Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Against Omniscience

Omnipotence is a easy enough logical concept to destroy, because one cannot be all-powerful if one cannot do things that are logically impossible. The question is usually phrased along the lines of "Can God create a rock so heavy he cannot lift it?" The point of the argument is that either way it demonstrates that omnipotence is a property that cannot exist - it is logically incoherent.

But what of omniscience? It is often said that God is all-knowing. Can such a concept as being all-knowing have a similar logical contradiction at the heart of it? I'd argue that it does. The argument goes as follows:
Suppose a being can hold all the knowledge about everything. But to hold knowledge about everything creates a new fact, that there is a set of knowledge that contains everything. And that in itself creates a new fact, that there is a set of knowledge that contains the set of knowledge that contains everything. And so on. So no matter how one wants to encompass all the facts, doing so creates new facts. Thus absolute knowledge can never be reached. Thus omniscience is impossible. Q.E.D.


From this we should be able to reject the possibility of any being claimed to be omniscient a priori.

3 comments:

Richard T said...

Perhaps the terms are they stand may not be possible but that doesn't really rule out a being that is for all intents and purposes one or both of them. However, I don't think that answer really matters much.

For omniscience, surely your argument would not work with an infinite being? If a being has infinite capacity to store knowledge then surely a little infinite loop is not particularly troublesome to an infinite being. :D

I think the problem with both arguments is that it really does nothing to disprove at least the Christian God. It states outright in the bible in many places that God is limited in what He can do. So I think at most, it is a good argument to prove that understanding what a god is may be tough.

Having a look around, even trying to find a strict definition of either terms is hard.

Andrew said...

I'm not sure.

I mean, a similar series of sets, each containing all the previous ones, is a fairly common way of defining the natural numbers (sometimes including zero). It's perfectly possible to understand the entire process completely, and therefore know that the whole infinite series exists, without thinking through every iteration.

All our hypothetical omniscient being has to do is spot the pattern.

Kel said...

@Richard
Honestly I think both arguments put some limitations on particular conceptions. With the omniscience paradox, all one has to say is that logic is unchanging and external to the quality of being all-powerful and the trait can still remain. It's more refining a definition than leading to an outright rejection.

@Andrew
If the hypothetical omniscient being spots the pattern, then that creates a new fact which needs recognition of a new pattern, which in turn creates a new fact... I think you see the pattern here - which funnily enough creates a new level of recognition ;)