Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.
There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.
I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the eight or ninth piece in the series. Who knows… My final one.
God’s omniscience means he has no free will
Of course, simply knowing everything is not so simple. If God knew his own actions in advance, and was constrained by his own omni-characteristics, then he would not have free will and could not do otherwise than he had already predicted. If God had perfect foreknowledge, and knew in advance exactly what he was going to do, he could never change his mind, or deviate, otherwise he would invalidate his perfect foreknowledge.
Secondly, if he is perfectly loving, then everything that he did would have to be in terms of that kind of perfection. His course of action would always have to be the most loving option. He would have no freedom to do otherwise. He would have no freedom or ability to act against his own nature, a nature that he had no role in creating, it was just necessarily so.
If free will is all that and a bag of chips, as many theists claim, then the fact that God does not have it is a bit of a problem.
All he knows is that he doesn’t know everything…
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 actually the case 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! I think.
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. Of course, this whole point depends on the definition of “know” and “knowledge.” But if we take a Cartesian sense of indubitably to be the case, then I think we can make something of a problem for God.
Remaining with Descartes and his Evil Daemon thought experiment (updated to The Matrix for modern times), there’s always a chance that God is an experiment in an elaborate lab, programmed to think he is omnipotent and omniscient (yes, God could be plugged into the Matrix and he’d never know it!). There’s a chance he is 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 God god was not aware of this.
It only takes one thing you cannot know to invalidate omniscience. God cannot know that he knows everything. It might not be the case, of course, that there is a whole procession of gods leading back from God, but God cannot know that this is indubitably not the case.
Phew, being God isn’t as easy as it’s cracked up to be.
And the list goes on
And so it goes for the classical notion of God. Problems beget problems, and they beget further problems. I look at many of these and more in a couple of my previous books: The Little Book of Unholy Questions and The Problem with “God”: Skeptical Theism under the Spotlight.
I think what we can safely say is that this version of God is wholly unlikely, and problematic. Impossible, even, given the above. Something has to go. One of the omnis has to be dropped. Or all of them.
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