Divine Knowledge: Comparisons And Contrasts With Human Knowledge -- By: Richard Sturch

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 47:1 (NA 1996)
Article: Divine Knowledge: Comparisons And Contrasts With Human Knowledge
Author: Richard Sturch

Divine Knowledge: Comparisons And
Contrasts With Human Knowledge

Richard Sturch


Can we understand divine knowledge by analogy with human knowledge? This essay approaches the question by examining two forms of human knowledge: knowledge by creation and by understanding of classes of things. It is suggested that two other forms of human knowledge, memory and inference, may be less helpful as analogies for divine knowledge: if God knows future choices of free agents, this entails knowledge by experience. The essay examines the implications of divine knowledge of the future for human freedom and discusses the question of ‘middle knowledge’ of non-actual free choices. Certain problems raised by knowledge of temporal events suggest (but do not entail) that God is timeless.

I. Introduction

Philosophers and theologians have long had to steer a course between anthropomorphism and anti-anthropomorphism. The Bible itself is clearly anthropomorphic in its positive statements: God is depicted as having a right hand, ears, feet, a back, and so on. But the Bible is also clear that God is profoundly unlike us—‘“To whom will you liken me?” says the Holy One’ (Is. 40:25); and philosophically-minded theologians have frequently taken full advantage of this, so that God has been identified with the Absolute of Idealism, or with ‘Being itself’.

Now this has consequences for discussions of divine attributes. Not only do we get theories of symbolism, analogical predication and the like; we find problems arising when we try to understand particular attributes. Can we, for instance, seek to understand—or at least discuss—the divine Eternity by comparing it to human existence in time, or should we think of God as entirely outside any kind of time, or somewhere in between? Paul Helm is of

course a notable contributor to that debate. Again, can we seek to understand—or at least discuss—the divine Omniscience by way of analogy with human knowledge? That is the question I wish to raise here. It is not a new question.1 Already from the tenth century, Muslim philosophers and theologians were arguing about it, and Averroes was complaining that the latter were ‘making God into an eternal man, and man into a mortal God’.2 Certainly the divine knowledge in which Averroes believed, which instead of being caused by the world actually brought the world into being, must be very unlike anything human beings have.

Perhaps we could begin by asking what models based on human knowledge...

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