Clifford A. Pickover, The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience (NY: Palgrave – MacMillan, 2001), 262 pages.
How thoughtfully have you considered the omniscience of God and His sovereignty in regard to the specific individuals that populate the earth? Consider for a moment just the possible progeny of you and your spouse.
Let’s assume that a woman’s ovaries contain about 500 eggs. Let’s also assume that a man produces about 6 trillion sperm in a lifetime. (This figure comes from 300 million sperm per day multiplied by 60 years.) For every possible sperm there are 500 different eggs, giving us 500 multiplied by 6 trillion possible children’s photos. This is about 3,280,000,000,000,000 photos. (page 168)
Of 3,280,000,000,000,000 potential children, (each genetically different) I have the four that I do, rather than the other potential 3,279,999,999,999,996.
Clifford Pickover shares the above scenario in his book The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience , which explores the seeming paradoxes that surround the topic of Omniscience.
Pickover is a master of things that make you go, “hmmmmm.” Using questions, illustrations, riddles, mathematical formulas, classical literature, and a host of other methods, Pickover stimulates his reader to think in new ways and to contemplate questions that most have never pondered.
Consider this jewel from the chapter in which Pickover addresses Edward J. Gracely’s The Devils Offer. The setting is Hell, to which you have unfortunately descended.
“I have a game of chance for you to play. If you win the game, you can go to heaven, but if you lose you must stay forever in hell. You can only play the game once…. If you play on the first day you have a one-half chance of winning. If you play on the second day you have a two-thirds chance of winning. If you play on the third day, you have a three-quarters chance of winning, and so on….”
“My question to you is this. When is the most rational day for you to play?”…
You step back in terror and begin to ponder the Devil’s Offer. “If I wait a whole year before playing, my chances of winning are a very good 0.997268. This number comes from 365/366.”
The devil nods. “Yes but if you wait a year and a day, your chances are increased by 0.000007.
“It seems hardly worth delaying for that tiny increased chance of winning.”
“Don’t be a fool. It’s true that 0000007 seems tiny, but the reward of winning is infinite.”
Pickover (and Gracely) go on to develop this conundrum regarding infinite numbers in such a manner that I personally could not get it out of my head for days. Evangelical readers will not be able to escape its implications for evangelism and ethics.
I appreciate the author’s willingness to address specific Bible passages. You will find Pickover, a skeptic, interacting with Scripture much more frequently and thoroughly than you will the average pastor in a typical contemporary sermon. However, Pickover’s exegesis is derived mostly from such writers as Karen Armstrong and Marcus Borg who might consider the Bible to be inspired but definitely not Inspired. So it is not surprising that ultimately Pickover presents omniscience as a creation of religious leaders for the purpose of controlling their followers.
“Yes, fear can be a good thing, it it doesn’t go too far. Fear is a cohesive force binding people and nations. It obviously prevents people from taking dangerous risks. God may have acquired omniscience because the priesthood or other authority wanted people to fear God. A God who knows everything, watches everything you do, knows when you are sinning, knows when you are merely thinking against the established order, is a powerful control factor.”
However, Pickover’s book is not so much about explaining omniscience as it is about exploring it. And, as such it will be a very interesting read for those who are philosophically inclined. If you come to the book looking for a challenge rather than a lesson you will be rewarded for turning the pages of this book.
I should note that I think much of the book is worthless as a teacher, and actually is misleading due to Pickover’s apparent lack of sophistication when it comes to the philosophy of language. Many of the so-called paradoxes in this book are nothing more than language games.
For instance, consider this scenario regarding omnipotence (which is really nothing more than a more sophisticated way of asking if God can create a stone so large that He cannot pick it up). Can God “create Mr. Plex, who performs the act of lighting a bomb, which is known only to himself and to no other being.” One is supposed to be troubled by this in that omniscience implies that an all knowing God knows All, including the state of Mr. Plex’s bomb. Therefore an all-powerful God cannot create an individual who knows something that no other being knows (namely God). Therefore, God cannot be both all-knowing and all-powerful at the same time.
However, this is really no paradox at all. When one deciphers the language, what is really being asked is whether God can be both A and not-A at the same time and in the same relationship. In other words, this combination of sentences becomes as completely meaningless as it would be for me to ask you how tall the color green is.
So, the book has its problems (the worst of which is his alien character Muzdroozol). Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a great deal and would recommend it for students of philosophy who have advanced far enough to critique the problems and appreciate the nuances of the scenarios that Pickover presents and develops.
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I have also posted quotes from this book HERE.
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