Saturday, September 25, 2010

Omniscience: Eternal or Bust

I was thinking about this post today as I was reviewing both Robert Reymond's version of the argument from which that post received its inspiration (cf. The Justification of Knowledge, pgs. 36-37) and some books on Open Theism, and I had an interesting thought. First, for convenience, here is the argument:

//For a being to claim to know a proposition is true presupposes that he knows it's truth is not contingent or, if it is, said being knows that upon which the veracity of the proposition is contingent. Let's call this being Ryan. This implies two things:

1. Ryan is omniscient or has acquired his knowledge from a being who is omniscient, as Ryan would be required to know the relation between a proposition and anything upon which the veracity of the proposition might be predicated (which in turn implies knowledge of everything, including respective contingencies).
2. Ryan's knowledge is infinite or has acquired his knowledge from a being whose knowledge is infinite, as there are infinitely many possible relations one might posit between the proposition in question and everything imaginable.//

The thought that occurred to me was that not only is man's knowledge dependent upon an omniscient, infinitely knowledgeable being, but said being cannot have become omniscient or infinitely knowledgeable through a process; that is, it is necessary that the being in question is eternally omniscient. For simplicity, let's call this being God and let "eternal omniscience" encompass the notion of infinite knowledge.

Now God, if He is not eternally omniscient, must, if one is to allege that He has or can become omniscient, have at some point learned that which He did not know. In other words, God was not omniscient prior to having learned that which He did not know. So far, so obvious.

But if this is so, it would not have been possible for God to know the relation between that which, prior to His learning, God did not know and everything else imaginable. Given this, however, God would have been in the same boat as man! Again, from the aforementioned post:

//Or we may consider these questions: how does Ryan know the proposition he claims is true isn't contingent on x, y, or z? If Ryan doesn't know, can he justifiably claim to know the proposition is true? No.//

Or: how would God have known any proposition He claimed is true isn't contingent on that which He did not know? He couldn't, precisely because He can't know any relation between that which He does not know and everything else imaginable until He actually knows the unknown proposition. This in turn implies God either wouldn't know anything unless He knows everything from eternity or that He has, like men, acquired His knowledge from one who is (but in this case, He from whom God would have acquired His knowledge would actually be "God" in the traditional sense).

The implications of this thought appear deep: for instance, predicating God's knowledge on that which is extrinsic to God would, since God alone is eternal, not only destroy God's omniscience, it destroys God's knowledge, period. It refutes Open Theism outright, and it is yet another weapon in the Christian's arsenal of elenctic arguments for which secular philosophy cannot answer.

[I've tried to make this post as short as possible even though I think I could make the thought contained herein clearer, because I wanted to put the point as simply as possible before I forgot it.]

P. S. Should anyone ask how I know that this argument is self-affirming, I'd point him to the Bible..


Beau Sutton said...

So, how would this look in a debate format? How would you utilize this apologetic?

yes, this is Beau

Ryan said...

The following is just a rough sketch. I would start a debate with definitions. If the topic is how we can know God, who is "we" and what do we mean by "know" and "God"? Often, debaters just assume that they are talking about the same thing when they aren't.

After definitions and depending on the topic, I would explain the difference between my knowing God and my defending that I can know God. This is what informal apologetics usually come down to. No one else can know if I know God - they can know that I don't know God, if the God I claim to know or the means by which I know are, say, internally inconsistent.

This is also a good point to bring up foundational or presuppositional beliefs, beliefs which are self-justified and thus need no prior premises in order to be known. When we defend such beliefs, it isn't to suggest that how we defend them are means by which we come to conclude those beliefs are true, it's to suggest that those beliefs themselves fulfill certain conditions - coherency with other beliefs, relevancy to epistemic questions, etc. Rejection of these lead to trivialism and, thus, skepticism.

Then I would talk about different proposed foundational beliefs. I would show examples of how some lead to inconsistencies and therefore are reduced to absurdity, others don't provide enough information, etc. I would end by talking about my basic belief, the axiom that all things I know or could know are products of divine revelation, and that the extant extent of divine revelation is found in Scripture.

Again, at this point in my explanation, this presupposes I've already defined "knowledge" (in an internalist sense) and that I'm claiming this belief is self-justified or known because Scripture is God's self-authenticated word. And the defense I would next present of this belief is not the means by which I know it, as that would make the foundational belief a conclusion (i.e. not foundational).

It is only after this has taken place that I would defend this foundational belief with transcendental/classical arguments which aim to show certain necessary truths Christianity can account for that other systems don't. Is there a logical proof of Christianity such that any statement can be shown as requiring the gospel to be presupposed? Maybe only an omniscient person could provide such a proof. But this is irrelevant, as logical proof is not the only method of knowledge. Divine revelation is foundational, and as such, we can know the gospel is necessarily true, even if we can't defend it with a logical proof. If someone says this isn't enough, let us hear his explanation of how he claims to know anything and go from there.

So I would also reiterate the pragmatic function of apologetics. Given that function, it makes sense to engage beliefs people do hold even if they have no means by which to account for them. And if you can get those people to admit certain truths as necessary for knowledge - the laws of logic for instance - you can show why those truths are mutually dependent on other, most specifically theistic or Christian views, e.g. that what we know must have been communicated by a person or persons who are omniscient, and that the[se] person[s] must likewise be eternal to avoid having at some time been in the same epistemic predicament that we are in. This require defining eternity and time and whatnot. The communication must also be self-authenticating because it would otherwise stand in need of support from something or someone not omniscient, and skepticism ensues.

With such arguments, if you can open a person's mind this far, you can make headway in showing why a Christian worldview is rational. Maybe they irrationally reject that, maybe God uses that as a means (though clearly apologetics is not a precondition for God using the gospel to save) to change their minds. At that point, you've done your job.