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For the album by Swans, see Omniscience (album).

Omniscience /ɒmˈnɪʃəns/,[1] mainly in religion, is the capacity to know everything that there is to know. In particular, Hinduism 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 sciens means "knowing".


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.[2] 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.


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.[3]

God created knowledge

Some theists argue that God created all knowledge and has ready access there to. 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.

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.[4] It is difficult, therefore to make a case for the author's reading of this verse to mean 'God imagined 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 like 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.

The omniscience paradox of creating information and knowledge

The Omniscience Paradox can be defined by these questions,

  • "Can an omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, timeless, boundless, limitless, and uncontained Entity create that which it doesn't already know?"
  • "If information is the substance, causation, necessity, and base foundation to all that exists, would an omniscient entity not literally be everything and anything in, or of existence?"

Well if such an entity is boundless and limitless to which is uncontained, its omniscience would thus need to be literally and entirely infinite without bounds or limits to its knowledge. It would have to know the infinite past, present, future, and the infinite totality of existence itself. So in the simplest terms before getting deep into the matter at hand, the paradox exposes this base inherent problem:

  • If an omniscient entity could always "know" how to create new information it doesn't already know, it's never "omniscient", and never will be or could be. This becomes a problem of infinite regress that invalidates the premise of being "omniscient". It even invalidates "omnipotence" because it could never make itself "omniscient" if it could infinitely create new information it doesn't already know. Thus the premises by their nature self collapse, and are regarded in such a paradox as impossible concepts.

This would be to the point where Omniscience, by definition and relation to the other attributes, would make it impossible to create new information in which this hypothesized entity doesn't already know, or make it impossible for this entity to have the ability to create anything at all. And even to the point where its supposed omnipotence would make it impossible to be omniscient, to which in turn, makes it impossible to be omnipotent due to the problem of infinite egress. Thus saying it could create that which it doesn't already know makes absolutely no sense as there is nothing that such an argued for being would not already know. This paradox defies the given attributes to where the attributes given are self-refutations by consequence. A consequence to which also introduces another paradox showing how creation would thus be an impossible action to where an omniscient entity could only infinitely know everything with the inability to create or alter anything in or of existence. In this sense, the infinite past, present, and future are infinitely already existent and known. Thus the past, present, future, and anything in and of, would simply exists without possible creation of, or deviation from. This would also destroy free will entirely, make the act of creation impossible, defy its omnipotence, and make existence itself entirely and infinitely determined to where even this theorized entity's own past, present, and future would entirely be determined. Some might argue the paradox is easily resolved when one considers that such a being would be personal. In this respect, the omniscient being would freely choose what to create and instantiate in reality. However such an argument doesn't resolve or answer the paradox to which can even be extended further into the following questions:

  • How does one "know" how to create existence, or reality itself into existence if one's self requires it?
  • How does one "know" how to create that which one's self requires to exist and function into existence?

Thus the paradox of creating new information, information itself, or creating existence itself and an information system such as a cognitive system into existence from a position of infinitely knowing, becomes a self-refuting argument and defies the listed "omni" attributes. Just saying it can create new information is seen as admitting that the being in question is not, or was not ever omniscient without boundaries or limits. Worse yet, if information science and theory are correct, the inertia of information itself (energy) would likely be required to be first cause to which could then support a cognitive system capable of supporting the existence of a mind, or a conscious state. Thus making a conscious entity impossible to exist without cause, and a conscious entity impossible to represent first cause, or solve infinite regress. This is especially true when such an entity is claimed to have created "everything". So the paradox rests in how does one's self create, and know how to create into existence that which one's self requires to exist, function, or even know itself exists? This to which brings up the paradoxical question:

  • What is X object, place, substance, thing, or entity without Existence?

Hence, What is GOD without existence? This question is interesting when you consider other religious beliefs or GOD concepts such as Pantheism, or metaphysical naturalism to where essentially existence itself and its rules and laws in their totality are considered GOD, or a belief over having a personal GOD to which would be slave to require existence and its rules just as much as anything else in and of existence would be. It is here where it can be argued that it's impossible to get a higher or maximum concept of God since existence, as an entity itself, would be the totality of causality, every force to cause, every effect from cause, everything in and of existence, every governing rule or law, every property and attribute, and the very necessity and essence value of all there is, was, could be, or ever will be. Existence itself would thus be the sum infinite total of information and expression of. Under this context, it's understood that conscious entities can not exist without cause, or represent first cause.[5]

This also brings us right back to the question of how one can "know" how to create the following into existence without requiring them itself; consciousness, cognitive systems, sensory systems, information, or even existence itself. These to which also seem to be the base foundation, necessity, and cause to our own conscious existence. That is, how can an entity design and bring all the following listed objects or concepts into existence if they are so central to our, or any conscious entity's existence? Some might try to argue that the answer to this question lies in the fact that such a creative being (i.e. omnipotence) isn't in need of any of those supposed necessities. Or that they would be argued false as the very being is argued as the actualization of the "information" comprised in the quality of omniscience. However, this would make no sense giving omniscience requires "knowing", and knowing requires information.., and an awareness requires a source of informational inquiry [6] with a means to access, intake, and process such information. Worse yet, if the being is limitless and boundless in its omniscience, it begs to question how it can "know" how to actualize new information to which it does not already know? Thus again becoming a self-refutation once again. It becomes a paradox within a paradox that seems to simply self-nullify a boundless and limitless omniscient being. Others might state that without the being actualizing such information as an intrinsic aspect of its very nature, there would be no information to begin with.. But yet again a cognitive system would require it to even function much-less support a conscious state that would require information to be conscious and aware. See also: cognitive architecture, information science, systems theory, and an interesting and intuitive ABC's argument based on information science and theory:[5]

  • A: There can be no choice, or decision made without information
  • B: There can be no consciousness or awareness without information
  • C: One can not have knowledge without information
  • D: One can not do anything without information
  • E: One can not exist without informational value
  • F: One can not think without information
  • G: One can not even know one's self exists without information
  • H: One can not reply, respond, or react without information
  • I: There can be no "I" without the information that gives I an Identity.
  • J: There can be no morals, ethics, or laws without information
  • K: One can not have or express emotions, or feelings without information
  • L: One can not have experiences, or experience anything at all without information
  • M: One can not have a place to exist in order to be existent without informational structure, system, or value.
  • N: One can not Create, or Design anything without information
  • O: One can not have the ability to process things without information
  • P: Intelligence can not exist without information to apply
  • Q: No system, or process can exist without information
  • R: Cause and effect can not exist without information
  • S: Logic can not exist without information
  • T: Reason can not exist or things can not have a reason / purpose without information
  • U: There can be no meaning without information
  • V: There can be no value without information
  • W: There can be no capacity without informational value
  • Y: There can be no complexity without informational structure
  • Z: One can not convey, send, or express a message without information

Though some points above may be arguable, but some key points seemingly aren't giving that it would require one to abide by many of the premises to even make an argument to begin with. However, certain religious documents as evidenced in theological literature address attributes such as omniscience. We can explore these ideas in religious ideologies such as Christianity (as an example amongst others). In Orthodox Christianity there is a set of specific attributes, some to which are noted above, are used to describe their God with. Among these attributes are as follows:

St John of Damascus, The Fount of Knowledge:[7]

Abstract 1:
"The uncreate, the unoriginate, the immortal, the boundless, the eternal, the immaterial, the good, the creative, the just, the enlightening, the unchangeable, the passionless, the uncircumscribed, the uncontained, the unlimited, the indefinable, the invisible, the inconceivable, the wanting nothing, the having absolute power and authority, the life-giving, the almighty, the infinitely powerful, the sanctifying and communicating, the containing and sustaining all things, and the providing for all all these and the like He possesses by His nature. They are not received from any other source; on the contrary, it is His nature that communicates all good to His own creatures in accordance with the capacity of each."

Abstract 2:
"And yet again, there is His knowing of all things by a simple act of knowing. And there is His distinctly seeing with His divine, all-seeing, and immaterial eye all things at once"

  • Boundless
  • Uncontained
  • Unlimited
  • Omnipresent
  • The containing and sustaining of all things
  • Omniscient
  • Immaterial
  • Timeless

Though these eight attributes have been defended by many theologians and philosophers such as Richard Swinburn, William Craig and Donald Wacome,[8][9][10] the same are often questioned by others.[11]

Omniscient Solipsism from a designer's perspective (This as if you are the Omniscient Entity about to design and create something into existence, such as a human being.)

I =: reference to the designer, and to all the information that gives "I" an Identity, or things existence, and value.

  1. I'm omniscient
  2. I have an idea of something I want to build, construct, or make existent
  3. I know infinitely everything about this thing, person, or place infinitely before, and infinitely after I have constructed it, or even thought of it.
  4. I would know in my design everything it will infinitely ever do.
  5. I would know everything about my design's essence or being to the point of actually, and literally being that of my design (object, entity, thing, or place) in every infinitely literal way. (and we must pay close attention to the term infinite)
  6. I would know all the above infinitely in the past, present, and future.
  7. This thing I designed would only be able to do what it was designed to do, and what I already infinitely know it will do.
  8. Even if I wanted to state that I am only omniscient to which is knowable, 5, 6 (past, and present), and 7 would all be knowable. Omniscience would make said entity to be the totality of existence itself in the best case possible. This in which everything else would be the by-product of the entity (existence) itself.

In this regard, we can see how one might try and argue how such an omniscient entity's creative actions might be argued as actualizing its omniscience to instantiate a reality that is distinct from this entity's self as generated properties. Or in Panentheism [12] terms, as projected or imagined entities within its own mind. In this case, all possibly created entities are said to be literally a part of the omniscient being's own mind, and thus making all things argued to be other than itself as self-imagined and projected non-entities.[13] Thus this being's creative action and self-limitation makes reality and individualism impossible as the very act of creation is the action of itself, or just of its own imagination. This again however would defy omniscience, and would again claim the creation of new information, even if imagined, from a position of boundless and limitless omniscience, or a position of already infinitely knowing everything there could ever be known. Thus again the Paradox shows omniscience to be a self-refuting argument as an attribute or property of such a proposed omniscient entity. It's seemingly impossible to reconcile omniscience as an attribute of a being without becoming a self-defying victim to its own attribute(s).

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 ?

See : Determinism, Freewill and argument from free will

Non-theological uses

Game theory studies omniscience; in the context of a game players can be omniscient.

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.

The word "omniscient" characterizes a fictional character in the Devin Townsend album "Ziltoid the Omniscient".

Theological representations

The concepts of omniscience can be defined as follows (using the notation of modal logic):

x is omniscient =def \forall p(p \Rightarrow Kxp)

In words, for total omniscience:

x is omniscient =def For all propositions p: if p (is true), then x knows that p (is true)

For inherent omniscience one interprets Kxp in this and the following as x can know that p is true, so for inherent omniscience this proposition reads:

x is omniscient =def For all propositions p: if p (is true), then x can know that p (is true)

But a critical logical analysis shows that this definition is too naive to be proper, and so it must be qualified as follows:

x is omniscient =def \forall p((p \land \Diamond Kp) \Rightarrow Kxp)

In words:

x is omniscient =def For all propositions p: if p (is true) and p is (logically) knowable, then x knows [/can know] that p (is true)

The latter definition is necessary, because there are logically true but logically unknowable propositions such as "Nobody knows that this sentence is true":

N = "Nobody knows that N is true"

If N is true, then nobody knows that N is true; and if N is false, then it is not the case that nobody knows that N is true, which means that somebody knows that N is true. And if somebody knows that N is true, then N is true; therefore, N is true in any case. But if N is true in any case, then it is logically true and nobody knows it. What is more, the logically true N is not only not known to be true but also impossibly known to be true, for what is logically true is impossibly false. Sentence N is a logical counter-example to the unqualified definition of "omniscience", but it does not undermine the qualified one.

There are further logical examples that seem to undermine even this restricted definition, such as the following one (called "The Strengthened Divine Liar"):

B = "God does not believe that B is true"

If B is true, then God (or any other person) does not believe that B is true and thus does not know that B is true. Therefore, if B is true, then there is a truth (viz. "B is true") which God does not know. And if B is not true (= false), then God falsely believes that B is true. But to believe the falsity that B is true is to believe the truth that B is not true. Therefore, if B is not true, then there is a truth (viz. "B is not true") which God doesn't know. So, in any case there is a truth that God does not and cannot know, for knowledge implies true belief.

While sentence N is a non-knower-relative unknowability, B is a knower-relative unknowability, which means that our concept of omniscience apparently needs to be redefined again:

x is omniscient =def \forall p((p \land \Diamond Kxp) \Rightarrow Kxp)

In words:

x is omniscient =def For all propositions p: if p (is true) and p is (logically) knowable to x, then x knows [/can know] that p (is true)'

Omniscience in Buddhist India

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.[14]

See also


External links

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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