Superior Beings If They Exist How Would We Know?

Game-Theoretic Implications of Omniscience, Omnipotence, Immortality, and Incomprehensibility

  • Steven J. Brams

Table of contents

About this book


The central question posed in this book is: If there existed a superior being who possessed the supernatural qualities of omniscience, omnipotence, immortality, and incomprehensibility, how would he/she act differently from us?  The mathematical theory of games is used to define each of these qualities, and different assumptions about the rules of play in several theological games that might be played between ordinary human beings and superior beings like God are posited.  Implications of these definitions and assumptions are developed and used to explore such questions as: are God's superior powers compatible with human free will?  Can they be reconciled with the problem of evil in the world?  In what situation is God's existence "decidable" in gamelike relationships He migh have with us?

By endowing omniscience/omnipotence/immortality/incomprehensibility with unambiguous meanings, the author shows how game theory can help breathe life into questions that have been dismissed too quickly simply because they are metaphysical--outside the world of experience.  Thereby he clarifies the structure of our thought about an ultimate reality, whether or not it is viewed as religious.

Reviews from the first edition:

"[Brams's] arguments, some of them quite complicated, are presented clearly and enough background information is given to enable the non-expert in game theory to follow what is going on." - H.N.V. Temperley, Nature (March, 1984)

"Superior Beings is an extraordinary book... He [Brams] uses strikingly simple models and generally transparent logic to make some surprising inferences about superiority.  His inquiry is carried out with great inventiveness and care, and his book is highly recommended to those interested in religion, philosophy, and the contribution of logical analysis." - D. Marc Kilgur, American Scientist (1984)

"Brams has performed a service in deominstrating that rational analysis need not stop where issues involving faith and emotion begin." - Peter Bennett, New Scientist (1 March, 1984)

"Does game-theoretic theory exist?  This book is a fresh partial answer, modestly phrased and interestingly written.  Readers will enjoy it and learn from it whether or not the believe in either God or von Neumann." - Dr. Paul R. Halmos, Indiana University

"Professor Brams has boldly invaded an unexplored region where modern game theory and decision theory find applications to monotheistic theology.  His carefully constructed arguments would have perplexed Maimonides, Aquinas, Luther, or the great Muslim thinkers... But it is hard to see how they can be ignored by contemporary theologians." - Martin Gardener

"[Brams's] work can be highly recommended as collateral reading for introdcutory courses on mathematical modeling in the social, managerial and decision science-now perhaps even in theology." - William F. Lucas, American Mathematical Monthly (January, 1987)


experience game theory idea knowledge linear optimization

Authors and affiliations

  • Steven J. Brams
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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