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Omniscience and immutability Michael Lacewing
Omniscience Omni-: ‘all’; scient: ‘knowing’ Is it possible to know everything? God is the most perfect possible being. So omniscience is ‘knowing all the truths that it is possible to know’. What form does ‘perfect’ knowledge take? –Does God know via language or propositions or inference? Or only ‘directly’?
Kretzmann on immutability Omniscience is incompatible with immutability –‘Immutable’: God can’t change (from perfection). A perfect being is not subject to change. A perfect being knows everything. A being that knows everything always knows what time it is. A being that always knows what time it is is subject to change. Therefore, a perfect being is subject to change. Therefore, a perfect being is not a perfect being. Therefore, there is no perfect being.
Objection 1 ‘A being that always knows what time it is is subject to change.’ No: just because what time it is changes doesn’t mean that knowing what time it is counts as a change in knowledge. Reply: yes it does. If you know first that it is 1.30 and then you know that it is not 1.30 (because it is 1.40), you know one thing and then another. So what you know changes.
Objection 2 A change in your beliefs like this doesn’t count as a change in you. Reply: you haven’t ‘changed your mind’, and the change in your beliefs isn’t very significant. But your beliefs have changed, and so your mind has changed.
Objection 3 ‘A being that knows everything always knows what time it is. A being that always knows what time it is is subject to change.’ No: God knows everything about the universe ‘simultaneously’, not ‘successively’. Reply: this means that God cannot know what time it is now, and so is not omniscient. –God can know the time at which each thing happens, but not when in time we are now.
Objection 4 God is transcendent, outside time. Reply: does this mean that there is no time from God’s point of view? –So time is an illusion that we suffer from –But then if time doesn’t exist, then nothing changes. This is implausible, so we should reject the idea of God’s transcendence.
Objection 5 ‘A perfect being knows everything.’ No: omniscience is knowing what it is logically possible for a perfect being to know – A perfect being transcends time –Therefore, it is logically impossible for a perfect being to know what time it is, but this is no limitation on omniscience. Reply: unsatisfactory. –Compare: ‘I am a mortal being, and so it is logically impossible that I should not die. Therefore, dying is no limitation on me’! –We should instead conclude that a being cannot both transcend time and be omniscient.
Objection 6 Omniscience is knowing everything that it is possible for a perfect being to know without ceasing to be perfect –E.g. God could know what time it is, but chooses not to, as that would mean giving up perfection. Reply: –This is counter-intuitive. Knowing what is happening now is significant. –Omniscience isn’t the power to know everything, but knowing everything.
Objection 7 ‘A perfect being is not subject to change.’ No: God does know what time it is, and so changes, in this one small respect. Reply: being perfect has also meant being ‘complete’, never in a state of potential –If God knows what time it is, God’s knowledge is – in this respect – not complete; God is yet to know what time it is next.
The most perfect possible being If there were no time, God could know everything and be unchangeable. What makes omniscience and immutability incompatible is a contingent fact, the fact that things change. So if God exists, God isn’t the most perfect possible being, –At best, God is the most perfect actual being, which is less than completely perfect.