God’s Greatest Book

How can we use books we read everyday to describe the problems between omniscience and free will when looking into the properties of God?

Trying to get your head around the concept of God and the various issues that each of His characteristics have is a complicated one. Certainly, when I’ve been trying to explain it to other people it is always the area they get confused on. However, there are certain analogies that we can follow to get a better understanding of the properties of God. For instance, God’s relationship with time can be illustrated by the metaphor of a book.

Imagine that we are characters in a book written by God. It may be a fairly boring story for some, but no less a book. As the characters in the book, we cannot know what is going to occur next in our lives or what other people are thinking or feeling. We can only know what has happened and what is happening in the present. However, because God wrote the book, he knows everything from the past to the future and what everyone was thinking during that time.

What aspects of God’s characteristics does this pull up? Firstly, it describes his property of being eternal. God must have existed for an eternity, otherwise it denounces him as the perfect being, worthy of worship, as something must have been before God meaning his existence is contingent (depending on something else), undermining his omnipotence. The way of doing this is to for God to be outside of time, and so he has no start or end, making his existence necessary. This is represented by God being outside of the book instead of caught up in the actions of the characters. He is a completely separate entity, but the book depends on his existence.

Secondly, it clearly shows how his omniscience (being all knowing) is possible. One of the criticisms of God’s omnipotence is presented by Kretzmann, who asked whether God could really know everything in a changing world. He argued that, in order for God to have knowledge of a changing world, God himself must change to gain knowledge. This creates a problem for our idea of God as God needs to be perfect otherwise there may be something out there better than him, making him unworthy of worship. If God changes, then he can’t have been perfect in the first place and therefore makes God imperfect. The book metaphor avoids this problem as it explains, if God is outside of time, how he can know what’s going on inside time without changing. He is the author, the creator of the book and so has all the knowledge. However, he is not affected by the events within the book

This would make it seem that our idea of God is accurate if we are using the book metaphor. Unfortunately, the book metaphor also illustrates one of the major issues with the characteristics of God, raised by Kenny, about free will. Kenny argued that if God knows what is going to happen, and creates the events of the future, then it is impossible for humans to have free will in their actions. This is a large problem for Christianity as Christians believe in Judgement Day, where God judges us for our actions and decides whether we go to heaven or hell. However, if we are not in control of our actions, then it is not reasonable for God to judge us and God becomes unjust. It also creates the same problem with the idea of the Original Sin and creates a problem when talking about evil and suffering.

This makes the idea of God being omniscient less likely, and for some, it makes it incredibly difficult to believe in God. However, this isn’t necessarily the end of the conversation when it comes to omniscience, as it could be we have just reached the limit of the book analogy.. Some philosophers prefer to use the following metaphor;

Imagine that God is standing on a mountain and is looking down at a path that winds by with travelers walking along. God can see all of the events unwinding at the same time, but he has no effect on the events and is outside of the time line taking place.

This analogy fixes the problems we had above; It makes all events occur at the same time so God can be omniscient and know what’s going on. However, the events of the people are still decided by the people, creating free will. Therefore, God can be the perfect God in this aspect.


This was an incredibly brief analysis of God as being omniscient, and isn’t even a slither of the main debate. Want something covered about God in a future blog? Comment it below. Don’t forget to share!

Reductio Ad A Tape Measure

Can the humble tape measure be used to understand the reductio ad absurdum involved in the cosmological argument. 

So, a couple of weeks ago, my dad was playing with a tape measure by seeing how far the metal tape ruler could reach without breaking. As I watched the multiple failed attempts, I couldn’t help but say, 
“What a beautiful metaphor for the cosmological argument.” 
Dad just looked at me; my family love philosophical debate, particularly my dad, but even this was a step too far. However, I couldn’t help but see how far I could push this metaphor. 
A lot of cosmological arguments depend on using reductio ad absurdum to disprove the idea of infinite regress as a step in proving that God created the universe. That is to say, the idea that the universe has always existed must be false so something must have caused the universe. An example of this is Aquinas’ first way.
The argument states that some objects are in a constant state of motion. For example, wood is changing from being a branch to being ash in a fire. However, nothing can be moved or changed by itself; wood doesn’t spontaneously combust by itself. Something must have caused it to catch on fire. There are two options for this cause; a primary mover (something that can move itself and others without being moved itself) or a secondary mover (something that can move itself and others only once it has been moved itself). Everything within this world is a secondary mover, so we can trace the chain back through cause and effect. At this point, we have two options; either the chain goes infinitely back via secondary movers (known as infinite regress) or we eventually get to a primary mover which caused the chain. However, infinite regress is proved false via reductio ad absurdum as if there was no primary mover, then there would be no secondary movers as nothing would have caused the chain. This is clearly wrong, as we can see the chain of secondary movers within the world. Therefore, there must be a primary mover which caused the existence of the universe, who Aquinas labels “God”.
So how does a tape measure fit in to the cosmological argument? Well, it demonstrates why there can not be an infinite chain of secondary movers. Imagine that the metal ruler is the chain of secondary movers. No matter how hard you try, you would not be able to stop the metal ruler from breaking, let alone if the chain went on for infinity. Therefore, like the tape measure, there must be something supporting/causing the chain of secondary movers, demonstrating Aquinas’ reductio ad absurdum above. 
However, Mackie would suggest that Aquinas had the wrong idea about the chain of secondary movers and that he was confusing a very long chain with an infinite one. To demonstrate this, he uses a chain of hooks going vertically upwards. If it was just a long chain of hooks, then indeed at some point there would be something supporting the chain, such as an attachment to a wall. However, this would not be the case if there was a chain of infinite regress as there would be no beginning and no end to the chain, otherwise it would go into the category of a very long chain. Therefore, it could be argued that a chain of infinite regress needs no cause and it still remains a possibility, defeating the point of the cosmological argument. 
Despite this, we can still argue for the cosmological argument because of scientific evidence that shows there was a start to the universe. For example, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Hubble’s discovery of red shift, and CMB radiation.  These clearly show that the universe is expanding leading to the conclusion that there was a “Big Bang” that created the universe (hence the name the Big Bang Theory). If this was the case, then there must be a cause as it is a very long chain. 
Even so, can we really use a tape measure as a metaphor for reductio ad absurdum? There are some issues which we can’t ignore. For example, the metal part of the tape measure is not a chain, it is a continuous piece of metal and therefore cannot be used to represent the cause and effect of secondary movers. However, it could be argued that if we had a chain of hooks in Mackie’s example, then it would still not be able to support itself and so the use of a tape measure instead of a chain doesn’t really impede our understanding of the cosmological argument. 
A more pressing matter is whether we can compare an object that is within time and space to the idea of events that link together to create time. When it comes to the tape measure, the tape measure has to abide to natural laws that govern the external world. The reason why the tape measure can’t support itself is because it is pulled down by gravity, a rule of the world. Therefore, it is possible (although not certain) that time can support itself due to the nature of time. However, this can’t be certain due to our limited knowledge of time. 
In conclusion, a tape measure can be used to represent the cosmological argument as it demonstrates how infinite regress is false because it cannot support itself without having a primary mover. However, this metaphor, along with the cosmological argument, does have it’s flaws, such as the dependence of the tape measure on the laws of nature.

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Harry Potter and Perception

Many of us grew up avidly reading and watching the Harry Potter series, and attempting to (in vain)  use it in real life. Though we may live in a muggle society, it is an interesting question to consider whether magic could be possible with our philosophical ideas of perception.
Direct realism is the idea that objects exist in material space and time, and retain their own qualities. That is to say, that if you saw a red door, then you are perceiving an object that is in an external world and is indeed red. This is often the most criticized theory of perception, but for the sake of the question it does have it benefits; the fundamental concept of magic is that there are set spells that can be taught to all wizards that have the same effect for every single witch or wizard. For this to work, everybody needs to perceive the object as the same, otherwise the same spell would work differently for everyone who cast it. This would challenge the idea of teaching magic, and therefore the idea of spell books or Hogwarts would be impossible. This doesn’t mean magic wouldn’t exist, but it does provide a strong challenge. However, using direct realism solves this problem as the properties belong to the object, not our mind.
This would make it seem that magic would be plausible with direct realism. Unfortunately, direct realism fails to stand up to the objections that have been raised by philosophers, such as perceptual variation. Locke, for instance, illustrates this with the use of water. If you put one hand into hot water, then one hand into cold water followed by placing both into lukewarm water, then one hand will perceive the water as hot and the other as cold. This is impossible as the vein of water could not possibly change its qualities in the external world. Therefore, the properties cannot belong to the object but our mind as sense data (termed by Russell). This goes directly against direct realism and leans itself to indirect realism.
Indirect realism is the idea that objects are external and exist in material time and space, possessing some primary qualities (such as shape and size) but not all. In fact, some secondary qualities are created in the mind as a result of the primary qualities (such as colour, smell and taste). This theory of perception does have a benefit in the fact it explains the casual principle involved in magic. Boyle proved that sound cannot travel in a vacuum demonstrating that in order for us to perceive sensations there must be a causal process linking us to the object.
This idea is important to the concept of magic because there must be a causal process between the object and the witch or wizard. In the case of indirect realism, the causal process would be magic. In fact, magic would be a great way of proving indirect realism as we could physically see the causal process instead of relying on an invisible causal process proved by the evidence of science.
However, unfortunately for indirect realism, magic does not exist and it is opened to a wide range of criticisms which mostly focus on not being able to prove the existence of the external world. For example, Descartes came up with the idea of the Cartesian Devil, a devil which gives us the perception of the real world, but does not actually exist. It is impossible for us to disprove this idea as, in the case of demons, we could not trust what our senses where telling us.
On top of this, the benefits of direct realism are lost when we turn to indirect realism. In direct realism, secondary qualities are interpreted by the brain, and as all our brains are different (for example, take those who are colour blind) there is no guarantee that we perceive secondary qualities exactly the same as the next person. As a result, it would be extremely difficult to label spells as doing certain things, as they would have different effects on different people. This creates a strong challenge to our concept of magic.
A far more damming argument to this perception is that it is impossible to separate primary and secondary qualities. In fact, some believe that all properties are secondary qualities, such as Berkeley’s Idealism. This is where there is no external world and all objects, plus their properties, are mind dependant. That is to say, all objects are bundles of ideas produced by the mind.
There is a benefit to this as our minds would be controlling the objects around us which would be a form of magic. However, this is one of the only ones and is far outweighed by the negatives. For example, Berkeley’s idealism relies on the idea that we are somehow in control of what we perceive. If that was the case, then surely we would live in utopias. We could eat ice cream all day without getting fat, we could get rid of suffering and we would have no need for schools as we knew the information anyway. It is clear that we don’t live in such worlds and therefore it cannot possibly be concluded that actually we are in control of such a world.
Despite this, Berkeley still sticks to his argument by defending it via the use of the all-perceiving perceiver – God. The idea is that everything that we perceive in this world is just a bundle of ideas that have been produced from the mind of God. We do not have control over such ideas.
We could list flaws with this argument indefinitely, but instead we are going to use the one that is relevant to the question, and that is the fact that if we come to this conclusion, then we must accept the fact that God is the only one with any magical power. For most of you hoping to be witches or wizards I’m sure you will agree that that is rubbish and defeats the idea of a magical society if God is the only one in possession of magic. Therefore, the price we pay for using idealism is far too great for the magic we gain.
In conclusion, magic would be best suited towards indirect realism, due to magic supporting the idea of the causal process. However, we must acknowledge that there are still flaws with this theory of perception. Therefore, it pains me to say that we must carry on living in the muggle world we currently reside in.


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Aliens prove the existence of God

The idea of the possible existence of aliens has excited many ever since man first set foot on the moon in 1969. However, a less discussed idea is what the implications would be for religious believers. What would it mean for God if we discovered that another species existed somewhere in the universe? For some, this would be a positive discovery, increasing the likelihood that there was a creator or a designer behind the universe. However, for others this would challenge ideas of Christianity such as the speciality of the human race. This is before we even go into the question of whether aliens exist or not…
One idea that makes aliens appealing to religion is that it counters some of the criticisms of the design argument, mainly that of the Epicurean hypothesis. The Epicurean hypothesis states that a finite number of particles (such as those in the universe) within an infinite time frame will take all possible positions. Some of these will be in a state of order (such as the state we are in now) and some of these will be in chaos. This argues against the design argument because it gives a rational explanation of how the world came into being without the help of a free agent. This is a small chance, but cannot be discounted due to probability and the fact that the design argument is based on a posteriori evidence. This, however, is an even bigger possibility if we look at life within the universe. As far as we know, we are the only planet with life on out of the millions within the universe. If we look at this as a percentage, this wold be a very small number – probably the same odds as the Epicurean hypothesis. Therefore, this increases the likelihood of the Epicurean hypothesis and increases the odds of a designer not existing and so decreases the likelihood of God.
This can be viewed as a very damning challenge to the design argument. But what if the life to planets ratio changed? What if there were aliens that could increase the planet-life ratio and therefore decrease the likelihood of the Epicurean hypothesis? This is exactly what aliens do. By organisms existing on other planets then the planet-life ratio would increase, no longer matching the likelihood of the Epicurean hypothesis, and therefore making it more likely that life is the result of a designer or a creator.
Surely from the point of view of the religious believer that this would be a score. However, not necessarily. It is not enough for the existence of God to be proven. It must also be the case that the God of the Bible and the God of philosophers is proven to be correct as well. This is because God must be proven to be worthy of worship, otherwise there is little point. When it comes to this point, like many design arguments, the idea is weak.
For example, it calls into question the speciality of humans and the statements within Genesis. Within the Genesis story, God calls all other things which he creates “good.” However, when it comes to the creation of humans, we are described “very good”. Along with the fact God created humans in his image, this is viewed often as humans getting a special status in the eyes of God, resulting in the special relationship we have with him. However, the existence of aliens would challenge this idea because it calls in to question our specialness. Would the existence of another species undermine this special bond we have with God, and if we looked different from the organisms we encounter, who would be the ones made in God’s image, us or the aliens? As a result, to accept the argument above may call for religious believers to deny some of their beliefs about God. Would it be worth it? For most, probably not.
Then there is also a question of the fact we have found no aliens. One of the assumptions above is that we will find aliens one day. But what if we don’t? Is it possible for the argument above to be flipped around to prove that God doesn’t exist? Luckily, there is a saving grace (pun intended) for the religious believers, due to the vague probability of the Epicurean hypothesis. There is no set number for the Epicurean hypothesis, only probability due to the vast numbers of particles within the universe. Therefore, it could equally be argued that the fact we have found no aliens also could be used to prove the existence of God. This would be because the life-planet ratio would be far below the probability of the Epicurean hypothesis, and therefore can be interpreted as God purposefully creating us as his special people. 
This argument is appealing as this God falls in line with the God of the Bible and the God of philosophers, providing no clashes of evidence and belief. However, as a result of this, we have gone back to the very issue we have tried to side step in the first place. Because the planet-life ratio being lower than the probability of the Epicurean hypothesis it can still be viewed as a possibility of how life came about, which supports the atheist’s argument of a designer not existing.

So could aliens be used to prove the existence of God? The answer is unclear. If there is some way to overcome the issues of the clashes between religion and evidence then possibly yes. However, this is not necessarily an ideal solution. It also depends on your belief in the Epicurean hypothesis and what the probability of it being true is in your eyes.

Can you cry under water?

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This is an age old question that has humoured the minds of all ages while visiting the swimming pool. However, before you say the instinctive answer of “yes”, let’s think for the moment…
The reason that this instinctive answer is rejected is due to observations. Empiricists (such as Hume and Locke) believe that all of our knowledge comes from sense impressions and our experience of the world. Hume would go as far as to say that we can’t have concepts of anything which we cannot trace back to experience (such as God and the concept of identity). This is relevant to the question as we cannot see the tears we cry under water. Therefore, according to empiricism there would be no evidence of you crying and so you can have no concept of crying under water. Therefore, from this you would conclude that actually, you cannot be crying under water.
However, some people question whether this is really the conclusion that empiricism comes to because they question the necessity of tears to crying. For some, people find that human emotion is more essential to crying than to the actual physical act. Some people, for instance, make the comment that “they are crying from the inside”. But how would this link to empiricism? Hume believed that we have inner sense impressions, and that our experience of our emotions creates our concept of emotion. Therefore, if crying is actually referring to a mood rather than water leaving your eyes, then you would be able to cry under water by experiencing that emotion.
This would appeal to a lot of people because it matches the instinctive answer that we all lean to. However, it creates more problems than it solves due to how many emotions are linked to crying. Some people cry when they are happy, some cry when they are sad. It is not the emotion that defines whether we are crying or not, it is purely the tears leaving our eyes. This makes the argument yet again susceptible to the original criticism of the empiricist, and so we cannot cry under water.
However, that is only if we look at the empiricistical view on crying. Surely, we would be able to know instinctively that we are crying. That is to say, that crying is an inbuilt emotional response to certain feelings and events that our brain had when we were born. Therefore, we would not need to see the physical tears as we would be able to tell that we are crying innately. Therefore, we would be able to cry under water.
But here is where the question splits into two. The answer above would only say that each of us can prove to ourselves that we can cry under water. Is it possible to ever prove that someone else is crying? Infalliblism would suggest not. This is the belief that knowledge would need to be certain to count as knowledge and for you to know as certain. How does this apply to the question? For you to know you were crying, then you would be aware of your sense impressions and so would know innately that you were crying. You would be certain of this because you can’t be misled about your own sense impressions. Therefore, you would be certain that you were crying.
However, if you were trying to establish that someone else was crying under water then you would always be in doubt as there are alternatives. They could be pretending to cry to make you feel bad. You could be hallucinating! Because of this, you couldn’t possibly know for certain that someone else was crying. Therefore, it would be possible for you to know you can cry under water but impossible to prove anyone else could cry under water. Maybe you have a special talent that no one else has that you can cry under water!
This may be an absurd position to take because you take the stance that, if you can cry under water, everyone else can! This is because you are using an analogy ( a technique used in varies arguments in philosophy, such as the design argument of Paley). This works by comparing two very alike objects and comparing them so they are different in a further unknown way. For instance, when I hit my hand with a hammer I act a certain way because I am in pain. If someone else acts in that way when they hit their hand with a hammer, then they must also be in pain. How does this apply to the argument? If you are human, then you can cry above water, and you know that you can also cry below water due to instinct. If you see someone else who is human, then they must also be able to cry.  If they can cry above water, then they also must be able to cry below water. Therefore, you can prove that other people can cry under water.
You may be thinking “Hurrah, after all of that we have concluded that everyone can cry under water!” Unfortunately, some people cannot conclude this from an analogy (such as Hume with Paley’s watch) because arguments from analogy are weak. For instance, just because we are both human, doesn’t mean we both have tear ducts to produce the tears. Also, maybe the other person doesn’t have the same emotional response as you do, so does not cry at all. Therefore, we cannot conclusively prove from an analogy that other people can cry under water as analogies can be weak.

So, what can we conclude to the answer above? Well, we can probably conclude that we can cry under water due to our instincts and innatism. However, for some people this is all we can conclude as we can never know for sure that someone else is crying. 
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