Can God do Anything?

pushing-big-rock1Recently a student in the Apologetics Connect group that I facilitate at my home church posed an age-old question.  It was phrased a little different from what I remember, but in essence it was the “Big Cosmic Rock” argument.  This argument is sometimes referred to as the “Omnipotence Paradox.”  The argument can easily stump the unwary who take the bait.  It goes something like this.

“Is God Omnipotent; can He do anything?”
The most likely response from a Christian is, “yes of course.”
Then the trap is set.  “Can God make a rock so big that He cannot move it?”

At this point, it seems, that there is no way out.  If  we answers yes, then God is  in a situation where He could not accomplish something and thereby contradicting that God can do anything.  If we answer no, we start off by contradicting that God can do anything.

The best retort to this line of questioning that I have ever heard is “In heaven, nonsense is still nonsense.”  That is humorous, for sure, and spot on.  But let’s unpack it a bit.

The problem lies in the defining of God’s omnipotence to mean that God can do anything.  But, God obviously cannot do anything.  He cannot, for instance, sin, be untruthful, unloving and the list goes on.  Most importantly God cannot contradict himself.  All of this becomes extremely important in understanding God’s operation in the universe and human history.  But I will leave those topics for a later time.  What I want to focus on here is, why the question posed above about this cosmic rock, is, in fact, nonsense.

Distilling the reason for this goes like this.

  • First, God is not a physical being.
  • Second, if God is not a physical being then He is not limited by the constraints inherent in the physical universe such as space, mass and so on.  These characteristics common to our experience within the physical universe have no meaning in God’s experience of the universe.  He created them and is aware of them, but they have no affect on his being.
  • Third, God cannot contradict himself.  That is, God cannot be something other than He is.  He must, by necessity, remain consistent with His being.
  • Fourth, if the above are true, then the scenario where God was incapable of moving an object because of its mass would require God to be limited by the constraints of the physical universe.  The scenario itself entails an inherent contradiction.
  • Fifth, it follows, therefore, that the question “can god make a rock so big that He cannot move it” presupposes a being that is not God.  In essence the question asks can God be not God, which is a logical impossibility (from the third premise).
  • Sixth, if the question presupposes a logical impossibility then the question is, itself, irrational.
  • Therefore, the question is irrational.

To point out that God’s omnipotence means that He can do anything that is logically possible is not a limitation of His omnipotence but a qualification or defining of what Omnipotence means.  God cannot make a rock so big that He cannot move it for the same reason that God cannot sin, be untruthful, unloving and so on.  That is, to do these things would require God to be something other than He is, to be inconsistent with His being, which, as we said, is something else God cannot do.

*A special Thanks to Paul Wilkinson for insight and editorial remarks.*

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Posted in Apologetics, Logic, Philosophy

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