I have yet again been faced by the logic of proving that omnipotence can exist without being caught up in the typical paradox of “Can God create a rock that even He can’t lift?” and I have posed the Aquinas response which is that it is logically absurd for an omnipotent being to create something even He can’t lift. However, I feel that the question still arises: Why can’t an omnipotent being, by virtue of his omnipotence, defy his own logic? Even if that logic is in His nature, shouldn’t an omnipotent being be able to defy His own nature? I am having a hard time seeing how the Aquinas argument can maintain itself from the sheer implication of what omnipotence means. If I can’t prove omnipotence exists,then it is hard for me to go out and argue against those who argue that such omnipotence is impossible. It’s a pressing question for me.
Garrett Cash’s response:
Great question, Del.
Typically, the question that you pose is easily answerable by the Aquinas response which you provide. This is satisfying for me, but it’s certainly worth asking: “Is it possible for something to be so powerful that it can operate outside of logic?”
The short answer to this is no. Another way you could create the dilemma is by asking if God could create a married bachelor. Or create a square circle. All of these things are logically absurd. The same could be asked even of blasphemous things. Could God create another God and fall down and worship it? Could God commit adultery? These things are all impossible for God because they contradict His very nature.
To return to logical absurdities. I think what is going on here is a misunderstanding of omnipotence. Being all powerful does not and should not mean you possess the ability to circumvent logic. Logical impossibilities are typically exempted from omnipotence. I think Dr. William Lane Craig makes a great point when he said this:
“Something that is logically impossible isn’t really a thing at all, when you think about it. It is not as though there is some “thing” that God can’t do. Those are just contradictory combinations of words, and there is no such thing as a round square or a stone too heavy for God to lift.”
This is a great point. He goes on to say in this discussion that omnipotence should not be thought of a power that allows one to commit logically impossible actions. Instead, he says, omnipotence should be defined as the ability to actualize any state of affairs which is logically possible for anyone in that state of affairs to bring about. He gives some examples which are worth quoting at length.
“How does this apply to some of these paradoxes of omnipotence? No one can actualize a state of affairs which consists of an all-powerful being’s inability to lift a stone. That is impossible. No one can actualize the state of affairs of an omnipotent being’s being incapable of lifting a stone. So that would mean that omnipotence would not require God to be able to create a stone too heavy for him to lift. That would not fall within the scope of omnipotence. No one can actualize the state of affairs of a morally perfect being’s sinning. It is logically impossible for a morally perfect being to sin. So no one can actualize the state of affairs of a morally perfect being’s committing a sin. So that would not fall within the scope of omnipotence.”
Dr. Craig also points out that Rene Descartes actually took the radical view that all laws are arbitrary, and that God could have made any laws that he wanted. This is view is a serious slippery slope into some hefty absurdities, and it makes all definitions pointless. If God can change a triangle, for instance, then it isn’t a triangle anymore. This view is certainly to be avoided.
What Dr. Craig doesn’t say as clearly that I would point out, is that God Himself is logic! So these examples where God is doing something contrary to His own morally perfect nature is just as illogical as His creating paradoxical objects. You mention that logic is “in His nature,” as if it is an additional attribute He happens to have but is capable of casting of when He needs to. This is not the case. Logic itself is simply a piece of God that we’re aware of, since God is Logic itself.
To return to the main point and conclude, it seems like your biggest hang up is that the definition of omnipotence should include the ability to overcome logic. As Dr. Craig argues, I think that this is a misunderstanding of how omnipotence works. Omnipotence is the ability to actualize any possible state of affairs which is logically possible for anyone in that state of affairs to bring about. Under this much more sensible definition, these paradoxical issues pose no threat to the all powerful nature of the Creator.
Thanks for the question Del!
You can read more at the link below, which gives Dr. Craig’s full version of his argument, along with a superb Q&A and a beautiful practical application of the doctrine of God’s omnipotence to our lives.
Love and mercy in Christ,
Dr. Craig’s full version of the argument: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s3-17#ixzz41zq4b8dw