I have been reading various atheists’ web site and blogs looking for comments and questions that challenge me personally.
In a book I just finished, Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterson, he used the word sophistry and said it was one of the things he despises most. I was not sure of the meaning of sophistry, so I looked it up. Sophistry [sof-uh-stree]
1. a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning.
2. a false argument; sophism.
After looking it up, I realized it was the perfect word for something I had just read that was posted from a doctoral student who, in his words, “…is obsessed with the defense of atheism.” Here is what he wrote.
If God is omniscient, it seems that he would have to know what it is like to learn. However, in order to know what it is like to learn, one must have learned something. This entails that at one time [he was] in a state of not-knowing a thing that was learned, then experienced what it is like to learn. But if God is essentially omniscient, he always is and has been omniscient, so was never in a state of not-knowing. Because being in a state of not-knowing is necessary to know what it is like to learn, we would seem to have to say that God does not know what it is like to learn. But this contradicts the original claim that he does know this based on his omniscience. Thus, it seems that God’s omniscience generates a contradiction. Consequently an omniscient God cannot exist.
I thought about this for a time, and on the surface it seems quite reasonable. After consulting with some other experienced apologists, I came to understand the difference between omniscient and experience and a different way to view experience.
First, being omniscient does not mean you have to have experienced something to ‘know’ or to understand it as the above paragraph implies. Not having learned something through experience is not a contradiction to his being omniscient. God has not experienced the flu, pregnancy, or a computer virus, but he knows and understands what they all are. An infinite God cannot learn, and to suggest he must, to be infinite, is illogical. There is a distinct difference between experience and omniscience. There are many things God cannot experience because he is omniscient, but God does not have to experience everything to be omniscient.
An example from a gentlemen who frequents the Reasonable Faith forums put it this way. Say you were walking to work one day, and near you a fellow was walking across the street as you were watching him. To your shock and dismay, he walked right into the path of a car which hit him. Your thought would be, “Oh no! That man was hit by a car!” His thought would be, “Oh no! I was hit by a car!” You both saw and experienced the same event, but from different perspectives, or different ‘indexicals’. An indexical I learned is a point of view someone, or some entity, might have to a particular event. Undoubtedly, you would run and see what you could do to help that man, but suppose after the commotion died down and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital, an officer came up and asked you if you had knowledge of the accident. You explained you saw the whole thing, but the officer’s face changes to disappointment and says, “That is not what I am looking for.” He explains you did not know anything because you were not the one actually hit by the car. Most of us would be thinking this officer is a loon, and at that point we might be looking for his badge number so you could report him to his superior.
Another way to consider an indexical point of view might be to look at a midwife who has delivered hundreds of babies, but maybe she has not had a child of her own. Would she have the ‘experience’ of child birth? No, but certainly she has knowledge of it. God knows of learning and understands what it is, but has not experienced learning. Being the creator of human experience, how could he not fully understand what learning is?