Omniscience /ɒmˈnɪʃəns/,[1] mainly in religion, is the capacity to know everything that there is to know. In particular, dharmic religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism) and the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) believe that there is a divine being who is omniscient.


There is a distinction between:[citation needed]

  • inherent omniscience, the ability to know anything that one chooses to know and can be known.
  • total omniscience, actually knowing everything that can be known.

Some modern Christian theologians argue that God's omniscience is inherent rather than total, and that God chooses to limit his omniscience in order to preserve the freewill and dignity of his creatures.[2] John Calvin, among other theologians of the 16th century, comfortable with the definition of God as being omniscient in the total sense, in order for worthy beings' abilities to choose freely, embraced the doctrine of predestination.

Omniscience and free will

Omniciencia, mural by José Clemente Orozco

Whether omniscience, particularly regarding the choices that a human will make, is compatible with free will has been debated by theologians and philosophers. The argument that divine foreknowledge is not compatible with free will is known as theological fatalism. It is argued that if humans are free to choose between alternatives, God could not know what this choice will be.[3]

A question arises: if an omniscient entity knows everything, even about its own decisions in the future, does it therefore forbid any free will to that entity? William Lane Craig states that the question subdivides into two:

  1. If God foreknows the occurrence of some event E, does E happen necessarily?[4]
  2. If some event E is contingent, how can God foreknow E’s occurrence?[5]


The topic of omniscience has been much debated in various Indian traditions, but no more so than by the Buddhists. After Dharmakirti's excursions into the subject of what constitutes a valid cognition, Śāntarakṣita and his student Kamalaśīla thoroughly investigated the subject in the Tattvasamgraha and its commentary the Panjika. The arguments in the text can be broadly grouped into four sections:

  • The refutation that cognitions, either perceived, inferred, or otherwise, can be used to refute omniscience.
  • A demonstration of the possibility of omniscience through apprehending the selfless universal nature of all knowables, by examining what it means to be ignorant and the nature of mind and awareness.
  • A demonstration of the total omniscience where all individual characteristics (svalaksana) are available to the omniscient being.
  • The specific demonstration of Shakyamuni Buddha's non-exclusive omniscience.[6]


In Jainism, omniscience is considered the highest type of perception. In the words of a Jain scholar,

The perfect manifestation of the innate nature of the self, arising on the complete annihilation of the obstructive veils, is called omniscience.[7]

Jainism views infinite knowledge as an inherent capability of every soul. Arihanta is the word used by Jains to refer to those human beings who have conquered all inner passions (like attachment, greed, pride, anger) and possess Kevala Jnana (infinite knowledge). They are said to be of two kinds:[8]

  1. Sāmānya kevali – omniscient beings (Kevalins) who are concerned with their own liberation.
  2. Tirthankara kevali – human beings who attain omniscience and then help others to achieve the same.[8]

See also


  1. ^ "omniscience". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)"
  2. ^ John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8006-3153-6
  3. ^ "Ron Barnette, a Bright-OMNISCIENCE AND FREEDOM". Valdosta.edu. 1999-09-16. Archived from the original on 2012-04-22. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  4. ^ "Purtill on Fatalism and Truth". Faith and Philosophy: 229–234. 1990. 
  5. ^ Viney, Donald Wayne (Spring 1989). "Does Omniscience Imply Foreknowledge? Craig on Hartshorneby". Process Studies. Center for Process Studies. 18 (1): 30–37. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2011. 
  6. ^ McClintock, Sara L. (2010). Omniscience and the Rhetoric of Reason. Wisdom Publications.
  7. ^ Mehta 1954, p. 99.
  8. ^ a b Sangave 2001, p. 16.


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