Monday, August 13, 2012

God’s Omnipotent Nature is Not Contradictory

I’m not experienced at laying out these sorts of arguments formally, but I’d like to try to at least fake it in hopes of making it easier to respond to anything that others may need to.

Please keep in mind that I am here to defend the God of Christianity, the God traditionally believed in by Christians, to show that His existence does not violate logic by leading to contradictions due to His nature and attributes. Again, this is a defense of the Christian view and concept of God, to include those things that are peculiar to Christian doctrine and the Bible. Essentially, I am attempting to show that existence of the Christian God is NOT impossible, at least in regards to some arguments that have been advanced to try to show the contrary.

So, keeping that in mind:

I. What I Propose to Show
  • God’s attribute of omnipotence does not lead to logical contradictions
  • The attribute of omnipotence and the free-will of man is not contradictory
  • That the argument that God cannot be omnipotent because He couldn’t logically create a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it is, itself, illogical when applied consistently to the idea of a perfect God such as traditional Christians believe in
  • That the argument that God cannot be omnipotent because He couldn’t logically create a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it relies on an implication of God being less than omnipotent in order to prove that He is not omnipotent, and thus renders the argument circular by first implicitly asserting what it purports to show
  • That the only theoretically applicable question to ask that could possibly show that God cannot be omnipotent proposes a logically impossible idea and is incoherent
II. What I Do Not Presently Purpose to Show
  • The existence of God

Important notes about what is to follow:

First, even if successful in what I purpose to show, it does not follow that I have proved the existence of God. It is a separate question. That is why I state explicitly that I do not purpose to show the existence of God.

Preliminary points:

Some of the attributes and nature of God that Christians believe in that will be important to understand are, 1) God is not a material being. Christians tend to believe that He is more analogous to a mind. 2) God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere, and there is nowhere where He is not present, either within or without the universe. 3) God is omnipotent. He is all powerful. It is important to note that this doesn’t mean God is simply the “most powerful” being, but omnipotent, or, without limit in power. 4) Christians do not believe that God’s omnipotence makes it possible for Him to do the logically impossible. For instance, God cannot make a round square, or create a married bachelor. This is not a limit on God’s omnipotence, but rather a simple fact that a thing cannot be both A and non A at the same time and in the same way.

First Argument

For the moment, assuming that omnipotence is for no other reasons a contradiction, I will show that it does not contradict the Christian idea of free-will. While discussing with Jam earlier, I had mentioned that God does not always get His way when it comes to man, which He created. It was quickly pointed out that if God was omnipotent that this could not be.
My first explanation as to how it in fact is not contradictory was clumsy, and I missed the obvious important point, which interestingly enough, Jam did mention himself in a later post. I mentioned that a fighter of practically “omnipotent” superiority to his opponent could win his fight many ways, and that since he chose one way, or neither and simply forfeited, he was still “omnipotent”. But, Jam rightly pointed out that this wasn’t analogous because the superior fighter did, in fact, still get what he wanted by virtue of making the choice himself.

The problem was me misstating what I was really trying to convey. A better analogy would be that, say, I want my daughter to do the dishes. I want her to do them now. But, I also want to give her the chance to realize for herself that the dishes need to be done, and I decide to not ask her to do them. I really want her to do the dishes, and I really want them done right now, but I will not get what I want because I want also to give her a chance to show responsibility.

This is the sense in which God doesn’t get what He wants. He doesn’t want men to do evil things, but He also doesn’t want to take away man’s free-will by not allowing them to do them. When God said, for instance, to Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God really did not want Adam to do it. But, God knew, of course, that Adam would, and the text says it plainly. God didn’t continue on and say that if he ate from the forbidden tree that he would die, but when he ate from it he would die. This shows that God doesn’t always get what He wants, and that He also knew it from the beginning of creation. I have a pretty good idea of what my daughter will or will not do if I don’t specifically ask her, and though I could and would like to ensure that a thing is done, I often do not get what I want, and that because I have yet a higher want.

God has a higher want that man should be a free and morally responsible being, and therefore doesn’t get His lower wants – but that doesn’t mean His lower wants are not real. It is God’s omnipotent and sovereign choice to not get what He wants, and that is because He has higher wants.

Second Argument

Jam brought up the oft heard argument that, if God was truly omnipotent, He could create a rock that he couldn’t lift. Obviously, if God couldn’t create the rock, the argument goes, God isn’t omnipotent. If God can create the rock, He then is unable to actually lift it, which would render Him not omnipotent.

I was very surprised to see this as a serious argument. I had never taken it that seriously, probably at least partially since it was something that I’ve heard hundreds of times since I was a kid. Further, Jam has said in further posts, essentially, that this argument is irrefutable, and that I may win a Nobel Prize for refuting it. I was even more surprised at this.

At any rate, I don’t think this argument is good at all. First, as mentioned in my preliminary points, God is not a physical being. This should, I think, give one serious pause before taking the above argument as even applicable.
Let me ask a few questions. I’ll have to assume the answers of the reader, but I think you’ll see I am safe in doing so (at least for the first two).

Question 1: Is God able to lift the cup on my desk? Answer: Yes.

Question 2: Is God able to lift a mountain? Answer: Yes.

Question 3: Which is more difficult for God to lift, the cup or the mountain? Answer: Neither.

Omnipotence, as stated in the preliminary points, does not mean that God is simply the strongest among all creatures that can be thought of to have strength, but without limit in strength. There is no difference to an omnipotent being in the weight or the difficulty of a thing. To throw a galaxy would be as easy as to blow a feather off the edge of a table.

Now, if this only sounds like an assertion, let me ask you another question.
If God did lift the cup on my desk, how would He do it? Answer: He could do it any way He wanted. He could have Jesus show up and, in physical form, pick up the cup just like you or I normally would. Or, perhaps God is in a playful mood, and “lifts” the cup by lowering everything else in the universe a half meter. But, either would be equally easy for an omnipotent being.
If I had a best guess, however, I would say that God would just think the cup off the desk. Christians believe and teach an immaterial God. We believe that God spoke the universe into existence. I don’t believe that God’s speaking is the same (at least not always) as our speaking, i.e., physical voice traveling through the atmosphere. I think that God speaks, primarily, with His mind and thoughts. So which is harder to do? Lift a mountain or cup? Is one harder to think than the other? No.

This being the case, which should be, I think, obvious for what a non-physical and omnipotent being would be like, then there is no limit to His strength. There is no sliding scale where it is more or less difficult for God to do either this or that. I have for some years now had a list of Bible verses that I “don’t believe”. One of them is, Jeremiah 32:17 “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee“. If God is truly omnipotent, then there is no room for the “too”. It is, in reality, that nothing is difficult for God, period! Nothing is harder or easier than another thing, and the point is simply mute.

Third Argument

Here I would like to supply another refutation of the argument that God cannot be omnipotent because He cannot create a rock that He cannot lift. This argument has the same basic foundation as the previous argument, that omnipotence really means a limitless strength that renders every act as easy or as hard as every other act. That being the case, the argument that God cannot create a rock that He cannot lift actually relies on the implication that God isn’t really omnipotent to begin with in order to “prove” that He isn’t omnipotent.

To say that the possibility even exists that there could be anything impossible for God to lift is just to say that God isn’t omnipotent, without limit in power, and there is really some scale of difficulty whereby some things are more difficult than others for God, and at some point something really could become too difficult. But this is what the argument is trying to show. So, this argument relies on an implicit assertion that God isn’t omnipotent in order to attempt to show that God isn’t omnipotent. It is thus a circular argument, assuming what it purports to show.

Fourth Argument

I think this argument may be difficult to convey, so please bear with me (and I’m getting kinda tired to boot). To be consistent with what the nature and attributes of God are for Christian believers, the one argument that is theoretically applicable, as opposed to the one raised by Jam above, would be something like this: Can God create a rock that is beyond omnipotence? Or, could God create anything beyond His ability to control or manipulate in some way? Or, perhaps, could God create anything beyond His ability to know, or place where He could be?

But a question like this gets at what is logically impossible and, therefore, incoherent. By definition, God is the perfect being. He is not simply the best being; but the Perfect One. If there were one greater, then that greater being would be God. This is the God that Christians believe in. That being the case, the questions above are really asking a silly question indeed. They are asking: Can there be anything greater than perfect? In order for God to create something better than Himself, or any one of His attributes, could only mean one thing; that He would have to become less than God. And, if that is the case, He would really be tasked with the job of recreating Himself.


For the question and challenges that Jam raised, and the proposed questions that I intimated, the teeth in them all rely on not understanding what the attributes and nature of God fully imply. Ultimately, therefore, they all fail to show that the idea of God’s omnipotence is, or leads to, a logical contradiction, and by extension, show that, at least in these regards discussed, the existence of a Christian idea of God is possible.

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