Omniscience

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Omniscience /ɒmˈnɪʃəns/,[1] mainly in religion, is the capacity to know everything that there is to know. In particular, Hinduism and the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) believe that there is a divine being who is omniscient. An omniscient point-of-view, in writing, is to know everything that can be known about a character, including past history, thoughts, feelings, etc. In Latin, omnis means "all" and sciens means "knowing".

Definitions[edit]

There is a distinction between:

Some modern Christian theologians argue that God's omniscience is inherent rather than total, and that God chooses to limit his omniscience in order to preserve the freewill and dignity of his creatures.[2] John Calvin, among other theologians of the 16th century, comfortable with the definition of God as being omniscient in the total sense, in order for worthy beings' abilities to choose freely, embraced the doctrine of predestination.

Controversies[edit]

Omnipotence (unlimited power) is sometimes understood to also imply the capacity to know everything that will be.

Nontheism often claims that the very concept of omniscience is inherently contradictory.

Whether omniscience, particularly regarding the choices that a human will make, is compatible with free will has been debated by theists and philosophers. The argument that divine foreknowledge is not compatible with free will is known as theological fatalism. Generally, if humans are truly free to choose between different alternatives, it is very difficult to understand how God could know what this choice will be.[3]

God created knowledge[edit]

Omniciencia, mural by José Clemente Orozco

Some theists[who?] argue that God created all knowledge and has ready access there to. This statement invokes a circular time contradiction: presupposing the existence of God, before knowledge existed, there was no knowledge at all, which means that God was unable to possess knowledge prior to its creation. Alternately if knowledge was not a "creation" but merely existed in God's mind for all time there would be no contradiction. In Thomistic thought, which holds God to exist outside of time due to his ability to perceive everything at once, everything which God knows in his mind already exists. Hence, God would know of nothing that was not in existence (or else it would exist), and God would also know everything that was in existence (or else it would not exist), and God would possess this knowledge of what did exist and what did not exist at any point in the history of time.

The circular time contradiction can suppose anything concerning God, such as the creation of life, meaning before God created life, he wasn't alive. Moreover to assume any more attributes, to then say God is merciful, but before the creation of mercy, he wouldn't have been merciful, and before the creation of the concept of negation (meaning to assume something as not), no one would have any concept of what is not. These apparent contradictions, however, presuppose that such attributes are separately defined and detached from God, which is not necessarily so. It is not a given that attributes which can be assigned to or used to describe mankind, can be equally (or even similarly) ascribed to God. Take good and evil for example: goodness is biblically defined as that which is of God; it is intrinsic to his being and is revealed most prominently through his provision of Old Testament Law, the keeping of which is the very definition of goodness and the neglecting of which (on even the slightest of grounds), is the epitome of evil. A similar argument could be laid down concerning God's omniscience (i.e. knowledge). It even eludes the idea a lot more even to assume the concept of "nothing" or negation was created, therefore it is seemingly impossible to conceive such a notion where it draws down to a paradox.

To assume that knowledge in Plato's sense as described to be a belief that's true, it then means that before everything came into being, it was all to be conceived as total imagination by God until the set of truth. One verse "God created man in his own Image" states that God imagined the form of humans, taking image as a root word for imagine, mistakenly understood as man to look like God. [this verse from Genesis 1 is in the Hebrew Scriptures. The word 'Image' is translated from two Hebrew words 'demuth' - likeness or similitude and 'tselem'- an obscure word which translates as image or idol.[4] It is difficult, therefore to make a case for the author's reading of this verse to mean 'God imagined the form of humans']

The above definitions of omniscience cover what is called propositional knowledge (knowing that), as opposed to experiential knowledge (knowing how). That some entity is omniscient in the sense of possessing all possible propositional knowledge does not imply that it also possesses all possible experiential knowledge. Opinions differ as to whether the propositionally omniscient God of the theists is able to possess all experiential knowledge as well. But it seems at least obvious that a divine infinite being conceived of as necessary infinitely knowledgeable would also know how, for example, a finite person [man] dying feels like as He [God] would have access to all knowledge including the obvious experiences of the dying human. There is a third type of knowledge: practical or procedural knowledge (knowing how to do). If omniscience is taken to be all knowledge then all knowledge of all types would be fully known and comprehended.

Omniscience vs free will[edit]

A question arises : an omniscient entity knows everything even about his/her/its own decisions in the future, does it therefore forbid any free will to that entity ?

See : Determinism, Freewill and argument from free will

Non-theological uses[edit]

Game theory studies omniscience; in the context of a game players can be omniscient.

The field of literary analysis and criticism can discuss omniscience in the point of view of a narrator. An omniscient narrator, almost always a third-person narrator, can reveal insights into characters and settings that would not be otherwise apparent from the events of the story and which no single character could be aware of.

A collection of surveillance techniques which together contribute to much disparate knowledge about the movements, actions, conversation, appearance, etc. of an individual (or organisation) is sometimes called omniscient technology.[citation needed]

The word "omniscient" characterizes a fictional character in the Devin Townsend album "Ziltoid the Omniscient".

Theological representations[edit]

The concepts of omniscience can be defined as follows (using the notation of modal logic):

x is omniscient =def \forall p(p \Rightarrow Kxp)

In words, for total omniscience:

x is omniscient =def For all propositions p: if p (is true), then x knows that p (is true)

For inherent omniscience one interprets Kxp in this and the following as x can know that p is true, so for inherent omniscience this proposition reads:

x is omniscient =def For all propositions p: if p (is true), then x can know that p (is true)

But a critical logical analysis shows that this definition is too naive to be proper, and so it must be qualified as follows:

x is omniscient =def \forall p((p \land \Diamond Kp) \Rightarrow Kxp)

In words:

x is omniscient =def For all propositions p: if p (is true) and p is (logically) knowable, then x knows [/can know] that p (is true)

The latter definition is necessary, because there are logically true but logically unknowable propositions such as "Nobody knows that this sentence is true":

N = "Nobody knows that N is true"

If N is true, then nobody knows that N is true; and if N is false, then it is not the case that nobody knows that N is true, which means that somebody knows that N is true. And if somebody knows that N is true, then N is true; therefore, N is true in any case. But if N is true in any case, then it is logically true and nobody knows it. What is more, the logically true N is not only not known to be true but also impossibly known to be true, for what is logically true is impossibly false. Sentence N is a logical counter-example to the unqualified definition of "omniscience", but it does not undermine the qualified one.

There are further logical examples that seem to undermine even this restricted definition, such as the following one (called "The Strengthened Divine Liar"):

B = "God does not believe that B is true"

If B is true, then God (or any other person) does not believe that B is true and thus does not know that B is true. Therefore, if B is true, then there is a truth (viz. "B is true") which God does not know. And if B is not true (= false), then God falsely believes that B is true. But to believe the falsity that B is true is to believe the truth that B is not true. Therefore, if B is not true, then there is a truth (viz. "B is not true") which God doesn't know. So, in any case there is a truth that God does not and cannot know, for knowledge implies true belief.

While sentence N is a non-knower-relative unknowability, B is a knower-relative unknowability, which means that our concept of omniscience apparently needs to be redefined again:

x is omniscient =def \forall p((p \land \Diamond Kxp) \Rightarrow Kxp)

In words:

x is omniscient =def For all propositions p: if p (is true) and p is (logically) knowable to x, then x knows [/can know] that p (is true)'

Omniscience in Buddhist India[edit]

The topic of omniscience has been much debated in various Indian traditions, but no more so than by the Buddhists. After Dharmakirti's excursions into the subject of what constitutes a valid cognition, Śāntarakṣita and his student Kamalaśīla thoroughly investigated the subject in the Tattvasamgraha and its commentary the Panjika. The arguments in the text can be broadly grouped into four sections:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "omniscience". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. "
  2. ^ John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8006-3153-6
  3. ^ "Ron Barnette, a Bright-OMNISCIENCE AND FREEDOM". Valdosta.edu. 1999-09-16. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  4. ^ Strong's Exhaustive Concordance: "demuth: likeness, similitude - Original Word: דְּמוּת
  5. ^ McClintock, Sara L. (2010). Omniscience and the Rhetoric of Reason. Wisdom Publications.

External links[edit]