Stan’s concerns about the middle knowledge argument

In this post at Birds of the Air.


There are multiple problems in my mind. There is what is known as the grounding objection. This argument sees a problem with what are called “counterfactuals”, that whole list of contingencies that God sees. If they never happen, on what basis can they be considered true? If they never occur, how are they real? In fact, if they’re based on the freedom of the creature, how can they be true without limiting the freedom of the creature? Yeah, yeah, whatever. The thing that disturbs me the most is that it undermines God’s Sovereignty. The Bible claims that God is the only Sovereign. In Middle Knowledge we have a contingent God. All of Middle Knowledge is based on what the creature will or won’t choose and what God can do with it. God, then, is limited to what His creatures will or won’t do. Let’s say, for instance, that God would like to save Ted. Going further, let’s say that there could be one circumstance that would cause Ted to choose Christ (all big assumptions, but just follow along). However, that one circumstance required that Bob would make a free will choice … that Bob won’t make. Poor Ted. God had it all figured out how to save him, but Bob wouldn’t make the right choice, so Ted is doomed.

Of course, I have other big problems with Middle Knowledge. There is the fundamental assumption that God cannot under any circumstances interfere in Man’s Free Will. Where this notion comes from is completely beyond me. There is the further fundamental belief that if God does certain things, some humans will choose Him. The Bible depicts humans as dead in sin (just for starters). Under what possible set of circumstances would God be able to get this dead person to properly respond to Him? If “The Natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”, what possible scenario could God scare up to make him accept the things of the Spirit of God?

The grounding objection is the only one that worries me. Stan is awesome to read because he always tells the truth about the views that he rejects. He knows both sides of issues equally well.

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Response from a Calvinist

13 thoughts on “Stan’s concerns about the middle knowledge argument”

  1. I think it would be helpful if Stan gave a definition of what he takes sovereignty to mean. For example by does God’s sovereignty allow Him to made any type of state of affairs He wishes? Even those that are contradictory? Does God have sovereignty over his own nature? What exactly does one mean by ‘having sovereignty’?
    BTW I think Gary Friesen’s book “Decision Making and The Will of God”, is an often over looked book that is valuable to this conversation.


  2. Bin is right, the definition of sovereignty certainly needs to be addressed.

    Also, I’ve written quite a bit on the grounding objection here (

    The short of it, though, is this: God’s knowledge of counter-factuals is grounded in himself such that counterfactuals are essentially “brute facts” along the lines of the laws of logic.


  3. What is the Biblical argument for libertarian freewill’s autonomy in relation to the Sovereignty of God? I am not adverse to the concept, but like the blog author you cited, I am curious as to the concepts theological underpinnings.

    We are spiritually dead – I am sure we are all in agreement there. And we can no more make our selves spiritually alive than we can make ourselves physically alive out of dust. A cause (our will) can’t give what it doesn’t have (spiritual life). As John’s Gospel states, Jesus (the light and life) gives the right and it is of God.

    Just curious about your thoughts.


  4. I’m the “Stan” who wrote the blog entry. I have to admit I’ve never considered these questions. I have always (in my mind) defined “Sovereignty” (as in “God’s Sovereignty” — capital “S” — as opposed to “Man’s sovereignty” — lowercase “s”) as God having complete power and authority over His creation. I’ve defined it as “God does whatever He pleases”, as “He works ALL things according to the counsel of His will.” I’ve included in that definition “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” and “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” So, yes, I’d say that He makes any state of affairs that He wishes. (I cannot even fathom the “contradictory” question. Why would He wish a contradictory state of affairs? To me it’s like the silly question my kids asked: “Can God make a rock too big for Him to pick up?” I answered, “No, because He’s not that stupid.” Why would He do that?) Thus, the key there is “that He wishes”. He operates out of His own nature. The Sovereignty I have in mind is over Creation.

    I objected to Middle Knowledge largely because it makes God contingent. I was told that it isn’t so. But if God chooses what will happen BASED ON choices that His creation CAN make (rather than whatever He chooses), there is no avoiding the fact that His choice is contingent on what Man CAN choose rather than on what God chooses.

    And I’m still waiting for someone to offer a biblical argument for Man’s Free Will (that concept of Man’s completely libertarian, capable-of-choosing-anything-at-all-without-any-restrictions-or-interference Free Will).


    1. But Stan, by having control over WHICH UNIVERSE is created, God is always “OK” with what the humans are freely choosing. So he is sovereign in that he is choosing WHICH HUMANS to create, and he foreknows WHICH ACTIONS they will freely choose.


      1. This still presupposes that God cannot/will not interfere in human free will. I know, on the other hand, that He does. It is, in fact, this premise that God does not intervene in human choices that puzzles me.


        1. On our view, God doesn’t step into the person and override their free will, but he does lead the person by basically arranging the whole universe around them to persuade them. Everything you see was arranged by God to DRAW YOU to him. In fact, that drawing is irresistible once the universe has started, because God knows what each person needs to be able to respond to him and he gives it to them at the instant of cration – by choosing when and where they will live, and how much grace they will receive. Without his architecting of the entire universe to elicit the appropriate response, EVERYONE WOULD BE LOST. No one desires God – He has to do ALL THE WORK to save us. (See Acts 17:27). And for those people who will not respond, God creates them anyway as vessels of wrath because they are part of the background needed to bring the elect to salvation. So I have no problem with Romans 8 and 9.


  5. Stan,

    It seems there many passages that presume humans have a freewill… Jesus says to the jews ‘how many times I wanted to gather you but you were not WILLING’ Or in Isaiah it says ‘Why WILL you die?’ or Chapter 18 of Ezekiel. Also consider the passages in Jeremiah where God says ‘you have done things that have not entered my mind and that I did not decree…’

    Also, there is a big difference between God being contingent and His decisions being contingent.

    But you raise an interesting point about God not being stupid on your view of sovereignty. On your view does God not create the big rock because that would undermine his sovereignty thereby making His choice not to make it contingent?

    Fun discussion.

    ~Bin Saleh


    1. That humans have an ability to make choices is not in question. It is this concept of … how did CMA put it? … libertarian free will that I can’t find in Scripture. It is this notion that human beings have ultimate free will, that they have both the freedom and ability to make any choices whatsoever.

      Yes, you’re right, when I said that it makes God contingent, it was short hand for God’s will. He can only will those things that His creation will choose.

      On God’s sovereignty, there seems to be this continuing notion that I am saying God can do anything at all. The Bible is quite clear that there are LOTS of things God cannot do. He cannot sin. He cannot lie. He cannot be unjust. He cannot change. Clearly there is no power that exists that can make a square circle. My explanation of God’s sovereignty is, again, over His creation. He chooses what will and will not happen. He brings it about either by direct cause or by second causes. Is that concept really in question? (It feels like we’re picking at the fringes trying to find a loose thread.)


      1. We think that God cannot make people freely choose to do something, because then it isn’t a free choice. And we think that people cannot be held responsible for something unless they have a choice. Not a choice to choose God, but a choice to respond to having the entire universe set up to draw you towards God. When you think of it, God is really doing everything by placing us in a time and place to know him, and he chooses a universe that gives us what we need to respond to him. For those who don’t respond, it’s their own fault. God chooses not to force them to make a choice to respond. You can’t have love with coercion, and God wants a love relationship with him. The choice to respond MUST BE free.


        1. As I said, I agree that we have the capacity and freedom to make choices. The question is whether or not ALL choices are without interference. If God allowed me to make 9 choices without coercion and then forced the 10th, is that “free will” or not? Must “free will” be entirely, always, unconditionally without coercion or interference to be “free will”, or can God interfere ON OCCASION and still we would have “free will”?

          The reason I ask is that here IS biblical precedence where God takes credit for an individual’s choice.

          The second question is still about the capacity to choose. You reference a “drawing” (in the other comment), but it appears that the person in question makes the choice on his own. The Bible, on the other hand, says that God chooses apart from Man’s will and that Natural Man is unwilling and unable to make that choice because of his sin condition. (The terms in the Bible are terms like “no man can …”. Paul uses the term “cannot” along with “will not” in reference to “the things of God”.) The whole Middle Knowledge thing presupposes that all Man needs is the proper “wooing” — drawing. I don’t see that.


          1. “The second question is still about the capacity to choose. You reference a “drawing” (in the other comment), but it appears that the person in question makes the choice on his own.”

            No, when I say drawing I mean that God makes the first choice to throw the lifejacket. Then man makes a choice to respond, that God foreknew and set up the world so that the background conditions would be such that this person would freely make that choice to grab hold of the lifejacket. This is the straight middle knowledge theory. God draws people to him FIRST, people do not have the choice to do anything except to not resist him. You can even say that he regenerates them first him you want, which is also not obligated to do. He just knows who will respond in certain circumstances, then he gives them those circumstances, then he works to save them and he knows that they won’t resist him in those circumstances and with his saving initiative coming first. He throws the lifejacket. He tells you to kick your feet. He talks you to the shore. You just listen.


  6. Here’s my take on this:

    I think that both the free-will and predestination sides of the debate have Scriptural support. If we attempt to settle on a position in this controversy, we must either reinterpret all the Scripture that seems to support one side (which always seems awkward to me) or rethink our position to take into account both sets of Scripture.

    Here’s an example of a possibility that I think fits Scripture. Note that I don’t really know that this is how things work – it’s just a possibility. I doubt that we’ll be able to answer these questions with any certainty until we get to ask Him face to face. If it were critical to our salvation to get this right, it would be more plain in Scripture – so it’s just an interesting exercise.

    If God “saw” all of time when He created the universe, He also saw all the choices that His creations made, and His own actions in our universe. Therefore, when He made the universe, knowing exactly what would come from it, He foreordained everything – without having to determine our choices for us or individually manipulate which way every atom bounces. We still have free will, in the sense that we make decisions without interference, but God also has foreordained our lives by the action of creating the universe while having full knowledge of what would occur in it.

    His will is that we all are saved, but He doesn’t impose His complete will on all of us. Clearly, it would not be His will that anyone sin, and what would be the significance of sin if we were just “following directions?” Why would He even bother to tell us not to do it? At any rate, He wants to bring us to Him. Those who seek, of course, will find. Hopefully they will also accept what they find. Although we don’t know all the details, I think that the prayers of those of us already saved play an important part in many cases. He has given us a staggering role in that we can request His power to be applied to a certain situation, and He says that prayer is effective, so we have to believe that it can make a big difference. Maybe someone was praying for Saul when the light appeared to him on the Damascus road. I believe God calls to all of us, and we all have the choice to accept or reject His call, but He more dramatically intervenes in some situations as a response to prayer.

    As to the rock-too-big-to-move question, I see it as a logical impossibility, not a limitation on God’s abilities or intelligence – like, “can God create a square circle?” or “is God capable of being wrong?”


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