07 June 2011

Tersely put: omniscience and certainty

by Dan Phillips

To profess certainty, non-Christians must feign omniscience.

Christians begin with the confession that they (1) do not possess omniscience, but (2) are by grace confidants of the only one who does possess it.

Thus Christians alone not only can be, but are obliged to be, humbly certain.

Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 30:1-5


Dan Phillips's signature

56 comments:

DJP said...

This begins another series of occasional posts, the point of which is to try to say the most truth in the fewest words, leaving it to the meta further to develop the implications.

Think of it as an attempted exercise of "less is more," as commended Monday by the good pastor.

DJP said...

PS - missed being a "50 Words Or Less" post by one word! Grr!

Robert said...

And we even know that any knowledge that Christians and non-Christians alike have all comes from the One who is omniscient!

donsands said...

I like where Peter said to Jesus after his Lord asked him if he loved Him, "Lord, You know I do. I love You." Jesus asked Peter the 3rd time and Peter, grieved, says, "Lord You know All things. You know I love You."

What a good thought to know that God knows we love Him, even when we think we don't, and feel we don't. He is all-knowing.

DJP said...

This truth has major implications for apologetics.

< /chumming >

Mike Riccardi said...

...the point of which is to try to say the most truth in the fewest words...

Success!

I'm sure I'll be amazed at how dissenters will go about challenging this.

Solameanie said...

I'm sure you've succeeded in giving Brian McLaren fodder for his next tendentious, tedious tome.

philness said...

First thought that comes to mind.
K.I.S.S.

What could be more humble than to presuppose man is not the author of life.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Shorter is better.

Bill Honsberger said...

As you probably well know - Brian, and Tony, and Robbie and Dougie are epistemically humble and confess they know nothing. They are also epistemically arrogant and certain that no one else knows anything either. What wisdom ebbs from such minds!

Does the Lord cry or laugh over these fools? I find myself at times compelled to do both.

DJP said...

Now relate that to "are obliged to be."

Scooter said...

It's a moral obligation to speak the truth if one knows it.

That's my drive-by comment for the day as work beckons me.

Strong Tower said...

hen oída hoti oudén oída

DJP said...

This is meant as an encouragement: there's a lot that was in my mind in writing this that hasn't been caught and developed yet. Could well be my fault -- too terse, for instance?

Day's young!

Scooter said...

Ok second drive-by comment...

To not speak the truth, especially it's been given to us by one who is omniscient, is to call him a liar. God designed the world to work when truth is understood, loved, and lived.

Strong Tower said...

IMHNO...

I can say GEICO.

Bill Honsberger said...

I like Luther on obliged to be - something along the line of
When God speaks - we speak
When God is silent - we should be as well.

Seems like a great sin to reverse the two - cf Isa 5:20 - bitter and sweet, good and evil...

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

So because all a non-Christian has to rely on is his own experiences, he can never be certain because experiences always change and certainty describes something that is unmoving and unchangable. Therefore he presents himself as all knowing because he has rooted knowledge in his own perception. So really, a non-Christian being certain about anything is really an oxymoron - having rooted certainty in his own perception that always changes.

On topic?

word verification: dumsh - it made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.

donsands said...

Harold seemed quite certain about May 21st. But, that wasn't humble certain, more like proud certain. And yet Harold has simply picked up where he left off with no repentance whatsoever.

Sorry that Harold popped into my mind.

Another thought is that our Lord's Word tells us He will reveal every secret and motive of every deed, -and even every thought withour a deed,- of every heart of every human that ever walked this earth. And for me that would be a quite terrible and scary appointment like none other I've ever had, if I didn't know Christ loves me, and ransomed me with His precious blood.

Whoops too many words, as usual.

DJP said...

Web - I like it.

Now, let me throw this to your comment: surely Science is an exception? Objective facts, detected and evaluated by passionless instruments?

DJP said...

I'm always sorry when Harold pops into my mind, or onto the public stage.

Halcyon said...

DJP:

"Now, let me throw this to your comment: surely Science is an exception? Objective facts, detected and evaluated by passionless instruments?"

Oo! Oo! Let me!

"Objective facts, detected and evaluated by passionless instruments" and then interpreted by human scientists.

Did I win?

DJP said...

Maybe my mistake was in unintentionally creating the impression that the comments also had to be terse.

(c;

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Dan,

Science is objective, the problem is the scientist who is evaluating the facts. The instruments only do what they're built to do, but when the person judging the instrument looks at the data, it passes through their worldview filter and they then decide how to interpret the information. I've got confidence that a non-Christian scientist could make an objective statement that honestly reflects what was found, but when that clashes with his worldview, it's not possible for him to present the data outside of his worldview without that worldview changing.

DJP said...

True.

I just have one more thought that I don't think has been touched on yet by anyone — that is, about Web's specific remark. I think there are another half-dozen implications we haven't really exploited yet here.

Not Ashamed said...

How awesome that our God uses the simple things to confound the wise. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins can't order tea using fewer words.
Wonderful words of truth.

Robert said...

Science can only take you so far because it can only "prove" things that are repeatable and do not require assumptions that go beyond our own knowledge. The non-Christian has not other base of knowledge and any attempts he/she makes to go beyond such limits and make hypotheses or "theories" (evolution is merely a hypothesis in real life) are just, to use their own jargon, fairy tales. Christians, however, have a reliable base of knowledge to tell us things beyond what we can see and observe by science. And true science even observes evidence of the historical accounts of the Bible. And without a basis for how everything began, how can the non-Christian expect any consistency in what he/she records from science? Who says that everything has to be constant and ordered? They don't have any true history to fall back upon to support such claims. And thus, they have no way to figure out how to apply their scientific observations about the future. It is all guesswork.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Does your last thought have to do with the instruments themselves, and how a non-Christian must create instruments that will make it seem as though they were all-knowing?

DJP said...

Everything everyone is saying is correct and good and worth saying.

Let me just gesture meaningfully at the first sentence.

Robert said...

Non-Christians say that there is no all-knowing God, while putting their thoughts and beliefs at the same level as the omniscient God. How else could they say that they know the truth about anything? That includes that there is no omniscient God.

Steve Drake said...

A non-Christian can rely on his own experiences and that of others, but can't tie them into any meaningful whole outside of the biblical God. He assumes the ultimacy of his human mind, reducing all reality to one level, denying the counsel of God as determinative of the possible and the impossible.

Mike Riccardi said...

To profess certainty, non-Christians must feign omniscience.

Generally, the only context in which anyone in our gooey postmodern age is going to profess certainty is in the arena of science. But the certainty which they profess to have is based on a priori assumptions of naturalism, rationalism, uniformitarianism, etc.

But those assumptions are just that: assumptions. They assume the non-existence of God because their naturalism demands it. But the only way they could be certain of the validity of a naturalistic worldview is to know for certain that there can't be the supernatural. That requires omniscience.

Something like that?

Bill Honsberger said...

I like how all the scientific instruments let them to the conclusion that the universe was full of ether 150 years ago.
Or how about the joys of nebraska man or piltdown man! Science has spoken!
Or how about cold fusion in the eighties? Ain't science been helpful around here?
Or the stars that were dated older than the universe in past decade or so?
And now of course Hawkins declaration of forces like gravity creating the universe - which once included gravity I thought. I hope the divorce wasn't too messy.
The good news here is that our friends at the UN, especially at East Anglia, have our backsides covered and that nasty old CO2 won't be allowed to kill us all.
I stand relieved.

Steve Drake said...

Mike Ricardi
But the only way they could be certain of the validity of a naturalistic worldview is to know for certain that there can't be the supernatural. That requires omniscience.

The dilemma of the self-sufficient knower, perhaps? The only person who could deny a self-sufficient knower would have to be a self-sufficient knower himself!

Daryl said...

Following the first sentence in the post, and Riccardi's last reply...

Trouble is, many non-believers claim that they "know" God is or isn't like 'x' or they know (for instance) that evolution is true. But for them to know that, they would have to be cognitively aware of every creature in the universe, and know each of them aren't God, or they must know every possible means of the world coming into being, and know that each of the options, save one, didn't happen.

So they admit, when confronted, that they aren't omniscient, but they feign omniscience by claiming knowledge that only omniscience can provide.

Kind of like claiming I don't have a grandma...you'd have to know every possible candidate in the world, and know them not to be my grandma.
But I'd only need to know Grandma, and I win.

I don't know all the possible beings in the universe, and how they are or aren't God...I just need to know who my Father is, and the rest become irrelevant...

DJP said...

Kind of like claiming I don't have a grandma...you'd have to know every possible candidate in the world, and know them not to be my grandma.
But I'd only need to know Grandma, and I win.


I just really like that.

(c:

Pagey said...

This post reminds me of something I heard or read somewhere recently. Wish I could remember where. The general thought was something like this:

If you don't know /everything/ you can't be certain of /anything/ because there's always the possibility that some fact that you've missed will turn up and blow all your "certainty" out of the water.

So a finite being can't possibly be certain of anything unless an Utterly Trust-Worthy, Infinite, All-Knowing Being just happens to tell the finite being something true and then the finite being simply believes it.

DJP said...

Pagey: ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! ding!

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Daryl, that was awesome.

Pagey said...

@DJP (c:

It's an awesomely simple, wonderful, obvious truth. (Once someone points it out to you!)

Thanks for the reminder.

DJP said...

Yes, now that Pagey's unveiled it, that was one of the unmined thoughts I had in mind.

If someone is going to deny God, he has ceded his right to say anything literally anything with confidence. As a rule, they will deny this, because nobody can live that way. As all unbelievers do, they will rob the Kingdom currency while doing their damnedest to deny the King.

So ask this: Can you say with absolute certainty that there is not a fact available only within a one foot square space ten miles under the surface of the far side of Pluto that would completely disprove your assertion?

They can say "No," or they can lie. About anything. Those are the only two options.

Steve Drake said...

In terms of human experience, how about human self-awareness as a fundamental factor of life? How is it that man is self-aware? Might that not be another one of your unmined thoughts?

donsands said...

"They can say "No," or they can lie. About anything. Those are the only two options."

Or they can say "No", not yet, but one day we will, maybe another 500 years.
That's what I get from unbelievers at times.
Look how much more we know now then 1,000 years ago.

Does that fit? Or am I off?

Steve Drake said...

I like your question, Don. I hear it all the time myself. It gets them off the hook (in their own minds), and pushes it out to the future. So how to bring it back around?

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Don, Steve, we can bring it back to the Gospel because in 500 years they're still going to be wrong and they'll know terrifyingly better way before then.

DJP said...

Child's play.

Is the universe infinite?

1. If not, then a fact on the other side of finitude might change everything.

2. If so, then no matter how big you draw the circle of knowledge, the area outside that circle is always the same size: infinite.

Steve Drake said...

DJP:
". If not, then a fact on the other side of finitude might change everything."

Assuming the skeptic answers this question, yes, the universe is finite, then isn't there 'nothing' on the other side of finitude?

DJP said...

See: he doesn't know.

Steve Drake said...

Ah, yes, if he thinks the universe is finite, and he himself is finite, then how can he claim to 'know' anything with certainty? 'Science' doesn't help, does it?

Bill Honsberger said...

But surely if you just add enough zeroes or even multiple universes - then All things will be known!!!
I am giddy with anticipation!

Steve Berven said...

Our faith, our confidence, of necessity must be solely in the omniscience/Truth of God, not on our limited understanding of anything in this world. Something the atheistic or agnostic will all too readily label as "blind faith."

My understanding of the Scriptures is much deeper, fuller, and in many radical ways DIFFERENT than it was when I was 20. Have the Scriptures changed in the last 20 years? No, my understanding of them has. Thus it was my understanding that was flawed, not the source material.

That's what Paul calls "pressing on towards the goal," I think. Never taking for granted that we have all the answers, or even CAN have all the answers. Always searching to know more, to rely on the HOLY SPIRIT to provide illumination that our mind alone cannot.

Our confidence is in the fact that the answers can be found, but only in God's perfect truth, and in his timing. Our confidence is in God's revelation, not on our deduction.

That's the ridiculous humor of the atheist scientist who insists, with great fervor and froth, that THIS IS THE TRUTH! THIS IS FACT! Until, you know, some further research reveals it to be, you know, NOT.

Tommy said...

Two cents from a twenty-something year-old:

A good application we can give ourselves as believers is how we don't need proof. Being possessed for the search for that empirical data can lead down a dangerous path. Camping was so intrigued by "proof" that he has the whole layout of Earth's history and future on his desk. Why did he stray from the Word? It's because the Bible isn't a book on science. It's not a book on history either. It's a historically and scientifically accurate book, absolutely, but we have to remember that we are saved by faith. Not by proof, or empirical data, or objectivity.

Hillbilly Geek said...

How about : "You can be sure, but only fools are positive?"

paraphrased from the bat in 'Ferngully'

Tyrone said...

(Ephesians 2:8-10) May we never forget!!!

Burrito34 said...

Just a quick drive by from someone in the "cheap seats": I wonder how the open theists would deal with your post?

Michael Wright said...

Amen. Looking forward to more of these.