Thursday, December 15, 2016

Omniscience, Omnipotence, and God

Suppose that omniscience is God’s knowing all true propositions and believing no false ones. Suppose further that omnipotence is God’s being such that he is able to perform any logically possible action. Now suppose that it is within my power (that is, it is up to me) to know what happened in the world yesterday (via a newspaper or website) or not—that is, it is within my power to know or to refrain from knowing. Suppose finally that God is essentially omniscient (that is, it is a property God must have in order to be who he is). The following paradox is said to hold for these claims:

1.     God is essentially omniscient.
2.     God is omnipotent.
3.     It is logically possible for me to know or to refrain from knowing x about yesterday.
4.     So God is able to know or to refrain from knowing x about yesterday (from 2-3).
5.     So God is not able to refrain from knowing x about yesterday (from 1).

(4) and (5) obviously contradict, and the critic of these attributes can point either to (1) or (2) as the culprit. What are we to do? Should we get rid of omniscience or omnipotence?

I think we should jettison the account given of omnipotence as too simplistic. I’m not saying we should give up omnipotence. Rather, I’m saying the definition doesn’t capture what it needs to; it’s too simplistic. Here’s an example:

6.     It is logically possible for me to know I am Randy.
7.     So, given (2), it is logically possible for God to know he is Randy.
8.     But God is not possibly Randy.
9.     So (2) is false.

(6) seems correct. I am identical to the referent of Randy, after all. (7) is an entailment of the definition we gave. (8) is a consequence of the fact that I am not even possibly God. (9) is just the entailment of (2) joined with (6-8). I find this argument far less objectionable in conclusion than the one above. So what is omnipotence? I don’t have the full account here in a short blog post, but the suggestion is that it’s maximal power (Flint and Freddoso). In this case, logical possibility is a necessary but not sufficient condition in the analysis of omnipotence. It at least has to be curtailed to something like “God can do what it is logically possible for him to do” (even if this can’t be the whole story—there could be other beings who can do everything it is logically possible for them to do, and they would fail spectacularly on the omnipotence scale).

So my final conclusion is to expand the analysis of “omnipotence” so that it captures the biblical data and works within our traditional theology. It then easily avoids the absurd conclusion that omnipotence requires God to know he is me!

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