Thursday, January 15, 2009

Could God Infallibly Know that He Is Omniscient?

I've been reflecting a bit about the following analogy proposed by Enigman:
Given someone who knows that she can move freely anywhere within an infinitely dimensional space, does she know that she has complete freedom of motion? The problem is that such a space is isomorphic to a hyperspace containing such a space as a mere slice.
This analogy is supposed to call into question whether God can be certain that there is no reality beyond his ken. Couldn't the entire space of God's knowledge simply be a mere slice of a larger hyperspace containing things of which not even God is aware?

Traditional theism answers with an emphatic NO. But can that answer be solidly justified, or is it simply a dogmatic prejudice?

One strategy for justifying the traditional answer is to go Thomistic. On Thomas's account, God is defined as ipsum esse subsistens. His essence is identical to his existence. That trait is necessarily unique to God. Hence, in everthing else there must be a real distinction between existence and essence. As such, beings other than God cannot account for their own existence. Hence, they must all owe their existence to God as their creator. And since God has perfect self-knowledge, he knows his own creative activity, and so knows of the existence of whatever else other than himself that there may be.

My problem with that response is that I think Thomistic metaphysics creates more problems than it solves. For one thing, it's hard to see how Thomas can account for real contingency. Identity is a necessary relation (if two things are identical then they are necessarily identical). It follows that God's essence = his existence, across all possible worlds. Now, either there are multiple, distinct possible worlds, or there are not. If not, then everything is necessary, which is counterintuitive in excelsis. If, however, there are multiple possible worlds, then they differ in some respects, which means that there are contingencies. Hence, what God has to know in order to know everything must vary from world to world, which means that the content of God's knowledge must to some extent be contingent. But if God's existence is really identical to God's essence, then everything about God must be essential and thus invariant across possible worlds in which God exists, including the content of God's knowledge, which is inconsistent with the assumptions that there are multiple possible worlds and that God's knowledge is exhaustive. In short, the following three assumptions are mutually inconsistent:
  1. God has exhaustive knowledge of reality.
  2. God's essence is identical with his existence.
  3. Some facts are contingent.
Since 3 is undoubtedly true, either 1 or 2 is false. My preference is to deny 2.

Let me turn now to what I think is a better strategy. The key idea is that actuality is the sole delimiter of real possibility. What this means is that real possibility is always relative to some actuality. For example, what's physically possible depends upon what physical laws are actually in place. Now, suppose we stipulate that God is the sole delimiter of real possibility. If that be accepted, then there are no real possibilities that are not grounded somehow in God. For example, there could be no metaphysically possible world in which God did not exist. Now, if both God and actuality are delimiters of real possibility, then they must be related in some systematic way. Assuming that pantheism is false, that relation can't be identity. A theist, however, could subordinate the one to the other and say that God is the delimiter of possibility in virtue of being the delimiter of actuality. Thus, what's possible is grounded in what's actual, and what's actual is grounded either in God's nature or God's will. If that's right, then in knowing himself, God knows all actualities, and there is no possibility for there to be any actuality that is unrelated to God.

Does that solve the problem? Well, it's a good start at least. One might wonder how God can be sure that he is the sole delimiter of real possibility. If he is, then his perfect self-knowledge guarantees that he knows that he is, and the problem is solved. But if God is not sure, then he can conclude that either he isn't the sole delimiter of possibility or he doesn't have perfect self-knowledge.


At 1/31/2009 3:31 AM, Blogger Enigman said...

I think that what's metaphysically possible is grounded in what's metaphysically actual, and what's metaphysically actual is grounded either in God's nature or God's will. But I don't see how that eliminates for God his epistemic possibility that he's not unique. You say: Well, it's a good start at least. But then you say that if God is not sure that he is the sole delimiter of real possibility, then he can conclude that either he isn't the sole delimiter of possibility or he doesn't have perfect self-knowledge.

Why associate not knowing some truth with imperfection? If knowledge requires justification, then perfect knowledge requires perfect justification. If all God's beliefs were perfectly justified then they'd be infallibly true. They might also be maximally extensive within that constraint. That allows for God to know perfectly well that he cannot know that he's unique, even while he is. And the alternative is to perfect a sort of knowledge that does not require justification, e.g. his beliefs are all the truths in all possible worlds. But as you note, there are then problems with the Openness (and such contingencies) of God.

At 3/05/2009 1:58 AM, Blogger Enigman said...

A couple of things that don’t seem to me especially important may affect how others see my idea, it now strikes me. They are: (i) such a God could be rightly said to be omniscient, (ii) my theodicy is compatible with most existing theodicies, and so doesn’t have to compete with them (although I find reincarnation most likely for ethical reasons, and because revelation hardly tells against it).

(i) If we think of omniscience as God knowing p if p is true, for all propositions p, then my God would be omniscient. We use the word ‘know’ so that we know that that tree is made of wood, we know that 2 + 2 = 4, and so forth, even though that tree might be an alien stick-insectoid, for all we really know for sure, and a mind-controlling demon might be fooling us about numbers, for all we really know for sure, etc. In a similar way, if God rightly regarded his belief that he’s uniquely divine as incompletely justified, as a matter of logical necessity (that being the way of negative existential truths about essentially empirical matters), he could still know that he was uniquely divine, at least as much as we know such ordinary truths. So, in that sense my theodicy is all about God being able (if he’s able to learn) to increase his justification, rather than his knowledge (or understanding). Still, if we think of complete omniscience as God believing p insofar as p is true, for all propositions p, then my God wouldn’t be completely omniscient. But incidentally, my Cantorian argument for open theism wouldn’t prevent him from being completely omniscient, because a plausible way to think about indefinite extensibility is to think of the language that’s essential for the propositions to exist as necessarily a growing language. I’m wondering if that helps; if you find my (argument and my) theodicy less implausible.

(ii) As you know, I think that this universe is like this because this is how God can gain more justification (or knowledge), whence we would’ve chosen to come here if we’d had the choice. But that might (arguably) have justified God in creating us here to begin with. People (e.g. Swinburne, Mawson) do often try to justify creation by asking us whether we would’ve chosen to do something meaningful but painful, and whether we should’ve. They then note that he couldn’t have asked us before we existed. If they’re right then a similar thought would apply to my theodicy (for all that I think that he should’ve created us first in heaven). Furthermore, if there was a free will theodicy (if such a defence does work), then there would be a range of universes that he could’ve put souls into, to exercise their free will, and my theodical idea might then be regarded as a way of narrowing that range down, to universes more like this one. That would increase the Bayesian likelihood of God, and hence his probability. That is, traditional theists might benefit from my theodicy, it now strikes me; it’s just that I was originally focussing upon those (like me who are) dissatisfied with existing theodicies.


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