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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It would seem that any 'claim' to 'omni-anything' would fall into the
'absurdity trap'. This was my first step towards my 'nieve atheism' as
a young man. Sadly my Catholic school experience did a thankful number
on me...;p).

Placing 'limits' on 'God/god' was taught to be heretical, but the alternative
seemed grossly nutty.

I always think, if God created the universe, then it's one where life can exist.  If he was to intervene arbitrarily then the universe wouldn't work.  The fact that things can go wrong, terrible misfortunes can happen, is the inevitable price we have to pay for gaining the chance to live, in a universe that functions.  And life can be very beautiful as well as horrendous.  But why would he do it in the first place?  Good question. 

It's true that God's love, morality etc. can be explained in scientific, evolutionary terms.  But that doesn't seem to stump Dr Bob. 

It's true that God's love, morality etc. can be explained in scientific, evolutionary terms.  But that doesn't seem to stump Dr Bob.

Well, to be fair, Dr. Bob considers that a mostly unsubstantiated theory that ignores a lot of contrary evidence.  Calling it "true" is either advocacy or faith.

Back some decades ago there was a whole group of cosmologists who spent a lot of time on oscillating universe models.  Whole careers.  They did that mostly for philosophical reasons... they didn't like the Big Bang / creation from nothing / expanding forever universe.   This approach sort of reminds me of that dead-end.  You are pursuing this type of explanation for philosophical reasons, not because that's where dispassionate observation of the data is taking you.

Even given scientific plausibility of such a theory or set of theories, one would still be left with the question of whether the scientific framing is more useful than the religious framing.  Is it more predictive?  Does it offer better guidance for human action?   Is it more readily adopted by a majority of human groups so as to be successful at offering such guidance?  One can have a scientific explanation that (over)fits all existing data that really isn't worth very much.

"You are pursuing this type of explanation for philosophical reasons, not because that's where dispassionate observation of the data is taking you."

- you're mistaken Dr Bob, I had the observations first, the ideas second, and after that found the evolutionary explanations and the similarities to religion.  Maybe it's worth including the observations in my account, because this might help people get a handle on it, which apparently is difficult at the moment. 

"whether the scientific framing is more useful than the religious framing."

- The reason for the scientific framing is that it's an atheist explanation that appeals to atheists.  It's possibly better in some ways (mainly clarity and comprehensiveness) and not as good in others (providing motivations to be good).  However the intention is for the two sides to reinforce and complement each other.  True things fit together, which is why it resonates with certain ideas within religion.  It's not meant to be in competition with anyone, just plug a gap in the market.  If you look at my website, you'll see that it makes use of a lot of religious material. 

"contrary evidence

- Do tell. 

"mostly unsubstantiated theory"

- ouch.  Possibly.  I'd say it's the quality of the explanations that might be lacking, since the reality of the whole thing is plain as day. 

The reason for the scientific framing is that it's an atheist explanation that appeals to atheists.  It's possibly better in some ways (mainly clarity and comprehensiveness) and not as good in others (providing motivations to be good).

OK, I can get that.  It's not the way I usually think about things, because we physicists in particular like looking for universal theories, but I'll admit that's quite practical.  Done well, I think it will end up leading you back to God, but perhaps not.

I'd say it's the quality of the explanations that might be lacking, since the reality of the whole thing is plain as day.

Yeah, here I think you've departed from both science and good theology.  As Feynman would say, you have to maintain a healthy sense of skepticism about your own ideas, because it's far too easy for us to fool ourselves.  Nothing in this world is as "plain as day".

What you have so far is a conjecture, from which you are trying to build a theory.

Maybe it's worth including the observations in my account, because this might help people get a handle on it, which apparently is difficult at the moment.

I think that would be helpful, and is indeed the way the development of ideas is described, at least in the sciences.

"One can have a scientific explanation that (over)fits all existing data that really isn't worth very much.

- basically it consists of the two central principles, both explained plausibly by evolution, the first one giving moral justification to the second.  Then, presented systematically, a whole load of modern knowledge about the everyday mechanics of morality, and simple moral philosophy, old and new, a lot of it lifted from Christianity and Buddhism.  There are a couple of quotes from my friend who's a conservative Christian.  A couple more from another friend who can't read and write.  Etc.  Villains can be very wise people.  I think all in all it makes quite a powerful package, even more so after it's polished up and finished.  Since it's universal, anyone who understands it can fit it into their existing world view. 

As for its overall impact, I expect it will be received well except for the hoo-ha about evolution.  By that stage I hope it will include answers to all the questions people might ask, without being too unwieldy. 

Ummm... OK....

I seem to be missing something from earlier in the thread?

What two central principles?

(As an aside, I'm also confused as to how a central principle can be explained by a theory of biology.  Wouldn't that make the central principles of the life sciences the real central principles, and your "central principles" a testable outcome of evolution theory applied to certain circumstances?)

There are elements of a new version of spirituality there too, because it's so profound and powerful and because morality can be closely related to spirituality. 

If he was to intervene arbitrarily then the universe wouldn't work.  The fact that things can go wrong, terrible misfortunes can happen, is the inevitable price we have to pay for gaining the chance to live, in a universe that functions.

In my view, this presumes preexisting rules or laws that God is subject to (i.e., that the existence of life assumes risk and danger, that a universe must be a precisely balanced house of cards instead of flexible and robust). Thus, it violates God's omnipotence. Nothing is "inevitable" for God's creation.

I think it would be possible for God to intervene, not in extraordinary circumstances, but if people earn it by doing "more of the same" - putting in a lot of effort and courage to behave in a moral fashion that God approves of.  This wouldn't be violating any rules of existence. 

I wonder if a likely 'random factor' would allow such an intrusion. If 'God/god' were able to act between a 'cause' and the 'cascade of outcomes', favoring one outcome over another, just maybe everything we see would be a 'miracle'. 

Not such a bad idea, I am rather surprised that anything works anyway...;p)  

'God/god' acting as the collapsing factor as the wave state is yet in a super position? So the 'cat in the box' being half-dead/half-alive, till we make the observation by lifting the damn box lid, 'God/god' is that 'hand' lifting the lid, and 'fixing the dice'. A theist field-day looking for the 'hand of 'God/god', and untold billions looking for the other 'God/god particle/energy'.

Finally theists could be a contributing part of the sciences, helping to justify ever larger social investments. Maybe sacred artifacts could be checked for the presence or contamination with this 'sacred energy'. New 'technology' might be the outcome, and 'flights of fancy' could be indulged once a 'sacred' label is imposed. CERN could find a whole new funding source or even moved to Rome as a new 'holy of holies'.   Maybe in the equations describing quantum mechanics, a whole new term could be added the 'fish'.

Does something smell 'fishy' to you?

Theologians often admit that God's power has limits. For example, he can't make a contradiction uncontradictory. He can't make the impossible possible. Whatever he is, they might say, he is logically coherent.

Then they go on and defend the existence of an impossible being.

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