Identifying The Cause: Omniscience

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Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

4. Omniscience

Omniscience is another controversial attribute.  On the one hand, it seems pretty straightforward; if God is all-powerful He must know everything, right?  Of course right!  And that is where I start with our not yet identified cause of the universe.  Since we know that it is omnipotent, it stands to reason that it has access to all truth at all times.

The difficulty with omniscience is with knowledge of the future, or foreknowledge.  In Christian doctrine, God knows the future.  Some charge that since God knows all future actions we may “choose”, there is in fact no choice because we can only possibly choose what God already knows will happen.  If only one course of action is even possible, how can humans have any free will?  It seems that if God knows the future, human freewill is impossible; but only an illusion of freewill is the case.  This objection to Christianity tends to have the end of disproving the Christian God, or at least the religion which holds to the apparently contradictory doctrines of human freewill & God’s foreknowledge.

Since we have already established the existence of an intelligent, omnipotent creator, rejecting its existence is not on the table.  Since we know that this creator transcends the universe it created, we know that time is not a limitation for it; therefore in light of its omnipotence, it must have knowledge of all truth; past, present, & future.  Perhaps there truly is no such thing as human freewill then?  Let’s take a closer look.

Suppose I was walking along a path & came to a fork.  Which side will I choose?  I don’t know; I haven’t decided yet, but an omniscient transcendent being would know because it would be able to observe the choice from a perspective outside of time.  Suppose the omniscient being knows that I will choose left.  In that case when I decide, I will certainly choose left.  Now, does it follow that I will choose left because the omniscient being knows I will choose left?

Well, on the one hand, we could say that because the omniscient being knows it, we can know that I will choose left; but this only describes how we come to know that, not how I make the decision.  There is a causal link between the omniscient being knowing what I will choose (and revealing it to us in this example), and our knowing what the result will be, but it is not clear at all how this knowledge causes me to choose one way or another.

Ok, but doesn’t the fact that the omniscient being knows what I will choose prove that the future is determined already?  If the omniscient being knows it, then there is only one possibility; I may think I have a free choice, but there is no possibility that I will choose the one the omniscient being knows that I won’t.  But then, there never was any possibility that I would choose what I wouldn’t choose, so why should this be a problem?

Is your head hurting yet?  If so, you might want to leave it there.  If you’re following, this is where it gets exciting.

So the major problem, as I see it, with the idea that an omniscient being knowing the future means that the future is determined, is that it forces temporal limitations on a being we know created time & exists outside its limitations.  If we view this being as a creature of the universe, stuck in the present along with all of us, then it’s knowledge of the future can only mean one thing: at the present moment, it is true that the future is written & is immutable (ie. the future is determined).  If the omniscient being existed in this way, stuck in the present moment, it would not have to know the future to be omniscient.  If the future is unwritten, it hasn’t happened yet & there is nothing to know.  But we would expect a being outside the spatial-temporal universe to be able to relate to the universe by any possible reference point in time or space.  To such a being, it would be as if the entire history of the universe is complete & yet mutable.  Changes might be made at one point in history which would affect everything afterward, yet the free-willed creatures would merely go about their free-willed lives as if it was always that way.

And of course it would have always been whatever way the omniscient (& omnipotent) being decided it should be.  It is important to not sneak temporality back in & see it as a sort of editing process, with a prior original history & then a succession of revisions.  If you could imagine all the revisions (we might call them, “acts of God”) being a part of the original creation, I think this would be a better picture.  You could think of the “end result” (though remember it would be more like an instantaneous act than a editing process) as something like the selection of one possible world out of many possibilities involving an infinite number of different combinations of potential revisions (or acts of God).

So in short; the future knowledge of an omnipotent being does not cause the necessary lack of free-will.  Rather, the omnipotent being knows what choices will necessarily be made, because it sees that they are in fact made.  The knowledge is a result of the choice, which is known from outside of the temporal system in which it is made.

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Identifying The Cause: Omnipotence

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omnipotence paradox

Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

3. Omnipotence

Omnipotence is perhaps the most misunderstood characteristic attributed to God.  Before I can make the case for the omnipotence of the cause of the universe, we must understand what it is.

The most common definition I hear is that omnipotence means the ability to do anything.  What is ambiguous about this definition is the definition of “anything”.  Does it mean the object of any combination of words, letters or symbols?  Can an omnipotent being do agajkohgiohjgiaohgih?  There are two possible responses to this question.  The first is, certainly, whatever that means; an omnipotent being can do anything.  The second is, “what exactly are we talking about?”  If the question doesn’t even make sense, does it matter if there is an answer to it?  Does this even qualify as “anything”?

No, it doesn’t.  If you don’t ask a meaningful question, how can you receive a meaningful answer?  An answer is only meaningful in the context of the question.  “Yes” and “no” are not the least bit helpful when nobody knows what we are talking about.

A common method of attempting to disprove Theism is to ask a question about God’s omnipotence in order to show that this critical characteristic is logically absurd; and therefore God does not exist.  The classic example pits God’s power against himself, by asking, “can God create a rock so heavy even He can’t lift it?”  On the surface the question seems to make sense.  We can understand that a being with incredible power could create matter such as rocks, & we understand that rocks require some degree of power to move, and a larger degree of power for larger rocks.

Ok, now what exactly are we proposing God create?  Let’s clearly define an object too heavy for God to move, and then we can evaluate whether He would be capable of moving it.  But for a being who created matter in the first place, there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable limit to the amount of matter which can be moved.  The result is not a limit of God’s power to create; but a lack of a meaningful question.  Why not ask, “can God create a rock so purple that He can’t lift it?”  The weight of the rock is as irrelevant as its colour.

So this idea of omnipotence meaning the object of any combination of words, letters or symbols is clearly absurd.  It seems to me there are two groups of people unwilling to give up this definition.  The first are those who insist that God must have this characteristic in order to disprove His existence by showing that the characteristic is irrational & no being could possibly possess it.  The second are Theists who appeal to this characteristic as an excuse for anything intellectually troubling.  It’s an intellectual get-out-of-jail-free card.  If it seems like your religion might not be rational; that’s ok because God transcends reason.  If you want some entertainment, try to get one of each of these types together to debate the existence of God.

So what is omnipotence?  Omnipotent is Latin; the combination of “omni” (all) & “potent” (powerful).  It literally means possessing all power.  Therefore an omnipotent being can do anything that power can do.  It can’t increase the pressure of water to the point that unicorns pop out of it.  It can’t create a round square.

Finally, how do we know that the cause of the universe is omnipotent?  Simply because it created the entire universe in the first place.  If something can create matter & time, from nothing besides its own power, including the various cosmological constants which make up the laws of nature, then it can do so again on any scale.  It can make any change to any part of the universe, create any new object; in short, that being must be all-powerful over the universe, or omnipotent.