Metaphysics Philosophy


Robert Adams, in “Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil” sought to address the reemergence of a Jesuit theory of divine providence Scientia Media – by offering the grounding objection to God’s MK.

Adams first addresses Scientia Media historically – leaning heavily on Luis de Molina’s offerings in “Part IV: On Divine Foreknowledge” in Concordia (1588). Middle Knowledge describes God’s knowledge of, “what every possible free creature would freely do in every situation in which that creature could possibly find himself,” (109). Theologians are drawn to scientia media because it explains how God could sovereignly actualize a world wherein He utilizes the (libertarian) free actions of creatures to accomplish His will.

Adams’ contends that conditional propositions supposedly known in MK cannot be true (109). He substantiates this claim by appealing to the text of 1 Samuel 23. Before settling in Keilah, David asks the Lord if Saul of Israel will come into Keilah. God responds in the affirmative. David then queries if the men of Keilah, “will surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul.” God responds, “they will surrender you.” As a result, David evacuates from Keilah, giving Saul no opportunity to besiege his men and removing the occasion for the men of Keilah to surrender him (1 Samuel 23:1-14). Jesuit theologians use this passage to assert God’s knowledge of two propositions:

  1. If David stayed in Keilah, Saul would besiege the city.
  2. If David stayed in Keilah and Saul besieged the city, the men of Keilah would surrender David to Saul.

Since both actions would have been free in a libertarian sense, this is understood as a case of God’s MK (110). But what, if anything, makes these two propositions true? Adams states, “Most philosophers … have supposed that categorical predictions, even about contingent events, can be true by corresponding to the actual occurrence of the event that they predict. But propositions (1) and (2) are not true in this way.” (110).

Given a correspondence theory of truth, subjunctive conditionals require a truthmaker. Rejecting the idea that Saul’s besieging of Keilah follows by logical necessity from David’s staying there, a more plausible suggestion is one of causal necessity. But both types of necessity would eliminate libertarian free will (111)! Any non-necessitating basis for the truth of (1) and (2), Adams continues, would result in mere probabilities. This means God would not infallibly know what definitely will happen.

Suarez appealed to a primitive understanding for the truth values of relevant subjunctive conditionals. A merely possible being, under Suarez’s view, need not find actualization, yet has a property of being a possible agent who may or may not insatiate a situational action. Only God knows which property this possible agent has (112). This ontology is rejected by Adams.

Alvin Plantinga assumed the theory of MK in formulating his “Free Will Defense” to the problem of evil. Adams refutes Plantinga’s possible worlds explanation of counterfactuals – adapted from Robert Stalnaker and David Lewis (112). By this analysis, the actual world must be more similar to some possible world wherein David stays in Keilah and Saul besieges the city, than to any possible world in which David stays in Keilah and Saul does not besiege the city (112). Adams objects to the conclusion that such a world as described above is relevantly similar to the actual world. Rather, his argument goes, it seems a relevantly similar world would be one in which David stayed in Keilah but wasn’t given over to Saul. Additionally, Adams appeals to the argument of probability presented previously – that one can only posit what Saul might have done, and so would have only probably laid siege to Keilah (113).

Adams rejects Plantinga’s application of deliberative conditionals (If I did x, y would happen) to the possible worlds explanation of counterfactuals (113). Here the order of explanation in God’s creative act is questioned – “the truth of crucial conditionals cannot be settled soon enough to be of use to God,” (113). The problem is that this conditional may only be considered true if the actual world is more similar to a world wherein x is done and y happens, than a world wherein x is done but y does not happen. Thus, the truth of this deliberate conditional depends on the truth or falsity of its antecedent. Which world is the actual world is seen as dependent upon whether x is done or not done. Adams argues that if God simply believed a deliberate conditional prior to the settlement of this conditional as true, then He acts based on luck, not wisdom.