City of Brass

City of Brass


pondering the omnipotence paradox

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

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Consider the classic omnipotence paradox, expressed as a logical conundrum thus:

Posit an omnipotent God who created the Universe. Can God create a stone He cannot lift?

If the answer is yes, then there exists a stone that God cannot
lift, hence God is not omnipotent. If the answer is no, then God cannot
do something, and hence God is not omnipotent.

Now, this is a bit of a problem for some as far as God’s existence
is concerned (of course you can have degrees of omnipotence, but as far
as the major religions go omnipotence is part of the job description).

However, the question itself is logically flawed, akin to asking
“What color are the eyes of the King of the United States?” The reason
for the flaw is because we are trying to shoehorn certain biased
meanings into the words “stone”, “lift” and “cannot”.

Consider first the stone. The paradox doesn’t invoke more thorny
creations like an equal to God (now, that would be a philosophical
head-scratcher). It’s just about a stone. So, what is a stone? It’s a
physical object, comprised of N ordinary bosons, and of radius R.
Nothing more complex than that (though presumably at some very large
radius R it would collapse under it’s own weight and become a neutron
star). But let’s be really generous and rephrase the question, “Can God
create a black hole He cannot lift?” No.

Let’s turn our attention to lifting. For us to lift a black hole
is sort of meaningless, but if you consider that to lift something is
merely to manipulate it, then we can generalize further to “Can God
create a black hole he cannot manipulate?”

Now by this point the Dawkins acolyte will accuse me of having moved
the goalposts. “Surely your omniscient God could create a big stone,
immune to gravitational forces which would cause its collapse but not
immune to an external gravitational field which exists solely to
provide something against which to literally lift it?” I suppose if you
insist that this is different from what I described in my reformulation
above, we can agree to disagree, because frankly creating a
supermassive black hole (and just how massive, I am about to explore
further) in an instant and then shoving it around seems pretty much
just as miraculous to me. Then again, as a believer in a religious
faith, I’m not exactly addressing the paradox with an open mind, now, am
I?

So let us continue. The last hurdle is the word, “cannot”. For a
black hole to be so massive as to essentially be impossible to
manipulate, it must be so large as to not provide any room for it to be
manipulated. The physical manipulation of an object in N-dimensional
space involves rotation about and translation along the N physical
axes. Since God created the Universe of radius U, and the black hole is
radius R, then the only way the black ole cannot be manipulated is if R
= U – in essence, if the universe itself contains only the black hole
(or the stone, if you insist) and nothing else.

Now, the question has reduced down to, Can God create the Universe?
To which we already know the answer is yes, by virtue of the Posit
above.

Alternatively, we could just be talking about a normal piece of
rock, say the size of a softball, weighing less than a pound, and
unremarkable in every way except that it has also been assigned a
property that nothing (including God himself) can move it. This too is
a meaningless paradox, though for a different reason than the one
above. In essence, what does it mean to say that god cannot move it?
God can choose not to move it, but since God is omnipotent, the
definition of that power is that God can do whatever God wants to do.
Defining omnipotence as “the ability to not do something” is not
omnipotence but limitation.

To put it plainly, anything God creates, God can uncreate. Perhaps
God can relinquish that power if God so desired; the ability to
relinquish it would fall within omnipotence, but once relinquished, God
would no longer be omnipotent. That doesn’t mean God wasn’t omnipotent
before choosing to do so, though. In a sense, thats what this
Interpretation 2 is asking: Can God choose to abdicate being God?
The answer is probably yes, but that’s an affirmation of God’s present
omnipotence, not a denial of it. Creating a stone He could not lift?
No, he “can’t” do that, anymore than he can’t not be omnipotent while
He is omnipotent.

That said, if you think that faith can be discussed with logic, then you’re kind of missing the point. But Douglas Adams said it best, which is rather ironic given how fierce an atheist he was.

Related: discussion at Dean Esmay’s blog about this topic. Also, the comic strip is from 50 Answers by Stereotypist.

This post is reprinted from my geek, scifi and anime blog, Haibane.info. It’s where I let my inner geek roam wild. Stop by and take a look!



  • Hunter

    All gods not being equal, I’ll have to speak from the viewpoint of the Biblical God. The question is illogical from the beginning. It is built on the false assumption that God is bound by His creation. God is not subject to His creation and neither is His creation greater than He. I believe it’s called the “contrary-to-the-premise fallacy”.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment hope

    Nothing is impossible to God! God can do something that He cannot do. Afterwards He cab undo the restrictions He placed upon Himself. furthermore God is behooven to nothing and no-one,(logic and truth included) God can make a lie true and vice-versa. GOD is GOD! God is able! …my advice to all read and accept His words.

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