Heythrop College Publications

Burns, Elizabeth (2011) Divine Omniscience and Human Goodness. British Society for the Philosophy of Religion Biennial Conference, Oxford [Conference or Workshop Item]

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    For many centuries, philosophers have questioned whether divine omniscience is compatible with human freedom. If God timelessly observes human actions (Boethius), God’s knowledge depends upon human choices, but if God’s timeless knowledge is somehow causal (Aquinas), human beings cannot be held responsible for their actions. If God exists within time, however, either God still somehow knows our future actions (Ockham), which are thereby determined, or God has no knowledge of future events (Swinburne), and is thereby both limited and repeatedly surprised by our immoral choices. This paper argues that there is a satisfactory way out of this impasse which is both compatible with the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths and more helpful in religious practice. Based on analysis of a range of texts from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and the Qur’an, it develops Don Cupitt’s suggestion that God’s knowledge is not knowledge in general, but knowledge of that which is religiously relevant – i.e. of the nature of good and evil and human moral behaviour. It is then argued that God resembles, or is, the Platonic Form of the Good, an objectively-existing moral standard, and that divine omniscience must therefore be understood as the light which that standard casts upon our own moral worth. If the divine standard is described in terms of the metaphor of personhood in order to aid human comprehension, then God is, metaphorically, a person who scrutinizes our moral behaviour and sometimes finds us wanting. Thus, the divine ‘observes’ us, and we are free to try to reflect its goodness or to choose otherwise.

    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
    Department: Philosophy
    Depositing User: Dr Elizabeth Burns
    Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2015 07:57
    Last Modified: 19 Jan 2015 07:57
    URI: http://publications.heythrop.ac.uk/id/eprint/2173

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