Game Theory and the Undecidability of a Superior Being
A game-theoretical analysis of interactions between a human being and an omnipotent and omniscient godlike being highlights the inherent unknowability of the latter's superiority.
In Divine Games, Steven Brams analyzes games that a human being might play with an omnipotent and omniscient godlike being. Drawing on game theory and his own theory of moves, Brams combines the analysis of thorny theological questions, suggested by Pascal's wager (which considers the rewards and penalties associated with belief or nonbelief in God) and Newcomb's problem (in which a godlike being has near omniscience) with the analysis of several stories from the Hebrew Bible. Almost all of these stories involve conflict between God or a surrogate and a human player; their representation as games raises fundamental questions about God's superiority.
In some games God appears vulnerable (after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit in defiance of His command), in other games his actions seem morally dubious (when He subjects Abraham and Job to extreme tests of their faith), and in still other games He has a propensity to hold grudges (in preventing Moses from entering the Promised Land and in undermining the kingship of Saul). If the behavior of a superior being is indistinguishable from that of an ordinary human being, his existence would appear undecidable, or inherently unknowable. Consequently, Brams argues that keeping an open mind about the existence of a superior being is an appropriate theological stance.
Brams has done it again. This challenging but rewarding book raises fundamental philosophical questions about the nature and existence of God and exposes the reader to the intricacies of decision and game theory. It should be of interest to philosophers, theologians, applied game theorists, many social scientists, and others who think deeply about superior beings of all ilks.
Frank C. Zagare, UB Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University at Buffalo; author of The Games of July: Explaining the Great War
For millennia, theological thinking nourished and stimulated decision and game theory. From William of Ockham to Leibniz, from Pascal to Bayes, questions about God's existence and properties gave rise to the most fundamental concepts of the field. It takes a thinker as original and profound as Steven Brams to start paying back this intellectual debt.
Itzhak Gilboa, Professor of Economics, Tel Aviv University and HEC, Paris
Professor Brams's work in the intersection of game theory and the philosophy of religion has been trailblazing and Divine Games extends that work in original ways, especially as it shows the relevance of game theory to biblical interpretation. Students will find this book an interesting and accessible introduction to game theory.
Jeff Jordan, Professor of Philosophy, University of Delaware; author of Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God