What is the scope of God’s knowledge?
I hope that by reading this you know that I am not into simple, clear cut, easy questions. And I hope that you will not be satisfied by shallow answers. Easy, rehearsed answers will probably leave you feeling fairly grieved over the next few minutes.
Here’s the simple question: What is omniscience? Notice the word science, which simply means knowledge. Omniscience means to have all knowledge, or total knowledge.
Theologians and philosophers typically agree that omniscience is one of the core attributes of God. And we typically accept the idea of an all-knowing God without digging into what that might mean.
Atheistic philosophers jump on the idea of omniscience as well. To them it poses an opportunity to disprove the existence of an all-knowing God. How do they do this? They identify scenarios that appear to make the idea of an omniscient being illogical and contradictory. For convenience, I will put the criticisms of contradiction into two main categories: hypotheticals and experientials.
In a hypothetical, a statement will be brought up in which a sure-fire answer is elusive and presents contradictory results. Take this statement for instance: “God believes that this statement is false.” If God in fact believes that the statement is false, it makes the statement true, and God is incorrect. But if God believes that the statement is true, then God contradicts the statement and he is also incorrect.
Consider this scenario also: If God knows all numbers, then God has counted to infinity. But counting to infinity is a logically impossible concept. Therefore God does not know all possible numbers. Therefore there is no omniscient God. This would make it appear that God cannot have all knowledge of mathematical concepts.
Second, it is assumed that God does not have all knowledge because of his limited possible experience. For example, God may see us sin; but God himself would never sin. The experience of doing a sin is different from the experience of observing a sin. Therefore God does not have such knowledge. Therefore God is not omniscient.
We can see that there is a great challenge set up against the idea of God’s omniscience. Different theories have been presented about what it means when we say that God is omniscient. These theories break down into two basic categories: deterministic and nondeterministic. To put it another way, a theory may allow for total human free will or it may not (typically to preserve God’s ordained outcomes).
This split has occurred because of the prevailing belief that if God knows the future, then the future is already set. If the future is already set, then we have no ability to change it. And if we have no ability to change it, then we are not really free. “Wait!” You object, “Just because God knows what happens doesn’t mean we weren’t free in making it happen.” This may be true. But we will have to face this question in response: Does God create history or react to history? Is history a mystery to Him? If you say that He made history, then there seem to be a lot of evils that we could label as His responsibility. But if you say that He reacts to history, then that leaves a lot of things up to chance – including the life of Jesus, fulfilled prophecy, and the spread of the Gospel.
OK then, why don’t we just throw the idea of complete human free will out the window. We typically hang on to human free will tooth and claw. Why do we do this? Well it quite simply is one of the most intuitive, axiomatic, facts to our existence. Should we consider it necessarily true that humans have free will in all their decisions? I think it is; so I seek to include human free will in my considerations of the omniscience of God. I’ll go into details about that in a follow-up blog.
-Does this challenge your preconceived ideas about God’s omniscience? Do your thoughts of God’s omniscience stand strong through the objections already presented? If you haven’t yet, begin to ponder your assumptions about the idea of God’s omniscience. Spend time wrestling with the difficulties before seeing how I seek to explain them. (Coming soon)