For reference, the well-known Epicurean quote:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

It seems to me that the omnipotence of God is a fundamental problem for theists—or, at least, a bigger problem than either side in the God debate typically recognizes. As Epicurus recognized, it leads to self-contradiction. Too often, atheists will let this issue slide without hammering on it enough, in my opinion. We're letting theists get away with acting like God is a limited being when, by their own definition of him as omnipotent, he is not. So what would it mean for a being to be omnipotent, really?

The full consequences of omnipotence are most relevant when discussing the problem of evil and the free will defense. We all know that most theists with at least a passing familiarity with apologetics will at some point say that free will is necessary in order for humans to learn, to be able to truly love, and to generally not be robots; and, as a consequence of free will, evil must be allowed to happen. On the face of it, this makes sense. But we are dealing with an omnipotent God here. If God exists and created the universe, he made all the rules; God does not follow any preexisting rules, since by definition no rules preexist God. So there is no law of the universe that says it is necessary for humans to suffer and die in order to learn or to love. God must have chosen this method, which would make him malevolent.

Perhaps someone could argue that there are no other options, that it's either free will or robots, and that to say otherwise is nonsensical, like the old "Can God create a rock so big he cannot lift it?" question. I don't think this is the case. First off, we can ask the theist if they believe God answers prayer. If he allows a plane to crash in order to preserve our free will, then every time he does answer a prayer or intervenes in any way on our behalf, it is a violation of our free will. But this is a bit of a "gotcha" argument, so let me move on to the heart of the matter. Free-will-or-robot is a false dichotomy because, once again, an omnipotent being is a part of the equation. God created all the circumstances under which humans operate. He created a world with hurricanes and landslides, he created a universe with no scientific evidence of himself, he allows humans to live and die entrenched in cultures that largely shape our worldview, and he created our species with the very psychological makeup that makes us prone to such arrangements. What becomes blatantly obvious is that we are not blank slates who live free lives made up of the sum of our own choices. Compared to God, we are very contingent beings with very few choices and very little ability to affect our own outcomes. And the party responsible for all of this is God himself. Much like ants in an ant farm have the "free will" to choose where they dig, we have, at best, what you could call directed or contingent free will, which is the middle ground we inhabit between godlike free will and robots.

I can think of at least one other way omnipotence leads to a self-contradiction: the omniscient (all-knowing, or all-wise) component of an omnipotent being is problematic, because what things exist outside of God for God to know about? What conditions can he be wise about? There are none that he has not himself created! At best, we can say that it is irrelevant to speak of God's wisdom in a theological or philosophical context.

What are your thoughts? Do you take omnipotence to its full logical conclusions when debating theists? I'd love for people to hone or add to my musings on this topic.

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We should start pointing out His impotence.

Nice, I could have used that instead of writing out the whole rock question.

The last paragraph on that page also seems relevant:

One solution of the omnipotence paradox is to make God omnipotent but still bound within the laws of logic...This is, of course, playing with the definition of omnipotence and it's generally up to the religion in question to determine the extent of the deity's omnipotence...This approach could be interpreted as skewering itself on the horns of a metaphysical version of the Euthyphro dilemma - why is God the ultimate authority if there exist things even more fundamental?

I think a lot of theists are unknowingly arguing for this position when they claim that God is allowing humanity to "learn" through suffering and to "love" through freedom of choice. They assume that it "just works this way"—that it's akin to a law of logic. The metaphysical Euthyphro dilemma refutes that, and also I think it's certainly debatable that the situation arises strictly from laws of logic.

Yes the question posed by Socrates concerning 'virtue'. Is 'virtue' something that 'God/god' loves( outside), or is something virtuous because 'God/god' loves it(conditioned)?   

My mom is a devout Xtian (she wanted to be a missionary when she was a little girl). She wants to save me from my lack of belief. I want to save her from the irrational beliefs that control her every thought and action. A part of me would love to print out some of the essays found at the different links that some of you have shared. But, I know it would be futile. (Sorry, i don't pay close attention to names). Someone mentioned that Xtians find satisfaction in knowing that their faith is so great that it lets them believe something so preposterous. That's true, but It's more than that. I know from the indoctrination that I received growing up, how my efforts would be perceived. All logical arguments are seen as attempts by Satan himself to confuse the believer and lead him or her away from the loving father. I think that's what frustrates me the most when dealing with her. She is afraid of logic and closes her mind to it because logic is a tool of the devil. How can you help free someone like that from the controlling lies of the church. For me, enlightenment came from within as my education in the science and anthropology progressed. The change came from within. If I question her, I become a messenger of satan. The change has to come from her own growth and learning. She has to question for herself.

If logic is a tool of the Devil, are illogical things tools of God? I wonder how she'd answer this.

@Sheri, I would encourage you not to try to argue with her from within your framework.

The way to approach a Christian who has gotten a bit too whacky is from within their framework. 

I, for example, will never argue evolution with one of my separated brethren, nor do the atheist thing of playing deconstructionist word games with the bible.  The real theistic argument against young earth creationism is that God is the Creator, and God is not deceitful.  God never tries to lie to or deceive his people, and his Creation cannot be a lie.

For folks who don't do logic, and even most who do, the real appeal is through caring.  We don't argue people into thinking the way we want them to.  That approach is unscientific and illogical if we believe in psychology.  We do things like sharing and charity together, so that they see us as "us", engaged in shared goals and values with different language or approaches. 

The real theistic argument

Dr. Bob knows the real arguement of the real sect of the real religion of the real God

the real appeal is through caring

Dr. Bob knows the real arguement of the real sect of the real religion of the real God

LOL.  Sort of like the way you all know the real meaning of omnipotence as used by the real sect of the real religion of the real God?

At least my rhetorical flourishes are not hidden.  

In this case, of course, I'm not even making much of a rhetorical flourish, but rather I'm talking about the real [effective] argument, or the real [effective] appeal to groups, which should be obvious from context.  As @Sheri has realized, she's not going to help her mom see new possibilities by hairsplitting arguments based on the modern vs ancient definitions of omni potens.

My first exposure to this question was via the question 'can God make 2+2=5 ?'

It seems that the answer should be 'yes', but then we seemed faced with a few major issues.

a) What happens to our concept of truth?
b) What happens to our concept of certainty?
c) What remains of the concept of a 'god worthy of respect'?
d) Does our 'thought' become suspect?

About the only way I thought of recovering from this is to somehow
'allow' for an instantanious translation of 'meaning(s)'. But why would
any 'God/god' bother with such a behavior?

But why would any 'God/god' bother with such a behavior?


Contrary to what you may have been told, some questions really are stupid.

Numbering systems and addition and words and definitions and laws and theories are all human inventions.  Those are all things that we are using to try to describe or explain the phenomena that we observe.  Nothing more.

Ah, but Dr Bob, the world of mathematics is an independent, platonic, pre-existing logical universe of its own. 

LOL.  It may well be, or at least that way of looking at things may be useful in some contexts.   I thought all you atheists were opposed to that sort of thing.  Too much "woo" or something...


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