• God cannot know he is omniscient

    Theists, the world over, claim that God is omniscient. However, this is not an easy claim to make for a whole host of reasons, one of which is worth looking into here. I want to look at the idea that in many instances, you cannot know that you don’t know something. If there is a situation where you cannot know something, then if it is claimed that you are omniscient, this would invalidate that claim.

    For example, there could conceivably be something that God does not know. Conceivably, perhaps another dimension run by another God exists that does not coincide at all with this dimension. If one eternal God can exist, why not another in an entirely different dimension and unbeknownst to the first God? Now, it is unimportant as to whether this is possible or not. What is important is that God could not know that he did not know this by the very nature of not knowing it!

    Where does this leave God? Well, God is in a situation whereby he cannot know that he knows everything. He might think he knows everything. Epistemologically speaking, though, he cannot know it. There’s always a chance he’s an experiment in an elaborate lab, programmed to think he’s omnipotent and omniscient (yes, God could be plugged into the Matrix and he’d never know it!). There’s a chance he’s one of a trillion gods in a trillion different universes, that he has himself been created by another, more powerful god, but that the other god made it so he was not aware of this etc. etc.

    It only takes one thing you cannot know to invalidate omniscience. God cannot know that he knows everything.

    Category: God's Characteristics

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

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    • Can God be inductively justified in believing he is omniscient? He may have a justified true belief in this fashion…

      Open theists, on another note, redefine omniscience in saying God does not know the future. Perhaps with this line of thought, if the future is unknowable, omniscience can be defined as knowing all true propositions possible – thus some propositions could be unknown and omniscience could be maintained? Just playing angel’s advocate here…

      • Thanks for the comment, Justin. I think Open Theism can get theists out of problems, though it invites even more problems in.

        The problems are with Open Theism that God gets redefined closer to a human than theists would like, I feel.

        The point about induction is entirely THE point. You cannot KNOW anything inductively. You can only have a <1 probability assertion. I don;t know the sun will rise tomorrow, even though inductively I can have a pretty bloody good guess!

        • “I don;t know the sun will rise tomorrow”

          You don’t know the sun will not rise tomorrow.

          Based on observation and the laws of physics that govern the gravitational forces in our solar system the probability of the sun not rising is infinitesimal small.

          • Small, but not zero.

            • Correct, because all statements in science (should) contain the margin of error.
              And it is this margin that prevents us from stating absolutes in science.

              An omniscient god cannot exist in reality because all knowledge is bounded by the margin of error.

              The condition of quantum uncertainty flies in the face of gods omniscience.
              If he cannot predict the states of every quantum particle at all times – he is by definition not omniscient.

            • carmel Ka

              And if he can predict all the states but don’t influence that all, we are back to omniscience point. Uncertainty works when you are an outsider of the experiment but Omniscience is coming with omnipresence together, and it goes like God is in his creation(in time space) hence the omnipresence, like a sync of every particle state with his knowledge/mind.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            Right, unless aliens cause it to go nova tonight in order to build a new hyperspace expressway.

            Or a wandering black hole could impact it and cause it to rapidly… die. Wow, now I’m curious. What would happen if a stellar mass black hole hit out sun?

    • I like it, and agree, but let me have a go at devil’s advocate.

      Our nature is such that we are not omniscient. We know this because we rely on induction, and are often mistaken about things. This applies to knowledge of our own nature, too. We continue to learn new things about ourselves, a posteriori.

      Now, if God’s nature is such that he is infallible and omniscient, one part of that knowledge is that he knows his own nature. How might he know it? Well, by some ‘basic’ knowledge; ‘divine’ knowledge perhaps – a special access to knowledge of himself and his own nature. Given this, it follows that he knows everything.

      Obviously we don’t know what this ‘divine’ knowledge is like, but then again we’re only human!

      Sort of question-begging, I know! Not sure how to overcome that objection, but the theist might say that it’s as certain as our knowledge of the truth of analytic sentences, and how this comes to be so is outside our limited understanding. So (they say) it’s a draw!

      /devilsadvocate

      • But how would God KNOW that he has not had that knowledge put into him by another, more superior God?

        • Well there’s the rub I guess, hence my agreement. The theist would have to say that this knowledge is so divine that it gives you certainty about your certainty.

          But, we can ask, is God certain of that?!

    • Daydreamer1

      Hi Jonathan,

      I had a discussion that relates a little to this. What would your thoughts be on this line of thinking?

      —————————————————-

      My comment:
      God is by definition uncaused, but if God is uncaused then uncaused things exist so the argument is not that you cannot have uncaused causes, just that the causal chain in nature cannot exist without a start point.

      The reply:
      Very good observation! I commend you for thinking deeply. However, along with being uncaused comes some very necessary implications.

      Power and limitlessness…

      For something to exist uncaused and in the absence of anything it would necessarily be all powerful, limitless. Limits imply something beyond. But, if we have something that is uncaused and yet not all powerful it would imply that it could be greater.

      Here comes the problem: If there are multiple uncaused causes each would be all powerful but that would be a contradiction and hence cannot exist.

      Mormons believe something like this. They believe God is the greatest being among multiple uncaused causes. The other uncaused things are conscious’ that just exist without any explanation.

      The problem with this, and what you mention, is the limits that it places on the uncaused cause. This isn’t an uncomfortable ideological hurdle so much as its a problem with limits in the absence of limiting factors. He is only relatively all-powerful. All powerful is more like most powerful. This implies limits and this is why multiple things that are uncaused cannot exist. They too would be limitless since there are no limiting factors.

      That they may be limited by the presence of an all-powerful being wouldn’t hold water for very long for there would be no reason why there should be one all-powerful.

      Now, that it is a mind: If it were not a mind it would be an effect that goes in an infinite chain, which cannot exist.

      —————————————————-

      I think this relates as if there were a 1st God as the uncaused event and the 1st God created a 2nd that was unaware of the 1st and the 2nd then created our world then the logic still holds to me. I can’t see that anyone could reduce this to a position of knowledge about whether we have 1 or 2 or a million Gods just based on the argument that an original prime mover must be absolute.

      • Hi there DD, good to hear from you.

        I would ask how s/he gets from

        1) there are uncaused causes

        to

        2)For something to exist uncaused and in the absence of anything it would necessarily be all powerful, limitless.

        Once that is established, we can go from there.

        Ir is essentially one of the critiques of the KCA – that if the theist can claim that God is a brute fact (uncaused) then why can matter not be (the universe)?

        Ockham’s Razor would assume GOd + universe is more complex than universe alone.

        • Daydreamer1

          I don’t know. I don’t follow the logic of it anyway; and the guy was claiming to use logic as the foundation of the argument. My issue is centered around the fact that often we discover a universe that does not seem logical – even if the suspicion is that deep down it must be and it is a weakness in us. The guy uses Godel to prove that a theory of everything is impossible and hence state the reasonableness of faith. He is a nice guy by the way, so i’m not knocking his friendliness. I found that Godels theory of incompleteness only applies to certain conditions (i.e all mathematical operands must be present and given that multiplication is far more complex than what we use at school, which is basically just repetitive addition, the universe might well not feature all operands. Plus certain geometries are complete and the topological nature of the universe might well hint that the universe is complete and hence a theory of everything possible).

          Anyway… How theists dance around the ‘logic’ of uncaused causes to land where they want is something I just don’t get. But perhaps it is my scientific background making me think that faith in God and faith in an uncaused cause look methodologically very similar. The argument presented above about an uncaused cause being all powerful else you neccessarily introduce limitations on the uncaused cause, and that is for some reason a no-no is beyond me.

          What I liked about this piece is that it enables us to play the game. OK, so we allow for an uncaused cause like they want; and for arguments sake we admit that it is a God. But that doesn’t mean that that God cannot have created more Gods with limitations and that one of those limitations is that the 2nd order Gods are unaware of their limitations. That God, after all, would have the power to do it and the 2nd order Gods would be powerless to know it. If we then get into the fact that whether the 2nd order God was being honest with us or not we would not be able to tell if our God was the prime mover or a 2nd order God we can re-inject uncertainty into the theology when the entire meaning of the argument was to remove it. I like that.

          • The way I understand GIT is that it is not necessarily applicable to the human mind or the universe as a system. Also, if it is applied to the universe like that, it would also apply to God, invalidating his omniscience.

            Here is one quote i have seen:

            “In the sense that Gödel uses in the theorem, consistent means that that there are no contradictions/paradoxes in the system. Complete means that every theorem must be provable. In simple terms his incompleteness theorem states that there will always be some theorems that are true, but that are not provable. A deterministic system, however, does not necessarily need to be provable, and so does not need to be complete in the Gödelian sense. Example: we create a system (universe) which consists of a single mechanical cat walking in a circle. We can envision this as a universe separate from the physical or any other universe. The fundamental, and axiomatic, rule is that the cat walks in a circle. It does not lose energy, it does not deteriorate with time, it simply does just that. The system is consistent, as the rule constantly applies and there is no contradition inherent in the system. The system is also complete in that it describes everything hapening in it, but it is NOT complete in Gödel’s sense, because the single rule (that the cat walks in a circle) can not be used to prove itself, thus there is a rule that is true, but not provable. I’m perhaps oversimplifying a bit, but the point is that a deterministic system does not have to be complete in Gödel’s sense, and therefore the Gödel theorem can not be used to prove that a deterministic system is impossible.”

            On your other point, would that first order God be able to know?

            • Daydreamer1

              Yep, after reading about GIT I think any firm assertion that it proves that scientific claims on a logic level can never be asserted as Truth and therefore faith is compatible and God did it is deeply inaccurate. I guess it makes religious folk uncomfortable if there is even the possibility that science might one day come up with Truth and not just scientific truth. They’ve spent so long claiming Truth, but deep down knowing their limitations that the idea that a TOE might actually be complete and knowable in the way that other mathematical laws are proofs freaks them out. So even though we are nowhere near knowing everything and might be a million years off it for all we know they feel the need to try and prove a limitation in physics; and I guess by extension natural philosophy.

              Regarding whether the first order God would know; playing the game – by definition yes. But I think your point (which is the one I would make too) about how the situation would have to work if it were reality is valid. We could certainly never claim our God (even if we had perfect reasons to accept we had one) was the 1st order, and any God would not have the ability to know it was 1st order. Any God could be limited by a more powerful one.

              Queue Christian theologians stating that by definition this was incorrect since their God was the 1st order God. Boy do those Christian theologians know everything – apparently even the things they cannot.

              Then again; I think I made the point in another comment elsewhere that a child wins a game (my children at least!, but I suspect all others) by changing the rules. At the point they lose, bang!, a new rule is created and they win. They are clever, and it would seem that theologians play the same game. The funny thing is that their rule systems seem to be delineated by sentence structure and not by absolute internal coherence as we would expect from science. I.e. A rule change occurs to escape one problem, then in the next sentence a new one is introduced to escape another – but the key is that the second rule change sometimes refutes the first within exactly the same paragraph. It is as remarkable and frustrating to see as it is to watch them ignore it.

    • TristanVick

      I see what you’re saying.

      But most theologians who would seek to define God as such would reject materialism, and some would go as far as to reject realism, in which case your argument ceases to be of any pertinence.

      Only by positing a material worldview, and then one which obey’s natural laws, does this more scientific method of reasoning makes sense.

      Personally, I think that materialism is a valid view under naturalism, but many religious people I’ve spoken to do not. In fact, there are many people of faith wouldn’t understand this objection because they don’t accept either materialism or naturalism.

      I think this would actually be an extremely weak argument to use in any case for such a reason. They simply wouldn’t accept it as a valid argument or it wouldn’t make sense to them and they’d reject it off hand.

      Also, I’m not convinced that an omniscient God would not be capable of knowing he was such or not. We use “aids” such as technology to overcome our limitations, and if you’re positing what-ifs, the theologian could simply posit God relies on a similar crutch, implementing “aids” which then allow him to recognize himself as such.

      Of course, this would mean God may not be all-powerful, but that would be a different argument.

      This is the problem with theoretical arguments, however. They can be opened up to all kinds of conjecture when there are not solid facts to lend to better understanding.

      • I’m not sure I get you here, Tristan.

        This sort of argument does not necessitate materialism at all. In fact, it’s Cartesian in nature, and is thus predicated upon dualism.

        How do we know what we know? How do we know we aren’t a brain in a vat? And how is this not applicable to God? How does God know he is not victim to Descartes Evil Demon, or in this case, victim to the more powerful god? He might not be, but he can’t KNOW he isn’t.

        • TristanVick

          In that case, I misunderstood.

          However, having re-examined the argument, I still think it perhaps presumes too little about the claim God is omniscient.

          It assumes, for one, that God is a disembodied mind without any other senses.

          I’ve never heard God actually explained in those terms. That he is simply a mind or a presence.

          Although it certainly is an assumption you could make, it doesn’t fit with the typical anthropomorphic qualities believers like to imbue God with that would imply he exists as something more than just a mind.

          There is also the metaphysical implication that even if we think of God as just a mind, his being omniscient would include some form or quality that knows he is omniscient. In this case, omniscience could apply to ‘awareness’ as well as ‘knowledge’.

          This is merely the theological assumption, but as you said, the brain in a vat metaphor only can apply to disembodied minds. Or more specifically, minds without any other sensory abilities. As far as God concepts go, that’s never been a definition I’ve heard. A God without any sensory capabilities. Because, after all, isn’t part of being all knowing also having the ability to knowingly discern one’s surroundings, environment, etc.?

          I think if you are saying God is simply a mind, and nothing more, then yes, your argument seems to have merit.

          But I would never limit the concept of God that much, because I would assume if God existed in reality and had the powers he is often claimed to have, such a being would have the natural ability to “sense” its environment. In which case, I think it might be able to know that it knows everything, since it would know all that is without as well as all that is within and it would, likewise, be able to reflect on this.

          Now, there are other problems which arise like, well, if God is outside space and time, what sort of environment is that and how could “sensory” perception even matter outside of a natural universe?

          And I think that is why you are making the assumption that God could only be a mind of some form. But like Hitchens used to say, we aren’t minds, we are bodies with brains. And so any assumption as to the type of “mind” a God that exists outside space and time has would be a metaphysical conjecture.

          As which point, all forms of conjecture become equally viable. Which is why I personally do not find God concepts to be salvages by safeguarding them outside space and time.

          All it does is seek to make the nebulous to the point of becoming incoherent. And the position is defeatist. So believers should, in my opinion, stick to the more corporeal forms of an all powerful deity. If they did, it would be very easy to argue that God does have senses. But we don’t know that, and we don’t know that about a God which exists outside of all physical reality, so to talk about it seems, well, rather a waste of time.

          But that’s just me. The die hard atheist speaking.

          • Cheers Tristan.

            It assumes, for one, that God is a disembodied mind without any other senses.I’ve never heard God actually explained in those terms. That he is simply a mind or a presence.

            That is what pretty much all theists think God was causally prior to creation. He can’t have had any material existence. This is what Craig et al would posit. Biblical writers certainly anthropomorphise God, but that can be argued to be technically inaccurate.

            Although it certainly is an assumption you could make, it doesn’t fit with the typical anthropomorphic qualities believers like to imbue God with that would imply he exists as something more than just a mind.

            I suppose certain laymen believers see God as a person with whom to have a loving relationship a la humanity. However, God is an entity who is claimed to be omni, immutable etc etc – ie not really like a human person.

            There is also the metaphysical implication that even if we think of God as just a mind, his being omniscient would include some form or quality that knows he is omniscient. In this case, omniscience could apply to ‘awareness’ as well as ‘knowledge’.

            I think this is the nub of the issue. Does God, as an entity, fall victim to Cartesian questions about knowledge – cogito ergo sum being all that one could know? Or does God have another epistemology? If so, how? That is
            really what this question is about. It sounds like that claim of omniscience,
            and knowing that he knew that, would be nothing more than assertion. Cogito
            ergo sum is a logical argument, so to move around it, I figure it would need to
            be more robust than just an assertion.

            This is merely the theological assumption, but as you said, the brain in a vat metaphor only can apply to disembodied minds. Or more specifically, minds without any other sensory abilities. As far as God concepts go, that’s never been a definition I’ve heard. A God without any sensory capabilities. Because, after all, isn’t part of being all knowing also having the ability to knowingly discern one’s surroundings, environment, etc.?

            Being that God started as a disembodied mind and THEN created matter, then the matter supervenes on the mind / mental.

            I think if you are saying God is simply a mind, and nothing more, then yes, your argument seems to have merit. But I would never limit the concept of God that much, because I would assume if God existed in reality and had the powers he is often claimed to have, such a being would have the natural ability to “sense” its environment.

            In fact, this is idealism:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealism

            Now, there are other problems which arise like, well, if God is outside space and time, what sort of environment is that and how could “sensory” perception even matter outside of a natural universe?

            Totally agreed. Another reason why God makes no sense.

            And I think that is why you are making the assumption that God could only be a mind of some form. But like Hitchens used to say, we aren’t minds, we are bodies with brains. And so any assumption as to the type of “mind” a God
            that exists outside space and time has would be a metaphysical conjecture.

            Yeah. These are issues I have with the Cartesian model – that we don’t know that it’s even possible to have mind without brain. http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/essays-and-papers/the-argument-from-format-how-the-cartesian-soul-cannot-be-the-originator-of-free-will/

    • Isn’t this argument somewhat circular? You seem to be arguing that if there were something God didn’t know (the existence of other gods), then there would be something God could not know (that it didn’t know there were other gods). I don’t see how you can refute omniscience by raising the possibility that God could not know something, since the very premise of omniscience rules out the possibility. If there is a contradiction, it must lie elsewhere.

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    • Marcus Ashes

      I posted this comment on another post but here goes again.
      Does god know how to invent new knowledge
      or a new ability beyond what he already has?
      If so does god know how to forget it again consciously? If not then everything technically was not created and god is not omnipotent nor the author of nor in control of everything. (This raises the question of whether it was ever not known in the first place to god)
      Does god know how to overcome his moral boundaries? (This is an interesting one with serious implications)
      Does god know what it’s like to remember doing everything that is possible? (With this one god lacks experiential knowledge)
      Does god know what being evil feels like?

      • carmel Ka

        Have you posted that on the theistic blog or youtube?
        1.Once you posit omniscience that if follows that God know all at once(from our perspective is the “past” with memories, present – all that happens is now-future, our wishes, deterministic patterns or not), like the Unmoved Mover
        2.He doesn’t have to since is not linked with boundaries of our consciously to delete memories and replace with new one, he is omniscient and keeps all knowledges.
        3.Is nothing to overcome from omnispresence and omniscience, it follows deductively
        4.Try the remaning answers and post a link to follow you: I think the theist answers follow that Yes, He suffers at once with every creature who struggle and is in danger etc.
        Since God is omniscience a corolar will be that our knowledges come from God somehow, like his creations: Universe, human apes etc. The problem is that we reduce an OOOG to our limited space-time and age frame and try to inductively refute these 4 OOO attributes, but induction logic suffers from tacking from particular and generalisation to the whole(so to say is impossible to know everything using it)
        Good luck with your searchings!

    • Aaron

      I am curious how many definitions of omniscience are held. If the definition includes knowledge of perspective then it would logically be difficult to say that God knows a humans perspective while at the same time being omniscient. Humans do not seem to know much, if anything, of the nature of their reality. How could God know every thing including what it’s like not to know much at all? So perhaps its a conscious suspension of knowledge. If so, how would the not omniscient God know to resume his omniscience? Alarm clock maybe? And if knowledge of the experience of feelings are included, that would be a similar problem. And if alternating was the answer, it would represent an unknown to hold both at once. So perhaps this logical contradiction is limited to ‘non-god’ beings but it seems to be related to your ‘god cannot know he is omniscient’ idea. Thanks for posting!!

      • I think there are some interesting abstract ruminations to be had about this. For example, can God have experiential knowledge, which is similar to your perspective idea?

        In other words, does God know the future and can he experience the future (ie have that experiential knowledge of the future)?

        If so, then God has no need to ACTUALLY create the world and all the necessary suffering which it entails, but can just imagine it, sit back, be happy with his imagined creation, and have absolutely no suffering.