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: 1209

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

@Dr. Bob. the more I have considered it, the more frustrated I have gotten.  If all you can find to say is a quibble over the size of your words, then you have a mighty poor position

At least be man enough to realize that you original argument is feeble at best.

Fixed link: Google it


I'm not taking sides here, just weighing in.  What if you could see the universe from outside as a complete 4-D entity?  Meaning that as well as all of space, you could see all of time, the entire universe from start to finish.  Then, your whole life would consist of a 4-D path through a small part of that entity.  Meaning that "right now" is one point on that 4-D path, and the future lies ahead on that already-existing pathway.  Each twist and turn on that path is determined by your free will.  But still, if you came outside the universe you could see the whole thing including the "future". 

What would God see the universe with? Eyeballs? Can he see dark matter as well? If he has eyeballs, does he have fingernails, too? Does he also have a special sense akin to vision, only it sees time as well?

God's eyeballs are actually 5 dimentional I think...three dimentions to see the three dimensions in space, an extra dimension because he is such a bad ass awesome God and one dimention to see all of time all the time or stuff like that. They are made of rubies and saphire and his eyelids are made of precious silk with threads of gold interwoven. 

All paid for, Davis, by money dropped in the collection plate on Sunday morning.


You know I'm an atheist, but I will say, if God existed, He wouldn't have the form of a living being like we understand, with eyeballs and fingernails, or eyeballs on his fingernails, and being God, of course he could sit outside our universe and view the whole thing.  He could kick it around like a football if he wanted. 

Famously, religious people are unable to describe the nature of God, but that wouldn't be at all surprising, since his nature would be so far away from our understanding. 

He can sit around and view the universe from outside, but he has no eyeballs or fingernails, but he has an ass and something to sit on, apparently. LOL

There's actually no requirement to be viewing the universe from "outside", or some fifth dimension or some such.  That's just a useful metaphor.

If it gets in the way of your understanding because it calls to mind Italian frescoes of the Bearded Deity on a Chair and you can't see it as an artistic expression, then dispense with it.  The metaphor and artwork are just human contrivances.  All you need to grasp this small concept is some basic first-year physics and linear algebra.

What do you mean Dr. Bob? What does time have to do with anything?


© 2020   Created by Rebel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service