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Guide for the Perplexed
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CHAPTER XVI

THE philosophers have uttered very perverse ideas as regards God’s Omniscience of everything beside Himself: they have stumbled in such a manner that they cannot rise again, nor can those who adopt their views. 1 will further on tell you the doubts that led them to these perverse utterances on this question; and I will also tell you the opinion which is taught by our religion, and which differs from the evil and wrong principles of the philosophers as regards God’s Omniscience.

The principal reason that first induced the philosophers to adopt their theory is this: at first thought we notice an absence of system in human affairs. Some pious men live a miserable and painful life, whilst some wicked people enjoy a happy and pleasant life. On this account the philosophers assumed as possible the cases which you will now hear. They said that only one of two things is possible, either God is ignorant of the individual or particular things on earth, and does not perceive them, or He perceives and knows them. These are all the cases possible. They then continued thus: If He perceives and knows all individual things, one of the following three cases must take place: (1) God arranges and manages human affairs well, perfectly and faultlessly; (2) He is overcome by obstacles, and is too weak and powerless to manage human affairs; (3) He knows [all things] and can arrange and manage them, but leaves and abandons them, as too base, low, and vile, or from jealousy; as we may also notice among ourselves some who are able to make another person happy, well knowing what he wants for his happiness, and still in consequence of their evil disposition, their wickedness and jealousy against him, they do not help him to his happiness. — This is likewise a complete enumeration of all possible cases. For those who have a knowledge of a certain thing necessarily either (1) take care of the thing which they know, and manage it, or (2) neglect it (as we, e.g., neglect and forget the cats in our house, or things of less importance); or (3) while taking care of it, have not sufficient power and strength for its management, although they have the will to do so. Having enumerated these different cases, the philosophers emphatically decided that of the three cases possible [as regards the management of a thing] by one who knows that thing], two are inadmissible in reference to God — viz., want of power, or absence of will: because they imply either evil disposition or weakness, neither of which can by any means be attributed to Him. Consequently there remains only the alternative that God is altogether ignorant of human affairs, or that He knows them and manages them well. Since we, however, notice that events do not follow a certain order, that they cannot be determined by analogy, and are not in accordance with what is wanted, we conclude that God has no knowledge of them in any way or for any reason. This is the argument which led the philosophers to speak such blasphemous words. In the treatise On Providence, by Alexander Aphrodisiensis, you will find the same as I have said about the different views of the philosophers, and as I have stated as to the source of their error.

You must notice with surprise that the evil into which these philosophers have fallen is greater than that from which they sought to escape, and that they ignore the very thing which they constantly pointed out and explained to us. They have fallen into a greater evil than that from which they sought to escape, because they refuse to say that God neglects or forgets a thing, and yet they maintain that His knowledge is imperfect, that He is ignorant of what is going on here on earth, that He does not perceive it. They also ignore, what they constantly point out to us, in as much as they judge the whole universe by that which befalls individual men, although, according to their own view, frequently stated and explained, the evils of man originate in himself, or form part of his material nature. We have already discussed this sufficiently. After having laid this foundation, which is the ruin of all good principles, and destroys the majesty of all true knowledge, they sought to remove the opprobrium by declaring that for many reasons it is impossible that God should have a knowledge of earthly things, for the individual members of a species can only be perceived by the senses, and not by reason: but God does not perceive by means of any of the senses. Again, the individuals are infinite, but knowledge comprehends and circumscribes the object of its action, and the infinite cannot be comprehended or circumscribed; furthermore, knowledge of individual beings, that are subject to change, necessitates some change in him who possesses it, because this knowledge itself changes constantly. They have also raised the following two objections against those who hold, in accordance with the teaching of Scripture, that God knows things before they come into existence. First, this theory implies that there can be knowledge of a thing that does not exist at all: secondly, it leads to the conclusion that the knowledge of an object in potentia is identical with the knowledge of that same object in reality. They have indeed come to very evil conclusions, and some of them assumed that God only knows the species, not the individual beings, whilst others went as far as to contend that God knows nothing beside Himself, because they believe that God cannot have more than one knowledge.

Some of the great philosophers who lived before Aristotle agree with us, that God knows everything, and that nothing is hidden from Him. Alexander also refers to them in the above-mentioned treatise; he differs from them, and says that the principal objection against this theory is based on the fact that we clearly see evils befalling good men, and wicked men enjoying happiness.

In short, you see that if these philosophers would find human affairs managed according to rules laid down by the common people, they would not venture or presume to speak on this subject. They are only led to this speculation because they examine the affairs of the good and the wicked, and consider them as being contrary to all rule, and say in the words of the foolish in our nation, “The way of the Lord is not right” (Ezek. xxxiii. 17).

After having shown that knowledge and Providence are connected with each other, I will now proceed to expound the opinions of thinkers on Providence, and then I shall attempt to remove their doubts as to God’s knowledge of individual beings.

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