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Omnipotence

Omnipotence (literally, "all power") is the power to do absolutely anything. This trait is usually attributed only to God. Theists hold that examples of God's omnipotence include Creation and miracles.

In most monotheistic religions, God is described as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and all-loving (omni-benevolent?). This definition, however, brings up the problem of evil, in that if God is omnipotent and all-loving, then why does He allow evil and tragedy to exist? Resolving this issue is a major part of the theology of the monotheistic religions; attempts to reconcile God's goodness with the fact that evil exists is termed theodicy.

Meanings of Omnipotence

Between people of different faiths, or indeed even between people of the same faith, the term "omnipotent" has been used to connote a number of different positions. These positions include:

  1. God can not only supersede the laws of physics and probability, but God can also rewrite logic itself (for example, God could create a square circle, or could make one equal two).
  2. God can intervene in the world by superseding the laws of physics and probability (i.e., God can create miracles), but it is impossible--in fact, it is meaningless--to suggest that God can rewrite the laws of logic.
  3. God originally could intervene in the world by superseding the laws of physics (i.e., create miracles); in fact God did do so by creating the universe. However, God then self-obligated Himself not to do so anymore in order to give humankind free will. Miracles are rare, at best, and always hidden, to prevent humans from being overwhelmed by absolute knowledge of God's existence, which could remove free will.
  4. Omnipotence is sharply limited by neo-Aristotelian philosophers[?], who independently arose in Judaism, Christianity and Islam during the medieval era[?], and whose views still are considered normative among the intellectual elite of these faith communities even today. In this view, God never interrupts the set laws of nature; once set, they are never repealed, for God never changes His mind. These philosophers envisioned a connection between the realm of the physical and the intellectual. All physical events are held to be the results of "intellects", some of which are human, some of which are "angels". These intellects can interact in such a way as to seemingly violate the laws of nature. Since God Himself created the universe and the laws therein, this is how God works in the world. However, God does not actively intervene in a temporal sense. It has been noted that this view veers away from traditional theism, and moves towards deism.

Rejection of Omnipotence

Some monotheists reject altogether the view that God is omnipotent. In Unitarian-Universalism, much of Conservative and Reform Judaism, and some liberal wings of Protestant Christianity, God is said to act in the world through persuasion, and not by coercion. God makes Himself manifest in the world through inspiration and the creation of possibility, but not by miracles or violations of the laws of nature. The most popular works espousing this point are from Harold Kushner (in Judaism). This is the view that also was developed independently by Albert North Whitehead[?] and Charles Hartshorne[?], in the theological system known as process theology.

Paradoxes of Omnipotence

Belief that God can do absolutely anything can lead to certain logical paradoxes (which are not problematic, if God can rewrite the laws of logic). A simple example, described more detail under omnipotence paradox is: Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?

Combining omnipotence with omniscience into one paradox, one might ask whether God can pose a question to which He wouldn't know the answer.



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