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F. Metaphysics: 1st Student Essay

Ryan Smith

Must God Be a Realist?

The more I write these little bits of ideas and reflections on questions, the more it seems to me that the answers lie in the way we use the words themselves. Most of the time I find that if we first clear up possible definitions of the terms in questions, answers make themselves manifest. This particular case is no different. When thinking about the question, I immediately had to decide what kind of god I was talking about. The only 'pantheon' style gods of Greece and Rome are useless to the conversation — they were just super people, and there's no reason for them to have a different perspective on realism/ anti-realism than us. Where the gods of Rome knew 'more things', the God of the three monotheisms knows 'all things', which is different in quality, not just amount, to human knowledge. That's the type of God I'll be dealing with here.

Now it seems to me that the quality of God most pertinent to the issue would be His omniscience. Omniscience itself is a tricky thing to pin down — what does it mean to know all things, exactly? Does it mean that for any given proposition, God knows if it is true or false? That would point to realism very strongly, simply by implying that all propositions have a set truth or falsity.

For a moment, let's consider omnipotence. It's really more complex than 'God can do anything.' Since there are quite clearly in theology things which God cannot do (such as lie or sin or be unjust) He can't literally do 'anything'. Most theologians I'm familiar with also agree that God cannot do illogical things like make square circles. A more accurate way to describe the omnipotence of God would be to say 'God has maximal power.'

Back to omniscience. Are there some similar limitations on that? Are there some things that are against God's nature, or illogical to know? Well, we can eliminate senseless 'square circle' questions, like 'God knows how many hours are in a mile.' and questions which contain an error such as 'God knows how Napoleon fared against the Mongol hordes at the Battle of Bitter Creek'. This is instructive, because in scientific fields we don't know how many of our questions will turn out to be of that nature. In other words, we can never know what questions are senseless until we have all the facts.

The crucial thing about these propositions that God doesn't know the answers to is that they don't reflect an aspect of reality, and that's why God cannot answer them. God can still very easily know the location and velocity of every particle in the universe (say) without knowing how many hours are in a mile.

However, realism is the issue here. All that nets us is the rather weak idea that 'God must be a realist if realism is true.' If there is in fact one real world with it's truths and falsehoods, then God would be a realist. However, in an anti-realist world, the Napoleon question may at some point become a pertinent question, if our historical information ever becomes quite a bit more corrupt than it is now.

Except for one catch — IF God knows the answer to a question, presumably He always knows it. If the world 'tried to be anti-realist' for a moment, and reality was subject to change based on perception, nothing would change because God's knowledge is not subject to evidence, faulty memory or other means which can be corrupted. God would always know the things He knew, and thus reality would be preserved.

It seems the closes thing to an anti-realist that God could be something like Berkeley's anti-realism — that existence is dependent on perception alone, but since God perceives everything constantly, things persist. If that were true, then God would surely be aware of it. For this reason I'll have to conclude that God need not be a realist, in other words, a limited kind of anti-realism can be true even if God exists.