Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 32:2 (June 1989) p. 243
The Possibility of an All-Knowing God. By Jonathan L. Kvanvig. New York: St. Martin’s, 1986, 181 pp., $27.50.
This book admirably illustrates the methodology of analytic philosophy in dealing with a theological issue—in this case, the divine attribute of omniscience. With extreme precision and logical rigor, Kvanvig sets himself to defending the traditional doctrine of omniscience against the charge of incoherence. In so doing, he manages to bring many creative insights into an already well-plowed field.
Perhaps the most original and interesting chapters are those in which Kvanvig seeks to define and defend omniscience in terms of knowledge of only and all true propositions. At face value, if this is the definition of omniscience then God cannot be omniscient, since he could not know propositions such as “I am writing this review now.” It is up to Kvanvig to eliminate indexical terms like “I” and “now” from the propositional content of this statement if God is to know it. He considers and rejects D. Lewis’ view that first-person indexicals involve the self-ascription of properties, so that knowledge de se is nonpropositional, because such a theory must treat self-refuting statements like “I do not exist” as logically impossible, which they are not. Instead Kvanvig proposes to solve the problem by claiming that persons access propositions differently: Those we access directly are expressed in sentences having first-person meanings, and those we grasp indirectly are expressed in sentences involving the third person. This has the interesting consequence that the excellence of God’s knowledge extends even beyond omniscience: He not only knows all propositional truth but also grasps directly those propositions about himself.
Having completed chap. 2, the reader suspects that Kvanvig would handle similarly-tensed sentences and temporal indexicals—but unfortunately he is left hanging until Kvanvig takes these up again in the last chapter. It is a structural weakness of the book that this discussion was not included immediately following chap. 2. Sure enough, Kvanvig does regard propositions as tenseless and void of references to the here and now, and he explains the meaning of temporal statements in terms of direct and indirect access. Here, however, he introduces a startling new wrinkle: In an effort to defend divine timelessness he hypothesizes that God directly grasps all temporal movements. But this seems wrong-headed, for then God would not be timeless but would exist simultaneously at all times, knowing the truth of both “Now I have sent Christ to earth” and “Now I have not yet sent Christ to earth.” In an attempt to avoid this incoherence, Kvanvig appeals to the absence of absolute simultaneity in relati...
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