The Theory Behind Omniscience, the Ugly Side of Calvinism

The Theory Behind Omniscience, the Ugly Side of Calvinism

It is not as if the knowledge of God were of various kinds, knowing in different ways things which as yet are not, things which are, and things which have been. For not in our fashion does He look forward to what is future, quite different and far and profoundly remote from our way of thinking. For he does not pass from this to that by transition of thought, but beholds all things with absolute unchangeableness; so that of those things which emerge in time, the future indeed, are not yet, and the present are now, and the past no longer are; but all of these are by Him comprehended in His stable and eternal presence.

Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans, trans. Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.)  Book XI, c.21, page 364

While there has been much discussion about omniscience in the debate between Open Theism and Classical Theology, what is not discussed as much is the theories behind omniscience. If God knows every future event, how does God know it? There are three methods of prescience.

1)      God predestines everything.

Either God know the future because he programs all things to happen,

2)      Everything is subject to fate.

God knows the future because He knows all past and current events and he can predict the future.  The future is simply the result of past events.

3)      God is in the eternal now.

He is not in time and sees all events as though they are happening now.  The craziest      idea of all is the last idea referred to as the “eternal now” and this is what most classical theologians believe.

The Bible does not teach God as being in the eternal now which some theologians refer to as eternality.  What the Bible does teach is the everlasting God.  He was in the beginning, is now in the present and will be with us forever.

Revelation 1:8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Augustine understood well the argument against fate.  If everything happens according to fate then man is not responsible for his sins.  If fact, if everything happens by fate then is God fated in his own actions.  Augustine’s solution is to call fate a different name (But an order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God, we neither deny nor do we designate it by the name of fate).  It works just the same as fate but let us call it the will of God and not say fate.  He attacks the person of anyone disagreeing with him (sacrilegious and impious darings of reason) and even admits that logically this removes freedom from man and makes God unjust to punish man.  His argument: reason fails so let us just believe two contractor statements.  God is responsible for everything and man has free will.  Most classical theologians will believe that God determines all that happens, that God lives in an eternal now and man has freewill.  Augustine will weave predestination in with free will by magic.

:— If there is free will, all things do not happen according to fate; if all things do not. happen according to fate, there is not a certain order of causes; and if there is not a certain order of causes, neither is there a certain order of things foreknown by God, — for things cannot come to pass except they are preceded by efficient causes, — but, if there is no fixed and certain order of causes fore-known by God, all things cannot be said to happen according as He foreknew that they would happen. And further, if it is not true that all things happen just as they have been foreknown by Him, there is not, says he, in God any foreknowledge of future events.

Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it. But that all things come to pass by fate, we do not say; nay we affirm that nothing comes to pass by fate; for we demonstrate that the name of fate, as it is wont to be used by those who speak of fate, meaning thereby the position of the stars at the time of each one’s conception or birth, is an unmeaning word, for astrology itself is a delusion. But an order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God, we neither deny nor do we designate it by the name of fate,

Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans, trans. Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.)  Book V, c.9

At least it is refreshing to read someone as honest as Augustine.  Rational thinking would lead us to reject a just God who predestines every event yet condemns people to Hell.  Yet he warns us against such a conclusion. (sacrilegious and impious darings of reason) When a person runs out of Scripture, runs out of reason, and runs out of ammunition, then personally attack the foe.  Do not raise your hand and say “but Scripture says this”  to do so would be sacrilegious and impious.

John Calvin who is never limited by rational discussion, mixes two concepts of prescience.  God has prescience because he predestines all things to happen and God has prescience because He is in the eternal now.

 

The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny; but it is greatly caviled at, especially by those who make prescience its cause. We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say, that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former. When we attribute prescience to God, we mean that all things always were, and ever continue, under his eye; that to his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are present, and indeed so present, that it is not merely the idea of them that is before him (as those objects are which we retain in our memory), but that he truly sees and contemplates them as actually under his immediate inspection.

Calvin, John, Institutes of Christian Religion,trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008-11), 609-610 (Book III, Chapter 21, Section 5)

Most Armenians will believe God predestines individuals to heaven or hell because he has knowledge of the future (prescience) and he makes predestination dependent on that prescience.  Calvin denies this (We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say, that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former.) God does not predestine people to Hell because he foresees their future actions, He predestines people to Hell because he made it happen.

Neither Augustine nor Calvin believe God is in temporal time.  For example I am going to build a snowman next Saturday.  Is the snowman something real?  What is the meaning of “God knows all things?”

1 John 3:20

For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.

 

Does God know that there is a unicorn in the room with me?  Of course not, God does not have hallucinations, nor is he suffering from dementia.  Those things, that are not real, are not things for God to know.   Does God know the snowman I am going to build next Saturday?  The snowman does not exist therefore it is not a thing for God to know.

 

In Augustine’s “eternal now” God sees the snowman as existing in present time.  Not only that but God is seeing all the snowmen, I built as a child as if the snowmen had not melted away but exist in present time.  If I built the snowmen in the same place he sees the overlapping snowmen all at once.

 

There is no doubt this is a philosophical borrowing from the Platonists.  Plotinus describes the “eternal now” of god as always in the present and seeing all things at once.  Plotinus lived in the third century AD and influenced Augustine in many other ways.  The concept of the eternal now is a necessary attribute of an immutable god.  If god cannot change in any way then his knowledge does not change, since he knows everything that has happened and is going to happen he must not be hindered by time.  Therefore god exists in the eternal now seeing all things that have happened, are now happening and things which are going to happen, as if they are present with him.

 

Plotinus and Augustine will build their concept of the eternal now on the immutability of God.  If God were in time He would be dependent on temporal things for knowledge and relational attributes.  If God were in time his knowledge of the world would change and this would be a change in God.  Would the common parishioner be surprised to learn that God cannot learn anything new?  Would this be a limitation on God?  Would this be a lesser God or a greater God?  Why does this God that Augustine and Calvin preach have so much in common with the god of Plotinus?  Why is the concept of “eternal now” not in the Scriptures?

 

Seeing all this one sees eternity in seeing a life that abides in the same(en tw autw), and always has the present in it, not now this, and then again that, but all things at once, and not now some thing, and then again in others,… it is something which abides in the same in itself and does not change (metaballontoV) at all but is always in the present, because nothing of it has passed away, nor again is there anything to come into being, but which it is, it is..

Necessarily there will be no “was” about it, for what is there that was for it, and has passed away? Nor any “will be” for what will be for it? So there remains for it only to be in its being just what it is. That then which was not, and will not be, but is only, which has being which is static by not changing to the “will be”, nor ever having changed, this is eternity.

Plotinus. Ennead III. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. 1988. 442. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001. P 303-305 (III,7,3)

 

The only way to bring the concept of the “eternal now” into Christian theology is through the same rationalization of the Platonists.   The best arguments of Calvin and Augustine are personal attacks against their opponents.

 

For he lives ill who does not believe well concerning God. Wherefore, be it far from us, in order to maintain our freedom, to deny the prescience of Him by whose help we are or shall be free.

 

Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans  Book V, c.11

 

It is far more impious to deny that God predestined all things than to say that humans have freedom.  No matter how the classical theologians twist plain logic.  If God programs all things than God is responsible for evil.  Even if humans do evil out of their own desires, then God gave them these desires and He is responsible for them.

 

The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknow what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen?

 

Calvin, John, Institutes of Christian Religion,trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Mass:  Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008-11), 586 (Book II, Chapter 23, Section 7)

Should anyone recoil at the idea of God predestining those who have done no wrong to eternal Hell and then making them sin to deserve their punishment, Calvin threatens them against such rash and unadvisedly conclusion.  Will not the heavenly Judge condemn you for not believing in this preposterous indictment against God?  Again Calvin is confusing himself with God, a common mistake for Calvin.

 

 

In order to establish that God knows all things in the tradition of Calvin and Augustine the “eternal now” must be somewhere in the Scriptures.  There should be some verse like Calvin says but all things are present, … but that he truly sees and contemplates them as actually under his immediate inspection.  At the very least for God to know all things in the future there must be a statement that every future action is known by God.  As we have demonstrated to say God knows “all things” only means those things which really exist now.  It does not imply a future knowledge.  Here is a list of verses that are used to support omniscience.

 

If the Bible supports the Calvinist-Augustinian idea of omniscience then one or all of the following should be present in Scripture.

 

1)       There is neither future nor past in God, God lives in the eternal now.

2)       God determines every single event in the future

3)       The “all things” which God knows includes all future events

4)       All agree that God can cause some future events to happen, does God predetermine “all” future events?

 

The Calvinist select passages on omniscience

 

Gen 6:5 Then the Lordsaw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

The verse only implies God sees the present wickedness of men and not future events.

Job 37:16

Do you know how the clouds are balanced,
Those wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge?

 

Does this verse imply God knows everything or that his engineering knowledge is perfect to allow him to balance the clouds?  Only by assuming a Platonic bias does this verse support an immutable knowledge.

Psalm 139:2-4

 You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.

Correct me if I am wrong but are my sitting up and rising up and thinking current events or future events.  Only a Calvinist would argue that a person says something without thinking about it first.  There is no reference to future knowledge.

 

Psalm 147:4-5

He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name.
Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite.

The Hebrew word for infinite ( מִסְפָּֽר׃) mispar is used 132 times in Scripture the NAS translates this word one time for infinite, here in Psalm 147.  It is derived from sapher to count.  The meaning is there are too many stars to count.  Not quite infinite and certainly  this does not imply his knowledge is immutable.  His knowledge is so great and powerful that we cannot count the stars and obtain a knowledge like God.

Is 46:10

 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’

My favorite verse, God knows the end from the beginning.  This verse does not mean God knows everything in between.  How does he know the end, because his counsel that which God will bring about will happen because God will make it happen.  Like a chess master who always wins, God is smart enough to accomplish his goals.  God does not have to meticulously control the digestive tracts of small animals to accomplish his future goals.

Is 42:9

Behold, the former things have come to pass,
And new things I declare;
Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

Does God declare all future things that will happen.  Even Calvin believes in the secret things of God.   Search the Bible, it does not declare if I will have strawberry jam on my toast on Monday.  There are certain new things which God will declare and these things will happen but not all things.

Matt 6:8

“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”

My wife knows I will need clean socks on Monday before I go to work.  She is not God.  Jesus is warning us about repeating certain expression over and over again in our prayers, like the rosary or the chants of the pagans.  Note the context does not say God knows our needs from eternity past but only before we pray them.

Acts 15:17-18

So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things.’18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.

The NIV translates this verse as “says the Lord, who does these things’ things known from long ago.”  This is not a general statement about all the works of the Lord, it is a statement about the Gentiles seeking the Lord.  The Lord has known that the Gentiles would seek him from long ago.

Rom 11:33

 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

This has nothing to do with God’s future knowledge.

Rom 8:29

 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

According to verse 28 the “whom” of verse 29 is those who love him.  Once a person is become a member of the body of Christ by believing in Jesus, God predestines this person to be conformed to the image of his Son.  In the same way when a person buys a ticket for Cleveland and steps onto an airplane he is predestined for Cleveland.

Eph 1:11

 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

According to verse one Paul is talking to the saints in Ephesus, who became saints in verse 13 by believing in Jesus not by being elected before the foundation of the world.  God had a plan, before the foundation of the world, that the Body of Christ would be predestined to obtain an inheritance.

Heb 4:13

 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

In the present time, not in the future, God sees everything, there is no place for anyone to hide.  This verse is not referencing future events.

 

 

The required test for the Omniscience of God in the Bible has not been met.  The Calvinist-Augustinian idea of omniscience is not supported as the Bible does not address these issues:

1)       There is neither future nor past in God, God lives in the eternal now.

2)       God determines every single event in the future

3)       The “all things” which God knows includes all future events

4)       All agree that God can cause some future events to happen, does God predetermine “all” future events?

There are no verses which imply that God knows every event in the future.  The fact that God made free creatures capable of creative actions speaks volumes against a God who programs every human being.  If God were to program every human, they would be incapable of free choices or ultimate responsibility for their actions.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to The Theory Behind Omniscience, the Ugly Side of Calvinism

  1. Jack E Zehring says:

    One thing you might include in God’s knowledge is “all possible futures, including probablity of outcome at present time and that God, himself, is active – as you noted – responding to the actions of men and angels and initiating events through his angels and men”. You imply this, but for some it might help them grasp that God’s knowledge is not limited as some think by this rethinking of what does God know… Great articles – your format is improving. Some older ones were a difficult read. Jack

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