On omniscience and immutability

Anon asked:

On omniscience and immutability. I’m looking at the problem posed by Kretzmann among others. In essence, if God is immutable then then how can he know today is Friday and tomorrow know that today is Saturday as this would mean that he’s subject to change to know one thing to day and another thing tomorrow etc. I am puzzled by few things:

1. Why must God’s experience of time equate to ours? As corporeal temporal beings our experience is in the context of change and time is something that we use in order to make sense of our experience. But given that God is neither corporeal or temporal why should his experience of time be the same?

2. Does this dilemma rest on an assumption that in order to know something, one must have experience of it? There are many things that God as a perfect immutable being would not be able to experience such as regret or shame yet this doesn’t seem to pose a problem I have in mind Kenny’s comment here.

Thanks for your help with this.

Answer by Peter Jones

It seems to me that you are correct. It would make no sense to say that God is immutable and yet knows what time it is. It must always be Now. Or perhaps Never. It would also make no sense to say that He experiences time’s passing, or, come to that, anything at all except perhaps His own presence in what Meister Eckhart calls the ‘Perennial Now’. But then, if God is omniscient, He must experience the passing of time, just as we do, in fact exactly and precisely as we do, right now, for otherwise a human being could know things that God cannot. There is only one solution. We are God, in His mode as a myriad of unenlightened centres of experience in an unreal world of time and space, regret and shame.

So, on this analysis God cannot experience time and yet must experience time. This would be the reason why Lao Tsu says, ‘true words seem paradoxical’. They would only seem so since this seeming contradiction can be resolved. Nagarjuna would reject both views as being one-sided and thus false.

If there is a real dilemma here, as you assume, then it will certainly rest on an assumption. In philosophy they always do. It would be a rule. But it would not be an assumption that in order to know something, really know it, we must ‘have experience of it’. According to the logic of how we know things, ‘knowledge by Identity’ would be the only totally secure form of knowledge. At any rate, Aristotle took this view. Second, an immutable entity would not be able to experience, since by our usual meaning an experience would require the passage of time, and because an experience would require a division of this immutable entity into experience-experiencer as the subject and object of the experience. This is three things that would have to exist for this experience, while in His immutable state God would have to be just one. Third, if God is to be worthy of His definition then He must be able to experience regret and shame. He could only do this, however, in the space-time world of Maya and relativity.

Accordingly, the practices of mysticism are designed to bring us to the point where we can leave behind regret and shame by a process of remembering who we are. This would be the Buddha’s path to the cessation of suffering.


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