There is also the stone paradox which takes down most definitions of omnipotence. ‘Can god create a stone so big he can not lift it?’ If he can, then there is something he cannot do (lift the stone). If he can’t, there is something he cannot do (create said stone).
This is a question I’ve seen elsewhere, and it’s always fun to explore with a theist. There are other, related questions which together form the omnipotence paradox. Essentially, it’s a set of paradoxes which makes the existence of any truly omnipotent being impossible.
I thought it would be an interesting exercise to give some examples of these paradoxes and questions, and throw them open to debate. To kick off, I thought I’d offer the definition of Omnipotent:
adj. Having unlimited or universal power, authority, or force; all-powerful. See Usage Note at infinite.
1. One having unlimited power or authority: the bureaucratic omnipotents.
2. Omnipotent God. Used with the.
It is the unlimited power attribute that the omnipotence paradoxes call into question. Essentially, the paradox is whether an omnipotent being has the power to limit themselves. If they do, then they no longer have unlimited power (because of the self-imposed limit). If not, then there is something that cannot do, also meaning their power is not limitless.
- The Stone Paradox is the most popular, it posits the simple question of whether an omnipotent being can create a stone so heavy that that they cannot lift it. Personally, I feel this particular paradox is somewhat dated given what we understand of the physical attributes and forces involved with objects, particularly their gravitational force.
- The Triangle Paradox was posed by Aquinas in Summa contra Gentiles and asks whether God could create a triangle with three internal angles that did not add up to 180 degrees. Again, I don’t think this is a particularly useful or valid paradox as it relies on our definition of a triangle. Could God create an object that has internal angles that do not add up to 180 degrees? Yes, and so can I.
- The Atom Paradox comes from Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy, and questions whether God could create something so small it was no longer divisible.
The examples above have been known, discussed and debated for some time. Each, in my opinion, has problems. So with that in mind, I thought I’d offer the following:
- Could God kill himself? One might question why God would have the desire to kill himself, but that is not a valid reason for dismissing the question. If God can kill himself, then he lacks the power of immortality (perhaps a poor choice of words, maybe ever-existence would be better), if he cannot, then he lacks the ability to kill himself.
- Could God create a truly immortal being? Similar to the above but a step removed. If God can create a truly immortal being, then he lacks the ability to end the life of that being, if he cannot create a truly immortal being, or if he can create a truly immortal being that he can then kill, then either he lacks the ability to create a truly immortal being or that being he creates is not truly immortal.
- Could God create a being more powerful than himself? You might also ask whether God can create a more powerful God? This is particularly interesting as it applies across multiple definitions of the word omnipotent (see below). If God can create such a being, then he is clearly not of unlimited power (for a being to be more powerful, there must, by definition, be something the new God can do that the old one cannot), and if he cannot, then that is an ability God lacks.
- Could God make himself no longer omnipotent? Rather than questioning whether God is omnipotent, this dispenses with that and rather asks whether God can make so that he is no longer omnipotent, or such that he is no longer a God. If so, then what impact does that have on the established belief systems, and how would we know?
These are just a selection of the paradoxes one can pose that question the possibility of an omnipotent being.
I’d love to see your responses to the paradoxes. Typically, theist responses debate the definition of omnipotent suggesting that an omnipotent being has only the power to perform logically possible actions. One could argue in response that the existence of an omnipotent being is not logical in itself, thereby creating another paradox of sorts. There is also some debate as to whether a God is omnipotent, or just Almighty, where Almighty is simply a definition of a God that lacks some of the logical fallacies and vulnerabilities of an omnipotent God. Much like theists changing their holy books, and selectively accepting them, this feels like a desperate move to maintain their beliefs.
What are your thoughts?