Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Contemplating the Mind of God (Pt. 2 of 2)

0. { Podcast this essay } I had earlier been talking about the mind of God, and how it was dis-analogous to our mind, if for no other reason than God's mind is not constrained by the processing structures of an evolutionarily formed brain. But there are other kinds of questions which are interesting about God's mind. How does the mind of God parse the objects in our world? Can God observe the way things are with (at least) the empirical objectivity that humans do? Does even God suffer from biases? I would like to take a moment to address such questions.

1. Consider the case of the duck-rabbit diagram made popular by the philosopher Wittgenstein. We look at the duck rabbit diagram, and think perhaps it represents a duck or perhaps it represents a rabbit, but our observation allows our minds to consider both options.

Now if one were raised on a rabbit farm in Nevada, worked a lifetime at that farm, and had little to no exposure to ducks, then it seems highly likely one would report seeing a drawing of a rabbit. (And vice-versa for one raised on a duck farm in Oregon.) The reason people can be expected to make such different assessments of the duck-rabbit drawing is because what they see in conjunction with what they know conditions how they interpret their observations. Or, in a phrase, their theory with which they conceive the world informs how they perceive the world.

2. Does God have a theory of the world which informs how God perceives the world? Traditionally, it is said of God that of the facts there are, God knows these facts. Humans are laden with theories of the world because they are ignorant of some (actually most) facts of the world; thus, humans form systems of interconnected hypotheses of the world (i.e., theories) which are successful to guide action and thought. Yet God's stance on assessing the world is unlike ours, God being not ignorant of any facts. Therefore, the argument might go, God is cognitively impenetrable[1] as regards any interpretive biases operating on God's beliefs; i.e., God's experience does not bias God towards (or away) from either affirming or denying facts about the world. There is no need, for God does not have mere beliefs about the alleged state of the world, God has knowledge of any and all facts about the world. Of things that are true, God knows them as such; and of things that are false, God knows them as such. Beliefs are something finite creatures have, not God. Or so it might appear. But I think that line of thinking is wrong. Let me explain why I think this.

Just as, on a traditional view, God's holiness supports the claim that God is love; so too that God's mind is cognitively impenetrable by bias supports the traditional claim that God is Truth. However, a caveat is in order, for there are other attributes associated with God besides love and truth, since God might consider states of affairs which are not factual, but which would be or might be logically, or even physically possible. This caveat, I think, is where a certain amount of bias must appear in the mind of God. I now move to show why.

3. If humans have something akin to what's called libertarian free will,[2] and God considers future states of affairs which hypothetically might obtain upon the exercise of that human freewill, then God's views would obtain a theory-ladenness. If human volition allows for extremely complex hypothetical states of affairs, and if such states of affairs are not facts about the world, then God's consideration of human freewill introduces a likewise complex theory-ladenness to how God perceives at least one part of the world - namely those parts which have bodies controlled by free agents (in this case, humans.) At this time, humans appear to be creatures with libertarian free will. Furthermore, even ranting molinists,[3] much less open theist and process theology thinkers, hold that God considers hypothetical states of affairs as regarding human choice. (That is, God thinks about what we might do.) Therefore, God must have a theory-ladenness to his perception after all.

4. From such theory-ladenness, God loses some of God's objectivity about future state of affairs. After all, God regularly is not an arbiter between competing hypothetical, future states of affairs. (We are the arbiter when we think, and then decide how to exercise our will.) So God does not know and cannot be objective in saying what THE future would be, even if God could assess the odds of our various choices as coming to be our acts. Thus, one can draw an overall conclusion about bias in God: As the duck-rabbit diagram can be assessed in more than one way; so too, the world, as it is, can be assessed in more than one -- indeed, in a multitude of ways, all of them compatible with the plethora of freewill options we face, each option itself assessed but never known even within the very mind of God.


[1] Something is 'cognitively impenetrable' just when it functions without revealing its own information to the outside world, and when its internal structure is not affected by what's external to it. A cognitively impenetrable system is like a black box where you know the inputs and outputs, but that's it.) The term originates from Jerry Fodor in The Modularity of Mind, Cambridge, (MA: MIT Press/A Bradford Book, 1983), but the definition here is my ugly paraphrase.

[2] For a discussion of what is the libertarian view of freewill, see "Compatibilism" and also "Incompatibilism" Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Accessed 5/24/2008)

[3] A 'Molinist' thinks one can have both a completely sovereign, controlling everything God, and a libertarian freewill agent in the same reality. I consider this a sad case of wishful thinking. An accessible discussion of this malfunction can be found here: "Molinism" Theopedia (Accessed, 5/24/2008)


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At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

eich: Danke


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