The Problem Of Eternal Knowledgeby Averroes
May God perpetuate your honour and bless you, and screen you always from the eyes of misfortune. Through your excellent intelligence and good understanding you have learned a great part of all these sciences, till your insight informed you of the doubt which arises concerning the eternal knowledge of God, with its being at the same time concerned with created things.
If all this universe was in the knowledge of God before its creation, then, was it in His knowledge after its creation as it was before it came into existence?
Or was it in His knowledge before its creation quite different from that after its coming into being?
If the knowledge of God about it after its creation is quite different from that which it was before its creation, it becomes necessary for us to admit that the eternal knowledge is changeable; or that when the universe came into existence out of non-existence, then there is an addition to the eternal knowledge; which is impossible.
If the knowledge of it was the same in both the conditions, then it would be said: Was the created universe the same before its coming into existence as it was after its creation?
To this objection it will have to be answered that it was not the same before its creation as it was after it, otherwise the existent and the non-existent thing would be the same. When the opponent has admitted this much, he may be asked whether the real knowledge does not consist in the cognizance of an existent thing as it is.
If he says: “Yes,” then accordingly it becomes necessary that when a thing changes in itself the knowledge of it must also change, otherwise it would be a knowledge of something other than the real object.
Thus, we necessarily must admit 1 of 2 things:
- The eternal knowledge itself will change, or
- The created things would be unknown to God.
Both of these are impossible with regard to God.
This doubt is still further strengthened by the apparent condition of man, that is, the relation of his knowledge about non-existent things by the supposition of their existence and its relation when the thing in question is found. It is self-evident that both kinds of knowledge are different, otherwise God would have been ignorant of its existence at the time he found it. The argument which the Mutakallimun advance to meet this objection does not by any means deliver us from the doubt. They say that God knows the things before their coming into being, as they would be after they come into existence. If they say that no change occurs, they fall into mistake.
If on the other hand they admit a change, they may be asked whether this change was known in the eternal knowledge or not. Thus the first doubt occurs again. On the whole it is difficult to imagine that the knowledge of a thing before and after its existence can be one and the same.
This is the statement of the doubt in the briefest terms possible, as we have put it for your sake. A solution of this doubt requires a very long discussion, but here we intend to state a point which might easily solve it. Abu Hamid (Al Ghazzali) has also tried to solve this doubt in his work: The Refutation of the Philosophers, but his method is by no means satisfactory. For he says something to this effect: he thinks the known and the knowledge are not connected with each other, so that when a change takes place in the one the other does not change in itself. So it is possible that it may happen in the case of Divine knowledge and the things existent, that is, they may change in themselves while God’s knowledge may remain the same. For instance a pillar may be on the right hand of Zaid, it may be changed to his left without any change taking place in Zaid himself. But the illustration is not at all a correct one, for the relation has changed, that is, that which was on the right side is now on the left. That in which no change has taken place is the condition of that relation—Zaid. It being so, and the knowledge is only the relation itself, it is necessary that it should change with a change in the thing known, as the change in the relation of the pillar to Zaid, for it is now on the left after being on the right.
The view which might solve this question is that it should be maintained that the condition of eternal knowledge of existent things is quite other than the created knowledge with regard to them. For the existence of a thing is the cause and means of our knowledge of it, while the eternal knowledge is itself the cause and means of the existent thing. So if a change takes place in the eternal knowledge after the coming into being of an existent thing, as it does in the created knowledge then it is involved that the former cannot be the cause but only the effect of the existent things.
Thus, it is necessary that there should be no change in it, as there is in the created knowledge. This mistake always occurs by our taking eternal knowledge to be like the created one, by an analogy from the seen to the unseen. The error in this analogy has already been exposed. Just as no change takes place in any agent after the creation of his act—that is, change of kind which was not found before—so no change in the eternal knowledge of God after the creation of the thing which was in His knowledge. So this doubt is removed. At the same time it is not necessary for us to say that as there is no change in eternal knowledge, therefore, He does not know an existent at the time of its creation, as it is. But we must believe that He knows not by a created but by His eternal knowledge.
For a change in knowledge with a change of the existent thing is a condition of the knowledge which depends upon the existent thing, such a knowledge being created. Thus the relation of the eternal knowledge with the existent things is not the same as that of the created knowledge. It is not that there is no connection between them at all as some philosophers are said to maintain, who as the people think, say, at the time of doubt, that God has no knowledge of particulars at all. But this is not as is commonly supposed. They only say that He does not know particulars by any created knowledge, one of the conditions of which is its being created by them, by which it is an effect and not a cause. This is the last of the things about it which must be remembered.
For our reason leads us to the fact that God is the Knower of things, all of them emanating from Him. This is so because He is a knower, not because of His existence, nor of His existence in any form, but only because of His being a Knower. God has said, “Shall not He know all things who hath created them, since He is the sagacious, the knowing.” The arguments also tell us that He knows by a knowledge which may be akin to created knowledge. So it is necessary that there should be some other knowledge for the existent things—and this is the eternal of God. Moreover, how is it possible to suppose that the Peripatetic Philosophers think that the eternal knowledge does not include particulars, while they say that these are a cause of admonition to us in our dreams, divine revelations, and other kinds of inspiration?
That is what we think about the solution of the problem—a solution in which there is no doubt or suspicion. God is the only helper to right judgment, and leader to truth. Peace be upon you, and blessings of God and His beatitude. God is the best knower of truth: and to Him is the return and the refuge.
Quran lxvi, 14.