Problems With Pruss’ Argument For An Omniscient Being

By R.N. Carmona

What follows is Alexander Pruss’ Argument For An Omniscient Being. While he does not exactly give his argument a ringing endorsement, admitting that he is skeptical of the first two premises, there are other problems that elude him and any theist who believes that omniscience is possible. Pruss formulates the argument as follows:

1. The analytic/synthetic distinction between truths is the same as the a priori / a posteriori distinction.

2. The analytic/synthetic distinction between truths makes sense.

3. If 1 and 2, then every truth is knowable.

4. So, every truth is knowable. (1–3)

5. If every truth is knowable, then every truth is known.

6. So, every truth is known. (4–5)

7. If every truth is known, there is an omniscient being.

8. So, there is an omniscient being. (6–7)

Pruss, Alexander. “An odd argument for an omniscient being”. Alexander Pruss Blog. 2 Nov 2020. Web.

In my new book “The Definitive Case Against Christianity: Life After The Death Of God,” I state the following:

God’s belief in propositions has to change in accordance with migrating facts. While it is true that the Sun is currently one astronomical unit away, that will not always be the case. At every moment when the Sun begins to expand during its Red Giant phase, the distance between the Earth and the Sun will gradually decrease until the Sun ultimately ends all life on our planet, if not disintegrating it entirely. At each moment, it will be incumbent on God to update his knowledge by changing his prior beliefs concerning the distance between these two bodies. It is prerequisite for facts to be fixed in order for God to be immutable. Since facts are not fixed, his beliefs and corresponding propositions about any given state of affairs have to change — otherwise he fails to be omniscient. (193)

A Christian might assert that there is a simple solution to the issue I have raised: God is also omnipresent. The issue with this objection is that God’s perspectives would be in direct contradiction with one another and so, from the perspective of other sentient beings, he would regard two logically contradictory propositions as true. From our perspective, he would believe in a truth and a lie, namely that from Earth, there is a supernova two million lightyears away, but in Andromeda, there is no longer a supernova to speak of. In other words, since the light from this event took two million years to reach humans on Earth, humans are just now learning of this supernova in Andromeda whereas an intelligent species on a planet relatively near to the event in Andromeda would report no supernova at that location. Perhaps it happened long before they emerged or before they were advanced enough to observe, record, and describe such an event. The fact remains that their present does not feature this supernova event while ours does.

Another fun example from theoretical physics involves watching someone falling into a black hole. The following is a summary of the relativistic experiences the observer and the faller would have:

1. The light coming from the person gets redshifted; they’ll start to take on a redder hue and then, eventually, will require infrared, microwave, and then radio “vision” to see.

2. The speed at which they appear to fall in will get asymptotically slow; they will appear to fall in towards the event horizon at a slower and slower speed, never quite reaching it.

3. The amount of light coming from them gets less and less. In addition to getting redder, they also will appear dimmer, even if they emit their own source of light!

4. The person falling in notices no difference in how time passes or how light appears to them. They would continue to fall in to the black hole and cross the event horizon as though nothing happened.

“Falling Into a Black Hole Sucks!”. ScienceBlogs. 20 Nov 2009. Web.

God’s omnipresence, therefore, fails to solve the issue because in order for him to have all possible perspectives, he would have to hold contradictory propositions on pretty much any and all events in our universe. He would have our perspective in the Milky Way as well as the point of view of the Andromeda galaxy’s civilization. He would also have the perspectives of the observer and the faller in our black hole example. The glaring issue is that he would have these perspectives at the same time and in the same respect, thus resulting in contradictions. Perhaps one can still find a way to try and circumvent these issues.

Given the idea that a day is as a thousand years and vice versa for God (2 Peter 3:8), if he, for sake of argument, experiences time-laden events in God-days (equivalent to one human millennium) or even all at once, God would make entirely different claims from the ones we believe to be knowable. In other words, while we are discussing here and now, before and after, duration, and the such, God would state something like the following: “all of the people, places, events, etc. that existed from the first century through the tenth century CE existed simultaneously.” For us, this is unlike propositions we believe are knowable, indeed nonsensical. God, therefore, being a timeless being cannot know anything about time-laden truths. It would be incumbent on him to not be timeless, but then, he is immediately confronted with the relativity of experience in the physical universe.

More importantly, 5 is debatable despite Fitch’s Knowability Paradox. Pruss states: “The argument for 5 is the famous knowability paradox: If p is an unknown truth, then that p is an unknown truth is a truth that cannot be known (for if someone know that p is an unknown truth, then they would thereby know that p is a truth, and then it wouldn’t be an unknown truth, and no one can’t know what isn’t so)” (Ibid.). The tendency, however, to leap from the possibility of knowing every truth to someone knowing every truth is dubious. It is similar to the leap rooted in Anselm: conceivability implies possibility. Worse still is that Pruss leaps from possibility to actuality. One should not draw ontological conclusions on the basis of logical considerations.

Pruss would appreciate an example from mathematics, namely that mathematicians work with infinity in their equations and even think of it as a real, tangible object in the universe. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a physical correlate to infinity. Pradeep Mutalik, writing for Quanta Magazine, explains:

While “most physicists and mathematicians have become so enamored with infinity that they rarely question it,” Tegmark writes, infinity is just “an extremely convenient approximation for which we haven’t discovered convenient alternatives.” Tegmark believes that we need to discover the infinity-free equations describing the true laws of physics.

Mutalik, Pradeep. “The Infinity Puzzle”. Quanta Magazine. 16 Jun 2016. Web.

With this in mind, one can see that though mathematicians logically consider and defend the concept of infinity, one should proceed with caution in terms of stipulating that reality features anything like this concept. It follows then, that just because all truths are potentially knowable, there does not already exist a being that knows all things. Aside from the problem resulting from the relativity of truth, stemming from the relativity of space-time especially as one approaches the speed of light, there is this unjustified assumption that possibility implies actuality. In the main, possibility does not necessarily entail probability, the latter of which having to be established before concluding that something exists. Given these brief objections, one should maintain that there is no omniscient being.

Ultimately, a lot more can be said. All humans can really say about knowledge is what they experience with respect to acquiring it. As such, we would be wise to recall that we acquire knowledge first by way of awareness and conscious focus on what it is we are inquiring about. A truly omniscient being, which would be difficult to distinguish from a being who knows all things except how to play billiards or count to infinity (the conclusion of my Argument From Vagueness (see The Definitive Case Against Christianity, 194), would first and foremost have to be perfectly aware and focused for all of eternity. If this being loses focus at any point, myriad truths would have changed, progressing toward inevitable obsolescence, and new truths, that are not all related to the old truths, would have emerged. This being would therefore, have lost its claim to omniscience. This is setting aside that humans can apprehend truths intuitively, without having dedicated concentrated inquiry into a matter. Other sentient beings could have this capacity as well. In any case, the likelihood that an omniscient being exists is practically zero.

5 comments

      • R.N. Carmona

        Thank you for providing this link. I have taken a cursory look at the paper; I will look at it in more detail over the weekend. It will be included in a post I will at least start on this weekend. But if you were anticipating that I’d have issues, I do. His dependence on logical monism is an issue. Logical atomism is more cogent. The other issue, and though not wrong, as I will talk about, is his conflation of naturalism and atheism. Put simply, that atheism, where consistent, results in naturalism is a position imposed on atheists. However, not all disproofs of naturalism are disproofs of atheism. Theists already assume the supernatural, but overlook the paranormal. So, in short, it is possible that gods do not exist but ghosts do. Other possibilities will be explored as well. A lot of his reasoning ends up being non-sequitur. My post will definitely be more detailed as I have been starting to confront neo-Aristotelians. I see Weaver in the same vein as them and will thus, kill two birds with one stone as they say.

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