God’s knowledge

   It is generally accepted that God knows everything. Not only does God know everything that is visible, He knows everything that is secret and hidden. In his account of divine knowledge, Ibn Sina points to a problem which al-Farabi had also identified, and this is that God’s knowledge is general knowledge, not knowledge of particular facts. The latter form of knowledge involves the senses and God would then be limited in space and time. He could know particulars whose particularity is unique, in that there can only be one of them given the conditions under which they arise, and Ibn Sina here gives the example of an eclipse. An eclipse has to take place at a certain place and a particular time given the causal laws that control the planets, and since God knows what those laws are, since He created them himself, He knows that the eclipse took place. But He does not know how it took place, since He could not watch it take place, having nothing to watch it with. Al-Ghazali remarks that this implies that God did not know that Muhammad prophesied or what anyone does, and so does not know how to reward or punish people in the next life, if he sets out to treat them in accordance with their deserts. The Qur’an certainly suggests that God knows all these things, and reminds us of God watching us and being aware of what we do at all times and places.We ourselves are particular things and we might expect God to know who we are and what we do. According to al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, He does know all this but only in general terms, since without senses he cannot actually pick out ordinary objects. In any case, if He knew everything that happened in our world of generation and corruption He would be constantly changing His consciousness, and God is supposed to be unchanging, so the idea that God is aware of everything we do all the time cannot be understood as literally true. Ibn Rushd suggests that we can resolve the problem if we take God’s knowledge to be the paradigm of perfect knowledge, and our knowledge is a weak reflection of that perfection. Then our knowledge of particulars is an imperfect version of the perfect knowledge that God has, and His knowledge is much more perfect than ours because He knows everything as part of a generalization. He knows everything about it, whereas we know what it actually looks like, or smells like, and so on.
   See epistemology; al-Ghazali; God; Ibn Rushd; Ibn Sina
   Further reading: al-Ghazali 1997/2000; Ibn Sina 2005; Leaman 1985/2002

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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