Further, since some of the possibilities include in their description that various entities obey laws not logically necessary, e.g. scientific laws, he knows whatever follows about the behavior of the entities in question should he make actual the possible world whose entities obey these laws.  All of this knowledge God possesses, both according to PK and SFK.

This does not suffice to satisfy proponents of middle knowledge (scientia media) (MK).  Their position is sometimes called “Molinism,” but we think it better to avoid this term since it is associated with particular views about divine grace which do not affect our argument.  Although proponents of P K and SFK deny that in deliberating on creation, God knew whether Peter should freely deny Christ, he did, in these views, know that it was possible that Peter be presented with the choice of whether to deny Christ.  (For the purposes of this paper, we resolutely ignore problems about reference to possible objects.)  According to MK, God also knows how Peter should decide in these circumstances, or how in any other possible circumstance in which someone confronts a situation in which he freely chooses an alternative, that persons should decide.  God knows this, further, without determining what the choice will be.

As Basinger uses SFK, it is assumed to exclude possession of MK, although as he rightly notes, possession of foreknowledge is consistent with possession of middle knowledge. It should be noted that God cannot have both PK and MK.  Suppose the contradictory:  once the world is created, God with PK knows from the first moment of creation all the effects of the original state of the world until the first free human decision.  (PK limits only God’s knowledge of what the decision will be in a situation of free choice that occurs in the future:  it does not restrict his causal knowledge.)  But he knows by MK whatever decision in any possible set of circumstances someone having to choose freely will decide. Thus, as soon as he knows by PK that one of these possible sets of circumstances will become actual, he knows what the free decision will be. PK with MK thus transforms itself into SFK for the actual world, once it is created.  One should also note that although with PK God does not foreknow future free decisions, he can make probability judgements about them.

We can now proceed to Basinger’s argument about PK.  Once more, what he endeavours to show is that if God has PK (since this excludes his having MK), he cannot control the world, so long as persons exercise free choice.  “For if God cannot make people freely do what he wants and he does not know what they will freely do, then it appears that to the extent to which he makes them free, he is committed to accepting the unknowable results of their actions” (p. 409).  Thus, God might not know whether, to use Basinger’s example, the Germans should in 1940 freely choose to create a destructive weapons system. But if God does not like their decision once it is made, he can act to prevent the effects the decision would have had but for his intervention from taking place.

Basinger has raised this objection to his position only to subject it to attack.  Freedom of action cannot, as this objection assumes, be sharply separated from the events that result from choice.  “For most theistic indeterminists, to say that a person is significantly free does not mean only that such a person has it within her power to choose to perform actions not in keeping with God’s will.  It also means that this person has it within her power to bring it about that events not necessarily desired by God will actually occur.  But if this is so, then God cannot stop the actualization of a freely chosen decision or modify its consequences.  He must tolerate the results or be considered guilty of “determining” human behaviour” (p. 410, fn. Number omitted).

We may agree that if, at the moment of human decision, God at once acted to prevent a choice he disapproved from having its normal consequences, then the human actor would have free choice only in an etiolated sense.  Further, this etiolated sense of free action is, as Basinger rightly says, unacceptable to most theistic indeterminists, including the present authors.

It does not follow from this argument, however, that God must also allow the consequences of any act resulting from free choice to wend their way unhindered, lest he should face a charge of taking away the freedom of choice he professes to grant.  Suppose, e.g. that the Germans in 1940 freely decide to build a destructive weapons system such that, if they successfully complete its construction and use it, the Allies will be powerless to resist.  Must one say that, if God does not permit the Germans to use their planned weapon without let or hindrance, he has not truly allowed them genuine free choice as to whether to embark on the system?  Surely Basinger is right that an action without consequences is not fully an action; surely he is wrong that for a choice to count as the expression of genuine free action, God cannot interfere at all with any of its consequences.  How close to the act of choice God can interfere with consequences, yet still allow the action to count as free in a sense acceptable to most indeterministic theists is a difficult question which we do not address here.  We wish only to insist that there is “space” between an action and its remote consequences in which God can intervene without compelling us to deny that the act in question was free.  Basinger, at any rate, offers no argument against this.

The point at issue seems to us one that should not be very controversial, since many human actions have precisely the aim of frustrating the consequences of a free choice that, but for the interference, would likely ensue.  Suppose, e.g., to recur to Basinger’s case, that the Germans in 1940 decide to embark on the construction of a destructive weapons system.  The RAF leans of their decision and launches a bombing raid that wipes out the Germans’ construction site. Would Basinger claim that the raid, even if it occurred at the very moment the Germans had begun to carry out their decision to build the weapon, detracted from the freedom of the Germans’ decision to build the system?  If not, why is God’s interference with the consequences of a choice any different?

But are we not here forcing an open door?  Basinger grants “for the sake of argument that God does have the power to ‘veto’ the actualization of any free choice.  It does then follow that no human action (as distinguished from a human choice) will ever occur which God does not desire to occur.  But a God with only PK still does not know with certainty what free choices will be made in the future or how his ‘present’ choices will affect the future.” (p. 41).

We should like for the moment to place to one side the application of this argument to God’s own free choices. This problem will be treated in the discussion below of SFK.  It is of course quite true that God with PK does not know what free choices will be made in the future, and we may strengthen Basinger’s observation by noting that although with SFK God does know the free choice that will be made in the future, he cannot alter the choices themselves.  Like God with PK, his control is confined to the consequences of the choices.  But how does this pose a difficulty for either PK or SFK?  Is this not just to repeat in other words that God does not have MK?

Basinger, we suggest, may have two difficulties in mind should God lack MK.  First because of the many free choices that are likely to occur in the world, God’s control of the consequences of these decisions will require a large amount of interference with these consequences.  Second, even if one finds tolerable the picture of God constantly interfering with the consequences of free choices, it is still true that God cannot decide what he is going to do in this regard in deliberating on creation.  With PK, he will know what alternative in a free choice is chosen only when the decision is made; with SFK, he will foreknow all choices, but only if the created world exists. With neither PK nor SFK can he deliberate with full relevant knowledge on what he wishes to create.  We shall attempt to show that these alleged advantages of MK dissolve on closer examination.

First, Basinger’s argument that if God has PK, he must constantly interfere with the world in order to control it rests on a dubious assumption. He assumes that if the decision in an act of free choice is unknowable, then so is the state of the world rusting from that decision.  If the state of the world S2 at time t2 depends in part on a human free decision at t1, a decision whose outcome God does not know in advance of its occurrence, then God with PK does not know at t1 what S2 will be.

But the conclusion follows from the premises only if “depends on” is taken to mean “exclusively depends on.”  If S2 does (in part or entirely) depend exclusively on the outcome of a free human choice unknowable with certainty in advance of its occurrence, then it is indeed the case that in our example God does not know what S2 will be before he knows the outcome of the decision at t1.

But “to depend causally” need not mean “to depend exclusively.”  If in the argument as stated in the preceding paragraph, “depend causally” is substituted for “depend exclusively,” it is no longer valid.  It overlooks the possibility of a case of this sort.  Suppose S2 is cause by choice A, the result of a free human act of choice at t1 between alternatives A and B.  It does not follow that there is not some other state of affairs that at t1 would otherwise have sufficed to bring about S2.  This state of affairs, further, need not be the outcome of an act of human free choice.  Why then can God, though confined in his knowledge to PK, not know at t1 what S2 will be?  He can know the consequences of a human free decision (though not what the decision itself will be) though not under that description.

Here we of course do not use a definition of cause according to which if X causes Y, then the occurrence of X is necessary and sufficient for the occurrence of Y.  If someone does wish to use this definition of cause, then we need only slightly rephrase the argument just given for it to remain valid.  Let us term S1 the state of affairs not the result of an act of human free choice that in our example we said might cause S2.  Then, the cause of S2 will, on the interpretation of cause as necessary and sufficient condition, be AvS1.  And if either A or S1 occurs, AvS1 is true. Thus, the interpretation of cause just referred to requires no change in our analysis.

Since the point of our analysis may at first seem strange, two examples may be useful.  In the usual interpretation of quantum mechanics, there exist some elementary particles that move randomly.  Here “randomly” means “with cause,” not “with cause unknown or unknowable.”  It does not follow from this that when elementary particles are aggregated, their joint movement is similarly indeterminate, if not more so.  Quite the contrary, the behaviour of a number of elementary particles considered together may be completely determinate.3 Or in our previous case, if the RAF had not acted, perhaps an earthquake would have.

The first example just given suggests a way our point against Basinger may be extended.  The state of affairs besides a particular act of free choice that might cause a state of the world may be another act of free choice. The result of two or more) acts of free choice may be known by God with PK before this result comes to pass, even though the decision in each act of free choice is not.

Suppose, for example, that one person faces a situation of free decision between choices A and B, and another between choices C and D.  Suppose, further, that the cause of state of the world S2 is A or (B · C v D), i.e. [A v (B · C v D)].  Then, even though at t1, before the two choices take place, God confined to PK does not know what the decision in each act of choice will be, he does know that the state of the world S2 will come about. Each choice is indeterminate: but the result of both choices is not.

To this the following objection may be raised.  Suppose that the first person chooses A.  Since if A, then A v (B · C v D), S2, caused by the latter, will ensue.  But the second person’s action here plays no role in bringing about S2.  He chooses freely, but his choice has no effect on the resulting state of affairs.  (The matter would be different had the first person chosen B: but this is irrelevant if he did not choose B)

To deal with this point, we need only divide the state of the world at t2 into two parts, S and S1.  The cause of S is the same as before.  The cause of S1 is C v D · A v B.  Now, both the first and second person’s choices will have effects on the state of the world at t2.  But to know at t1 what the state of affairs will be does not require God to know what the choices will be before they take place.  Thus Basinger has failed to show that PK requires God’s intervention in the world after human free choices are made in order for him to control the world.  We have not shown that the cases we describe always or for that matter ever arise.  But their possibility suffices to show that Basinger’s position about the control of the world does not follow as a matter of logic from PK.

But does not our whole line of analysis fall before a further objection?  Even if each act of free choice, on our analysis, contributes as at a least part cause to the ensuing state of the world, are we not committed to an essentially nugatory view of free choice?  That is to say, regardless of how the human actors choose, the state of affairs resulting is the same.  How then do they have genuine free choice?  To have the latter requires that choices make a difference:  if S2 will come about regardless of whether the first person in our cases chooses A or B, does he have “real” free choice?

The answer to this obviously depends on what one requires for real free choice.  But each person in the example does have free choice; and all we have sought to show by its use is that the existence of free choice is logically consistent with God’s knowledge of the state of the world at any time subsequent to the free decision, even if God’s knowledge is confined to PK.  If God wishes to allow a more robust concept of free choice, then nothing prevents him from allowing free choices to cause different states of the world.  This may well involve lack of knowledge of his part, in exactly the way that worries Basinger.  But no general problem of God’s control of the world arises.  He can, for anything that Basinger has shown, have as complete knowledge of the future state of the world as he wishes while still allowing indeterministic free will.  Any absence of knowledge comes about not from the existence of free will but from his allowing free choices to have certain types of effects.   His allowing different states of the world to result from different choices comes about, for anything Basinger has shown to the contrary, through his own choice. The existence of human free will, then, appears to raise no general problem for PK or, a fortiori, for SFK. To speak roughly, God can know the state of affairs resulting from any act of free human choice to as close a degree as he wishes.  How much “play” between an act of free choice and a subsequent state of the world he allows is up to him.  He is no “cosmic gambler,” except to the extent he wishes to be.

Basinger may object to what we have so far urged against him that even if the cases we have suggested are logically possible, it is still true that having MK greatly assists God should he desire to control the world without being required to interfere with it.  Our cases may arise; but then again, they may not.  With MK, however, God has guaranteed control in all cases.  Since he knows, for each possible set of circumstances in which a free choice takes place, what the choice will be, he need by his decision to create never allow the world to let into a position requiring his interference.

In reply, we confess that we have so far held in reserve what we regard as the clearest way to show that God does not require MK to govern the world according to his will.  Without MK, God does not know in deliberating on creation what the decision will be in any case of free choice.  But he does know, for each set of circumstances in which a free choice can occur, all of the alternatives presented to the chooser.  He also knows, for each of the alternatives, what its consequences will be if it chosen, down to the free next decision whether by the same person or another.  Precisely the same is true for this decision, and so on.  God knows, then, all the possible causal chains that may come about through any combination of free decisions.  Though he does not know which of these chains will come about, since ex hypothesi, he does not know which decisions will be made, he suffers no disadvantage as compared with MK.  He must, if he wishes to control the world, without having to decide after creation that his intervention is called for, take account of all the possible eventualities in deciding what to create.  Of course, with MK, he needs to take account of fewer cases, since he knows that some of the possible causal chains come from alternatives that will not be freely chosen.  But for an omniscient intellect, this consideration has no importance.

Basinger’s article also raised a difficulty for SFK.  One might first think that if God has SFK (or equivalently, for the argument Basinger raises, knowledge of all events) then one can escape the difficulties involving free will in another way besides the one we have suggested.  If God knows from the moment of creation what will come about at all subsequent times, is he not immune from any difficulty involving consequences of free choices undetermined by him?  He does not cause the decision in these choices; but, with SFK, he knows what the choices, and anything resulting from them, will be.  Knowing this, in what sense is he a cosmic gambler?  Can he not act on the basis of his knowledge thus acquired?

Basinger very penetratingly shows that the case is far from simple.  As he notes, proponents of SFK do not wish to claim that God’s “foreknowledge controls God’s activity in the sense that it limits him to acting out some eternal preset script over which he has no control. Rather, they argue, God makes meaningful, free decisions.” (p. 416).

If God acts freely, then the problem from which our earlier analysis prescinded now arises.  God’s own free decisions are uncaused.  Then, Basinger contends, if God knows, by SFK, what his future choices will be, he cannot take this knowledge into account in deliberating over what sort of world to create.  To use Basinger’s terms, God with SFK foreknows his own future decisions only as an “observer”: as a “decision-maker” he cannot make use of them (p. 418).  In so far, then, as God’s creation of the world involves future free decisions on his part, he is once more a cosmic gambler.  Knowledge of his decisions, whether gained by SFK or through knowledge he possesses without existing in time, avails him nothing. His deliberation must once more be blind, and, lacking MK, he cannot acquit himself of Basinger’s charge of being a cosmic gambler.

But why cannot he do so?  Basinger’s entire case rests on the premise that God, if he is to deliberate about the world with full knowledge, must know what as decision-maker he cannot know—his future free decisions.  But this assumes that God must make at least one free decision subsequent to a human free choice, a premise surely standing in need of justification.  Why cannot it be the case that God possessing SFK freely decides at the first moment of creation, when he foreknows all human choices, what he intends to do throughout the course of the world’s existence?

We have so far confined our argument to a defence against Basinger’s thesis that God requires MK in order to deliberate with knowledge:  he can, we contend, do so without MK.  But we trust Basinger will not think us uncharitable if we now attempt to turn his own argument against MK.  Is it as clear as Basinger thinks that if God has MK, he has access to “information [about his future free decisions] when making his decisions”? (p. 418)

Basinger thinks that MK solves the problem he has raised for God’s knowledge of his own future free decisions because with MK, control of the world does not require that he know these decisions. Rather, he knows that, e.g. given a set of circumstances, he should freely decide to Ø.  But this is not to know that he will decide to Ø.  Thus the problem of God’s knowledge of his future free decisions is avoided.

But we must ask, how does god come to obtain the knowledge that given the set of circumstances, he will Ø?  Since his decision is free, he does not acquire the knowledge by knowing that the set of circumstances entails the possible world in which he Ø’s.  Rather, it is presumably the case that God acquires the knowledge by knowing what he will come to decide, just as in a case of human free will, God does not cause the free choice but knows what choice would be made, were he to create a given set of circumstances.

But then exactly the difficulty Basinger has raised for SFK turns on him.  In order to know through MK what his decision in each possible set of circumstances is, he must already have made the decision as to what he should freely choose to do for each possibility.  Otherwise, there would exist no knowledge of which MK could inform him.  And then by Basinger’s own argument, he cannot use this knowledge in the course of his deliberation on what to create.  If Basinger is right, God cannot know as a deliberator what the results of his future decisions will be:  but what then is the point of assuming that God possesses MK as regards these decisions?

Basinger might reply that even if God’s decision, since it is free, is not entailed by a possible set of circumstances that calls for a decision, he may nevertheless know through MK what he should do in the case without having to know his decision before he makes it.  Perhaps only the choice of one particular alternative best accords with his wisdom or goodness.  If so, would he not know that in the circumstances, he would choose that alternative, without having fist to choose it in order to know that he would?

But if this is so, would it not be the case that, even lacking MK, God would know what he should choose?  The knowledge of which alternative choice in a given set of circumstances best accords with his wisdom or goodness does not seem to be one that requires possession of MK in order for him to know.  Further, it might not be the case that, for each set of possible circumstances, one choice always would best accord with his goodness or wisdom:  what about ties?  Finally, though this point raises very complex issues that we shall not try to discuss in detail, if one assumes that a particular alternative best accords with God’s wisdom or goodness independent of his decision to select it, then on the usual theistic view that he necessarily possesses the attributes of wisdom and goodness, a problem arises.  Is it not the case that, given the set of circumstances calling for his decision, the alternative that he would select is entailed by the description of the set, given the premises: (1) One alternative best accords with God’s attributes; (2) a being possessing God’s attributes will choose the alternative that best accords with these attributes; (3) God necessarily possesses his attributes?  If so, is God’s decision free?  This question we cannot further pursue here; but should Basinger attempt to meet our problem for MK by choosing this line of defence, he would need to address this point.

Basinger might of course escape our difficulty by denying that MK applies to God’s own decisions.  But, should he be tempted to change his position in this way, he would face a sever cost.  He would have to abandon his reason for preferring MK to SFK, since if MK does not apply to God’s decisions exactly the same problem about knowledge of his future free decisions faces God with SFK and MK.  Also, some reason would need to be offered for holding that MK does not apply to God’s decisions, lest the supporter of MK should appear guilty of an arbitrary distinction.

The difficulties that we have so far raised for the possession by God of MK in regard to his own decisions are ad hominem ones direct at Basinger.  They depend on acknowledging his point that God cannot take account of his own future free decisions in the course of his deliberations over those free decisions.  (Since Basinger’s point seems right, however, we hope the arguments will be of general interest.)  But even if one does not adopt Basinger’s point, the application of MK to God’s decisions raises a severe problem.

Assume that God is about to make a free decision.  By MK, he already knows what in the given circumstances he should decide to do.  How does he know this?  As we have noted above, on the usual interpretation of MK he knows this by knowing what, if the possible circumstances calling for a decision were actual, he should freely choose in a certain way.  But then he knows what he will do in the possible set of circumstances only if he has decided what to do in those circumstances.

Now, we imagine, he actually confronts a decision: our possible set of circumstances is now actual.  He can use MK only if he has already decided what he should do: but then what use is MK to him in making his decision?

And the problem is even more severe.  Suppose God is choosing what he should decide in a possible set of circumstances calling for a free decision, in order to acquire the data essential for his possession of MK.  This process, i.e. God’s thinking of a possible set of circumstances and deciding what he should freely decide to choose, in order that, as MK requires, he knows what he should decide in these circumstances, were those circumstances actual, is itself a set of circumstances calling for a free decision on God’s part.  But, then by MK, he knows what he should decide given this set of possible circumstances, namely, the circumstances that he is deciding what he should freely choose in another imagined set of circumstance in order to obtain the data essential for his possession of MK.  But then the problem recurs.  In order to know by MK what he should decide in this complex, set, he must already have decided what he should decide were this set of possible circumstances actual.  But then by MK . . . , etc.  A vicious infinite regress faces us.  We conclude that on the usual interpretation of how god comes to acquire MK, i.e. by knowing, without causing, what the chooser in any possible circumstances calling for a free decision should decide, were those circumstances actual, MK cannot extend to God’s own decisions.

Before turning from Basinger’s remarks to a presentation of a problem for MK he does not address, one final point about his discussion of God’s knowledge requires brief comment.  In his discussion of SFK, he suggests that God cannot, as a decision-maker, use certain knowledge he may possess as an observer.  Although Basinger’s point that God cannot use knowledge of his future free decisions in making those very decisions seems right, it does not follow from this that God can both possess and not possess the relevant knowledge, in two different roles.  He may of course be both decider and observer; but it seems to us that whatever knowledge he has, he has regardless of what he is doing.  Perhaps he can limit his own knowledge:  but if he does so, he does not possess the knowledge at the same time he denies himself access to it.  He cannot, regardless of role, both know and not know something at the same time.  But all this is by the way.

So far, we have suggested that possession of MK offers no significant advantage to God in controlling the world over PK or SFK:  we have also tried to show that MK cannot apply to God’s own decisions.  We should now like to raise a further difficulty that throws into question the coherence of MK, as applied to God’s deliberation on creation, in any alleged case of its occurrence.

According to MK, for each possible set of circumstances in which someone is confronted with a free choice, there is a way he should choose were that situation actual.  It is precisely this contention that we wish to claim is incoherent if MK is supposed to be possessed by God prior to creation.

Problems about the consistency of MK are usually dealt with by discussion of so-called “counterfactuals of freedom,” e.g. if Kennedy had not run for president in 1960, would Nixon have been threatened with impeachment?  Basinger succinctly characterizes the main challenges addressed to such counterfactuals:  some critics claims that they lack truth conditions, while others say they are self-contradictory.

In our view, even if the problems confronting counterfactuals of freedom can be resolved, MK still leads to contradiction:  the difficulty lies elsewhere.  In a counterfactual of freedom, however one chooses to analyse it, two things appear clear:  the counterfactual claims that if its antecedent were actual, something would be the case in the actual world; further, there exists an actual world.  To revert to our example:  suppose one says that if Kennedy had not run in 1960, Nixon would not have faced impeachment. Does this not mean that if in the actual world Kennedy had not run, it would not have been the case, also in the actual world, that Nixon faced impeachment?  We are here speaking, it should be noted, only of what the counterfactual claims, not how its truth is to be assessed.  There indeed are approaches to counterfactuals that, against our view, take the meaning of a counterfactual to be a relation (e.g. similarity) among possible worlds.  But these theories require the existence of an actual world to “locate” the possible worlds included in the relation.

But if what we have said is right, then for God’s deliberation on creation, the situation differs entirely.  It is of course known to all that before the existence of the world, we cannot use counterfactuals, since there exists no “factual,” i.e. no actual world, for them to be counterfactual to. It is wrongly supposed, however, that God’s deliberations on creation, insofar as they are supposed to involve MK, can be analysed in a similar way to counterfactuals of freedom.

According to MK, given a possible set of circumstances calling for someone’s choice, there is a way the person should freely decide.  But the set of circumstances does not entail or otherwise bring about the decision:  otherwise it would not be free.  Quite the contrary, MK is acquired by God’s knowing what would be decided, were the set of circumstances actual.

Here exactly lies our problem.  What does it mean to say that a set of circumstances is possible, or, equivalently, that there is a possible world consisting of those circumstances?  Is it not to say that the set might be the case?  “Possible,” surely, means possibly actual.  If so, then, once more assuming that the possible world consisting of the given set of circumstances does not entail or bring about the possible world in which the person freely chooses his alternative, the supposition of MK is senseless.

Why?  To say the circumstances are possible is just to say what would be the case if these circumstances were actual:  this is what possible means.  To ask then, what the person should freely choose, were the set of circumstances actual, is just to ask what he should freely choose in those circumstances.  But given that there are no relations of entailment or causation between the possible set of circumstances and any of the possible worlds consisting of the person selecting an alternative, our question has no answer.  It would have one only if we either had included the description of the possible world containing the set of circumstances that the person chooses in a certain way, which would assume the very knowledge MK is supposed to provide:  or else if some relation of entailment or causation existed between the possible circumstances and possible free choice, which ex hypothesi is false.4  In brief, possible worlds have only the characteristics given in their descriptions and whatever follows from these.  They do not acquire extra characteristics by imaging them to be actual: that is just what one does in the first place in imagining a possibility.

This argument does not rule out MK altogether.  God could still possess it after the world had come into existence, assuming problems of counterfactuals of freedom are solved.  But the main use of MK has been to claim that God has knowledge of the decisions in possible free choices in deliberating on creation.  This we claim to have shown senseless.

Basinger, then, has not made out his case that classical theists ought to accept MK; rather, if we are correct they have no reason to do so.  Basinger of course thinks otherwise; and in the brief concluding section of his paper he canvasses and responds to objections several philosophers have raised to MK.  We do not propose to examine this section in detail, but one point in it calls for comment.

Basinger, following Alvin Plantinga, contends that the strongest defence of the logical possibility of MK is to reject the question of what grounds this possibility.

“But why should we assume that MK . . . can only  be considered possible if we can identify the ‘grounds’ upon which it is based?  Why must MK be based on, or inferred from anything else? . . . Why should we not assume that MK is, for God, properly basic?” (p. 421).  Basinger proceeds to note that “some philosophers like Plantinga do claim to have a primitive understanding of what it would be for MK propositions to be true or false.” (p. 421).

Here we should like to urge caution.  The issue of “properly basic belief” raises very difficult problems; but it appears to us questionably reasonable (if you will, it is a properly basic belief of ours) that complex questions of logic are amenable to decision by appeals to properly basic beliefs. What properly basic belief should we adopt, e.g. about the value of intuitionist logic?  We do not deny that, in some cases, after hearing the arguments, one simply finds that one position or other on a question of logic seems the more reasonable to adopt.  But it does not follow from this that one can sidestep logical difficulties by appeals to “primitive understandings.”

In conclusion, then, we contend that Basinger has failed to show that without MK, God is a cosmic gambler. We also suggest that, applied to God’s deliberations on creation, MK is incoherent; and applied to any of God’s own free decisions, MK leads to a vicious infinite regress.

1 David Basinger, “Middle Knowledge and Classical Christian Thought,” Religious Studies, XXII, Nos. 3-4 (Sept.-Dec., 1986), 407-22.  All subsequent references to this article will be by page numbers in parentheses in the text.

2 An issue we do not raise in the paper is what is required for certain knowledge.  Suppose, e.g. that one believes something on the basis of extremely strong evidence and one’s belief is in fact true. The truth of this belief is, however, not logically necessary.  Do these circumstances suffice for knowledge with certainty?  In this paper, we assume, with Basinger, that God does not possess certain knowledge of a state of affairs unless he perceives it directly or deduces it from the existence of other states of affairs he knows with certainty.

3 We do not here assume the truth of this interpretation of quantum mechanics.  

4 One might claim that it can be known that someone’s character would make him more likely to choose one alternative than others or, with Suarez, that the chooser has a property (habitudo) for freely choosing one alternative.  But either the character or property brings it about (i.e. cause or entails) that given the circumstances, the person will choose the alternative, which negates the hypothesis of freedom.  Or it does not:  and then God cannot by knowing the person’s character or his potentiality for choice know the choice.  The choice that would be made, if the possible circumstances of choice were actual, designates nothing, unless only one choice is possible.  The question, what would happen if the possible circumstances were actual, is redundant and contributes nothing to our problem.

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