Monday, August 13, 2012

God’s Omnipotent Nature is Not Contradictory: A Belated Followup

In my arguments earlier in God’s Omnipotent Nature is Not Contradictory I purposed to defend the idea that the Christian concept of God is indeed coherent, and non-contradictory. Before making any arguments, I made some initial points. They were:

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.

Jam immediately took issue with points 3 and 4. He said that he thought point 3 was fine by itself, but that 4 then immediately contradicted it. And while I agree that to many, at first blush, it would appear he is correct, indeed he is not.

Note that I did anticipate at point 4 that some may balk. I gave a short explanation of what a logical contradiction would be, and then a very brief remark why even an omnipotent being could not violate this rule of non-contradiction. I will now explain a little further.

The law of non-contradiction (LNC) is that a thing cannot be both A and not A at the same time and in the same way. If a ball is all green, it cannot also be all white. It may be of mixed color, and therefore all green and white, but it cannot be all purely white and all purely green at the same time.

A car cannot also be a bus at the same time and in the same way. It may be a car that is shaped like a bus, or use some bus parts, but then it would simply be a hybrid, and not strictly one or the other, and therefore would not violate the law of non-contradiction. A car may be converted into a bus, but it could never be both at the same time; strictly a car and strictly a bus.

Interestingly, however, sometimes a van may be a bus, and a limousine may be a van. How? Well, in different cultures they use different words to describe the same type of vehicle. In Japan where I’m living, a van is a bus. But if a Japanese person went to the U.S., a bus would be a van. It could be the exact same model of vehicle, but they are referred to differently in different parts of the world. So, even though what something is never actually changes, it can have different words to identify it.

To state this as a positive rather than a negative is to say, simply, a thing is what it is. This is referred to as the law of identity (LOI). If a thing is a mixture of two things, then it is a mixture of two things. That’s just what it is. A thing is never, and can never be, what it is not. A thing is what it is and never what it is not.

So, how does this affect God’s omnipotence? It doesn’t. If God is omnipotent He also cannot do the logically impossible. Why? Because no matter what God does, that will be what He does. It will be what He did and not not what He did. Even for God, then, the LOI (law of identity) will hold, and by extension also the LNC (law of non-contradiction). If He does A, then it means necessarily that He didn’t do B. Interestingly, the logically impossible really only comes down to definitions, i.e., what we call a certain thing, event, or action.

If God made something totally unique and sent it to earth, something of totally unique materials and shape for instance, we may not know what it was, but it would still be what it is. Eventually some name would be attached to the object and then people would refer to it by that name. The name that it is called by will never change the thing. Even if we called the object water, for example, it would still be unique and not become water as we now know it.

So, lets look at a logical contradiction like a square circle. A proper square cannot also be a proper circle. It may be a hybrid of the two, perhaps with slightly rounded corners, but it cannot properly be both. So, the question would be whether or not an omnipotent God could create such a thing.
Can God make a square circle? No. But let’s think about this for a moment.

Firstly, can we even rightly imagine what a square circle would look like? No. If you can, please draw one. But, no, we cannot. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that God did send this “something” to earth like earlier and that it was, indeed, a square circle. We should now begin to see the problem. If we perceive it to be a square, we will call it a square. If we perceive it to be a circle, we will call it a circle. But, even if by God’s standard it really is a square circle, we wouldn’t be able to perceive it or call it a square circle. Technically speaking, we could of course call it anything we liked, for it would be something unique that we’ve never seen before. We may call it water as per above, or we may for some reason call it a duck, or for another reason call it a surzzalupe. But if we called it a square circle, it would be pure luck.

You see, the problem is with definitions of what things are. When something appears to us as unique, not quite like a circle, and not quite like a square, we would give it some other name. A square circle cannot be a square, and cannot be a circle. It must be something else. It must be what it is. We could name and begin to call anything we want a square circle, and from then on square circles would be coherent. But it could not be a proper square or a proper circle. To be neither a square or a circle it must be unique.

So in what is probably an utterly too long and unnecessary attempt to show what is obvious, the problem is simply a definition problem. A circle is a circle. A square is a square. And a square circle is, or would be anyway, yet a third thing, not properly a square and not properly a circle, for if it were then it wouldn’t be a square circle but one of the other things. So square circles are possible only if we make them possible by defining what one would be. When we say that God cannot make a square circle, then, it is because we haven’t defined what one is, and cannot even conceive of one because of the two mutually exclusive (contradictory) terms, and not because God isn’t powerful enough to make anything. And just to refocus a bit, this is all going back to the logical contradiction that is proposed in asking if God can create a rock that He cannot lift. The challenge itself is a logical contradiction, as it boils down to asking the logically absurd question of whether anything can be better than the best, or greater than the greatest, or more perfect than perfect.

This is the sense in which God cannot do what is logically impossible. It isn’t a power limiting problem for God, but a definition limitation on our behalf. A thing will always be what it is. It will either be this, or that, or something else, even if God is directly responsible for making or doing it. It is up to us to define things, just as Adam did in the beginning.

There will be yet another post to tie up one loose end, and to show how truly ridiculous the position is that suggests it’s a logical impossibility for God to be omnipotent.

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