Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Stone Paradox: A Response

The following is a response I wrote to an atheist, who, for his own anonymity shall be referred to as Mr. X.

Mr. X wrote:

Along the lines of the old saying, "Could god create a rock so large even he couldn't lift it" there is another thought-experiment that I like to offer to theists in an attempt to let them consider the shortcomings of a belief in an omnipotent being.
Thanks for the offer, Mr. X. Being a theist, I have to say that I cannot accept your offer because it's not much of an offer; that is, it amounts to nothing. Here's why:

The Paradox of the Stone, and the idea you listed as "Along the [same] lines", are questions designed to trap the person being asked in a contradiction. That is, the person answering either has to contradict their beliefs, or fail to answer because they don't know. I say the person who contradicts their beliefs is worse off than the person who fails to answer, because the person who fails to answer has at least been consistent with the logic of the question: namely, that it is a senseless, gibberish-like question, and is therefore unanswerable.

God can do things we don't understand; that's a given. This is so, most likely because of those things' boggling complexity. But this is not at all the same as saying there are things that God cannot do because we don't understand them. More, it is not a breach of logic to ask God to do something beyond our understanding because it implies the principle of that things' doability, and is hence doable by an all-knowing, all-powerful God. Conversely, to ask God to

"do a 'thing' the description of which is contradictory is to ask God to do what is by definition not a thing, since the description fails to refer and cannot refer. Hence, the 'thing' is not doable. To hold anyone in disrespect for not doing what is in principle not doable is to be literally stupid." (Hendrick van der Breggen)
Thus, both your question about God's ability to cause himself not to exist, and the inane question about God creating a rock he cannot lift, are questions formulated in contradiction, and amount to gibberish. The very words of the question cancel each other out. It's like asking: Can God, the most powerful of all things, make a situation that is in every respect more powerful than himself? Or, if you like:

Can God make it be the case that with regards to this particular respect the most powerful force is at the same time and in the same sense not the most powerful force?" (Hendrick van der Breggen)
You may as well ask, "Can God blah-blah-blah, and do-dee-do-dee-do?" It would be just as effective due to its total lack of reference to anything referable. It's simply a string of words failing to mean anything in particular.

Christopher J. Freeman

(Category: Theology Proper: God/The Holy Trinity)


Anonymous said...

Since an all-powerful being will always be able to accomplish whatever He sets out to do, it is impossible for an all-powerful being to fail. The argument suggests that since God is all-powerful He can do anything - even fail. This is like saying that since God is all-powerful He can be not all-powerful. Obviously, this is absurd. An all-powerful being cannot fail. Therefore, God can create a rock of tremendous size, but, since He is all-powerful, He will always be able to "lift" it. The ability to fail is not a part of omnipotence.

The atheist distorts the biblical definition of omnipotence in order to "prove" that God cannot exist. Contrary to their claims, omnipotence does not include the ability to do things that are, by definition, impossible. Neither does omnipotence include the ability to fail. By defining omnipotence as requiring one to have the ability to fail, atheists have defined omnipotence as being impossible. Of course, an omnipotent God would never fail.

These kinds of arguments are clearly illogical and even silly as Chris has suggested, although they are commonly used by inexperienced atheists. Most intelligent atheists have dropped these kinds of arguments long ago.

Gregory said...

Hey Anonymous! Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

Thanks for your clear and well said comment, too. I hope you drop by more often!

God bless

(So, uh, what should we call you?)

CJFreeman said...


Very well stated! Thank you for visiting, and then again for commenting. I really appreciated your insight.

You made an excellent point when you noted that atheists define omnipotence as including the ability to fail. In effect, this is a straw-man fallacy: they incorrectly define what they wish to dispute, and then proceed to tear it down. And yes, it is certainly below the level of more informed atheists.

I hope you come by more often, Anonymous. And thank you again.

Christopher J. Freeman