The Omnipotence Paradox
Episode #5 of the course Brain-twisting paradoxes by John Robin
Welcome back to our tour of mind-twisting paradoxes. Today, as promised, we’ll explore the nature of omnipotence itself.
The Paradox of the Stone
You might not think a stone is powerful, but what if I told you it’s not only powerful, it’s so powerful God can’t even lift it?
Let’s try to imagine what this looks like:
Imagine you are telling God what to create. God can create anything. So, after much thought, you decide upon the following: Create a stone so heavy even God can’t lift it.
Do you spot the paradox?
That’s right: If God creates this stone, then God will have limits, because shouldn’t God be able to lift a stone? But there’s just as much a problem if God can’t create this stone—now there’s a limit of what God can’t create.
God can’t be omnipotent, then, since by this paradox, it shows in either case that God has a limit.
The same would apply to any omnipotent being who should have power of everything and anything. Present this same challenge to this being, and they will have the same problem.
Application to Free Will
This paradox is important for us in our everyday lives.
One of the common social debates is free will vs. conformity. This debate traces far back in our history to religious ideas, particularly of humans being subject to an omnipotent God.
Now, instead of a stone, you might imagine a human being instead, and God will have the same problem:
“God, create a human whose choices you can’t control,” one might request.
God, in doing so, now has a limitation. But if God refused to create us with free will, that puts a limit on God’s power.
Most will agree that humans have free will. We are, in effect, the stones God cannot lift. But for some who feel that we have no free will (the philosophy of predestination), this argument still puts a limit on God because it implies God cannot create a being whose will is beyond control.
Some go so far as to argue this proves omnipotence is impossible, at least as far as our human lives are concerned.
A Subtle Twist in the Paradox …
All this said, there is a subtle twist in the paradox of the stone, as well as the whole omnipotence paradox in general. Good job if you spotted it!
It goes like this:
If God creates an unliftable stone, then God has not taken away the power of omnipotence, since God has willingly yielded power in creating the stone. Not being able to lift the stone is not a limitation on God, since this unique object God created has limitation built into it.
The same would apply to creating human beings with free will. Having no control over us is part of the design and therefore, a reflection of God’s omnipotence.
Putting this all together, this paradox tells us that regardless of how one interprets it, the power to create means the ability to create your own limits.
The next time you are working on something creative, take a moment to appreciate this beautiful truth. Whether creator or created thing, it’s the act of creation itself that is truly powerful.
Tomorrow, we will turn from philosophy back to matters of money, as our next paradox takes us into the heart of economics.
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Principles of Philosophy by Rene Descartes
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