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Monday, 21 June 2010

On the Logical Fallacy of God's Inerrant Omniscience

As an atheist, of course, I don't believe in any gods so what I'm discussing here is the god of the Bible, whom Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe to exist and who is at the centre of their belief system.

This god is generally assumed by all believers to be inerrantly omniscient, i.e. it knows all things, including, in absolutely inerrant detail the entire future of the Universe and everything in it - every celestial body, every living thing, every atom and every particle. This god could, if it was so inclined, tell you with absolute accuracy, the position of any given electron at any point in time, past or future.

This god, so its followers claim, has also granted mankind free will, so that we may determine our own destiny and so we are fully accountable for our actions. God has not pre-ordained anything at all, so far as humans are concerned. He is a mere observer of our actions and we are only accountable to him for them at some later date.

Well, let’s explore the idea of omniscience and free-will. Let's assume that God knows (with inerrant certainty, remember) that you will have eggs for breakfast tomorrow. Can you then decide to have cereals, or anything at all other than eggs?

If yes, doesn't that mean God's 'knowledge' of your future was wrong? How can that be if God is inerrantly omniscient? If no, then in what sense of the word do you have free will?

"Ah!" You might say, "God knows what my choices are, not what I will choose". In that case, does God simply know the range of all possible futures, but not the actual detail? If so, this is some way off inerrant omniscience, isn't it? In fact, it would probably not be beyond the wit of anyone who knows you and your culture to make a reasonably accurate forecast of the range of possible choices you will have for breakfast tomorrow. Nothing really special in that skill at all when you think about it.

No. There is absolutely no way to square this circle. Either you have free will or God is inerrantly omniscient, not both. Free will and an omniscient god cannot logically exist in the same Universe.

If you can see a way round this, feel free to post it here. Remember though that mere opinion isn't a valid argument. Please confine yourself to the logic of the problem.

Now, let's explore the proposition of God's inerrant omniscience a little further to see where it leads. We've already dealt with your free-will (or rather the lack of it) in choosing breakfast tomorrow in the presence of an inerrantly omniscient god, but what of other choices, not only for you but for everything else? And what of God's OWN freedom to choose?

If God knows and has always known every minute detail of the future, how can he change his mind and still be inerrant? Of course, he can't otherwise he will render himself errant. In fact there would be no logical way that this god can even decide to make a decision since he would have known of that event, and its outcome for all time. An inerrantly omniscient god cannot even decide to decide something, let alone influence anything. Everything in the universe in which an inerrantly omniscient god resides would be absolutely and unchangeably pre-ordained.

Such a god in such a universe would have absolutely no purpose. For all practical purposes it would not exist. There would be no difference between that universe and one in which there is no god.

By now, if you believe in God, you're probably thinking you see a logical fallacy here. You're probably thinking that this god, by its inerrantly omniscient knowledge of the future, brought the Universe into existence and it could not have existed without it.

But think on. How could this inerrantly omniscient god have even decided to bring the Universe into existence? How could it have decided to plot the future of all things? The fact of its inerrant omniscience renders it completely paralysed, unable to move, unable to decide anything, unable even to think, since all its own actions, even the actions of its own thought processes are also fully and unchangeably pre-ordained. Nothing in the universe occupied by an inerrantly omniscient god can be changed, not even the thoughts of that god itself. In fact, such a god might as well be an unthinking rock on some remote planet orbiting a sun in some distant galaxy, functionally indistinguishable from any other rock on any other planet in any other galaxy.

And, paradoxically, since this god could not have created the universe in the first place, a universe occupied by an inerrantly omniscient god could not have been created by it.

The logic of an inerrantly omniscient god not only means you cannot have free will, it also means that such a god, for all practical purposes, does not exist and could not have created the universe.

Conversely, any creator god cannot be omniscient and inerrant like the one described in the Bible the Torah and the Qur'an.


Please feel free to point out the logical errors in the above reasoning.

33 comments:

  1. Your argument is unnecessarily too philosophical to solve this matter (warts and all). Basically you could argue that the previously noted Christian god is all capable to the extent of self defined purpose but is never properly recorded to be all knowing beyond purpose as creator (and operator as such). This new variety of god is modern, illusive, evasive and ultimately not present beyond immaterial awareness and connection. In essence having changed so dramatically to avoid peoples opinion is either giving excessive room as a God or has since been proven false by the extension of the tale. Either way the relevance has become equidistant to alternate beliefs and non-beliefs.

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  2. If I've understood StubbornVN correctly, his/her argument is that a creator god only needs to create but need not have inerrant omniscience. It would be no more in control of the Universe than is a scientist who sets up an experiment in a flask and them merely observes the results. It can be surprised at events.

    This may or may not be so, but what my blog deals with is the idea of inerrant omniscience, not the various ideas of motive or methodology of a supposed creator. Refuting the idea of a creator is an entirely different argument, and one which may be the subject of a blog a some point in the future.

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  3. "In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for the support of such views". (Albert Einstein).

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  4. I'll assume Max Tasker again failed to address the arguments because he knew you couldn't.

    The less charitble view is, of course, that he didn't follow the logic well enough to attempt to refute it.

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  5. Rosa, you are not accurate in some areas here. God did in fact change His mind on several occasions in the Bible when asked to by man.

    God's knowledge of the future does not influence free choice. Being outside time, He just knows what choices we will make.

    Paul speaks in a very real sense about predestination. God knows who will decide to follow Him, and may influence things accordingly.

    So, He knows right now whether you will ever convert to Christianity (...although I'm not going to hold my breath:)

    And our and other engagements may have been His means of bringing it about!!

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  6. I thought I had dealt with the idea that God simply knows our range of cloices, but try this simple test:

    If God knows you will take a holiday in Spain next year but you go to Italy instead, is God still inerrant?

    Or, if God IS inerrant and knew you would go to Italy all along, in what sense did you have free will? Of course you had none otherwise God would not be inerrant.

    Sorry, but there is no way an inerrent omniscient god and free will can exist in the same universe.

    Now, although not part of this blog, let's look at your beliefe that God knows in advance what will happen to you. In that case he also knows if you're going to Hell and has known it since before he created you.

    Why then did he create you knowing what would happen to you and how does that differ in morality from the man who breeds kittens with the intention giving them to a neighbour whom he knows will pour petrol over them and set them on fire?

    Of course the kittens will only suffer for a short while and not for eternity, but would you look to this man for moral guidance, sing songs in his praise and tell your children to follow his example?

    Or would you tell the authorities and put a stop his and his neighbour's sadistic ways?

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  7. I thought that mere humans couldn't know the mind of God, unless UR preaching to atheist. Circular reasoning (the bible proves itself)and logical fallacies (esp. appeal to authority)are the central tenets of faith. "R" great blog.

    Kriss

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  8. Having pondered upon these issues, and also having read arguments on these lines, I could largely predict the whole argument, yet you articulated your thoughts with great clarity.

    Of course, your argument is quite water tight - if one were to be honest about it. :)

    While, this might amount to digression, I agree with StubbornVN that with much greater logical scrutiny, modern God has become quite a caricature of the original, more like a deist God.

    What are your thoughts on incompatibility between determinism & free will?

    If you might want to read, I've very at amateur level discussed these ideas here (click) & here (click). In both cases, significant portion of discussion also spills over into the comments.

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  9. I like how MrDeity.com explains this away. God has omniscience, but "turns it off" because he finds it annoying. So long as he has it turned off, he's free to do what he wants and so is humanity. God also receives endless prayers sent to his email inbox and after scanning a couple just mass deletes them unanswered as if they were spam.

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  10. Hi Rosa, great blog. I am having trouble reconciling the Christian god's knowledge of events (inerrant omniscience) being incompatible with free will.

    How specifically does knowledge of these events interfere with choices on where to go on holiday? I think I understand your point, how can god "know" without being in error and if god knows, how is it free will? I'm missing the ah-ha! moment here.

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  11. How can you choose something God doesn't know you'll choose (and has always known you will choose) and God still be inerrant? If God is inerrant, you have no choice but to choose what he's always known you'll choose.

    How is that the excercise of free will.

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  12. 73custom. But the greater point here is how can GOD choose to do something he hasn't always known he'll choose to do, and still be inerrant?

    Clearly he can't, so, in effect, God has no free will either and is powerless to intervene in the universe if he is indeed omnisciently inerrant.

    Omnipotents and omniscient inerrants are mutually exclusive and logically impossible because a god who isn't omniscient and inerrant cannot be omnipotent, yet an omnisciently inerrant god cannot be omnipotent.

    QED.

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  13. The logical fallacy that you're repeating is assuming that foreknowledge and omniscience are in conflict with free will. Just because someone knows the decision you make before you make it does not negate your choice. Since Yahweh knows all from beginning to end, Yahweh has woven a tapestry of time that has integrated the choices you'd make with everything else that is going on, but ultimately, each person is responsible for the choice they made.

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    1. if you really believe in an omniscient god then there is no free will, you have the illusion of free will by being ignorant of your future but by god point of view he knows exactly everything that will happens all the time. there cant be any free will if everything is already set in stone. and there cant be omniscience if things have room for change.

      ofcourse you could argue that good is not such an extreme and that coulde be any variation of knowledge and power making god less perfect, but if you really want to take into account an omniscient being then everything Rosa said here applies and such a god would be indistinguishable from no god at all.

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  14. Fabia
    >The logical fallacy that you're repeating is assuming that foreknowledge and omniscience are in conflict with free will. <

    I'm not assuming that at all. I've clearly shown why they are mutually exclusive.

    >Just because someone knows the decision you make before you make it does not negate your choice. <

    Indeed, but if they are wrong then clearly they are not inerrant.

    >Since Yahweh knows all from beginning to end, Yahweh has woven a tapestry of time that has integrated the choices you'd make with everything else that is going on, but ultimately, each person is responsible for the choice they made. <

    So if you chose to do something different he is not inerrant. If you have no choice you have no free will.

    Sorry, but you have not addressed the logic of my argument. Rather you have simply stated what you would like to be the case with no regard to whether that logically CAN be the case.

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  15. let's try again... Foreknowledge of a decision has no bearings on the person making the decision.

    -I'm not assuming that at all. I've clearly shown why they are mutually exclusive.

    I see know where that you've proven these items to be mutually exclusive

    -Indeed, but if they are wrong then clearly they are not inerrant.

    Yahweh cannot be wrong, since Yahweh knows the final decision, not just what the person is considering to do.

    -So if you chose to do something different he is not inerrant. If you have no choice you have no free will.

    You have a choice, and Yahweh knows what you will choose in the end, so while you're making a choice, Yahweh foreknows.

    To validate you assertion that Yahweh can be wrong would have to assume that Yahweh doesn't actually know in advance the final decision, which contradicts the meaning of omniscience. You've built your logic on a straw man, that would require parallel universes or alternate realities, which would still yet assume that God wouldn't not be aware of all final decisions and occurrences.

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  16. > Foreknowledge of a decision has no bearings on the person making the decision.<

    It has if you are seeking to establish the persons inerrancy and/or omniscience. Clearly, if they are wrong about your decision, they can not be inerrant and could not have been omniscient.

    >I see know where that you've proven these items to be mutually exclusive<

    Then you need to think a little harder. If you CAN surprise God then he is not inerrant or omniscient. If you can't then his prior knowledge of your decision precludes a different one if he is to remain inerrant.

    >Yahweh cannot be wrong, <

    That's probably where you're going wrong.

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  17. Me thinks Fabian missed the point.

    Nice blog post.

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  19. I think the monotheists could get out of this predicament if they just said that god (it) sacrificed its omniscience in favour of free will. Maybe the next profit will avoid that mistake.

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  20. “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” – In a letter to an atheist (1954), as quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1981), edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman.

    For the fools who still to this day try to make it look like Einstein believed in God. Shame on you.

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  21. I think God should stop trying to figure out what I'm going to have for breakfast tomorrow. It makes Him look petty and I don't want anyone to know such classified information.

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  22. RR, I think you can make it harder for theists to object by posing the question "if god told you that you were going to do X, could you choose to do Y. If not, how does god not telling you have any effect? If so, then god is not inerrant.

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  23. You say 'either you have free will or God is inerrantly omniscient'. But free will is an illusion. The laws of physics and causality govern everything that has happened since the Big Bang and everything that will happen in the future. Therefore the future is determined. Therefore we have no free choice. To put it another way, we and the choices we make are programmed by our nature and our nurture. What I choose to eat for breakfast tomorrow will be whatever that programme determines I should eat at the time. If I choose to eat iron filings just to show I have free will, that is because at that point in time I will have been programmed to prove to you that I have free will by eating iron filings! I could of course decide to toss a coin to choose, but the way the coin lands is also pre-determined by physics - and choosing randomly is not what we consider to be free will. You are right that free will is incompatible with an inerrant God, but since free will is an illusion, the Universe could have been created by a God who is inerrant. The objection to that would then be that a God who created us without free will could not then justly punish us for behaving exactly how he had programmed us to behave and how he knew we'd behave. But if God did not create us, that leaves us free to punish each other for such behaviour - in doing so, we effectively help programme others to behave well.

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    1. You have forgotten chaos theory.

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    2. The relevance of which is....? As I understand it, chaos theory says that the future is determined, but that we cannot predict it (because even the tiniest change in starting conditions soon makes massive changes). I'm not sure how chaos can mean we can have free will - if our thoughts were chaotic, we would not really know what we were willing!

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    3. Er... no.

      Chaos theory means just the opposite. Given the random nature of quantum events we can't possibly know the future. In fact, the multiverse theory says we don't even know which future we are in until we interact with it.

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    4. That sounds more like the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle, but what do I know? Either way, the fact that we can't possibly know the future does not preclude it from being determined, at least at the macro level. And it doesn't help free will in any event.

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  24. Let's take the view that the future hasn't happened yet (i.e., at any given time, the future doesn't exist). With that in mind, an all-knowing god can know the past and present, but there's no onus on him to know the future, just as he does not know the weight of the number 7 (i.e. it doesn't exist, so clearly not knowing it isn't a shortcoming).
    Now that god knows all that is or was, does your argument stand up?

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    1. So an omniscient god who is constantly surprised by events, and only knows what's happened? Not so much omniscient as just well-informed, yet incapable of working out how cause and effect are related. What use would that be as a god?

      Where does that leave the art of prophesying?

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  25. I can destroy this post so many ways. :)

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    1. Will it take long or are readers be treated to another lot of excuses and empty boasting instead?

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  26. well this is perfect ,but check this out what if God is the reason why all we know as omniscient,freewill ,and all knowledge exists ? well as a christian humanist what i think to be true would be a God must exist for you to talk about non-belief in it ,otherwise how do you disbelieve what doesn't exist ?
    From this blog i don't think any christian/Jew/Muslim can find a way around this this argument .
    nice piece of real intellectual work .

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