A epistemological variant of Homer's question about whether God could microwave a burito so hot He himself could not eat it, is about whether God could know what it is like not to know everything. Another variant concerns God's practical reason, and whether he can know what it is like to sin. I have another variant here...

In his essay, "Is God a Mathematician: The Meaning of Metabolism", Jonas presents a similar argument concerning the limitations of mathematical physics. His notion of the mathematician God seems to be not unlike a Laplacian Demon, and he uses this God to attack a position held by his contemporaries - essentially that the cosmos is material and the physicists ontology is complete.

Very roughly, he argues that the mathematician God would have no means to determine what is alive and what is not. There would be particles and forces, but no delineation of organisms as such.

On the strength of the immediate testimony of our bodies we are able to say what no disembodied onlooker would have cause for saying: that the mathematical God in his homogeneous analytical view misses the decisive point - the point of life itself: its being self-centred individuality, being for itself and in contraposition to all the rest of the world, with an essential boundary dividing "inside" and "outside" [emphasis his]

In other words, this God who looks at the entire cosmos from outside, does not know what it is like to be part of it.

My first question: I'm aware that Jonas was interested in Gnosticism, something I know nothing about, is this Jonas' argument part of the Gnostic tradition? Does it pre-date it? Does it have a more recent origin?

My second question: Gnosticism aside, there seems to be a whole category of arguments of which this is part. Is there a review of them anywhere?

  • 2
    "... whether God could know what it is like not to know everything." I've heard it said that we are exactly that. God wanted to forget about being God so she decided to be me for a while. That's exactly what it means when it's said that God is in each of us. Each of us are God. We are each a God pretending to forget that we're a God. Even if you don't take that literally (and who's to say?) it's a powerful metaphor of empowerment. Perhaps I'm not omnipotent. But look at what some of us have accomplished. What are geniuses, but people who remembered that they're a God?
    – user4894
    May 9, 2014 at 23:28
  • @user4894 There's something quite beautiful about some of those. Something a little different about Jonas' argument is that he is saying that it wouldn't even cross (the mathematical) God's mind to try, he wouldn't be able to conceive of the possibility or the bring about intention.
    – Lucas
    May 9, 2014 at 23:35
  • This is the euthyphro dilemma in essence. I gave what I think is a good answer here christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/2663/…
    – Neil Meyer
    May 11, 2014 at 17:38
  • @NeilMeyer I'm struggling to see how this is the same as asking if goodness is antecedent to God's command. Can you help me understand why you are saying this?
    – Lucas
    May 11, 2014 at 17:55
  • Can he microwave a burito so hot he cannot eat seems to me similar to can he make a stone so big he cannot lift it.
    – Neil Meyer
    May 12, 2014 at 6:26

1 Answer 1


To my knowledge this is not part of the Gnostic tradition at least, not part of the Syrian-Egyptian and Persian schools which I am familiar with.

I would suggest googling counter-apologetic sites for a review of this kind of argument. Its certainly a fascinating idea. In solving the problem of God's origins inherent in classical arguments like the Cosmological Argument, the author has managed to torpedo the idea of a prayer answering god because any god that doesn't know what it is like to be inside the universe would have no idea how to interpret the messages.

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