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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's with the Omnipotence Paradox?

What follows is my modest attempt to demonstrate the impotency of the so-called omnipotence paradox.

The proposition in dispute will be whether or not the supposed omnipotence paradox is self-refuting. That is to say, whether or not any number of the central premises involved in the forming of the paradox surreptitiously (yet necessarily) undermine its conclusion.

The omnipotence paradox is typically formed like the following:
Can an omnipotent God create a stone so heavy that she (he or it if you prefer) cannot lift it?
The argument attempts to create a dilemma wherein either answer proves that an omnipotent God is logically impossible and therefore illusory. A yes answer shows that God can cease to be omnipotent wherein she can create a task that she is unable to perform and a no answer shows that God was never really omnipotent in the first place. The burden I intend to fulfill is to give strong (if not insurmountable) reasons for believing that the abovementioned paradox is self-defeating, inasmuch as its own premises refute its conclusion.

What is Omnipotence?
There are a few different ways that we could define omnipotence but I will distill them into two distinct categories:

Maximal Omnipotence: This first form we will call maximal omnipotence. This form is characterized by an omnipotence that has absolutely no limitations. Whatever can be phrased as an action is necessarily possible for God to do, even that which is logically impossible.

Common Omnipotence: Many philosophers and Christian thinkers avoid maximal omnipotence in favor of a more limited and epistemically accessible alternative, henceforth known has common omnipotence. This form insists omnipotence is characterized by having the ability to bring about any logically possible state of affairs. So any entity "E" is omnipotent if the action "A" is logically possible. That is, if "E performing A" is a logically possible state of affairs.

The Premises of the Omnipotence Paradox
Using the stone example of the paradox I stated previously, I will highlight the relevant premises in the paradox.

The dilemma presents us with two options, either an omnipotent God can create a rock too heavy for herself to carry or she cannot. If God does in fact realize a state of affairs where there exists a rock too heavy, she would no longer be omnipotent (and, perhaps, call into question whether or not she was actually omnipotent in the first place). If, however, she cannot realize a state of affairs where a rock is too heavy, then there is something that she cannot do, meaning she is not omnipotent. This line of reasoning supposedly shows that an omnipotent God is logically impossible.

One of the underlining premises, then, is: God should be able to realize any state (e.g. a rock too heavy for herself to carry).

The conclusion then being: If God cannot realize a certain state (e.g. a rock too heavy for herself to carry), then she is not omnipotent.

But how exactly would an omnipotent God create a rock too heavy for herself to carry? What form of omnipotence is inferred by this dilemma? It would make sense if maximal omnipotence is being inferred, as it would be true that such a God should be able to realize any state of affairs. It is not, however, similarly true that a God with common omnipotence could realize any state of affairs, specifically states of affairs that are logically impossible.

So it seems only fair to say that the omnipotence paradox operates under the unstated assumption of maximal omnipotence.

How is this Self-Refuting?
If a God with maximal omnipotence brought about a state of affairs where there was such a thing as a rock too heavy for herself to carry, she would be bringing about a logically impossible state, inasmuch as it is not possible for there to be any impossible state for a God with maximal omnipotence.But the only reason such a God could not lift a rock too heavy for herself to carry would be because it is logically impossible. But that is irrelevant, because inherent in the definition of maximal omnipotence is the ability to do the logically impossible. So the statement, "God can lift a rock too heavy for herself to carry" may very well be logically impossible, but it would, per the definition of maximal omnipotence, be perfectly within God's power to do so. So the paradox fails because its own inference of maximal omnipotence makes its application of logic irrelevant! The paradox assumes that God ought to be able to bring about logically impossible states of affairs. So it is an application of consistency to believe that a God who can realize the logically impossible state of a stone too heavy to carry can also realize the logically impossible state of his carrying that same heavy stone.

What's so powerful about this refutation of the Omnipotence Paradox is that it cannot be defeated! Any defeater would require applying logical principles (e.g. the law of non-contradiction) to a God that is inferred by the paradox to exist outside of its application. It would not matter how logical any denial of my refutation is, because logic is irrelevant to a God with maximal omnipotence.

What is the Alternative?
So far as I can see, a remaining option for a proponent of the omnipotent paradox is to replace maximal omnipotence with common omnipotence. But this renders the omnipotence paradox a nonstarter, insofar as there is nothing inherently contradictory about a God with common omnipotence not being able to bring about certain states of affairs (namely logically impossible states like the one in question).

Or, one could attempt to show that it is somehow not logically impossible for a God with common omnipotence to realize a state where there exists a stone too heavy for herself to carry - which seems an unlikely task and heavy burden. But even if it were to somehow prove successful, we are still left with a non sequitur. That is to say, a God with common omnipotence may very well bring about a state that makes her no longer omnipotent, but the conclusion that omnipotence is therefore logically impossible simply does not follow! It simply means that a God with common omnipotence can cease to be omnipotent if she chooses to realize such a state. Of course, there are no good reasons for believing that an omnipotent God would ever find need to realize such a state - its possibility notwithstanding.

It should now be clear that the omnipotence paradox is self-refuting - insofar as one needn't look beyond the paradox's own premises in order to prove that it is false.