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Could An Omnipotent Being Prove It?

October 4th, 2010 · 54 Comments

Ned Resnikoff ponders the question. It seems to me that the answer is clearly “no,” but for a reason Ned doesn’t actually offer: It would require a good deal less than omnipotence to make a human perceptual system experience any demonstration of omnipotence you might care to suggest. So we might imagine God zipping you back to the dawn of creation so you can watch him summon all the galaxies into existence, then mold the earth and breathe life into the first humans, and so on. The trouble is that if you’re aiming for parsimony, the simpler explanation will almost certainly be that you’ve encountered a being capable of simulating all these experiences to your primate nervous system. That is, of course, a hell of a trick—a being who can do that is certainly pretty potent!—but still pretty far short of complete mastery over all space, time, and matter. Even assuming that problem away, the tests would be limited to those feats observable by (and comprehensible to) humans. Maybe God’s almost omnipotent little brother can do just about anything, but could never get the hang of performing a 12th-dimensional loop-de-loop with whoozits sprinkles, which isn’t even on our mental menu of stuff-a-really-awesome-entity-could-do.

Ned ends with this thought:

So perhaps the only way to directly experience the existence of an omnipotent God is to be that God.

Actually, this strikes me as posing some parallel epistemic problems—as illustrated, by the by, in a delightful bit of short fiction from Robert Nozick.  Suppose you’re God: How can you be sure you’re omnipotent? Perhaps you can accomplish anything you can imagine in your own corner of reality—a lucid dreamer can say that much—but there’s some greater reality you’re not even aware of in which, like the dreamer wakened, you’d have no such power. Or maybe even within reality as you know it, there are gaps in your power you aren’t aware of because you can’t even think of the relevant tests. The obvious response is that you’d know all these things because you’re omniscient—but of course, the same problem arises. How do you know you’re really omniscient? At most, there might not be any questions you’re aware of being unable to answer—but that’s hardly the same thing. The subjective feeling of omniscience might in fact be a symptom of a profound ignorance—being unaware even of the existence of those domains of knowledge you lack. How, for that matter, do you know the answers are right? This is a particularly thorny problem when combined with omnipotence: If reality is whatever you decide it is, does it even make sense to speak of true or false beliefs? Beliefs, after all, are supposed to be true or false of an independent reality.

I am not, of course, a believer, but if I were, I’d prefer to imagine a deity occasionally plagued by these thoughts—an agnostic God who sometimes doubts Himself.

Tags: General Philosophy · Religion



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