Saturday, November 10, 2007

Divine Delusion

Pastor Gene Cook has a webcast program [which is, basically, a radio program that is aired, not by radio waves, but by streaming over the internet] which I commend to everyone. Every Wendsday he has a program where he will either have an atheistic guest, or he will invite atheists to call in to the program.

This week he had a regular atheistic listener to the program by the name of "Master Zap" who called in to talk about atheism with Gene, and it was ugly. Master Zap had absolutly no answer for the problems that Gene brought up. Then, he brought out his new "Divine Delusion" argument. The argument goes something like this:

1. It is possible that, in another world, there might be a God who thinks that he is omnicient, and is actually not omnicient.
2. Because of this, God would have no way of knowing that this is not his nature.
3. Therefore, God cannot know that he is omnicient.

The problem with this argument is that premise 2 is not necessarily true. We just simply need to add two premises:

1. It is possible that, in another world, there might be a God who thinks that he is omnicient, and is actually not omnicient.
2'. God would not be able to know that this is not his nature, unless he knew that he could not be deluded.
2''. God knows that he cannot be deluded.
3. Therefore, it is possible for God to know that he is omnicient.

Therefore, the only way that this argument works is if you have an impotent God who can be deluded. However, we do not serve such a God. We serve the king of kings and the Lord of Lords who is incapible of being deceived, and knows this, and all things.

However, a very appealing answer that I think is very insightful was given on the Narrow Mind Aftermath blog recently by someone named "Dominic Bnonn Tennant." I want to repost it here, because I think it also forces us to consider the difference between the nature of God's knowledge and the nature of our knowledge:

Master Zap, it is strange that other Christians here have not noticed this, but your argument is not directed toward the Christian God at all. It seems to treat God as some kind of passive entity who merely "comes by" knowledge in the same way we think of ourselves as coming by it. But since God is all in all, and knowledge is an intrinsic part of his being (that is to say, he is knowledge, in the same sense that he is love), there is no possibility of a God B being isomorphic with him. God's nature as uncontingent and necessary precludes anything being isomorphic with him. If your God B existed, in the Christian worldview, he would be a creation of God A. I think you would have to present a fairly good argument that a created, finite being which gains knowledge from God could think it was uncreated, infinite, and had knowledge intrinsic in itself, before anyone would really take you seriously. And such an argument would appear irrelevant anyway given that you have lost isomorphism.

On the other hand, if you claim that God B is also aseitic and has knowledge intrinsic in himself, then the set of knowledge represented in God A and the set of knowledge represented in God B would appear to have no overlap; there would be no unifying principle between them. If there were, they would both be God and there would be no difference between them. But what exactly do you achieve by postulating two independent Gods who both know everything there is to know within their own set of what constitutes knowledge? Assuming that such a view doesn't have profound philosophical problems which I don't immediately see (which is a big assumption), both Gods are genuinely omniscient, so omniscience does not appear to be falsified. Both also are genuinely independent of each other, such that neither God A, nor anything contingent upon God A, could know of God B or anything contingent upon God B; and vice versa. Ie, there are two separate knowledge domains, with no unifying principle between them. This doesn't appear to prove anything except that we can speculate. In terms of the Christian worldview it really means nothing.

Your argument is a cunning one, but ultimately it is a strawman because it ignores the qualitative difference between our knowledge and God's knowledge, in favor of focusing on the quantitative difference. You ignore metaphysics in the hope that you can show that epistemology cannot stand by itself. But obviously it can't, which is why atheists have such an impossible task trying to justify their own knowledge, in so many different ways. But you cannot shift your own epistemological shortcomings onto God—not, at least, without also implicitly shifting your metaphysical shortcomings onto him, which makes him not God at all.


I think Bnonn's response helps us to remember something that Greg Bahnsen always said, namely, that language about God is not exact, and not different. It is analogious. When we speak about God having knowledge, and us having knowledge, do we mean the exact same thing by that? I hope we don't. That means that God has been learning, and thus, changing in his nature. As he points out, God's knowledge is intrinsic to himself. By recognizing this distinction, we see that Master Zap has tried to hyjack Christian terminology and use it in a way that it was never meant to be used.

However, even Master Zap uses language in this way. Does he think that catching a cold, and catching a baseball are exactly the same thing? Does he think that hitting the road, and hitting a tennis ball are the same thing? Does he think that running the 5 miles is the same as running a computer? Yet, would he say that these things are entirely different? Is catching a cold totally different than catching a baseball? No. Is running 5 miles totally different from running a computer? No. So, while there are differences, there are also similarities as well. This is the case with all language. Language is analogious, and not precise. That is why Wittgenstein suggested that language is learned within different language games, and why it is that a person cannot just come along and try to critique any language game without first learning that language game.

1 comment:

Ted Slater said...

Sounds like "Master Zap" has been reading Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy.