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Omnipotence paradox

An omnipotent being is one that can do anything. One form of the omnipotence paradox poses the question: can an omnipotent being create a stone that is too heavy for him to lift? If he can create it, then there is one thing he can't do: lift the stone. If he can't create it, then there is one thing he can't do: create such a stone. Either way, there is something he can't do, which contradicts the assumption that he is omnipotent. This is a paradox.

A similar paradox is the question: what happens when an irresistible force meets an unmovable object? Here, irresistible means it can move anything, and unmovable means nothing can move it.

In both cases, the question is making implicit assertions that are inconsistent and self-contradictory. In the first paradox, the phrase omnipotent being is implicitly stating that any phrase such as a stone too heavy for him to lift is meaningless. In the second paradox, the phrase irresistible force is asserting that there are no unmovable objects for it to meet. The phrase unmovable object is asserting there are no irresistible forces for it to meet.

Thus, one solution to this type of paradox is to say that it is logically impossible for both objects to exist at the same time. So, there cannot be both an irresistible force and an unmovable object.

In the case of God, a similar response is available if it is already accepted that God cannot do what is logically impossible:

  • God cannot do what is logically impossible.
  • It is logically impossible for there to be a stone God cannot move.
  • So, God cannot create such a stone.

This necessarily accepts the view that even an omnipotent God cannot violate the laws of logic, and indeed this whole paradox can be seen as a strong reason for such a view.

However, the answer above can be restated even if one does not already accept that God cannot do logically impossible things: one can answer that the question is literally meaningless, and therefore there is not even a logically impossible task being set.

This is a useful distinction if one wants to hold (as some, including Aquinas, have held), that God can do even some logically impossible things, such as making 2+2=4 false.

See Omnipotence for a discussion on the various positions regarding the meaning of omnipotence.

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