Ergo God Maximally Enjoys Getting Gangbanged


This started as a half-serious joke I told in a bar earlier this year. It has become a running gag among some of my drinking compatriots, who, like me, agree it’s, well, let’s be honest, kidding on the square. Apart from it being funny (if rather rude…so, yeah, people offended by kinky sex-positive porny stuff should stop reading and go look at pictures of modestly clothed kittens instead), I wouldn’t normally blog about this except, reality imitating art, a serious discussion of the principle the joke plays on has been engaged recently in academic philosophy, after the release of Rob Lovering’s new book God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers (2013), recently reviewed by Clayton Littlejohn of King’s College (London) in the Notre Dame Philosophical Review.

The Boring but Essential Backstory

Lovering’s arguments are not exactly new, but they represent an evolution of those arguments in response to the latest attempts by theists to get around them. Of the five modes he employs to show theism is untenable, the fifth pertains to kinky fun gangbangs. Oh, of course, Lovering says nothing of the kind. But his argument is only just a polite way of saying the same thing I did over a snifter of fine whisky. (And I had not then even heard of his book.)

Lovering’s other four arguments are, basically, (1) “if the evidence were good enough to warrant belief, there wouldn’t be so many nice, smart people who remain unconvinced”; (2) “a god can have no good reason to hide in the way he indisputably does”; (3) “just having faith” despite all that is immoral (by the theist’s own standards); and (4) “making excuses for why the evidence doesn’t fit what we expect from a benevolent superpower renders theism self-refuting,” because (and now I’m quoting Littlejohn) all arguments for God’s existence “assume that we can know what God would do in some situations (e.g., share evidence with us),” whereas the excuses apologists resort to all require asserting we cannot know that.

And then, Lovering’s fifth argument is “omniscience is impossible.” But he gets there in a smart way: he proves a maximally great being cannot exist (and thus all ontological arguments necessarily fail), because no being can be maximally great who fails to know something someone else really does know. This is, again, not new, but it is a good focus of the argument on a genuine problem with the kind of omniscience theism requires. One can easily dismiss arguments from incoherence by just changing your definitions (hence I’m a bit harsh on them in Sense and Goodness without God IV.2.4, pp. 275-77, although I still present some there that do work). For example, showing that there are things it is logically impossible for anyone to know (even a god) can be bypassed by simply defining omniscience as “knowing everything it is logically possible to know.” But there is a way to nix that tactic: identify something that is not logically impossible to know (because, for example, you can point to someone who actually knows it), which God should or must be able to know.

Especially if God must know it in order to be considered maximally great.

Because if there is someone who in some respect is greater than God, God cannot be the greatest being. But even apart from that. If there is something someone knows, which God cannot or does not know, then God cannot be considered omniscient in any appreciable sense. Of course, one can always bite the bullet and admit God isn’t omniscient (just as one can always bite the bullet and admit God is evil…all hail Cthulhu!), but that opens Pandora’s beautiful box of Her Majesty’s Most Unsettling Cognitive Dissonance. Wait, if God is not the greatest being, how do I know how great he is? Or that he is great at all? And how can a bodiless mind have knowledge of stuff anyway? And how did that mind come to know anything? And if God can be ignorant, doesn’t that mean he can also be evil or incompetent or pathetic, too? And if he doesn’t know some important things, doesn’t that mean he can make mistakes? And be wrong about stuff? My world is c-r-u-m-b-l-ing!!!

In short, belief in God can survive the realization that God cannot be meaningfully omniscient, that in fact he must be ignorant of things even ordinary puny humans have knowledge of. But such belief is not likely to survive long. Because once you’ve taken that step, belief in God starts to look ridiculous. Yes, yes, it looked ridiculous already. But now the believer can’t avoid admitting it.

Okay, Now to the Gangbangs

(you know that’s why you’re actually reading this)

So what does all this have to do with exhilaratingly naughty group sex? I’m getting to that. But I have to bore you a little more, first. (Technically this teasing counts as S&M; my apologies–although to those who love being ruthlessly teased, you’re welcome).

Lovering’s point is that God, not having a body and never having done certain things, lacks experiential knowledge–what it is like to do or experience certain things. But in particular, Lovering argues God cannot really know what it is like not to know something. Because God can only know what it’s like not to know something if he’s not omniscient. By definition. Therefore, either God is not omniscient, or humans know something God cannot know, in which case God is…not omniscient. Ooops. There goes an omniscient God, zap, in a puff of logic, faster than if we discovered the babelfish.

Littlejohn raises some objections to Lovering’s argument:

Would God be less than maximally great if there was some x such that there is something it is like to x (e.g., stab a drifter, taste Marmite, not know the truth-value of p) where God does not know what it is like to x? For some values of x, I can see why someone might think that it is important for God to know what it is like to x. If God does not know what it is like to suffer, for example, God cannot show empathy. For some values, however, it isn’t at all clear why it would speak against God’s greatness that God doesn’t know what it is to x (e.g., not knowing what it is be stumped, confused, irrationally angry, etc.).

Although one might ask, how can God have empathy for people who suffer from ignorance or uncertainty if God does not know what it is like to be ignorant or uncertain? A crucial part of empathizing with other people is actually understanding how things seem from their point of view–which includes understanding that they don’t know certain things, and possibly can’t have known them. We would not have sympathy for them if we couldn’t understand and appreciate what it is like to be on the other end of that kind of ignorance.

Still, ignorance can be imagined, and maybe God has a good imagination. But someone who knows what something is like will always be greater (in respect to knowledge and understanding) than someone who can only imagine it, and therefore they will always be greater in something than God, because they will have a level of knowledge and understanding about the human condition that he does not. And cannot. And this carries over to Littlejohn’s other two objections: (1) that maybe God can know what something is like without experiencing it, the same way (in his example) a child might know what it is like to visit Disneyland without ever visiting Disneyland, simply by being given a suitable description of what it is like, or a suitably apt analogy [correction: this isn’t exactly his argument, though it’s similar: see comment]; and (2) that maybe God can know things by telepathically reading the minds of those who know it.

This relates the question to the famous philosophical thought experiment of Mary the Scientist. Mary lives her whole life in a colorless room but has access to all propositional knowledge. Since no amount of propositional knowledge will give her knowledge of what it is like to see the color red (and thus knowledge of what “redness” looks like), therefore (the argument goes) knowledge exists that cannot be formulated and communicated in propositions. The only way to know what redness looks like is to experience it. I discuss this in Sense and Goodness without God (II.2.1.1, pp. 30-31; III.6.4.4, pp. 146-48; III.6.5, 148-50). In actual fact, Mary does have all the information she needs: if she has all propositional knowledge, then she knows how to stimulate (or even re-wire) her brain to produce every possible experience, including that of knowing what redness looks like. Because there will exist some set of instructions following which will produce such an experience in her brain.

So maybe God can know what it’s like to be ignorant or confused or uncertain by either “stimulating or re-wiring” his “brain” to have that experience (like Mary can) or by reading Mary’s mind before she carries out the procedures that would cure her ignorance (thereby telepathically knowing what it’s like not to know what colors look like, or anything else). Well, that doesn’t quite work, either. Because try as God might, he cannot “un-know” what he already knows, without diminishing himself (and thus making himself not omniscient and thus not maximally great). This is the problem I pointed out before (in The God Impossible) with regard to it being impossible to imagine a mind without a brain: we might think we can imagine a brainless mind, but only by cheating–by using a brain to do it. So really, we can only ever know what it is like for an embodied mind to imagine a disembodied mind; we can never imagine an actually disembodied mind (much less what it would be like to be a disembodied mind, because we will always be an embodied one).

If God is in any appreciable sense omniscient, then he knows what colors look like. So he can’t really imagine what it’s like not to know what colors look like, even by reading Mary’s mind. Unless he diminishes himself and deletes that knowledge from his own mind and thus becomes like Mary’s mind. And in that moment, someone, somewhere, will be greater than God in that one respect…because in that moment they will know what colors look like, and God will not

In just the same way, we might be able to have some idea of what it would be like to be raped, but until we actually are, we don’t really know, and until then, what we do know will fall incredibly short of what the experience is really like. We might have some vague idea of what’s bad about it, and if we care about others at all, hopefully a sympathetic idea, but still only vaguely and imperfectly–and only by reference to bad things we have experienced, which we can sort of imagine being magnified to some extent, but that will never really be the same thing. Thus, since God has never been raped, he doesn’t really know what it’s like. He might be able to telepathically feel what a rape victim feels, but he will never really know what it’s like to feel that, because unlike them, God is invulnerable, and possessed of perfect abilities and personality attributes (e.g. God is, presumably, fearless, and never uncertain about what to do or what will happen). Just as the Jesus of theological myth never really knew what it was like to face death–because he knew he was going to be resurrected. Thus, human beings know more than God. We know what it is truly like to face mortality. God does not. And he cannot.

This is Lovering’s point. And Littlejohn doesn’t really have a valid objection to it. God can perhaps know enough of what it means to be scared, uncertain, confused, imperfect, vulnerable, mortal, and ignorant in order to empathize with the scared, uncertain, confused, imperfect, vulnerable, mortal, and ignorant. But those who actually are scared, uncertain, confused, imperfect, vulnerable, mortal, and ignorant will have some degree of knowledge and understanding that God does not. They will, in short, know something more than God, just as rape victims will always know something more than the rest of us. And that means God is in at least one respect not maximally great, and never can be.

Thus, because an omniscient being, by virtue of being all knowing, can never fully know what it is like to be scared, uncertain, confused, imperfect, vulnerable, mortal, and ignorant (because no all knowing being can fully experience what those things are like), no omniscient being, by definition, can exist. Therefore God cannot be omniscient. There must be things humans know that God cannot. God cannot therefore be a maximally great being. In fact, the entire notion of a maximally great being is impossible.

Liar! You Promised Us Gangbangs!

Oh. You really want to read about gangbangs that badly, eh? It’s good to know thyself. My gift to you.

Okay. So here’s the thing. Lovering is trying to make a sophisticated point about the logical impossibility of omniscience and by extension the logical impossibility of maximal greatness on which all of modern theology depends. And with it topples all traditional theology. Theism can only survive by chucking the idea that God knows everything, and admitting that humans know things God never can. And he’s right.

But there’s another side to this. If admitting that makes a theist uncomfortable (and it usually will), there’s something even more disturbing (to a theist, that is…to me, I think it would be kind of amusing): a God who knows everything must also enjoy everything. If we add in the feature of God being maximally good, then maybe we can chuck at least all knowledge of enjoying being evil, and admit God does not fully know what that’s like. But surely God cannot be maximally great and lack knowledge of something good, especially something good that some human being knows.

So like Littlejohn suggested, maybe we needn’t worry about the fact that “God knows what it is like to enjoy horrifically torturing children” must be false, right? Oh, wait. Maybe not. How many children is God tormenting in hell again? Hmm. Okay, let’s assume either that God doesn’t enjoy that or that he doesn’t even do it. Or whatever. The point is, surely, God does not know what it is like to enjoy being evil. Because, presumably, God does not even know what it is like to be evil. Because, presumably, God has never been evil. God might be able to imagine being evil, or spy on what an evil person thinks. But imagining is always imperfect, and spying on another mind is never the same as being that mind (because being that mind is always different than being God). An actually evil person will know what it is like to think and feel evil thoughts in a way a non-evil God never can.

So there will always be something God cannot know, which someone else does know. One hopes God does not fully know what it was like to enjoy being Hitler. Because the only way God could know that is by having experienced the enjoyment of ordering the mass murder of Jews. In other words, God had to have enjoyed ordering the mass murder of Jews, in order to fully know what it’s like to enjoy doing that. And one sincerely hopes that isn’t the sort of God Christians are pledging their undying love for.

But here’s the thing. Let’s dump the Godwin. Let’s talk about sex instead.

Consensual sex that causes no one any harm and that everyone benefits from cannot be equated with murder, or in fact any evil at all. Because what is unconscionable about God knowing what it is like to enjoy “horrifically torturing children” or anything else you want to insist he surely couldn’t know is that it is so uncompassionate, so cruel, so delighting in human misery, that any being that did enjoy that would be a monster. But there is nothing monstrous about delighting in what makes people happy and does no harm. Consensual sex that causes no one any harm and that everyone benefits from involves no lack of compassion, no cruelty, and produces no human misery, nor consists in delighting in any such thing, but, exactly the opposite, it involves delighting in human happiness.

Therefore…

For God to know everything, he must know what it is like to enjoy being gangbanged.

That’s right, enjoy. Not only would an omniscient being know what it is like to be gangbanged, but to be truly omniscient, they would have to know what it is like to enjoy it. Because, unlike torture and murder and fraud and anything else that delights in or disregards human misery, someone who enjoys getting gangbanged–by people who also enjoy it, and when no one is harmed by it and everyone involved is pleased–is not being uncompassionate, or cruel, or delighting in human misery, but only doing something good for all concerned.

And yes, there are women, and men, who genuinely enjoy getting gangbanged. As much as any otherwise exhausting sport or entertainment. These people either have knowledge God does not (every aspect of what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged), or God fully knows what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged. In the former case, God cannot be the greatest, because someone exists who knows something he doesn’t and thus in that one respect is greater than God. They find happiness in something He cannot. They have knowledge of human experience that He does not. They know more than God. They enjoy more than God. They are therefore, in that one respect, better than God.

That leaves only one option. God enjoys getting gangbanged.

For God to be maximally great, he must fully know what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged. And the only way to fully know what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged is to enjoy getting gangbanged. (And, perhaps one might also insist, actually getting gangbanged enjoyably, but God could then gain that experience telepathically, since there are many men and women to choose from to share this experience with…or God could have snuck in the odd gangbang while in Galilee, off the books, of course).

God Even Said So…

Biblically, God actually approves of open marriage. He even arranged for Abraham to have sex outside of marriage, and with his wife’s permission, in order to father His Entire Chosen People. And let’s not forget God’s favorite leader, the Wisest Man Ever, King Solomon was explicitly allowed to have an open marriage (not only did he have hundreds of wives, he openly kept hundreds of lovers, complete with the ancient equivalent of I Banged Solomon membership cards), and that was after the commandments were carried down the mount. Indeed, the only thing the Bible says annoyed God about Solomon’s vast personal sex club was that Solomon (being, unlike God, not an intolerant racist) had lots of interracial and interfaith marriages (evidently the concubines were no problem), and on account of that Solomon was nice enough to build and fund churches and such for his wives’ religions (1 Kings 11). All the shagging didn’t apparently bother God. (Nope. God was just a racist. Who hates religious freedom. Just like Al Qaeda.)

True, Jesus was supposedly so sex negative that he condemned even so much as having lustful thoughts about other women (although he had nothing to say against lusting after other men), and he said stuff like anyone who gets divorced becomes an adulterer-slash-adulteress. Of course, most Christians don’t listen to Jesus on either point. So even his own devoted followers kind of assume he didn’t really mean it. But more importantly, Jesus also said, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you” (Mt. 7:2), and, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released” (Lk. 6:37). So if I do not condemn or judge my wife for sleeping with another man, God shall not condemn me for the like either. That’s what Jesus said.

This means that God, even in his most anti-sex Jesus mode, approves of any man or woman getting gangbanged, too, as long as that man or woman does not get judgy and condemn anyone else for doing it. Which means knowing what it is like to feel that way–to enjoy getting gangbanged and not feel judgmental toward anyone else who does–is something God must know. Because it is something he approves of (per his commandment in Matthew 7 and Luke 6; not to mention also his treatment of Abraham and Solomon), and anything he approves of cannot be evil, but in fact good, and if God is good and only lacks knowledge of what it is like to be evil, God must know this. Therefore God must not only know what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged (and thus also what it is like to get gangbanged), he must also know what it is like to approve of people enjoying getting gangbanged, and of people getting enjoyably gangbanged. Because if that is how someone judges, that is how God will judge them. Matthew 7:2 and Luke 6:37.

Therefore, for God to fulfill his own commandment, he must approve of approving of consensually enjoyable gangbangs (since, for example, I do, and “as I judge, so shall he judge me”). And that, in turn, entails that he must know what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged, and must therefore enjoy getting gangbanged. Because the only chance God has of being maximally great is to fully know all good things. And by God’s own commandments, this would then be among them. Otherwise, someone who enjoys getting gangbanged knows, fully knows, a good thing in this world, that God does not. And such a person would, in that one respect, be greater than God.

In fact, in order to be maximally great, God must maximally enjoy getting gangbanged. That is, he must enjoy it more than anyone else does–as much, in fact, as anyone ever could. Because otherwise, there will be at least one person (potentially or actually) who knows something God does not: what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged more than he does.

So, those poor conservative Christians have a hard decision ahead of them. They must either admit God is not the greatest (because someone knows more good things than he does) or that he lied when he said “as you judge, so you shall be judged” or that he enjoys getting gangbanged. As for me, the choice (should God exist) is easy.

The last option would make Him much more interesting company.

(Or Her. Since God must know what it is like to be a woman. Otherwise women are inherently greater than God, by knowing something more than He does about what it is like to be a woman. Certainly, one hopes God has more in common with Joanna Angel than Pat Robertson. And she did eight guys in one shot.)

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    This is exactly the type of beautifully twisted thinking that I enjoy.

    I am soooo going to remember this the next time someone tries out their Anselm on me.

  2. says

    While the argument is amusing and valid, I still maintain that the real problem with the ontological argument is the second part, where because someone can imagine it it must exist, which is arrant nonsense on the face of it, no matter what properties someone imagines.

    • says

      Oh, yes. In a lecture I gave on logic a while back (which a poor video of exists somewhere online) I used it to prove the Goddess Aphrodite exists, on the premise that the sexiest woman imaginable would have to exist, since an actually existing sexy woman is sexier than a merely imagined one, and so the only way the sexiest conceivable woman can exist in concept is if she exists in actuality. Which is basically Anselm. On his head. Looking up Aphrodite’s skirt. (And flogging himself for enjoying it…but not for having done it without her consent, because, you know, he was Catholic and their priorities are…).

      The ontological argument is simply an elaborate Existential Fallacy (unicorns are animals, animals exist, therefore unicorns exist). How it commits that fallacy simply differs with each reformulated onto.

      But like the Kalam Cosmological Argument, there are so many ways the ontological argument is hosed, it’s sometimes fun to play with them all.

  3. Koray says

    “And the only way to fully know what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged is to enjoy getting gangbanged.”

    This is not necessarily true for every being. It is true for us humans (currently). But, if we were to reverse engineer the human brain completely, then we could represent that feeling with a bunch of numbers, and then we can quibble about whether knowing those numbers counts for “knowing” the feeling itself.

    In any case, the world’s leading scriptures, including the one claiming to be straight from the supreme being’s mouth, use such sloppy language that no philosopher, professor of law, or scientist should take it seriously especially for topics as grandeur as “maximally this or that.”

    • says

      …we can quibble about whether knowing those numbers counts for “knowing” the feeling itself.

      Not really. This is like Mary the Scientist having the set of instructions for how to make her brain generate a color experience, but not yet having followed those instructions. It’s just like the difference between having all the physical instructions for riding a bicycle, and actually knowing how to ride a bicycle. I point out in SaG that our brains are simply not designed (by evolution) for communicating information that way. Unlike Trinity, we can’t just fax someone a helicopter piloting skill. But if we redesigned ourselves so that we could, e.g. if we were Trinity, then it’s still the case that the only way to know what it’s like to enjoy getting gangbanged is to enjoy getting gangbanged…that that enjoyment would be generated by sending a data stream to reconfigure our brain makes no difference to the fundamental fact that the instructions (the data) still have to be carried out for the knowledge of what it is like to obtain. Otherwise all we have is knowledge of how to acquire the knowledge of what it is like.

      But yes, the granduer of theology way outstrips the confused mundanity of the scriptural God. This is demonstrated to great amusement in The End of Christianity (see Gericke, “Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn’t?” and Tarico, “God’s Emotions: Why the Biblical God is Hopelessly Human”).

  4. Scr... Archivist says

    I don’t follow philosophy, so I don’t always read your blog, but I doubt I’m the first person to suggest the following.

    If God is in any appreciable sense omniscient, then he knows what colors look like. So he can’t really imagine what it’s like not to know what colors look like, even by reading Mary’s mind.

    Wouldn’t an even better example be faith? Yahweh (or whatever) can’t grok faith in his own existence, but billions of believers do it all the time.

    Not as good as a babelfish, of course….

  5. aziraphale says

    I believe someone (C S Lewis?) suggested that Jesus, as a man, experienced being ignorant, in pain, afraid of death (etc) and that therefore God the Father and God the Holy Ghost had access to those experiences after Jesus had died and returned to Heaven. This of course requires that Jesus’ consciousness was isolated from the other two members of the Trinity while he was on Earth, but the Gospels seem to suggest as much.

    I’m afraid I can’t help you with the gangbangs, though.

    • says

      Following C.S. Lewis’s argument, it follows that Jesus enjoyed some awesome Galilee gangbangs.

      But the merger theory doesn’t work anyway. As soon as Jesus reunited with his other parts, he would never be able to fully recall what it was like to be ignorant or afraid etc. because his memory would always be experienced in a state of non-ignorance and fearlessness etc. Exactly as when God tries to telepathically know what it is like to be raped: he cannot fully know what that is like, because as he is experiencing someone else’s memory of it, he will know he is invulnerable (for example) and thus has nothing to fear (from that rape or any other), so his experience of their fear (or powerlessness or anything else entailed by vulnerability) will not be the same as theirs.

      It follows of course that even rape victims’ memories will not be the same as the experience itself, unless they recollect in a flashback or nightmare in which they do not know it is a flashback or nightmare and thus do not recall in that moment (and thus do not experience knowledge of) how the incident turned out. Only in that state will the experience (and thus knowledge of what it is like) be relevantly the same, but even then there will still have been a time when they had such knowledge, and always the potential to have access to it again (through such flashbacks or nightmares). But the fact that certain elements of such knowledge are for that reason forgotten is good news for rape victims…unless they suffer recurring flashbacks or nightmares of just such a kind. Which is another thing God will also never fully know is like (to be tormented in that fashion by PTSD).

      But in the case of God it’s even worse than that, because a rape victim’s relived memories, even if not fully the same as the experience itself, still are remembered in a state of knowing they can be victimized again (as badly or worse) and thus with almost all the same vulnerabilities attached (they only know one thing more: the actual outcome of the remembered rape), whereas God cannot claim any such knowledge. Certainly not at all times. If Jesus was raped, and didn’t know he would soon become eternally invulnerable again (two facts contradicting the Gospels, wherein Jesus is never victimized at all until he submits to crucifixion, which did not involve being raped, and wherein Jesus repeatedly insists he knows he will be resurrected and reign from above), there would at least have been a time when he knew what it was like, and could even remember nearly as well what it was like, but after reuniting with the Godhead he would never again be able to recall exactly either, and consequently he would lose knowledge. And that which loses knowledge cannot be maximally great, because that which never forgets (or in any given moment knows what God has forgot) will always be greater. (Unless Jesus remained separate from God and thus forever not maximally great; but in that event God himself would lack the knowledge Jesus thereby retains, as only Jesus would have it, so God would also not be maximally great.)

      And that’s even apart from the fact that any Lewisian theory of the trinity refutes the notion that God is maximally great anyway, since by being ignorant, fearful, etc., Jesus was not maximally great, and therefore Jesus was either not God or God was not maximally great, and if God was ever not maximally great, he is not and never has been maximally great, because anything that can be not maximally great cannot be maximally great, since that which cannot be diminished will always be greater than that which can, therefore if God ever became a man who was not maximally great, as Lewis’s theory requires, such a God is, always was, and always will be less than maximally great.

      Oh what a tangled web of delusion Christians must weave.

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

      @Richard:

      the merger theory doesn’t work anyway. As soon as Jesus reunited with his other parts, he would never be able to fully recall what it was like to be ignorant or afraid etc. because his memory would always be experienced in a state of non-ignorance and fearlessness etc. Exactly as when God tries to telepathically know what it is like to be raped: he cannot fully know what that is like, because as he is experiencing someone else’s memory of it, he will know he is invulnerable (for example) and thus has nothing to fear (from that rape or any other), so his experience of their fear (or powerlessness or anything else entailed by vulnerability) will not be the same as theirs.

      I get what you’re saying here. In fact, part of the joy of many activities is getting lost in them. Skydiving while writing a poem about how high up you are -even though the second is clearly relating to the first- is not the same as

      ZOMG I’m falling!

      Holy Shit!

      ZOMG I’m so high up I’m STILL FALLING.

      Experiential knowledge is different from propositional knowledge, sure.

      But your “enjoy” argument is better. To know what it is like to enjoy something, he has to enjoy it. It is not logically impossible for God to enjoy gang bangs, ergo this kills the “all logically possible knowledge” caveat.

      To say that absorbing experiential knowledge telepathically (or however it would work with god-merging-with-god) cannot impart experiential knowledge because the context in which that knowledge is held renders it impossible, well, the very fact that it is impossible makes it subject to the “all logically possible knowledge” caveat.

      I agree that the categories of omniscience are themselves an absurd paradox, and that theological questions about how many pins could we stick in the head of a dancing angel run rampant in the field, producing nonsense.

      But if the point is to prove **to theists** that their own definitions are inadequate to their purposes, then we have to deal with their definitions as written, including permitting the “logically possible knowledge” caveat.

      Therefore, I submit to you that discussing god’s Galilean gang bangs, including the maximal possible number of positions in which He has placed Himself and how much he enjoyed all the maximally varied activities in which he engaged, is more philosophically and theologically useful than discussing the knowledge merger of Jesus with Yahweh.

      How’s that for a conclusion?

  6. sawells says

    Nice argument.

    There is something that’s always bothered me about the Mary/red argument. Whoever put it together (link click Frank Jackson 1982 thank you) seems to have taken care to make Mary a female scientist – very inclusive have a cookie. But we apparently have to assume that she’s either a postmenopausal or prepubertal scientist, because otherwise, no matter how black-and-white the room she lives in, she’s going to have a monthly opportunity to see red. A sloppy and male-normative formulation, no?

    • says

      Well, we don’t have to go there (especially since not all women menstruate, so you might have been a little presumptuous in assuming attributes of Mary, too). For Mary will have skin and external body parts visible to her (including hair and irises and lips and niples and so on) that are neither black nor white. Even if we insist she must be an albino–as then her eyes, reflected in the television monitor, will be some shade of red (as colorless irises expose the blood vessels of the retina). And in any case, she can always prick or cut or even just slap herself to see red. And so on.

      I think all of that loses track of the point of the thought experiment. It would only be useful to explore such criticisms (rather than simply granting the intended conceit of the scenario) if doing so revealed that it was logically impossible to deprive Mary of access to colors. But alas, it is not. All we really had to do was remove her cone cells. With only rods in her retina, she could not see colors even if any there were. Or, if perhaps to make the scenario closer to the original intent, we could inject her with a drug or place some sort of force field over the room that simply deactivates her cone cells, so that they revert to normal function upon leaving the room.

      Poor Mary. The only saving grace is that she thankfully does not exist.

    • badgersdaughter says

      I’m not a philosopher, but I do know that the experience of redness is not uniform. If you take several hundred people from all over the world and hand them two hundred Pantone chips equally distributed in the range of yellow to orange to red to purple to blue, you would expect to see most responses to the question “which one represents pure red” fall between orange-red and red-violet… except for the respondents who are partially or completely colorblind, have no word for red in their language, or who are tested in bad lighting conditions. There will be no single paint chip with a clear majority, and even if there is, it is not terribly likely to be the one defined as Pantone True Red 19-1664, for instance. Even the same person will experience color differently based on visual anomalies such as optical illusions.

      So therefore whose experience was supposed to have been the “true” experience that God can telepathically rely upon as having the “true” experience of “seeing redness”? Can God just take an average?

      I ran this by a friend who attempted to play Devil’s (God’s?) Advocate by proposing that God knew which experience was closest to true red because God defined and created true red in the first place. If God wanted to experience true redness, he could arrange things so a being capable of perceiving true red did actually experience true red under the right conditions, and then telepathically experience that. My retort was that God could just as easily define green as red and experience that instead, but we all know green is not red. I proposed that it wasn’t any different from God telepathically experiencing a circle and defining it as a square, i.e. logically inconsistent. My friend, an atheist, balked (properly) at saying God could do things that were logically inconsistent. However, my brother, a believer, might well say so. What then?

    • says

      I do know that the experience of redness is not uniform.

      Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply here, because that’s a problem in semantics (a la Quine, it’s a product of the happenstance of how a person learned to use a word–i.e. they are not disagreeing on what a certain specific kind of photon-impact-produced quale looks like, but on which photon-impact-produced quale the word “red” refers to). God can in principle know all lexical knowledge, and thus he can know every lexicon, and since every individual’s brain is a slightly different lexicon than every other, God can know all the different ways the word “red” is used and when and why.

      Moreover, variant color qualia can be known (you could experience them, with suitable adjustment of your neurology, just like with Mary). For instance, we know some people experience qualia inversion (everything red looks green to them, and everything green is red…but since they learn to call things that look green to them “red,” they do not know their qualia are inverted, and we cannot know it either, except by a genetic test or autopsy, to determine that they have the genes for both kinds of color blindness, which when combined reverse the cone cell wiring). But that doesn’t mean someone (e.g. God) cannot know what it’s like to see either color array. They cannot know both at the same time. But that is a logical limitation (and logically impossible knowledge does not negate omniscience, presumably).

      As to whether God can do the logically impossible: anyone who is willing to bite that bullet, has gone off the deep end of all rationality. For then God can simultaneously be maximally good and maximally evil, and no inference about God can be credited because, God being able to be or do the logically impossible, any logical inference may be false about him, or simultaneously false and true, and therefore nothing can be known about him. Not even that he is good. Not even that he exists (since a God capable of the illogical could simultaneously exist and not exist, and atheism and theism can then simultaneously be true).

      Of course, there is a reason we reject such entities as simply impossible, full stop. I discuss this in Sense and Goodness without God, index “contradiction, nature of.”

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

      May goodness, people.

      No. It’s not a sloppy formulation unless you are of a mind to believe that “white” as a skin color is really “oh my goodness, this reflects every wavelength of light both well and equally” and “black” as a skin color is really, “oh my goodness, the albedo on this thing underperforms carbon nanotubes rising perpendicularly from a surface while being spaced at frequencies resonant to visible light”.

      It’s quite obvious that no color existing does not mean that the physical properties of skin or other matter are changed.

      It’s a monochromatic light bulb. Boom. There are no colors in the room in the conventional sense, because there’s no way to detect the differential reflectivity of an object for different wavelengths…which is how we see color.

      The “knowledge” she would need to produce the sensation might very well come from rewiring her brain, for our purposes, but most monochromatic bulbs can also be sabotaged in such a way that they produce polychromatic light rather than no light at all.

      Just saying.

    • says

      It’s a monochromatic light bulb.

      Then she would know one color.

      But you are right. “Black” and “White” (and grey) are not colors in the sense intended by the original thought experiment. So if one said she merely didn’t know what red looked like, one could posit a monochromatic blue light (even one incapable of any simple sabotage: e.g. laser, crystal, or diode photon emission). But since she has all propositional knowledge (a fundamental condition of the thought experiment), she could just build a white bulb. Which would be way too easy and thus defeat the supposed point of the thought experiment.

      I should point out that in actual fact, we do not exactly “see color” by reflected photons. Magenta, for example, corresponds to no photon frequency. And people with inverted qualia (and those people really do exist) see “green” when what the rest of us call a red-frequency photon impacts their eye (and vice versa). We also have no detector cells for yellow (yellow is “calculated” in the visual prefrontal cortex by testing relative intensity of other signals). And color experience is hugely mediated by computation (which is why optical illusions can cause us to see colors that don’t exist, i.e. aren’t produced by any reflected photons; in fact all shades of a color are produced by computation and not photon reflectance, as evidenced by optical illusions that show we shade a color according to adjacent colors and not the absolute intensity, i.e. abundance, of photon impacts).

      Color experience (of the kind meant in the Mary scenario) is all computation in the brain: it is invented in response to electrical signals, which are themselves not red or green or anything, but just happen to be produced by photon impacts (of varying but limited frequencies), and the resulting experience (the qualia) often does not correspond to physical properties of those photon impacts (thus, we see magenta, even though it does not exist outside our heads, and we see colors in optical effects that don’t correspond to real world photon reflections, and people with inverted qualia see completely different colors in reaction to the same photon reflections as the rest of us, and so on).

      This is why “qualia” were demarcated in the 20th century as a distinct phenomenon not yet explained by science. But science has explained the entire visual system up to that point (well recommended on this: Vision Science: Photons to Phenomenology, unfortunately textbook expensive but worth checking out at a library, even if you have to order it via ILL).

  7. says

    A couple of things:

    (1) Perhaps a smugger argument: God doesn’t know what it’s like to be an Atheist.
    (2) I’ve watched enough WLC videos by now to guess how he (or Plantinga or someone similar) would try to wriggle out of this one. The argument might be something like “There is a maximal mutually cohesive set of knowledge that defines the maximal being. Just as God can’t know things that are logically impossible to know, he also can’t know *sets* of things that are logically incoherent. So e.g. he can’t simultaneously know what it’s like to enjoy any kind of sexual activity, and also enjoy being a prude. Ditto he can’t know what it’s like to be the morally greatest being conceivable whilst simultaneously knowing what it’s like to enjoy drug-fuelled S&M romps.” Or maybe they’ll go with “God has the potential to know everything, so he’s omniscient in the same sense that he’s omnipotent – i.e. he doesn’t do everything, but he’s *capable* of doing anything should he so desire. Likewise he’s capable of knowing anything should he desire but his mind doesn’t have to be in that state permanently.” I’ve no idea if those hold together. Probably not, but I think it’s the kind of thing someone might say.

    Maybe.

    • says

      he can’t simultaneously know what it’s like to enjoy any kind of sexual activity, and also enjoy being a prude.

      Or rather, simultaneously enjoy sex and feel awful during it due to guilt (etc.). One might question whether that really is impossible (conflicting emotional states is a thing). But presumably one can trace out some sort of incompatibility. But it would only obvert simultaneity. One can certainly enjoy sex one day and loathe it the next. Thus there is a being capable of knowing both, and that being would be greater than God if God could not know both. Therefore God would then not be a maximally great being. However, we are already allowing God can acceptably not know what it is like to be evil, and when forced to decide which is evil, that which consists in hate (hating sex = prudery) or that which consists in love (loving sex = enjoying it), it becomes rapidly discomforting for a theist to continue insisting hate is greater than love. That’s a devil’s shoot straight to atheism. So by all means, push them down it.

      The potential omniscience argument falls to two problems: (1) the fact that an actually omniscient being would be greater (in a manner that an omnipotent being exercising all powers at once is not greater than an omnipotent being that doesn’t), so if only potentially omniscient, God cannot be maximally great and (2) an omnipotent being not exercising a power is by definition still omnipotent, whereas an omniscient being who in any given moment doesn’t know something is in that moment not omniscient–by definition. For example, if at time t I know x but God does not, I know more than God in that moment. Whereas if at time t I lift a rock but God does not, it does not follow that I am more powerful than God in that moment.

      But the real kicker is that if the answer is to propose that God is potentially omnipotent, then one is still admitting God is capable of maximally enjoying a gangbang, and not only that, when God judges me, by the same measure I judge, he will not potentially but in that moment actually know what it is like to approve of enjoying a gangbang, which entails enjoying a gangbang is good (because God cannot approve that which is not good). So if God does not actually know what it is like to enjoy a gangbang, then he lacks knowledge of a good that some mere human has, and that human is therefore greater than God (in that one respect), until God buckles down and transforms his potential to know this into actually knowing this. Only then does he have any chance of being maximally great.

  8. dmcclean says

    “But imagining is always imperfect, …”

    Seems to be begging the question. Why does imagining necessarily need to be imperfect? My imagination certainly is imperfect. And everyone else’s seems to be too. But I don’t know of any gods to ask to see if their imagination is imperfect too.

    It seems to me that omniscience implies either having a perfect imagination or, as you say, having had every experience. (Or at least every essential “kind” of experience, but it quickly becomes the familiar impossible question of where to draw the line between kinds.) Having had every experience seems impossible in its own right. For example, how could one have the experience of first seeing the ocean after a life spent living in the desert and have the experience of first seeing a desert after a life spent living on a tiny island? Yet it seems to me that these experiences (a) exist, (b) are meaningfully distinct from one another, and (c) require the earlier deprivation/abstinence as an element.

    So to be omniscient I’d think that one must have a perfect imagination. But I’m not sure I see why that should be logically impossible.

    • says

      That’s like simulations in a computer: a perfect simulation is in every way identical to the system being simulated. Likewise, a perfect imagination entails becoming the thing imagined. For example, a hallucination is a perfect dream: but for that very reason you won’t know it’s not real. For instance, hallucinating that you are about to be torn apart and killed by a bear will be imperfect if you know it isn’t really going to happen, that you don’t really even have a body, and that you can’t die. God knows all those latter things. So he can never “perfectly” imagine that he is about to be torn apart and killed by a bear. Unless in doing so he forgets the things he knows (and thus in that moment doesn’t know it isn’t really going to happen, that he doesn’t really even have a body, and that he can’t die–and thus in that moment is not omniscient).

      In exactly the same way, you cannot perfectly imagine that you maximally enjoy being gangbanged unless in the moment of imagining you really do enjoy it, and enjoy it as much as anyone ever could. Otherwise, your imagination is by definition imperfect. For instance, if God is disgusted or repelled or condemnatory (or whatever) by the idea of enjoying being gangbanged, then he cannot know what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged without being at the same time disgusted or repelled or condemnatory. The only way he can “perfectly” imagine what that’s like (and thus know what it’s like) is to not be disgusted or repelled or condemnatory (or whatever) while experiencing the maximal enjoyment of it. Which is simply maximally enjoying it.

  9. linford86 says

    Richard,

    There seems to be a fundamental problem with the argument you presented, provided that I understand it correctly.

    Much of this seems to depend upon a distinction between knowledge gained by living an experience versus what one can know by imagining an experience. And it’s certainly true that for humans, there is a wide distinction between these two. What I would object to is the notion that a being with the properties described by theists would suffer from this limitation.

    As an unlimited being (or, perhaps, a being limited only by logical or metaphysical possibiltiy) I see no reason why the knowledge which God gains by imagination would differ from the knowledge God gains by direct experience.

    Besides, God’s direct experience cannot function the same way as human experience since God is outside of time (and time is an integral part of the human experience of time).

    As a different sort of response that I could imagine some theists providing, I think that a deity of the sort which George Berkeley imagined would know everything known by all humans. Why? Because, for Berkeley, humans live in the mind of God. There is a sense in which God is having all of their experiences simultaneously.

    • says

      See other comment.

      Otherwise, “God’s direct experience cannot function the same way as human experience since God is outside of time” is only making my argument for me: God therefore cannot really know what it is like to experience the world as we do, if in fact his experience can never function the same way as ours. We do not know what it is like to experience the world outside of time. Therefore God cannot know what it is like to be us. But I should caution that this is unintelligible, since experiences cannot exist outside of time: experience is a temporal phenomenon; take away time, i.e. stop time, and you will experience nothing; the same would be true for God: no thought or rumination or calculation or contemplation can occur when nothing changes, and thus nothing “occurs.”

      Also, no conservative Christian will ever concede the heretical view that we are all a part of God. That was the pagan Stoic view. But even from the perspective of omniscience, such a view entails God knows what it is like to enjoy torturing and murdering children and every other horrible thing, but more to the point, it entails the impossible: that God knows x and does not know x, for any x that one person knows but another does not; otherwise he cannot know what it is like for the person who doesn’t know x, when he is busy knowing what it is like for the person who does. Again, see other comment for an example.

  10. Azuma Hazuki says

    This is…I just…so many conflicting, weird feelings about this! I’m laughing but horrified, and something also smells a little wrong about this.

    But the best one, and one I plan to try against the creepy presuppositionalist stalking me on FB, is an anti-omniscience argument. “God doesn’t know what it’s like to be an atheist,” indeed. Made me snark sencha through my nose *laughing*

    They will of course reply that there is no such thing as an atheist, but Ephesians 2:12 (IIRC) puts paid to that one.

    I’m just getting into a-theology, and while due to some other knowledge I don’t propose to share here it probably won’t turn me atheist, it is very effective against those horrible psychopathic Calvinists I somehow keep running into online.

  11. strangelove says

    If I were to put on my Christian cap and try to bullsh!t my way out of this, I might come up withsomething like this: Maybe God can virtualize parts of his conscious (you know, like a virtual machine in a computer), strip crucial knowledge from those sub-god instances (e.g. knowing what the colour red looks like) or modify other attributes (resulting in a gangbang craving satyr perhaps) and have the virtualized demigods experience things the hypervisor god never could on his own. And somehow God can reintegrate the newfound knowledge back into himself, ’cause I don’t want to live in a world where God can’t do that, so it must be true.

    Maybe you can even fit Jesus into this. In order to experience human pain and suffering he created the Jesus instance and loaded it into a human body, made it have a real bad weekend and transfered its experiences back into his consciousness. But wouldn’t that mean that God wasn’t perfect yet, when he created the universe? Wait, how can a disembodied mind do anything besides thinking, like creating universes? Oh God, I better go pray now.

    • says

      The first attempted escape will be logically impossible. Per my remarks about Jesus and the trinity. So as long as you accept that that which is logically impossible cannot be true of God…

      But yes, the more you think about it, the more problematic theism gets (e.g. the problem of a disembodied mind creating things was formally laid out by Evan Fales in Divine Intervention, which unfortunately is priced beyond anyone’s reach, but one could get it via ILL at a local library).

  12. A Hole says

    So now you are joking about rape. Are you a queer? Nothing personal, but you kind of act and walk like one.

    I bet you have taken it in the ass.

    • says

      This is such a totally weird comment I decided to let it through moderation even though it violates my comments policy.

      I suspect this commenter (who used a fake ID) is a theist.

      They clearly are extremely homophobic (they think being gay and anal sex are wrong and bad, and are so clueless as to think I’d be insulted by the suggestion that I accept them–when any atheist would know I’m fine with both) and they evidently believe a consensual gangbang is rape (though I mention rape as an example, I don’t tell any jokes about it–the only jokes I refer to telling are about consensual gangbangs), which is telltale of evangelical thinking.

      I also suspect this commenter is a child. Since they think they can tell how I act and walk from a blog post.

    • says

      I frequently suspect, when people suggest specific sex acts are “queer” that are also widely enjoyed by heterosexuals (and indeed people of all genders and orientations), that they are rather limited in their own sexual education and experiences. I also wonder why this commenter has been studying your walk so intently, but declares that it’s “nothing personal”, certainly nothing they would be driven to contemplate over and over again, desperately hoping for some sign, any sign, of queerness…

      Incidentally, I will point out that an omniscient deity can relate to all of this.

  13. Tom says

    I can see theists of the classical stripe arguing that what you’re critiquing is an excessively anthropomorphic conception of God. Aquinas, for example, holds that God is Pure Intellect and does not experience qualia. I’m not sure how they reconcile that with Frank Jackson’s knowledge argument, though. There’s also that whole ‘evil is privation of being’ thing, which would presumably make it incoherent for God to enjoy immoral acts, etc.

    • says

      Aquinas, for example, holds that God is Pure Intellect and does not experience qualia.

      I’d be curious to see your citation. The concept of qualia wasn’t invented until the 20th century. And current theology holds the opposite view: that qualia only exist at all because God experiences them (it’s a fundamental premise in the Argument from Consciousness to God).

      But certainly, if God does not experience qualia, then he does know what it is like to experience qualia (he is like Mary the Scientist before she sees colors) and therefore is not omniscient (because humans know things he doesn’t: like what Mary knows once she starts seeing colors).

      There’s also that whole ‘evil is privation of being’ thing

      That’s why I point out that this argument can’t apply to enjoying consensual gangbangs. There is nothing identifiably evil in that: to get there, one would have to insist that hate was good and love was evil. Etc.

  14. lpetrich says

    Yet another version of this anti-omniscience argument is that God cannot be truly omniscient unless he can experience what it is like to commit sins.

    This anti-omniscience argument reminds me of omnipotence paradoxes like “Can God make a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?” Theologians often get around that by claiming that God is not quite omnipotent. Thomas Aquinas had a long list of things that God couldn’t do even if he wanted to: do something impossible in itself like make a contradiction true, be a body, change himself, fail, be tired, forget, repent, be angry, be sad, make a human being have no soul, make a triangle’s angle sizes add up to something other than 180 degrees, undo the past, commit sins, make another God, or make himself not exist.

    Theologians could respond to this anti-omniscience argument in much the same way, by claiming that God is not quite omniscient.

    There is a similar argument that dates back from over 2000 years ago. From Without Gods: Carneades Archives:

    According to Sextus Empiricus, Carneades argued that an omnimax god has the problem of not being able to demonstrate certain virtues with his/her/its actions. Virtues that depend on having limited powers, virtues like courage and resisting temptation. If you are omnimax, you are invulnerable, with nothing dangerous to you, and you thus never need to have courage in the face of danger.

    • says

      “Can God make a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?” Theologians often get around that by claiming that God is not quite omnipotent.

      Actually, they get around it by pointing out that God cannot have powers that are logically impossible to have, like this one. Although The Impossibility of God challenges even that out (in chapters by Cowan and McCormick). That book also has chapters updating the Carneades argument you reference, BTW.

  15. Jon of Brisbane says

    Ha! Great post Richard.

    Makes me wonder if, when the Trinity existed in the eternal past, musing over their overly wise foreordination-councils, they may have, you know, decided to have a quicky threesome?

    • says

      Just FYI I removed the rest of your joke (the scripted scene) because it was hard to interpret and made me uncomfortable. Incest humor is hard to pull off without creeping people out.

    • Jon of Brisbane says

      Fair enough.

      I was a little intoxicated at the time of writing it, so apologies for any offence.

  16. Marlene Winell says

    Hi Richard,

    Great article. Huge entertaining as well as educational.

    The question of “knowing” is quite different seen from the view of psychology and brain science rather than philosophy. I wonder what you think of Dr. Valerie Tarico’s explanation (http://awaypoint.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/christian-belief-through-the-lens-of-cognitive-science-part-3-of-6/) of the research on knowing and certainty as FEELINGS, that can be located in the brain like other feelings, and subject to the same variation and disruption.

    In my view, it’s an important point in relation to the way believers claim personal knowing as proof of their beliefs. It’s also the source of panic for those raised in a religious system that requires personal subjective confirmation in order to be saved if one FEELS no such thing. As I work with Religious Trauma Syndrome, I hear about people who have prayed the “sinner’s prayer” thousands of times, desperately seeking the feeling of knowing for sure. The results are so damaging, and no one ever really explains what “knowing” you are saved even means. But in recovery, it helps to know that it was never just a decision you could make. (I realize I’ve gone off topic!)

    I was also struck with the idea that in general, from a Christian view, how could “God” understand us with anything approaching empathy at all? Of course it would explain the doctrine of hell, wouldn’t it? You express well the point that God has no idea what it’s like to be confused or struggling or weak or making mistake. So its easy to be so callous as to punish for eternity then. After all, the compassionate saying, “To err is human” is NOT from the Bible, (it’s Alexander Pope).

    Marlene Winell

    • says

      Oh, yes. Tarico’s essay on this was published in The Christian Delusion which I also contributed to and assisted in editing, and I used her work in part (along with others, such as the neurophysics of Sam Harris) to compose my Skepticon talk Are Christians Delusional?, in which I made exactly the point that “certainty” is an emotion, and like other emotions, can be falsely triggered.

      And indeed, this is one reason why the idea of a god really doesn’t make all that much sense, a point Tarico makes in her later article in The End of Christianity, on God’s emotions, which is an excellent read, IMO. It carries home the point you just made, in detail. And adds to it an analysis of the personality of the OT god (who suspiciously and inexplicably looks exactly like the personality of an ancient near eastern warlord).

  17. Thetarr says

    Youtuber Darkmatter2525 explains the same concept much more entertainingly with his video “The thing God doesn’t know”. It wouldn’t surprise me if you watched his video some time ago and later decided to write a blog about the concept without referencing him.

    • says

      Oh, no, I knew nothing about that! (Until after I posted.) But as I noted in my article above, none of this is new (except maybe my use of enjoying a gangbang as an example; although Darkmatter’s video implies God couldn’t get it up for a girl-on-guy gangbang).

      For those interested, the “thing” God doesn’t know in that video is lust, and what it’s like to feel all different kinds of it, and that video is here.

      Although that makes a different argument: that God can’t know what lust is like because it’s evil; whereas my argument is that even if it’s logically impossible for God, being perfectly good, to know something that’s evil, and impossible knowledge does not negate omniscience suitably-redefined, God is still not omniscient even on that new definition, because God cannot condemn harmless consensual sex as evil, according to his own teachings–therefore, we should conclude God does know what it’s like to enjoy all kinds of fun, consensual, harmless sex, and enjoys it maximally. Neither of which is Darkmatter’s argument.

      Although I agree with him that even the claim that knowledge of (supposedly) evil feelings is logically impossible for God is not a valid escape for the theologian, since it still entails someone can know something God does not, i.e. such knowledge is not logically impossible, thus God is still not really omniscient. This is therefore not like the logically impossible case of God making a rock so big he can’t lift it (which doesn’t challenge omnipotence, because no being can have that power, therefore God still has all the powers there are…presumably: there are still ways to challenge that claim, see other comment).

  18. Schlumbumbi says

    Predictably, believers will simply assign “other ways of knowing” to their god than the ones that we humans require. Therefor, god will “know” how it is to enjoy something, without ever having enjoyed anything in the process.

    • says

      Which is just unintelligible. Argument by unjustified denial may be a popular way to avoid cognitive dissonance, but won’t work if you keep pointing out that’s what they’re doing (then the pain of the dissonance never goes away, and it starts to turn into worry, which starts to turn into atheism).

  19. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    ..Just as the Jesus of theological myth never really knew what it was like to face death–because he knew he was going to be resurrected.

    Did he? Is that true? I’m not so sure he did now he would be ressurrected.

    • says

      I’m granting the Evangelical conceit that the Gospels are inerrant. Given that conceit, Jesus repeatedly says during his ministry that he will not only be resurrected, but will be exalted to God’s right hand and return to kick ass on all the people who wronged him.

  20. Eddie Ayala says

    Hi Richard, first off great work on your lectures, I enjoy them, they are very informative. I have a question which isn’t related to your discussion on this particular blog, but I wanted to quickly reach out to you if you had a minute. My question is regarding the historicity of Jesus and the scholars that support him as being a historical person. I am in agreement with you, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that he in fact existed, the NT is full of third person accounts which doesn’t make sense if it’s supposed to be an actual account, and they are by all means contradictory. I’ve been doing research because I am continually debating with theists who believe he did in fact exist, and I try to point to falsehoods contained in the NT as well as ancient historians that supposedly refer to him but what I am looking for is are there scholars that are on your side, is this issue being reviewed or simply scoffed away, if so why?

    Hope to hear from you soon!

    Kind Regards,

    Eddie

    • says

      In future (and this goes for everyone reading this), please post comments like this in a relevant article here. You can find one by using the subject category index down the left margin of every page of my blog, and then looking down the list of articles in the most related category for the most recent article suitable for your intended comment. Right now, WordPress gives me no ability to relocate comments to other threads, so no one interested in your topic will likely see your comment or my reply.

      That said, the answer is:

      Because mythicism hasn’t been properly argued (through academic peer review, by a suitably qualified expert, using standards of citation and argument respected in the field). Therefore it’s easy to dismiss (it’s easy to straw man, etc.). It isn’t even being taken seriously enough to have a fair review (see Ehrman Recap, for example). My next book (and in necessary part, Proving History) is designed to answer that defect. We’ll see what the effect of that is in ten years time.

  21. Friendly says

    Any evangelical fundamentalist Christian of my acquaintance would counter with an assertion to the effect of, “God has a priori full knowledge of every possible emotion or experience that every possible created being could have, without needing to feel or experience it either personally or vicariously. Because God.” Such an argument would probably not be persuasive to unbelievers, but the faithful would nonetheless use it to insulate their beliefs from this line of thought.

    • says

      Right. That’s just gobbledygook, like insisting the Trinity, like, totes makes sense, because. The answer to that is simply to keep pointing it out. Eventually the fact that even they don’t understand why they believe what they do will grate on them until they decide maybe they shouldn’t believe such things anymore.

  22. Chuck Messenger says

    The argument makes use of the subjective/objective divide. That is, there is subjective information which “God” could not have – such as, the feeling of suffering from lack of knowledge.

    However, I don’t think the distinction between subjective and object is sound. It’s like drawing a distinction between organic chemistry and chemistry; back in the olden days, it was generally accepted that the chemicals associated with life were special – that you could not synthesize organic chemicals from inorganic chemicals. The intuition was that life was just way too complicated to understand, so it was in a different category than non-life. Once there was enough knowledge about chemistry, it started to become clear that there was in fact nothing special about life; it’s just very complicated chemistry.

    So it will go with the subjective/objective divide. These are the olden days, when it comes to artificial intelligence. Eventually, it will be possible to objectively measure all manner of phenomena which are currently considered to be strictly subjective. To take a semi-random example: tinnitus. Currently, “subjective tinnitus” is just that: “subjective”, meaning, there’s no way to observe it directly. We have to rely on a subject to report their experiences. The day will doubtless come when it will be possible to view tinnitus directly. One by one, phenomena which have historically been considered to be Subjective, will move over into the Objective column.

    That’s why this argument is unsound, fundamentally; it assumes there is an inherent difference between subjective and objective. Mental phenomena are only deemed Subjective because they elude measurement using the current state-of-the-art in neuro-science. So, “God” could, in principle, “know” exactly what suffering due to lack of knowledge was like; s/he/it could measure it, and could, indeed, alleviate it (modulating the suffering-from-ignorance feeling into more of an ignorance-is-bliss feeling).

    • says

      Eventually, it will be possible to objectively measure all manner of phenomena which are currently considered to be strictly subjective.

      That still won’t make them the same thing. This is Mary the Scientist again: the difference between knowing the instructions for carrying something out (riding a bicycle, seeing colors) and actually following those instructions. The latter will always produce a different experience than the former. Because they are categorically distinct (unlike organic and inorganic chemistry). Thus even if we imagined a brain such that the only way to give it instructions is to have it carry them out (i.e. a brain that cannot separate propositional from experiential knowledge), what we would have is a brain that knows what it is like to x. Thus God cannot avoid the same result: the only way to know what it is like to x, is to know what it is like to x.

      As in your tinnitis example: even when we can, e.g., confirm in a brain scan that a person is experiencing it and even assign a relative measure of its intensity (and any other attributes), the doctors doing this will still have no idea what it is like to be experiencing that. The only way they could is to rewire their brains so that it produces the experience and integrates it with the rest of their neural modeling. And they could in principle do that (just as I pointed out for Mary the Scientist). But it still consists in doing it. Thus, even for them, the only way to know what tinnitis is actually like, is to experience what tinnitis is actually like. This is as much so for God as anyone else.

      Thus you are missing the point. Certainly a God can “measure [any] x, and, indeed, alleviate it” without knowing what experiencing x is like (just as doctors don’t need to know what tinnitis is like to know how to diagnose and cure it), but God still will lack some knowledge (knowledge of what it is like, the same knowledge the doctors curing tinnitis lack), and thus will still fail to be omnniscient, and, more importantly, fail to be maximally great (because someone will know what it is like, and thus know something God does not, therefore God will not be the greatest knower, and thus will not be the greatest thing).

      Thus, I am not challenging an imperfect knower’s ability to mitigate suffering (that’s what we do, after all). I’m simply saying God must be an imperfect knower. Or else he maximally enjoys getting gangbanged.

      I should also call attention to the problem that knowing how to detect and cure x does not entail any desire to do so. Which is why it is hard to fathom why a God, who cannot and does not know anything about what it is like to suffer, would care about alleviating suffering. He would have no idea why it’s important to do so or even why he is doing it at all. He would just be robotically doing it for no discernible reason to him. Although that is logically possible (albeit prone to all kinds of ways of going wrong, which we catalog now as friendly AI problems), it wouldn’t make him maximally great, because humans would know all kinds of things (like why suffering is bad) that God does not, therefore humans would be greater than God.

      It’s also hard to fathom how we could ever love (much less trust) a being who is absolutely sociopathic (i.e. incapable of experiencing any appreciable kind of empathy and wholly incapable of knowing what any kind of suffering is like or why it is bad). Such a mind would be creepy and alien to us. And we to it.

  23. Kiljoy says

    I’m too prudish to have read all the above but in so far as how theists may respond? For the more enthusiastic male variety anyway I get the impression that sheer bloody mindedness is next to godliness. *However* and I think it’s a substantial however, what really makes them anxious is that their daughters and ‘prospective’ wives have the ‘carousel’ gene and god, though having created that gene, can’t really hope to compete with that.

  24. Owlmirror says

    I am not a sophistimacated [sic] theololgian [sic], but I’ve read enough Cathlolic [sic] theolology [sic] to have an idea of how this might be argued against.

    Consensual sex that causes no one any harm and that everyone benefits from cannot be equated with murder, or in fact any evil at all.

    See, the problem with this liberal formulation is that it ignores the ancient and sophistimacted concept of privative evil. That which is good is that which is closest to its original God-given design; its function; its telos. The telos of sexual activity is, of course, procreation, and the kind of sex which is therefore good, is, of course, between one man and one woman, united in holy matrimony in the sacrament of marriage (redundancy is redundant), while the woman is fertile, for the purpose of conceiving a child.

    All other types of sex are therefore less good, and the less they are like the above, the less good they are. Therefore, gangbangs are perverse and evil, and God cannot enjoy such a perversion of his own creation.

    QED, atheists!

    But after thinking of the above, it occurred to me there might be an alternative.

    Prostate exams.

    The accusation of privative evil cannot be made in this case. The doctor is fulfilling his or her function as a physician in performing the examination; the patient is fulfilling his telos in being so examined.

    Therefore, it must be the case that God can, and indeed, must, know what it is like to maximally enjoy having a lubed finger slipped through his anus and gently massaging his prostate.

    (This could be extended to all sorts of other medical examinations and treatments of the genitals and other sensitive areas (ooh, how about getting an enema?) that involve physical contact, but I will leave that as an exercise to the reader).

    • says

      That which is good is that which is closest to its original God-given design…

      Therefore flying in an airplane is evil.

      Needless to say, this reasoning is bankrupt from the word go.

      But your response is also worth noting.

  25. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    I don’t find the arguments very persuasive. In Blake’s 7 there is a computer ‘Orac’ that can basically tap into every computer in the Federation that has a Tariell cell in it. So Orac is basically what we used to call an ‘in-circuit emulator’ for a computer, it can view all the states of the computer under observation.

    So we could certainly posit a God that has that level of access to sentient brain stems and that capability would certainly be close enough to describe as ‘omniscient’ since there is no human knowledge that is not available to it.

    What I have a much harder time accepting is the idea that a being with that capability and the ability to influence the world would choose such dreadful people as the Pope emeritus to act as his sole emissaries on earth. It would be like Stephen Hawking choosing Fox News as his sole means of communicating with the masses.

    • says

      Observing the states of a system is not the same thing as being in that state yourself. Hence observing the physical system of a brain experiencing pain does not cause pain in the observer.

      See other comments on the same point here and here.

    • Phillip Hallam-Baker says

      My point was that your argument relies on an internal inconsistency in the definition of ‘omniscient’ and that there are other definitions of omniscient that serve just as well without the inconsistency. James Bond is not superman but he might as well be from the depictions on screen.

      Meanwhile the suggestion that God enjoys a gangbang would hardly be surprising to other cultures. There is the passage in Heroditus alleging the tradition of all the women being part time temple hookers, there is the tantric tradition in India and the modern version developed by California hippies. The idea that God likes a good gangbang and that therefore we should have one to please them has popped up rather often.

      Of course this might have something to do with letcherous priests using the deity as a pretext for seducing young women.

  26. aziraphale says

    I can just imagine God saying:

    “I never claimed to be omniscient, omnipotent, disembodied or any of those weird things. Those were invented by theologians with too much time on their hands. You should have ignored them and listened to the preachers I sent you”

    before dispatching us all to (hopefully) Purgatory.

  27. aziraphale says

    @28.1

    Not necessarily. Your arguments, if correct, show that the idea of an omniscient being is incoherent. Therefore God cannot conform to that idea. I don’t see how that proves he is not a necessary being.

    Mind you, I’m not convinced that “necessary existence” is any more coherent than the various other perfections attributed to God. I just feel that a being lacking those perfections could be (in some sense) the greatest existing being.

    • says

      I don’t see how that proves he is not a necessary being.

      Granted, it only entails the popular ontological argument fails to establish that he is.

      It is (I presume) possible that an imperfect contingent being can be in some sense logically necessary (e.g. in strict Calvinist theology, you and I are logically necessary beings, because God is logically necessary and his choice as to which universe is the best possible universe to create is also logically necessary and it’s causally deterministic, which entails you and I are the logically necessary outcome of that choice…not saying theology is committed to this view, only that it’s possibly coherent). No argument to that conclusion exists, so far as I know. But I’ll grant it may be possible.

  28. joshgough says

    This was extremely amusing, and far more rigorous than I expected it to be at first.

    What made it really click for me was the line about needing to know what it’s like to actually enjoy something, something that the rest of, as normal people, find abhorrent.

    If, indeed, a god has omniscience, then indeed that god must know what it’s like to enjoy something, including those things that assholes like Hitler did, or like those horrifying pictures of small children smiling at a lynched black person — on display at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center here in Atlanta.

    Less extreme to imagine, though perhaps more theologically important, would be that this being must know what it feels like to *deny his own existence* due to lack of evidence. If this were true, and for omniscience to be a meaningful concept it must, then it also must know what it’s like to be equally convinced that Islam is correct, Christianity is wrong, or Hinduism is correct, and Buddhism is wrong, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. Omniscience must be quite a confusing state of being. The being must, in fact, simultaneously think and feel all these contradictory things, moment to moment, for all of eternity.

    Of course, there are all kinds of ways to rationalize a supernatural-god-belief away from this position, including as you said dropping the omniscience requirement.

    However, if that is the case, then doesn’t it become impossible to know the future?

    I mean, presumably some of us make decisions based upon what is enjoyable. If we find something enjoyable that is objectionable to the god-force, then we might engage in that again, and thus alter the future.

    Maybe that’s why the O.T. god kept refusing to grant his people what he promised. They kept enjoying things that he was incapable, due to an actual LACK of omniscience, of knowing (and enjoying).

    If that’s the case, then the OT god seems more like a distant observer who on occasion intervenes by parting waters or resurrecting dead people, to serve his own preference for how the future unfolds.

    Or, maybe what we consider “knowledge” is not actually knowledge, but just an illusion. Maybe knowledge, in the omniscience-sense, is beyond our comprehension. If that were the case, though, I think it would call into question the whole “just accept Jesus and believe that he is your savior” thing, because the god must be able to, at minimum, scan our brains and, using “Goddle Translate”, convert the little firings in our brain to the right True Knowledge, omniscient-style, such that he can tally us as accepters.

    Well, maybe that objection has been thought of and found lacking, hence doctrines like predestination.

    So, if predestination were true, then once again the god can have something closer to omniscience (minus enjoying things forbidden by him), but then the universe becomes like a pointless wind-up-toy that has no implications for any of our individual behavior and choices.

    Makes my head spin…. god must move in mysterious ways, unseen from all of us.

    Now, if we drop all those ideas of omniscience, of being able to feel all feelings that everyone feels, then we start to enter into a strange territory, theologically. If there is, or was, a supernatural being that created the universe we know, then maybe the most sensible, logically thing to do was to create a universe wherein the created laws unfold *without intervention*, which could then lead to beings like ourselves, capable of thinking all these things, having all these differences in our own minds, scores of different theologies and views, including coming to the wrong conclusions over thousands and thousands of years as we try to understand what the heck reality actually is, until we arrived upon the basic outline of the scientific method, and its self-correcting-over-enough-time mechanisms.

    In the end it would be a universe indistinguishable from one in which no supernatural being exists at all — where “being” itself is all that exists, but is itself indistinguishable from “the universe”, whatever that turns out to be — finite, infinite, multiverse, etc, etc, etc.

    What’s really interesting to me though is that as we gain more and more knowledge, we create more and more within reality that, in centuries past, would most certainly have been seen as “supernatural” or “magic”.

    Then again, maybe miracles *really did* used to happen, but all of us just stopped having faith, right around the time of photography, then video, and greater understanding of physics, biology, and chemistry.

    There’s a chance, but I kind of doubt it. (Oh wait, I forgot that they do still happen for those who have *enough* faith, except for amputees and never for things like fixing cars, tsunami prevention, or malaria prevention — those miracles would not be in *character* with the miracles of the Gospels, right?)

  29. says

    Hi Richard,

    It’s an honor to have a review reviewed, so thanks for that. I’m still not completely moved by Lovering’s argument and thought I’d clarify a bit.

    My main concerns with Lovering’s discussion of this argument were these:
    (a) I don’t think he’s said enough about ascriptions of ‘knowing what it’s like’.
    (b) I think that he’s willing to concede the theist too much.

    On (a), the example I offered to bring out the worry is one that you allude to in the post, but I don’t know if you’ve highlighted the important feature. The suggestion was this: if it’s true that the experiences A would have had if A had gone to Disneyland and Disneyworld would have been qualitatively identical, it would follow from the fact that A knows what it’s like to go to Disneyland that A knows what it’s like to go to Disneyworld.

    I took two points from this.
    (1) You don’t have to actually F to know what it’s like to F.
    (2) If you know by acquaintance the experience you’d have if you were to F, you know what it’s like to F regardless of whether you F.

    Then there’s the thing that I think Lovering shouldn’t have conceded:
    (3) God can know the experiences of others.

    If that’s knowledge by acquaintance in (3), it follows from (2) that all God would need to know what it’s like to F (for any particular F) is have knowledge of the experiences others undergo when they F.

    That’s enough, I think, to block Lovering’s argument. I’d be happy if Lovering responded by arguing against (3) or offering an account of knowing what it’s like on which (1), (2), or both are false. My main concern is that he hasn’t blocked what seems like a natural line of response. As he’s trying to run a reductio argument against the theist, I don’t think his work is quite yet done.

    A couple of things about your post. I think you’ve misdescribed my example. I never said that a child might know what it’s like to go to Disneyland by having the experience described to her. I suggested that she could know what it’s like if she were acquainted with an experience that was qualitatively identical to the experience she would have had.

    You later said, using the Mary thought experiment, “If God is in any appreciable sense omniscient, then he knows what colors look like. So he can’t really imagine what it’s like not to know what colors look like, even by reading Mary’s mind.”

    My aim was simply to show that there’s a consistent (albeit possibly bonkers) position a theist could adopt to avoid Lovering’s argument. I think (but might be wrong) that you think that I haven’t done this and that your example is supposed to help to illustrate this. I don’t think that it does. Part of the model I described for the theist involved the idea that God might know by acquaintance the experiences of others and that such knowledge would be sufficient for knowing what it’s like. That should be sufficient for God to know what it’s like, say, to be in a state of ignorance. And if my (1) above is correct, this doesn’t require ignorance. So, I think if you want to develop Lovering’s argument, you have to deny (1), (2), or (3). I don’t see that you’ve done that, so I guess I don’t see how you’ve addressed the point I made in the review. You can either argue that God cannot have that kind of knowledge of the minds of others (plausible, to be sure) or argue that my (1) and (2) won’t figure in a plausible account of knowing what it’s like.

    You later said:
    “Just as the Jesus of theological myth never really knew what it was like to face death–because he knew he was going to be resurrected. Thus, human beings know more than God. We know what it is truly like to face mortality. God does not. And he cannot.”

    This seems to assume that my (1) or (2) is mistaken, but I don’t see any argument here that it is. Maybe you think there’s a difference between knowing what it’s like to F and knowing what it’s like to truly F, but that would seem to require rejecting (1). (I don’t think there’s a qualitative difference to knowing what it’s like to F and knowing what it’s like to truly F.) You might be right to reject (1), but I think lots of people will find the Disneyland/Disneyworld example intuitively compelling once it is properly described. For what it’s worth, I think we should reject (3). But, as I said, I think Lovering concedes too much ground to the theist. His book should have been longer and less concessive.

    • says

      Thanks for the clarifications. I definitely didn’t follow your Disneyland argument correctly. I think maybe one of the words got switched (the word “Disneyworld” only appears once, so I mistook that as a typo). I’ll make a note in the text.

      But now I think your argument is weaker. Obviously knowing what x is like by knowing what something similar to x is like cannot be fully knowing what x is like, but only an approximation to some degree…and even then it would have to be very similar indeed, to the point of negating the value of this as an argument against Lovering. Can God know what it is almost exactly like not to know something? I don’t think so (one has to ask, “how?”). But even if it were, it’s still not the same thing. A human will still know a little more than God. Therefore God cannot be omniscient, or maximally great.

      You may find my comments elsewhere here of relevance to that point (links here). But my example from the experience of rape victims in the main article above should suffice to provide you with my answer. If not, my bear threat example should (in the links just noted).

  30. says

    “Obviously knowing what x is like by knowing what something similar to x is like cannot be fully knowing what x is like, but only an approximation to some degree”

    Hi Richard,

    I don’t think it’s obvious, esp. because we’re dealing with cases of qualitatively identical experiences. If x and y are qualitatively identical, there’s not going to be a difference in what it’s like to undergo x and y.

    Your answer in the comment you linked suggests that you think that the knowledge God would have of the experiences of others would be somehow based on knowledge of the non-mental states that they were in. As I said, that might be right, but that’s not what Lovering insists on. Maybe he should have, but if that’s a point he should have argued for, then aren’t we in agreement that his argument was too quick?

    • says

      If x and y are qualitatively identical, there’s not going to be a difference in what it’s like to undergo x and y.

      That simply reduces to x being y, in the one dimension that matters.

      If [feeling terrified] and [feeling approximately terrified] are qualitatively identical, then [feeling approximately terrified] is the same thing as [feeling terrified]. Otherwise, there would be some qualitative difference between them.

      There is no samantic escape route here.

      I can’t comment on how well Lovering handles this question. Maybe his defense of it is too quick, as in, not explaining things like I did with the Mary’s colors and rape victim and bear attack analogies. But it would be a straw man to reject his argument merely because he didn’t make the best defense of it, when you’ve just seen my defense of it.

      Only if there are inadequacies in my defense of it. So, to that end, revisit my discussion of “we might be able to have some idea of what it would be like to be raped” and “If God is in any appreciable sense omniscient, then he knows what colors look like” and “hallucinating that you are about to be torn apart and killed by a bear will be imperfect if you know it isn’t really going to happen.”

      The only way to really know those things, is to really know them. Anything else will be qualitatively less, because someone who fully knows, will know something God does not. Therefore God cannot be omniscient. Nor can he be maximally great.

      Thus, for example, if someone knows what it is like to enjoy being gangbanged more than God does, then there is something God does not know. Therefore God cannot be omniscient. Nor can he be maximally great. The only way God could be omniscient and have any chance at being maximally great is if no one knows what it is like to enjoy being gangbanged more than God does. And the only way it can be the case that no one knows what it is like to enjoy being gangbanged more than God does, is if God enjoys being gangbanged more than anyone (or at least, more than anyone ever could). Because if God does not enjoy being gangbanged, he cannot know what it is like to enjoy it.

      As I wrote in an earlier comment:

      …if God is disgusted or repelled or condemnatory (or whatever) by the idea of enjoying being gangbanged, then he cannot know what it is like to enjoy getting gangbanged without being at the same time disgusted or repelled or condemnatory. The only way he can “perfectly” imagine what that’s like (and thus know what it’s like) is to not be disgusted or repelled or condemnatory (or whatever) while experiencing the maximal enjoyment of it. Which is simply maximally enjoying it.

  31. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this. The combination of serious philosophy and some playful irreverence made it it double the fun. I also appreciate the fact that you don’t shy away from sex and that you always emphasize consent and have a general tone of sex-positivity. I shared this on Facebook and have seen no reaction, which surprised me since most of my friends are far-from-prudish and mostly atheists. Could be that the size of it scared people off (insert joke), but I suspect that it’s more likely a sign of the taboo of mixing God and sex (which is always ironic considering all the be-fruitful-and-multiply and begat-ing in the Bible.)

  32. cassandro says

    I’ve gotta disagree with the argument, because you’ve completely ignored the concept of hypostases. Jesus doesn’t have to “rejoin’ God in a Modalist fashion, but rather can continue to exist eternally as in orthodox Trinitarianism. All you have to do is inject Adoptionist kenosis, emptying divine traits like omniscience not from the total godhead, but rather from one distinct hypostasis. As you said, this implies Jesus loved him some gangbangs, unless you assume that gangbangs are just as wrong as murder, which Christianity does (I realize that makes no logical sense, but it’s objectively true in a universe created and governed by Yahweh; Solomon was not a model of correct behavior).

  33. says

    “I can’t comment on how well Lovering handles this question. Maybe his defense of it is too quick, as in, not explaining things like I did with the Mary’s colors and rape victim and bear attack analogies. But it would be a straw man to reject his argument merely because he didn’t make the best defense of it, when you’ve just seen my defense of it.”

    Maybe here, but not in the context of a review of his book.

    Anyway, I’ve registered why I don’t think Lovering’s argument works and that’s all I really care to get into. I don’t really follow your response to me with your discussion of being approximately terrified, terrified, etc., so I’m going to bow out now. I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I think I’ve identified a problem with an argument that someone else has given and I’m satisfied that more work has to be done. I get that some people think it’s interesting to try to test out the coherence of the concept of the God of the philosophers, but I’m not among them.

    If there’s one major problem in Lovering’s book, perhaps it’s the problem that you yourself face. I take the hypothesis under consideration to be a bit silly, utterly unmotivated, and I’ve learned the hard way that you can waste weeks of time trying to get the details just right as you try to put together an air-tight argument for the non-existence of God or the incoherence of some concept of God. If you like puzzles and think this one is interesting, more power to you. If, like me, you don’t and you think the crudest arguments from evil are utterly decisive, then you just work on something else. Something important, like, say, the semantics of ‘K-how’ ascriptions.

    • says

      Maybe here, but not in the context of a review of his book.

      Oh, yes. Certainly.

      …you can waste weeks of time trying to get the details just right…

      Because theology itself is a convoluted and silly enterprise. Theists need the impossible to exist. It can be tortuous to explain why they can’t have that.

  34. Carlos Cabanita says

    God could build another, less perfect mind of himself to experience ignorance, enjoying evil, whatever. Then, having total recall, he could replay that experience in his “main” mind. Or use any being’s experience for that, since he is supposed to know all. But it would never be the same helplessness of the original existential experience.

    Besides, if God feels all the suffering in the world, it follows he is imperfect, because it is essential to suffering the need to avoid it and the incapacity to do so. If God feels all the suffering in the world, either he is unable to avoid it, or he enjoys it. The same argument from evil.

  35. Shane Baker says

    As a person who is still trying to decide whether he wants to remain a Christian or not, I can tell you that this whole line of thinking about “is there something God does not know?” doesn’t carry much weight or convincing power to my mind. Your debates with Craig show convincingly that much of the Gospel narrative is mythical fiction. It still doesn’t answer to my mind whether or not there was an original Jesus who lived and died. Just as much of what was said about Jesus was fiction, much of what is said about God may also be fiction and yet there may still be a “God” of some sort. Thus the omniscient God may actually be a strawman. To me it doesn’t seem necessary to believe that God has a knowledge of “everything” to believe that their is “something” out there who has more knowledge than me. These arguments meant to prove God doesn’t have ALL knowledge seem rather esoteric to me and not very convincing–at least not very convincing that there is no God. Maybe God can still exist and his knowledge be more simple. Maybe he knows that gangbangs are physically pleasurable, to use your example, but he knows that they don’t bring long term happiness and can spread disease and thus lead to sickness and death. That God is omnipotent is also something I think it very easy to poke logical holes in. All you have to do is think up something that God CAN’T do and you have proven God isn’t omnipotent. I think it logical to argue that God is either not omnipotent or he is immoral using the following reasoning. If God has the power to MAKE someone good and he does not, then he is either making or allowing evil and that is immoral. For example, if God made Hitler, he either did or did not have the power to make him good or make him evil. Hitler clearly was evil so God either didn’t have the power to make him Good, or God was himself immoral for choosing to make evil. It causes me no grief to think there could be a God who could have the power to make a man but not have the power to make him good or evil. Just like I can choose to have a child but I cannot control what his temperment will be and can hardly be held responsible for his actions. So, your arguments against an omniscient God and my reasoning against an omnipotent God, do not convince me that there is no God, only that the traditional views of God cannot be accurate. For instance, it does not convince me that man doesn’t have a spirit that continues on after death. The evidence for reincarnation, for example, is very strong. I find myself rather in a situation where I feel I do not know, rather than in a position to affirm that there is nothing more than what I see with my own two eyes.

  36. Nightshade says

    I’m not sure exactly why God must be omniscient,omnipresent and omnibenevolent. I realize these are seen as attributes of God in most if not all theistic faiths,but I don’t see them as necessary attributes of God.For me personally, for a Being to be God there are three facts which must be true of it: 1)God must be a non-contingent 2) mind3)upon whom the universe is contingent.These three attributes are both necessary and sufficient to describe God.That there might be other attributes of God I don’t know. In fact I don’t know if a God exist ,or if there is more than one of them.However I do believe some form of Metaphysical Idealism is as likely to be true as some form of Metaphysical Naturalism, at least as far as any of us know.!

    • says

      Because God must be omni to be maximally great, and God must be maximally great to necessarily exist, and God must necessarily exist because that’s the only way to prove something exists when you have no evidence it exists (via the ontological argument). That’s why. Theology. It’s dumb. But it’s all they got.

      As a hypothesis, God needs to have far more attributes than you state. He can’t just be any mind, but a mind with super-powers (a mind floating around without a body can’t do anything…indeed, arguably, it can’t even exist, since where does it store memories and distinguish sensations if not materially? …so super-powers upon super-powers), that is extremely intelligent (smart enough to design and start a universe), with a litany of specific (and unusual) desires and motivations (in order to explain why the evidence looks the way it does, why it created anything at all, why it bothered to create a life-bearing universe instead of, say, a maximally colorful one, and so on).

      That’s why it looks bad as a hypothesis.

  37. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the only way God could know that is by having experienced the enjoyment of ordering the mass murder of Jews.

    Sorry, Yahveh’s way ahead of ya there. See, e.g., Exodus 32:27. (Okay, technically there he ordered mass murder of Hebrews, but the basic thrill must’ve been quite similar.)

  38. Nightshade says

    I’m not sure I understand the concept of ‘necessary existence’ . If it means ‘that which necessarily exist cannot not exist’ I can’t see that any being must exist though this might be the result of my own intellectual shortcomings. If it means ‘that which exist non-contingently ,without cause or explanation though it might not have existed’ I do understand. It seems to me that because contingent things exist e.g. humans, planets ,galaxies then something non-contingent has to exist.Not ‘has to’ in a necessary sense but rather has to in order to explain the existence of contingent things. This could be the universe itself perhaps it has always existed and the Big ang is wrong.Perhaps it is the quantum vacuum out of which the universe ‘emerged’. which if I’m not mistaken is the favored view among contemporary cosmologist. Perhaps it is God, a non-contingent mind

  39. Nightshade says

    (this is a continuation of my last comment.I’m having problems with my computer)Your questions concerning a mind without a body assumes mental processes are dependent for their existence on physical/material substance when the reverse might be true as in Berkleyian Idealism or perhaps mind and matter or two different aspects of the same reality as I understand Schelling.Perhaps the ‘oddness’ of sub-atomic phenomena can be explained by their possessing mind/consciousness and making a choice as to the role they play (the characteristics we call ‘spin’, ‘color’ wave or particle)according to the needs of the moment in constructing the world.Is this Liebniz’s view?

  40. A. Leon says

    This argument was unusually clever, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. But I’m not convinced, in part because I think it hinges upon an incorrect (or at least unnecessary) understanding of the Mary’s Room argument, without which the rest of the post completely falls apart.

    Despite the fact that it’s ostensibly a thought experiment about kinds of knowledge, the Mary’s Room argument itself isn’t truly an epistemological one. It’s really an ontological one, and that’s where your disconnect is, Richard.

    If you accept the argument that Mary must leave her room in order to truly understand redness, despite knowing all physical facts about the experience of seeing redness, then you’re effectively postulating the existence of non-physical (or mental) knowledge, which is typically called qualia. While there are clearly epistemological implications, the key takaway is ontological: you’re now living in a universe where simple physicalism is false. And according to this argument, these “mental facts” if you will are only obtainable by Mary through the lens of experience.

    Now, hold onto that thought, because I’m going to return to it in a moment.

    Let’s compare this with physical knowledge. Right now on the table in front of me sits a bottle of honey (I’m feeling a little under the weather and have had several cups of nice tea today). Presumably, God is not physically inside my head or on my shoulder, and so is not literally seeing what I am seeing. Yet according to traditional ideas of omniscience, which you’ve assumed in your post, God knows very well what this bottle of honey looks like from my physical point in space: what its relative orientation in physical space is, how full it is, what the nutritional facts on the back say, and so on. (Note that here I’m distinguishing between what the bottle looks like from my point in space from what it feels like to see it from my point in space: one is a physical observation, the second is experiential.)

    Now, how God knows what this bottle of honey looks like isn’t entirely clear: presumably he doesn’t have invisible God Eyes at every single point of physical space. Rather, I think the traditional theist view would be closer God having some sort of direct cognition of all physical facts. That God knows all physical facts, despite not being physically present to observe them, is a typical theist view and I think should be part of the assumed premises to your argument which you’re implicitly arguing against.

    To compare God’s knowledge with our own, consider: if I described it in sufficient detail, or we set up a camera or something, you might be able to get detail sufficient that we could say that you too know what it looks like from my angle. But there’s no way for you to know this directly. In other words, we have physical knowledge, but we must as humans obtain through physical observation: in this case, with sensory input from our eyes or ears.

    Now, let’s return to Mary.

    Mary has, by stepping out of her black and white room, obtained mental (experiential) knowledge of redness. This is knowledge she can only gain experientially, or in other words, personal cognition is the means by which she has obtained this knowledge: a mental process to obtain mental knowledge, which is analogous to obtaining physical knowledge through the use of a physical observation process.

    But if God can gain physical knowledge through means unrecognizable to us – say, direct cognition of physical facts as opposed to physical observation – then why cannot God gain mental knowledge through means unrecognizable to us, in the same way? Not whether you think this is so, because obviously you don’t, but what makes that position logically impossible?

    I’m guessing your counterpoint would likely be that these mental facts are defined by being experiential, so by definition God cannot understand them using alternate means. But that’s not a definition that’s necessary based on the provided scenario, and that’s what I meant by taking an epistemological understanding of the thought experiment rather than an ontological one. You’re using this argument to make a logical statement about the nature of knowledge, when in reality the thought experiment is structured to make a logical statement about the nature of reality.

    All Mary’s Room requires of us is that Mary can only gains this knowledge through experience rather than physical observation. But Mary is explicitly a human being, subject to human limits on epistemological matters: just like she needs physical observation to learn physical facts, she needs mental experience to comprehend mental facts such as experience. The thought experiment doesn’t say anything at all about beings who don’t have to rely on human avenues for gaining knowledge. If we’re already assuming, for the sake of argument, the existence of a being that can know all physical facts directly and without utilizing the methods we require (physical observation), what is so impossible about assuming, for the sake of argument, the existence of a being that can know all mental facts directly and without utilizing the methods we require (personal experience)? I don’t see why that’s a leap too far.

    In summary, I don’t think the Mary’s Room argument gets you where you need to go in order to prove your point. I’ll grant that what you’ve described is consistent in its fashion (although problematic in many other areas, in particular its restatement of Judeo-Christian sexual ethics). But it’s only one possible explanation of the Mary’s Room argument; an equally valid interpretation, which I’ve outlined above, exists. And since it’s possible for the traditional view of omniscience to survive despite your argument, it fails.

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