Summary Against Modern Thought: Can God Know Everything?

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Don’t forget to review: select SAMT from the drop-down menu at the bottom of the page. Can God know everything? As in every little thing, from the beginning to all the way to the end? And know, really know, as in have indubitable justified error-free belief? Well, yes. But you might not be surprised that some, especially these days, say no.

Chapter 62 That The Divine Truth Is The First And Supreme Truth (alternate translation)

[5] …Moreover. That which is the measure in any genus must be the most perfect in that genus, wherefore all colours are measured by white. Now the divine truth is the measure of all truth. For the truth of our intellect is measured by the thing that is outside the mind, since our intellect is said to be true from the very fact that it accords with the thing. And the truth of a thing is measured according to the divine intellect which is the cause of things, as we shall prove further on: even as the truth of art-products is measured by the art of the craftsman: for then is a casket true when it accords with art. Also, since God is the first intellect and the first intelligible, it follows that the truth of every intellect must be measured by His truth: if each thing is measured by the first in its genus, as the Philosopher teaches in 10 Metaph. Hence the divine truth is the first, supreme and most perfect truth.

Notes Tucked away in there is Aristotle’s correspondence definition of truth: “our intellect is said to be true from the very fact that it accords with the thing.” Note that there is no hint of subjectivity. God is also the base or ultimate comparator; that there must be a base was proved earlier.

Chapter 63 The Arguments Of Those Who Would Deny God Knows Singulars (alternate translation)

[6] …The third argument proceeds from the fact that singulars do not all happen of necessity, but some contingently. Wherefore there can be no certain knowledge about them except when they are. For certain knowledge is that which cannot be deceived, and every knowledge of contingencies, since these are future, can be deceived: because the event may prove the opposite of that to which the mind holds, since if the opposite could not happen, they would be necessary. Wherefore we can have no knowledge of future contingencies, but only a kind of conjectural estimate. Now we must suppose that all God’s knowledge is most certain and infallible, as we have proved above. Moreover it is impossible that God begin anew to know something, on account of His unchangeableness, as stated. Hence it would seem to follow that He knows not contingent singulars.

[7] The fourth is based on the fact that the will is the cause of certain singulars. Now an effect, until it actually is, cannot be known save in its cause, for only thus can it be before it begins to be in itself. But the movements of the will cannot be known for certain by anyone except the willer in whose power they are. Wherefore it seems impossible for God to have eternal knowledge of such singulars as have their cause in the will.

Notes Do read the other objections; each has an interesting twist. But we won’t spend much time on them here because most people will not object to the idea that God knows singulars, even future contingent singulars. But some theologians like e.g. Pinnock et alia do. These authors wrote The Openness of God, containing arguments which posit that even God does not know the future. He can guess it well enough, but He doesn’t have knowledge of it. From the book’s description:

…the book asserts that such classical doctrines as God’s immutability, impassibility and foreknowledge demand reconsideration. The authors insist that our understanding of God will be more consistently biblical and more true to the actual devotional lives of Christians if we profess that “God, in grace, grants humans significant freedom” and enters into relationship with a genuine “give-and-take dynamic.”

That trend in theology is an attempt to account for free will with an omniscient deity. One review puts it best (pdf):

Open theism, according to Clark Pinnock, is the belief that God’s sovereignty is necessarily self-limited by virtue of his creation of free agents. God’s power stops where human will begins, by God’s own deliberate self-limitation. God cannot foreknow the future actions of free agents, because then those future actions would not be free. Therefore, God’s foreknowledge also is self-limited. Hence, the future is not certain,and God’s greatness is not found in his divine control of the future or in his exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, but rather in his flexible, adroit, wise, quick responses to things as they unfold.

Now infinity is a difficult thing: strange counter-intuitive things happens at infinity: and omniscience is a form of infinity. So omniscience is strange and counter-intuitive. So weird and so mind-bending are infinities that some seek escape from them, like Pinnock does. It’s true that if God is finite, he (no longer ‘He’, I suppose) cannot know everything, including all future contingents, especially those acts contingent on free will. But if God were really super smart instead, he’d be able to forecast most acts well enough, but on the other hand (as these theologians say) he could be “surprised”, too.

Next week we’ll see the proof these arguments fail, but for now the simplest is simple; that is to say, God is simple. Simple in the sense of unchanging. If God changes, then something outside of God ultimately must cause those changes (we proved this long ago). And if that’s the case, then we are reduced to finding the real, deeper, hidden God. And in modern days, as in days or yore, this tends to be some form of pantheism. God is everything that exists.

But we’ve run out of space. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion next week!

Categories: Philosophy, SAMT

8 replies »

  1. This is not a proof that God knows everything. [5] states in essence that God knows more than everybody else, but that is not everything. And [7] says what God does not know: “Wherefore it seems impossible for God to have eternal knowledge of such singulars as have their cause in the will.”

    And then there is this: God does not know how to change. Even if that is because by definition he cannot change is immaterial, he still does not know how. While changing is not particularly hard, as everything else in the world can change.

  2. Sander,

    “This is not a proof that God knows everything” is a proof that it pays to read everything in an article, however.

  3. Omnipotence does not entail doing the logically impossible, such as making 2+2=5.

  4. I’m not a Roman Catholic but I follow the teachings of the Orthodox Church and I think I may be wrong and probably not explaining properly but I think it is that God having created Space and Time does not see things as future and past as we do. He is outside of that but we experience only the exact moment of the present. For instance for us the past cannot be recollected in full and we do not know the future. It is like being on the rim of a wheel which turns We can know God only in the present moment but He knows us in the past and the present and the future. Now is the Time we have to act in and it is always Now. It is Now when we can contact Him or rather He contacts us Please delete if this is heresy

  5. @Senghendrake:

    Omnipotence does not entail doing the logically impossible, such as making 2+2=5.

    What is logically impossible though? Logic and mathematical logic are two different systems and what about Gödel’s incompleteness theorem? Also, if the laws of physics are mathematical, doesn’t that mean that God can’t even mess with his own creation? Just thinking out loud.

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