Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Does Omnipotence Entail Omniscience?

Ok, so I'm taking a Philosophy of Religion (PH 601) class with William A. Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher and leading theorist in the intelligent design movement.  In class, Dr. Dembski asked us to consider the attributes of God, and in this case his omnipotence and the relationship between that and omniscience.  Question: is there a necessary relation between God's omnipotence and his omniscience?  We were asked to imagine a simulator, where God puts information in the simulator, and the simulator puts out future events that are unknowable to God (at least, I think that's how the question was raised).  In other words, could God make a simulator where future events are created by the simulator and God doesn't know what those events will be?  The question is to get us thinking about the attribute of omnipotence (God can do all things that are not logically impossible and do not act out of accord with his nature) and how that attribute feeds into, or is fed by, or is simply related to, his omniscience (knowing all things).  And that is also part of the question: does God know all things, i.e. all future, contingent events?  (A contingent event is an event that is possible, but not necessary, where necessary event is something that will most surely come to pass).

Well, in thinking about omnipotence and the simulator machine, I think that if God could make such a machine, he'd have to know the programming manual, all the parts, and how the machine is put together.  He'd also have to know how the machine works in simulating future events, even contingent ones.  So, if God know "all the ins and outs" of the machine as it were, then he'd have to know what the machine is going to produce.  It seems likely that God would have to know what the simulator is going to produce, doesn't it? It seems so.  On the other hand, what if God could somehow have the power--omnipotence--to produce a simulator that produces random events?  That is, random events would be contingent--they either could or couldn't happen: maybe they'll happen, maybe they won't.  But then God would have to know that there are perimeters around what contingent events could and could not occur, because such events would have to not be logically impossible: only logically necessary events could occur.  So, within the perimeters of the so-called random events, God would have knowledge.  His knowledge would be what could and couldn't happen within those perimeters.

So no--I don't think God, in his omnipotence could make a simulator that could produce random future events that are contingent.  I could be wrong.  I'm just musing.


Anonymous said...

Hello! I arrived at your blog via Dave Black’s unblog. Before placing my comment a caveat is in order: I have no formal background in philosophy or logic. That said, I’d frame my response by the following.

First of all, we’ll need a few givens. I’m sure you’ll accept that God is eternal, and that He is Creator. I know the latter is implied, but this will help frame my argument. Did time exist prior to creation, or is time an inherent aspect of creation? I hope you’ll agree, and I think you will, that time did not exist prior to creation. If so, then the next question to answer is how the eternal realm relates to the temporal realm. It wouldn’t seem logical that time is a subset of eternity, nor would it seem logical for time to run concurrently with eternity, for, if so, to my way of thinking, the two would collapse into one; i.e., the eternal would become the temporal.

The best explanation I’ve found for the relationship of the eternal to the temporal is by Lewis Sperry Chafer:

…Time might be thought of as something superimposed upon eternity were it not that there is ground for question whether eternity consists of a succession of events, as is true of time. The consciousness of God is best conceived as being an all-inclusive comprehension at once, covering all that has been or will be. The attempt to bring time with its successions into a parallel with eternity is to misconceive the most essential characteristic of eternal things. [Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1948, 1976 Dallas Theological Seminary (1993), VII.141-42]

With this framework, God could not create anything which could lead to any sort of contingent event of which He’d have no (fore)knowledge. Moreover, to my way of thinking, by definition all the omni- attributes must always be operative, and, hence, must all work in unison. In describing omnipresence, philosopher Thomas V. Morris seems to make my point (bracketed comments mine):

Perhaps the best understanding of the attribute of omnipresence is that of its being the property of being present everywhere in virtue of knowledge of [omniscience] and power over [omnipotence] any and every spatially located object [creation]. [The Logic of God Incarnate, Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1986, p 91]

So, God not only knows any and all contingent events, He is ‘there’!

Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

Thanks for your comments, Craig.

I'd love to get my hands on Morris' book some day.

I like what he says there about omnipresence as it relates to omniscience. I wonder, if God were to remove his presence from some spatially located object, would he still have present knowledge of its state of affairs? This makes me wonder about the state of the condemned post Judgment Day.