Monday, July 27, 2009

Could God coin a word so self-contradictory, even He couldn't define it?

My wife is most definitely an apatheist, so she had a bit of an issue with the quote from Joel Grus in the previous post. Her take is that, since it would be morally repugnant to acquiesce to an individual that bore even a passing resemblance to the Old Testament God, the appropriate response to evidence of eternal damnation would be to live one's life as if it didn't exist, a sort of epic existential thumbing-of-the-nose at this hypothetical supreme being.

I agree on the moral repugnance of obedience-under-threat, but in my opinion, if there were enough evidence to make the existence of a Hell-threatening God the simplest explanation, it would be incumbent upon humanity to do whatever we could to oppose said deity. We're getting a bit sci-fi now, but you get my point.

"Okay," says my wife, "but what if the god were omnipotent?"

I can't really answer this question because I don't think the idea of omnipotence is even self-consistent. It is a semantic trick, not an actual definable concept.

The classic question is, "Could God create a stone so large even He couldn't lift it?" (Or, if you prefer the wisdom of the Simpsons, "Could God microwave a burrito so hot even He couldn't eat it?") Omnipotence by its very nature is self-contradictory. This hypothetical omnipotent being cannot have powers that contradict its other powers... and since the examples above show that some conceivable powers clearly contradict each other, it doesn't make sense to say that a being has all conceivable powers.

If this image was a broken link, what color would the Unicorn be?
I think it goes beyond this, though. When we say that "God can do anything," what do we even mean by that? It is like saying, "The Invisible Pink Unicorn is all colors at once." It sounds poetic, but the sentence is ultimately devoid of content.

Omnipresence is similarly meaningless. Omniscience is at least a definable concept, but it is also inherently impossible because of Gödel's incompleteness theorems1, which roughly state that no system can ever fully describe itself. In other words, you could hypothetically have a near-omniscient being, but there would have to be some aspects of itself that remained unknown to it. This makes good intuitive sense, as well, because you get an infinite regress -- the mechanism that allows the hypothetical omniscient being to know that last teensy bit about itself must also be known to it, and the mechanism for knowing the mechanism must also be known, so on ad infinitum.

So I don't think we need to answer the question of, "Would you live your life any differently if there is an omnipotent being who" yada-yada-yada... the question is not fully parseable. However, we can answer the question, "Would you live your life any differently if there really was a magic sky daddy
If this guy could walk on water and raise the dead, wouldn't he still be a fucking douchebag?
who held all sorts of bigoted opinions about women and homosexuals and people who aren't sufficiently gullible?" And the answer, for me, is a resounding YES, because then I would be rather keen to either a) convince the magic sky daddy not to be such a dick, or b) figure out some way of stopping the magic sky daddy from doing his dirty deeds.

I suppose the answer would be the same as, "What would you do if you lived under a repressive totalitarian government?" I can't say for sure that in all situations I would have the bravery to stand up and oppose injustice, but I'd like to think I would. Whether the repressive government is run by a bunch of humans or by an angry deity in the sky, I don't see as how it would make that much of a difference in our response.

1Thanks to reader eduardopadoan for reminding me of the name of this concept.



  2. Gödel's incompleteness theorem is only applicable in this time-space.

    It is not impossible with a Omniscient Creator.
    It is easy to prove the existence of an Intelligent and Perfect Creator - read here: (left menu)

    Anders Branderud

  3. I think you might accidentally be partially correct about my rough layperson's invocation of Godel's theorems.. I was poking around on the Wikipedia page (yes, yes, I know, but Wikipedia is pretty good for math stuff) and I think the problems to which Godel's theorems apply may be sufficiently constrained that it would not literally apply to the idea of omniscience.

    Of course, your specific objection is hypocritical. If Godel's incompleteness theorem is only applicable "in this time-space", then how come you think your logic about the necessity of a First Cause is applicable in all time-spaces?

    Regarding the rest your "proof", I took a look at it, and there are multiple flaws. I have described them here.