If you’re a Molinist, you have to break up with divine simplicity.
This isn’t a problem for many Molinists because a lot of them have already denied the doctrine. While there may be many reasons for this break-up with simplicity (William Lane Craig finds a conflict between it and the doctrine of the Trinity), there is one reason a Molinist, if he be a true Molinist, must give it up.
A distinctive of Molinism is middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is that category of knowledge which is said to fit between God’s natural and free knowledge. It’s a capacity of knowledge in which God knows, exhaustively, what His creatures would do if placed in a particular state of affairs.
Divine simplicity is an important doctrine because, as Dr. James Dolezal writes, “The doctrine of divine simplicity is meant to correct any proclivity we might have toward conceiving God’s being as dependent on principles or sources of being more basic than His own divinity.” In other words, divine simplicity guards against improperly thinking or speaking about God.
What is divine simplicity?
God is divinely simple in virtue of the fact that both His essence and His existence are identical. Unlike creatures, there is not a real distinction between the what-ness of God, and the is-ness of God. God, simply put, just is. This means that His attributes, however one choses to enumerate them, are identified, not only with one another, but also with the divine essence. God simply is just; God is love; God is power, and so on. God is not 1/12th power, 1/12th love, etc.
Why is simplicity so important to maintain?
Let’s take the analogy of a home. A home is made up of several different parts. It has walls, a roof, windows, a floor, and other things that make it what it is. Rarely would anyone call a home without roof, a floor, walls, etc., a home. It might be a structure, but it wouldn’t be a home.
A home, then, needs (or depends on) certain parts in order to be a home. Not only this, but a home becomes a home when the correct parts, suitable for a home, are put together. We could even have a completed home, adding to what that home is by building on another room, or changing the interior colors, etc. A home, therefore, can become something it was previously not. This implies becoming. A home becomes what a homeowner wants it to be.
God is not like this.
God does not depend on something that is not God in order to be God. We know this from certain passages in Scripture. In Job, for example, when Job’s friend, Eliphaz, lodges a few rhetorical questions, he asks:
Can a man be profitable to God? Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself. Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? (Job 22:2, 3)
The implication here is that Job does not give to God, nor does he take anything from God. God does not lose out from Job’s sin. So too, God does not gain anything He didn’t already have when Job walks righteously. Paul, in Acts, says:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24, 25).
God does not depend on His creation to be that which He is. Solomon says, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)” God does not need anything to be who He is. Some have objected by saying that God may not need anything to be who He is, but He could certainly take on properties by His own free choice.
Even here, God would become that which He wasn’t already. This creates a problem. If God became it would mean that God was not a Being “than which nothing greater can be conceived.” If God added anything to Himself, it could be said that He was, at one time, lacking that which He did not now have. He would, therefore, not be the greatest being than which nothing greater could be conceived. It should also be noted that, in the midst of becoming (if becoming is granted in God), then God is created (or being created), in some sense.
So, What’s the Problem?
Molinism’s middle knowledge cannot escape the fact that it must deny the doctrine briefly discussed above. A middle knowledge in God would be a really distinct knowledge, it would a part of God which makes God who He is. “Why can’t middle knowledge be seen as the other two categories: natural and free knowledge?” one may ask. Natural and free knowledge have traditionally been seen as two different ways of talking about God’s singular knowledge. God does not have two different kinds of knowledge which actually inhere in His being.
However, when middle knowledge is introduced, there is a truly distinct attribute added to God. “Why does this have to be so with middle knowledge?” our questioner probes. This is so with middle knowledge because middle knowledge cannot be said to be grounded in God. Middle knowledge is that knowledge God has of what creatures would do if put in a given state of affairs. Thus, middle knowledge derives at least part of its contents from creatures, rather than God.
This is why the Molinist, to be consistent, must deny the doctrine of divine simplicity. They have added a property to God—middle knowledge—which at least partially depends upon creatures, not God. Thus, on Molinism, God must be said to be dependent (not a se), he must be said to be composed of parts (not divinely simple), and he must be said to be becoming (rather than pure Being).
The rhetorical questions, asked of Job by Eliphaz, are arrogantly answered! Can a man be profitable to God? Sure! After all, God derives knowledge from His creation in middle knowledge. Thus, there is a reciprocity involved in this situation. God does not, as Paul says, give His creatures everything, but He also takes something away from His creation—knowledge. There is then a give-and-take relationship present, contra biblical data.
As it can be seen above, to deny divine simplicity at any level is fatal to a sound theology proper. Molinism, if it truly wants to maintain a middle knowledge that is not grounded in God, must admit that God is (1) composed of parts, (2) that He begins to be what He was not (middle knowledge was prior to Him in being), and (3) that He is dependent on something other than Himself to be who He is (because, composed of parts).