8

The easiest way to explain this question is with a thought experiment:

Consider God, the ultimate of everything, who is wholly omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing). Let's just say, hypothetically, that he wanted X group of individuals to save a man from under a burning car (this is a totally random example I just happened to be reading about; I could have just as easily said He wanted Bob to score a free-throw in basketball 3 times in a row tomorrow, or Sally to knit a blue sweater on Sunday, November 4th, 2012).

But anyways, one way He could do this (get X group of people to save a man from a burning car) is: At the beginning of time, God could instantly plan out the future and set in motion a massive chain of events, from the creation of light and stars, the creation of Earth and the creatures, mankind, then civilization with all the conflicts and progress and glory that comes with it, such that one day, a few people would come from out of nowhere—complete strangers to each other—and save this man (also a stranger) from under a burning car. God need not intervene at all this whole time, He merely "ignited" the chain of events from day 1 and watched it unfold exactly as He planned. Let's call this Universe A.

He could also, being all-powerful, just freeze time for a bit and skip a few steps, creating the world and universe instantly, with all the civilizations and animals and things in place, putting all the strangers there together next to a car which is already on fire and the man trapped under it. Then press play, and presto, you have the exact same scenario, without billions of years of buildup. Let's refer to this as Universe B.

God is obviously capable of doing both. My question thus is whether there is an ontological difference (really any difference at all) between Universe A and Universe B. Personally, I don't think this kind of power is outside of God's capability; he should, after all, have no problem with creating identical universes which match up exactly once they reach "biker under the car" moment where He unfroze time in Universe B. At that moment, Universe A and Universe B are exactly the same, right? Or is there somethinge special about Universe A, with all it's buildup, that separates it intrinsically from Universe B? In other words, is it outside of God's ability to make them exactly equivalent?

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4

I do not think that the difference would lie in the universes, in this hypothetical example. Being omnipotent and omniscient must at least mean that you can put the physical (and mental, if you believe that is separate) state of everything in the universe in whatever configuration you want whenever you want, or create as many universes as you want. Thus the ontology of the universe would be identical.

The difference would lie in God: in one case, He'd have created a system where time passed, and in the other, just configured things de novo to look consistent with a long and rich history. One might suspect that this means that God wouldn't be omnipotent after all, but this isn't a new insight: omnipotence isn't a very well-defined concept anyway (e.g. can an omnipotent being create an object he can't destroy?--either answer seems to defy omnipotence). If you restrict omnipotence to logical consistency, it doesn't matter that God-that-does-A isn't identical to God-that-does-B.

Also, we might worry that we're actually in the universe which God created when I was halfway through typing this answer, and we might worry then that God is not being entirely forthright with us with the information in the Bible. Leaving aside all sorts of other questions of adequate forthrightness (e.g. the diverging views of YEC/OEC/theistic evolution raise the question), this also isn't a new insight. It's just Descartes' evil demon idea in a different guise.

18

It seems that you're just asking "Can God make a rock so big he can't move it?" in different terms. And the answer is: The question is flawed.

The question assumes the false premise that if God is omnipotent, He can do anything. However, omnipotence is not the ability to do anything; it is the possession of infinite power. (See the definition of omnipotent).

Infinite power does not give one the ability to do that which is logically impossible: Make rocks too heavy to lift, construct spherical triangles, nor create two universes that are both different and identical at the same time.

  • You just stated a difference, then. If one is a lie, and the other is not, then one has a characteristic which the other does not share. :\ – stoicfury Sep 21 '11 at 3:44
  • Well, in this example, it's a lie that God would have created a universe with a Bible that says he sent His son, and His son will "come again." If the universe was created 5 seconds go, then his Son did not come for the first time 2000 years ago, nor can He come again, but He can only come a first time. – Flimzy Sep 21 '11 at 3:53
  • So you are saying it is beyond God's power to "skip a few steps"; That is, He cannot create two universes using different methods (or in this case, starting points) without one being different from the other. You should rephrase your answer, if you think this is so... – stoicfury Sep 21 '11 at 4:11
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    I'm less certain that mankind really knows anything about God's true character (I think it is beyond our comprehension), but just so we're clear: in your view, no one would be able to tell a difference between Universe A and Universe B, correct? And by "no one", I mean even God himself, since he created them exactly the same. If there is a difference, if God looks at one and says, "This Universe A here is legit, and this B one, well, it looks exactly the same but I know it's fake in my heart", then He would have named a characteristic B had that A doesn't; this "fakeness" quality. – stoicfury Sep 21 '11 at 4:41
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    If I lie to my wife and tell her I'm not cheating on her, and she believes me beyond any possibility of a doubt, it doesn't make it any less of a lie. If I lie so completely that even I believe I'm not cheating on her, it still does not make it any less of a lie. So in my view, if God creates your Universe B, He is lying--even if He is somehow able to do it to such a complete degree that He believes Universe B is Universe A. (Of course that's the 'Can God create a rock so big he can't move it?' impossible scenario, so not really a useful thought experiment at that point) – Flimzy Sep 21 '11 at 4:46
4

You have defined A and B to have one point in which they are not exactly equivalent (their true histories). Therefore, to say that an omnipotent being could not make B exactly equivalent to A is trivially true, because they must not be exactly equivalent, or else they would be A and A. This would be like asking, "Could an omnipotent being create one white cat and one black cat such that both cats were white?".

However, an omnipotent being could make A and B as defined, with all in common except their true histories.

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    God, works outside of time (he created it, after all), so their "true history" wouldn't be different because the one that was made with the shortcut (Universe B) wouldn't have necessarily been made later than Universe A. I.E. Each universe has it's own timeline and that's that; God's workspace is outside of time, so there is no "true history" because there is no "true timeline". – stoicfury Sep 21 '11 at 5:04
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    @stoicfury No, their "timestamps" of creation relative to "God's watch" is not what you defined as making them different. You defined the true nature of their history: Universe A began with an origin (big bang, Eden, whatever you believe) and then developed until the car rescue. Universe B popped into existence fully formed. This is a difference in history, and one you defined. Therefore, A is not equivalent to B at least in this way, and to then question whether they could be made "really" equivalent is to contradict your question. – Chelonian Sep 21 '11 at 5:12

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