Omnipotence – A Straw Man

Straw-man

The Straw-Man series is meant to concisely and clearly present common straw-men used in arguments against a true Christian worldview and to properly dismantle them. A straw-man may be concocted purposefully for the purposes of deception, or assumed accidentally by virtue of a genuine misunderstanding, but the result is always the same: a distorted argument which overwhelmingly misses the point and therefore requires correction.

Omnipotence

The Straw-Man: “Omnipotence is the ability to do anything – including contradictory things”

The Real-Man: “Omnipotence is the ability to do anything which is logically possible.”

Ever heard that ridiculous ‘objection’ against Theism which mockingly asks “Can God create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it”? This is today’s most popular expression of the straw-man of omnipotence. It assumes that God is indeed an omnipotent being, and that omnipotence includes the ability to contradict one’s self. In essence, it is asking “Can an omnipotent being (God) be non-omnipotent (possess or create an inability for Himself)”? When you put it like that, this previously supposed profound question reveals itself to be closer to the absurd.  To aid in elaboration on this point, consider the following quote by C.S. Lewis:

Meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, 'God can.'
It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

I would add that meaningless combinations of words also do not suddenly gain meaning because we have attached a question mark at the end of them – such is simply a disingenuous way to assert the same meaninglessness. No rational theist has ever meant such meaninglessness when speaking of God’s omnipotence. Omnipotence, rather than connoting the ‘ability’ to contradict one’s self, means the power to do all which is logically possible. I put ability in quotations because being ‘able’ to contradict one’s self is not a strength (an instance of ‘able-ness’) but a weakness. To insist that an omnipotent being should be ‘able’ to contradict one’s self – to be weak – is to insist that power should include a lack of power, that A should include non-A. The objector, in this case, is the one with a contradictory worldview (evidenced by this contradictory assumption). He is simply attempting to impose that view on Theism and then attack it for the irrationality which he enforced upon it.

Objectivists will likely either take issue with, or be confused by, the use of the term “logically possible” in the above. They make little to no distinction between the logically possible and the circumstantially possible. Sorting out that aspect of their epistemological errors is for a different time though. For now, it is sufficient to say that the logically possible is simply the non-contradictory and that Omnipotence means the ability to do all that falls into that category.

Related Posts

Super-Naturalism - A Straw Man

The Primacy of Consciousness - A Straw Man

Responses to Objectivism

 

12 thoughts on “Omnipotence – A Straw Man

  1. Mike Masztal

    Excellent article. Unfortunately, even for many of the more prominent Randians, namely Craig Biddle, these types of arguments are often presented as proof of the irrationality in theism rather than that, in reality, these are nothing more than simplistic fiat pronouncements.

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  4. James

    "Meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, ‘God can.’
    It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

    Jacob , does it not occur to you that you are being hung by your own noose? You are here arguing for a meaning criteria which puts you right into the area you claim to repudiate Oist for. In fact, this is the area where your point on "god's" power is undone. One can no more make the words, "creation out of spiritual existence", be meaningful just because you string the letters s p i r i t u a l together! I personally have told you that the argument against a creator relies on arbitrary concepts and that avoiding the ex nihilo position only sets you squarely in that category. So what is your criteria for meaningfulness that is NOT a part of what you insist is "cognitive science"?
    That is, you are stealing the whole process of concept formation and smuggling it into your claim!

    Reply
  5. Curious

    So God is bound by the rules of logic/reality?
    So then existence exists before God.
    So then God is not God but simply another creature in reality.

    Reply
    1. Curious

      So then you're vacillating on the definitions of the words existence and God, saying they are interchangeable.

      But really it's a vacillation on primacy of existence and primacy of consciousness. If God is bound by logic, than existence is primary (and reality is objective). If God is existence, then consciousness is primary (and reality is subjective).

      Reply
      1. Curious

        You still haven't answered the ultimate question, if God is primary, where do the rules of logic come from?

        Reply
      2. Curious

        You're still saying the same thing, God and existence are the same. If they are, there is no need for two separate terms.

        If they aren't the same, what is the difference between the two of them?

        Reply
        1. It would be more appropriate to say that "God and Being, as such, are the same" (although that could be misleading, because there are many other true things about God besides His ultimate being).

          Classical philosophers used to refer to God's being as 'subsistence' and everything else as 'existence' - 'subsisting' meaning 'to be, in and of itself, independently from anything else', and 'existing' meaning 'to be *out of* something else (namely, God) -- dependent on other thing(s)'.

          Reply

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