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Standard teaching is that God is omniscient. But what does the word mean? To most, it means "One who knows everything". To me, it means "One who knows everything that there is to know". Some things are simply not there for anyone to know.

Enter quantum mechanics, the most successful physical theory ever devised, predicting things correctly to seven decimal places. It says that Schrödinger's cat is both alive and dead, and only observation can bring one of these two possibilities into reality. Before observation, it is actually wrong to say "the cat is either alive or dead", because that statement leads to things different from what we observe in the laboratory. So even God does not "know" whether "the cat is alive or dead", because that knowledge is simply not there to be had.

So Rabbi Akiva's dictum, "Everything is foreseen and free will is given", means "Everything [that there is to foresee, namely the probabilities of occurrence of various outcomes,] is foreseen, and free will is given [because we can influence that outcome]".

As I see it, all the "infinity" attributes of God reflect the influence of Greek philosophy. They are not included in God's 13 attributes. The Rambam was careful to say, in his 10th principle of faith, that God knows what people are doing NOW, but adds nothing about their future:

The Tenth Foundation is that God, blessed be He, knows the actions of mankind and does not turn His eyes from them... "Great in counsel, and mighty in work; for your eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men; to give to every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 32:19).

So, my question is: Where, in traditional sources ancient and modern, is the definition of "omniscience" discussed?

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  • 7 decimal places? I can predict my distance to you to way more than 7 decimal places. We are exactly 0.000000000000 exameters apart – Double AA Mar 3 at 15:33
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    Why do you assume the cat is either dead or alive that God needs to know one of those two things? Why can't God know the cat is in a superposition of dead and alive? – Double AA Mar 3 at 15:37
  • Exactly. As I mentioned, God "knows" the probabilities of each outcome because that's all there is to know. – Maurice Mizrahi Mar 3 at 15:38
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    I think I covered most of the philosophical rishonim here – Alex Mar 3 at 19:29
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You're correct. Words such as omniscience and omnipresent are not in the bible. Maimonides writes that it is philosophically impossible to know anything at all about G-d, save negatives, such as G-d does not have a body, is neither male nor female, etc. Thus the idea that G-d is all-knowing may not be true.

Abraham ibn Ezra felt that G-d only knows the generalities, the rules of the laws of nature, but not the particular details. Ralbag, like many others, felt that Divine knowledge is not aware of all the details about people; G-d only knows what might occur. Some scholars even think the Rambam held this view also. For example, Rambam's 10th principle, as you write, says that "G-d knows what people are doing NOW, but adds nothing about their future." Is he saying that G-d does not know humans, people as individuals?

Maimonides writes that G-d cannot do everything. He cannot make a square-circle, for example. The first principle of faith:

G-d exists, is eternal, is perfect in every way and is the cause of all existence, but He cannot do impossible things such as turning a triangle into a square.

Many verses in Scripture seem to imply that G-d does know or is unaware of the situation. For example, after Noah's flood, we are told that “His heart was saddened.” This has caused some scholars to ask the question, “Does G-d regret?” Another example is the famed trial of Abraham in Genesis 22 (Akedah, the binding of Isaac). Why did G-d felt the need to test Abraham? Isn't He all-wise? Didn’t G-d know the outcome of the test? Isn't G-d all-knowing? What does the word test even mean? Rambam seems to say that G-d did not test Abraham, it was an internal struggle. “G-d tested Abraham” by the laws of nature.

Maimonides writes:

“The sole object of all the trials mentioned in Scripture is to teach man what he ought to do or believe…. This is the way how we must understand the accounts of trial; we must not think that G-d desires to examine us and to try us in order to know what He did not know before. Far be this from Him; He is above that which ignorant and foolish people imagine concerning Him, in the evil of their thoughts.”

He later quotes Rabbi Ishmael, “The Torah speaks in human terms.” Radak agreed:

“When it says that He ‘regretted,’ this is the Torah speaking in human terms, for in truth, ‘He is not human that He should change his mind [le-hinahem]’ (I Sam. 15:29), for in the Almighty there is no change of will.”

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    could you please provide the sources and not just the names? – Dov Mar 7 at 16:11

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