Philosophy 101: Is God all-Powerful?



Continuing on from the last 101 series on the examination of free will and determinism, this series looks at the concepts of omnipotence - the concept of being all-powerful, omnipresence - the state of being simultaneously everywhere all through time and space and to a lesser extent, omniscience - all-knowing, in the Paradox Of the Stone-. Religion plays an integral part in people's lives and this famous philosophical thought experiment is one that challenges people's core beliefs. However, belief is a powerful position and, if one’s beliefs are strong enough, then one will, no doubt, be able to take on the challenges. At the center of this philosophical question is the notion that questions the concepts outlined above.

“My experiences with science led me to God. They challenge science to prove the existence of God. But must we really light a candle to see the sun?” - Wernher Von Braun

For many, the Paradox of The Stone is nothing more than a linguistic trick designed to trap people with an honest and simple faith into admitting that what is believed is false. But it is much more than that, and anyone that uses this thought experiment as a philosophical weapon to beat people who have a spiritual faith with is to unknowingly, or worse, knowingly misinterpret what the experiment is really asking one to think about. To use the Paradox of The Stone as proof of the existence or non-existence of God is to widely miss the point. The thought experiment asks one to consider whether God could invent a stone so heavy that He himself could not lift? This straight away brings forth a dilemma for people with faith. Either God can invent the stone that is too heavy to lift or He cannot invent a stone so heavy that He himself could not lift. So, notice that whatever one answers to this question means that one has to acknowledge the concept of God being omnipotent (all-powerful) is somewhat compromised.


Again, this does not show that God does not exist, merely that humans understanding of what is truly omnipotent is, is questioned. Many argue that who can truly understand what great powers God possesses or does not possess and why should the human race be so arrogant as to even try to understand or question God’s power? This argument does not hold much weight. It is the equivalent of someone saying "oh, look over there!" and then running away, so the question in hand does not even have to be considered. If the human race is permitted to understand and question all the good that God and faith teach us like, love thy neighbor, self-sacrifice and forgiveness, and so on, then why is it unreasonable to question its powers the way a curious child might do by bombarding its parents with several questions? In essence then, what is really being questioned here, is the idea that a being could be all-powerful. There have been arguments made to negate this dilemma and one of them proposes that; if God is able to exist throughout time and space (omnipresent), and being an omnipotent deity, then God, in theory, could invent another universe whereby in one He has invented an unliftable stone and in the other universe he is unable to invent a stone too heavy to lift. But in both universes, God is able and unable to do both things.

Omnipotent God and The Paradox of the Stone. (n.d.). [Illustration]. Omnipotent God and The Paradox of the Stone. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/87257311502841582/




Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, puts forward the defense that God cannot do anything that is logically impossible. Craig goes on to argue that the concept of an omnipotent being is not defined as being able to carry out absurdly logically impossible tasks. The Paradox of The Stone is merely a self-contradictory combination of words and so it does not diminish God's powers to carry out its omnipotent abilities. Craig adds that if one argues that God could do the logically impossible, well, that is fine. All one would be acknowledging in this instance, would be as previously highlighted, God could do both: The logically possible and logically impossible. There are others too, that believe that these are just religious language games. In The Philosophy of Religion (Basil Mitchell 1971), it is noted that unless believers and non-believers can be shown to be using common criteria of rationality, it is said, then the misgivings about religious beliefs, being esoteric games, cannot be avoided.

So, how should one define omnipotence? Is it the ability to do whatever is logically possible to do? One can go swimming or running which illustrates that those tasks are logically possible acts. An all-knowing God (omniscient) will know that it has not got those abilities. Perhaps, then the definition of omnipotence is the 'power to do whatever it is possible for a perfect being or the greatest possible being to do'. One interpretation of this is maximal power - it is not possible for any being to have more power overall than an omnipotent being.


[Jesus Christ]. (n.d.). Jesus Christ God Heaven Dove Of Peace Faith. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/jesus-christ-jesus-god-heaven-1948251/



In conclusion, it is difficult to disagree with William Lane Craig's defense that the thought experiment is just a collection of self-contradictory words that do not really produce logically possible tasks. For example, it would be logically impossible for God to create a square circle because by its very definition a square is a square and a circle is a circle. Although some would argue that if a supernatural deity created heaven and earth and the whole universe, including the laws of logic then why do people have to accept the premise that God can only do logically possible acts. If He created the laws of logic then surely he has the power to break those rules? This debate on God's omnipotence will, I am sure, forevermore be debated. However, I think the only telling thing about the Paradox of The Stone is that it, at its very least, forces people to consider the notion of a completely powerful being and how likely or unlikely it is that one exists.

Sources

Lacewing, M. (2008). philosophy for AS. Routledge.Mitchell, B. (1971).

The Philosophy Of Religion. Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Omnipotence Paradox. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox

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Peter Terrence

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