Does God know the biggest number?

December 28, 2006    By: Jacob J @ 9:44 pm   Category: Foreknowledge

I distinctly remember trying to come up with the biggest number as a child. I would say something like one-hundred-trillion-billion-quazillion, and then my older brother would torment me by saying one-hundred-trillion-billion-quazillion-and-one. I can’t wait to torment my kids with that when they get to the right age.

The age where that works is fleeting. At first they are too young to appreciate the problem, and then very quickly, they get old enough to appreciate the silliness of the exercise. Of course, there is no “biggest number.” It is so obvious that it is hardly worth stating.

But, wait, does it make it more interesting to ask if God knows what the biggest number is? After all, he knows everything, right? After careful consideration, I conclude that it doesn’t make it any more interesting. The thing that makes it obvious and silly is that there is no biggest number, not that I had some limitation in figuring it out. God can’t know the biggest number because it doesn’t exist to be known.

Okay, so where am I going with all of this? This is where: the logic that says God cannot know the biggest number also says that God cannot know the future exhaustively. Assuming, as I do, that the future goes on forever, there is always more to be known, just as you can always add “and-one” to a big number.[1] If God knew all of the future, it could not be infinite. This leads to the conclusion that it should be *obvious* to say that God doesn’t know the future exhaustively–in the same way it is obvious to say God doesn’t know the biggest number. And yet, many people believe God does know the future exhaustively. If you are one of those people, I am interested in your reaction to this argument.

God’s foreknowledge has been debated at length on this blog, but not recently. In fact, those debates predate my discovery of NCT. Blake and Geoff have been advocates of the idea that God does not know the future exhaustively, and I side with them on this one. Nevertheless, I know there are a lot of you out there in the bloggernacle who believe God knows the future exhaustively. How do you account for the future being infinite? Or is the argument fundamentally flawed? What do you think?


[1] Blake Ostler made reference to a similar argument many years ago in his excellent paper The Mormon Concept of God pg 77. He notes that the basic logic of this argument can be found in Brigham Young’s correction of Orson Pratt concerning God’s foreknowledge (see footnote 38).

154 Comments »

  1. Hmmm. I plan to go and read the Mormon Concept of God. But before I do, my spot reaction is that God knows the future exhaustively because he has an infinite mind and because time does not exist eternally as we understand it in this existence.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — December 28, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

  2. My son did the same thing and concluded that God’s knowledge is not infinite becauase there is always another 1 to add to the number.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — December 28, 2006 @ 10:11 pm

  3. Are you asking the question as a mathematician or an engineer? To a mathematician, your argument is pretty solid; there is no largest number/exhaustive foreknowledge.

    To an engineer, however, a measurement like 1 X 10^10,000,000,000,000,000 kilos is so large that it is effectively infinite; therefore God’s foreknowledge is, for all intents and purposes, exhaustive.

    Of course, I violated one of the stipulations of your post: “…many people believe God does know the future exhaustively. If you are one of those people, I am interested in your reaction to this argument.” I am not one of “those people,” so by implication you are not interested in what I think. {smile}

    Comment by BrianJ — December 28, 2006 @ 10:14 pm

  4. I agree with Bored in Vernal. I think the discussion is kind of moot because we can’t even begin to comprehend eternity. God has created worlds without number. That may mean that he can’t put a number on how many worlds he has created(infinite?). Numbers are probably irrelevant in the eternities anyway.

    Comment by Ian Cook — December 28, 2006 @ 10:44 pm

  5. BrianJ,

    Of course I am interested in your reaction too, I should have said. So, if a mathematician would conclude that God’s cannot have exhaustive foreknowledge, how would the engineer’s approximation solve the foreknowledge dilemma?

    Biv, Ian,

    If God’s exhaustive foreknowledge is accounted for by his infinite mind, does that mean God does know the biggest number?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 28, 2006 @ 10:55 pm

  6. Jacob J: The engineer solves the foreknowledge dilemma by not addressing it. I agree with you that God does not have truly exhaustive foreknowledge, but where does that leave us? Now we have to measure just how much foreknowledge he does have. That “number” must range between zero and some really, really big value that is so big that it’s beyond our comprehension.

    My point is that someone can accept your “no biggest number” argument and yet still believe that God knows the future in exquisite detail. In practice, I expect that “exhaustive foreknowledge” and “exquisite foreknowledge” would lead to identical interpretations of such doctrines as foreordination, agency, revelation, etc. If so, your argument “works” but doesn’t change anything.

    P.S. I love being able to just make up terms like “exquisite foreknowledge.”

    (It may help to give credit to my analogy: it comes from a math professor at BYU. The setting: a mathematician and an engineer are standing on one side of the room and a very attractive girl is standing on the other side. She says, “You can kiss me if you can reach me, on one condition: you only move half the distance that separates us at a time, i.e. 20 ft, 10 ft, 5 ft, etc.” The mathematician immediately gives up: “Impossible! There are an infinite number of halves; I can never reach her.” The engineer smiles and says, “True, but I can get close enough for all intents and purposes.”)

    Comment by BrianJ — December 28, 2006 @ 11:32 pm

  7. I just don’t understand why some people insist on creating a God and/or Universe that is incomprehensible. (They respond: That is the beauty of it!) To me, the practical prevails. I can conceive of vast quantities of data, of extremely large numbers (that I could not count in my life time) but I can comprehend their existence. The infinite seems like a bunch of hooey to me designed to keep the people oppressed – If they could understand it, they might not need preachers to tell them what to believe anymore. Oh no!

    Comment by Jeff Day — December 29, 2006 @ 1:57 am

  8. Everyone knows the biggest number is infinity minus one. ;)

    While pondering infinity is unsettling for some, I think it is fascinating and exciting to know how much more we will be able to comprehend in the hend than we ever could in the eyeblink of eternity in mortal life. I fully concur with BiV in comment #1.

    Comment by Doc — December 29, 2006 @ 7:40 am

  9. Brian’s point shows that while this is a good argument against infinite exhaustive foreknowledge it is not very persuasive to most people when arguing against simple foreknowledge. The key element is to press on is the point that even God doesn’t know things that do not exist to be known. That then can be transferred to apply to the future (at least applied to exhaustive foreknowledge of the conceivable future).

    Jeff Day – Jacob didn’t argue for an incomprehensible God or Universe as far as I can tell. He argued for a future that is infinitely distant. Who were you referring to in #7? (Perhaps it was the comments by BiV and Ian?)

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 8:58 am

  10. While I think I agree with you on this; however, for the sake of having something interesting to say, I think exhaustive foreknowledge needs to have some clarification. After all, God has exhaustive foreknowledge of what? The Scriptures most explicit to this question (I think.) Only not he knows the end from the beginning. This therefore can not be addressing the infinite, as it has neither beginning nor end. So even if we take the absolute foreknowledge view on this statement, it is not comparable to knowing the biggest number, but is comparable to claiming to know, with absolute precision, everything in a subset of numbers (Let’s say 1 to 10). This is not without it’s own complications, mathematically, as the question becomes how absolute is absolute precision, since decimals can also be infinite between numbers. (Example 1.01 is not as precise as 1.0001). Henry Eyring, in his “The Faith of a Scientist” speaks about God’s knowledge and claims God may know exactly what Ï€ is. I like to think this is not because Ï€ has an ending so much as his mathematics are superior and not as limited as ours.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 29, 2006 @ 9:00 am

  11. Ï€ is “pi” in my quote above. Sorry, it is a little unclear.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 29, 2006 @ 9:01 am

  12. Geoff J: thanks for making my point clearer. The point that God cannot know something that does not exist to be known shifts the discussion to another question: is God’s apparent foreknowledge simply a product of incredibly well-informed predictions? (“well-informed” because he knows everything that does exist.) Where I live, one of the news stations touts “triple doppler” as the reason their forecasts are so accurate; i.e. they have 3x the information as the other guys. Does God have something like “gazillion doppler”?

    Matt W: an exact pi concept works for things that exist, but not for those that do not (as Geoff J said). It likewise does not work for things that are freely changing (like people’s minds), because their future state has not yet been decided and therefore does not yet exist. It does work for things that are changing but not freely changing; e.g. the balance in your savings account.

    Comment by BrianJ — December 29, 2006 @ 9:31 am

  13. BrianJ: I agree, but to what extent are people’s minds or spirits freely changing? I do not believe we can know that in this life. I believe God has the tools to know this however. I think this is why it is important for us to forgive and not judge others, leaving that to God.

    Anyway, to avoid becoming too tangential, where does God’s ability to make predictions or have foreknowledge become valueable to us, theologically speaking? Does it require foreknowledge or just knowledge?

    Even if I submit that I believe God performed major interventions in reality for me to meet my wife, join the church, etc, does this require foreknowledge or just knowledge?

    Why does foreknowledge matter?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 29, 2006 @ 9:56 am

  14. BrianJ (#6),

    I think this is a viable solution to the problem of infinity (God only knows the future out to a certain point far in the distance), but I don’t think everyone will be willing to sign up for it. One problem is that it does not address the problem Bruce R. McConkie mentioned in his Seven Deadly Heresies. He asked rhetorically:

    Will he one day learn something that will destroy the plan of salvation and turn man and the universe into an uncreated nothingness? Will he discover a better plan of salvation than the one he has already given to men in worlds without number?

    If there is still some future out there that God doesn’t know, then BRM’s argument says we still could not have complete trust in God.

    By the way, engineers are interested in kissing girls?!? I am confused.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 10:03 am

  15. Hello Jeff Day,

    I wish I could agree with your belief that, “The infinite seems like a bunch of hooey to me designed to keep the people oppressed…” As one who can see the infinite, it is anything but a bunch of hooey. I discussed this before at LDS-Phil sometime ago, so will not say much more about it here, but in my mind, even nothing can exist forever. If you cannot see forever, be thankful that you can’t.

    I never really thought much about the foreknowledge of God, other than in seminary trying to figure out just how God could have exhaustive foreknowledge and we still have our free will, but gave up trying to figure it out as a waste of time.

    After reading Blake’s first book, I decided that he makes a very good argument that God cannot have exhaustive foreknowledge and we maintain our freewill. How much does God know? I believe he knows enough to accomplish everything he wants and needs to accomplish.

    Comment by CEF — December 29, 2006 @ 10:07 am

  16. Remember that there is no past or future with God. Everything is before him. He exists in the ETERNAL NOW. Therefore, if you asked him a question, the answer is right there before him and you (D&C 130:7). What I am saying is that knowing the biggest number is irrelavent.

    God is always progressing. Does that mean he is less of a God today then he will be tomarrow? The concept of God is more about arriving at a certain state than being than knowing the biggest number or having the most creations (telios).

    The question is knowing what it means to be God. You assume knowing the biggest number is a requirement for being God. I say that knowing is irrelevant in heaven. Remember all things must fail. Faith, knowledge, speaking in tongues etc. The characteristic that makes God God, is love. Charity (love of God) never faileth.

    Comment by BRoz — December 29, 2006 @ 10:19 am

  17. Matt,

    You astutely point out that the arguement about not being able to know the biggest number works equally well against knowing the value of pi perfectly. You said you like to think God knows pi perfectly due to his superior mathematics. So naturally, I am curious to know if you think his superior mathematics allow him to know the biggest number. What say you?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 10:27 am

  18. BRoz,

    Don’t we all live in the eternal NOW?

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 10:35 am

  19. BRoz,

    You assume knowing the biggest number is a requirement for being God. I say that knowing is irrelevant in heaven.

    I think you are misunderstanding my intent, so allow me to clarify. I don’t think knowing the biggest number is a requirement for being God. (I also don’t believe God knows the future exhaustively.) Rather, I think that the same logic which makes it obvious to every 11 year old that there is no such thing as a “biggest number” also has something to say about God’s foreknowledge. In one case, the logic makes it is obvious to everyone, in the second case, lots of people are able to get around that logic to believe God knows the future exhaustively.

    I am interested to see what people do when confronted with that issue, which is why I keep applying people’s solutions for God having foreknowledge to the biggest number problem.

    Doc,

    The last question in #5 is now for you too.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 10:38 am

  20. It does work for things that are changing but not freely changing; e.g. the balance in your savings account.

    Actually, the balance in my savings account is freely changing–according to the freely made choices of my wife. Oh, how I hope she is not at Target right now.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 10:41 am

  21. Amen Jacob. Curse you Target!!! (And Michaels, and WalMart, and Joann’s, and…)

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 10:42 am

  22. Jacob J:

    To me pi and “the biggest number” are different in that one exists literally and the other does not. However, I have always been poor at mathematics, so it is hard for me to really address your question beyond that. I used to joke that when I died, my first question would be “What is pi?” I have changed my mind on that, in part because I figured he’d know me and answer “Apple or Pumpkin?”

    Comment by Matt W. — December 29, 2006 @ 10:43 am

  23. by exists literally, I mean pi is “the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter”.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 29, 2006 @ 10:51 am

  24. Matt,

    All I have to do to get around your “exists literally” argument is frame the question about pi a bit differently: Does God know the last digit of pi? Then it is exactly parallel to the biggest number question.

    By the way, the pi question has an interesting intersection with BrianJ’s question in #12 about whether God knows the future by prediction. If I understand chaos theory correctly, it says that things would be perfectly predictable if we could get infinite precision on all of the variables, but since infinite precision is not theoretically possible (even for God according to the argument above), chaotic systems are inherently unpredictable. Thus, if God doesn’t know every digit of pi, chaos theory says he can’t accurately predict the outcome of chaotic systems. So, it all ties together. {smile}

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 11:22 am

  25. I have not come to a formal conclusion on the foreknowledge of God. However, this argument has a major weakness. It assumes that time is, indeed, infinite. I think most people here presume that this universe was created with something akin to the big bang. We like the idea of a multi-verse, but we can state that there was a beginning to time (and space) in this universe. There also may be an end. Consequently, time in this universe is finite. Consequently, there is a possibility that God have exhaustive foreknowledge of the events in this universe.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2006 @ 11:30 am

  26. Jacob, I find it to be a trite question. What does John 2:24 mean?

    J. Stapley, I thought God knows everything in every universe . . .

    And as we creatures of time approach another year, let me wish you all, “A Happy New Year!”

    Comment by Todd Wood — December 29, 2006 @ 11:47 am

  27. Todd, I understand that you are not usually a complete troll, but that last comment…wow. Trollishness galore.

    Perhaps you should consider educating yourself on the basics of the argument at hand instead of playing yourself the evangelical fool.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2006 @ 12:10 pm

  28. Todd: Jacob, I find it to be a trite question. What does John 2:24 mean?

    Huh?

    If the question is trite then why not just answer it? The answer has implications on things that are anything but trite. Are you not seeing that?

    Also, I fail to see how John 2:24 is related to this post. So Jesus understood people. What does that have to do with knowledge of things that do not exist?

    Here is John 2:24 for the rest of you who are confused by this odd question:

    23 ¶ Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
    24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
    25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 12:11 pm

  29. J (#25),

    I think that your argument about multiple universes is largely moot. Our theology holds that God is beginningless and endless. Jacobs argument applies no matter how many universes make up The Universe (caps to reflect all existence just in case there really are multiple universes). The issue he wants to understand is why people accept the idea that God does not know the biggest number (because it logically does not exist) but often cannot accept that he does not exhaustively know the infinite future (which also does not exist).

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 12:17 pm

  30. Geoff, that doesn’t respond to my critique. If God has exhaustive foreknowledge of our universe (which had a beginning and an may have an end), then it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t have foreknowledge of any other universe. He would have exhaustive foreknowledge during our mortal existence.

    Sure there is no largest number; but, for our universe, there may be.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2006 @ 12:21 pm

  31. J. (#25),

    I think your answer reduces to BrianJ’s #6. If it turns out cosmology is as you descibe it, then our time in this universe just becomes a certain amount of time in an infinite future (I don’t suppose you are saying time stops at the end of this universe). Thus, I would respond as I did in #14. Am I missing a nuance?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 12:23 pm

  32. J. Stapeley: You miss the force of the argument. In LDs thought there is both an infinite past and an infinite future. You don’t believe that God will cease to exist some day do you? If you believe in an infinite future, and you believe that God has foreknowledge of that future, then you must believe that God has already a knowledge of the infinite future.

    However, the problem with this line of inquirely is that the very notion of “the largest possible integer” is one that is logically impossible. It has the same logical status as God’s knowledge of all married bachelors. It is no knock on God that he doesn’t know all married bachelors because the very notion of what he is supposed to know is nonsense. So asking if God knows the biggest number is merely to ask if God knows what it is logically impossible could exist — and no one believes that God has that kind of knowledge. Not even the most committed believer in absolute foreknowledge.

    Comment by Blake — December 29, 2006 @ 12:27 pm

  33. Blake,

    However, the problem with this line of inquirely is that the very notion of “the largest possible integer” is one that is logically impossible.

    Accordingly, I have argued that knowing the future exhaustively is likewise a logical impossibility. The two things seem perfectly analogous to me. Where does my argument break down?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 12:34 pm

  34. I am saying that time began and may stop in our universe. Once you start engaging in arguments that consider time, you have to take the baggage that comes with it. You can’t just wave your wand and pretend that it doesn’t matter.

    Clark and Blake’s arguments at Clark’s blog are the best discussions I have seen.

    As far as we are concerned time had a beginning. A real beginning. And everything in this universe shares it. It is not a matter of cutting things up into smaller pieces.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2006 @ 12:40 pm

  35. Seems to me that whenever talking about really large numbers God always refers to the number of the sands of the seas. I think that he does that so that humans can have a mental picture of just how impossible it is to comprehend a really large number. Can you imagine trying to count pieces of sand?

    Now if the sand was to be counted that is actually a finite number, so God knows it. Until more sand was created by weathering, erosion, transortation and deposition. It is a process that creates more sand. But God would know that number too, because it leads to a finite amount of sand.

    So it seems that God knows the finite number right before the largest number or infinity.

    Comment by Jared — December 29, 2006 @ 12:42 pm

  36. Jared: So it seems that God knows the finite number right before the largest number or infinity.

    I’m afraid that number doesn’t not exist either. Certainly a better approach would be to say that God knows enough to accomplish all his purposes.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 12:48 pm

  37. Stapley: As far as we are concerned time had a beginning.

    Well sure. If you are reducing this to “as far as we are concerned” here and now then time begins around birth and ends at death. But that doesn’t address the larger questions at hand concerning the knowledge of a beginningless and endless God.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 12:52 pm

  38. Jared,

    So it seems that God knows the finite number right before the largest number or infinity.

    I admit it, this sentence made me laugh, but I’m not sure if it was intended to. I mean no offense if it was not. But, sarcastic or not, it seems to illustrate one of the fundamental fallacies of thinking about infinity, which is to treat infinity like a very big number.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 12:52 pm

  39. Stapley,

    As far as we are concerned time had a beginning. A real beginning.

    The problem is that with respect to the big bang, as with many issues in quantum mechanics, physicists have equations which lead to conclusions they, themselves, are not sure how to correlate to reality. I am not saying something antagonistic toward science. Feynman was first in line to admit we don’t know what to make of “the meaning of it all” when talking about quantum mechanics. On top of that, big bang theory is much less sure about whether time has an end in this universe than they are about it having a beginning, and my argument about the future only requires an infinite future, not an infinite past.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 1:01 pm

  40. Geoff: If you are reducing this to “as far as we are concerned” here and now then time begins around birth and ends at death.

    This is not true. Time existed before our Birth. It did not exist before the universe. I don’t think anyone here is considering the ramifications of this, or it seems to me that people are simply fine with magical universe hopping.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2006 @ 1:03 pm

  41. Man, Geoff is too fast for me, and chose to respond to the exact same sentences! Doh. I will try to refresh more often while typing responses.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 1:03 pm

  42. J. Stapley, pardon me for being grumpy this morning. I am not normally the troll. It was definitely a quick outburst for how I view God and ourselves. And as I read it now, I note how it is laced with sarcasm.

    Maybe, it was because I drank too much egg nog last night. But mostly, I blame it on inward, knee jerk frustration.

    Jacob, I threw in the Scripture verse because that was on my mind this morning before I came over to the New Cool Thang.

    When you are discussing God and what He knows, I would just enjoy seeing more Scripture in the discussion. That’s all.

    Geoff, in these matters that Jacob brings up, I have no problem in saying that where I might be trapped in your logic or mine, God is supra-logic.

    Again, my apologies to the preceeding post tinted with sinful insincerity on this blog.

    J. Stapley, now let say it sincerely after a heart adjustment, “happy New Year.”

    Comment by Todd Wood — December 29, 2006 @ 1:04 pm

  43. Stapley: it seems to me that people are simply fine with magical universe hopping.

    J, if indeed there are multiple universes (which is an extremely speculative notion) what makes you believe the spirit world (pre mortal at least) or the various kingdoms of glory are in this universe? Resorting to the “magic” line doesn’t work well for you when there is no solid science to support your position either.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 1:13 pm

  44. While God may know everything (including the biggest number) I also believe that he knows enough to not care (gasp!) about some things.

    Comment by Jared — December 29, 2006 @ 1:38 pm

  45. We use geometry to calculate irrational numbers. In a linear sense the number may have no end, but with a geometric language it becomes comprehendable—-much like Joseph Smith’s use of the ring as an example of the eternal. We simply don’t know what means God has at his disposal for comprending data—-what “languages” he may use to bridle the infinite conceptually.

    Comment by Jack — December 29, 2006 @ 1:56 pm

  46. Jacob: I don’t disagree that the future does not exist so cannot be known, just as the infinite future does not exist and so cannot be known. However, I don’t believe that the existence of an infinite quantity is logically impossible, but I do believe that the concept of the largest possible integer is logically impossible — there is not such possible number. So the two concepts are not logically analogous. If an actual infinite is logically possible, then it is possible that there is an infinite future or past that “exists” in this sense. It just happens not to exist in the same way that mermaids don’t exist — they are logically possible; but they happen not to exist. It is not even logically possible for the largest possible integer to exist. So the argument is not valid due to equivocation.

    Comment by Blake — December 29, 2006 @ 2:25 pm

  47. Mindless thought exercise:

    If God knows everything, then he know the past, current and future precise distance between every set of particles in the “one great whole”. Suppose He tried to keep a running list of such particles. Could Ge “timestamp” such list – no because the measurement of movement between particles is ‘time’. Could He actually keep a list – no because whatever method of recording the list alters the contents of the list. How then is He able to know (or calculate) everything?

    Comment by Daylan — December 29, 2006 @ 2:27 pm

  48. J. Stapeley: In what sense do you propose that “we believe” that time had a beginning? If God was always God, then he could always do something as God and thus there was one before another and in this sense there is temporal succession. If God has not always been God, then God was progressing from eternity to become God and in this sense there is temporal succession. So we don’t believe what you assert; instead, we believe that there is always a temporal succession for God.

    I suspect that what you mean is that our time metric (or mode of measuring time or intervals that are regular such that they can be measured) had a beginning. If that is what you mean, then I agree. However, such an admission won’t resolve the issue. There is still no beginning and no end — just as Joseph Smith stated.

    Todd: Your assertion that God is supra logic obviously makes no sense – and it doesn’t even make sense to assert. It is like asserting that “X can make a perfectly round square” and suddenly such an assertion is acceptable because we replace X with “God.” If God is beyond logic, then we cannot rationally discuss this issue — and it makes no sense to even write about it as you do.

    Comment by Blake — December 29, 2006 @ 2:32 pm

  49. #5: If God’s exhaustive foreknowledge is accounted for by his infinite mind, does that mean God does know the biggest number?

    Whenever there is a need to know any number, God will know it. His exhaustive foreknowledge is not dependent on knowing “the last number,” but rather any number He needs to know.

    As I understand it, God does not experience time linearly as we do. Wouldn’t this then render the question of His eternal progression moot?

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — December 29, 2006 @ 2:47 pm

  50. Blake, I think we agree that time in this universe had a beginning, or that there was a point in our current reality were there was neither time nor space. Now, from there, we can take one of two positions: that intelligence is either intrinsic or extrinsic to the Universe.

    If intelligence (and God) are extrinsic to our Universe, putting aside perspectives on four dimensionalism and acknowledging that God is made of matter of one sort or another, then God (and intelligence?) is intrinsic to a universe or another. No?

    Now, if you want to say that a being can hop from one universe to another without impediment, I am willing to regard it as a speculative premise; one with little real evidence of veracity.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

  51. Blake (#46),

    I agree that the existence of an infinite quantity is logically possible. The analog to numbers is moments. Just as numbers go on forever, time goes on forever. Just as there is no largest integer, there is no last moment. I don’t think there is any equivocation so far. Do you agree?

    Now, it may be that you are taking issue with my reference to the “biggest number” (or largest integer, as you prefer). To ask the question about foreknowledge in a more precisely analogous way, I would have to ask: “Does God knows what happens in the last moment of time?” Your argument about logical impossibility would then hold for the term “last moment,” which is logically impossible if time goes on forever, in the same way that a largest integer is logically impossible if numbers go on forever.

    So, you may be contending that by phrasing it the way I have (making reference to a logically impossiblilty), I am undermining the argument. Is that your point?

    If so, I can adjust it slightly to accomodate: Does God know everything that will ever happen? This seems like an legitimate question for a person who believes in exhaustive foreknowledge. The analog to this question would be: Does God know every number?

    Comments on this reformulation?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

  52. Again, I agree with Bored. I don’t think that God experiences time as we do. I think that this discussion is being based on a finite yard stick, the only kind of yard stick we can understand. An interesting discussion none the less.

    Comment by Ian Cook — December 29, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

  53. J.,

    I think I understand the points you are making, but I am not sure what you think the implications/ramifications are. I can’t tell where you are going with your cosmology angle.

    According to the big bang theory you are relying on here, both time and space were created at the big bang, roughly 10-20 billion years ago. As a frame of reference, the earth has been around for roughly 4.5 billion years, between a half and a quarter of the time since the big bang. There is no such thing as “before” the big bang, which is what we mean when we say time was created in the big bang. So, are you accepting as a real possibility the idea that God was created as part of, or after, the big bang? If not, then the answer to your intrinsic/extrinsic question is obvious. What am I supposed to be concluding? That there is no God? The universe is going to die in a heat death and there will be nothing left? Time will have ceased, our bodies will be part of an infinite density singularity? I just don’t know how you are trying to move this theological discussion forward with references to the big bang. What are you getting at by pointed out there is no evidence for universe-hopping?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 4:03 pm

  54. Just to bring the physics into this, it seems like the big bang is pretty strongly established at this point.

    However there are numerous physical theories that argue this isn’t the only universe. These might be, as in M-Theory, simply that this universe is part of a higher dimensional space. Thus there might well be other times but just not for our universe. Or as in Lee Smolin’s view, there are simply other bubble universe.

    Thus saying that there is a beginning to time in our universe but that there may still be infinite time seems a fairly safe thing to claim.

    I suppose the more interesting question is whether the possible permutations of physical things is finite or infinite. That is do we end up we a repetition ala the Stoics or is there endless diversity awaiting us? And how similar do two things need be to be effectively the same? (That is, what level of diversity is necessary for it to be practical diversity)

    Comment by clark — December 29, 2006 @ 4:14 pm

  55. BiV (#49) and Ian (#52),

    Thanks for answering, I really was/am interested in your thoughts, so thanks.

    BiV, one of the reasons I don’t subscribe to the idea that time is non-linear for God is that it would seem to make the idea of eternal progression moot. But, I try to keep an open mind on any topic that is mind-blowing as this one can be.

    Daylan, Interesting thought experiment, thanks.

    Jared (#44), I will definitely get a kick out of it if I get to heaven some day and ask God about this kind of thing only to have him say, “I don’t know, I try not to think about infinity.” I’m holding onto it as a possibility.

    Jack (#45), interesting point.

    Todd, Happy New Year to you too.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 4:15 pm

  56. Jacob – Good questions in #53. The same things I was wondering.

    Clark: I suppose the more interesting question is whether the possible permutations of physical things is finite or infinite.

    I agree. I have already stated here that I lean toward a finite (though too large to comprehend) amount matter/space but infinite time. That certainly would fit the ring analogy better than infinite space and matter though I realize it is all pure guessing.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 29, 2006 @ 5:38 pm

  57. Jacob: “last moment” is no more logically possible than “greatest possible integer”. So the argument isn’t so easily repaired. Neither of these terms has any coherent meaning, whereas “the actual infinite future” does have coherent meaning. So by convincing someone that God doesn’t know something that has no coherent meaning, it doesn’t follow that God couldn’t know such an infinite future by means of such reasoning. We agree that God in fact cannot know a non-actual future — and the future is non-actual on the A-theory of time, but not on the B-theory of time.

    Comment by Blake — December 29, 2006 @ 8:26 pm

  58. I agree with Blake that Jacob’s original argument is invalid. Perhaps God doesn’t have infinite foreknowledge, but the argument about the biggest number doesn’t convince me.

    Jacob wrote, “The logic that says God cannot know the biggest number also says that God cannot know the future exhaustively.”

    Can you (or anyone) come up with any number that God doesn’t know? If not, then I don’t think you can assert that God doesn’t know all the numbers. In other words, God knows an infinite amount of numbers. (Is that different than saying He knows all the numbers?)

    If this is true, we are still safe to assume that God could know an infinite amount of past and future events, even though we can’t find an “end” to those events. In other words, God can still know “everything” about the past and the future in the framework of this numbers argument.

    Comment by Bradley Ross — December 29, 2006 @ 8:29 pm

  59. Geoff, my earlier comment (#7) was indeed a response to #4 “we can’t even begin to comprehend” — mixed with other things I’ve heard from people before, outside this thread.

    #15 said: “As one who can see the infinite, it is anything but a bunch of hooey.” and “If you cannot see forever, be thankful that you can’t.”

    Let me clarify my position. I believe in infinite as a piece of theory, and as a piece of mathematics. Even as a duration of time. But not as a quantity of anything, including knowledge, because knowledge occupies space, the same as a quantity of, sand, for instance, takes space. Infinite sand would imply infinite amounts of energy in the Universe. I do not have a compelling reason to believe in the existence of such a thing. The “be thankful that you can’t” attitude is poor in my estimation, because why would God grant you power to do anything that you don’t have enough guts to want. I’m thankful for the comprehension God gives me, and I’m thankful when he gives me even more comprehension than I now have.

    #16 said “Remember that there is no past or future with God. Everything is before him. He exists in the ETERNAL NOW. Therefore, if you asked him a question, the answer is right there before him and you (D&C 130:7). What I am saying is that knowing the biggest number is irrelevant.”

    I agree that the biggest number is irrelevant, very good. But, this “eternal now” business is nonsense. God has a tangible body. That means he stands (or can stand) within this Universe. That means he’s part of this time-line when he stands among us. Time itself is an illusion. Past and future don’t exist. They are what was destroyed by making the present, and what will be created by destroying the present. When the scriptures say “time will be no more” I interpret that as meaning that the concept of time will no given no more honor from that point on. Things will instead be accepted for what they are. When D&C 130 speaks of the sea of glass and past present and future things being manifest it might be helpful to look at those words with a bit more of a Hebrew mindset. Instead of past, present, and future, try: things which have already come to pass, things as they are, and things which have not yet come to pass. These things will be a presence before God. This is a bit mystical, and I think (based on some statements alleged to be from Joseph Smith) relates to what is taught in the Temple.

    #24 “Does God know the last digit of pi?”

    Part of this is a matter of perspective. You’re assuming Base 10 mathematics is a reality, when in fact it is a strange perversion to try to conform reality to fit it. God could simply represent a number in base pi and say that 1 is the last and only digit. Because pi can be conceived in reality (not just theory or mathematics), this makes it something knowable. I have no problem understanding pi, what it is, how to derive it. being able to represent it in base 10 is irrelevant. Base 10 is simply insufficient to represent it. Got cannot store pi in base 10 because pi doesn’t actually exist in base 10.

    #29 said “I think that your argument about multiple universes is largely moot. Our theology holds that God is beginningless and endless.”

    I disagree. God, beginningless and endless? Only in some limited senses. First: The energy from which he is composed may be beginningless and endless, but certainly he was formed at some point, was once a man as we are now. The multiverse (thank you, thank you by the way for that term catching on so well – very useful) as I see it is either this one universe, or perhaps several universes, which are organized and disorganized in succession (or to put it more biblically: scattered and gathered), in like manner to how the seasons form a year, and we can conceive of multiple years. Second sense: God is perhaps beginningless and endless if by God you mean the Elohim, or, the race of the Gods. The Gods always have been, and always will be, and are progressing every generation. “D’ye think that you could ever, through all eternity, Find out the generation where Gods began to be?” I doubt it. But if Science has anything to say, it is possible that you’d find that they devolve back into monkeys at some point far enough back, but it would be a gradual change so you couldn’t quite pinpoint that either.

    #35 said “Now if the sand was to be counted that is actually a finite number, so God knows it. Until more sand was created by weathering, erosion, transortation and deposition. It is a process that creates more sand. But God would know that number too, because it leads to a finite amount of sand.”

    Why would God even want to know these things? This whole concept seems very troublesome. Why must God be a know-it-all fact machine. Jared in #44 gave a good response to this idea. I think the whole thing is a sort of disease spawning from the idea that God somehow holds the universe in existence with his mind. This, in return, spawns from the idea that God is outside the universe and created it ex-Nihilo. If we embrace God within the Universe, we can allow him to be comfortably residing within it, allowing Nature to turn its wheels, and not having to hold every fact in his head to avoid a cataclysmic meltdown. The universe can continue humming along if God blinks his eye, or even takes a nap – Science would balk at the other concept, but this one is believable and would hold up to scrutiny. What kind of being would ever want to be burdened with knowing every fact about everything, ever. That sounds like hell to me. Exaltation had better not require that, because if it does, please excuse me when that day comes around, because I think I have another engagement to attend to.

    Sorry to go on and on. Hopefully I gave some food for thought and stayed on-topic well enough. :)

    Comment by Jeff Day — December 29, 2006 @ 8:57 pm

  60. Well, God sure knows IF there is a biggest number or not. IF there is one, He knows what it is.

    Comment by annegb — December 29, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

  61. Blake: “last moment” is no more logically possible than “greatest possible integer”.

    That is the point I was making in #51 to show that numbers are, in fact, a fair analogy for time. Then I went on to reformulate the question without making reference to either of these things. I think you must have missed the whole point of my #51.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 9:58 pm

  62. Wow, I blinked and this discussion moved waaaay beyond me.

    Matt W, #13: where does God’s ability to make predictions or have foreknowledge become valueable to us, theologically speaking?

    It’s important to me because it gives me reason to trust him. I can believe that when he makes a promise that he not only hopes to be able to keep it, but that he knows that he can.

    Taking an idea from comments already made in this discussion: Imagine God sheepishly greeting us when we die, saying, “About that ‘Atonement’ thing: it turns out that I made a little miscalculation concerning mercy and justice….”

    Does it require foreknowledge or just knowledge?

    I don’t know. By “knowledge” do you mean “ability to make predictions” or something else? I’m not sure I understand…

    Stapley, #25: there is a possibility that God have exhaustive foreknowledge of the events in this universe.

    Interesting idea.

    BiV, #49: Whenever there is a need to know any number, God will know it. His exhaustive foreknowledge is not dependent on knowing “the last number,” but rather any number He needs to know.

    Interesting.

    God does not experience time linearly as we do.

    I have no idea whether that is true or not. The scriptures that are used to support that idea can easily be read as metaphor. I’m open to the possibility that time for God is exactly like time for us.

    Comment by BrianJ — December 29, 2006 @ 10:22 pm

  63. Jeff,

    You make many good points. My favorite was this one:

    I believe in infinite as a piece of theory, and as a piece of mathematics. Even as a duration of time. But not as a quantity of anything, including knowledge, because knowledge occupies space, the same as a quantity of, sand, for instance, takes space.

    This is an interesting argument, and reminded me of the point Daylan was making with his thought experiment in #47.

    I think representing pi in base pi doesn’t really solve the problem of irrational numbers and the problem of getting infinite precision, but that is probably not worth pursuing.

    At any rate, lots of good comments, from you and from others today. Thanks.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 29, 2006 @ 10:37 pm

  64. Jacob re: #61: I didn’t miss your # 51, I was responding to it! The notion of a last moment, like the notion of a last number in an infinite set, is nonsense.

    Comment by Blake — December 30, 2006 @ 2:10 am

  65. It is discussions like these that help me understand what exactly Moses meant when after being shown the eternities he said, “I have learned that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”

    There are limits as to what our mortal mind can deduce through theology. Does this mean God cannot be discussed rationally, no. He has given us revelation and a framework to do that to the point we need to. It is just that there will always, always be a need for faith. We can’t comprehend the things God does.

    Comment by Doc — December 30, 2006 @ 8:38 am

  66. Blake (#64),

    I suspect there is still a misunderstanding. Jacob said in #51 “Just as there is no largest integer, there is no last moment” — he clearly agrees that the idea of a last moment is nonsense.

    I think he using the last number analogy to point to the fact that there is no such thing as a last moment. He is doing that in order to show that exhaustive (and infinite) foreknowledge is an incoherent concept. Based on what I know about your position of the subject, I’m not getting your objections either…

    Comment by Geoff J — December 30, 2006 @ 9:36 am

  67. Infinity is a sum of all the parts. In the example of a ring, or mobius strip, there is no beginning or end, but if you take one section it can be defined and even considered finite. However, if you take all of the sections, an infinate number of them, and add them together then there is no beginning and no end.

    Comment by Jared — December 30, 2006 @ 10:38 am

  68. Geoff & Jacob: Since there is no last number as a matter of logical necessity God cannot know that there is a last number. It is the concept of the “last number” that is logically impossible and thus no one could expect God to know it. However, that gets us nowhere. It is not the case that God cannot know an infinite number of times as a matter of logical necessity. No one who believes God has foreknowledge claims that God must know what it is logically impossible to know. However, since it is logically possible that there is an acutal infinity of future moments on the B-theory of time, all that the believer in foreknowledge has to adopt is the view that the future already actually exists (as the B-theory claims) and that there is no end to the future which God knows. There is nothing incoherent in that claim — if the B-theory (or block theory or 4d theory) of time is accepted. So my point is that Jacob is arguing that God doesn’t know the last moment in an infinite series is something everyone must accept, but it doesn’t entail that God cannot foreknowledge without further premises — such as the A-theory of time is true and there is no future at all to be known.

    Comment by Blake — December 30, 2006 @ 11:11 am

  69. Blake,

    Geoff is right, my point in #51 is not coming through. Let me clarify. In #46, you pointed out that there was an equivocation in my argument. The equivocation, as I understand it, is that I was applying an argument to “an infinite future” on the one hand (which is a coherent concept), and then to “the biggest number” on the other hand (which is not a coherent concept). So, I am accepting and acknowledging that point as a correct one. (You keep reiterating this point, but I was agreeing with this point in #51, which is how I can tell you haven’t understood my answer yet.)

    Now, my response to this criticism is that although I applied the arguments in a sloppy and incorrect way, I don’t think that the analogy must be scrapped. To illustrate that the analogy is sound, I showed that just as “the biggest number” is incoherent in the framework of numbers, “the last moment” is incoherent in the framework of time. Thus, it is still possible to find a good one-to-one mapping from the number analogy to the time analogy.

    So, in order to salvage my argument from the equivocation you mentioned, what I need to do is stop comparing “the biggest number” with “the infinite future” because those two are not correct analogs. But, there is a valid analog to “the infinite future” which is something like “the infinite set of numbers.”

    Thus, in my last paragraph of #51 I offered a corrected version of the question posed in the title of the post, which was: Does God know every number?

    I believe that question is not subject to your criticism of referring to something that is incoherent. It is also somewhat less obvious in its answer (demonstrating your point that my original formulation was invalid). Are we on the same page yet?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 30, 2006 @ 11:21 am

  70. Blake (#68) — Ahhh… I see your point now. Proponents of exhaustive foreknowledge could say God knows the infinite future without ever claiming he knows the non-existent “last moment”. Very good point — that does take the bite out of this biggest number analogy.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 30, 2006 @ 11:34 am

  71. Jacob, for your analogy to disprove the exhaustive foreknowledge of God, the answer to your question (#69), “Does God know every number?” must be no. But the answer is yes. You can build any number you need, even if it took a really long time. God knows every number and so do you, so where does your argument lead? I don’t think you can salvage it.

    Comment by Bradley Ross — December 30, 2006 @ 1:04 pm

  72. Bradley,

    By “salvage,” I was primarily attempting to make the argument valid (which I think I did). Of course, you are quite right to analyze the new argument/question to see if it is persuasive of any point. It may be that once reformulated, the argument is pointless, as you propose.

    I am starting to think that it is as easy to think about an infinite amount of time as it is to think about an infinite amount of numbers, which, if true, robs the analogy of its usefulness, since we can just discuss foreknowledge and time directly.

    As I reflect on the thoughts I was having before, it seems that Jeff’s argument (which I quoted in #63) gets to the heart of what I was thinking. It is the ability to capture all of an infinite quantity that strikes me as untenable. The “biggest number” argument was capturing for me the idea that no matter how much of the future God knows, there is always more. Of course, as Blake says in #68, a person who believes in exhaustive foreknowledge can argue that God’s knowledge is infinite. This is where Jeff’s arguement comes in (and Daylan’s #47). If knowledge must be stored in some fashion, then it takes up space. Thus, it would be impossible to have infinite knowledge without infinite space.

    So, that is where I am at the moment. I am agreeing with the criticisms of the original argument, and the comments have helped me sort out to some extent the roots of what was striking me as untenable in the first place.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 30, 2006 @ 2:27 pm

  73. Hello Jeff Day,

    I am sorry that I misunderstood your point, I can see now what you meant and agree with you. As for my not being thankful for what God has given me, I never said I thought what I see is a gift from God. I have been able to see whatever it is that I see since I was around eleven years old. I did not even join the Church until I was twelve. If it is a gift from God, I would be very glad to give it back to him. It has been a thorn of great magnitude in my side for most of my life. And the only thing I am afraid of is pure evil and Raw-Head and Bloody Bones. :}

    Clark – Thank you for you comments, I always enjoy learning something. Perhaps you could help me understand, (and maybe it is beyond “my” ability to comprehend) how something can just end, either in the past, meaning a beginning of time/space? Or in the future?

    I have often tried to comprehend/picture what would be at the end of space. What would stop it? I picture a brick wall, of course the obvious question is, what is on the other side of the brick wall. And the only way I can conceive of a big bang theory, is that God would have to exist outside of our space/time, and if that is so, then we get into a problem that I think Blake makes (maybe not Blake) and that is how could a being outside of our space/time have any kind of real interaction with us?

    And to Todd Wood and everyone here, Happy New Year!

    Comment by CEF — December 30, 2006 @ 3:34 pm

  74. This post reminded my of my philosophy of language class. Because of languages recursive nature, there are an infinite number of possible sentences. For example, all you have to do is keeping adding conjunctions. So, does God know every single possible sentence? Hmmm…

    Comment by Brett — December 30, 2006 @ 4:24 pm

  75. Wow. All this happened pretty fast! Sorry I missed it.

    I am a fairly simple member of the church, and an average engineer. When I first came to the ‘nacle I believed in the complete foreknowledge of God. I am beginning to change my mind. Thanks a lot :) .

    For me, saying that God’s foreknowledge is infinite-1 is fine. He is still God the Father, the gospel of Christ is true. It was a bit of a struggle, but I am giving in.

    But now I am asking myself again, what is the purpose of all this? It is interesting to think about. Some may be concerned about losing a ‘perfect’ faith. If it were perfect would it be faith? Is perfect faith any more in reach than the largest number, or the last moment, or infinite foreknowledge? I don’t think so.

    So even though I am starting to cave on this issue, I don’t think I am really losing anything.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 30, 2006 @ 4:30 pm

  76. Eric: So even though I am starting to cave on this issue, I don’t think I am really losing anything.

    You’re probably just losing a belief in an incorrect notion (grin). But I have argued that a belief in exhaustive foreknowledge can be dangerous and faith crippling so I think you are much better off.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 30, 2006 @ 5:02 pm

  77. Eric,

    I’m just glad the argument in this post was debunked so I can’t be blamed for your slide into apostasy.

    By the way, Blake, if it wasn’t clear, I am buying all the points you made in #68.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 30, 2006 @ 8:32 pm

  78. Re #14: By the way, engineers are interested in kissing girls?!? I am confused.

    Perhaps Eric (#75) could enlighten us?

    Comment by BrianJ — December 30, 2006 @ 8:51 pm

  79. I have another question on the subject. Does God know the number of posts that this thread will have? Or when this thread will end? :-)

    Comment by Ian Cook — December 31, 2006 @ 1:28 am

  80. Ian: He does now.

    Comment by Blake — December 31, 2006 @ 4:59 pm

  81. Brian J:

    Yes, many male engineers are interested in kissing girls. Mainly these are the ones with GPAs below 3.8.

    I’m going to make a post tomorow that might have something to do with that!

    By the way, what does an engineer use for birth control?

    His personality.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 31, 2006 @ 6:29 pm

  82. This discussion brings to mind a Neal A. Maxwell gem.

    Comment by Gary — January 1, 2007 @ 1:47 am

  83. Are you assuming that math is some sort of universal language? It seems you are also assuming that god qualifies(quantifies) counting with actual numbers…When he gets big numbers involved, he usually just compares it with “the sands of the sea” or, “the stars in the sky.”

    The bigger question is, can me make a rock so big that he can’t pick it up?

    Comment by Jake — January 1, 2007 @ 3:21 am

  84. Gary: Your argument would have us avoid talking about God in any way whatsoever, because, after all, we are merely specks of dust in comparison to him. Or, at best, all of our discussions would boil down to “God can do anything and be anything”—which is simply not true.

    Also, I think you make several errors in the way you portray the discussion here. And the closing argument, “It is, therefore, the very essence of vanity for man to use his finite, mortal mind to judge that God’s glorified, perfected, and infinite mind is limited in any way,” seems hypocritical: We could just as easily say that it is the essence of vanity for a lesser mind to make any judgments about a greater mind, including judging that the greater mind is infinite.

    These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. (Abraham 3:19)

    Comment by BrianJ — January 1, 2007 @ 8:41 am

  85. Gary: I read your post. Your conclusion is: “Mortal man with his finite mind cannot know the biggest number. That is clear. But it is also clear that God is not mortal and his mind is not finite.

    It is, therefore, the very essence of vanity for man to use his finite, mortal mind to judge that God’s glorified, perfected, and infinite mind is limited in any way.”

    First, even a finite mind can see that there is no biggest number so there is nothing to know. Not even God can know what is logically impossible so there is nothing to know — or did you just miss that because thinking of any kind is useless? Your assertion is like saying that we cannot grasp the concept of a triangle with six sides, but God can. Not even God can make nonsense intelligible.

    Second, why did you even quote the scriptures or Elder Maxwell? Isn’t it because you believe we can understand something about the atonement and reusrrection and God? So the fact that we cannot understand everything about God (which is obvious and you don’t get to presume you’re the only one who sees that) doesn’t mean we cannot grasp anything about God. The very fact of revelation shows that much. So you cannot avoid the discussion with a wave of your hand in the direction of our limitations.

    On other other, it is entirely appropriate to point out that some subjects we just cannot approach because of our cognitive limitations. However, you have not shown that the notion of the largest number is beyond our ken — you have simply mistakenly assumes that the concept of the largest number had intelligible meaning. It doesn’t.

    Comment by Blake — January 1, 2007 @ 9:13 am

  86. BrianJ: Is that what you would say also to him who said:

    “It is one of the hallmarks of human vanity that we assume, because we cannot do something, that God cannot do it either.” (Neal A. Maxwell, Even As I Am, SLC: Deseret Book, 1982, p. 63.)

    Comment by Gary — January 1, 2007 @ 9:13 am

  87. Blake: A modern prophet, speaking as a prophet, has invited “all our Father’s children, everywhere, to believe in Christ, to receive him as he is revealed by living prophets.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, “Counsel to the Saints and to the World,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 27.)

    That is why we study the scriptures and living prophets. Yet how many commenters on this thread really believe in Christ as he is revealed by the apostolic statement in Jacob’s comment #14? Do you?

    Comment by Gary — January 1, 2007 @ 9:45 am

  88. Gary: 1) Maxwell didn’t post a link here where he called this discussion vain; you did. So don’t try to deflect my criticism of your argument onto Maxwell.

    2) Maxwell didn’t—at least in the quotes you provided—refer to God’s mind as being infinite; you did.

    3) Maxwell doesn’t try to make a case for ending all discussion of God’s nature and abilities; your post does.

    4) You give no context for the Maxwell quote, so how could any reader know what he was actually talking about when he said that? Surely Maxwell is not arguing that God can do anything. So the short answer to your question in #89 is that I don’t know how I would respond to Maxwell, since I don’t know the context in which he was speaking.

    4.5) I do know the context in which you were “speaking,” I think you are wrong, and I addressed my criticism to you.

    5) God himself has told us that he has limitations, so I doubt that Maxwell is advocating that we never contemplate those limitations—which is what this discussion is about. If you have any scriptures or quotes that define those limitations and/or prohibit pondering them then those would be helpful to this discussion.

    6) Blake’s second point in #85 was not addressed by your response in #87. Rather, you once again deflect the criticism of your argument, this time challenging the beliefs of those in this discussion. You should address Blake’s criticism.

    Comment by BrianJ — January 1, 2007 @ 11:59 am

  89. BTW – I put up a post regarding infinity and mathematical knowledge of God over at my blog.

    What’s interesting is that there are things God can’t know and yet God might know just as much (in terms of number) as a being that “could” know such things.

    CEF (#75), the best way to think of it is to think of two separated pieces of paper and how one can move from one to an other. Either the pieces are connected by higher dimensional space (i.e. the third dimension where one can move in the air between the pieces of paper) or else they touch at some point. So each piece of paper has limits but there are more pieces of paper.

    Now the problem with physics is that at a minimum we’re not talking about two dimensional objects (say the paper while ignoring it’s thickness) in three dimensional space. Rather we’re thinking of four dimensional objects that aren’t planar or ten dimensional objects. So it’s almost impossible to wrap our minds around it since our spatial thinking mechanisms are designed for two and limited three dimensional thinking.

    So physicists can offer analogies and hope they help. But one has to note that analogies break down and ask not to push them beyond what is intended.

    Comment by Clark — January 1, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

  90. BrianJ (#88) —

    Well said.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 1, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  91. BrianJ (#88) —

    Who said anything about “ending all discussion of God’s nature and abilities?”

    On the other hand, I do find it somewhat disappointing that McConkie’s “on topic” and very valid question quoted by Jacob three days and 76 comments ago has been deemed unworthy of comment on this thread (and, by the way, you can read the McConkie comment “in context” here).

    My own view is that God’s character, perfections, and attributes are not discovered using human logic. I believe “God stands revealed or he remains forever unknown.” (Bruce R. McConkie, “Upon This Rock,” Ensign, May 1981, p. 77.)

    I believe properly revealed and correct ideas of God’s character, perfections, and attributes are ever worthy of our discussion and praise.

    Comment by Gary — January 1, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

  92. Gary, #91: “Who said anything about “ending all discussion of God’s nature and abilities?””

    I did, when in #84 I wrote how I understood the post you linked to. Then I wrote it again in #88, again as my “summary” of your post. So once again I’ll say what I think you’re advocating: either say that God is omnipotent or say that he is incomprehensible or don’t say anything at all. If I misunderstand your point, let me know.

    “I do find it somewhat disappointing that McConkie’s “on topic” and very valid question…has been deemed unworthy of comment on this thread.”

    Then comment on it, thereby adding to this discussion. And for the record, my comment #62, 4th paragraph, was written with this very quote in mind.

    “…God’s character, perfections, and attributes are not discovered using human logic…. properly revealed and correct ideas of God’s character, perfections, and attributes are ever worthy of our discussion and praise.”

    You may see this discussion very differently than others here. I can speak for myself that my use of this post is in line with D&C 9:8 and 109:7. If there is something in this discussion that is incorrect, then address it. If there is something missing, then add it. If there is something right, then praise it and substantiate it. (Note: your argument on the infinite nature of the Atonement does just that, but I’d prefer it be posted here where the discussion is rather than “on the wings,” as it is.)

    Comment by BrianJ — January 1, 2007 @ 7:33 pm

  93. Gary, you seem to put reason and revelation as polar opposites in a way that I don’t think is correct. It seems that revelations are given to be understood and reason is how we understand. Further we are criticize when we ask without pondering it out in our mind which seems to suggest reason is necessary.

    Without this use of reason we merely have revelations of words without meaning which sounds precariously close to “mystery” in the traditional forms of Christianity where we have to espouse commitment to words without having any ability to comprehend them.

    Comment by clark — January 1, 2007 @ 8:57 pm

  94. Ok, I’ve been away a while, and have missed alot. I decided to read everything, and have a few comments.

    1. We Say Time (I am using the capital T to note God’s time, not man’s) is infinite in both directions, and have reasoned God can not know the farthest moment of the future because there is no farthest moment of the future. If infinite time is both directions, the same must apply to the past. But, as God existed in the infinite past, he does know the infinite, though unidirectionally.

    2. Earlier, I asked if God needed foreknowledge as we are discussing it. As for the BRM quote Gary has re-emphasized and Jacob originally put forward, I do not think it addresses directly complete foreknowledge but just complete knowledge. If God perfecty knew what we needed for salvation, and he knew the solution, it does not require foreknowledge. (He didn’t need to predict what we needed, or to know where we would be in 20 years, etc.) If the problem of man’s salvation is a problem in the sense of 2 + 2, God would not need foreknowledge to make 4, but only knowledge. God doesn’t need to know the future to know what the results of his plan will be and he is not making a prediction, He simply knows the answer to the equation which is in front of him…

    This is all off the cuff, but these are my thoghts after going through all that has gone before…

    Comment by Matt W. — January 2, 2007 @ 8:31 am

  95. Matt (#94),

    But, as God existed in the infinite past, he does know the infinite, though unidirectionally.

    There are multiple views available on this point. Those who believe that God has always been God and that he has perfect memory will likely take the view you describe. Those who believe God came to be God at some point in time need not hold the view that God knows the infinite past. I think it would be hard to argue that he must know the infinite past in order to be God.

    If God perfecty knew what we needed for salvation, and he knew the solution, it does not require foreknowledge.

    BRM’s argument was made in the context of renouncing the idea that God progresses in knowledge and learns new truths. This tends to support your view, so long as truth does not change across time (as one might argue with respect to the plan of salvation). However, in some important respects, truth does change across time. Notably, the truth of what has happened is always changing. Furthermore, the plan of salvation doesn’t seem to me to be like an equation as you suggested. It is not just a 2+2=4 kind of knowledge. God’s knowledge of the plan of salvation includes a knowledge that he can triumph over all his enemies (even those in the future) and can overcome any obstacles that would twart his purposes. Such an ability might not require exhaustive foreknowledge, but it certainly seems to involve some level of foreknowledge.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 2, 2007 @ 3:20 pm

  96. Jacob:

    I agree with you on the knowledge of the infinite past issue and am personally non-comittal to any one idea of it. I just wanted to hold it up to the light as a balance or test for the idea that “God does not know the future because it does not yet exist” reasoning exhibited earlier on this thread.

    I am not sure there is any problem that can not be reduced to a large series of 2+2 type problems. As for God’s obstacles and enemies, I do not see the plan of salvation as some sort of cosmic chess game, and I don’t think you think this either, so please clarify what you mean.

    Maybe I am too narrowly defining foreknowledge. Is foreknowledge only knowing to bet on the colts in the super bowl because they are going to win at all, or is it knowing that the sun will rise tomorrow, or knowing that when I take my wife flowers, she will be happy? These are poor samples, but I hope they convey what I am asking.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 2, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

  97. According to Neal A. Maxwell, time does not exist where God lives:

    “The Lord says,  ‘ And all things are present with me, for I know them all ‘  (Moses 1:6). God does not live in the dimension of time as do we. Moreover, since  ‘ all things are present with ‘  God, his is not simply a predicting based solely upon the past. In ways which are not clear to us, he actually sees, rather than foresees,the future—because all things are, at once, present, before him!

    “In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord describes himself as  ‘ the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes ‘  (D&C 38:2).” (“A More Determined Discipleship,” Ensign, Feb. 1979, p. 72.)

    Neal A. Maxwell, after again quoting D&C 38:2, also said:

    “Not only is Jesus’ omniscience asserted, but the reason for his foreknowledge is given: he is not bound by time, and thus  ‘ all things are present ‘  before him each moment!” (“The Doctrine and Covenants: The Voice of the Lord,” Ensign, Dec. 1978, p. 4–5.)

    Comment by Gary — January 2, 2007 @ 5:05 pm

  98. I second the motion to hear an interpretation of Moses 1:6 that involves God not knowing the future. I’ll look this up in Blake’s volume 1 when I get home if someone doesn’t answer this sooner. I’ll give my view below.

    Jacob #95: “in some important respects, truth does change across time.”

    This seems almost a contradiction in terms when talking about a religious understanding of truth. That is, what is your definition of truth if it is not that which does not change over time? I think I know what you were trying to say, but I think your statement betrays the importance of how one understands what truth and knowledge are in answering this question about God’s foreknowledge.

    I submit that truth as related to us in the scriptures, through prophets, and through personal revelation has nothing to do with predicting exact outcomes of events. So, when it says in Moses that “all things are present” to God, I think what’s important is that God knows (in the acquainted-with sense of knowledge, not just the modern, correspondence-sense of knowledge) that the future will conform to principles-of-truth in the same way that the past has conformed to principles-of-truth. Although I don’t doubt God’s ability to predict the outcome of the Superbowl with at least practical certainty, I suspect that this kind of question about God’s abilities is inconsequential (perhaps even insulting) from God’s perspective.

    Comment by Robert C. — January 2, 2007 @ 5:46 pm

  99. Gary,

    What do you make of D&C 130:4-5:

    4 In answer to the question—Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside?
    5 I answer, Yes.

    That verse conspicuously refers to “God’s time.” The question is obviously inspired by Abraham 3 in which Abraham is shown a vision of the cosmos and sees that the time of every planet is associated with its revolutions. That chapter also refers to God’s as existing in time:

    9 And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time;

    I’m curious how you read these?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 2, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  100. Robert (#98),

    I gave an example of what I meant after the sentence you quote. I had in mind the fact that if God does not know the future, then his knowledge must always be changing as he learns what has taken place. That seems solid to me. If you are taking issue with my imprecise/unqualified use of the word “truth,” then I am surely guilty.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 2, 2007 @ 6:07 pm

  101. By the way, Robert, some of the debates about the meaning of truth make my eyes glaze over (thinking of William James here), but my use of the word “truth” which you didn’t like seems to fit ok with this definition:

    D&C 93:24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;

    If God does not know the future, then by this definition he must continually learn new truths. Your statements and claims in #98 don’t seem to work well with the definition above.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 2, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  102. Jacob #100: ” if God does not know the future, then his knowledge must always be changing as he learns what has taken place”

    I’m basically arguing that this kind of knowledge that you describe is not very important (and presupposes a very modern–or at least Greek–way of thinking about knowledge), and not the kind of knowledge that scriptures are talking about.

    Closer to the previous discussion on this thread, I think what I am saying is tantamount to saying, “I do not need to know every instance of x in order to know (in a practical sense) that 2*x=x+x.”

    Jacob #101: “If God does not know the future, then by this definition he must continually learn new truths.”

    My problem with your interpretation of truth in this passage is that it seems to make verses 26 and 30 incomprehensible:

    26 – I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth;

    30 – All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.”

    Here is a sketch of my take on D&C 93:24. It seems that if we take the modern view of truth in verse 24, “knowledge of the future” is necessarily an impossibility, and so a knowledge of all truth is also impossible. I think if this view of truth is taken, most scriptures about truth and knowledge (e.g. it seems the common phrase “knowledge of the truth” must be qualified as only an incomplete version of truth), and the “fulness of truth” in 93:26 becomes a wrested conception.

    Comment by Robert C. — January 2, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

  103. Jacob J (#99):

    Time is measured (reckoned, counted, or computed) only by man. The reckoning by man of time (whether God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, or man’s time) is according to the planet on which each resides.

    Again, according to Neal A. Maxwell, time does not actually exist where God lives:

    “And when the gossamer veil called time is ‘too much with us,’ let us recall that, ere long, time will be no more. Time is measured only to man anyway. (See Rev. 10:6; Alma 40:8; D&C 84:100.)” (“Thanks Be to God,” Ensign, July 1982, p. 55.)

    Comment by Gary — January 2, 2007 @ 7:40 pm

  104. Gary & Robert: First, I would point out that the very passages from Elder Maxwell that you cite are the ones I discussed with him and he backed off of that view.

    Second, both Moses and D&C 93 are easily read as referring to existing things. Look at Moses 1:6: “And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the dSavior, for he is full of egrace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.”

    Moses 1:6 cannot be read to assert that all things are in God’s immediate corporeal presence because it is clear that they aren’t. Further, no unclean thing can “dwell in God’s presence”, so the notion of what is present must be limited. Third, all that Moses 1:6 requires is that whatever exists, is present to God thus knows it. It doesn’t mention anything at all about the future or time. Finally, it seems that “presence” refers to the nature of all things in which God’s spirit or light dwells and God is present to all things in this limited sense (note that God is present to all things as much as all things are present to God).

    D&C 93:24 is similar: “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come….” Note that Christ is the light, the way and the truth, but he doesn’t know all things to come because he doesn’t know the date of the second coming. So here we must also look for a limiting sense. The more plausible way to take it is that the word “things” must be taken with full seriousness. Only what constitutes a “thing” is known — but the future doesn’t yet exist as any “thing” in this sense and thus is not included in the scope of “things known.”

    If there is already in existence some “thing” that will definitely come about because it is a part of God’s plan, then it is known to God alrleady. However, it is demonstrable that there are future realities which are closed even to God’s knowledge. I am open to the view that the scriptures are not univocal on this issue. If you would like, I’ll send a copy of paper that looks at various scriptures which state or imply that God does not have foreknowledge.

    Comment by Blake — January 2, 2007 @ 8:01 pm

  105. Matt W, #94 & 96: very interesting. Thanks.

    Gary, #97: thanks for the quotes about God’s time; they’ve generated an interesting discussion.

    Blake, #104: I’m sorry, I didn’t fully read the comment (it’s way over my head with the technical terms). I wonder if you would still be willing to address my understanding of the question. I’ve been thinking of Moses 1:6 (and like verses) as being metaphorical. I can explain by two analogies:

    1) Time does not exist for God One hour in a car is unbearable for a 4-yr old but to an adult it passes quickly. For an 85-yr old, the days of the week blend together until Wednesday doesn’t even exist anymore. God has been around so long that time doesn’t exist to him—at least as we measure it, in years and decades and even centuries. So we celebrate the Church’s 150th birthday and God smiles and says, “That’s nothing.”

    2) All things are present I’m always forgetting details, but I can run to my files, look up the paper, and then I remember. God, in contrast, has all of his memory before him—all that he witnessed, created, heard, spoke. This seems to be the sense of Moses 1:3-5.

    Comment by BrianJ — January 2, 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  106. Blake #103: Thanks for your response on Moses 1:6 and D&C 93:24, that seems a tenable view to me. I’m still curious how you understand “fulness of truth” in v. 26 and how truth can “act for itself” in v. 30.

    Comment by Robert C. — January 2, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  107. Gary (#99),

    If there is no time for God, then how in the world can man reckon God’s time? Even referring to “God’s time” becomes meaningless, and yet, there it is in D&C 130. What do you think it means for man to reckon God’s time if no such thing exists?

    Also, in case you are not aware of the discussion with Elder Maxwell that Blake refers to in his first paragraph of #104, see this comment from a few days ago.

    Comment by Jacob — January 2, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

  108. Robert,

    As I said, some of the arguments about the meaning of the word truth have not sunk in for me yet, but thanks for the link. I am not sure if your conception of truth makes sense of verse 29 for me (intelligence being the light of truth). Verse 30 makes the way in which truth “acts for itself” parallel with the way in which intelligence “acts for itself.” The way in which you describe truth acting is interesting, but that passage remains mysterious to me in some of its terminology. (Similarly, “Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ” (D&C 88:7) is odd to me.) I’m wondering what you make of the end of verse 30 “otherwise there is no existence.”

    I disagree that knowledge of the future is essentually mathematical (2*x=x+x) because I don’t believe in determinism. However, I agree with you that there are things God knows independent of what happens which are very important. I subscribe to the view Blake describes in #104 that God does not know things that to not exist, since things that don’t exist cannot yet be known. Much of the future falls into this category of things that do not yet exist. There can still be a fullness of truth on this view if God knows everything which does exist.

    Comment by Jacob — January 2, 2007 @ 9:59 pm

  109. #108: “some of the arguments about the meaning of the word truth have not sunk in for me yet”

    Jacob, you really have a knack for politeness that I think serves you very well. There might be only a very slight difference between what you said and saying that you think this other approach is all bunk, but your wording evidences a charitable modesty that gives the benefit of doubt to the Other and acknowledges the (possible) limitations of your own view. Thank you for being a model of (sincere) politeness.

    “I disagree that knowledge of the future is essentually mathematical (2*x=x+x) because I don’t believe in determinism.”

    I had a slightly different idea in mind here and just picked a poor way of articulating it. What I meant is more like if I do an action X two times, then God knows what the consequences will be, regardless of what X is, even though he doesn’t (necessarily) know which X I will choose. So by knowing “how the world works,” God knows the future in a certain (strong) sense, even though he can’t predict every detail in the future.

    “I’m wondering what you make of the end of verse 30 ‘otherwise there is no existence.’”

    I think this is all very much tied up with the idea of creation (which is why I brought up on the wiki the passage in 2 Ne 2:11 about “one body” vs. “compound in one”). This essay by Jim F. has heavily influenced my recent thinking on all of this. If I had a more clear and developed view, I would summarize it here–my linking to Jim’s essay is my way admitting I don’t have a good answer (yet!).

    Comment by Robert C. — January 3, 2007 @ 6:16 am

  110. (In #106 I was addressing Blake’s #104, not #103–sorry.)

    Blake #104: “If you would like, I’ll send a copy of paper that looks at various scriptures which state or imply that God does not have foreknowledge.”

    Yes, that’d be great: r9c9o9u9c9h9@byu.edu (without the 9′s). This thread has motivated me to finally dig into these issues of foreknowledge more deeply, something I’ve been avoiding (as our discussions of Atonement theory probably made very evident…). I don’t believe God has complete foreknowledge, but I do think we can say that he has knowledge of the future in a weaker sense and I think this weaker sense is important for reading scriptural phrases such as “knowledge of the truth.”

    Blake #104: “If there is already in existence some “thing” that will definitely come about because it is a part of God’s plan, then it is known to God alrleady.”

    Jacob #108:“Much of the future falls into this category of things that do not yet exist.”

    These comments are very helpful. I think this is similar to what I am trying to say about how God knows the future in a certain sense, even if he can’t predict every little detail of what will happen. Since God has made certain promises/covenants/prophecies with us, we can trust in them completely, even though God doesn’t have absolute foreknowledge. (Actually, I think prophecies should be taken out of the foregoing sentence: isn’t it 1 Cor 13 that says prophecies might fail? Blake brushes this issue in Jonah in his next post.)

    Comment by Robert C. — January 3, 2007 @ 6:30 am

  111. I was reading through the comments and noticed that it had been mentioned before, but I thought I would ask just to make sure I had not lost my mind. Isn’t the fact that we can mathematically incorporate infinity into an equation automatically render a hightest number moot? Jump in at anytime and slap me if I’m mistaken.

    Doesn’t Einstein’s theory state that an object with mass can never reach the speed of light? I thought it went that as the speed of an object approaches the speed of light its mass approaches infinity, so the mass of the object would be inifinite if it did indeed reach the speed of light. Therefore, it would take an infinite amount of energy to move an infinite amount of mass and since neither of those two can happen you’re at an impasse? If I understood correctly light is exempt because it has a zero mass as long as it is moving.

    Well, none of that is important, I really just wanted to check the reality of my initial question. Since, we have infinity to throw around, then by default you cannot have a largest number as whatever that number is it would be infinite in size? Feel free to fling poo or a reality check in this direction.

    Comment by cew-smoke — January 3, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  112. Robert,

    You give me more credit than I deserve, thanks. By the way, I am genuinely confused by some of the language used in reference to “truth”; that wasn’t just an veiled way of saying your theory is bunk.

    cew-smoke,

    If I understand your point (which I am not entirely certain of), then I agree with you. Since any number (no matter how big) is still finite, there cannot be a biggest number. The question here was whether that fact can by used to make a point (by analogy) about foreknowledge of an infinite future. I think the consensus was that it cannot.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 4, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  113. Doesn’t Einstein’s theory state that an object with mass can never reach the speed of light?

    Yes. It would require infinite energy. Infinite energy is a no-no in GR since, given energy conservation and the nature of the space-time field it would play havoc with the universe.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

  114. Hello everybody. A couple of comments. First of all, I agree with several others here that free will is incompatible with a classical account of divine foreknowledge of the details of all future events (and with hard determinism generally).

    That however, does not mean that the Lord does not know more about the future than we know about the past, it simply means that his knowledge of future events must be compatible with a robust conception of His and our own free will. As Nephi said, “But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.”

    Comment by Mark Butler — January 7, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

  115. Now if the Lord knows all things from the beginning, and yet if (arguendo) does not have exhaustive knowledge of future events, if follows directly that the future is not a thing, i.e. strictly speaking it does not (yet) exist, not in a definite sense at any rate.

    Nephi goes on to say “he hath power unto the fulfilling of all his words”. Now suppose we have a bona fide prophecy of a future condition C, a condition that must obtain at some definite time in the future for Nephi’s statement to be correct.

    Now arguably, due to agency and other factors (justice, mercy, etc.), the elapsed time between the present and the time T when the Lord shall finally bring to pass condition C is strictly not fixed nor foreknowable, even in His own mind, if only due to self-imposed constraints on His own character (a prophecy is not a suicide pact, for example).

    What is fixed and known by him with certainty (to the degree anything contingent can be known) is that (desirable, necessary) condition C will be achieved in the future, according to the Lord’s power unto the fulfilling of all his words.

    [My apologies for the length]

    Comment by Mark Butler — January 7, 2007 @ 1:54 pm

  116. Mark: Welcome back! I’ve missed you. I think that we are in complete agreement; except that God doesn’t (voluntarily) limit his knowledge of free acts in my view. As I see it, if the future is not yet a “thing” and has no existence then in principle it cannot be known. Futher, I don’t believe that it is logically possible to know sifnificantly free acts beforehand. I also agree that it does not follow that God does not have foreknowledge of this things he has purposed to bring about through his own power.

    Comment by Blake — January 7, 2007 @ 2:31 pm

  117. Mark and Blake: would you then say that Nephi, as quoted by Mark, is in contradiction to Talmage’s “He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be”? Or is this an apples and oranges issue?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 8, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  118. Oh and Mark, I am really sorry for the way things went down at M*.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 8, 2007 @ 2:10 pm

  119. Please forgive me if my reply has already been versed, but I did not take the time to read all of the posts–I just wanted to reply!
    I think any attempt at comprehending the infinite is, by virtue of the definition, futile. How can we in our limited finite thinking comprehend that which is infinite? So, to answer the question on the floor: God knows all things exhaustively because he says that he does. He is an infinite being who can actually grasp, comprehend and manipulate things that are infinite just as we can with a piece of clay. This of course is a completely acceptable answer only if you concede that God does not move linearly through time and space as we do. He is completely removed from these concrete restraints therefore it is not inconceivable to accept his omniscience simply because he exists, not “within” anything, just simply exists and has existed and will continue to exist.

    Comment by mikeg — March 17, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

  120. Hi mikeg,

    Thanks for stopping by. The idea that God lives outside of time has come up several times recently in a number of contexts. It seems this belief is central to a lot of people’s thinking. Personally, I think it is untenable, but perhaps this topic needs its own post.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 17, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  121. God knows all things: past, present, and future! He is infinite and can handle infinity with no problem.

    Comment by Lavern — March 17, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

  122. I believe that God lives outside of time as we understand it.

    Comment by annegb — March 18, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  123. god know every thing so he konows the number

    Comment by Teje — April 22, 2008 @ 7:51 pm

  124. I don’t think that god exists for this specific reason.
    Either he doesn’t exist or that he created infinity by mistake!? If I were a creator why and how would I create something that I don’t know the end of??? May be he doesn’t know the answer so he created humans to figure it out :-)
    Even if God lives outside of space-time he wouldn’t know it. It is unknowable by definition because you can always add 1!!!!

    Comment by Asem — June 24, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

  125. Asem,

    Your logic is absolutely water-tight. Now I don’t believe God exists either. Thanks for ruining my day.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — June 25, 2009 @ 7:26 am

  126. I really don’t think that God would be included in this. And I’m not really sure if God know the biggest number or not but I looked it up and Google said the biggest number was called a, Graham and it said it looked like this when written 10 and a little tiny 9 all most above the 10 but it was like how high you put your apostrophy when doing a contraction, kind of like that really.
    Sincerly,
    Jackson Gore

    Comment by Jackson — May 30, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

  127. Infinity is a myth. Trying to extrapolate and infer metaphysical ideas from such writers as Nephi, Lehi, Alma, and even modern prophets, is naive and extremely problematic. To the degree that ancient and modern LDS prophets were doing “metaphysics”, they were doing it very badly.

    Comment by Dan — May 31, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

  128. Graham’s number is quite large.

    Dan, your comment makes a lot of sense except for the first sentence, which I can’t make heads or tails of.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 31, 2010 @ 9:52 pm

  129. I think he made it up Jacob.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2010 @ 10:40 pm

  130. Geoff,

    Yea, but even now when I re-read the comment I am struck that minus the first sentence is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection. How in the world was the first sentence written by the same person as the rest of the comment? It is a great mystery.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 31, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

  131. Infinity is a myth? I suggest you have a heart-to-heart with Georg Cantor, and the rest of modern society. Or you could just duct tape a sign to your back that says “I are an Idiott.”

    Comment by djinn — May 31, 2010 @ 11:58 pm

  132. Easy there djinn. Part of the trick to these things is the slowly work up to the blatant insults and attacks. After all, if you go for the hammer as your first move people start thinking the hammer is the only tool you have in the toolbox.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2010 @ 9:33 am

  133. If you are acquainted with quantum theory, you will recall that none other than Mr. Einstein himself described (and alluded to the mathematics of the case) how “space” must be finite. Hence, infinity is a myth, the legacy of a Newtonian cosmology and metaphysics.

    Comment by Dan — June 1, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

  134. Dan,

    Even if space is finite (a theory I like BTW) that does not mean “infinity is a myth”. There are plenty of concepts (like numbers for instance) that don’t occupy any space at all.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

  135. More to the point would be Wittgenstein’s objections to Cantor’s notions, but I hesitate to put my neck out again for fear of “the Hammer” (dun, dun, dun)…

    Comment by Dan — June 1, 2010 @ 4:12 pm

  136. Don’t worry Dan — Jacob and I have admin authority around here and promise you will be our honored guest in this thread.

    I mostly was confused by your sweeping claim that “infinity is a myth”. I suspect you were overstating things for effect but would like to know more about what spurred the comment.

    (Besides we only use the hammer on actual trolls and you don’t seem to be that at all.)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  137. My being the new kid on the block leaves me unfamiliar with my interlocutors. Sorry about that. I assumed “infinity is a myth” might have been somewhat uncontroversial.

    It seems this discussion – i.e., trying to argue whether or not God knows the biggest number – can only end in an apophatic theological exercize, doesn’t it?

    One escape from such might be found in Wittgenstein and his ilk – perhaps more specifically Heidegger. Certainly, when we raise the question of “infinity” as classically conceived, we are invoking notions of temporality and “boundedness” (in the face of Cantor’s unboundedness) that have been well-addressed by Heidegger (and Wittgenstein) and their crowd.

    Just thinking out loud…

    Comment by Dan — June 1, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

  138. By the way, djinn, perhaps you could make up one of those signs for me and send it over. I would be happy to wear it to honor your incisive analysis of things… ;-)

    Comment by Dan — June 1, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

  139. Well this post is nearly 4 years old so I sort of forgot what we were even talking about back then. I think the post was really about exhaustive foreknowledge.

    I certainly agree if your point was that “the biggest number” is a myth. I’ll let Jacob weigh in with his take on his own though.

    PS — Nice job with your performance of the philosopher-citing ritual. That ritual always makes me chuckle when I see it (especially when names are dropped without any accompanying concepts) but I know folks like to do it as a quasi resume in these sorts of settings.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

  140. Thanks, Geoff. I practice my name-dropping at Church events so I can be better in intellectual discourse.

    Comment by Dan — June 1, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

  141. Ha! I think I like you Dan.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

  142. Dan,

    I’m somewhat familiar with quantum theory (as a lay person, not a professional physicist) but I am not aware of any scientific consensus regarding the finitude of space. (I believe the Planck spacecraft is supposed to help answer the question of whether space is finite or not based on measurements of the Cosmic Background Radiation.) In any case, as Geoff said, that has no bearing on whether infinity is a myth. The idea that infinity is an outmoded hold-over concept from Newtonian cosmology strikes me as a bit ludicrous.

    Furthermore, I have no idea why a question about whether God knows the biggest number would lead inevitably (or even tend to lead) to an apophatic theological exercise. Can you explain why you think that would be the case?

    Comment by Jacob J — June 1, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

  143. What does it mean for infinity to be a “myth” anyway? It is a perfectly valid concept. The only way I can think of for infinity to be a myth is if there were no, are no, and never will be any actual infinities nor anything for which infinity is a proper metric, nor any quantity that will ever approach infinity.

    In terms of time alone, unless the universe sprung forth out of nothingness, it certainly is already of infinite duration. And unless the universe has some sort of transfinite death sentence such that it is going to vanish into nothing, the duration of the universe will certainly approach infinity even if it is not already infinite.

    To me the claim that infinity is a myth makes about as much sense as making the same claim of the number three.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 2, 2010 @ 7:32 pm

  144. PS — Nice job with your performance of the philosopher-citing ritual. That ritual always makes me chuckle when I see it (especially when names are dropped without any accompanying concepts) but I know folks like to do it as a quasi resume in these sorts of settings.

    My name is Riley and I approve of this message.

    Comment by Riley — June 3, 2010 @ 8:49 am

  145. Coming late to the discussion but how on earth does Heidegger deal with infinity in your eyes Dan? He suggests we are radically finite but that isn’t the same thing as saying infinity is a myth.

    Traditionally philosophy distinguishes between actual infinities from potential infinities. Most reject actual infinities although some think they exist. When Einstein rejected the universe as infinite he was talking in expanse (although interestingly Einstein was a Spinozist in philosophy but Spinoza accepts actual infinities in things like attributes). The exception is that until atheism became the dominate intellectual position God was considered infinite.

    In any case it seems odd, especially in a religious context, to simply reject infinity. Interestingly it seems like a robust concept of actual infinities was the default LDS position. It seems logically entailed if one thinks intelligences are individuals and uncreated and there is an endless set of creations. Of course there are alternative readings of LDS theology although one can debate how well they engage with Joseph’s own texts.

    Comment by Clark — June 3, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

  146. Sorry I have not checked back in a while as I have been busy with family matters out of town… and quite honestly, I did not expect I would be “missed”… but thanks for the reminder, Geoff.

    It was not my intent to stir up controversy over the ontological status of “infinity” and its corollary metaphysics (or “anti-metaphysics” as it were). The post was about God’s foreknowledge and the apparent dilemma represented in the question: Can God know the biggest number?

    Geoff threw down the gauntlet with “God can’t know the biggest number because it doesn’t exist to be known.”

    [Thank you for allowing me to recap].

    But there are at least two senses in which the biggest number “doesn’t exist” to be known. The first is the sense in which there actually exist “infinite numbers” (and things to be numbered) stretched out in a [linear] metaphysic of time/space, the “end” of which not even omniscient God can reach. In this sense, the “biggest number” dilemma is just a restatement of the old can-God-create-a-rock-so-big-even-He-can’t-move-it dilemma.

    But as with the “too-big rock” dilemma, the resolution is the same: the problem is at least partially semantic and typically requires us to examine anew what we mean by “God’s omniscience” (or even to recast epistemology entirely). That is what I take Geoff’s resolution to be: “the idea that God does not know the future exhaustively.”

    On such a view, God’s so-called “foreknowledge” must be altered into something different, and lesser, than what we previously thought it was. Indeed, taken to its extreme, this argument renders God’s “knowledge” effectively and practically no different than man’s: God is just guessing the best He can just like us, which alters God into something different, and lesser, than what we previously thought He was.

    An alternative that can preserve God’s omniscience (and foreknowledge), in the sense in which we seem to mean it in order to continue to have confidence (faith) in Him, is to reconsider what we mean by “infinity” (or the “too-bigness” of the rock). That invokes the second sense in which we can say the biggest number “doesn’t exist” to be known, and acknowledges a legitimate question over the ontological status of “infinity” as well as the linguistic valence of numbers and theoretical mathematics.

    Am I adding anything interesting to the dialog with this? I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with my obtuseness or verbosity…

    Comment by Dan — June 29, 2010 @ 2:24 pm

  147. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with my obtuseness or verbosity…

    Too late.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 29, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  148. Lol (literally)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 29, 2010 @ 2:58 pm

  149. #147 & 148.

    That is what I figured. I guess you will just have to miss out on the brilliant way in which I resolve the entire dilemma, totally deconstruct Cantor’s pedestrian notions, and integrate not only Wittgenstein’s critique, but also Heidegger’s insight with Joseph Smith’s soteriology…

    Comment by Dan — June 29, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

  150. Hehe. You have a great way with word salads Dan. It is pretty entertaining. Let us know when you have some meat to combine with all that sizzle.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 29, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

  151. Ditto, Geoff

    Comment by Dan — June 29, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

  152. Speaking of the Planck Spacecraft, check out this new picture if you didn’t see it already.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 8, 2010 @ 12:01 am

  153. Just a quick comment,
    I for one believe that God does know what the largest number is… The writer stated that time has no end, but, if science is correct, and there was a “time” before time existed then there must be a “time” where time will not exist again. Even as vast as space is, science states that it all came from one singular point. Then “The Big Bang”. Before the big bang there was no time, space, or anything else… After the bang there is space and it starts to expand. The way that I understand it, space is expanding. Everything is moving away from everything. Some think that space will eventually stop expanding and start to collapse upon itself again to that point of singularity. If that happens all time will cease, and there may be another big bang… It starts all over again. There is now time, there is now space, and even gravity… Inside of Black Holes there is no time because everything is so compressed, or is it because of gravity? Wait, before the big bang there was no time, no gravity but now there are black holes in which nothing can escape because the pull of gravity is so great that not even light can escape and time is all bent out of shape… (Is there a shape to time? there is some type of confusion of existence of both… hummm. Ok, so if the big bang is right, Please tell me where this singular point came from, and where was it hanging out before the bang? Were there more of these points floating around out there in the vast nothingness of….. What, er, space??? Hummm
    Ok that is the end of my rant.. but think about it ..
    AJ

    Comment by AJ — June 14, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

  154. Broz, thanks for your comments. I would like to speak to you more on this matter of the infinite. My phone number is 450-465-5679. To add upon what you and others have said, I will say this. We and deity all live in thë eternal NOW, which is infinite. Past and future do not exist execept in our or Gods (heavely parents) memories. I think their memories are quite a bit bigger than ours. God’s emories cannot be infinite either
    The universe does not have to be mathematicaly infinite in size for you to have an infinite number of experiences. Joseph Smith (thru relevation) said that matter, energy, and intelligence cannot be created or destroyed, only changedwhich kind of indicates that number of the different “particles” that represent these things are finite. To put things into perspective, the naumber of the smallest theoretical smallest particals on the known viewable universe based on the planck length is only about 10**187. A very small number compared to infinity.
    To understand infinity, time, foreknowledge, you have to consider the “eternal round”, “eternal families”, the genealy of the “Gods”, etc.
    If anyone wishs to pursue this train of thought with me, please phone me at the given> maybe we can learn from each other. Cheersa

    Comment by Barry Smale — June 17, 2013 @ 6:28 am

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