Hector-Neri Castaneda Saves Omniscience

Norman Kretzmann offers a serious argument against Christian theology. (Journal of Philosophy 63, 1966)

He argues that Omniscience is incompatible with Immutability. If his argument is successful, it would be a damning and fatal blow to Christianity.

However, Castaneda responds to Kretzmann’s argument, and demonstrates that it fails. (Journal of Philosophy 64, 1967)

In this post, I will try to succinctly and clearly state Kretzmann’s argument, and explain briefly how Castaneda rebuts it. The issues concerning indexical references herein raised will be beneficial for future discussions of God’s Divine foreknowledge at ILP.

From Kretzmann:

(1) A perfect being is not subject to change.
(2) A perfect being knows everything.
(3) A being that knows everything always knows what time it is.
(4) A being that always knows what time it is is subject to change.
(5) Therefore a perfect being is subject to change.
(6) Therefore a perfect being is not a perfect being.


(7) There is no perfect being.

Kretzmann argues extensively for each premise. I encourage everyone to look up his article on the web and read the footnotes concerning each one. For instance, he argues that premise 1 is traditionally supported in two ways. 1. By citing the argument from supreme excellence. If a being that is supremely excellent changed, then it would change into something that was less than supremely excellent. (Plato argues this way in the Republic). And 2. By an appeal to complete actualization. If a being is changing, then he is not absolutely recognized and has unrealized capacities.

In any case, it’s beyond the scope of this post to defend each premise. I mean simply to highlight and explain Kretzmann’s argument.

Perhaps premise 4 requires the most explanation.

Kretzmann reasons that if a being knows the proposition: “It is now t1” then this truth is necessarily distinguished from the proposition: “It is now t2.” Thus…the being would have to change from knowing the proposition: “It is now t1” to knowing the proposition “it is now t2.” So if this being ALWAYS knows what time it is…then this being is ALWAYS changing.

In response to this, Castaneda points out that the term “now” is an indexical reference term that Kretzmann’s argument misuses.

It could be said against premise 4 that “A change in the object of knowledge does not entail a change in the knower.” However Kretzmann is ready for this response. He argues that sometimes a change in the object of knowledge DOES require a change of knowledge. He gives this example:

“…if the object of my knowledge is the height of the Chrysler Building, then of course a change in the object of my knowledge does necessitate a change in me. If a 40-foot television antenna is extended from the present tip of the tower, either I will cease to know the present height of the Chrysler Building or I will give up believing that its height is 1,046 feet and begin believing that it is 1,086 feet.”

To answer this illustration Castaneda posits a formula (P):

b If a sentence of the form ‘X knows that a person Y knows that…’ formulates a true statement, then the person X knows the statement formulated by the clause filling the blank ‘…’.[/b]

Understanding this formula is the key to understanding that Castaneda’s argument isn’t simply one of semantics. To flesh out the formula, consider this example:

X knows that Y knows ‘…’.
John knows that Chris knows the Gospel.

This necessarily implies that John knows the Gospel as well.


So…back to the Chrysler building.

The question becomes: Can a person know all the propositions that will take place at t1, t2 and t3…at the same time? Kretzmann’s improper use of indexical references in his illustration, make this impossible. Castaneda sees that it is possible to reformulate the illustration using more precise indexical references…and combined with formula (P) makes it possible for a person to possess at t1 the same knowledge that he will possess at t2 and t3…thus demonstrating that no change in knowledge takes place and ultimately disproves premise 4 of Kretzmann’s argument.

Here is the restatement:

“Kretzmann knows at t1 that: the Chrysler Building is 1,046 feet high at t1, and at t3 it will have a 40-foot antenna extended from its tip, and that the man who makes the extension knows at t2 that the Chrysler Building is 1,086 feet high then.”

Thus formulated, Kretzmann’s knowledge at t1 doesn’t change.

Therefore…it is not necessarily true (and by no means is it required) that omniscience contradicts immutability.

Why do you think omniscience needs saving?

Maybe to classical theology that maintains an omniscient and immutable God, but immutability comes more from our Greek inheritance than from our Jewish or Christian…

Considering that most Christian sects believes that God knows everything, why do you suppose that reasoning isn’t apart of Christian tautological defense? Perhaps achieving that type of logic is more of a detriment to the Christian faith.

It is doubtful following that line of thinking will be helpful in determining an Omniscient/Omnipresent God. I would be curious to see if anyone of agnostic/atheistic leanings think they could be swayed of the existence of God through anything other than physical tangible proof. I provided a hypothetical regariding this in a thread I had made earlier and didn’t ferret out any such responses. Though reality could more convincing than a posed question made at a place of discussion.

That is not to say I don’t appreciate the effort you are making in furthering a defense for God.


It was Kretzmann who formulated an argument against the compatibility of Omniscience and Immutability. His argument is subject to evaluation. When inspected, it fails.

Also, you shouldn’t attempt to over-generalize the history, origin, and transmission of the Christian doctrine of Immutability. It is a necessary doctrine and is not only strongly implied by Scripture, but is explicitly stated in many passages. (Consequently, you cannot point to any classical Greek metaphysic that is comparable to orthodox Protestant theology.)

I’ll not debate the origins of this doctrine with you since that is irrelevant to this post.

However, in case you’d like to study on your own, check out Hebrews 7 verse 3. Christ is being compared to Melchisedec and is said to be “without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life…” Michah 5 verse 2 is also generally believed to be about Christ, and He is there described as “everlasting.” Perhaps one of the most explicit statments of God’s immutability is in Malachi 3 verse 6. God explicitly tells us “I am God and I change not.”

To Liteninbolt,

I’m glad that you appreciate Castaneda’s savage critique of Kretzmann, and I am also glad that you appreciate my exposition of the argument here at ILP.

The rest of your post, and the points you bring up, seem to be either irrelevant or incoherent. Perhaps you could restate your point in a way that I could better understand or that might prove more relevant to the content of the Kretzmann / Castaneda exchange?

You misunderstand me shotgun, I didn’t say I appreciated the Castaneda/Kretzmann part of your post, but the effort you are trying to make a defense for the existence of God.

As for the argument you are making with the Castaneda/Kretzmann exchange, that seems a bit poppinjay-ish and an odd way to to bring an argument for omniscience. In regards to my response not ‘fitting in’ with the meat of your post, it does in my estimation. The argument you presented hinges on the infallability of using a line of logic which supposedly viewed by an ‘unbeliever’ or even by someone who recognizes the existence of God to be irrefutable evidence of God.

My assessment is that an agnostic/atheistic mindset operates on tangibility as being proof. Even then some of those would not be acceptable for one reason or another. In the case of the believer, faith is the crux upon which belief is the foundation of God’s existence along with experiencing things through their continuing connection to God. Some of those believers will fall by the way side through discontent and misunderstanding through man-made doctrine of certain religious venues they may attend. This is the relevancy I bring to the Castaneda/Kretzmann exchange.

Got that. I wouldn’t ascribe either immutability or omniscience to God though, and so the argument, at least for me, only has relevance to the history of theology, where these things were maintained. I don’t think the argument, or Castaneda’s counter-argument, are relevant to Christianity per se, or at least not to scripture.

You’re right; I shouldn’t over-generalize. There is something immutable about God (and perhaps even omniscient). But these categories aren’t well represented by Kretzmann or Cataneda. Rather they are represented in their traditional, and I think questionable form that originates in Platonist theology (God as perfection, changelessness, etc).

Irrelevant? The origins of the doctrine seem very relevant to this post if this post claims to involve

That’s great, but Melchizedek dies, and so does Christ, and their teachings are surpassed. Christ does not give us the fulness of wisdom, but he tells us he will send the Spirit when he returns to God, and the Spirit will teach us even greater things than he did.

If I could quickly sum things up: God is immutable in that God always walks in the ways of wisdom. But wisdom is a tree that grows, and that we are to help God grow, so that when the Spirit of wisdom is upon us, as Christ teaches, we will do even greater things than Christ did.


Thanks for attempting to clarify the position of the naturalist. I’ll keep your words in mind in the future whenever I critique or examine a naturalist.


Kretzmann’s argument may not be applicable to some incoherent, ill-thought out, system of theology that some guy arbitrarily made up…granted.

By the way…a “Christian” is anyone who is going to Heaven. I hope the god of your religion can get you there.

shotgun, if there is one thing I have learned in my discussions here at ILP, people who lay claim to being Christian or has a belief in God here often do not follow the representation that is recognizable to me. Perhaps being on the same page about God isn’t meant to be. Believers of God and Christ will only have a personal connection that won’t hold objectively as long as they don’t let God’s Will work through them. Myself included.

Did you just make up some system off the top your head and call it “Christian”…or did you spend long hours studying the great Christians who have come before…and examined how they interpreted scriptures…and investigated orthodoxy?

Exegesis is hard work since the Fall…so don’t approach it naively.

I didn’t think condescension was a part of interpretive abilities. The only thing I approach naively are people I perceive who want to discuss God. Some of them do solemnly and courteously. Some have haughty dispositions who regard other’s understanding as being beneath them and a non sequitur. I’ve talked with a wide range of people and have learned that everyone is not on the same spiritual or intellectual level as others. The one thing I do try to have is patience even in the midst totally different religious beliefs.

I didn’t attack you on a personal basis, rather the topic you had proposed about trying to show how Castaneda’s approach to using a variant of linear logic in trying to argue for omniscience. My counter was conventional reasoning and logic won’t explain of predict God. In my estimation coming to understand and love God doesn’t require such lengths in trying to convince non believers about God. I feel those attempts won’t mitigate a consensual understanding just for the fact that if that information needs to be readily available. It is not. To iterate a point I had made, faith and an open heart is the best vehicle for a connection to God.

However, if you truly believe going in that direction will help convince people of God’s existence, I pray and hope it works for you. If a person I have recognized to be of an agnostic/atheistic nature here in ILP sees the reasoning of this OP, I will humbly accept the approach it takes. For I have had none or little acquiescence from my approach here concerning my faith. There is just too much scepticism from folks with a non-belief stance.

Have you actually read the article?

This post has nothing to do with any proof of God’s existence.

The arguments put forth by Kretzmann and Castaneda discuss the rationality of “omniscience” in principle. God doesn’t even have to be mentioned really.

Kretzmann may as well have said:

Some person (X) is omniscient, and therefore some person (X) cannot also be immutable.

If you’d like to discuss apologetics, or apologetic methodology, then fine…but, this post has nothing directly to do with proving God’s existence.

By the way…when I say that exegesis shouldn’t be done naively, I mean that you shouldn’t just pick up a Bible, scan through it, and create an off-the-top-of-the-head theology. Unfortunately, this is what a lot of people do…and they suffer for it.

Give the Christianity of antique Europeans a chance. It’s consistent…coherent…and most importantly, true!

Yep, but that is the problem.

James, you dig deep for topics.

Among other inconsistencies, hearsay and superstitions that Christianity is supposed to be founded on, Medieval Christianity couldn’t resolve the geocentric model of the universe, the trinity, the fallibility of the Pope, the power of the church (catholic or otherwise), or most importantly, the concept of free will.

Instead of wondering how many angels can fit on the head of a pin or about the different omni-characteristics of God, the first question we must be able to answer, if we are to believe in Him, is why He created us. The first thing that occurs to me is, if we don’t have free will, He didn’t create us, we are puppets on strings that don’t differ from rocks, plants or even the vacuum of space. Neither we nor the universe would have a purpose but merely be a work of art for Him alone to appreciate. If God made the stones to sing, it would be a song written and performed by and for Himself.

It would be no different if He made us (programmed us) to sing–and making it so that only some of us would sing, wouldn’t make the work of art any less empty, or His self-lie detract any less from the Truth.

TPT, it’s unlikely shotgun will come in to respond to your post. You never know though, he may show up out of the blue. :slight_smile:

shotgun called Liteninbolt a naturalist. Looks like a misreading to me.

Yeah, and even though I think “why?” is the most vital question we can ask, the only one in the Bible that I know of that asked it was Job, and they told him to shut up about it–like your parents telling you because I said so, even though we’re adults now and this is about our souls. Just another indicator for deism. And thanks but I’m used to people not answering, even when they “answer”. I figure somebody might hear.


Actually, I think shotgun was referring to Liteninbolt’s series of comments like this one:

felix, what do you think shotgun was inferring with the term "naturalist? I didn’t give it a second thought when I had read it the first time.