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05 / 06

Is God All Knowing?

Closer to Truth interviews William Lane Craig

Time : 00:11:51

Robert Lawrence Kuhn (host of PBS' "Closer to Truth") asks William Lane Craig on God's omniscience. Questions explored: What does it mean for God to be omniscience? What is meant by proposition? What is meant by non-propositional knowledge? Does God have propositional or non-propositional knowledge? What is the difference between natural knowledge, free knowledge, and middle knowledge? Who is Luis de Molina?

Transcript

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Bill, I’m not sure whether I believe in God, but if I do, understanding God’s characteristics to me is very important. And one of the most interesting ones is that God is this word omniscient—knowing everything.

Dr. Craig: Right.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: What does that mean?

Dr. Craig: Traditionally, a person is omniscient if for any proposition P that person knows that P and does not believe not P. In other words—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: P meaning any statement.

Dr. Craig: —any proposition, any statement.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Any statement of fact, or…

Dr. Craig: Right, exactly, so that an omniscient person would be someone who knows only and all truths.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Okay, now, what is truth? I mean, what kinds of truth? Are there truths that exist and truths that don’t exist and possible truths?

Dr. Craig: Well, that’s why I defined it in terms of propositions. Proposition is the information content of a declarative sentence. Take any declarative sentence. It expresses a certain information content, and the idea of omniscience is that there is no fact of the matter, there is no truth, true information, that this person does not know. And he believes no false proposition. So, he would know only and all facts.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: But there are more things in the world than just pure facts.

Dr. Craig: Well, that is a very interesting point. I think you’re right about that. There is another type of knowledge that we could call non-propositional knowledge. And this would be knowledge—for example, how to ride a bicycle, or how a watermelon tastes or things of that sort. But omniscience isn’t typically defined in terms—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: How it feels to have an interview together.

Dr. Craig: That’s right. Or, for example, how it feels to be a sinner. And clearly God couldn’t have that kind of—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: You and I have never had that feeling.

[Laughter]

Dr. Craig: Well, I certainly have, but God wouldn’t have that sort of feeling. And therefore, omniscience is defined in terms of propositional knowledge of knowing only and all truths, but not necessarily having all non-propositional knowledge. In fact, when you think about it, you would be mentally ill if you had all non-propositional knowledge because you would believe not only, for example, in my case, that I am Bill Craig, but I would believe I am Napoleon or I am Ronald Reagan.

Now, if Ronald Reagan believes that he is Ronald Reagan or Napoleon believes he is Napoleon, that’s a cognitive perfection—he is. But if I were to believe that, that would be not a perfection, that would be an imperfection.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Right.

Dr. Craig: So, to have all non-propositional knowledge would actually be a negative property.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: So, what you’re telling me is: to know everything is not to know everything.

Dr. Craig: Right, when we say to know everything, what we mean is knowing all truths, knowing all true propositions and believing no false proposition. And therefore, it avoids these problems like, “Does God have to know what it’s like to be Ronald Reagan?” Well no, only Ronald Reagan knows that. And if God believed he were Ronald Reagan, he would be mentally incompetent, so that’s not a perfection.

The idea of omniscience flows out of the perfection of God. Saint Anselm defined God as the greatest conceivable being. Well, the greatest conceivable being would know all truth, and he would have appropriate non-propositional knowledge. He would know, “I am God. I am omnipotent. I am omniscient.” But he wouldn’t know, “I am Ronald Reagan.” That would be an imperfection.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: But he would know what Ronald Reagan felt being Ronald Reagan.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, and that’s a propositional truth, that Ronald Reagan knows that he is a movie star, that he is the president, that he has dealt with Gorbachev. All of those propositions God would know. He would know, for example, that it feels lousy to be a sinner, that sinners feel guilty and condemned—things of that sort. He would know all those propositions, but he wouldn’t have that non-propositional knowledge of believing that he is himself Ronald Reagan or that he is tasting a watermelon or something of that sort.

So, it’s a subtle idea. I’m shocked, quite honestly, at how quickly you unearthed this. Normally, most people would just say, “Yeah, he knows only and all truth,” and that’s the end of it, but you’re right. To be cognitively perfect, you actually have to be more than omniscient.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Be selective.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s right. You have to have all propositional knowledge, and then you have to have, in addition to that, the appropriate non-propositional knowledge—appropriate to yourself. And both of those elements will be part of God’s cognitive perfection. So God is actually greater than omniscient. [1] And I remember when I first realized this, I was just stunned at the idea that God is even more cognitively perfect than being omniscient. I thought omniscience was the ultimate, and it’s not. God is even more than omniscient.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: True omniscience in the sense of knowing everything would be total confusion.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that would be an imperfection, not a perfection, and therefore wouldn’t be part of God’s character as the most perfect being.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: There are three kinds of characteristics of God’s knowledge, which I’d like you to help me understand: natural knowledge, free knowledge, and what’s called middle knowledge.

Dr. Craig: Right, this is the way in which the Catholic-Jesuit theologian Luis Molina in the sixteenth century analyzed God’s knowledge; and what Molina said is that although everything God knows, he knows at once, nevertheless there is a kind of priority in God’s knowledge, a sort of logical order, or an explanatory order. And he said at the most fundamental level is God’s natural knowledge. And this would be God’s knowledge of everything that is necessarily true: two plus two equals four; if it is raining, it is raining; everything that has a shape has a size—any necessary truths would belong to God essentially, and he could not lack that knowledge. This knowledge is natural to God and essential to God, so Molina called it natural knowledge. And this would include God’s knowledge of all possibilities, everything that could happen, every possible world.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: That’s logical—he couldn’t square a circle or things like that.

Dr. Craig: That would be an impossibility, so that’s right.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Anything possible that’s logically possible.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s correct. And then in the third area or tier of his knowledge is what Molina called free knowledge, and this would be God’s knowledge of all contingently true propositions that are dependent upon his will, and this would include things like George Bush is the President of the United States in 2001.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Now, tell me why that’s contingent. It’s because it is not necessarily true?

Dr. Craig: It’s not necessarily true, and moreover, it’s dependent upon God’s will, which world to create. The free knowledge depends upon God’s decision to create one world rather than another. And had he created a different world, quite a different set of propositions would’ve been true.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: That’s why they’re contingent.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. And so, he would’ve had different knowledge. So, the free knowledge of God is not essential to God. He could’ve known other propositions to be true that are in fact false had he created a different world.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: So, now we have the two boundaries. We have natural knowledge, which is everything that God knows necessarily.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And we have free knowledge, which are the contingent truths because God chose a certain world to actualize, to make real.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s right. That’s right.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Okay, I have the two boundaries. Now what’s in the middle?

Dr. Craig: Now, Molina’s innovation was saying in between those there is a third kind of knowledge, and for lack of a better name he called it middle knowledge, because it’s in the middle.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: [Laughs] Okay, that I can follow.

Dr. Craig: And middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what every possible person that he could create would freely do in any circumstances God might place him. So, God would know, for example, that if I were to create Peter in a certain set of circumstances, he would deny Christ three times. Now, this kind of knowledge—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And he would know, for example, that if I am in a situation asking you a question, I would ask you a silly question.

Dr. Craig: Right, and he would know that I would give a silly answer if I were in that set of circumstances. Now, he might not want us to embarrass ourselves on television, and therefore he would not create us in those circumstances, knowing we would be more serious.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: [Laughs] Right.

Dr. Craig: But the idea of middle knowledge is that prior to his decision, explanatorily prior to his decision to create a world, he knows how any possible person he might create would freely choose in any circumstances he might place that person. Now, this knowledge is unique because it is not necessary to God that he know this. It’s dependent upon how we would freely choose. And we have the ability in those circumstances to do otherwise.

So, this knowledge isn’t essential to God in the way that his natural knowledge is. It’s contingent in the way that his free knowledge is. [2] And yet, it isn’t dependent upon his decision which world to create, because it is on the basis of his middle knowledge that God will then decide which persons to create and which persons to place them in.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Because explanatorily prior, he would know his middle knowledge of all the different possible worlds he could create.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: So, he might choose a specific world to create based upon this middle knowledge, knowing the results of each world.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, and so in that sense, middle knowledge is like his natural knowledge in that it’s explanatorily prior to his decree to create a certain world. So, in this explanatory hierarchy you have natural knowledge, which is God’s knowledge of everything that could be; then you have his middle knowledge, which is his knowledge of everything that would be; then you have the divine decree to create a particular world; and then posterior to that, finally, would be his free knowledge, and this is his knowledge of everything that will be. And that’s Molina’s theory of middle knowledge of God’s omniscience.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And do you agree with that?

Dr. Craig: Yes, when I first encountered this, I was stunned at the theological power of this idea. If you take this notion of middle knowledge, and you apply it to various difficult theological conundrums, you will find it will be a key that will unlock the mystery to many of these difficult theological problems that folks have wrestled with for centuries. And I dare to say that I think this theory of middle knowledge is the most powerful theological concept that I’ve ever encountered in my life. [3]

  • [1]

    5:05

  • [2]

    10:00

  • [3]

    Total Running Time: 11:53