googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Because there cannot be a married bachelor, there is no God. Um... what?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Because there cannot be a married bachelor, there is no God. Um... what?

A while back, I came across a forum with a thread titled, A Library Of The Best 40 Atheist Arguments Against God. I wrote about the first argument then and had intended to visit the thread from time to time and discuss more of the arguments. However, the thread failed miserably to live up to its title and I didn't feel any urgency to get to the other arguments. It's been 2 years now and I happened across the same thread so I thought I'd look at the second argument on the list. It goes like this:

The paradox of omnipotence

We agree that a "married bachelor" can not exist because it is contradictory and self-refuting. An omnipotent God is self-refuting and contradictory.
-Omnipotence is the ability to do all things. To have all abilities
-However, some abilities are contradictory to each other. or some actions negate each other
-To sleep means you are not awake, for instance. You cant be alseep and awake at the same time.
God has the ability to live for ever. Eternal life. However, that means that he can not die and he doesnt have the ability to kill himselfy
God has the ability to be everywhere. he is omnipresent. However, that means that he doesnt have the ability to leave a certain place or the ability to be absent.

The author's point is that, since we can imagine things that God cannot do, there cannot be a God that can do all things. This is called, “the omnipotence paradox” and has been put forth many times, although, usually not so clumsily worded as above. A more succinct example is to ask, “Can God make a rock so big that even He can't lift it?” Either He can't make a rock that big or He can't lift the big rock He created – either way, there's something He can't do.

As we consider an answer to this, we have to consider what does “omnipotent” mean? The author above defines it as “the ability to do all things” but I couldn't find a mainstream dictionary with that definition. defines it as, Having unlimited power. Having great power and influence.” Merriam-Webster has, “Having virtually unlimited authority or influence.” defines it as, “Almighty or infinite in power, as God. Having very great or unlimited authority or power.” You can see that the ordinary meaning of omnipotent is having all power and/or authority. To redefine it to mean, “able to do anything” gives a critic the opportunity to create a strawman, then suggest some logical absurdity that God can't do.

There are certainly things that Christians will admit that God cannot do and still be omnipotent. Here are some examples: God cannot lie, God cannot be wrong, and God cannot stop being God. All of these things can be true of God and yet God could still be described as omnipotent. Indeed, if God could lie or be wrong, it would diminish His omnipotence; how could someone lie or be wrong and still have “all authority”?

To justify their unusual definition of omnipotent, some critics will point to Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Their claim is that this verse seems to say Christ should be able to do anything – even create a married bachelor. As usual, though, the verse is taken out of context. Paul suffered many things throughout his ministry – shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, and even imprisonment. Through it all, he learned the secret to bearing all the ups and downs – the power of Christ. Here are verses 12-13 together: I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. What Paul is saying is that he knows he can prosper whatever his circumstances because Christ strengthens him. Clearly, he is not saying the “all things” he can do through Christ would include an ability to make a square circle!

The omnipotence paradox is a sort of logical gimmickry. Think about this: by asking if God can make a rock so big even He can't lift it, critics want you to believe that God should able to become unable. That sounds sort of ridiculous when it's put that way. It's a classic strawman argument. Critics redefine omnipotence to mean, “able to do anything,” invent logically impossible scenarios, then say there can't be an omnipotent God because He can't do what is logically impossible. Just as I don't believe God's omnipotence is diminished by saying He cannot lie, neither do I feel it's diminished by saying God cannot do what is logically impossible.

However, I don't want to sell God short. On many occasions, the enemies of Jesus would attempt to trap Him using clever arguments; in every case, Jesus would turn the table on them and they would look the fools. It became so bad that Luke 20:40 says eventually, no one dared asked Him any more questions. Perhaps God, who is also omniscient, would know a clever way to solve what seems to be logically impossible. I don't expect Him to have to, but I would laugh my head off at the skeptics if He did!

Christians should be glad the straw god of atheists doesn't exist. Their god would be able to lie. Their god would be able to err. Their god offers no hope. But there is hope in the God of the Bible. Because He cannot lie, I know I can trust His promises. Because He cannot err, I know I can trust His judgments. Because He cannot sin, I know Jesus was the spotless Lamb who was able to take my sins. Because He cannot change, I know my future is secured.

Praise the Almighty God!

Further reading:


Steven J. said...

I agree with you on this.

I think that part of the problem is a language problem: we indicate that someone or something has an ability by saying that "he/she/it can do X," and then carelessly assume that every statement that takes that form denotes an ability. So we say that, e.g. a new smart phone can store so many megabytes of data (an ability), and that it can explode if the battery malfunctions (not something the store will list among its abilities in the sales brochure), and do not regard the upgraded, non-explosive version as having lost the ability to explode.

Thus, "can God create a stone so heavy He can't lift it" conflates two different senses of "can."

While you won't find it in a dictionary, omnipotence has classically been regarded by theologians as something like "the ability to create any logically possible state of affairs."

Now, this might seem to leave us with a paradox, since "create a stone so heavy one can't lift it" and "able to lift stones of any size" are both logically possible states of affairs, but contradictory states of affairs.

But some states of affairs that are logically possible with regard to some entities are not logically possible with regard to God: e.g. since He is defined as being perfect and supremely content in His own perfection, it is not logically possible for Him to desire to die (even if dying, itself, were not contradictory to other attributes traditionally ascribed to Him), even if that is a logically possible, and even a real, state of affairs for many finite, fallible humans.

Thus for God, "being able to die" is not really an "ability," or the lack of it a limitation, any more than being able to explode is an "ability" for a smart phone. And so forth, mutatis mutandis, for various other things God cannot do.

Anselm of Canterbury carried this idea further: some abilities that occur in humans (e.g. having 20/20 vision) are not relevant to God, Whose omnipotence need not be mediated through animal senses. So there are things we can do that God (leaving the incarnation aside) "cannot" do because He can achieve the function of these abilities without resort to them.

Randy said...

Here is the best response I've seen to this question: "Can God create a rock so heavy He cannot lift it?"

Omnipotence means being able to do anything which is logically valid. A rock so heavy that an omnipotent God could't lift is a logically invalid thing and so it is coherent to say "no".

However, if your definition of omnipotence dictates that God should be able to do that which is logically invalid, then the answer is "yes, God could create such a rock and then He would have no trouble in lifting it". If you complain that it is logically invalid to say that God has no trouble lifting a rock that is too heavy for Him to lift, then I would simply refer you to your definition of omnipotence.

RKBentley said...

I've heard an interesting argument that I didn't explore in my post but it may be worth mentioning now. Jesus is the Word Who created everything as described in John 1. During His incarnation, we might assume He had the physical strength of a normal man yet was still God (fully human, fully God). So in a sense, Jesus did create rocks (in the beginning) so big that He couldn't lift them (during His incarnation).

Of course, that wouldn't apply to other logically invalid scenarios like creating a square circle.

Thank you both for your comments. God bless!!