Introduction to Omniscience
After going over the logic of anti-foreordination here, you will notice that that argument is framed in the realm of infallible foreknowledge and omniscience. The reason this was formulated that way is because It basically just assumes any view of foreknowledge on it's own terms and demonstrates how the claims against the reformed view do not logically follow. Those who do not hold to a compatibility scheme of freedom and don't adopt a reformed view on predestination and foreknowledge have to adopt different views of omniscience and foreknowledge to make their cases. There are basically three options one can take if one does not hold to the reformed view. I will give a brief summary of those views and provide responses to them as well below. But more importantly we will examine them in light of scripture. This is important to get correct because in the scriptures one test of the false Gods is their inability to know the future (Isa 41:21-24;46:8-11;Psalm 139: 1-4, 16), and God is a God of knowledge (1 Sam. 2:3).
1. Open Theism or the Openness view of God's knowledge.
This view comes in two basic forms. There are those holding this view who just outright say God does not know the future in advance and thus does not know all things, and there are those who would say the future does not exist to be known and thus preserve God's knowledge in that manner. The former is just blatant heresy while the latter is a more sophisticated sort of heresy. The way this is argued in the sophisticated types is by denying that future and past tense truths even exist. Instead only the present is real and thus God is still omniscient since he knows all present tense truths. Passages that imply things God does not know are usually cited to support this view, along with many passages suggesting the future is open. Lastly passages suggesting change or becoming in God are also appealed to by proponents of this view.
2. The Simple Foreknowledge or The Prescient View
The simple foreknowledge view is similar to the sophisticated form of open theism in that it posits that God just knows all of history as present from eternity past. That is to say from our point of view as creatures we experience succession of events as they unfold but God is outside of time and does not experience the future and past the way we do. Instead God predestines and chooses us for salvation or a service based on a future decision he knew in advance that we would make or do. This view has simple forms (pun intended) and more elaborate forms. Perhaps the most elaborate forms of this are found in Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas. Verses that just blatantly say God knows all things are cited along with verses that say God knows things differently than us to lend credence to the "eternal presentness" of his knowledge which on this view is timeless. Foreknowledge on this view is seen as non-causal and impersonal knowledge of facts. This is probably the most widely held evangelical view due to it's sheer simplicity.
Molinism has similarities with the others in that it's modern advocates also usually hold to an A-theory of time which basically says the future and past are not real and only the present is thus tensed truths do not really exist as it were to be known. The difference here is that this view affirms the reformed distinctions of "Natural knowledge" and "Free Knowledge", but it posits a logical type of knowledge in between called "Middle Knowledge" to handle counterfactuals of creaturely freedom of the libertarian sort. Conditional verses like "if x then y" are usually cited to support this view. Like the SPF or Prescient view this view posits God knows timeless truths in virtue of having a different status prior to creation of time, but unlike that view it posits that at the point of creation God entered into time so as to be in access of all temporal truths as well.
Preliminary Considerations and Definitions
Firstly when I say God I always mean the personal God of the Christian scriptures here. I will not delve into the realm of epistemology to heavily but I will be using the common tripartite theory of knowledge rooted in Christian revelation being the solution to it's proposed difficulties such as Gettier cases. Additionally I will be concentrating broadly on a distinction between tensed facts and timeless facts. We will then have to keep in mind the difference between timeless eternity and temporal eternity. A key feature under consideration in this category of omniscience is also foreknowledge. So before moving forward we will have to examine the definitions proposed of omniscience and foreknowledge. After this we will take an inventory of the kinds of knowledge God is ascribed in scripture and proceed from there with our analysis.
Our dictionary or lexical definition of omniscience from the newest Merriam Webster's Dictionary is "the quality or state of being omniscient". Since this lexical definition has only one entry we will have to examine what it means to be omniscient in order to precise the definition. Under the entry for omniscient we have two definitions. 1.Having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight and 2. Possessed of universal or complete knowledge. Because we are dealing with God's omniscience here instead of mankind's, key features will be infinite,complete,universal, and possessed knowledge. Knowledge being something that is true, justified, and at least believed. This is why historically theologians have precised the definition of omniscience as someone who knows every true proposition and believes no false proposition. Just take note that this definition isolates itself to propositional knowledge.
A lexical or dictionary definition of foreknowledge is not found in the same dictionary and is instead provided under the entry 'foreknow' where it is defined as "to have previous knowledge of : know beforehand especially by paranormal means or by revelation". Again keeping in mind that we are addressing God's knowledge the essential features here seem to be 1. knowing something in advance and 2. in some manner involving a supernatural revelation. Now let's turn to the biblical material.
Biblical Survey of God's Knowledge
We do not have the word "omniscience" in scripture but the concept can be found in 1 Jn 3:20. This pretty much rules out the strong form of open theism, but allowing the weak form to be accommodated given it's particular stipulative definitions and view of time. The Prescient and Molinist views also seem to be accomodated here given their presuppositions of time and stipulative definitions. God's knowledge is known from eternity (Acts 15:18) is without limit (Romans 11:33;Psalm 147:5), and in particular the limits of finite man (Isa 55:8-9). The knowledge of God is perfect (Job 37:16), no one can teach him (Job 21:22; Rom 11:34), and he knows what is presently happening on earth (Exo 3:7). God knows the future (Isa 46:10) and the past (Acts 15:18). Scripture informs us that the wicked question the nature and extent of God's knowledge (Psalm 73:11,12). The Lord searches every heart and knows us which presupposes personal knowledge (1 Chr 28:9;1 Jn 3:20),and he knows things before we speak them (Psa 139:1-6) and intimately before we are born (Jer. 1:5). He knows every single thing before such knowledge enters into our mind (Eze. 11:5).
There are various Greek words used for knowledge, foreknowledge, and foreknow throughout scripture. In the tripartite theory of knowledge we can identify what type of knowledge is in view by examining the various helping words in the context. For example propositional knowledge usually has the helping word "that", Procedural knowledge "how", and Personal knowledge "x knows y" where x and y are persons followed or preceded by propositional details about that person. Examples in the bible for Personal(Genesis 4:1), Procedural(Luke 11:13), and Propositional Knowledge (Matthew 24:32) abound in scripture. This makes it easier to identify these types of knowing without having to depend on the Greek language so much.
Foreknowledge is a bit trickier because it is used in some contexts as a noun and in others as a verb. All that needs to be taken into account here is that foreknowledge or foreknowing something is not merely propositional knowledge throughout in scripture though in certain contexts it can be. As you saw in the three models I presented earlier our view of time and what it means for God to be eternal or everlasting is also crucial in our view of God's omniscience. This is primarily because if our definition of omniscience is that "God knows all true propositions and believes no false ones" tensed propositions need to be dealt with. The usual way this is dealt with in all the models I presented is to say God is timeless, deny the reality of future and past, say that God is temporal, or some combination of these like we find in Molinism. Suffice it to say here that the biblical data on God's eternity or everlastingness, timelessness, or temporalness, are both found in scripture. In other words it is not a case of either/or reasoning and is instead a case of both/and reasoning. My main contentions with all these views I explained above will be in the areas of personal knowledge, tensed propositions, and foreknowledge to which I will now turn after a short excursus on God's Immutability.
God's Timelessness or Temporalness?
Because of scriptures such as Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17 classical theologians have traditionally thought of God as outside of time or being timeless and experiencing it all at once or simultaneously. This is known as the eternal present view and examples of folks that held this view include Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas. Others have posited what has been called the everlastingness view or temporal view where God is in time and experiences it's succession as we do albeit infallibly and slightly different. Scripture it seems has aspects of both but it is my view that God is now temporal and was timeless before creation. The biblical data is very clear that time itself was created (Genesis 1) and while God is said to not change in some sense there is some kind of change for example in the incarnation John 1:14. If one turns to these verses on immutability they are clearly expressing that it is God's moral character that is unchanging which does not entail that his knowledge has to. My reasons for rejecting the timeless eternal present view will only be summarized here.
Firstly to say that God is 'timeless' and yet always in the 'present' is itself incoherent and contradictory since the 'present' is itself a temporal notion. Foreknowledge it seems would be rendered incoherent as well on this view, since God would not know the future as future. Knowing something when it is so rather than before it was so is clearly not foreknowledge. Additionally prophecy on such a view becomes incoherent. Moreover many verses about God's knowledge would be rendered incoherent on this view if taken literally. All temporal verbs and prepositions would make no sense because no temporal ascriptions could ever be assigned to God. But once one concedes one of the temporal categories of past, present, and future and ascribes it to God he has conceded God is indeed temporally eternal already rather than timeless. What needs to be understood before evaluating my arguments below is that all of these views share the following maneuvers to precise and qualify what is meant by omniscience:
1. Limiting God's omniscient knowledge to merely propositional knowledge only.
2. Adjusting their views of time.
3. Trying to maintain a sense in which God knows things differently than us.
4. Understanding God's immutability in different ways.
I will now turn to a few paradoxes raised against the Christian doctrine of omniscience that I believe these three views I mentioned in the beginning cannot resolve without very serious consequences.
The Problem of Indexicals
Does God know what time it is right now? It seems that he would if he is omniscient but the historical views of God's omniscience also hold to God's immutability. Immutable is to say that God does not change in any way. An indexical reference is a referent in a sentence that is tied to a particular time, place, or person. You see if at T1 I look at my watch and it reads two o'clock I would know that at T1 it is now two o'clock. However if at T2 which is a later time I look at my watch and it reads three o'clock I would know that at T2 it is now three O'clock. In other words I would of ceased believing and knowing at T2 what I believed and knew at T1 suggesting there was a change in my knowledge. This is essentially the problem of indexicals or tensed truths levied against the historical and traditional views of God's omniscience and immutability. Biblical examples of this sort of thing would be cases where God enters into covenants and such like with Abraham.
The Problem of Personal Knowledge
It has also been argued that an omniscient God cannot know certain truths that only individual persons can know about themselves as well. This is another uncomfortable area for even folks like Dr. William Lane Craig who understands the implications. Just keep in mind earlier that I said typical definitions of Omniscience restrict themselves to propositional knowledge only. To illustrate this imagine that a person named Jones wakes up in the hospital suffering from amnesia as a result of a car accident and is reading the newspaper. He reads about a person named Jones who was in a car accident and was rushed to the hospital. In this situation it seems Jones would know that Jones is in the hospital but he would not know that he is Jones. So Jones when speaking to the nurse about this would say "Jones is in the hospital" instead of "I am in the hospital". So Jones in our example would be in possession of propositional knowledge but due to not possessing personal knowledge would have to express his thoughts differently to the nurse about the information in the newspaper.
The Foreknowledge Problem
How if God knows the future infallibly and exhaustively can our freewill decisions be known for certain in advance by him or can we be free? This is essentially the problem of foreknowledge put bluntly. The first occurrence in history of this problem was put forward by a man named Evodius who put it this way:
P1. If God foreknows x then necessarily x will happen.
P2. God foreknows x.
Conclusion: x will happen necessarily.
Augustine tried to respond to this objection and failed miserably, at which point we do not find any further substantive attempts until Boethius and later by Aquinas. All three ultimately posited that God was timeless and in an "eternal present" to try and evade this conclusion. It is not until Aquinas comes along until the modal fallacy implicit in this argument is exposed at which point the argument is put more accurately this way:
P1. Necessarily if God foreknows x then x will happen
P2. God foreknows x.
Conclusion: x will happen necessarily.
By moving where "necessarily" is put in the first premise the original modal fallacy is avoided but new problems arise. Taken this way the necessity can refer either to the whole conditional statement or to only the consequent event part of the statement. If the necessity applies to the whole conditional statement it becomes a logical or epistemological issue but if it applies only to the consequent event part of the statement "then x will happen" it becomes a metaphysical issue instead. Because of the rule in modal logic that says "whatever necessarily follows from a necessary truth is itself a necessary truth" a debate then ensues about past tense necessity which forces everyone in the debate along with Aquinas to admit the necessity of the action indeed necessarily follows if known by God from eternity past necessarily. To escape this problem Aquinas then posits that God knows all things in an eternal timeless present and that God's knowledge is timeless. The argument that even he concedes was this:
P1. Necessarily if it has come to God's knowledge that x will happen then x will happen
P2. It has come to God's knowledge that x will happen
Conclusion: x will happen
After further analysis by many philosophers and theologians the type of metaphysical necessity which entails has turned out to be truths in the present tense only. The type of logical necessity however turns out to apply across the board at the epistemological level in any tense. This is why all these models posit different views of time and eternity and have resulted in only a couple of feasible positions. The options left in light of the problems above then turn out to be the Reformed view, the Molinist view, and the Simple foreknowledge or Prescient view. Ultimately I believe only the Reformed and Molinist views can provide a solution because there are serious problems with the Simple Foreknowledge View to which I will now turn.
Arguments Against the Simple Foreknowledge/Prescient View
Chances are if you are an Evangelical Christian who has been in the church for some time you have heard this view explained to you before by a fellow believer with different analogies without knowing the name of it. One such analogy would be whereas we finite humans sit in the movie theater watching the movie unfold frame by frame God sees the whole thing all at once simultaneously in an intuitive flash. Let me quote Thomas Aquinas himself to help you understand where this view is expressed from his work Summa Theologiae. You can read more about it here so I will only quote the relevant section which says:
"I answer that, God knows all things whatsoever that in any way are. Now it is possible that things that are not absolutely, should be in a certain sense. For things absolutely are which are actual; whereas things which are not actual, are in the power either of God Himself or of a creature, whether in active power, or passive; whether in power of thought or of imagination, or of any other manner of meaning whatsoever. Whatever therefore can be made, or thought, or said by the creature, as also whatever He Himself can do, all are known to God, although they are not actual. And in so far it can be said that He has knowledge even of things that are not.
Now a certain difference is to be noted in the consideration of those things that are not actual. For though some of them may not be in act now, still they were, or they will be; and God is said to know all these with the knowledge of vision: for since God's act of understanding, which is His being, is measured by eternity; and since eternity is without succession, comprehending all time, the present glance of God extends over all time, and to all things which exist in any time, as to objects present to Him. But there are other things in God's power, or the creature's, which nevertheless are not, nor will be, nor were; and as regards these He is said to have knowledge, not of vision, but of simple intelligence. This is so called because the things we see around us have distinct being outside the seer."
1. By means of Aquinas's model God does not know anything qua future.
If God only has present tense knowledge God cannot have foreknowledge of future contingencies. So as he knows things they are not future but rather already present. To know something is so when it is so is certainly not foreknowledge by definition.
2. On Aquinas's view God is not omniscient either.
If Gods knowledge is outside of time then no temporal qualifications can be attached to his knowledge. God knows P is a tenseless statement in this view. God's knowledge then would be restricted to timeless truths. God could not know for instance last years final exams are now over because it cannot be timelessly true that last years final exams are over. Two years ago it was not true that last years final exams are over. If this is not timelessly true then it is not a timeless truth and therefore God on this view could not know it. One might say but God would know that the temporal relations around such an event namely that one year ago is not two years ago or even this year. The problem is that we are not relieved by knowing the temporal relations surrounding the exam event rather we are relieved knowing that the exam itself is in fact over. It is knowing that it is now t2 and at t1 the exams were over, but God could not know that it is now t2 and at t1 the exams will be over on this view. If this is is the case on Aquinas's view it would lead us to God being incapable of knowing anything. What could God know of the future? Nothing. What could God know of the past? Nothing. Then what could God know now. Nothing.
3. Prophetic prediction becomes inexplicable in this approach.
How could God infallibly predict things if all he knows is what is present? If God did not know about t2 at t1 then how could he say at t1 what he said about t2? To put it more succinctly If at the earlier moment God could not know about the later moment how could he say at the earlier moment what he said about the later moment accurately? Prophecy then becomes like some kind of sham really.
4. How could God know a state of affairs to be present until it is present?
To see x as present when it is not is erroneous instead of knowledge. For instance on Aquinas's view we would have to say that God does not know that man will land on mars in the year 2010. Instead of God knowing that (Because it is a tensed truth) we would have to say before then God knows man is landing on mars instead. Since the statement man is landing on mars is strictly speaking false it cannot be a matter of knowledge.
5. The notion of a timeless eternity is itself incoherent.
Aquinas basically says that everything is simultaneous with God's eternal knowledge. The reason this is incoherent is that simultaneity is a transitive notion. Transitive meaning if event e takes place at the same time as p and if event f takes place at the same time as p then necessarily event e takes place at the same time as f. For instance if you go to sleep the very moment the Laker game begins and I am opening the refrigerator the very moment the Laker game begins then necessarily I will open the refrigerator at the very moment you fall asleep. If we apply this to Aquinas' view we can see that if at event e that takes place at t1 (my eating pizza this evening) is simultaneous with the eternal knowledge of God. It would then turn out that God's knowledge of your falling asleep at the Laker game at t2 is simultaneous. Consequently it would turn out that my eating pizza at t1 is then taking place at the same time as your falling asleep at the laker game at t2. This turns out to be incoherent and we can see that simultaneity cannot be outside of time in the nature of the case. So basically Aquinas has contradicted himself by using simultaneity which is necessarily a tensed notion to say that God's knowledge is outside of time and tenseless.
6. The present-ness, past-ness, or futurity of an event cannot be relative to it's knower.
The reason this is so is that these categories are objective affairs . An event E has futurity or it does not have futurity regardless of the person who knows the event. For example it may be the case that I know that the laker game is coming in the future but someone who does not follow the basketball season does not know that. This would mean that the knowledge of the event can be relative between the persons but the futurity of the event is not relative and is instead objective whether either of us or anyone knows it or not. Knowledge then is relative to people but the objective state of affairs is not relative to who happens to know about such a state of affairs. Regardless of a persons ignorance of a future state of affairs the futurity of that event is still objective. If this is denied it has some odd consequences. For instance in denial of this principal one would have to say that if one thinks there is a cure for cancer even though this is in the future he could say presently he can be cured of cancer. Which is very odd.
More to Come...