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.
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.)