God’s Omniscience

In this post I’ll give the fifth point in John Sanders’ summary of openness theology at Open Theism Information Site and explain a few of the terms which he used in it. In my next post I’ll consider the relationship between God’s omniscience (the topic of this post) and of man’s freedom (the topic of my last post):

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.

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 (First Part, Question 2, 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 based on the theory proposed by Luis de Molina (1535-1600) in his Concordia to try to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom. It claims that besides knowing what could happen and what will happen, God knows what would have happened if He had created any other world. Because this knowledge logically occurs between knowledge of what could happen (“natural knowledge”) and what will happen (“free knowledge”), Molinists call it “middle knowledge.” They hold that it logically precedes God’s creative decree and thus that He is able to allow free agents to act freely and yet guide them in what He wants them to do. William Lane Craig gives this example in his contribution to James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy’s Divine Knowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001):

For example, there is a possible world in which Peter affirms Christ in precisely the same circumstances in which he in fact denied him. But given the counterfactual truth that if Peter were in precisely those circumstances he would freely deny Christ, then the possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ in those circumstances is not feasible for God. God could <i>make</i> Peter affirm Christ in those circumstances, but then his confession would not be true. (page 123; Craig defines “counterfactuals” as “conditional statements in the subjunctive mood,” page 120).

Not having Concordia, I used secondary sources to learn about Molinism and to make the above explanation of it.

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.

For more on the two theories of time, see “The Eternity of God” in God’s Give-and-Take Relationship with Us.

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 from his summary of openness theology that you think should be explained, and I’ll try to explain them.

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2 thoughts on “God’s Omniscience

    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      I have a high opinion of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, but I reject his belief that God foreknows everything, my believing that God voluntarily limited what He could know about the future when He gave us free will. I also reject Molinism, which I view as philosophical speculation.

      Reply

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