Saturday, July 21, 2007

omniscience and omnipotence
cannot go together

This is a quick followup to the previous post.

I need to find the source for this argument, but some thinkers note that, if God knows the future, this would seem to include God's knowledge of his own actions. Just as humans cannot be free if God knows what they will do in intimate detail, God himself (sorry for the sexist language, ladies) cannot be free if he knows everything he will do in intimate detail. An omniscient God is not omnipotent: he cannot refrain from doing what he knows he is going to do.



Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,

Very interesting posts! I enjoyed reading both of them. Even as a former believer, though, I have to disagree with the idea that foreknowledge precludes freedom.

For example, I choose to play chess against a computer program almost everyday, even if only for a few minutes. Anyone know knows me also knows that I love routine, and thus they could predict that I will probably play chess sometime today and tomorrow. I could predict the same thing of myself. In this case, my own knowledge about myself does not mean that I am any less free in pursuing this interest, since I am clearly choosing to do so.

The same would go for God being free, and for people being free--I thus see no contradiction between divine foreknowledge and human freedom as such. If my view is correct, then, divine foreknowledge, does not equal the concept of destiny or fate.

That being said, I think that humans are not always free. We have all the limitations that humans have, and some of us have got ourselves in a rut from which it is not really possible to get out; witness the drug addicts and abused wives of the world. In addition, we are all creatures of our environment, produced in a particular way with a particular set of experiences that have gone into making us who we are. One almost wonders if this issue is even in the philosophers' domain: perhaps it is more properly suited for psychologists. I think that sometimes philosophy is like the Christian "God of the gaps"--always shrinking in terms of what it can deal with. (I'm sure I've just exposed my philosophical ignorance there for the masses, but oh well!)

To sum up this point, then, I think that many discussions of divine foreknowledge have got the problem wrong: it's not about lack of freedom, it's about knowledge of self or of human behavior.

On the other hand, I do very much agree with you about what is sometimes called "Hard Calvinism"--i.e. the belief that humans are predestined to hell or to heaven.

For me, the three (and sometimes inter-related) issues of Predestinationism, the Problem of Evil, and the concept of Hell are much more troubling.

I'd be very interested in hearing a response from you regarding whether I have understood you correctly, and how you would respond to my little argument. It's not one I've seen before, to my recollection, although I can't have been the first person to use it.

Anonymous said...

On this one, I'd have to think about it more since I get a sense the idea of temporality again comes into play...


Logic would also dictate that the God of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition cannot exist as well ---

---- because a wholly good God could not be omnipotent if he could not do evil...

Anonymous said...

Nathan, when you say, "Anyone know knows me also knows that I love routine, and thus they could predict that I will probably play chess sometime today and tomorrow," the crucial word is "probably." You admit the possibility that under some extraordinary circumstances you might not play chess tomorrow. Hence you don't have, or claim to have, knowledge of the future in the strict sense which is attributed to God.

Anonymous said...

That's a very interesting response, Alan, and not one that I had thought of.

Perhaps, if I may think off the cuff, we could alter the situation a bit. Let's say that everyday for the past 20 years I have played chess, except on Thursdays. Tomorrow is a Friday, so one could predict that I will play chess tomorrow with almost 100% certainty.

I agree that the knowledge ascribed to God might usually be another kind of knowledge, but what if it were just a case of better knowledge of human nature and the variables at work in the world, rather than a kind of mechanistic fore-sighting?

That's about the bes I can do on this one, I think; my really strong feelings are in the area of the Problem of Evil.