An Outline of David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Originally published posthumouly in 1779, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Theology sounded the death knell for natural theology. Natural theology was the attempt to discern the character and existence of God from creation alone, apart from revelation. Addressing arguments from the appearance of design in the world (a posteriori), what is now called the cosmological arguement (a priori), and the moral argument, Hume describes in an engaging manner the interactions of an ‘orthodox’ Christian, Demea (who is really a Christian mystic); a deist, Cleanthes; and a empircal skeptic, Philo. Though the dialogues seem to favour Cleanthes as Hume’s representative, Philo throughout best represents Hume’s thought and is consistently given the upper hand in the dialogues: it is in Philo, then, that we should seek Hume’s voice. Speaking through Philo, Hume concludes that everyone must concede that the first cause of the universe bears some remote resemblance to man, yet that this not so very different from atheism and such a concession, apart from revelation, cannot be further explained and can have no effect on the way a person lives his life–it is a practically meaningless concession. In light of his rejection elsewhere of the possibility of revelation, we see here in Philo the intent of Hume’s book: thinly disguised by the concluding paragraph, Philo intends the reader to conclude with him that God is not clear in creation and that any first cause we attribute to the universe is nothing like the Christian God–it would be unknowable, probably evil, and unable affect the lives of anyone.

Apart from revelation, then, Hume’s book is a devestating critique of religion–a critique that is strikingly relevant today, parroted often by the New Atheists. Yet we don’t live in world without revelation: God has made Himself abundantly clear in  creation, so much so that all are held accountable, and has revealed Himself from the beginning of His creation verbally to His creatures. Humes argument is a devestating critque of religion that would start with man as the ultimate reference point for meaning, that would make man’s autonomous reason the measure of God’s existence and attributes. In so doing, Hume’s book is a valuable read for the biblically saturated Christian today. He shows that to begin with man’s autonomous reason is to end up without God, but God has never left it up to our autonomous reason: in making us in His image, we have been born with the interpretive tools necessary to accurately discern His invisible attributes in His creation (Rom. 1:18ff): it is only in our unrighteousness that we suppress this knowledge and attempt to work on the foundation of our finite reason alone. More than this, God has also revealed Himself clearly in His Scriptures: the Bible testifies to the fullness of His character as man in this life can know Him and His work. When one begins with Scripture, Hume’s arguments appear hollow.

To aid the interested reader in better understanding Hume’s argument, I have provided below an outline of Hume’s Dialogues summarizing each part of the book and with it a shorter outline .

a) An Outline and Summary of David Hume’s Dialogues

b) An Outline of Hume’s Dialogues


The Irrationalism of Rational Thought

Can someone who rejects God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture be consistently rational? Cornelius Van Til, a 20th century Christian apologist and theologian, frequently demonstrated the inherent irrationalism of all non-Biblical worldviews. One of his students, John Frame, has applied this insight to many of the major philosophical thinkers and movements of western civilization, showing how at the heart of their attempts to be rational lies irrationalism (A History of Western Philosophy and Theology). If Christianity is right in claiming that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, this makes sense: if this world is created, administrated, and interpreted by an all-knowing and ever-present Creator, every truth and correct interpretation of the world will have reference to Him. Without Yahweh as a reference point, consistency would be impossible, thus the irrationalism at the heart of all our attempts to be rational. Here I want to outline how this insight applies to the two forms of reasoning we all regularly use, inductive reasoning (concluding truths or hypothesis from observed data) and deductive reasoning (the use of deductive logic, e.g., all men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal).


Inductive reasoning can give no certainty within an open or unknown system: only exhaustive knowledge allows the possibility of true knowledge. In its pure form, it is inherently contradictory in this sense. To assert knowledge of anything, an inductivist must assume that he knows everything—that all the data is available to him. For example, any theory works from the known data and theorizes, giving predications, but can be contradicted by any fact. If I theorize the impossibility of a resurrection, the occurrence of a resurrection demands reconsideration of all the facts that led to that conclusion. If the universe is to a great extent unexplored, then there is a wealth of unknown data that could contradict any inductively based belief—it only takes one case of an effect not following a cause to cast doubt on all causality (tradition teaches that John the Revelator survived being placed in boiling oil: the effect should have been death, what other effects should we then doubt?). An inductivist (e.g., empiricist) desiring to live rationally must first, then, irrationally disregard all possibly contradictory data, such as miracles (which is to argue in a circle).  Furthermore, to provide any knowledge, inductive reasoning must be built on a foundation, with deductive reasoning, of certainty. Only certain knowledge, a solid foundation, grounds the possibility of inductive reasoning or deductive logic. Inductive reasoning relies upon the certainty of extra mental existence, causality, individual existence, trustworthy senses, and the correspondence between mental impression and extra-mental being.  All inductive reasoning relies on the certainty of these truths, yet cannot establish them.

Deductive reasoning requires the truth of at least initial premises (via either innate knowledge or inductive verification) and the validity of logic—which presumes a whole worldview necessary to support it (mind, rationality, consistency). The certainty of the initial premises, as with inductive reasoning, presumes upon exhaustive knowledge—that there is nothing that could possibly disprove or provide an exemption to the premise. Is unbiblical reasoning, therefore, really rational? To gain knowledge through reason, the unbiblical worldview first assumes without a reason a rational universe, causality, the existence of others, the existence of self, and the correspondence between thought and reality, and then it postulates a naturalistic open system—no one has exhaustive knowledge, there is no transcendent being—and thus destroys the very possibility of useable knowledge.


Consider two examples, David Hume and Descartes. The most consistent of empiricists, David Hume has had a profound influence lasting far beyond his death. Yet, even Hume could not provide a rationally satisfactory system of thought. To make his radical empiricism work, Hume had to postulate so-called ‘natural beliefs.’ Natural beliefs are those beliefs that man cannot deny and therefore he is not obligated to deny even if he is lacking any proof. These then become the foundational beliefs by which his empiricism functions. To qualify as such, a belief must be undeniable: examples are the existence of self and others and the reliability of perceptions. He defends these as ‘natural beliefs’ because they cannot be demonstrated in any way. So, those beliefs most foundational to Hume’s epistemology—to human experience—are rationally unfounded, without any support.[1] The center, then, of Hume’s attempt at rational thought, his empiricism, is pure irrationalism—beliefs that must be assumed without any evidence. Even his criterion for natural beliefs is arbitrary: how does one know, on an empiricist system, that such beliefs are universal, undeniable? what sense impression supports this universal negative? what experience does Hume have of universal belief? Furthermore, what sense impression leads to the postulation of this criterion?

Descartes, on the other hand, attempts to establish all truth through deductive reasoning. Yet, he runs into very similar problems. His primary axiom, that belief from which he deduces all else is “I think therefore I am.” Here he finds certainty in the immediate, undeniable, impression of self-existence. He then attempts to prove from this starting point of self-existence the existence of God and, from there, everything else. Yet to move beyond the self, Descartes had to introduce irrationalism into his system. His reasoning for God rests upon deductive logic, presuming on the existence and validity of reason, and knowledge of all the terms within his syllogism (what does ‘god’ mean? where does he learn this meaning? what do ‘is,’ ‘exists,’ and ‘self’ mean?). These are unprovable assumptions: Descartes had to assume they were valid before he could engage in any reasoning, before he could come to any conclusion beyond his own self-existence. The irrationalism at the heart of his attempt is even clearer when one examines just what his famous cogito—“I think therefore I am”—achieves. “I” and “am” here have no definite value, and can have no definite value on Descartes epistemology. He claims to have established as a certain principle the existence of self, yet he is unable to explain what self is. There is the undeniable impression of thought, of self-awareness, but whether this is the self-awareness of a bee, a computer program, a robot, a human being, or a black hole is unknowable. The self he has proved is, without the knowledge of anything else, a hopeless postulate: what good does it do to know that ‘the self’ exists, with no knowledge of what that means or the ability to prove anything beyond “I am.” Rationalism, with Descartes, yields only hopeless irrationalism—the knowledge of bare self or the irrational assumption of reason and exhaustive knowledge necessary to deductively prove with certainty any other truth.[2]

[1] Knowledge must be able to be traced back to sense impression: none of these ideas can be traced back to such impressions, so they cannot be knowledge.

[2] Thanks to James Hooks for a helpful discussion and clarification on Decartes argument.

Unless You Believed in Vain

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul addresses false teaching in the Corinthian church and challenges the church on their doubt concerning the resurrection: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (15:17). Yet, those who proffer this passage to substantiate the necessity of history for faith fail to see that this same passage—and a plethora of others—demand the same conclusion concerning Scripture. That is, I believe Paul would contend that if Scripture is not God’s Word—and thus trustworthy, inerrant, and authoritative—our faith is in vain. That is a bold claim, but it seems to me to be necessary.

Why doesn’t Paul say this? For Paul, and for the New Testament Church (and the Jews in fact), the doctrine of Scripture was never at stake—the binding authority of God’s revelation was not in doubt: what was in doubt, at various times, was the interpretation of the Old Testament (Paul’s debates with the Jews) or the authenticity of Paul’s preaching as God’s revelation (is Paul a genuine apostle?). In this passage, Paul combats the rejection of a future resurrection with three arguments, all appeals to the message he has preached. First, he begins by asking how they can doubt the future resurrection if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead—he points out the contradiction between this belief they are toying with and the preaching they received. He then brings out further the problem here in two ways: the ministry of Paul and the faith of the people are both at stake if this is true. The risen Christ is the essence of Paul’s preaching: if there is no resurrection, Jesus has not been raised and his preaching is futile (14). This of course brings out a bigger problem: if Christ has not been raised, then their faith futile, they are still in their sins—the message offering salvation is bogus.


What does this have to do with Scripture? The New Testament Scriptures are the content of the teaching and preaching of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles. It is, for us, the equivalent of the preaching that the Corinthians’ doubt calls into question. We could then deduce that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, the teaching of Scripture is futile: this is attested in our context. All Scripture concerns Jesus and the Gospel, and he was raised “in accordance with the Scriptures” (4): if He was not raised, than the Old Testament was wrong, the message of Scripture is wrong. What is the point of a book that testifies to reconciliation to and enjoyment of God through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God who was never actually raised? So if Christ was not raised from the dead, we can say that Scripture is futile—it fails to testify to the truth and cannot achieve its goals. But I would contend, and believe Paul would as well, that this goes the other way around as well.

What would happen if Scripture could be broken (contra John 10:35)? What would that say about our faith and the resurrection of Jesus Christ? What if Scripture was not authoritative, trustworthy, or inerrant? (If this is in doubt, read the appendix The Co-inherence of Authority, Trustworthiness, and Inerrancy.) Authority, Trustworthiness, and Inerrancy are all interrelated—what is authoritative must be trustworthy and inerrant, what is inerrant is implicitly authoritative on whatever it speaks; if it is trustworthy it has authority and is free from error. What does this have to do with 1 Corinthians 15? I contend that if Scripture is not authoritative, trustworthy, and inerrant, your faith is futile. How do we get here from what Paul is saying? His whole point rests not on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that Jesus was raised from the dead and that this has the utmost significance. Stay with me here; it matters that Christ was raised, not Lazarus. Paul cannot make this same point by arguing “if Lazarus was not raised from the dead….” This is obvious, but this means that the significance of Christ’s death was not merely the historical fact that a man was raised from the dead, not even that a man named Jesus was raised from the dead. The significance of the resurrection was that the Christ was crucified for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead in accordance with Scripture (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The Corinthian’s belief that there is no future resurrection was so dangerous because it threatened to utterly destroy the Gospel (3-11) and the hope that believers have because of that Gospel (20-49). Their rejection of the final resurrection called into question the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, which, if it did not happen, would undermine the entire Christian faith. The falsity of this fact would destroy the Christian faith because of the meaning it carries, meaning given to it only by Scripture.

If we were told that Jesus was raised from the dead, yet were not told that He was the eternal son of God incarnate, what good would this do for us: if the resurrection of Lazarus is not the point on which our faith stands our falls, why would the resurrection of this unexplained Jesus be any different? If we were not told that He was crucified for our sins and that His resurrection was for our justification—that He died and was raised for our sins—His resurrection would not mean much, would it? The resurrection is so important because “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). The resurrection is so important because if Christ was not raised, there would be no final resurrection—of which His resurrection was the first fruit—and all the trials Christians go through in this life would be meaningless (1 Cor. 15:19-23). If we did not know from the Old Testament who God was, and what He demanded from His creation, there would be no reason for the salvation Christ’s resurrection ensured. We could go on and on and on: every point of the Christian faith feeds into our understanding of the resurrection, our interpretation of it. If we did not have this teaching, this pattern of doctrine, as taught in Scripture, then the resurrection would be meaningless!


Historical facts need an interpretation to be meaningful, for their significance to be known: Christ’s resurrection was first interpreted by Him to His apostles, and then—by the Holy Spirit—the apostles interpreted it for God’s people. This all important interpretation of the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is only found in Scripture.[1] What, then, is the point of this? If Christ was not raised from the dead, after having died for our sins, and so ensured for us a right verdict before God, ushered in the new creation, and defeated death itself, then our faith would be in vain. But how, in the first place, do we know Christ was raised from the dead? In the end, the truth of the resurrection relies on Scripture: Scripture gives us God’s testimony to it, along with the written testimony of the eyewitnesses and their attestation to other witnesses (e.g., 1 Cor. 15).  All our historical arguments, those seeking to validate these claims on modern criteria, rely on this data. If Scripture were not a trustworthy witness, then we would have no reason to suspect that Jesus was historically raised from the dead (the historical arguments rely on demonstrating, on modern criteria, the trustworthiness of the witnesses recorded by Scripture).

Most importantly, the all-important interpretation of the resurrection relies on Scripture being a trustworthy interpreter. We are given God’s interpretation of a historical fact: if God’s word elsewhere admits error, how can we have the utmost certainty required to found our hope here? One may argue, of course, that though Scripture is true here, it is not necessarily true everywhere—what is true of the parts is not necessarily true of the whole. Yet, if all of Scripture is God’s word, and various parts are in error, this at least admits that the whole is not inerrant—with no guarantee as to which parts are not. On these grounds, our historical arguments cannot just substantiate further what is already attested to with unfailing authority, but have the sole responsibility of proving the resurrection as a fact—the burden of proof falls fully on these arguments. This follows for all of Scripture: if one part can be in error, than it is no longer a self-authenticating authority, all its parts are subject to testing against known authorities. This makes human reason the ultimate subjective measure of truth—what is true is what I can determine with my mind to be true. On these grounds, the more Scripture is “shown” to be in error, the less weight its own testimony would carry. If the word of the Creator requires at every point the authentication of the creature, one would begin to question whether what they had was actually the word of the Creator: “12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things” (John 3:12)? When it comes to something, like the interpretation of the resurrection—where direct external verification is impossible—what foundation do we have for certainty? The only way to trust that this interpretation is correct is to argue that the whole of Scripture is trustworthy, authoritative, and inerrant, therefore each part is so. If the parts may err, then we have no possibility of certainty here, where it matters most. If we doubt Jesus on the earthly, testable facts, how can we not help but doubt Him on the heavenly, unverifiable facts? What becomes of God’s authority if it is subject to the authority of His creation? Where else will we turn to authenticate our interpretation of the resurrection? There is nowhere else to turn. If we cannot trust Him about earthly things, how can we be sure He speaks with truth about heavenly things?


Paul writes to the Corinthians, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sin. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18). Everything rests on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of what it means—what He has accomplished through it. If Scripture is not authoritative, trustworthy, and inerrant, then there is no hope to know for sure the meaning of the resurrection, even if we can convince ourselves that it happened. Therefore, I would argue, “If Scripture is not the Inspired Word of God, with the authority and trustworthiness implied therein, our faith is futile.” If I cannot trust Scripture on its own God-derived authority, if it must answer to the authority of autonomous human reason as it wrestles with experience and raw data, if it requires external verification, how sure is my foundation? Every new discovery may, then, call into question my foundational beliefs, the source of my hope, the assurance of resurrection life. Can I really know without a doubt, on such a foundation, that I will stand before God in the Day of Judgment justified by my faith in Jesus Christ?

[1] What about tradition? Tradition is built on the foundation of Scripture—confessedly turns to it for authority and derives its teachings (however imperfectly) therefrom. If the foundation is removed, then this interpretation follows its source.

Dangerous Assumptions: An Evaluation of the Free Will Defence to the Problem of Evil – Conclusion



Having examined the presuppositions of the FWD, namely incompatibilism and middle knowledge, we are now in a position to give a final evaluation of it as an answer to the logical problem of evil. To answer the logical Problem of Evil, the Free Will Defence must show that it is possible that God could only have created a world containing free creatures where they fell into sin. To do this, FWD proponents argue that it is possible for one person to be transworldly depraved and therefore that God could possibly not have created any world with more good than this one.

Without middle knowledge, there is no hope for Incompatibilist free will. Without Incompatibilism, the FWD defence cannot show that God could possibly not have created a world without sin. If contingent human choices do not place limitations on what God could create, then the FWD proponent cannot maintain premise 2.


Without the FWD, Christians need to find another way to answer the Logical Problem of Evil. The most promising route to take to do so is to find a reason for God allowing evil not in the greatest good of man, but for the sake of His glory. Towards this end, books such as Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God go a long way. [150] Whether or not we have an answer now, or will ever in this world, we can know that in Glory, we will have no doubts, we will sing with the rest of heaven,

“Great and marvelous are Your works,

O Lord God, the Almighty;

Righteous and true are Your ways,

King of the nations!

4“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?

For You alone are holy;

For all the nations will come and worship before You,

For Your righteous acts have been revealed.”[151]


[150]Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, chap. 149–190.

[151] Rev. 15:3-4



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Dangerous Assumptions: An Evaluation of the Free Will Defence to the Problem of Evil – Part 2c: Objections: Scientia Media?

Objections: Scientia Media?


Since the early Church, theologians have suggested that there are two logical moments[118] of God’s omniscience. This doctrine guards God’s knowledge from being dependent on creation and guard’s against the idea that creation involves merely actualized pre-existing ideas—the idea that all possible creations exist co-eternally with God as ideas that await not creation but actualization. The first logical moment of God’s thought is His natural knowledge (or simple knowledge); God’s natural knowledge contains all necessary truths and all knowledge about Himself. If a truth is eternally true and necessary in and of itself, it is found in God’s natural knowledge.[119] This includes such things as abstract ideas; eg. The law of non-contradiction, numbers (the idea not the symbol representing it). Examples of necessary truths are; God exists, God is good, God is one and three. These are necessary because there is no way they could not be true; it is logically impossible for God not to be good, for then He would not be God. God’s natural knowledge also encompasses all possibilities.

The next logical moment of God’s omniscience is His free knowledge (or knowledge of vision). God’s free knowledge is His knowledge of all that arises from His decrees. “Ideas, considered antecedent to the decree of the divine will, represent an abstraction and only a possible existence. Considered after the determination of the divine will, they represent things which are to come in their actual existence.”[120]  This knowledge is considered “free” because it results from God’s free decisions.[121] This division ensures that God’s knowledge is based on either His self-sufficiency (natural knowledge) or His decrees (free knowledge);[122] it is not at all dependent on His creation. God from this understanding knows all future events; even before He created, He knew would and could happen, but this knowledge is not based on free human choices, it precedes them.[123]


This effectively determines all human choices, leaving no room for free human choices. To answer the obvious compatibilist implications of this understanding of God’s omniscience, a Jesuit priest named Luis de Molina suggested a third moment in God’s knowledge between His natural and free knowledge;[124] because of its place between the first and third moment of God’s knowledge, he called it scientia media, or middle knowledge.[125] Molina’s middle knowledge described God’s knowledge of all that free creatures would do in every circumstance. It is knowledge that is dependent on God’s creatures, neither on God Himself nor on His decrees.[126] This knowledge is supposed to contain all contingent truths (such as what a specific person would do in a specific circumstance).[127]

Middle knowledge is a key piece in the FWD because it lays out every possible world that He could create. God knows through His middle knowledge what every creature He could create would do in every circumstance in which He placed him or her. In the FWD, it is suggested that it is possible that at least one person is transworldly depraved, meaning that in every possible world God could actualize[128] this person would sin. In the FWD, God deliberates possible worlds to actualize via his middle knowledge. For this argument to work, God requires middle knowledge because He needs to know what His free creatures would do in every circumstance and see that they would fall. In the FWD, God then creates despite having this knowledge because a world of significantly free creatures was worth the cost of evil. Without middle knowledge, God’s knowledge would be determinative and it is no longer possible to say that God was unable to create a world without sin (premise 2); God would have been able to create a world without sin because His knowledge and creation was not constrained by dependence on the free choices of His creatures. To evaluate whether middle knowledge is actually tenable, we will now turn our attention to various objections raised against it.


Objection 1: Middle Knowledge Provides No Ground For How Can Know Future Contingent Choices.


The first, and most frequent, objection to middle knowledge is that it gives no way that God could know future contingent choices; it just assumes that this is possible. Can we even assume that a contingent choice can be true or false before it happens, what makes it true or false other than the choice being made?[129] If a person is never in a circumstance to make a choice, how can we say that it is true or false that they would make it? Whatever it is that gives a ground for true propositions in God’s middle knowledge, it must be non-necessitating, for middle knowledge is by definition God’s knowledge of contingently free choices—to suggest a necessitating ground defeats the purpose of middle knowledge.

Someone may suggest that the intentions of those involved in a contingent choice provide a ground, but this brings up its own problems. These intentions have to be necessitating, making the proposition true and eliminating middle knowledge, or the proposition is neither true or false, only probable (if their intentions are non-necessitating then they could act contrary to them).[130]

Molina suggested that God’s certainty of contingent choices came from what he called “supercomprehension.” He held “”that the certainty of that middle knowledge comes from the depth and unlimited perfection of the divine intellect, by which [God] knows certainly what is in itself uncertain.”[131] This concept must be rejected in that it itself is a non-answer, it does not explain how God can know the uncertain, and it is incoherent. To comprehend something is to know everything there is to know about it, how could God know more than all there is to know?[132]

Another Jesuit theologian, Francisco Suarez, suggested that there was a property in a free being that grounded God’s middle knowledge. Consider creature C, who may never exist, who would do possible action A in the possible circumstance S. God knows that C would do A in S because of a specific property of C, what Suarez called a habitudo.[133] There are two problems with this explanation. First, this property would be in God’s idea of C and not in C himself, for God knew what C would do before he existed. This roots C’s action in God and not in C himself.[134] Even if this could be avoided, the fact that there is something in C that renders certain what he will do in S shows that this property is a sufficient condition for A; if there is a sufficient condition for A, then it won’t work for middle knowledge. Probably the greatest reason to reject Suarez’s suggestion is that there is no reason to believe that this property exists.[135]

One last suggestion that has been given for grounding God’s middle knowledge is the idea of backtracking counterfactuals.[136] It is suggested that a person’s free choice is what has led to God’s knowledge of it. The first objection to be made would be to decry this as backwards causation, but Craig is careful to guard against this accusation. Craig suggests that there is merely a semantic relationship and not a causal one at play. A proposition is true because it corresponds to a true state of affairs. The correspondence of the proposition to reality is not causal but semantic. Take two time stamped propositions, (6) C will do A at S and (7) C did A at S. (6) is true before S but not after it, (7) is true after S. The proposition (8) C does A at S, is true at all times. What makes these propositions true is their semantic relationship to the actual state of affairs, it is not a causal relationship.[137] There is no backward causation and since God knows all true propositions, He will know what C will do at S.[138]

Because middle knowledge relies on Incompatibilist freedom, the backtracker explanation must be able to affirm that C is able to not do A at S—this is the “can-claim.” It is objected that the truth of this backtracker calls into question the can-claim.[139] God had to have known the truth of the backtracker from all eternity, this means that a necessary condition of C doing something different than A at S is that the past be different. “Since the past is fixed and out of [C’s] control, it at least seems to follow from this that [C] can’t do [other than A].”[140]

Though there is a difference between the counterfactual backtracker and a backtracking causal chain, there appears to be no difference in the fixity of their results, this difference must be proven for counterfactual backtrackers to ground God’s middle knowledge.[141] Backtracking counterfactuals also appear to be begging the question, for it assumes that there is correspondence between an actual state of affairs and the proposition making it true, for if the actual state of affairs does not obtain, then there is no correspondence between the state of affairs and the proposition. How can this explain God’s middle knowledge of states of affairs that will never exist? Until C does A, how can God know that He will not do not-A? It appears then that there is no reason to attribute to man this strange ability of determining God’s thoughts in the past with our present actions,[142] and that there is no reasonable answer to the grounding objection.


Objection 2: Middle Knowledge is Incompatible with Libertarian Freedom.


The next objection is that middle knowledge appears to be self-defeating; it requires libertarian free will yet it appears to render our choices necessary.[143] For example, if C is to be free he must be able to choose either A or not­-A at S. 100 years ago, God knew that at S, C would do A. Unless God’s knowledge is capable of error, C must do A at S. Without a non-necessitating ground for God’s foreknowledge, the proponent of middle knowledge is left with only compatibilist causality as the way for God to know with infallible certainty what C will do at S  and no way to explain away objection 2.


Objection 3: Middle Knowledge Makes God’s Knowledge Dependent on Creation.


The third objection to middle knowledge is one we have already mentioned. If God’s middle knowledge is of the contingent choices of His free creatures, His knowledge is dependent on them. God’s omnipotence is then dependent on His creatures, at least part of it. We must ask, is it consistent with the Biblical picture of God for His knowledge to be dependent on created beings?[144]


Objection 4: God Can Be Disappointed By the Future


Our last objection showed that middle knowledge calls into question God’s independence, this next objection calls into question middle knowledge’s ability to uphold God’s sovereignty. Unlike Open Theism, if God has middle knowledge, he will not be surprised by the future, but there is the possibility that He will be disappointed. As was made evident in the FWD, middle knowledge may result in God being disappointed. As Laing has pointed out,

it can hardly be said that middle knowledge allows God to “plan” the world he wants in the sense that he can insure that the most desirable “ends and purposes” of which he can conceive will always be achieved. Rather, it is possible for a God with middle knowledge to find himself disappointed in the sense that he may often have to settle for much less than the ideal.[145]

The evangelical proponent of the FWD must ask himself or herself, “does this really fit the picture of the God of the Bible?” Does this really fit with the God who “works all things after the counsel of His will,”[146] who is said to cause “all things to work together for good to those who love God”?[147] Does this sound like the God who, in contrast with the idols of Babylon, declared Himself to be the one true God, “Declaring the end from the beginning,And from ancient times things which have not been done,Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isa. 46:10).


Objection 5: Their Scripture Evidence Does Not Prove It.


Our last objection calls into question the biblical warrant for middle knowledge. Proponents of middle knowledge have argued that 1 Sam. 23:12 proves that God has middle knowledge. In this verse, David asks God if the men of the city Keilah would hand him over to Saul if Saul came down to the city, God responds, “They will surrender you.” It is argued that God would only have known this through His middle knowledge.[148] The problem with this proof is that middle knowledge is not the only explanation, nor is it the most convincing.

All this verse shows is that God possess counterfactual knowledge, which can more easily be explained by God knowing the intentions and desires of those involved and how exactly they would respond in the circumstance if it arose.[149]


[118]A logical moment is in contrast with a temporal moment; logical moments are steps in a logical succession, not events that temporally precede or proceed on another.

[119]William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, trans. John Dykstra Eusden (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997), 96. Cf. Davison, “Divine Providence and Human Freedom,” 232.

[120]Ames, The Marrow of Theology, 96.

[121]Davison, “Divine Providence and Human Freedom,” 232–233.

[122]Ames, The Marrow of Theology, 96. Cf. John A. Mourant, “Scientia Media And Molinism,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972), 338.

[123]John M. Frame, “Scientia Media,” ed. Walter A. Elwell and Peter Toon, The Concise Evangelical Eictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991), 454.

[124]Mourant, “Scientia Media And Molinism,” 338.

[125]Davison, “Divine Providence and Human Freedom,” 233.

[126]John M. Frame, “Scientia Media,” ed. Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker reference library 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 987.

[127]Davison, “Divine Providence and Human Freedom,” 233.

[128] Proponents speak of actualizing instead of creating because God is not creating undefined things but bringing into reality a specific set of contingent circumstances; there are eternally existing states of affairs, and God actualizes these by creating something, such as the heavens and earth. Plantinga, “Christian Apologetics,” 427.

[129]Davison, “Divine Providence and Human Freedom,” 235.

[130]Robert Merrihew Adams, “Middle Knowldge and the Problem of Evil,” American Philosophical Quarterly 14, no. 2 (April 1977): 111.

[131] Quoted in Ibid.



[134]Ibid., 112.


[136]William Lane Craig, “Divine Foreknowledge and Newcomb’s Paradox | Reasonable Faith,”, accessed April 17, 2014,



[139]John Martin Fischer, “Molinism,” in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, ed. Jonathan L. Kvanvig, vol. 1 (Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 23.


[141]Ibid., 23–24.

[142]Davison, “Divine Providence and Human Freedom,” 235–236.

[143]Campbell, Middle Knowledge: A Reformed Critique, 10.

[144]Ibid., 23–24.

[145]John D. Laing, “The Compatibility of Calvinism and Middle Knowledge,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47, no. 3 (September 2004): 459.

[146] Eph. 1:11.

[147] Rom. 8:28

[148]Adams, “Middle Knowldge and the Problem of Evil,” 110.

[149] This assumes compatibilism, but in light of the evidence against middle knowledge and incompatibilism, it would seem reasonable to accept a compatibilist understanding of freedom. Campbell, Middle Knowledge: A Reformed Critique, 22.


Dangerous Assumptions: An Evaluation of the Free Will Defence to the Problem of Evil – Part 2b: Objections: Philosophical Objections to Free Will

Objections: Philosophical Objections to Free Will


Objection 1: Incompatibilism Results in Arbitrary Human Actions


Probably the most frequent argument made against Incompatibilism, and its greatest challenge, is the charge that it makes human actions arbitrary.[95]  Incompatibilists deny this, but compatibilist attempt to argue that it is a necessary consequence of their model of freedom.[96] Taylor asks how a choice that has no cause can be attributed to the agent who made it, how can he be said to be in control?[97]

The libertarian response is that in fact there is a cause for the choice, the free agent himself. To defend this view incompatibilists have introduced the idea of self-determination.[98] The problem with this view is that there is not a clear picture of how this works, philosophers ask, how can something be the cause of its own changes?[99] Here is how it would work; when Free Agent A is faced with two choices, let us say to eat or not eat pizza, his will acts to choose to eat pizza. His choice to eat the pizza was not caused by anything else but his own act of will.[100]

Nash brings out nicely the problem this introduces; “Try to form a mental picture of a human will, whatever it is, that has the power to act totally uninfluenced or uncaused by any prior condition, state, thought, feeling, emotion, or whatever. Then ask yourself, how does this kind of uncaused action differ from pure chance?”[101] The problem is that for this idea of self-determination to work, there cannot be a sufficient condition[102] for our free agent A to make his choice; no inclination in him has caused him to choose to eat when he could have not eaten. Some may suggest that he was not indifferent towards the two options but was pre-disposed towards eating the pizza.[103] This only pushes the problem back. If his inclinations dispose him towards one choice over the other, how is it not a sufficient condition to render his choice certain? The only answer the incompatibilist can give is to say that when considering whether to eat or not eat the pizza, he made a choice to resist or follow the influences laid before him. We then must ask, was this an arbitrary choice? Or was there a sufficient cause for this choice?

The Incompatibilist in this situation must either affirm an infinite regress of undetermined choices, or concede that a person’s actions and choices are truly arbitrary, that is: free from any cause or reason for which a person might choose one way and not another.


Objection 2: Incompatibilism Cannot Explain How an Action Takes Place without a Sufficient Cause


This brings us to our next objection; is it even possible for a person to make an arbitrary[104] choice? Can someone really exercise his or her will apart from a sufficient cause for doing so?[105] If a will is at some point neutral (what we have seen to be needed for a choice to be uncaused), how does it then begin to act? Will it not stay in unmoving position until acted upon by some influence?[106] The problem for the libertarian is something like expecting a car in neutral, parked on a perfectly flat surface, to start moving in a direction without anything changing. Either pushing the car or popping it into drive and pressing the gas will start it moving, but if no influence is introduced, the car will remain stationary. Some incompatibilists have suggested, “a person just chooses”![107] This is not really an answer at all, the incompatibilist is merely throwing up his or her arms and saying in the face of difficulties; it is true anyways! At best, this leaves them back with objection 1; human choices are purely arbitrary.


Objection 3: Incompatibilism Undermines Human Responsibility


If human choices are arbitrary, then where is any ground for human responsibility? Culpability in our culture is often judged to some extent on the basis of intention. The fact that we differentiate between “manslaughter” and “murder 1” shows this. Though there are still consequences for reckless behavior leading to someone’s death, to intentionally execute a murder receives a greater punishment, most would agree this is rightly so. If someone’s choices are completely arbitrary, if he does not have in any true sense control over his actions, then how can he be held responsible for his actions? The difference between a murder and a philanthropist will be either blind chance in choices or in circumstances.[108]


Objection 4: Edward’s Argument against the Possibility of an Indeterminate Will


Can Incompatibilism even hide in the shade of randomness; can a will’s choices even be arbitrary? Edward’s, in his Freedom of the Will, argues against the liberal Arminians of his day to the point we have reached so far.[109] He recounts their objection that though effects, actions, in physical realm require a sufficient reason, it is not so in the spiritual realm. Physical objects are passive and act when acted upon, but it is suggested that spirit beings are active; they are able to propel themselves into action, they are self-actuating.[110] Edwards reply to this is that it really misses the point; it answers the question of what causes our choices with “ourselves,” but it fails to give an answer to the question that needs answering; how can something be uncaused?[111] If we contain this power of action, then we must ask, what caused (even in the light sense of allowed me to make choice and not rendered my choice certain) me to act in this moment? It must have been a previous actualization of my intrinsic power of action. What one is left with is a chain of causes in infinitum; these actions must descend back and back![112] If there is able to be an influence on our self-actualization, then our acting is not wholly of ourselves, we in fact find that our choices are determined by something outside of oneself, which is completely unacceptable to the Incompatibilist.[113]

These 4 objections, acting together, show that it is completely unreasonable to hold to Incompatibilism; contingent free choice is a myth. To hold to this means that you have to resort to arbitrary human choices, if humans can make choices at all. To suggest without evidence that humans just can choose leads to a chain in infinitum of uncaused causes. If billions of humans are responsible for millions of uncaused causes, how can we be sure that anything else will follow the laws of causality?[114]


Objection 5: Incompatibilism Undermines God’s Moral Goodness


To put Incompatibilism to its final rest, we must ask; what does this doctrine do to God’s moral responsibility? According to Incompatibilism, to be morally praiseworthy or morally damnable, one must be able to choose otherwise than one did. According to this view, if you cannot act otherwise than you do, you cannot be blamed or praised. The unfortunate side effect of this view is that it removes any ground for praising God as morally good or upright. “Wait a second!,” some may protest; “you are applying our understanding of man’s will to God, that is a categorical error, we can’t understand God’s will, let alone assume that it is the same as ours!” This may well be true, though often philosophers argue that God’s will is similar to ours, but, even assuming that God’s will works completely differently, the problem remains. The position of Incompatibilism does not comment on the nature of the human will (though this naturally overflows from the question it does ask), instead, it comments on the nature of reality. It says that moral responsibility at every level is assigned on the basis of the ability of alternate choice. To suggest that God can be praised on the grounds of moral determinism begs us to ask, why can’t man? It is completely arbitrary and unfounded to suggest that determinism is true of God but not of man. Because God is perfectly good and righteous, it is impossible for Him to do otherwise than act in a good or righteous way. For God to act contrary to His character is to undermine His very nature; to do so would make Him less than God, which is impossible. When given the option of doing good or evil, God infallibly must do good, if He does not, then He is not God. If God can only do good and not evil in every circumstance, then His nature is the sufficient condition for His choices. This conclusion means that according to Libertarianism, God is not morally praiseworthy. Because this conclusion is absurd and blasphemous, we must object that Incompatibilism cannot be the nature of reality.


The 9 objections to Incompatibilism that we have examined from Scripture and reason conclusively show that this position is neither Scriptural nor reasonable. To hold to this position is to reject key truths about God, Scripture, humankind, and reality. Incompatibilism is the lynchpin of the FWD, without it the first and second premises[115] fall apart and the argument is left without any ground to stand on.

The first premise assumes that a world with significantly free creatures[116] is a greater good than one without them, unfortunately without Incompatibilism, “significantly” free creatures cannot exist. The second premise suggests the possibility that God could not create a world with “significantly” free creatures where they do not fall into sin. This premise is built on the assumptions that God has knowledge of future contingent choices through His middle knowledge and that humans possess Libertarian free will. If Incompatibilism is wrong, then God could have created free creatures in the Compatibilist sense and could have determined that they would not fall. Does this follow? Because Compatibilism allows for causal determination, a free creature is able to choose differently in the same circumstances on the basis of different causes preceding his choice. This means that for every choice there is a possible world where he chose differently.[117]

Alongside of Incompatibilism, the other key assumption of the FWD is that God has middle knowledge. As we saw, middle knowledge is not just used to support the FWD but is also said to help Incompatibilism out of some of the problems it runs into with Scripture. For our evaluation of the FWD, we must ask if this assumption is valid or as unfounded as Incompatibilism.


[95]Taylor, “Determinism,” 369. Arbitrary here is not synonymous with incompatibilism, that is; an effect/action without sufficient cause. Arbitrary here refers to the tension between an action which the actor has control over versus a random/chance/completely uninfluenced action. Incompatibilism wants to deny arbitrariness in the sense that they maintain that there is no sufficient cause for our actions, yet actions are not random and in our control. The tension here, seeming contradiction, emerges because the incompatibilist is trying to hold together a mutually contradictory positions under one head.

[96]Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 20; Wellum, “Divine Sovereignty-Omniscience,” 259.

[97]Taylor, “Determinism,” 369.


[99]Ibid., 370.

[100] The will in this conversation would be the human facility for making a choice.

[101]Ronald H Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions : An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 330.

[102] cf. ft. 24 for a definition of “sufficient condition.”

[103] Nash and Feinberg point out that incompatibilists do not claim that the will has to be completely indifferent. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 329; Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 20.

[104] Arbitrary as used here encompasses both the definition of “without sufficient condition” and “random/chance happening/uninfluenced.” As we say before, without sufficient condition results in arbitrariness in this later sense, and now we are asking if choices like this are even possible.

[105]Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 35–36.

[106]Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 331; Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 36.

[107] Recounted in Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things,” 36.

[108] Cf. Ibid., 36–37; Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 331; Travis James Campbell, Middle Knowledge: A Reformed Critique, n.d., 9–10, accessed April 18, 2014,

[109]Edwards, Freedom of the Will, 21.

[110]Ibid., 42–43.

[111]Ibid., 43.

[112]Ibid., 49.

[113]Ibid., 37.

[114]Ibid., 41.

[115] (1) All else being equal, a world containing significantly free beings is a greater good than a world without significantly free beings. (2) God, even though He is omniscient and omnipotent, is unable to create a world containing significantly free creatures in which they do not choose to do evil.

[116] According to our earlier discussion, “A creature is significantly free when he is free in a circumstance, according to the incompatibilist presupposition, to perform a morally significant action. An action is morally significant when to do it is objectively wrong and to refrain is objectively right, or vice versa.”

[117] Here we are still using the language of middle knowledge. See Sproul for a different argument that displays this same truth without using the language of middle knowledge. R.C. Sproul, Classic Teachings on the Nature of God (Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 174–175.