God’s Omniscience

In this post I’ll consider the fifth point in John Sanders’ summary of openness theology at Open Theism Information Site:

Finally, the omniscient God knows all that can be known given the sort of world he created. The content of divine omniscience has been debated in the Christian tradition; between Thomism and Molinism for example. In the openness debate the focus is on the nature of the future: is it fully knowable, fully unknowable or partially knowable and partially unknowable? We believe that God could have known every event of the future had God decided to create a fully determined universe. However, in our view God decided to create beings with indeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God. For many open theists the “future” is not a present reality–it does not exist–and God knows reality as it is.

This view may be called dynamic omniscience (it corresponds to the dynamic theory of time rather than the stasis theory). According to this view God knows the past and present with exhaustive definite knowledge and knows the future as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open). God’s knowledge of the future contains knowledge of that which is determinate or settled as well as knowledge of possibilities (that which is indeterminate). The determined future includes the things that God has unilaterally decided to do and physically determined events (such as an asteroid hitting our moon). Hence, the future is partly open or indefinite and partly closed or definite and God knows it as such. God is not caught off-guard–he has foresight and anticipates what we will do.

Our rejection of divine timelessness and our affirmation of dynamic omniscience are the main controversial elements in our proposal and the view of foreknowledge receives the most attention. However, the watershed issue in the debate is not whether God has exhaustive definite knowledge (EDK) but whether God is ever affected by and responds to what we do. This is the same watershed that divides Calvinism from Arminianism.

For now I’m just going to explain a few of the terms that Sanders uses in the above quotation. In my next two regular posts I’ll share two papers that I wrote as sequels to “O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?” affirming “dynamic omniscience” and rejecting “divine timelessness”–“God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom” and “From Everlasting to Everlasting, Thou Art God.”

“Omniscient” means having complete knowledge of all things. Sanders observes that Christian thinkers disagree on what that knowledge includes and explains that open theists hold that it doesn’t include the parts of the future brought above by our free actions because they haven’t yet been determined and thus aren’t knowable.

“Thomism” is the theological and philosophical system of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). In his Summa Theologica Aquinas argues that God knows future contingent things, including parts of the future brought about by our free will, because He knows them in eternity, which Aquinas believed is outside of time (First Part Question 14 Article 13). Further on Aquinas also argues that everything is under God’s providence even though that providence doesn’t impose necessity on some things, such as things brought about by our free will (Question 22 Article 4); this suggests to me that Aquinas believed that another reason that God knows future contingent things is that they are under His providence. [Summa Theologica is included in Great Books of the Western World (volumes 19-20), which I have.]

“Molinism” is the theory of Luis de Molina (1535-1600) that God not only knows what will happen in the future but also knows what would happen if circumstances were different from what they are. Although Molinists believe that because of His having given us free will God can’t control what we do in any set of circumstances, they hold that God can control certain aspects of the circumstances themselves and thus can affect what we do. Molina called God’s knowledge of what would happen if circumstances were different from what they are “middle knowledge” and the theory is sometimes referred to by that name. [Not having any of Molina’s writings, I derived the foregoing from Bruce A. Ware’s excursus on Molinism in his God’s Lesser Glory (pages 38-40).]

“The dynamic theory of time” is the theory that God is not timeless and relates to the world within the bounds of time (past, present, and future). See “divine timelessness” below.

“The stasis theory [of time]” is the theory that God is timeless, experiencing time as an eternal present. See “divine timelessness” below.

“Divine timelessness” refers to God’s being outside of time, time’s existing for Him as one eternal present. Those rejecting divine timelessness interpret God’s being “eternal” as His being everlasting, having no beginning nor end, and view Him as having a past, present, and future.

Please let me know in an e-mail or in a comment on this post of any other terms used by Sanders in the quotation that you think should be explained, and I’ll try to explain them.

My next post will be a tribute to Valentine’s Day. In the two posts after it I’ll share the two papers referred to above.


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