Omniscience is the capacity to know everything infinitely, or at least everything that can be known about a character including thoughts, feelings, life and the universe, etc. In Latin, omnis means "all" and sciens means "knowing". Omniscience is the capacity to know everything.


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 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. Certain 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
Predestination, in theology is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God. John Calvin interpreted biblical predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some people and salvation for others...



Omnipotence is unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of whichever faith is being addressed...

 (unlimited power) is sometimes understood to also imply the capacity to know everything that will be.

Nontheism is a term that covers a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterized by the absence of — or the rejection of — theism or any belief in a personal god or gods...

 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
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

 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. Various responses have been proposed to this argument. One possible solution is that God could know every possible life one might live, but allows for free will according to laws set in place that cannot be contradicted. God would know all possible ways to live and all the outcomes, but a human being with free will would choose which specific life to actually live out, one decision at a time. God would allow for the ability to choose, and to not have full power over all in what was chosen by a human being each step of the way. God would be all-knowing in terms of infinite specific details of every possible life you could live.

God created knowledge

Some theists argue that God created all knowledge and has ready access thereto. 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 Himself, 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 the Creator Himself. 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
Nothing is no thing, denoting the absence of something. Nothing is a pronoun associated with nothingness, is also an adjective, and an object as a concept in the Frege-Church ontology....

" or negation
In logic and mathematics, negation, also called logical complement, is an operation on propositions, truth values, or semantic values more generally. Intuitively, the negation of a proposition is true when that proposition is false, and vice versa. In classical logic negation is normally identified...

 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.

The above definitions of omniscience cover what is called propositional knowledge (knowing that), as opposed to experiential knowledge
Experiential knowledge
Experiential knowledge is knowledge gained through experience as opposed to a priori knowledge. In the philosophy of mind, the phrase often refers to knowledge that can only be acquired through experience, such as, for example, the knowledge of what it is like to see colours, which could not be...

 (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
Procedural knowledge
Procedural knowledge, also known as imperative knowledge, is the knowledge exercised in the performance of some task. See below for the specific meaning of this term in cognitive psychology and intellectual property law....

 (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 paradoxes

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 and causation 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 infinite. Thus saying it could create that which it doesn't already know makes no sense as there is nothing that such a Being does not know. A Being that is omniscient without bounds or limits would also be omnipotent, boundless and limitlessness. The seeming 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. If information theory is correct, the sum of all total would be best characterized as the "contents" of the Divine Being's "mind", when the words used in quotes represent analogical terms due to the limits of human language and epistemology.

This also brings us to the question of how one can "know" how to create the following, which also seems to be the foundation of cause to our own existence. That is, how can an entity design and bring all the following listed objects or concepts into existence if information is so central to existence? The answer to this question lies in the fact that such a creative Being (i.e. omnipotence) is not merely an accumulation of 'facts' that are added to one another but rather an ontological quality that is its very nature. In this regard, any attempt to reduce such a being to a collocation of information would be false as the very Being is the actualization of the "information" comprised in the quality of omniscience. Without the Being actualizing such information as an intrinsic aspect of its very nature (not some added attribute as falsely assumed by this alleged paradox) there would be no information to begin with.

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 to which they use to describe their God with. Among these attributes are as follows:

St John of Damascus, The Fount of Knowledge:

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"
  1. Omniscient
  2. Boundless
  3. Unlimited
  4. Uncontained
  5. The containing and sustaining of all things
  6. Timeless
  7. Omnipresent

These seven attributes have been defended by many Theologians and Philosophers such as Richard Swinburn, William Craig and Donald Wacome
Omniscient syllogism 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 that is contemplating creation
  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 allowe the said entity I to be the source of existence itself in the best case possible and everything else being the by-product of the designer's willful activity.

In this regard, we see how an Omniscient Being creative actions actualize his omniscience and instantiate a reality that is distinct from the Being's "mind". Prior to the act of creation, all possibly created entities are said to be part of the Omniscient Being's mind. With the free act of creation, created beings are thus actualized (in the case of our world, in a physical form) and are thus distinct from their Creator. Without the act of creation, seeming paradoxes might ensue, but the Being creative action and self-limitation makes reality and individuation possible as the very act of creation is the acti of individuation itself.

Omniscience vs free will

See : Determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

, Freewill and argument from free will
Argument from free will
The argument from free will contends that omniscience and free will are incompatible, and that any conception of God that incorporates both properties is therefore inherently contradictory. The argument may focus on the incoherence of people having free will, or else God himself having free will...

Anterograde omniscience

Anterograde omniscience is the type of omniscience used to incorporate complete knowledge of the future into God.

A common objection towards free-will is the fact that God knows the future, and what is already known is not considered part of free-will, thus is considered predestination
Predestination, in theology is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God. John Calvin interpreted biblical predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some people and salvation for others...

. Such objections however are very controversial and have been refuted by proponents of Divine Omniscience. The alleged paradox arises from a misunderstanding of Divine knowledge. The common misconception is that God predicts the future. This however is a false assumption. The Divine Being who is Eternal does not predict human actions but rather post-dicts them from the future. As such human free will is actualized without any paradoxes.

If the future was given the definition of Physics, it can be drawn down to this. The past is something that's known, the future is something that is not known but may have an infinite series of possible branched time-lines and the present is the eliminator of possibilities. God knowing the future does not determine it as his knowledge is not a deterministic process emanating from the past but rather a knowledge that exists in the present and future actualized by human free action. The future exists as a web of possibilities whose outcome is known by the Omniscient Being but not predictively from the past, but rather post-dictively from the present and future. The mistake that is often made here is to confuse the human being's understanding of his actions and of physical phenomena with the knowledge possessed by the Diving Being. The two are not the same and once this is understood, all seeming claims of paradox are resolved.

Another possible response is to state that God knows the future but does not influence it. One may posit that God knows all possible future events, meaning that he would see an infinite number of timelines laid out on a plane, and such time lines would still remain to exist even if not chosen. Such a God would know every possible way of how something was going to be. He would know all the mathematical probabilities for example of obtaining event A and would also know if a free agent like a human being would cause A to happen. By virtue of self-control God allows humans to shape and morph their lives on their own accord. This way any seeming paradoxes are resolved as one can have a world with an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Free God, while simultaneously actualizing the possibility of free agency within the created order such as that seen in human beings.

Non-theological uses

Game theory
Game theory
Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others...

 studies omniscience; here it is not necessarily advantageous if one's omniscience is known. For example, in the game of chicken, two people each drive a car towards the other. The first to swerve to avoid a collision
Car accident
A traffic collision, also known as a traffic accident, motor vehicle collision, motor vehicle accident, car accident, automobile accident, Road Traffic Collision or car crash, occurs when a vehicle collides with another vehicle, pedestrian, animal, road debris, or other stationary obstruction,...

 loses. In such a game, the optimal outcome is to have your opponent swerve. The worst outcome is when nobody swerves. But if A knows that B is in fact omniscient, then A will simply decide to never swerve since A knows B will know A's logical decision and B will be forced to swerve to avoid a collision — assuming that each player is logical and follows optimal strategy.

The field of literary analysis and criticism can discuss omniscience in the point of view
Point of view (literature)
The narrative mode is the set of methods the author of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical story uses to convey the plot to the audience. Narration, the process of presenting the narrative, occurs because of the narrative mode...

 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.

Discussion of omniscient technology can take place with reference to a context of (say) political surveillance rather than one of theology.

The word "omniscient" characterizes a fictional character in the Devin Townsend
Devin Townsend
Devin Garret Townsend is a Canadian musician and record producer. He was the founder, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist in extreme metal band Strapping Young Lad from 1994 to 2007 and has had an extensive career as a solo artist....

 album "Ziltoid the Omniscient
Ziltoid the Omniscient
Ziltoid the Omniscient is the tenth studio album by the Canadian metal musician Devin Townsend, released on his own label HevyDevy Records in May 2007 and distributed in America and Europe by InsideOut Music....


Theological representations

The concepts of omniscience can be defined as follows (using the notation of modal logic
Modal logic
Modal logic is a type of formal logic that extends classical propositional and predicate logic to include operators expressing modality. Modals — words that express modalities — qualify a statement. For example, the statement "John is happy" might be qualified by saying that John is...

x is omniscient =def

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

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.

Unfortunately, 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 doesn't know that B is true. Therefore, if B is true, then there is a truth (viz. "B is true") which God doesn't 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

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
Dharmakīrti , was an Indian scholar and one of the Buddhist founders of Indian philosophical logic. He was one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism, according to which the only items considered to exist are momentary states of consciousness.-History:Born around the turn of the 7th century,...

's excursions into the subject of what constitutes a valid cognition
Pramana is an epistemological term in Hindu and Buddhist dialectic, debate and discourse.Pramāṇavāda and Hetuvidya can be glossed in English as Indian and Buddhist Epistemology and Logic, respectively.-In Hinduism:...

, Śāntarakṣita and his student Kamalaśīla
Kamalaśīla was an Indian Buddhist of Nalanda Mahavihara who accompanied Śāntarakṣita to Tibet at the request of Trhisongdetsen.Dargyay, et...

 thoroughly investigated the subject in the Tattvasamgraha
For the tantra of the same name, see Tattvasa%E1%B9%83graha_TantraThe Tattvasamgraha is a text written by the 8th Century Indian Buddhist pandit Śāntarakṣita. The text belongs to the 'tenets' genre and is an encyclopedic survey of Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophical systems...

 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.

See also

  • Epistemology
  • Impassibility
    Impassibility describes the theological doctrine that God does not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being. It has often been seen as a consequence of divine aseity, the idea that God is absolutely independent of any other being, i.e., in no way causally dependent...

  • Omnibenevolence
    Omnibenevolence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unlimited or infinite benevolence". It is often held to be impossible, or at least improbable, for a deity to exhibit such property along side omniscience and omnipotence as a result of the problem of evil...

  • Omnipotence
    Omnipotence is unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of whichever faith is being addressed...

  • Omnipresence
    Omnipresence or ubiquity is the property of being present everywhere. According to eastern theism, God is present everywhere. Divine omnipresence is thus one of the divine attributes, although in western theism it has attracted less philosophical attention than such attributes as omnipotence,...

  • Pantomath
    A pantomath means, etymologically, a person who knows everything. Given that the actual instances of the word usage in written works are so counted, most statements about the usage or the meaning of the word are bound to remain speculative...

  • Predestination
    Predestination, in theology is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God. John Calvin interpreted biblical predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some people and salvation for others...

  • Problem of evil
    Problem of evil
    In the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is the question of how to explain evil if there exists a deity that is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient . Some philosophers have claimed that the existences of such a god and of evil are logically incompatible or unlikely...

  • String Theory
    String theory
    String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

  • Theory
    The English word theory was derived from a technical term in Ancient Greek philosophy. The word theoria, , meant "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and referring to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action...

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