Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Omnipotence and omniscience

  1. Every omnipotent being is perfectly free.
  2. Every perfectly free being knows every fact and is not wrong about anything.
  3. Therefore, every omnipotent being knows every fact and is not wrong about anything.
Premise (1) is, I think, very plausible. What about (2)? Well, perfect freedom requires perfect rationality and a lack of "imaginative constraints". Imaginative constraints are cases where one cannot will something because one can't think of it. For instance, Cleopatra couldn't will to speak Esperanto, because she didn't have the concept of speaking Esperanto. A lack of imaginative constraints requires quite a bit of knowledge—one has to know the whole space of possible actions. But not only must one know the whole space of possible actions, one must also know everything relevant to evaluating the reasons for or against these actions. But, plausibly, every fact will be relevant to evaluating the reasons for or against some action. Consider this fact, supposing it is a fact: tomorrow there will occur an even number of mosquito bites in Australia. This is a pretty boring fact, but it would be relevant to evaluating the reasons for or against announcing that tomorrow there will occur an even number of mosquito bites in Australia. If this is right, then perfect freedom requires complete knowledge of everything.

In particular, open theists can't take God to be omnipotent.  There is another route to that conclusion.  If open theism is true, God can't now know whether tomorrow I will mow my lawn.  But if God couldn't now know what I will write in my next sentence, then he can't intentionally bring it about that right now (open theists need to accept absolute simultaneity, of course) on Pluto there exists a piece of paper saying what my next freely produced sentence will be.  But to be unable to do that would surely be a limitation of God's power.

8 comments:

Jarrett said...

I like the argument (though I'd like any argument against open theism).

However, who's to say that the open theist will not mind saying God isn't omnipotent? Some open theists say God's omnipotence is actually contradictory and/or unintelligibly. I'm not convinced by their reasoning.

Problem with arguing against an open theist is that, it seems to me, the proponents would not mind modifying their position (most likely to an even further non-traditional view).

To speak more about your argument. Greg Boyd, for example, would say it's impossible for God to know the future, for Boyd believes since the future doesn't yet exist, it's impossible to know what will happen. I'm sure another presentist like Bill Craig would take exception to that claim. Or if you could prove the B-theory of time, then Boyd's argument becomes null.

I think we'll have to follow Francis Beckwith's advice and really argue for our side to convince them of abandoning open theism. We have to convince open theists that God knowing the future is not incompatible with us having free will. We have to show them that God's omnipotence is not incompatible with evil in the world [that God is not the one to blame for the evil]. These two seem to be the main reasons why open theists reject the traditional view of God.

PS: Hope you had a Merry Christmas and hope you have a safe and fun New Year!

Jarrett said...

Forgot one important thing: We also need to show open theists that they have incorrect exegesis on the Scripture they quote to support their position. If they want to cite the Bible for justification for their position then, please, lets do. I believe the more tradition view of God will win this case!

David Parker said...

God: Now Jonah, I want you to go declare to Nineveh that, "If you repent, God will not destroy your city."

Jonah: But Lord, that conditional has a meaningless antecedent and consequent.

God: Fine, just tell them that all facts currently possible for me to know probabilify their demise.

Jonah: Ok, I told them. Their response was confusing, something about predicate calculus and epistemic probability.

*God destroys Jonah and Ninevah*

enigMan said...

I'm an open theist who accepts God's omnipotence, in the sense of perfect freedom. I don't think that He has to be omniscient, however (although I think that He might be). Perfect freedom requires a perfect lack of imaginative constraints. The God of open theism can think of anything that it's possible to know, but what about proper classes of facts? There seem to be good logical arguments that various totalities of facts cannot be sets, where sets are basically non-variable collections (e.g. a chess set, as opposed to a stamp collection). If so then perfect freedom includes the power to know each such fact arbitrarily quickly, and to know all that can be known about their kinds, but it can't possibly include already knowing all of them. If so then it's only the open-theistic God, not the atemporal God, who can be perfectly free and omnipotent.

Your example of knowing about your next sentence is a different kind of fact. Being unable to put such a paper on Pluto is only a lack of power if there is currently a fact of the matter about your next sentence. If there is, then God can do it, and there is some sense in which you aren't free to change your mind. If there isn't, then God not being able to do it is relevantly like not being able to make a round square. All that is well covered in the literature of course. What is less well covered is whether the open-theistic God can be omniscient. If there are facts that no one could know all together, as a matter of logical impossibility, then no one could be omniscient in that sense. Swinburne redefines "omniscient" to keep his God omniscient, but an alternative is that such possible facts are not facts until God knows them. Then we have a proper class of possible facts, and at any time some set of the actual facts.

enigMan said...

Cleopatra couldn't will to speak Esperanto, because she didn't have the concept of speaking Esperanto.

This example works well in the open theist's favour. To begin with, an atemporal God can't learn any new language. Indeed, He can't do anything that isn't already. So in that sense He's hardly perfectly free. Prima facie, He doesn't have the power to do anything, in the common sense of it not already having been done.

Secondly, although He would know Esperanto, and some large set of languages, what if there's a proper class of languages? But the open-theistic God can know the range of possible languages, as well as some large set of languages, so He can be in the position of someone who can know a new language because He has the concept of being able to know it, and He could come to know it arbitrarily quickly too.

Now, I see that there's a sense in which the open-theistic God isn't omnipotent. But I think that that's a rather anthropomorphic sense. We would need to know some full set of all our possible actions to be perfectly free. And to a first approximation at least (and possibly exactly), that's a big set of imaginable stuff. But God is infinite, in a big way. So here the concept of a proper class is a very apposite concept. It's not something that the open theist drags up in some desperate defence.

So it's a bit relevant that Descartes thought that God has the power to make a round square. There's a sense in which if you disagree then you're denying that God is omnipotent. And that sense is akin to the sense in which the open theist denies God's omnipotence (although that's a more subtle matter). So I wonder what you think of God's power to make a round square. Why is that different to His power to know future contingents? Why is His power to do something that has not already been done so like the former, and so unlike the latter?

enigMan said...

Your argument may be sound and valid, and yet not yield your particular conclusion about open theism. To see why, consider first the following reason why your (2) may be false.

In order to decide whether or not to say that there are or are not some cardinal number of things of some kind, one would need to know about such a cardinal number (to say the least). But Cantor's Paradox, or a variant thereof (e.g. see my Cantor's Paradox cont.), indicates that the cardinal numbers don't form a non-variable collection. Perhaps it doesn't show that, but it's quite obscure what it would show if not; and certainly, Cantor concluded that God's knowledge of the cardinal numbers was what we would call inconsistent (cf. how Descartes thought of God's knowledge of round squares). So the burden of proof would be on showing how the cardinal numbers could be a non-variable totality.

So we have a prima facie indication that no one oould know all the cardinal numbers; and yet God could still be perfectly free. He could know all about cardinal numbers as a kind, a class. He might even know that above a certain cardinal number, there was nothing of that number. So He wouldn't need to know all about all the cardinal numbers in order to be perfectly free. Even with regards to more abstract mathematical facts about particular cardinal numbers, if He was able to learn more about them, then He would be able to state such facts (arbitrarily quickly), and so His power would be unaffected.

But as I say, your numbered argument may still be valid and sound. If numbers don't exist (insofar as numbers can be said to exist) before God knows them, then even if the cardinal numbers are a variable collection (a proper class), God could still know all the facts about them. One would only have to distinguish between potential and actual numbers, following on from Cantor's original distinction between cardinal and ordinal numbers. (Incidentally, considerations of God's omnipotence have led some to think of the numbers as being created by God, independently of the question of whether He is atemporal or not.)

So in that way, your argument can be valid and sound, and yet the particular conclusion be that only open theists can take God to be omnipotent. (This is perhaps yet another reason why the modern style of presenting numbered arguments and then arguing for their validness and soundness is not necessarily an improvement over previous philosophical methods, for all that it's a good way of analysing mundane rhetorical arguments in newspapers and the like.)

enigMan said...

Your argument may be sound and valid, and yet not yield your particular conclusion about open theism. To see why, consider first the following reason why your (2) may be false.

In order to decide whether or not to say that there are or are not some cardinal number of things of some kind, one would need to know about such a cardinal number (to say the least). But Cantor's Paradox (or a variant thereof, e.g. see my Cantor's Paradox cont.) indicates that the cardinal numbers don't form a non-variable collection. Perhaps it doesn't show that, but it's quite obscure what it would show if not; and certainly, Cantor concluded that God's knowledge of the cardinal numbers was what we would call inconsistent (cf. how Descartes thought of God's knowledge of round squares). So the burden of proof would be on showing how the cardinal numbers could be a non-variable totality.

So we have a prima facie indication that no one oould know all the cardinal numbers; and yet God could still be perfectly free. He could know all about cardinal numbers as a kind, a class. He might even know that above a certain cardinal number, there was nothing of that number. So He wouldn't need to know all about all the cardinal numbers in order to be perfectly free. Even with regards to more abstract mathematical facts about particular cardinal numbers, if He was able to learn more about them, then He would be able to state such facts (arbitrarily quickly), and so His power would be unaffected.

But as I say, your numbered argument may still be valid and sound. If numbers don't exist (insofar as numbers can be said to exist) before God knows them, then even if the cardinal numbers are a variable collection (a proper class), God could still know all the facts about them. One would only have to distinguish between potential and actual numbers, following on from Cantor's original distinction between cardinal and ordinal numbers. (Incidentally, considerations of God's omnipotence have led some to think of the numbers as being created by God, independently of the question of whether He is atemporal or not.)

So in that way, your argument can be valid and sound, and yet the particular conclusion be that only open theists can take God to be omnipotent. (This is perhaps yet another reason why the modern style of presenting numbered arguments and then arguing for their validness and soundness is not necessarily an improvement over previous philosophical methods, for all that it's a good way of analysing mundane rhetorical arguments in newspapers and the like.)

enigMan said...

Your argument may be sound and valid, and yet not yield your particular conclusion about open theism. To see why, consider first the following reason why your (2) may be false.

In order to decide whether or not to say that there are or are not some cardinal number of things of some kind, one would need to know about such a cardinal number (to say the least). But Cantor's Paradox (or a variant thereof, e.g. see my Cantor's Paradox cont.) indicates that the cardinal numbers don't form a non-variable collection. Perhaps it doesn't show that, but it's quite obscure what it would show if not; and certainly, Cantor concluded that God's knowledge of the cardinal numbers was what we would call inconsistent (cf. how Descartes thought of God's knowledge of round squares). So the burden of proof would be on showing how the cardinal numbers could be a non-variable totality.

So we have a prima facie indication that no one oould know all the cardinal numbers; and yet God could still be perfectly free. He could know all about cardinal numbers as a kind, a class. He might even know that above a certain cardinal number, there was nothing of that number. So He wouldn't need to know all about all the cardinal numbers in order to be perfectly free. Even with regards to more abstract mathematical facts about particular cardinal numbers, if He was able to learn more about them, then He would be able to state such facts (arbitrarily quickly), and so His power would be unaffected.

But as I say, your numbered argument may still be valid and sound. If numbers don't exist (insofar as numbers can be said to exist) before God knows them, then even if the cardinal numbers are a variable collection (a proper class), God could still know all the facts about them. One would only have to distinguish between potential and actual numbers, following on from Cantor's original distinction between cardinal and ordinal numbers. (Incidentally, considerations of God's omnipotence have led some to think of the numbers as being created by God, independently of the question of whether He is atemporal or not.)

So in that way, your argument can be valid and sound, and yet the particular conclusion be that only open theists can take God to be omnipotent. (This is perhaps yet another reason why the modern style of presenting numbered arguments and then arguing for their validness and soundness is not necessarily an improvement over previous philosophical methods, for all that it's a good way of analysing mundane rhetorical arguments in newspapers and the like.)