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Saturday, December 08, 2018

On the knowledge of God, part II

This continues from the previous post on divine intelligence and is a selection from the same chapter of The Irrational Atheist.

Despite the evidence and the logic presented previously, the skeptical reader may well ask if there isn't at least some element of omniscience or even omniderigence implied in the assertion of God's omnipotence. How can an all-powerful god not know what is going on around him? And is it really conceivable to imagine an all-powerful being sitting idly by and refusing to intervene in the affairs of humanity as they unfold? The answer, surprisingly enough, is suggested by Daniel C. Dennett in one of his more technical books.

Gods of the Machine
First, there is the activity of our hacker Gods, who are free to cast their eyes and minds over huge manifolds of possible Life worlds, trying to figure out what will tend to work, what will be robust and what will be fragile. For the time being, we are supposing that they are truly God-like in their “miraculous” interactions with the Life world - they are not bound by the slow speed of glider­light; they can intervene, reaching in and tweaking the design of a creation whenever they like, stopping the Life world in mid-collision, undoing the harm and going back to the drawing board to create a new design.
- Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves

I am, as you may recall from the introduction, a game designer.1 Most of my experience has been with designing and producing computer games for the DOS/Windows platform, and I think it would be safe to say that the best adjective to describe my career would be “innovative” rather than “successful”. In 1996, following the release of id Software's Quake, my partner and I began designing our first true 3D game for GT Interactive. Our two previous games had been of the 2.5D first-person shooter variety, and although we managed to do some interesting and lucrative things with speech recognition technology and hardware bundling deals, we had not yet achieved the sort of market success or recognition within the game industry that we sought.

Youthful hubris, combined with a desire to surpass id's legendary pair of John Carmack and John Romero, led us to create a supremely ambitious design. Not only would we create our own 3D engine, but we would also create a multi-tiered artificial intelligence system that would allow for complete cooperation and two-way verbal interaction with AI-controlled squadmates fighting an opposition force made up of separate artificial intelligences in a three-dimensional, non-Euclidean world. The insane impracticality of this design can be seen in the way that ten years later, no electronic game has yet demonstrated even half of the technologies required to fully realize the concepts with which we were working. Nor are they likely to any time soon, as the success of Valve's Half-Life showed that gamers were perfectly happy playing through pre-programmed scripted scenarios, which requires neither sophisticated artificial intelligences nor complex synthetic speech systems.

The financial collapse of our publisher forced us to abandon this design, but not before we had managed to develop a significant chunk of both the TacAI, which governed individual activities such as ducking, dodging and laying down covering fire, as well as the StratAI, which made decisions about larger scale, goal-related matters such as what target its troops should be attacking first, when reinforcements should be summoned and when to fall back to a stronger position. Ironically, considering the topic of this book, we made use of a genetic programming approach in developing these artificial intelligences, a technique that makes use of evolutionary algorithms in an unnatural selection scheme favoring the survival of the optimally performing, or if you will, the fittest.

In this game world, the lead programmer, Big Chilly, reigned supreme. He was, precisely as Dennett describes the hacker gods of the Life world, quite literally omnipotent from the perspective of its denizens, able to create thunder, hurl lightning, shake the earth, create sickness or grant health according to his whim. He could perform miracles such as stopping time or even making time flow backwards, he could grant one character invulnerability while striking another dead in an instant. He was omniscient too, able to peek into an AI's “mind” to see what actions it intended as well as taking in the entire world at a glance. That which was unseen by the characters was not hidden from him, and he operated entirely outside their temporal references. Whereas they moved about in conventional time on a second-by-second basis, he had the ability to examine their movements in time-slices ranging from one-quarter to one-thirty-fifth of a second.

In short, Big Chilly was not only their creator, he was their God.

And while it would have been incredibly interesting had these artificial intelligences become self- aware and begun worshipping him, the project unfortunately came to an end before that could happen thanks to circumstances beyond our control. However, it didn't end before something of some relevance to the subject of this chapter took place.

Not long before our publisher, GT Interactive, went out of business, we were demonstrating the game to our executive producer and a few other GT employees. Big Chilly was playing through a POW rescue mission, a mission which he and others on the development team had played hundreds of times before throughout the course of playtesting. The mission involved one fireteam of AI troops making a diversionary attack on one side of the enemy base while the player led a second team around the other side to rescue the prisoners. Being the lead programmer, Big Chilly of course knew where all of the enemy troops were located because he was responsible for assigning their starting positions, and while the specific results of the scenario varied from one playing to another, the degree to which both friendly and enemy troop behavior varied from the norm was well-known.

During the demo, Big Chilly and the three AI-controlled members of his fireteam had successfully taken out both the wide patrol and the guards, and they were just beginning to lay the explosives to blow the door that held the prisoners captive when there was a sudden burst of bright laser fire that caused him to jump in his seat and emit a startled shriek loud enough to make everyone else in the room jump too. While his AI squadmates shot down the intruder before anyone's battlesuits took too much damage, what shocked Big Chilly was that for the first time in hundreds of playings and tens of thousands of simulations, an enemy AI had taken it upon itself to circle around behind the rescue force and attack it from an unexpected direction.

But how could this happen? How could a lowly artificial intelligence surprise a lead programmer who was demonstrably omniscient and omnipotent in the AI's world? How can the created do what the creator did not will? The answer, when viewed in this context, should be obvious.

Surprise was possible because the programmer was choosing not to exercise either his knowledge or his power at that particular point where real-time intersected game-time. While he could have easily provided that particular character with a scripted path and prevented the character from being able to depart from it, he had already elected not to do so. He could have constructed the character in such a way that its head would have exploded for the sin of attempted deicide, or even as punishment for the sin of merely daring to look upon him in all his pasty geek glory, but he did not do that either. And finally, while he could have been scanning that particular AI's “thought” processes and known what it intended to do in the very instant the intention was born, instead he refrained and so learned about its actions through entirely “natural” means.

If it is not difficult to accept that an omniscient and omnipotent programmer can reject omniderigence, why should it be hard to imagine that an all-powerful God might not choose to do the same? Even human lovers know that the lover cannot control the beloved, so it should not be difficult to believe that a loving God would permit His creatures to choose freely how they will live.

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39 Comments:

Blogger Rhys December 08, 2018 1:17 PM  

Temperance is a virtue, right? I would imagine your hypothesis to be complimentary to the concept of a virtuous God if that is the case.

Blogger Unknown December 08, 2018 1:18 PM  

Life is a like a roguelike MMO that not only has permadeath for your character, but your computer lights on fire when you die as well. Unless of course you found the Scrolls of Faith in which case you get infinite 1-ups.

Blogger Ominous Cowherd December 08, 2018 1:53 PM  

If the lead programmer could make time flow backwards, he could undo any surprises he allowed to happen to him. From the AIs' perspective, the lead programmer could never be surprised, because a successful surprise would be rewound and revised, as if he had known all along. Unless the lead programmer chose not to do that.

That has always been my understanding of God: He knows everything, past, present and future, because they are all now to Him, and He has unlimited opportunity to inspect everything in every time. His knowledge of the future affects His actions in the past, because for Him, past and future are one. He declares the end from the beginning, even though He had no idea what you would until you did it.

Time is how God keeps everything from happening at once. We need that limitation, but God does not. We probably have no way of knowing whether God ever rewinds and revises the time line along which we live.

Blogger James Dixon December 08, 2018 1:57 PM  

> Even human lovers know that the lover cannot control the beloved, so it should not be difficult to believe that a loving God would permit His creatures to choose freely how they will live.

For reasons that are probably beyond our comprehension, God values free will. It's the one gift he gave us which he absolutely refuses to take away. He wants us to choose him freely, or not at all. And he, however regretfully, honors that choice once we make it.

Blogger nbfdmd December 08, 2018 2:31 PM  

Does anyone else find it fascinating that the denizens of this universe seemingly have the ability to speak intelligently about the characteristics of a being outside the universe? It's like the metaphysical equivalent of Guass' Theorema Egregium.

Blogger Haxo Angmark December 08, 2018 2:49 PM  

all discussions of God are entirely fatuous.

it is not given to us to "know" the infinite.

Blogger The Cooler December 08, 2018 3:38 PM  

If God can will-away His omniscience and His omnipotence, how does he will them back? For to will them back presupposes at least the omnipotence He has willed-away.

Blogger Unknown December 08, 2018 3:50 PM  

The more passages I read from the New Atheists the more skeptical I become of their motivations. This flowing stream of diarrhea they spew can't seriously be their arguments against God's existence, can it? I think maybe they're just looking to cash in on the modern desire to not believe in God.

Dawkins, et al would be better off spending the time to take some remedial philosophy lessons and then actually doing the grind work necessary to understand Aquinas' arguments... rather than getting on BBC every week shilling his books. But I guess there's no money and fame in that.

Blogger Verne December 08, 2018 4:09 PM  

In that scenario any change God makes. he can’t know the results long-term until he decides To do it. The timeline does not exist Until created

Blogger VFM 4388 December 08, 2018 4:42 PM  

@6 all discussions of God are entirely fatuous.

it is not given to us to "know" the infinite.


That assertion contradicts itself as it qualifies both as discussion of God and a claim to specific knowledge of the infinite.

Blogger Arthur Isaac December 08, 2018 5:00 PM  

Paul says in Romans that the reason that God made His creation subject to vanity was to create sons. There is a mystery in how He does this that is beyond us, we can create computers (and so could He) what I cannot grasp even when it is pointed to me is the correlation between suffering and sonship.

The feeling atheist never moves beyond their inability to grasp the necessities of suffering and many prefer to accuse and demand apologies from the Creator as if He were a hated guest speaker on the campus of UC Berkeley. Nothing more than emotional rantings of the selfishly deranged.

Blogger Kallmunz December 08, 2018 5:07 PM  

"I will remember your sins no more." God often chooses to limit His power. Jesus could have called 10,000 angels to rescue him form the cross but chose not to. Could God destroy Satan and all his hordes? Of course, but He chooses not to. It is a mystery whose depths we simply can not fathom through this glass darkly.

Blogger nbfdmd December 08, 2018 5:24 PM  

God snapping his fingers and destroying all evil would be like the writer of a book just writing "and they lived happily ever after" on the first page. The struggle between good and evil in the context of humans having free will is the whole point of existence.

Blogger Steve Samson December 08, 2018 5:30 PM  

No theologian you, but I for one am really enjoying these posts along with the recent discussions in the darkstreams. Thank you Vox.

Blogger Didas Kalos December 08, 2018 5:38 PM  

If you can think and know God, then he is some other being, but not the God of the Bible. He reveals himself to mankind. Through his Word and by his Spirit, the Author of the Word. To say God is limited (other than a law he gives, such as his Word says) borders on blasphemy. It is a philosophy of men, but not the Truth!

Blogger son of a preacher man December 08, 2018 5:41 PM  

Would not a limitless being by definition have the ability to limit himself?

Blogger lowercaseb December 08, 2018 5:43 PM  

Uncle Screwtape addressed that: "We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons"

Blogger Rhys December 08, 2018 5:45 PM  

nbfdmd wrote:God snapping his fingers and destroying all evil would be like the writer of a book just writing "and they lived happily ever after" on the first page. The struggle between good and evil in the context of humans having free will is the whole point of existence.

I totally agree. I was talking to my brother about this and I mentioned, as great is it would for evil to simply not exist, is there anything sweeter than evil getting within inches of destroying the world before being beaten back and destroyed for good?

Blogger Didas Kalos December 08, 2018 6:23 PM  

@16 Preacher's son. An absurd question. He's both limited and limitless in your question. Can light be darkness? Can darkness be light? 1 John 1:5.
We can't even begin to comprehend the number of stars. Yet, Psalm 147:4 He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.

Blogger The Cooler December 08, 2018 6:30 PM  

Would not a limitless being by definition have the ability to limit himself?

Were He limiting his omnipotence He would only be able to do so once. Otherwise, He was omnipotent all along as would be demonstrated by His willing-back of omnipotence, therefore never having limited His omnipotence in the first place. Ergo, God either cannot limit His own omnipotence; or, knows He can but once and wills not to, i.e. does not.

*farts*




Blogger Jeroth December 08, 2018 6:52 PM  

Off topic, but is there a reason Milo took the Jordanetics forward off his site? I wanted to link someone to it, but it's gone.

Blogger Lazarus December 08, 2018 7:19 PM  

Poor little Gook bastard. Should have gotten a medal.

Blogger son of a preacher man December 08, 2018 7:23 PM  

God limiting his power is not the same thing as turning off his power.

Blogger Lazarus December 08, 2018 7:27 PM  

son of a preacher man wrote:God limiting his power is not the same thing as turning off his power.



In order for anything to exist besides God, God has to withdraw from the amount of space necessary to allow creation to exist.

Blogger Brick Hardslab December 08, 2018 7:33 PM  

You have an interesting take on the almighty. One I have never seen elsewhere. Would you be willing to opine on revelations? The churches addressed don't really exist as they did, how does it apply to non Asian churches?

Blogger Amy K. December 08, 2018 9:46 PM  

nbfdmd: God snapping his fingers and destroying all evil would be like the writer of a book just writing "and they lived happily ever after" on the first page. The struggle between good and evil in the context of humans having free will is the whole point of existence.

Partly, yes. Not the point of all existence, but the point of this period of time that the question of God's sovereignty is under trial. The devil rebelled, and instead of snapping his fingers and wiping him out of existence immediately, he allowed his creatures to ask the question, 'who has the right to rule?'

In Proverbs 27:11, he asks us to be wise and make his heart glad so he can make an answer to the ones reproaching him. He allowed Satan to test Job. Essentially, this has been God giving us a fair chance at proving our right and ability for self-rule.

But eventually, the trial will come to an end. Zechariah 3:8, 9 says

Therefore wait for me, says the Lord,
for the day when I arise as a witness.
For my decision is to gather nations,
to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
all the heat of my anger;
for in the fire of my passion
all the earth shall be consumed.

9 At that time I will change the speech of the peoples
to a pure speech,
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
and serve him with one accord.

Blogger Amy K. December 08, 2018 9:54 PM  

That should have been Zephaniah obviously.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine December 09, 2018 1:28 AM  

What is self discipline but self-imposed limitation? That a limit could potentially be broken does not mean it is insignificant or fake. Even that a limit will be removed eventually does not mean that it does not currently exist, or that it cannot be replaced at some point after removal.

The human means of conceiving of "outside of time" is to assume that no time exists there: timelessness. This is the opposite of what is actually implied. Time is itself a limitation, and one that the Son of God himself subjected himself to before later removing that very real limitation.

Blogger The Cooler December 09, 2018 6:43 AM  

God limiting his power is not the same thing as turning off his power.

Said differently, a limitation of potentiality is not the same as an absence of actuality.

Blogger Roger Hill December 09, 2018 6:53 AM  

G.K. Chesterton described the ordinary, sane man as one willing to accept paradoxical truths. From Orthodoxy:
"Thus, he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus, he believes that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.”

Blogger The Cooler December 09, 2018 6:56 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger The Cooler December 09, 2018 6:58 AM  

a limitation of potentiality is not the same as an absence of actuality.

But this begs the question: Can the Almighty engage in limitless limitation? I would think not, else we are brought back to an ON/OFF proposition.

Perhaps omnipotence is a necessary condition of... omnipotence?

Blogger Roger Hill December 09, 2018 7:06 AM  

Vox, you have a real knack for explaining complex ideas in a way ordinary intelligence can grasp. And as a man of ordinary intelligence, I am grateful. "The Irrational Atheist" has been a go-to book for me for years. It has aided me in responding to not only atheist friends, but some Christians as well.

Blogger Avalanche December 09, 2018 8:26 AM  

OT? (or not?) This guy seems weird (or I'm still paranoid -- or aware?); he seems to be pushing the Jewish roots of everything Christian/Catholic?

From his book: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary

... One of the most unique chapters in the book highlights the parallels between Mary in the New Testament and Rachel in Jewish tradition.

In the Jewish Scriptures, Rachel is described as the sorrowful mother of Israel, "weeping for her children" (Jeremiah 31:15). In later Jewish tradition, it was believed that Rachel continued to pray for her children even after her death, acting as a powerful intercessor with God, especially for those who are suffering.

As several contemporary Jewish scholars have pointed out, the Gospels depict Mary as a kind of New Rachel — a mother who shares the sufferings of her people. If this is right, then it follows that Mary mourns with and prays for the Jewish people, who are her people.

As a Jewish woman, Mary can be a bridge between Christians and Jews today. Especially since Catholics refer to Mary as the Mother of Sorrows (Latin
Mater Dolorosa), we can beg for her intercession in a special way for sufferings of the Jewish people and for an end to the scourge of anti-Semitism.

https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/12/meeting-god-through-mary-christianity-jewish-roots-brant-pitre/

Another book of Pitre's: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

Blogger Thumos December 09, 2018 10:17 AM  

Amy K. wrote:nbfdmd: God snapping his fingers and destroying all evil would be like the writer of a book just writing "and they lived happily ever after" on the first page. The struggle between good and evil in the context of humans having free will is the whole point of existence.

Partly, yes. Not the point of all existence, but the point of this period of time that the question of God's sovereignty is under trial. The devil rebelled, and instead of snapping his fingers and wiping him out of existence immediately, he allowed his creatures to ask the question, 'who has the right to rule?'




Dawkins’ superficial objection is typical of a person who, while otherwise brilliant, seems uninterested in or unaware of the rather immense history of theological inquiry. We are all in some way skeptical of that which we can’t see, and that which would at first seem to defy the laws of logic. Dawkins is operating from a very old and thoroughly contested Platonist perspective, which analogically applies the rules of the logical order to the divine or metaphysical realm, which is merely an assumed presupposition. The Platonist would argue that any hypostasis in the divine realm indicates a limitation, that is to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is logically impossible—God as Christ or Holy Spirit, therefore, must be a lower gradation of the Absolute. But again, this reasoning only follows from the original assumption. Christian theology states that the triune character of God must supralogically transcend the logical order, and Platonism’s more ground-up approach naturally leads to a meaningless, impersonal deity, a non-moral placeholder of a sort that Dawkins would be okay with. From that, we get a kind of deification of the man, or the worship of Reason, as in the pantheon of modern atheists like Dawkins or Sam Harris. Christian theology would call this type of idolatry “Satanism.”

Blogger Didas Kalos December 09, 2018 11:21 AM  

@ Lazarus: you're thinking of God in your own limited mind capacity. God created space, time, this entire dimension. God is not a super man.

Blogger Wild Man December 09, 2018 11:53 PM  

"If it is not difficult to accept that an omniscient and omnipotent programmer can reject omniderigence, why should it be hard to imagine that an all-powerful God might not choose to do the same? "

Because if all of the elements of 'reality' (or God's creation if you prefer) are interconnected, either directly or indirectly (i.e. - indirect connections between loci via direct connections with intermediary loci), then, by logic, a selectively-doing God is an all-doing God, from the perspective of locus, or the hyper-perspective of interacting loci.

Blogger Wild Man December 10, 2018 2:54 AM  

VD - On your programmer analogy. The programmed avatars are to actual humans, as the human programmer is to God. So hypothetically let's suppose the programmed avatars are developed to the level of sophistication whereby they may indeed harbor speculations about the nature of the programmer. If said avatars speculate that the programmer is infinite in nature, they would be wrong. But suppose the level of programmed sophistication of said avatars was sufficient for said avatars to also harbor a further speculation that the human programmer may well be finite (not God) but that in that case, would be in turn programmed by an infinite programmer (God), guided as said programmed avatars may be, by way of an intuition that uncountable infinity of aleph-1 (the real numbers) operates within their realm, and as such the attributes of God must include the attribute of the infinite. Then they would be right.

So the point of your analogy is ..... ?

Now let's suppose said programmed avatars also have been programmed with the level of sophistication that would allow speculations around power set operation upon set aleph-1 (the real numbers), and as such discover that there are greater uncountable infinities, in fact, inclusive of aleph-aleph. And as such said programmed avatars conclude that God is, in the main, subjectively, unknowable (i.e. - beyond their power of comprehension), at least from their local perspective. What else could said programmed avatars conclude by way of these revelations of logic?

1) They could conclude that they populate one infintesimally small corner of God's creation ('infintesimally small' comparatively speaking)

2) They could conclude that, as locally-bounded, they may well be blind to other attributes (qualities) of God, beyond this incomprehensibility of the principle of infinity. As such their would be suspicion that absolute infinity (i.e. - God), is not just about the quantitative, but also about the qualitative (which is beyond the scope of power set operation upon the quantitative aspects of the principle of infinity). Enter the principle of strong emergence (i.e. - out of sufficient complexity emerges new orders of qualities that defy prediction).

3) They could conclude that, by logic, a selectively-doing God is an all-doing God, from the perspective of locus, or the hyper-perspective of interacting loci (as all elements of reality are interconnected). This conclusion, albeit only a local conclusion, nevertheless is problematic for the principle of human freewill.

4) And finally, they could conclude that (the key conclusion), as locally-bounded, they are epistomologically constrained by order of degree, with said ordering of degree of constraint governed by the ordering of degree of locality-boundness, with all degrees of reducing constraint via locality enlargement, no matter how infinitesimal the constraint may therefore become, .... still an infinitesimal of freedom of perspective, comparatively speaking, as compared to absolute infinity (or God). As such, a proof for the principle of human freewill cannot by obtained in this manner, no matter what further logical operations are performed.

Blogger Wild Man December 10, 2018 2:54 AM  

VD - look - I asked you earlier to point me in the direction of the school of Christian theology you ascribe to (and you balked which has been my ongoing experience with you). But I did take a quick scan of the Irrational Atheist, further to these two articles in which you quoted from that title you authored, and so I have now discovered with that bit of effort that you are an Open Theist (at least you were in 2007). The point you seem to be missing is that by way of the above-provided logic, Open Theism's aim to recover the principle of human freewill by the methods this school of theology employs, cannot be done.

Of course I believe in human freewill, but I am probably using a different definition than you. If human freewill is defined as 'the BELIEF in the human power to make meaningful non-deterministic decisions', with the resulting key point being 'people are therefore responsible for the consequences of the decisions they make'. It is matter of belief. But the thing is - everybody believes this. People who profess they do not believe (for example, bothe Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, if I am not mistaken), still behave as if the do, and so the conclusion is that they are not sincere in their claim. A belief shared by 100% of the cohort is still a powerful argument, but of a different type than you are attempting. You seem to want to have a more convincing argument, but that is simply not available in this human domain.

A word of advice for you: Be careful around the lack of enough humility. One must understand just how inevitably local our condition is. Our human condition requires the humility to accept the doubt that is associated with the hyper-localness of our condition. Giving into a wish for more certainty than is actually available is an arrogance of the ontological, and that is sinful and most probably blasphemous as well.

VD - you balked at my definition of the objective perspective that I provided in the previous thread of this series, without saying why. Perhaps explaining in slightly different terms may be helpful to you (but terms still completely congruent with what I said earlier on this): Absolute objectivity is only available by way of the perspective of the absolute infinite (or God). All other varieties of the objective perspective, are just species of the subjective perspective, by matter of degrees ..... inevitably so. I hope this helps.

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