Compatibilist middle knowledge is a theological view that combines the understandings of middle knowledge and a compatibilist understanding of divine providence to form a coherent view of God's sovereignty and human freedom. This view is argued for by Bruce Ware in his book, God's Greater Glory.
Middle knowledge without libertarian freedom
According to middle knowledge, God can envision a person in any set of circumstances and know what they would choose in any and each instance. The problem with traditional Molinism (the name sometimes used to describe the middle knowledge view) is the connection of libertarian freedom with God's foreknowledge. The result is that God could not exhaustively know a person's free actions by simply knowing their circumstances. In other words, if they do in fact possess libertarian freedom, he cannot know for certain what a free agent will actually choose, for according to libertarian freedom, they could have chosen otherwise.
It should be noted, however, that the great majority of proponents of Libertarian Freedom, and the great majority of proponents of Middle Knowledge, do not agree with Ware's contention that God cannot know counterfactuals of creaturely freedom if Libertarian Freedom is true.
How compatibilism helps
A compatibilist view combined with the tenets of middle knowledge are said to strengthen Molinism's claims. This is possible because if humanity does possess compatibilist freedom this allows God to exhaustively know what they would do in each circumstance, because according to compatibilist freedom, the person will choose their greatest desire.
When a person is placed in specific circumstances, these circumstances tend to affect and influence what a person will choose. Therefore, if God, through his middle knowledge, can know the circumstances each person will encounter, he can also know the choices that each person would make in each circumstance.
- Exodus 13:17
- 1 Sam. 23:8-14
- Jeremiah 23:21-22
- Matt. 11:21-24
- 1 Cor. 2:8
Bruce Ware particularly notes the relationship of 1 Corinthians 2:8 and Acts 4:27-28 regarding God's predestined plans. He argues that the past fulfillment of what "God's plan had predestined to take place" involved God's middle knowledge of what the "rulers of this age" should know or not know. God knew what the rulers would do with knowledge of God's wisdom in Christ, and he knew what they would do without it. He thus chose to form the circumstances where they would not know and would therefore choose to crucify Jesus (Ware, p. 119).
Compatibilist middle knowledge and evil
To be coherent (and biblical), compatibilist middle knowledge must show that God is not the direct cause of evil. Ware begins his argument by affirming biblically that God controls both good and evil (Isaiah 45:7) and that God is good and not evil (Psalms 5:4). Yet, by using his middle knowledge, God can control specific situations and ultimately the outcome of each persons choices. For if one person will choose to do "option A" according to his greatest desire, if God changes the circumstances even slightly, God can know (and be assured) that he would then choose "option B" instead of "option A". And so, "God, through his middle knowledge, can know whether he should permit an agent to choose according to his greatest desire or whether to alter the circumstances" (Ware, p. 121). Man is still responsible for his actions because he chose them, and God is not responsible because he does not force people to make these choices and instead permits them to make certain choices.
The objection to this view is that God is still responsible because he is in control of the factors which influence a person's choice. Ware first points out that it is correct that God cannot directly do evil, and that he cannot force (tempt) anyone to do evil (James 1:13). Second, however, he shows that it is a mistake to assume that it is the factors (or circumstances) that control one's choice. He states that it is not the factors that ultimately cause the agent to choose, nor is it God.
Rather, in light of the nature of that person, when certain factors are present, his nature will respond to those factors and seek to do what he, by nature, wants most to do (Ware, p. 122). Thus, it is by nature that humanity chooses what they desire the most. Although circumstances can influence a choice, they are ultimately grounded in man's nature. God simply permits these choices, knowing through his middle knowledge what each person will do in any circumstance. Therefore, God can both permit evil, and be in control of it.
Critiques of compatibilist middle knowledge
- The Compatibility of Calvinism and Middle Knowledge, by John D. Laing. The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47/3 (Sept. 2004); 455-467.
- Middle Knowledge: A Reformed Critique, by Travis James Campbell