[#if authorProfileImage??]
    [#if authorProfileImage?is_hash]
        [#if authorProfileImage.alt??]
            ${authorProfileImage.alt}
        [/#if]
    [/#if]
[/#if]
Author Tim Barnett
Published on 06/22/2020
Tactics and Tools

Atheist Says God Isn’t All-Powerful Unless He Defeats Himself

In today’s example, molecular biologist Mark D’Arcy offers a question meant to challenge the idea of an omnipotent—that is, all powerful—God. The tweet reads: “Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted? If yes, then he is not all powerful, since he Himself cannot lift it. If he cannot create a stone that cannot be lifted, then he is not all powerful. Either way, God is not all powerful.”

This challenge is plagued with problems. First, omnipotence is not the power to do anything. Rather, it’s the ability to do anything power can do. Even infinite power cannot do what is contradictory or absurd. This isn’t a limit on God’s power. It’s a limit on the kinds of questions we should be asking about God’s power.

Second, it’s an illogical question. That’s because it subtly smuggles in a contradiction by asking if God’s omnipotence can defeat His omnipotence. It’s like asking, “Can God win in an arm wrestling match against Himself?” It’s nonsense.

Ironically, in his attempt to show the incoherence of an omnipotent Creator, this atheist relies on an incoherent question.


Transcript

I’m Tim Barnett, and today we’re applying some red pen logic to a tweet from university professor Mark D’Arcy. Class is in session.

This is Red Pen Logic with Mr. B, where we assess bad thinking by using good thinking. Plus, we try to have a little bit of fun in the process. In today’s example, molecular biologist Mark D’Arcy offers a challenge to the idea of an omnipotent—that is, all-powerful—God. The tweet reads: “Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted? If yes, then he is not all powerful because he cannot lift it. If he cannot create a stone that cannot be lifted, then he is not all powerful. Either way, God is not all powerful. #Humanism, #Atheism.” This atheist, a self-described advocate of critical thinking, believes this age-old challenge refutes God’s omnipotence. Let’s see if he’s right.

Well, it’s time to pull out the red—wrong pen. Time to pull out the red pen and take this one from the top. This challenge puts the believer on the horns of a dilemma. Either God cannot create a stone that cannot be lifted, or God can’t lift a stone that He created. Either way, God can’t do something. And if He can’t do something, then according to this atheist, He’s not all-powerful. Therefore, an all-powerful God does not exist. Q.E.D., #atheism. Well, not so fast. I’m thinking that hashtag might have been a little premature.

This challenge is plagued with problems. First, it assumes a defective definition of omnipotence. Omnipotence does not mean that God can do anything. It means God can do anything raw power can do. No amount of power, though, can accomplish something logically impossible. That qualification is key.

D’Arcy may be surprised to learn that this challenge was answered hundreds of years ago. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility.” In other words, to say that God can’t do something logically impossible does not limit God in any way. Sure, God can’t make a married bachelor or a square circle, but that’s because those words make no sense. They’re self-contradictory concepts.

In the same way, the question “Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted?” is also meaningless because it’s self-contradictory. Namely, an omnipotent God defeating His own omnipotence. It’s asking, “Can God be omnipotent and not omnipotent at the same time?” The answer is “no,” but it’s not because He’s not all-powerful as the tweet assumes. It’s because the task of an omnipotent God creating a stone that cannot be lifted is not really a task at all. It’s a contradictory combination of words. That’s all. A logical absurdity. And if it’s not a task, then it’s not really a problem if God can’t do it.

By the way, there are many things that God can’t do precisely because He’s perfect. He can’t lie because He’s morally perfect. He can’t cease to exist because He’s the perfection of being. He can’t get His sums wrong because He’s the author of math. And He’s really good at algebra. And He can’t do the logically absurd because He’s perfectly logical.

If the atheist responds, “You’ve just redefined omnipotence to escape the problem. Omnipotence should include the logically impossible.” Well, if that’s the case, then the original challenge just evaporates. We could just agree that God can create a stone that He can’t lift, and He can lift it. But if they say, “That’s logically contradictory,” we could simply reply, “That’s right. And on your definition of omnipotence, God can do the logically impossible.” So what’s the problem? You see, either way, this challenge does nothing to undermine God.

So, what have we learned? First, omnipotence is not the power to do anything. It’s the ability to do anything that power can do. Even infinite power cannot do what is logically contradictory or absurd. This isn’t a limit on God’s power. It’s a limit to the kinds of questions we should be asking about God’s power.

Second, it’s an illogical question. That’s because it subtly smuggles in a contradiction by asking if God’s omnipotence can defeat His omnipotence. That’s like asking, “Can God win in an arm wrestling match against Himself?” It’s just nonsense. God can make a bachelor into a married man—lucky for some of you guys—but He cannot make a bachelor who is a married man. Remember, there is no answer to nonsense questions.

Ironically, in an attempt to show the incoherence of an omnipotent Creator, this atheist relies on an incoherent question. That’s not how critical thinking works. Class dismissed.