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)