Omniscience //, mainly in religion, is the capacity to know everything that there is to know. In particular, Dharmic religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism) and the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) believe that there is a divine being who is omniscient. An omniscient point-of-view, in writing, is to know everything that can be known about a character, including past history, thoughts, feelings, etc. In Latin, omnis means "all" and science means "knowing".
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There is a distinction between:
- inherent omniscience - the ability to know anything that one chooses to know and can be known.
- total omniscience - actually knowing everything that can be known.
Some modern Christian theologians argue that God's omniscience is inherent rather than total, and that God chooses to limit his omniscience in order to preserve the freewill and dignity of his creatures. John Calvin, among other theologians of the 16th century, comfortable with the definition of God as being omniscient in the total sense, in order for worthy beings' abilities to choose freely, embraced the doctrine of predestination.
In Jainism, omniscience is considered the highest type of perception. In the words of a Jain scholar,
The perfect manifestation of the innate nature of the self, arising on the complete annihilation of the obstructive veils, is called omniscience.
Jainism views infinite knowledge as an inherent capability of every soul. Arihanta is the word used by Jains to refer to those human beings who have conquered all inner passions (like attachment, greed, pride, anger) and possess Kevala Jnana (infinite knowledge). They are said to be of two kinds:
- Sāmānya kevali – omniscient beings (Kevalins) who are concerned with their own liberation.
- Tirthankara kevali – human beings who attain omniscience and then help others to achieve the same.
Omnipotence (unlimited power) is sometimes understood to also imply the capacity to know everything that will be.
Nontheism often claims that the very concept of omniscience is inherently contradictory.
Whether omniscience, particularly regarding the choices that a human will make, is compatible with free will has been debated by theists and philosophers. The argument that divine foreknowledge is not compatible with free will is known as theological fatalism. Generally, if humans are truly free to choose between different alternatives, it is very difficult to understand how God could know what this choice will be.
God created knowledge
Some theists argue that God created all knowledge and has ready access thereto. This statement invokes a circular time contradiction: presupposing the existence of God, before knowledge existed, there was no knowledge at all, which means that God was unable to possess knowledge prior to its creation. Alternately if knowledge was not a "creation" but merely existed in God's mind for all time there would be no contradiction. In Thomistic thought, which holds God to exist outside of time due to his ability to perceive everything at once, everything which God knows in his mind already exists. Hence, God would know of nothing that was not in existence (or else it would exist), and God would also know everything that was in existence (or else it would not exist), and God would possess this knowledge of what did exist and what did not exist at any point in the history of time.
The circular time contradiction can suppose anything concerning God, such as the creation of life, meaning before God created life, he wasn't alive. Moreover, to assume any more attributes, to then say God is merciful, but before the creation of mercy, he wouldn't have been merciful, and before the creation of the concept of negation (meaning to assume something as not), no one would have any concept of what is not. These apparent contradictions, however, presuppose that such attributes are separately defined and detached from God, which is not necessarily so. It is not a given that attributes which can be assigned to or used to describe mankind, can be equally (or even similarly) ascribed to God. Take good and evil for example: goodness is biblically defined as that which is of God; it is intrinsic to his being and is revealed most prominently through his provision of Old Testament Law, the keeping of which is the very definition of goodness and the neglecting of which (on even the slightest of grounds), is the epitome of evil. A similar argument could be laid down concerning God's omniscience (i.e. knowledge). It even eludes the idea a lot more even to assume the concept of "nothing" or negation was created, therefore it is seemingly impossible to conceive such a notion where it draws down to a paradox. Assuming that the creator and creation is separate, and not the same one thing, or process. That it is a "this or that" notion, instead of a "this and that" idea.
To assume that knowledge in Plato's sense as described to be a belief that's true, it then means that before everything came into being, it was all to be conceived as total imagination by God until the set of truth. One verse "God created man in his own Image" states that God imagined the form of humans, taking image as a root word for imagine, mistakenly understood as man to look like God. [this verse from Genesis 1 is in the Hebrew Scriptures. The word 'Image' is translated from two Hebrew words 'demuth' - likeness or similitude and 'tselem'- an obscure word which translates as image or idol. It is difficult, therefore to make a case for the author's reading of this verse to mean 'God imagined the form of humans'. Or that 'God is imagined in the form of humans'.
The above definitions of omniscience cover what is called propositional knowledge (knowing that), as opposed to experiential knowledge (knowing how). That some entity is omniscient in the sense of possessing all possible propositional knowledge does not imply that it also possesses all possible experiential knowledge. Opinions differ as to whether the propositionally omniscient God of the theists is able to possess all experiential knowledge as well. But it seems at least obvious that a divine infinite being conceived of as necessary infinitely knowledgeable would also know how, for example, a finite person (man) dying feels as He (God) would have access to all knowledge including the obvious experiences of the dying human. There is a third type of knowledge: practical or procedural knowledge (knowing how to do). If omniscience is taken to be all knowledge then all knowledge of all types would be fully known and comprehended.
Omniscience vs free will
A question arises: an omniscient entity knows everything even about his/her/its own decisions in the future, does it therefore forbid any free will to that entity? William Lane Craig states that the question subdivides into two:
(1) If God foreknows the occurrence of some event E, does E happen necessarily?, and
(2) If some event E is contingent, how can God foreknow E’s occurrence?
The field of literary analysis and criticism can discuss omniscience in the point of view of a narrator. An omniscient narrator, almost always a third-person narrator, can reveal insights into characters and settings that would not be otherwise apparent from the events of the story and which no single character could be aware of.
A collection of surveillance techniques which together contribute to much disparate knowledge about the movements, actions, conversation, appearance, etc. of an individual (or organisation) is sometimes called omniscient technology.
Omniscience in Buddhism
The topic of omniscience has been much debated in various Indian traditions, but no more so than by the Buddhists. After Dharmakirti's excursions into the subject of what constitutes a valid cognition, Śāntarakṣita and his student Kamalaśīla thoroughly investigated the subject in the Tattvasamgraha and its commentary the Panjika. The arguments in the text can be broadly grouped into four sections:
- The refutation that cognitions, either perceived, inferred, or otherwise, can be used to refute omniscience.
- A demonstration of the possibility of omniscience through apprehending the selfless universal nature of all knowables, by examining what it means to be ignorant and the nature of mind and awareness.
- A demonstration of the total omniscience where all individual characteristics (svalaksana) are available to the omniscient being.
- The specific demonstration of Shakyamuni Buddha's non-exclusive omniscience.
- "omniscience". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)"
- John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8006-3153-6
- Mehta 1954, p. 99.
- Sangave 2001, p. 16.
- "Ron Barnette, a Bright-OMNISCIENCE AND FREEDOM". Valdosta.edu. 1999-09-16. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
- Strong's Exhaustive Concordance: "demuth: likeness, similitude - Original Word: דְּמוּת
- "Purtill on Fatalism and Truth". Faith and Philosophy: 229–234. 1990.
- Viney, Donald Wayne (Spring 1989). "Does Omniscience Imply Foreknowledge? Craig on Hartshorneby". Process Studies. Center for Process Studies. 18 (1): 30–37. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
- McClintock, Sara L. (2010). Omniscience and the Rhetoric of Reason. Wisdom Publications.
- Sangave, Vilas Adinath (2001), Aspects of Jaina religion (3 ed.), Bharatiya Jnanpith, ISBN 81-263-0626-2
- Mehta, Mohan Lal (1954), Outlines of Jaina Philosophy, Jain Mission Society (Original- the University of Michigan)
- Wierenga, Edward. "Omniscience". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Omniscience and Divine Foreknowledge article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Is God All-Knowing?