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The Problem of Omnipotence


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The way I see it, if God can do anything, even perform acts that are outside the laws of the physical universe He may even have created, it destroys most chances of meaningful scientific discussion about Him. If, however, God merely has a complete knowledge of the universe and operates within its laws, then we can actually have a decent dialogue that's not destined to end with, "Well, He's all-powerful, sooooo...."

 

God still doesn't seem to desire direct observation, but with omnipotence removed He is less supernatural. What if He has been working with the Laws of Everything (all interactions unified with gravity and completely understood) for billions of years (with the current universe, at least)? Is a God like this any more believable? Any less worthy?

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God merely has a complete knowledge of the universe and operates within its laws,

 

I think this is contradictory, given the laws as we understand them. Or maybe I'm just not understanding the god you're proposing.

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I'm pretty sure I know of a way for God to operate in whatever way he wishes while still remaining in accordance with the laws of nature (presumably they are his own laws, so he wouldn't want to go breaking them).

 

One solution, is simply Law of Nature: God can do whatever the hell he likes. This is a rather trivial solution, but I suppose it works.

 

My favorite solution is this: God controls quantum randomness. The Bible claims that God is a god of chance. "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." --Proverbs 16:33 According to the laws of physics, there is no reason that quantum random events occur as they do, so this leaves a nice open spot for God to act. This also returns cause and effect to the quantum world. The ability to control quantum randomness would effectively be infinite power. To stay hidden, God would have to, for the most part, have quantum random events occur within the bounds of probability, or statisticians might notice. However, most of us don't go measuring quantum events so that really is a tiny fraction of the events that he would have to leave random-looking. Combined with omniscience, he could also carefully craft the quantum events ahead of time for larger effects with less interference.

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I think this is contradictory, given the laws as we understand them. Or maybe I'm just not understanding the god you're proposing.
Our understanding is currently incomplete, we have no complete TOE yet, but we're certain that the Laws of Thermodynamics can't be broken. Omnipotence suggests that God could circumvent those laws by a mere act of will.

 

I'm suggesting that perhaps the whole concept of omnipotence is misunderstood. Early man, with a limited understanding of the laws, might have considered space-faring aliens omnipotent, so perhaps God does exist but works within the laws as He understands them, and we're simply calling it omnipotence.

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It's an interesting question, and I think you are on the right track in describing God as seen by most religions. I don't think that omnipotence was ever meant to include irrational power... though in pratical terms a rationally omnipotent being would possess powers which to finite beings such as ourselves would seem irrational.


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Our understanding is currently incomplete, we have no complete TOE yet, but we're certain that the Laws of Thermodynamics can't be broken. Omnipotence suggests that God could circumvent those laws by a mere act of will.

 

I'm suggesting that perhaps the whole concept of omnipotence is misunderstood. Early man, with a limited understanding of the laws, might have considered space-faring aliens omnipotent, so perhaps God does exist but works within the laws as He understands them, and we're simply calling it omnipotence.

 

That is along my thoughts on the subject. We already accept the fact that there are the posibilities of extra dimensions in the universe into which we have yet to be able to peer. Any being moving freely into and out of our ability to perceive would appear to be breaking the laws of thermodynamics.

 

Indeed we conceive of parallel universes that don't necessarilly follow our physical laws so again, a being which straddles such universes, or moves freely between them, would appear to break the laws of thermodynamics.

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Doesn't this imply that one day there will be a sufficiently advanced physical theory that can explain God and His existence?

 

And perhaps some time after that we will be able to achieve whatever God can?

If it does, and I tend to think so, then it also implies that God would still be at least billions of years ahead of us in experience, and therefore still considered a superior being.
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Would the programmer of a universe simulator fall into this category? Not literally omnipotent, but able to exert more influence on and have more knowledge of the universe (the simulated universe, that is, not the one the programmer lives in) then any being living in that simulation possibly ever could.

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And, of course, being far ahead of us means He could perhaps prevent us from gaining the appropriate knowledge, so that He is secure in his position. I suppose that brings new meaning to the saying that "we are not meant to understand Him." Unless He wants a group of angry atheist scientists trying to trap Him in a lab to tinker with Him, He'd better slow us down a bit.

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Would the programmer of a universe simulator fall into this category? Not literally omnipotent, but able to exert more influence on and have more knowledge of the universe (the simulated universe, that is, not the one the programmer lives in) then any being living in that simulation possibly ever could.

 

A universe simulator would alsways be based on assumptions and simplifications. The only perfect unviverse simulator is the universe itself.

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A universe simulator would alsways be based on assumptions and simplifications. The only perfect unviverse simulator is the universe itself.

 

If that's true, then you couldn't simulate our universe within our universe. However, you could simulate a universe. And you could simulate this one, in a larger one.

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And, of course, being far ahead of us means He could perhaps prevent us from gaining the appropriate knowledge, so that He is secure in his position. I suppose that brings new meaning to the saying that "we are not meant to understand Him." Unless He wants a group of angry atheist scientists trying to trap Him in a lab to tinker with Him, He'd better slow us down a bit.
My new bumper sticker: "Omnipotence is the best form of job security".
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And, of course, being far ahead of us means He could perhaps prevent us from gaining the appropriate knowledge, so that He is secure in his position. I suppose that brings new meaning to the saying that "we are not meant to understand Him." Unless He wants a group of angry atheist scientists trying to trap Him in a lab to tinker with Him, He'd better slow us down a bit.

 

Or just change the rules as needed to keep us baffled. Every time we almost get it figured out, He makes it more complicated (and erases the evidence that it was ever less complicated). Quantum mechanics could be a particularly spiteful example of this.

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Every time we almost get it figured out, He makes it more complicated

 

"There is a theory which states that...

'If ever we discover how the universe works and what exactly it is for, the it will be instantaneously replaced by something even more mysterious and baffling.'

There is another theory which states that this has already happened."

 

 

Douglas Adams

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"There is a theory which states that...

'If ever we discover how the universe works and what exactly it is for, the it will be instantaneously replaced by something even more mysterious and baffling.'

There is another theory which states that this has already happened."

 

 

Douglas Adams

Doug was right. In the US, we call it the IRS.
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If that's true, then you couldn't simulate our universe within our universe. However, you could simulate a universe. And you could simulate this one, in a larger one.

 

Well sure, and if you harnessed the power of a larger universe to exactly simulate another universe you would be omnipotent to the beings in that smaller universe... and practically omnipotent to any beings in the larger universe.

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Well sure, and if you harnessed the power of a larger universe to exactly simulate another universe you would be omnipotent to the beings in that smaller universe... and practically omnipotent to any beings in the larger universe.

 

Why the bolded part? I can program a physics simulation of a closed system. But I can assure you that I am not omnipotent in our universe, practically or otherwise.

 

And I'm not literally omnipotent in the "universe" of the simulation, either. I'm fallible, I'm limited by the programming language and my skill in it, and I don't know what's going to happen (which is why I'm running it). I am an entirely different class of being than any AIs living in the simulation, though.

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Why the bolded part? I can program a physics simulation of a closed system. But I can assure you that I am not omnipotent in our universe, practically or otherwise.

 

And I'm not literally omnipotent in the "universe" of the simulation, either. I'm fallible, I'm limited by the programming language and my skill in it, and I don't know what's going to happen (which is why I'm running it). I am an entirely different class of being than any AIs living in the simulation, though.

 

But you aren't simulating a perfect actual universe down to the behavior of individual subatomic particles. When you do that let me know.

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But you aren't simulating a perfect actual universe down to the behavior of individual subatomic particles. When you do that let me know.

Hrm, neither is God. The universe is far from perfect, unless you define perfect as "whatever the behavior of the universe is", in which case, perfection is far from what God claims it to be in the bible or any other religious text, and is by far *against* human survival.

 

 

 

In other words, it seems "perfection" is relative.

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Hrm, neither is God. The universe is far from perfect, unless you define perfect as "whatever the behavior of the universe is", in which case, perfection is far from what God claims it to be in the bible or any other religious text, and is by far *against* human survival.

 

 

 

In other words, it seems "perfection" is relative.

 

 

I think you are spin this one too many times. The unverse is the universe. It is perfect in that it just is. There is no higher level for the universe to attain... no ideals to be met.

 

"Perfection" isn't relative, at leats not in terms of a simulator. Perfection is the exact duplication of the original.

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I think you are spin this one too many times. The unverse is the universe. It is perfect in that it just is. There is no higher level for the universe to attain... no ideals to be met.

Wait a minute.

 

Sisyphus gave the example of a computer simulation. You dismissed it because:

But you aren't simulating a perfect actual universe down to the behavior of individual subatomic particles. When you do that let me know.

Which universe are you talking about in the "perfect actual universe" ? If it's not our universe, then why the comment at all, and if it is, then what's "perfect"? Our universe is AGAINST human life. Is that perfect?

 

If the universe "just is", then why is a simulation, which 'just is' too, not an example?

 

 

"Perfection" isn't relative, at leats not in terms of a simulator. Perfection is the exact duplication of the original.

Only if the original was perfect initially. It's circular definition at the moment, unless you prove that our CURRENT universe (the one that should be exactly duplicated) is perfect as well.

 

Exact duplication of a badly-made original is not perfect.

 

~moo

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We're throwing the word "perfect" around an awful lot, and I'm not sure what is meant by that. Is it "perfect in that it just is," which is just tautological? (My program "just is" too.) Is my program not perfect because it isn't an exact duplicate of our universe (which I made clear from the start it wasn't supposed to be)? Does "perfection" have to do with whether you like it or not? And if so, who died and made you God?

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