Knowledge! What is it?

There is nice long thread about “free will”. There are (at least) two problems with it.

One is: it is not clear if you talk about “will” (wish, desire… etc) or about the ability to put that “will” into action. After all, your thought are free, and they do not matter if you are unable to act on them.

The other is: can (fore) knowledge interfere with with (or negate) our freedom to act?

In this thread I am interested in the “knowledge” part. What is knowledge? The answer is simple: knowledge is internal information about something. Or using a slightly different verbiage: knowledge is an internal model of the reality.

This is an abstract definition, independent from the “knower”. Of course “knowers” might use different methods to obtain information, but that does not affect the basic point: “knowledge is internalized information”.

From this it follows that knowledge is only possible for something that exists (or existed). There can be no information about something that does not exist. The adherents to “open theism” understand that.

There are numerous and incorrect arguments along these lines: “I am about to give a plate of food to my hungry dog, and I know that the dog will eat it.” And followed by: “my foreknowledge does not force the dog to eat”. In other words: “(fore)knowledge does not impinge on our freedom of action.”

Of course this is nonsense. We do not “KNOW” if the dog will eat that food, it is just a reasonable assumption. The dog might suffer a heart attack, or might be shot before it can reach the food. For something that does not exist, all one can do is use their imagination and concoct a highly probable outcome, which is NOT knowledge. Of course foreknowledge is possible, but only for deterministic processes.

The whole idea of knowing the future is nonsense. What does not exist cannot be known, it can only be imagined.

Also there is an inherent problem with God’s knowledge. God is supposed to be “simple” - no parts, and also sovereign. If God knows our actions because we do them, then God’s knowledge is contingent. If God’s knowledge is primary, then we are simply puppets acting out his knowledge.

This logical contradiction cannot be solved. God’s alleged omniscience renders him to the status of a “married bachelor” - to have mutually contradictory attributes. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

(Romans 11:34) “Who can fathom the mind of the Lord? Or who can claim to be His advisor?”

You are trying to explain the knowledge of God in human terms…

(1 Corinthians 3:18-20) “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."

Knowledge is just the noun form of the verb “to know.” God knows everything, we know some things. God created everything, we know only what we can fathom out of His creation, and what He has revealed to us about Himself.

God knows everything and He created everything. Whatever “type” of knowledge He has is Divine knowledge, not merely the human terms or our understanding of “contingent” vs “primary.” Our knowledge is based on us analyzing and trying to comprehend the world God created. He knows every inner working of the world because He created it. He knows our actions because He is not confined to time, so He knows past, present, and future. He knows how exactly how our minds work, but He does not control us like a puppet master.

His knowledge of the universe He created and all of His creatures is perfect and absolutely all-knowing because He fashioned all out of His good Will. So all human knowledge is is perceiving what God created, whether that be the world or our own minds. In contrast, God’s knowledge is absolute because He always existed, He made all and knows everything about all.

If He controlled us, would He make us sin so that He would be mocked, tortured and killed out of love for us? Would He make us act in ways that displease Him? Certainly not, that is ridiculous. God is Truth, His Word is Truth. He is all knowing. He has every “type” of knowledge we could think of…and He is not constrained by our limited ability to fathom His knowledge and ways.

Again, human knowledge cannot fathom the mind of God. You assume He either has one “type” of knowledge or the other. He has absolutely all knowledge, we have limited knowledge based on our understanding of what we perceive. We live in a world and universe He created, and He understands Himself and His creation far better than we.

I think that comes from Scholastic metaphysics. He is simple because He is indivisible, unlike humans who are composite.

I might be mixing up the terminology.


Ah I see, at first glance I thought the OP meant that God is supposed to be uncomplicated or easy to understand. Which is untrue. All of these human theories cannot understand the mind and nature of God until Heaven…it’s pointless to claim we have the wisdom to completely understand or outsmart God. True wisdom comes from Him.

Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.“

Truth :arrow_up:

Since we are humans, we can only understand human terms. If the “knowledge” of God cannot be expressed in human terms, then this “knowledge” is a meaningless term.

Everything would include nonexistent “things”. Which is simply absurd.

Whatever God is or is not, he is not above logically incoherent states of affairs. When it came to omnipotence, the original idea was that God is capable of doing “anything”, even create a rock so heavy, that even he cannot lift it. This naive concept was quickly abandoned, and nowadays the phrase is: “God can do everything that can be done”. Which leaves the question open, just what “can be done”?

The same type of error comes when contemplating “omniscience”. “Knowing” things that do not exist is exactly the same kind of absurdity as “being able to do everything”. Time for the theologians update their nomenclature. Actually the ones who subscribe to “open theism” did exactly that. I suggest follow their example.

You mean to say that if we can’t understand something it’s meaningless? That really makes no sense. Say a dog does not know about Covid-19 and the death toll on humans…that makes it completely meaningless and not worth contemplating or studying because the dog, a lower being without a rational soul and highly intelligent human mind, does not understand? In the same way, because humans can’t comprehend all of God while on earth, due to our created nature and lack of God’s all encompassing intelligence, it makes Him meaningless? I fail to see your point.

This is a human made argument that we can’t know the answer to…unless it happened and God revealed it to us to study it

Again, this concept and hypothetical is made up by humans. Yes sure I agree that God can do everything that can be done. But this is dependent on the truth that God can do absolutely anything, so everything is possible for Him.

Luke 18:27 “Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Okay…I did not mean to say God knows things that don’t exist. But, because He knows our actions before we do them, and knows all of the future, He knows things that technically do not exist yet in the universe’s idea of time, but certainly will exist later. So I reword my original statement; “God knows everything that was, is, and will come.” And besides, He can most certainly “know” exactly what would happen if certain events were to occur. Because He is God. Jesus knew that if He did not die for us, we would all be doomed for eternity and die in our sins. Even though this did not become reality because He chose to sacrifice Himself for us.

For example, Isaiah 57:1 “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.”

In this verse from the Bible, it is evident that God knows that evil would befall the person, so He spares them this. In this way, He knows things that have not and will not happen. So God knows everything that would have been, would be, and would have come. This may be beyond human understanding…that’s because we don’t have the mind of God.

You should study epistemology. I don’t mean “you need to.” I mean “you’d enjoy it.”

As to “what is knowledge?” about the best definition the philosphers can come up with, is to define knowledge as “justified true belief, where the justification is not based on a false premise.” Some might argue with some aspects of that, but it always worked for me.

No, it means that knowledge of the virus is meaningless to the dog. If I posted a few pages of complex quantum physics equations then neither of us would understand them. So to say ‘we have knowledge of the equations’ just because we see them written down would render the term ‘knowledge’ meaningless in that situation.

If we can’t use recognisable terms such as knowledge and love when discussing God then it’s a waste of time discussing Him at all.

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Yes. In other words, God is one essence, one nature, one substance and one divinity.

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Knowledge deals with what is certain/observable. Faith deals with what is uncertain, outside of our senses and physics. By your logic and definition, you would have to explain why so many people believe in God. And please don’t tell me that you think that they are all stupid and only you are enlightened.

I’d say it was because that was how they were brought up. I’d put the percentage in the high nineties. For all religions.

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Several generations of Russians were brought up atheists during communism. And yet, they returned to Christianity massively after the fall of it, so there must be something fundamentally unnatural to atheism. It is contrary to the human experience.

There’s a world of difference between being told that your country is now officialy atheist and losing one’s religious beliefs. As you say, they returned to Christianity. Do you think everyone automatically became atheist after the revolution?

And is it unatural to be a Hindu? Or a Sikh? Or do you mean it’s unatural to believe in gods?

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Naïveté is unbecoming, even when it is held with goodwill. The sheer numbers of philosophical theologians who treated of these precise problems in the Middle Ages (to say nothing of Modernity) is too vast to number. We can just stick with the universal doctor of the church (Aquinas) who certainly pondered all that is mentioned in the OP.

The answer is simple, we are told. This, despite the fact that epistemologists are not today unified on what does constitute knowledge. Is introspection a proper ground for your knowledge? If not, why not? If so, how so? Or memory? What about testimony? After all, the vast majority of all your beliefs to which you would assign significant importance came to you (and are grounded in) someone’s testimony. As in, someone told you so, and you believed that someone, whether it was an historian, a politician, a news anchor, a writer, a scientist, it all amounts to the same phenomenon—you were told something by a party you believe you can trust and you came to believe it. Then you counted it as “knowledge.” As if, historians have never corrected themselves? Or politicians? Or news anchors? Writers? Science is not an ever-self-correcting enterprise?? If alteration and revision occurs in all these fields (and they surely do) then when exactly did you ever have “knowledge?” Wouldn’t X need to be true in order for you to know that X?

This is a very curious position. Presumably, we can speak just fine about unicorns and Pegasus’s without their ever having actually existed. Thomists call these entities “beings of reason” which is to say that they do exist, but only as objects in our minds not in re extra. I and you and anyone can speak meaningfully about a unicorn, whether or not it ever existed, right?

This issue has been discussed throughout all of Western history. Far from being a new insight, it is an ancient problem well-known to many bright minds over the millennia. And some claim to have located a tertium quid. Whether or not you, particularly, accept a third option isn’t relevant. Suffice it to say that various attempts at splitting the horns of the dilemma have been suggested, repeatedly.

Beliefs, as you mentioned (highlighted above), don’t equate to knowledge. And knowledge is a step up from accepting testimony as being true.

If I get on a plane, is it a ‘belief’ I hold that the guy at the pointy end can fly it? In common parlance perhaps but not in the specific use of the term as it’s being used here. So do I have knowledge? Not in the sense that I know he can fly. My acceptance that he can is not knowledge but a reasonable expectation (I don’t expect Qantas to sell me a ticket to the US and put someone in charge who can’t fly).

Knowledge would equate at the very least to me seeing his qualifications and perhaps even having personal experience of his abilities.

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That is very true, Freddy. So, I would like for you to consider what bridges the gap between a historical, scientific, current event belief and knowledge. If you are not a scientist, then you are conducting no scientific experiments. And yet, would you hold to the rather odd position that you therefore have no scientific knowledge? Or, are we consigned to mere beliefs about (say) WW2 because we did not perceive any of it but have rather been confined to testimonial accounts? Is this true for all of human history? We have no knowledge? I would suggest to you that this isn’t how anyone speaks about knowledge, nor is it a tenable position. At some point, each of us must grapple with the fact that our most deeply-held beliefs to which we assign the most importance are sourced in testimony and are therefore grounded in testimony itself.

If you ask your spouse where she went after work yesterday to make her getting home a bit later than usual, and she says she took the vehicle for a quick oil change, you will form this belief and maintain it. Eventually, you will assign this belief to the realm of your “knowledge.” If a friend asks you when is the last time the vehicle had an oil change, you will consult your memory for the rough date when your spouse affirmed it was changed.

Testimonially-grounded beliefs–they are ubiquitous. The sheer volume of them is astounding when one pauses to contemplate it.

No one would be satisfied with knowledge only being grounded in perception. At a minimum, introspection, reason (extending knowledge through logic) and testimony are all additional sources and grounds for knowledge. If this isn’t the case, then you have no scientific, historical, current event, religious…knowledge at all. I have known my fair share of scientistic individuals, and not one of them would accept knowledge as only being possible via first hand perception (to say nothing of the vast Gettier counter-examples that establish errors in one’s justified true belief as counting as “knowledge”).

If my reply above did anything, I mostly hoped to cut against any simplistic over-confidence in the realm of epistemology. It just ain’t that easy.

As I said, there is belief, a reasonable expectation that information is true and knowledge. With regard to the last two, I would say that there is no bright line between the two but a gradual movement between the two.

If someone I have no reason to distrust writes a report that has no direct influence on me then I have no reason to reject it. I will have a reasonable expectation that it is true. If more people whom I trust confirm the report then that reasonable expectation will gradually become what one might define as knowledge.

So if someone writes about a specific but minor event in 1969 then the reasonable expectation will apply. But if I read multiple reports about JFK’s assasination and see tv reports from that time and see what is purported to be the actual killing then it’s safe to say that I have knowledge of that event. Even if I have no direct evidence.

But you are right in stating that overconfidence in the validity of what we claim to be knowledge (or belief) can be a problem.

Either the above definition is a meaningless tautology or one must infer “exists in reality”.

Presuming the latter, I know a lot about triangles, i.e., different kinds, relationship of the length of its sides to its area, angles to each other. Ditto circles. Neither object exist in reality.

Imagine “triangle”. You cannot do so without imaging a particular triangle, e.g. scalene, equilateral, right angle, isosceles, red, blue, green, etc.

Now think of “triangle”. (No image needed, only concepts.) Three sided object with no non-adjacent angles that equal 180 degrees, etc. The concepts are knowledge. Knowledge about an object that does not exist in reality.

God’s knowledge in eternity cannot be contingent, that is dependent on human actions. In eternity there is no sequence of human acts to be observed rather all the acts are present to His mind.

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I just wanted to acknowledge this topic, I’d like to revisit it. I haven’t spent as much time on Catholic Answers recently, but I note that there’s really two discussion points here. The question really just isn’t “what is knowledge” but (a) what is knowledge and (b) how does God’s omniscience and sovereignty not conflict with our free will. Part B obviously broadens the discussion quite a bit. Certainly “what is knowledge” is important but there’s more to consider. As for Part A, if I comment later I’d like to really delve into that, because I think there is much more to it than what’s in the opening post. In fact, given that the OP states that we can have only knowledge of what exists, I think we also need to delve into the logic of being and truth a bit more, and how knowledge fits into that.

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I’ve been mulling this over this evening. And surely I could say that I have knowledge about God. But can that be true if I don’t believe He exists?

If I thought that the world was created a few thousand years ago, would it make any sense to say I had knowledge about dinosaurs or plate tectonics? I would know about them but my knowledge would surely be what other people believed to be true. So one could say I don’t have knowledge about God but I have knowledge about what people believe to be God. I know what He’s meant to be, not what He is.

So at the moment I am supporting @Abrosz’s position.

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