What Is Omniscience?

Many people who claim the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent deity fail to understand what that really means. Sure, they know that omniscient means "all knowing," and omnipotent means "all powerful," but they have not considered the consequences of having such traits. This is what I want to do here, but for now, only with respect to omniscience.

Can you imagine what it would be like to know absolutely everything there is to know in the universe? Can you fathom the idea of knowing everything that ever happened, down to the particle level, in the past, and everything that will happen, down to the particle level, in the future? Probably not. Many use this to say that we could not possibly understand the ways of an omniscient being. Still, though we can't picture ourselves as omniscient, we can certainly think of things that human beings do as a result of not knowing things.

Fer example, we consider alternatives when making decisions, examining possible outcomes of making such decisions. We examine the risks we take and put them next to the benefits we might gain from taking such risks. The fact is that there are areas of uncertainty in any human decision. There are some things that are completely certain, like the fact that if I drop a textbook while on the planet Earth, it will fall freely until it hits something that does not allow it to pass through. However, in most decisions you make, things are not completely certain. Now consider an omniscient being making a decision: this omniscient being knows, right away, what will happen with any course of action taken. The being knows this with the degree of certainty that we know that things fall when not supported or held up by anything. Everything to the omniscient being is like the most basic physical laws to us. There is, therefore, very little assessment that can be done with any decision. Indeed, it could be said that there are no decisions for an omniscient being, because the omniscient being already knows what it will do. Considering alternative courses of action to an omniscient being would be like reading fiction is to us.

What else do we humans do as a result of a lack of knowledge? I hope that maybe some of you will come to the same answer as I did. I don't know whether all of you will, but I think there's a fair amount of certainty on the matter. So such a hope is a wise one to hold, but still, it's a hope. Now how, exactly, can an omniscient being hope? There is nothing to hope for, because the being already knows whether a hope will come true or not. While the being must by definition know what it means to hope, hope itself is something to which the omniscient being can have no relation.

These are just a few examples of what it would mean to be omniscient. Now, everyone's favorite example of omniscience is the God described by the Bible. However, when we look in the Bible, we don't find much evidence for Omniscience, do we? Let's consider everyone's favorite story, the one about how sin came into the world. God creates Adam and Eve, and tells them that they can do anything they want, except eat the fruit of a certain tree. One might wonder why he would waste his effort. Did he somehow HOPE that they would heed him? Did he think that MAYBE if he told them not to eat of the tree, they wouldn't? How could he have done? He already knows with absolute certainty that the humans are going to break his rule. He knew it way back when he was creating the light. There is no way that he, as an omniscient being, could not have been thinking, "I'm going to finish my project with humans. These humans are going to directly disobey me within days of their creation. Shall we proceed? Well, I already know that I'm going to do this, so let's get going." Then, days later, when the inevitable happens, he acts like it's the biggest shock of his existence.

Then there's the flood story. God is tired of humans acting the way they do (he knew he would tire of it when he was creating the light), so he decides to wipe out the whole human race and start over with Noah and his family. So he floods the Earth, after making sure the animals are safe, which we won't get into, and then when it dries, he decides that it wasn't such a good idea to flood Earth after all, and he promises never to do it again. He knew that he was going to make this promise as he was pooring water down by the yottaliter. So why did he even bother beginning? Not very omniscient tendencies, you might think, and you'd be right.

I've only given you two examples here, but there are dozens. Clearly, the God of the Bible, if he exists, is not omniscient. On the other side, if there is an omniscient God, then it is not the God of the Bible. So either you believe in the God of the Bible, or you believe in an omniscient being. You could even choose to believe neither, which would be, so far, in line with what science has shown. Whatever you believe, though, you cannot possibly believe both.

American Atheist's picture

I'm bumping this, so I can

I'm bumping this, so I can read it later. Hope it gets some replies, too.

Egann's picture

Could you double space

Could you double space paragraph ends and shorten the paragraphs next time, I find that impossible to read because it is a mass of ideas and has little, if any, visible organization. It had enough of a distracting effect on me that I read the whole thing without understanding a word of it.

I've gone in and fixed the

I've gone in and fixed the line spacing (assuming that regular line breaks carry through, which they might not). I can't really check; that's the way things go when you have nonfunctioning retinas. As for the disorganization, that I can only attribute to poor writing, poor editing, or both on my part.

Edit: Actually, I just found a way to make my computer represent blank lines when it reads web pages, and the spacing is fixed.

Egann's picture

Thank you, I understand the

Thank you, I understand the argument now.

Critique (refutation mixed with constructive criticism): Tune this argument up before using it where it may be put under scrutiny. Your opening comes across more as you making out God to be a really smart human.

And the "Biblical examples" portion needs work, too, but any Christian who knows basic theology should be able to refute it (I assume that you have gotten confident because educated Christians are few and far between.)

The Bible on several occasions says that God "lisps" to us like a mother to a baby to make us understand Him, so it isn't surprising if there is a lot of personification involved in describing His actions.

Not only does the God of the

Not only does the God of the Bible act like someone who is not omniscient, there are gaping holes in Christian theology regarding omniscience. Consider, for instance, the problem of free will. If God knows everything, then He must know with infallible certainty what we are going to do before we do it. This means that everything that we do is predetermined to the last detail by God. Some theologians, notably John Calvin, have espoused this view, saying that everything is known by God in advance. Not surprisingly, most Christian theologians reject this, because if it is true, the entire idea of salvation is a sham--why should Christians preach the "word of God" if people have no control over their beliefs? Furthermore, morality becomes redundant; how can we blame someone for doing something if they didn't have any control over it? I've heard a few rationalizations for this; notably, I've heard people say that "God exists outside of time", and that "God just chooses not to know some things (i.e, the outcome of human events). Additionally, this (combined with claims of God's omnipotence) raises the problem of [i]God's own[/i] free will...can God change his future mind? If He can change His future mind, then his previous assessment of what his future mind would be is wrong..but if He can't change His future mind, then he isn't omnipotent. There are numerous other contradictions with the properties of God--for more, please read [i]The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience[/i].