AuthorTanis, Abdulkadir
  1. Introduction

    In Islamic thought, there is a consensus among philosophers of differing traditions that God is omniscient. However, there has been intense debate among these philosophers about how this omniscience should be understood. One of the issues that causes this controversy is on how He knows tensed facts. although omniscience is accepted as a basic doctrine by the majority of philosophers, various views have been proposed regarding His way of knowing tensed facts. Avicenna (980-1037), who has a unique idea on this subject, puts forward that it is not appropriate to claim that God knows tensed facts in the same manner a temporal being does, lest His perfection be marred. His basic rationale for this claim is the idea that God, knowing tensed facts in such a way, will subject Him to change. Since change means a deficiency for God, a being that knows tensed facts cannot be perfect. Therefore, although God is omniscient, His way of knowing is different from that of a being in time. However, a compelling objection has been raised against this claim because it restricts the extent of God's knowledge. al-Ghazali (1058-1111), who spearheaded this objection, argues that a God who does not know tensed facts will be unaware of what is happening in the universe and therefore cannot be regarded as omniscient. In this case, God would not be a perfect being since His knowledge would be lacking.

    As known, in studies of Islamic philosophy, this discussion has been treated as a topic related to omniscience, and immutability has not been deliberated extensively. However, as Norman Kretzmann has effectively demonstrated with his article "Omniscience and immutability", the discussion seems to originate from a tension or incompatibility between the attributes of omniscience and immutability.

    Therefore, in this study, I will deal with this discussion on God's knowledge of tensed facts in Islamic thought through this tension and examine the thoughts of Avicenna and al-Ghazali on the topic. For this, I will (i) evaluate their views on the reality of tensed facts and (it) discuss their solutions to the tension and validity of these solutions. Taking his views into consideration, I will argue Avicenna's solution to the tension is limiting the omniscience attribute for the sake of immutability. In contrast, Ghazali attempts to preserve both omniscience and immutability and proposes that God knows tensed facts without changing. However, I will assert that he falls short of grounding his views on God knowing tensed facts without changing and fails to be persuasive.

  2. Tensed facts

    Our experience of events in a temporal succession is one of the fundamental phenomena of our daily life. This phenomenon refers to the experience of events as if they are constantly flowing from one point to another. Our experience of events in sequence manifests as the concept of tense. The emergence of the concept of tense stems from the classification of some events and objects as present and others as nonpresent, such as past and future. Accordingly, an event or an object is first designated as future, then present, and finally past. Without taking into account the temporal succession of what is present, it is not possible to become aware of objects and events that are non-present, such as the future and past. While objects and events that are happening at present are perceived directly, objects and events that do not exist at present are perceived based on some other mental states such as remembering and expectation (Tegtmeier 2014: 73-74).

    This division of events and objects into present, past, and future categories has led to debates in terms of both linguistics and metaphysics. The main discussion on language is the question of whether there are tenses in all languages (see Dyke 2013 : 328-332). Considering the languages of the world it is seen that most of them have tenses related to present, past, and future, or elements that fulfill this function. In terms of its function in the language, it is possible to define the tense as a 'grammaticalized expression of location in time' (Comrie 1985: 9). Thus, tenses function to determine the point in time in which events and objects are located.

    From a metaphysical point of view, tenses have caused a rigorous debate about whether they are real or not. Especially McTaggart's (1866-1925) thoughts on time formed the basis of the discussions about the reality of tenses. According to McTaggart, it is possible to classify events in time in two ways: A-series and B-series. In the A-series, there is a relationship between events as present, past, and future, and this relationship is variable. In contrast, in the B-series, there is an 'earlier than' and 'later than' relationship between events, and this relationship is fixed (McTaggart 1908: 458-459). The debate on reality of tenses is directly related to the question of whether time is made up of the A or B-series.

    Proponents of the A-series version of time argue that distinctions such as present, past, and future exist independently of the observer and as a true quality of the world, and that time flows in a certain direction by this distinction. Accordingly, present has a privilege compared to other tenses. For now, passing from moment to moment, causes an event to be present when it is future and past when it is present. Therefore, the relations in the A-series can be said to be dynamic. On the other hand, proponents of the B-series version of time argue that present, future, and past distinctions we make between events do not have any correspondence to reality and that they stem from our perception of events. Since there is no such distinction between events in reality, there is no point in saying that there is a temporal flow, and that present is in a privileged position. Thus, past and future are as real as present, and there is a static rather than a dynamic relationship between events (Dyke 2013: 332-336, Swinburne 1990: 117-118).

    The main reasoning that the A -theorists who defend the reality of tenses use to support their claim is that tense is an irreducible feature of our daily language. The irreducibility of tenses shows that reality is also tensed. For when we eliminate these tenses from our language, there is a significant loss of meaning. B-theorists respond by stating that tensed facts can be expressed tenselessly without any loss of meaning. That is to say, it is possible to replace tensed expressions with tenseless ones which have the same meaning and thus, to de-tense ordinary language (Dyke 2013: 336-338). "However," as Dyke stated, "in the 1960s and 1970s, work by various philosophers of language showed that it is not possible to de-tense language without losing the ability to convey certain information... In other words, linguistic tense, considered in the wider sense of any linguistic means of locating events in the A-series, is an essential feature of language" (Dyke 2013: 338-339).

  3. Can God know tensed facts?

    Considering the profound debates within the theist tradition about how God knows tensed facts, it is possible to say that the above discussion of tensed facts has a notable counterpart in the philosophy of religion literature. One of the most striking examples of this is the claim that an incompatibility or tension arises between certain attributes of God, especially between omniscience and immutability, if he knows tensed facts. As it is known, classically, there is largely a consensus within theist tradition that God is both all-knowing and immutable. However, in the contemporary philosophy of religion, with the article "Omniscience and Immutability" by N. Kretzmann, it has been generally stated that these two attributes are incompatible (Kretzmann 1966). His argument is essentially based on the claim that a God who knows the flow in the universe cannot be immutable. Leftow formulates Kretzmann's argument as follows:

  4. If God is omniscient, God knows what time it is now.

  5. What time it is now is constantly changing. So

  6. what God knows is constantly changing. (First, He knows that it is now t and not now t+l, later He knows that it is now t+l and not now t) So

  7. God is constantly changing (Leftow 2016).

    According to the argument, it is inconsistent to say on the one hand that God is all-knowing, and on the other hand, He does not change in any way. As a result, if God knows everything, then he must know what time it is now. However, because time is constantly changing, if God knows what time it is, He also undergoes a change. For God, who knows what time it is, will know that now is t, but after a minute he will know that it is t+l, and His knowledge will be changing as the change continues in this way. In this case, if God knows everything and thus knows what time it is, it will not be possible to argue that He is immutable. On the other hand, if it is acknowledged that God is immutable, it will be hard to claim that He is omniscient. Therefore, it seems that there is an incompatibility or tension between omniscience and...

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