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.

Views: 1315

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

An omniscient God would have made every creature as a finished product and not as a creature with built-in imperfections and each creature would be perfectly adapted to its environment and would not be in the process of adapting.

I take the position that we derive a sense of value from promoting health and flourishing.

OK, but why not take the position that we derive a sense of value by out-competing, slaughtering, and spreading?  Go to a sports event sometime and watch as the band plays "We will, we will Rock You!", while the crowd hopes for hard hits, knockouts, and crashes... and sometimes engages in violence itself. 

It seems like you're being awfully selective in what aspects of our "biological life" you are using for your fact/value crossover. 

"why not take the position that we derive a sense of value by out-competing, slaughtering, and spreading?"

- this comes down to the fact/value divide or deriving an ought from an is.  The question of whether morality can be "rational", "factual", "proved", "absolute", "a property of the universe" etc.  I think the real point is that there's no innate way to derive values from facts. 

I observe that religion takes the position that a certain human moral sense is innate to the universe.  For me, there's no justification for that position. 

So the way we arrive at the values we assign to facts must always be one choice among an infinity of possibilities. 

"I take the position that we derive a sense of value from promoting health and flourishing."

- this is the value innate to living beings, not the universe.  It's universal because it's adaptive.  We humans also possess a unique, universal, basic morality that is the result of our recent evolution. 

What I mean is, it's already seen as "good" by all people, so that makes it by far the best choice of value for certain facts. 

In fact, it's the definition of compassion, if we define compassion as an action.  We value compassion. 


© 2022   Created by Rebel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service