Omnipotence paradox

Wow. It has been a long time. Almost a month. I have been really busy and 1. haven’t had time to write thoughts down and 2. haven’t had any good thoughts. So I decided to talk about an old thought, the supposed paradox of God’s omnipotence, and really anything’s omnipotence. But since anything that is omnipotent is God, saying “anything’s omnipotence” and “God’s omnipotence” are the same thing. Anyways. On to the paradox.

The paradox goes something like this: “Can God create a stone so large that even he can’t lift it?” That is the classic version, but I think it is a dumb way to phrase the question. You could immediately say things like, “Well depends what you mean by lift. If you mean ‘make further away from the earth,’ then c’mon. He would just have to move the earth no matter how heavy the stone is.” That completely misses the point of the question, even though it does answer it. So for this article I will rephrase it.

It is trying to ask whether or not God has restrictions on what he can do. This includes common things anyone else can do (the traditional version), immorality, and logical impossibilities. For example, can God create something that is more powerful than he is? Can God tell a lie? Can God make it true that although a=b and b=c, a/=c? It is a fairly strong argument in my opinion, although it has been destroyed numerous times.

First, Descartes’ view of the omnipotence of God avoids this problem. Descartes says that God is able to do logical impossibilities. This means that he is able to avoid necessary conclusions. If you start with axioms, such as “God can create anything” and “God can do anything” then a necessary conclusion would be “God can do anything to something he created.” An extension of this would be “God can lift something that he created to be impossible for him to lift,” which is a contradiction. Descartes, however, does not think so. He thinks that God can create something he can’t lift and then proceed to lift it. This of course avoids the moral and logical problems as well as the common. (It also reminds me of Patrick Star.) It sort of makes sense: if God created everything, he must have also created the laws of logic, right? And if he created them, he is above them. It seems to make his promises unreliable however, because it means that even though he promises to do something, he has the ability to not do them. This doesn’t matter however, because (according to Descartes) even if he doesn’t do something, he will still do it. Pretty cool stuff.

Probably the most common answer to this question is that God only does things that are inline with his nature. His nature is to obey the laws of logic and morality. He won’t ever go against them. This does not mean that logic is above God, rather it is part of God. He is an eternally logical being, it is part of who he is. Since he never goes against his nature, he won’t ever do those things. Creating something that limits the abilities of an omnipotent being is a contradiction in terms, he would not do that. Now there is a question of whether not doing it actually means he is restricted. I never have and hopefully never will kill a person. This does not at all mean that I am limited in my killing abilities. It just means I won’t ever do it. I think the nature of God could be similar to this. I also think that I don’t have a good grasp on this answer, so disregard this paragraph.

Anselm of Canterbury has a great answer to this question. This is found in chapter seven of his Proslogion. He starts by saying straight out that God cannot do everything (for example lie), yet is omnipotent. He then goes on to say that being able to do these things is not power, it is actually weakness. To be corrupted means bringing harm to oneself. So when someone can lie, it means that his weakness has power over his strength, which of course does not sound like omnipotence. God indeed cannot do some things, namely the things that come through weakness. In fact, says Anselm, if he was able to do those things, he would no longer be omnipotent. This explains his inability to do logical impossibilities and moral wrongs, and could be shown to also include the original question. This is probably my favorite argument of the four listed, and you should really read it instead of listen to my description because he is much more eloquent than me.

The last defense of the original, classic question is that it is a meaningless question. This does not mean that it means nothing in the English language, just that it has inherent contradictions built into it. For a while I thought this was a cop-out, but the more I think about this subject the more I see what the objection is talking about. I can’t quite describe it, but let me try. When I say “God,” I will mean a being who can do anything. So when you ask, “Can God lift any stone?” the answer will be yes. It is a logical contradiction to have a stone exist that God cannot lift, since God can do anything. Since God cannot (or at least won’t) perform logical contradictions, of course he can’t create a stone he can’t lift. It is just the same as asking God to do something he can’t do. Of course he wouldn’t be able to comply, because there is nothing he can’t do. This answers the logical and classic problems.

None of these arguments really has an overarching solution if you look at one alone, except Descartes’ I guess. But c’mon. That answer is dumb. But if you use all of these together, I think the question is fairly thoroughly answered. I am probably completely wrong, please show me why in the comments. Thanks for reading!

6 thoughts on “Omnipotence paradox

  1. I think that the question is contradictory, if there is such a great power that can move everything then nothing can resist it and if anything is so heavy that cannot be moved then no great power can exist to move it.

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  2. Interesting argument by Anselm, and I should really read his full argument. Some thoughts though. If God is omnipotent, why does he allow sin? If it is for His glory why does he need glory? If our ability to accept God (to some predestined degree) gives Him glory, how do we relate the good God of the Bible to the necessary suffering in the world? If God sets right and wrong, why does His glory have to include suffering at all and how can that be good in the long run? How do we equate a loving God with an omnipotent God in light of the world we see around us?

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    1. I think this is what you are asking:

      This is a very hard question. I may talk about it on here one day, but for the time being I will just state what I think without giving a reason. Cause it would take a while to explain and I don’t understand it well enough to do it justice. I think the mistake is in the second question. He is able and allows it to happen, but is at the same time not malevolent. Read some Anselm. He is fun. Choppy sentences. Bad writer: me.

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  3. Logical statements must have meaning in order to be considered “true” or “false.” That’s why “This statement is false” is neither true nor false – it has no meaning. I consider thinking about such things as God creating stones too big to be lifted to be similar to this. They are merely plays on words, not actual questions that have an answer, in the same vein as “How is a policeman” and “What is the difference between a fish”

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  4. Is God’s nature something that stands behind God and makes him what he is? It sounds like God’s nature is something that governs God.

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