There is a famous episode in Mormon history when Orson Pratt and Brigham Young were having a very public debate over various points of doctrine. One of the many things they disagreed about was whether or not God was increasing in knowledge and learning new truths. Brigham taught that God does learn new truths and eventually laid the smackdown on Orson by way of a first presidency message denouncing Orson’s opposing view. Ironically, Orson’s view is probably the prevalent one in the church today, mostly because of folks like JFSII and BRM.
If I correctly recall my reading of Evidences and Reconciliations, Widtsoe argued that God’s omniscience is like having a knowledge of all the numbers zero through ten (he knows everything), but that those numbers could be combined in an infinite number of ways (knowledge is unbounded). Like most analogies, this one seems slick until you realize that it doesn’t mean a thing. Widtsoe doesn’t say what the numbers represent or what the analog to combining numbers is, so the analogy obfuscates more than it enlightens.
Eugene England wrote a paper arguing that God knows all truths within a “sphere” but that there are more truths in a higher sphere which God continues to learn. This time around, the smackdown went the other direction as England was famously rebuked by Bruce R. McConkie in a private letter (which became very public) in which McConkie quoted his own Seven Deadly Heresies speech in which he called Brigham’s doctrine “false — utterly, totally, and completely.”
Given our love for the topic of freedom and foreknowledge at NCT, we have discussed this topic from the standpoint of God’s foreknowledge several times in the past. If God does not know the future (as has been argued here) then this would be one way in which his knowledge is limited. But, this potential limitation doesn’t really get at the interesting part of the Brigham/Orson debate. Recently, I started thinking about this problem of God’s knowledge in the context of information theory. Specifically, I have been been wondering where God stores all this information he proportedly knows.
The Interesting Part
Two Mormon doctrines seem particularly relevant here. The first is the fundamental materialism implied by D&C 131:7 which states that “there is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter.” The second is the doctrine that God has a physical body. These two doctrines create fascinating issues in the realm of information theory. The fundamental problem is that it takes space to store information. It must be written down in books or stored on computer hard drives or captured in physical brains. The doctrine that all spirit is matter implies that not even God can get around this limitation. Information takes up space.
Our experience with computers over the last 40 years has demonstrated that a LOT of information can be compressed and sqashed into remarkably small spaces. Of course we must assume that God can squish it into even more compact spaces then we can. But is there a limit? It seems that there must be. Consider what it means for God to know everything about the current state of the universe. The key word to consider is the word everything. Even when we think we are storing a lot of information about something, we are in reality only storing a very small fraction of what we usually conceive of as everything.
Just about the most compact storage system we can imagine right now is using single electrons as a “bit” of binary data, using the spin to indicate either a logical 1 or 0. This would provide orders of magnitude more compression than we can acheive today. However, if the everything God knows includes the current spin state of every electron, we have a problem. After all, we will need an electron to store this spin state and the smallest thing we have to store it is an electron in a given spin state. That doesn’t leave any electrons for storing other information. When we add the element of time, things get much worse. Now that I have every electron in the universe busy storing it’s current spin state, where will I store all the spin states of electrons in the next moment? Hmmm.
Leaving aside the problem of where to store all the information, it is interesting to consider this problem in relation to God’s brain. God’s brain can only store a finite amount of information at any given time since it occupies a finite space and we are assuming that there is no such thing as the infinite compression of information. So, it seems that God must have some way of storing information outside of his brain. Maybe he devotes certain universes to data storage doesn’t worry about storing the information about the “data center” universes. I don’t know what format he would use, but I hope it is not books; books take too long to read. Hopefully he can store it in “brain” format so he can just bring it in from disk directly to his brain, sort of like how they taught Neo jujitsu in the Matrix.
However he does it, I don’t think it is feasible to say that God has everything about the infinite past available to him from local storage in his own brain (cf D&C 130:9-10). In fact, the part about the past being infinite pretty much seals the deal. But then, as I think about it, I wonder why it would be imporant for God to know everything from the infinite past anyway. I also wonder if it is important for God to know the spin states of every electron in present. It just seems to me that there is lots of information that doesn’t matter. Why wouldn’t God use the same trick that we do by focusing on and storing only the information that is important for him to know in order to accomplish his plans and designs? It will probably come as no surprise that this is what I think God does.
So, in conclusion, in addition to not believing that God knows the future, I don’t believe he knows everything about the present, and certainly not everything about the infinite past. What say you? Surely there is something in the rambling above you can comment on if you give it a shot. Don’t let me down.