Monday, November 23, 2015

The Limits of Omniscience

Essential Omniscience: resting God's omniscience in the brute fact of his essence rather than sovereignty or observation. In other words, his divine essence is of such a nature that he knows all that can be known, including all free acts of agents throughout time, not because he sees all or controls all, but just because he is what he is.   (SLW)

If God knows everything by the brute fact of his essence, including the free acts of created agents, one has to wonder how and when such knowledge came to be. If God's omniscience is essential, rather than observational, then it would have existed as "long as" his essence has. Why not? On EO, he doesn't rely upon "waiting" for history to unfold or for agents to decide their choices--he "already" knows all by virtue of the brute fact of omniscience founded in his essence.

God's essence is eternal (i.e., without time rather than long-lasting). God is not developing, he doesn't gain some aspect of his essence (such as omniscience if that is the case) by means of time passing or by the instantiation of creation. That would make God essentially dependent upon something other than himself and breach aseity. So if God's knowing is by virtue of his essence, it means he always knew what he knows.

But if God knows every thought, every inclination, every action of every agent from all eternity, those acts and inclinations would have to be God's rather than the agent's. If EO is the case, then each and every one of those actually existed in God's essence quite apart from ever coming into being in the creature. How then could those acts and intentions ever be proven or understood to be anything other than a projection of God's own essence? They cannot.

We cannot have our cake and eat it too. We cannot say that God is not the author of intentions and acts (particularly sin) that were ultimately "in" him before they were in others. If God had in his mind the evil acts of devil and man before the devil and man had a mind, then that evil finds its genesis in God--he had evil in his heart before any of us had a heart that could be evil. If EO were true of God, we would have evil in us because God has evil in him and evil would, in fact, be God's will.

Determinism, Compatibilism, Molinism and Essential Omniscience all fail in this same way.

The interplay of omniscience and freewill can never be posited to be such that free actions were settled or known certainly in the mind of God before creation. Any attempt to do so hits this same brick wall, which has God very specifically and extensively knowing evil before evil was. If evil acts were known by God by virtue of his essence eternally, then in his essence God contemplated evil and plumbed the depths of temptation and enticement apart from their existence in creation. Therefore, permutations of Simple Foreknowledge which resort to omniscience by brute fact of God's essence fail God's scriptural disclaimer that sinful acts in general (James 1:13-15), and certain sinful acts specifically (Jeremiah 19:4-5), were founded in the hearts of sinners and not at all in God.

The only way I can see to avoid this error is to align with the scriptural accounts of God in action and the biblical instances of his self-disclosure and attribute God's omniscience (at least insofar as creaturely freedom goes) to Omnitemporal Observation. Regardless of how philosophically distasteful it may be, any of the more philosophically palatable theories fail to keep God from being the source of evil. Scripture demands that sinful intentions and sinful deeds not be attributed to God--not in conception, not in practice, and not first in the heart of God before in the hearts of our countrymen.

God doesn't think evil thoughts, how would he preconceive them for others? It seems to me that even omniscience has its limits!

4 comments:

  1. Of course God doesn't "think evil thoughts" but he does "think thoughts about evil" so I don't see why his omniscience would need be limited.

    And, is it fair/possible/realistic to separate God's omni-temporality from his omniscience? He has observed already all evilness in the world and minds of people, but he has observed all of it always from all time; therefore it could be said to be part of his 'essence' in the same way omnipotence and omnipresence (including omni-temporality) are.

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    1. How can one differentiate "thoughts about evil" from "evil thoughts"? There would be no difference at all in a pristine environment, such as God in himself apart from all that is created. If God had thoughts about evil when there was no evil (i.e. before creation), then in himself he has a dark side capable of imagining evil and which he cannot act upon and must classify or distinguish within himself as against himself. The one thing that God could not know in himself (i.e. in his essence) is evil or he'd be a house divided against itself.

      Omnitemporality, by necessity, is the creation oriented perspective of God. In himself, God is without time, whereas omnitemporality speaks to his relation to the created dimension of time. Omniscience has two aspects: what God knows in himself, and what God knows given his decision to create. Omnitemporal Omniscience posits that God knew all concerning creation (including evil) when he finished actualizing the worlds. Omnitemporal Observation cannot occur until there is something in time to observe. I suppose I take exception to the description "from all time".

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  2. I'll end my contributions to the discussion by saying that you seem to have a pretty small view of God, if you say he cannot even imagine evil while concurrently having no inclination or desire (thus, 'ability') to cause or perform evil. You make God's holiness greater than God by doing so. Can you think about evil without performing or intending it? Then you are greater than God according to your logic.

    Also, of course omnitemporality is creation oriented, but your logic that the observation "cannot occur until there is something in time to observe" removes God's timelessness and puts him into time.

    By dividing God's attributes and making them mutually exclusive, you diminish God, whereas "The Lord is one." I pray that you continue to struggle through these thoughts of yours, but that as you do you won't let them diminish God's glory or attributes in your life.

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    1. Thank you Josh for taking the time to interact.

      Of course I don't see that I'm making God's holiness greater than he is, but instead understanding his holiness in the purity which is its essence and seeing it within the framework of the oneness of God. God is not made greater by making him divided, which is what I perceive your thoughts suggest rather than do mine.

      I am not greater than God by being able to contemplate evil but lesser. I cannot reach the purity of his thoughts, but he can observe the depravity of mine.

      I do not see at all how my view on omnitemporality removes God's timelessness. Time is created, God is not. Without creation, time would not be known by God, for there would be nothing to know.

      I do not see myself as dividing God, but your perspective (granted,it is very limited in the small space afforded) as doing precisely that, and within himself, essentially. Evil and good cannot come from the same fountain. It's not dividing God to recognize that evil does not come from God.

      I must admit I don't begin to understand your comment about mutual exclusivity.

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