Let us for the sake of convenience name this supremely powerful entity God and define him/her as an omnipotent, omniscient and prescient immortal being.

Now, in the essence of things, God cannot be sentient, for that would expose him to the same biases, thought fallacies and other psychological flaws that a mortal possesses, thus effectively reducing him from a supreme entity to someone as imperfect as any mortal.

But, if God is insentient, doesn't that also effectively reduce him from an omnipotent being with divine powers to a passive observer of the events around him?

So, my question is, can a supremely powerful entity exist?

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    I was going to close this question as a repeat of several questions which refer to whether it is possible for God to exist if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and prescient. (though normally the third term is omnibenevolent), but this does differ in one important regard. You assert that such a being could not be sentient. Could you amend your question to give a clear definition of what you think sentience is and why it can only exist in a way that gives a being "biases, thought fallacies, and other psychological flaws"? – virmaior Jun 14 '15 at 10:04
  • In Hinduism, sentience, i.e. awareness, is the very definition of Brahman. Everything else is only illusion. Everything that exists is Brahman; omnipotence, omnipresence are only seen from within the illusion. From the standpoint of Reality - Brahman - there is only eternal existence, awareness, and bliss. – Swami Vishwananda Jun 15 '15 at 6:03
  • For what it's worth, most western theological philosphers I know of would disagree with the premise of the question - i.e. Aquinas says god is not a "powerful entity," but being itself; others have said that God is not only sentient but the most sentient thing and that our sentience is flawed through are fallen nature and not part of sentience itself. – James Kingsbery Jun 15 '15 at 18:50

As far as I can see, there is no logical reason why being sentient would imply exposition to 'biases, thought fallacies and other psychological flaws that a mortal possesses'. It is logically perfectly possible to be sentient (in the sense of having conscience, emotions, ...) but not have it influence your actions or perception of knowledge.

There could then be a being which:

  • Has absolute knowledge about everything in the past, present and future (omniscience and prescience)
  • Can do everything (omnipotent), and acts based on his knowledge alone
  • Has emotions about his knowledge and actions (sentience), but does not let these emotions influence his knowledge or actions.
  • Is immortal, which does not have to do much with the three bullet points above.
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    But isn't learning from letting one's limitations affect a decision an experience of wisdom which would then be denied to the all-wise God? – user9166 Jun 15 '15 at 19:10
  • @jobermark I'm sorry, I don't understand your comment. What I'm trying to say is that I don't see a logical incompatibility in fully separating knowledge (and actions based on knowledge) and ethics. There is nothing in the notion of sentience that requires someone to act based on it, or to change his beliefs based on it - at least as far as I can see. – user2953 Jun 15 '15 at 19:53
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    So simplify it. Is learning a power? Can the omniscient learn? In the sense of sentience I am used to, learning is an aspect of sentience. It is coming to regard something as true, which changes your position toward it. – user9166 Jun 15 '15 at 20:33
  • @jobermark I'm not a native speaker so it could be my translation is off, but also when I look on wikipedia I see "Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively," which doesn't seem to necessarily include learning. Considering the OP's sentence "God cannot be sentient, for that would expose him to the same biases, thought fallacies and other psychological flaws that a mortal possesses", I would say he's focusing more on the 'feeling' part. But of course there may be different definitions, which could be the cause for our misunderstanding. – user2953 Jun 15 '15 at 20:44
  • So, I don't agree with te OP's reason why the omniscient could not be sentient. So let's back off from the word. I do take C.S. Lewis point: at least some kinds of learning involve emotions such as worry, guilt, discovery, and relief: which would be logically prevented by omniscience or omnipotence; that those can really only be known as experiences had first hand (a quale as quale argument, assuming emotion is not best understood chemically); and that without a full understanding of them God would then not really be omniscient. So some part of sentience is incompatible with being 'omni'. – user9166 Jun 15 '15 at 21:04

The flaw in the notion that sentience would reduce God to something less reliable is based in the notion that all of God would have to be equally sentient or non-sentient. But that is not realistic. There are two ways around it.

1) The theology of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity addresses this in his theory of the necessity of the incarnation. God has the necessity to relate perfectly to sentient beings.

To some degree, though not nearly as absolutely as you propose, Lewis agrees that sentience is incompatible with omniscience. Sensation is a variety of learning, and what is to be learned? The inability to truly be changed obviates a lot of possibilities for God.

Yet he must also have those possibilities, to be omnipotent. And have the experience of playing them out first-hand, to be truly omniscient. The experience of many mental states can only be known by living through them. (From a Christian angle, he should also relate immediately to those inferior beings who have them, especially if he is ultimately to be their perfectly fair judge.)

Lewis therefore deduces it was necessary for God to fully incarnate himself at least once as each species of truly independent and moral intelligence (subject to final judgement.) Since temporality is an aspect of the notion of sentience, God would not need to always be sentient, but would only need perfect experience of having been so, and having faced the full range of sensory experiences. (So by Lewis's logic, Jesus needed to have extreme experiences like extended starvation, corporal punishment and a dramatic death, in addition to a lot of very positive experiences like the gratitude of the multitudes he fed, etc.)

(Any Gnostic would then step in and say that God, while incarnated then also needed to experience being evil, or at least considering himself evil, to truly understand the intricacies of guilt. So this may lead many places Lewis does not intend.)

2) A simpler approach is pantheism or some weaker relative like "perfect immanence". Such an approach would immediately imply that while the whole of God is omniscient and thus not sentient, we as parts of him are sentient, and the whole can always access the parts. Then even though the whole of God is omniscient, the fact he has both unity and parts allows for the full range of experiences of incompleteness to be known by the perfect whole (including evil).

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One approach to this issue hinges on an ambiguity in the term "insentient." We would typically take this to mean "less than sentient" --a chair is insentient. However we might speculate that God would be "more than sentient" in ways it might be difficult for us to conceptualize or understand.

If I understand you correctly, you're taking sentience as a minimal necessity for agency. However, it might be that whatever the Godlike analogue of sentience is can also fulfill that necessity.

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  • I might suggest that you can contradict the notion that sentience is necessary for agency without appealing to God's ineffability. Look at corporate identity. Clearly a corporation as a 'legal person' has agency. It does things in its own interests that no individual member might have thought of or chosen to do, even if it can accomplish this through its members and 'assigns'. But only the individual humans involved have sentience. Their sense of meaning can be encoded and channeled, but it only gets combined, and processed via feedback, not directly added to by the corporation itself. – user9166 Jun 17 '15 at 19:14
  • I agree, but I felt you had already covered that perspective (I upvoted your answer BTW). I'll edit to make it clear this is only one solution to the problem. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 17 '15 at 19:50
  • Not criticism, I just though an intermediate example would make the point sharper. There are things more powerful, with agenda, but less sentient (groups of people) as well as things that are rendered passive by less sentience. So who knows what the whole range of sentience entails, relative to agency and power? (I wasn't thinking of the overlap with pantheism.) – user9166 Jun 18 '15 at 0:24

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