- Religion and Philosophy»
- Atheism & Agnosticism
God the all-powerful: The Paradox of Omnipotence
Then Job answered the Lord and said: "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You." (Job 42: 1-2)
Can God create a stone so heavy even he can't lift it?
The paradox of omnipotence is one of the simplest, and therefore one of the most powerful, questions one can ask about God. It forms the basis of a classical argument against God's existence.
The paradox stems from the notion of "omnipotence" as indicating the ability to do anything. One may conclude that if a being is capable of doing anything, therefore it must be able to do even that which is logically impossible. Thus God can create a square circle, God can create a stone that even God cannot lift, and (my personal favorite) God can create another God. Keep in mind that God is defined as an uncreated being. To create an uncreated thing is logically contradictory. But if God cannot do the logically impossible, then he isn't omnipotent, right?
So what may the God-believer respond to such a question? Let's take one form of the paradox, and see where deduction leads us.
Can God create another God?
The answer to this question is either yes or no. For the purposes of this discussion, the main quality of God is his uncreated nature. Therefore, if one responds "yes," it means that God can create something that is uncreated. Let's look a bit closer at the "yes" response.
If God can create something that is uncreated, it means that the ability to create something that is uncreated exists. If that ability exists, somewhere in the universe, then the believer who responds "yes" is met with a dilemma: God himself may have been created.
Think about it. Since the "yes" responder has now established that the ability to create an uncreated thing exists, he has admitted that uncreated things can be created. God is an uncreated thing. Therefore God may have been created. And "God" as typically defined, ceases to exist.
But the fun doesn't stop there. Not only is it now possible that God (an uncreated thing) was created, but the thing that created God--the Overlord that created the Lord--itself may have been uncreated. The "yes" respondent has thus opened the floodgates to an infinite regress of uncreated creators. Interestingly, the absurdity of an infinite regress is one of the major themes offered by God-believers to support the existence of God as an "uncreated creator" or an "unmoved mover."
To sum up the conclusion from the "yes" response:
- God is omnipotent
- Therefore God can do anything
- Therefore God can create another God
- Therefore, since God is uncreated, it is possible for God to create an uncreated thing
- Therefore, the ability to create something that is uncreated exists
- Therefore, uncreated God himself may have been, in fact, created [refuting the existence of God]
- By (5), since every uncreated thing may have been created, we are necessarily left with an infinite regress of uncreated creators, each in turn created by an uncreated creator
The "No" camp
Perhaps sensing the inconvenient outcomes of the "yes" response, the main thrust of religious thinking (from such great philosophers as Augustine and Aquinas and Averroes) has focused on the "no" response. However, as we shall now see, this too leaves the God-believer in a profound intellectual predicament.
If one says that God cannot create another God, then one is admitting that God's power is limited. And therefore God is not omnipotent.
Not so fast, says the theist. It's not that God is limited, but rather that power is limited. That is, God can do with power whatever power can do. But since power, by definition, cannot bring about a contradictory state of affairs, God cannot do it. But that is the fault of power, not of God. So (the theist will claim) we are legitimate in identifying God as omnipotent, because God can do whatever power can do. But since power cannot do that which is logically impossible, neither can God.
The problem with this argument is that it confuses the definition of the word "power." Power means, quite simply, "the ability to do something." That's it. The definition doesn't say "the ability to do something that is logical," or the "ability to do something that makes sense." The word "power" makes no reference to logic, to contradiction, or any such thing.
Once we have a solid understanding of the word "power" as the ability to do a thing (not a logical thing, not a sensical or nonsensical thing, but just "a thing"), then we can see why the "no" response digs its own grave.
The "no" respondent indicates that God's power is constrained. Specifically, it is constrained by logic. The question then arises... who created logic?
Obviously, if God cannot violate logic, it follows that he did not create logic. A being cannot create the thing that constrains it. Therefore logic must exist outside of him, external to him, or prior to him.
If logic exists beyond God's hand, then logic is either uncreated, or was created by something other than God. Either way, we have discovered at least one thing--logic--that God did not create. Therefore God did not, in fact, create everything. And the God hypothesis is defeated twice: first, as a being with infinite/ unlimited power, and second, as the creator of everything.
To sum up the conclusions from the "no" response:
- God's power is restrained by logic
- Therefore God cannot do that which is logically impossible
- Therefore, no, God cannot create another God because God cannot create an uncreated thing
- Thus, God is not all-powerful
- If God's power is constrained by logic, then logic must exist outside of God
- Therefore God cannot have created logic
- Therefore logic is either uncreated, or was created by another being
- Therefore God did not create everything
Omnipotence isn't all it's cracked up to be. According to logic, we have seen that it is very unlikely that God exists, as far as "God" is typically defined. It is also highly unlikely that omnipotence exists. The paradox of omnipotence is a fascinating intellectual game, but it would seem that no matter who plays, and no matter what side they take--the "yes" side or the "no" side--nobody wins. Nobody, that is, who is a theist.