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The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience

4.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1403964571
ISBN-10: 1403964572
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pickover, an inventor, computer artist and professional puzzler (who has edited brainteaser columns for both Discover and Odyssey), invites readers on a paradoxical and sometimes merely quirky exploration of logical and psychological puzzles surrounding God and religion. Many of these "paradoxes" simply put a new face on the familiar conflict between divine foreknowledge and free will; others lead to unexpected conclusions such as Pickover's demonstration of how omniscient beings are at a huge disadvantage in games of "chicken" with non-omniscient beings. (By staying the course, a daring challenger can compel an all-knowing opponent to turn aside, guaranteeing their mutual safety.) This and other examples show how omniscience can become a practical liability in some situations, countering the widespread assumption that knowledge is power. The book is also liberally salted with religious and nonreligious curiosities and conundrums, ranging from biblical oddities to the neuropsychology of time perception, all related with an attitude of mischievous irreverence. Pickover's satirical approach energizes the book, but frequently verges on the sophomoric or simply bizarre: "God gives you a piano. For each note you play, someone will die. What classical piece do you choose?" At its best, the book achieves a juxtaposition of cosmic relevance and intellectual whimsy, but the overall execution is uneven, faltering most conspicuously when Pickover tries to tackle problems of evil and human responsibility.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Pickover, a prolific popularizer of scientific speculation in fields ranging from biology to computer science to physics, turns here to paradoxes generated by the supposed omniscience of God. For the most part, he dodges technical questions about the definition of God while leading readers through a loosely woven series of games that dance around contradictions at the intersection of knowledge and power. Many, including the prisoner's dilemma, are familiar from popular applications of game theory, such as their use in arguments on all sides of the nuclear arms race during the cold war. In the end, Pickover seems convinced that God cannot be omniscient in the traditional sense of the term, and he is convinced that this helps reduce apparent conflicts between science and religion. Whether readers are convinced or not, the puzzles and vignettes Pickover introduces are entertaining enough to appeal to and hold a significant audience. Steven Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (April 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403964572
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403964571
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #927,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

From my publisher:

Clifford A. Pickover received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is the author of over 30 books on such topics as computers and creativity, art, mathematics, black holes, religion, human behavior and intelligence, time travel, alien life, and science fiction.

Pickover is a prolific inventor with dozens of patents, is the associate editor for several journals, the author of colorful puzzle calendars, and puzzle contributor to magazines geared to children and adults.

WIRED magazine writes, "Bucky Fuller thought big, Arthur C. Clarke thinks big, but Cliff Pickover outdoes them both." According to The Los Angeles Times, "Pickover has published nearly a book a year in which he stretches the limits of computers, art and thought."
The Christian Science Monitor writes, "Pickover inspires a new generation of da Vincis to build unknown flying machines and create new Mona Lisas." Pickover's computer graphics have been featured on the cover of many popular magazines and on TV shows.

His web site, Pickover.Com, has received millions of visits. His Blog RealityCarnival.Com is one of his most popular sites.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In the famous game of chicken, two drivers hurtle their cars toward each other, and the one who turns away at the last minute loses. Or they collide, and both lose even bigger, or they both swerve and have reciprocal embarrassment. Before you play this game, you might make a matrix of your actions (stay the course vs. swerve) against the opponent's actions (same two choices), and see what happens with the four different possible outcomes. But then imagine that your opponent is omniscient. He knows just what you are going to do. Surprisingly, this restricts the results of the game in unexpected ways so that you cannot lose. If your opponent is omniscient, all you have to do is to stay the course. He will know that you are not going to swerve, and (assuming that he does not want a collision), he will have to be the one to do the swerving himself. You win whenever you play chicken with an omniscient being!
You may not be encouraged by this bit of practical knowledge, but people have thought about omniscient beings for as long as they have been people. Most religions have gods which are omniscient, and the capacity of omniscience produces some very strange consequences indeed. A delightful book, _The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience_ (Palgrave / St. Martin's), by Clifford A. Pickover, collects a bundle of religious and logical oddities and presents them in a playful and entertaining way. There are seventeen chapters within the book, all having to do with paradoxes of different types, not necessarily having to do strictly with omniscience. Each has a whimsical tale to begin it, with "Musings and Speculations" afterward. Say you wake up and find yourself in hell. The devil says you can win his game and get to heaven, otherwise you have to stay in hell.
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Format: Hardcover
What is God?
In the West, we often think of God as "all powerful, all knowing, and all good." He created the universe out of nothing, is uncreated and eternal, and an can grant eternal life. Is it rational to believe in this God's existence?
I have several of Pickover's recent books, and this book marks a wonderful addition to his collection. Through a large series of mind-numbing experiments, Pickover helps us understand the kinds of relationships we ordinary humans can have with an ominscient God.
Pickover raises many interesting issues. In the Koran, God has no cause or temporal dimension, and there is little we can say about Him. Our brains are not up to task. But ordinary folk shouldn't deny God's existence in the same way that a deaf person shouldn't deny the existence of music. Is God real, or are we only worshipping a projection of ourselves? Can an omniscient being know the delight of learning new knowledge? Could God create a person whose actions He cannot know? Was the universe created by a being who tuned all the physical constants to permit carbon-based life? Pickover discusses all these subjects and more.
The Zorastrianis, Hindus, Islam, Bahais, and Jews believe in an omniscient God. Buddhists believe that the Buddha was omniscient. On the other hand, Jewish mystics, such as those who follow the Lurianic Kabbalah, believe that God has given himself limitations. In order to make room for the physical universe and our existence, En Sof vacated a region within Himself. With each act of contraction, nature gains additional freedom.
If there is a single book you will buy that will change the way you think about God and the universe -- and let you dream the infinite -- this book is for you.
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Format: Hardcover
"Augustine's works ... planted a seed in early childhood from which my interest in paradox and God grew. Maybe this book will contain seeds for you." -- Clifford Pickover
Kurt Godel may have logically proved that God exists, but Clifford Pickover pursues the paradoxes that result from following a belief in a God that is omniscient and omnipotent. As an example of such a paradox consider the question - Can God make a rock so massive that He can't move it? Certainly many readers will find the chapter entitled "The Paradox of Led Zeppelin" to be their favorite. So, put on your "Stairway to Heaven" CD and shatter your mind with some superb reading.
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Format: Paperback
Can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it?

Clifford A. Pickover addresses this question and numerous others in his book The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience. Not content with examining well-known problems that arise when we think of a literally existing omnipotent being, Pickover pulls together difficult brainteasers from statistics, philosophy, time-travel along with theology and questions about free will. He demonstrates that being able to predict the future might actually be a disadvantage in practical situations and explains why your brain perceives things that apparently haven't happened yet.

This is the second book I've read by Pickover, the first being Time: A Traveler's Guide. Pickover is creative and entertaining, and someone accessible to all- neither a Jehovah's Witness or a positive atheist is likely to be offended by his treatment of the touchy subject matter. His approach isn't to solve the problems for us or even explain what he thinks are the answers. Pickover simply explains the paradoxes, presents the opinions of great thinkers, and tells an amusing story.

The book can get annoying at times, however. Pickover has a lot of trouble sticking to the same subject for more than a few pages, making me wonder just who was hired to edit this thing. If you want some in-depth treatment of the nature of knowledge, Pickover's frequent tangents on irrelevant tangents will likely frustrate you. Personally, I would have liked a chapter on what purpose or meaning an omnipotent being could find in life.

But when Pickover wants to make a point, he explains this clearly enough that math failures like me can understand.
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