Monday, November 27, 2006

Impossible Omnipotence?

I am currently mulling over whether or not to post more on my Thanksgiving Tragedy. In the meantime, I invite all my readers to mull over another little gem.

The esteemed Austin Cline of highlighted a wonderful little observation posted by a forum member at that site. Observe:

A forum member writes: God cannot be completely omnipotent. There are some things he cannot do. He cannot create a genuine Bank of England ten pound note. He may produce a perfect copy of a ten pound note (complete with a picture of Darwinon the reverse) but it will not be genuine. To be genuine it has to be produced by the Bank of England under the aegis of the British Government. Thus, the Government can do something which God cannot do. (This is why Tony Blair has such a high opinion of himself.)


What do you all think? Are there limits to omnipotence? Could God, for example, use his omnipotence to destroy His omnipotent powers? Could He use His omnipotence to annihilate Himself, or perhaps duplicate Himself?

Or could he actually pull a Kim Jong Il and create a bank note that isn’t a forgery?

This is another post where I welcome all thoughts on the matter, especially the thoughts of my (apparently few) religious readers.


Anonymous said...

I suppose you could argue, as some do, that God is working through the government. Thus avoiding the question.

Jim Jordan said...

Hi Aaron
Could it be possible that God would choose not to make a ten-pound note or not even care about ten-pound notes? A theist could even argue that that's why he delegated the unsavory task of printing money to the Government in the first place.

Therefore, couldn't the statement read Thus, the Government can do some things which God doesn't care to do. God could be omnipotent and still have self-control; he doesn't have to do whatever we think he should do, like create new bills. I don't think for a moment that this refutation will convince you that God exists, simply that the above argument is rather easy to strike down. FYI.

BTW I'm curious about something else, was your comment really deleted at the Raving Atheist, and if so what had you written?

Anonymous said...

haha, these questions always make me chuckle - trying to figure out what God could or couldn't do based on our definition of Him is kinda silly. I honestly don't care whether or not God can create a boulder that he couldn't lift or a bank note that wasn't made by Him. If you really want to go into it, I'm sure that you could come up with some way that He has actually created the money through the assumption that He created everything.

And, Aaron, in response to something you said a while back - it's quite possible that you've seen me somewhere around the internet - I use this tag on a variety of accounts. example: if you feel so inclined to talk to just one Christian and get a frank opinion, feel free to e-mail me - you may not be surprised to find that my e-mail address is wade419 (at) gmail (dot) com. That goes for anyone else who wants a frank discussion of my, your, or our beliefs - just please don't send me stupid spam or list-generated messages. :)

beepbeepitsme said...

Can god create a rock that he cannot lift?

Don Jones said...

Most theists hold that God cannot do the logically impossible or anything that implies a contradiction, and consider them to be 'psuedo-tasks'. Or if the task refers to a 'lack of power' (i.e. sin) then God would be impotent not omnipotent if He were to do something that involved a 'lack of power' (and consequently, no longer be holy, perfect, et al).

George Mavrodes wrote an excellent article showing that the question, "Can god create a rock that he cannot lift?" implies a contradiction and most seem to accept it.

Aaron Kinney said...

Jim Jordan,

Thanx for the response!

Well, sure God could not care about making a ten pound note, but isnt that ducking the question? Or worse, is it an underhanded concession to my challenge that God couldnt create a ten pound note?

And sure, the above argument may really be easy to strike down, and maybe an omnipotent God could still defeat my challenge (thats omnipotence for you!) But this is a thought experiment, intended to get the gears in my readers heads (and my own) to start turning. So even if I concede to you that its an easy argument to strike down, its still worthy food for thought, no? ;)

Regarding Raving Atheist, yes I do believe that my comment got deleted. In addition, I think the comment that I responded to got deleted as well.

Basically, a theist got in there and started yapping about the universe and how its "obvious" to him that evidence of design is easily seen in the particulars of, mostly, the speed at which certain planetary bodies move relative to each other. It was absurd. So I went in there and refuted him by casting a more birds eye perspective on the matter.

For example, the guy claimed that the "precise" orbit of the earth around the sun, and the moon around the earth, was evidence of a God. I refuted that claim by stating that the Earth never repeats the same orbital path around the sun twice (which is true) and that the Earth used to have 6 hour days (also true) and that the moon used to be 4X larger in the sky than it is today (again, true).

He shot off a bunch of numbers about the speed at which the galaxy spins, the speed at which the earth is spinning at the equator, etc... as evidence for a God. I refuted all those as well, mostly by bringing it all into a more proper perspective.

I think there were a few more interesting facts in there, but I forget.

Im a big time space buff, and I love to tangle with theists about god and design based on evidence found through telescopes and such.

Aaron Kinney said...


Dont care whether God can produce a contradiction? Why not?

Wade, this post isnt really meant to prove or disprove God. Its just a fun thought experiment IMO. Im pretty sure that when I was a theist I would have come up with a really cool response to this, and indeed, Anon and Jim already dealt with the question fairly easily. Well, Jim sidestepped it a bit more, but he still pointed out the ease at which it could be defeated, and I even agreed with him.

To come in here and insult it as beneath you is fair enough I suppose, but if this is true, then why spend the time commenting only to let us know that it isnt worth your time or energy?

BTW thanks for the email address info. If I ever got a question for you, ill shoot ya an email.

Oh one more thing: is the "419" in your handle got anything to do with the 419/Nigeria thing? Just curious.

Aaron Kinney said...


Thank you for the informative reply. :)

So GF76, I got one a bit more challenging for you, if you care to give it a try (of course all theists here are welcome to try this one):

I can commit suicide. Can God?

Don Jones said...


You asked, "I can commit suicide. Can God?".

No. This relates to the "lack of power" part of my reply. In Christianity, suicide is viewed as sin (self-murder) and would point to a defect in the party who engages in it. Since God has no defects (and is perfect, holy, just, et al), then God can't commit suicide. The same thing can be said for *any* sin, which is why I referenced it earlier. What this shows that there is not any impotency in God and likewise does no damage to the doctrine of omnipotence as understood by traditional Christianity.

The medieval theologians/philosophers successfully answered these type of objections as well, so it's not new.


Anonymous said...

well. an interesting response to my post, to be sure. I'm sorry if you feel I insulted you, your ideas, or those of others - obviously you are not taking my comment at surface level. a good thing, I suppose, as long as you don't decide I'm some bad guy and look for ways to make me one!

I'm coming to this blog because searching out what I believe is of interest to me. You have an interesting thought process, and I happen to like your take on things, so even if I disagree with you it makes for an interesting and usually productive discussion from all parties. With that in mind, I viewed your post on the bank note - you asked for all thoughts on the matter, and I gave you mine. I'm surprised that you took it as an insult - I do not intend to insult you, or anyone, really, as I tend to think that is unproductive.

Gotta cut this short, as time is not on my side right now. Right now, my thought is that I don't care if God can create a contradiction or not because it seems somewhat irrelevant. If you want to make it a brain exercise, that is completely different.

And one more thing, my 419 has nothing to do with Nigeria - it was my first tag and I've simply stuck with it. Interesting situation there, though, of which I had previously not been very aware.

Anonymous said...

Can God decide to be temporarily "not-all powerful"? Could He cease to exit, even temporarily?

Don Jones said...


See my two posts above and modify them to fit your question. Then you will have your answer.

Anonymous said...

sr.jesus: God does not exist, even temporarily.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Since God has no defects (and is perfect, holy, just, et al), then God can't commit suicide.
But if said deity is perfect, wouldn't it be incapable of interfacing w/anything?
Perfection involving itself w/imperfection. Intriguing.

Error said...

Seems to me that the easiest refitation is to point out that the traditional doctrine of omnipotence *has not* been that God "can do anything."

Indeed, the *Bible* tells us that there are things god cannot do, e.g., lie, deny himself.

And so for arguments sake, *if* there was something God couldn't do (which there are), then you've not refuted the Christian doctrine of omnipotence.

Anyway, God can use the government to carry out his desire, and hence he could create an original B of E note.

Suicide is not only sinful, but for God it's impossible since on Christian understandings, he's necessary. And, therefore, the question amounts to this: Could a necessary being cease to exist? And the answer is obviously no, for then it would only be contingent.

Same goes with God creating a rock he cannot lift. A contradiction.

But some might say, "well if God were all powerful then why can't he violate laws of logic?"

Well, I've already pointed out that the doctrine doesn;t claim that god can do *anything.*

But, assume the opposite. Let's say I take your challenge. And so God can violate logic, after all he's "omnipotent" and you said that means he can do *any*thing.

And so God can create a rock so big that he can't life it.

Ha! You say. There, God's not omnipotent.

Well, I'll just add that God can lift the rock he can't lift! ;-)

But you don't like that because that just doesn't make sense. it's... illogical.

But *you're* the one who allowed God to be so powerful that he could violate laws of logic, and hence you shouldn't have a problem with a God who's all powerful in *this sense* lifting rocks too big for him to lift. :-) And hence the skeptic impales himself.

And so we see why these coherency arguments are pretty much worthless.

Among other reasons is... Christianity is coherent! :-)

Krystalline Apostate said...

But *you're* the one who allowed God to be so powerful that he could violate laws of logic, and hence you shouldn't have a problem with a God who's all powerful in *this sense* lifting rocks too big for him to lift. :-) And hence the skeptic impales himself.
This is the query asked of the theist. Which doctrine, exactly?
We're the ones saying the deity doesn't exist, remember? Youse guys are the ones saying he does, thus ascribing all the qualities imbued thereof.
You say your deity is perfect. Perfection implies immutability i.e., unchangeable. How does a system/entity that requires no change interact w/that that changes constantly? The interaction itself requires change, does it not?
Among other reasons is... Christianity is coherent! :-)
That is entirely subjective.

Tom Foss said...

I was just reading somewhere a glib description of the death of Christ, which presented it thusly: since Christ is God, and God is omnipotent, then God could have prevented Christ's death. He did not prevent Christ's death. Allowing oneself to die when one has the ability to prevent the death is the basic definition of suicide. Therefore, God committed suicide.

So, I suppose, He kind of has to be able to do so. If doctrine is to be believed, though, he got better.

Anonymous said...

Interesting conversation. You could subscribe this type of question to any form of faith. For example, if the big bang created the universe, than what created the gasses that formed the big bang?

To get to your question, God does not change his fundamental values or soverign will. God can change his mind. When speaking with God, Moses convinced Him to not destroy the Isrealites. God can change.

The real question is whether you want to have hope or not. If you want to email me you can at yodaman36 at hotmail dot com...please no spam.

Anonymous said...

god cannot be omnipotent because of free will and speech those together can command god to be less powerful than you making you omnipotent which is not true because as a human you can die by a human meaning god can die by the hands of a human

Anonymous said...

if god is omnipotent he can commit suicide which is a sin making him go to hell

then with that said couldnt you somehow restate that to find a way to out wit god