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.
The problem that @Ron describes is only a problem if we assume that time is an absolute for all observers. That's subtle, because the hidden assumption within his text is the assumption that "before" means something universal and absolute. So God knowing "before" @Ron makes a choice has an absolute meaning which creates a contradiction. If you make Time absolute and universal, then God can't be.
However, we know that time is not an absolute for all observers, so his assertion fails. Any number of possibilities exist, as @Unseen and @Simon describe.
But surely whatever the setup, God could transcend time. I understand that time can run at different rates for different objects depending on their spacial velocity.
When you delve deep into the physical processes behind behavior (or thinking, if you wish to portray it that way), you realize you never choose anything truly freely. Everything follows on what came before.
At the same time, if I believe in an omniscient deity, it's not hard to believe that he stands outside history and can see ahead in time to the decisions I'm making, even if they are free.
Hmm, and He-She should be able to change his-her mind about the course of history unless his-her plans are immutable, in which case... we need some ancient pool of wisdom to explain. (Don't ask me where I'm going with this. I dunno! Wherever the ancestors take us, I guess.)
guess i should have capitalized his-her for consistency
PB, when you're a theist you believe that your deity is both omniscient and omnipotent, which works best if you try not to think of both superpowers at the same time.
Well, it's kind of hard to get away from the idea that the way God creates is by splitting off part of himself and making it other and, in some sense, allowing it to run on its own.
That doesn't preclude knowing what will happen. God would be, as it were, sitting in an extra dimension.
Let's not forget that one of the theories of time is that it is nondirectional. I've heard several physicists say that there's nothing in the laws of physics keeping time from running backward. One way of looking at that is to conclude that time is actually static. Time doesn't have a built-in direction, WE have a direction through time.
I'm sure I read somewhere that Einstein said we travel through spacetime at the speed of light. So when we travel quickly through space, we travel more slowly through time, so that the overall speed [OK, probably velocity] is the same.
Egad. Well, sort of.
In 4-dimensional spacetime, objects form 4-D "world lines". A particle or even an object moves from point (x1,y1,z1,t1) to point (x2,y2,z2,t2) and so on, forming a curved line throughout its existence in 4-D spacetime. Its entire existence is essentially a string through four dimensions, that can be "viewed" all at once as a single string if one could look at it from that perspective.
There's no "travel" through spacetime, there's just a static world line. The speed of light is just a conversion factor between a length being measured in meters and a length being measured in seconds within this 4-D space.
"There's no "travel" through spacetime, there's just a static world line."
- OK, but from our own human perspective, we travel along this world line, right?
I presume the line can be as wiggly and random as our movements, so it's not possible to describe the line and therefore measure its length with a single nice neat equation.
Yes, one of the great mysteries of the universe is why our consciousness seems to proceed forward linearly along the (local) timelike dimension, at least as we perceive it.
Safe to say we're completely clueless.