What is Molinism?

Continuing the discussion from @GBrooks9's View On God's Engagement:

What is Molinism, and why is it so important to understand? At this point, it has come up in two separate threads, one on God’s action and another on Theodicy.

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I sometimes casually define Molinism as God considering all possible “reality paths” and choosing the one which best achieves the Divine will. Molinism beautifully allows for free will because human free will is at liberty within all of the possible reality paths. So nobody can claim “I didn’t have any choice. God forced that choice upon me. It wasn’t my own.”

The Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate was something that used to frustrate me until I eventually grasped the harmony of their various “proof texts” in the Bible by means of a Molinist understanding.

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I had hoped that it had become a more mainstream topic in recent decades. Now you’ve got me curious as to whether most seminaries and Bible colleges nowadays cover Molinism when they deal with Calvinism’s TULIP, etc.

Obviously, I think a basic grasp of Molinism is extremely helpful to the entire origins debate.

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It is huge in philosophy, due to Plantinga’s long shadow, but appears to be neglected in theological education. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a theologian mention the word.

I also a long conversation with @vjtorley on this at the Skeptical Zone a while back:

The Purpose of Theistic Evolution

Dr. Joshua Swamidass, a theistic evolutionist, joined us recently at TSZ. I think the following comment of his will lead to some interesting and contentious discussion and is worthy of its own thread:

Third, if we drop “Darwinian” to just refer to the current modern synthesis of evolutionary theory, you are right that the scientific account does not find any evidence of direction or planning. I agree with you here and do not dispute this.

So the question becomes, really, is it possible that God could have created a process (like evolution) with a purposeful intent that science could not detect? I think the answer here is obvious. Of course He could. In fact, I would say, unless He wanted us to discern His purpose, we could not.

In my view, then, evolution has a purpose in creating us. Science itself cannot uncover its purpose. I find that out by other means.

The purpose of theistic evolution | The Skeptical Zone

I easily convinced the atheists there it was a viable position, who then turned to arguing with the ID people that it was a valid position. These particular examples were so thoroughly opposed to evolution that they were irrationally opposed to one of the most important advances in our understanding of God’s providence. An atheist felt the need to push back against them. Priceless.


I don’t want to start yet another thread from this Molinist trajectory, but I’ll just mention that I’ve always been amazed at how Openness Theology started catching on some years ago. I can still remember my shock sitting in an ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) session, probably in the late 1990’s, when Openness Theology was the primary topic of the annual meeting. I was startled not only at the few theologians present who thought God would be somehow limited in knowing the future but that the majority of the evangelical theologians in attendance seemed to have no grasp of the revolution which Einstein brought with his concept of time. I sat there thinking to myself, “You people have a anachronistic view of God that I might have expected of late 1800’s theologians before the Theory of Special Relativity was published.”

Open Theism is very different than Molinism. That has been widely rejected by Philosophers and Theologians, even as they embrace Molinism. These are different things.

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Can you provide a more complete definition?

Of course they are different things! That was my point: Openness Theology is virtually the opposite of Molinism. Yet, at the very time when Molinism was becoming increasingly important among many philosophers and theologians, there was a major wave of Openness Theology trending, which is why ETS devoted an annual meeting to Openness Theology.

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I should add that if I were still teaching, I would probably be covering Molinism and Openness Theology in the same introductory lecture—precisely because they are so diametrically opposed. I won’t go so far as to say that they are opposite sides of a coin, but they are worth defining in the same chapter of a textbook.

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I suppose a basic dictionary definition would be a doctrine proposed by 16th century Jesuit Luis de Molina which seeks to resolve the classic tension between Divine Sovereignty and Human Free Will. It relies on God’s Middle Knowledge, especially his grasp of all counterfactuals: knowing what every human will decide in every potential situation.

(Molinism is such a complex subject that one never quite never knows where to stop when describing it.)

By the way, when I have talked about Molinism in churches (whether in Sunday School classes or from the pulpit), I’ve had people ask me, “Is Molinism more like Calvinism or Arminianism?” I usually like to begin my answer with “Yes.” and then watch their perplexed reaction.

I say yes because Molinism can well accommodate both the favorite prooftexts of Calvinists and the favorite prooftexts of Arminians. Molinism fully supports God’s sovereignty and human free choice.


The reason I bring up Einstein and relativity whenever I speak of Openness Theology is that I was always amazed that an evangelical theologian would ever assume that God is omnipresent in space without also being omnipresent (and thereby fully omniscient) in time as well. It is as if the concept of space-time is still foreign to countless evangelical theologians.

God created time just like he created all other attributes and dimensions of the universe. Accordingly, how could God possibly be limited or bounded by one of those attributes or dimensions? God is sovereign over time, not somehow watching from the sidelines thinking, “I wonder how it is all going to turn out?”

And that is another explanation of why I find it convenient to talk about Molinism and counterfactuals and middle knowledge and Openness Theology in the same lecture.



Does Molinism require this divine consideration to be done “in real time”? Or can God have done all this consideration before he even created the Universe?


Based on my review of the Wiki article, it looks like the key is:

“foreknowledge of freewill choices” allows God to plan all other things to accomplish his divine goals - - without violating anyone’s Free Will. He works with the Free Will choices.

@swamidass, does that sound right to you?

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My hunch is that because Luis de Molina lacked our concepts of space-time, and may not have thought of God as existing outside of time (although I’ve never studied him in detail), I assume that traditional Molinist simply think in terms of foreknowledge and God deciding all of this “before the creation.” Nevertheless, I’m probably not a traditional Molinist. Because I view God as outside of time, I tend to refer to God’s knowledge of counterfactuals rather than foreknowledge per se. (To put it another way, instead of foreknowledge, I prefer to think in terms of God being omnipresent in all times as well as all places. That renders foreknowledge unnecessary. For God, every moment is “now”.)

I think your question would be a great survey query for Molinists. I really can’t predict how most would answer it.

POSTSCRIPT: I’m often amazed at how many people assume that knowing what someone will do X requires forcing them to do X (and thereby limiting their free will.) Anyone who has been a parent can refute that argument. We often know exactly what a young child will do—even though we aren’t forcing them to do what is their own free choice. If we can do that with limited knowledge, God can certainly do that with his complete knowledge.


Molinism inspired one of the most important theorems in quantum physics (Kochen and Specker) and also helps to a coherent formulation of the “Many-worlds” interpretation.

You may be interested in reading this article:

Hi @AllenWitmerMiller, @gbrooks9, @AntoineSuarez and @swamidass,

Several years ago, I wrote a mini-essay on God’s omniscience, in which I canvassed various theological alternatives, and discussed what I regard as the two cardinal difficulties with Molinism. My own view is closer to the Boethian solution. Make of it what you will. My two cents.


Your article includes this option:

“According to the most common interpretation of Boethius[:]”

“his answer to question (a) is: Yes, God’s foreknowledge of our choices logically presupposes our making those choices …”

“and his answer to question (b) is: No, God does not determine our choices.”

I think this makes for a good answer!

Very nice overview, vjtorley! I found it quite useful.

I’m going to recommend it to some pastors who are working on their online M.Div. degrees.

It appears that Joshua has restarted this Molinism thread. Good idea.

To help revive it, I will share one of my lame jokes. I was doing a concert at a church where some Ph.D. students from the nearby graduate school of theology were present. I was seated at the keyboard of the sanctuary’s elegant grand piano, having just done a rousing version of When We All Get To Heaven, [which has defective theology but I’ll ignore that for now.] After a meaningfully dramatic pause, I began singing a spur-of-the-moment parody with those theology students in mind:

“Just give me that ol’ time Molinism,
gimme that ol’ time Molinism,
gimme that ol’ time Molinism
…cuz it’s good enough for me.”

“It was good enough for Luis de Molina,
It was good enough for Luis de Molina,
It was good enough for Luis de Molina,
…and that’s good enough for me!”

(Yeah, ya probably had to be there to appreciate it. But I enjoyed it.)

(I wish I could find my old theological, grammatical, syntactical, heremeneutical, lexicographically suitable parody of the Gilbert & Sullivan I am the very model of a modern major general.)