God is Omniscient -- but then He already knew that
Three of God's characteristics are described with "omni" words: omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (present everywhere) and omniscient (all-knowing). Of these three, it seems to me that the idea that God would be omniscient is the most easy to defend. Of course, About.com's atheism page disagrees (". . . the concept of omniscience is so badly flawed that it casts serious doubt upon the validity of traditional god-concepts which have made use of it as a characteristic"), but then the About.com page rarely gets anything right.
In tonight's episode of Faith Under Fire (Saturday nights on PAX TV at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time and 9:00 Central and Mountain Times in the United States) the question of God's omniscience is going to be discussed together with segments which have questions about gay clergy and whether gay people can become straight. While each of the segments are important issues in the church, it seems to me that the question of God's omniscience -- which goes to one of the central questions about God's attributes or characteristics -- will be the most interesting. Here is the byline:
Omniscient. This is a long-acknowledged attribute of God. And if God is all knowing, shouldn't that include knowing about the future? Yet "open theism" is challenging the Reformed doctrines of God's sovereignty, foreknowledge, and providence. So if God is not omniscient, are his other assumed attributes also in question? Dr. Bruce Ware, senior associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of God's Lesser Glory, discusses these matters with Dr. Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, founder of Christus Victor Ministries, and author of Letters from a Skeptic.
For those of you not familiar with open theism, it is an understanding of the Bible that holds that God perfectly knows all things that are, but he does not know the future perfectly because the future is not fixed. This view is easiest to understand when contrasting the point of view of Christianity that holds that the future is fixed and predetermined. In this view, God knows everything -- past, present and future -- with the future being fixed and preordained. Open theism would agree that God knows everything past and present, but because the future is not fixed, God does not know the future.
Does this mean that God has no knowledge of the future? No, open theism would certainly acknowledge that God knows that Jesus will come again because God is the one who will cause it to happen. But (if my understanding is accurate) in His interactions with us, there is a give-and-take that allows us to participate in what the future will be, and even God does not fully know which course that will take. As stated by Dr. William Hasker, a proponent of open theism, in his on-line article "The Openness of God":
If God is not all-determining, as the Calvinists think, if he does not possess middle knowledge, as urged by the Molinists, if he does not possess "simple foreknowledge" of the actual future, and if, like us, he experiences the passage of time moment by moment and not all at once in the "eternal now," then it follows ineluctably that God's knowledge of the future, incomparably greater though it is than any knowledge we could possess, is not the complete, certain, and infinitely detailed knowledge posited by most of the theological tradition."
Personally, I believe the Molinist approach to God's omniscience makes the most sense. Adopting the definition set out by Dr. Hasker, Molinism "holds a special view about the nature of divine foreknowledge. God, according to Molinism, not only knows beforehand all the actual decisions that will be made by his free creatures; he also knows what any such creature would have done in any possible situation with which she might have been confronted, even if the choice is never actually made. (The statements describing these hypothetical free choices are nowadays referred to as 'counterfactuals of freedom.')" Dr. Hasker than rejects Molinism far too easily:
Right from the very beginning, this theory struck me as being entirely implausible. When a person makes a free choice, it seemed (and still seems) to me, there is nothing whatever either in the circumstances involved or in the nature and character of the chooser that determines in advance the decision that will be made. So if God knows such a choice, it is the actual choosing itself that he knows, and nothing else. But if the choice is never in fact made, then there is no "actual choosing," and thus nothing for God to know. And this perspective has remained with me ever since, through all my later study and criticism of the theory.
Personally, I don't see the big problem that Dr. Hasker has with the Molinist approach. If you are left to make a decision, there are only a finite number of decisions you can make. And anything finite is certainly knowable by an omniscient being.
For example, dealing with a relatively trivial matter, suppose you need dinner. You have only a limited number of choices as to how you will get your food: You can eat food already in your home, you can get food at a restaurant, you can buy food at a store, you can go to a friend's for the food, you can hunt and kill your own food, you can farm your own food, you can rummage through a dumpster, or you can steal your food. There may be other possibilities, but I doubt that there are ten (let alone one hundred) more. Can an omniscient being know all of the possibilities as to how you can get your food? If the answer is yes, then it seems to me that Molinism is plausible. Molinism would also hold that God not only knows that you will make one of the finite number of choices, He also knows what will result from each of these choices because how you respond to the decision also results in a finite decision, e.g., if you decide to go out to eat, where will you go and how you will get there is goverened by a finite number of options). While it is beyond our ability to know all of these possibilities and to track them all, God -- being omniscient and therefore infinitely more intelligent than us -- can do so.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the experts on the panel approach this question. I know that Dr. Boyd is well-spoken on the side of open theism, and I hope that Dr. Ware (author of God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism and Their God Is Too Small) is equally well-spoken against open theism, because if he is, it will make a lively and important debate.