Can God be truly omnipotent?

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not exactly an expert in ecumenical matters but I have a problem with the specifics of Gods omnipotent nature.

  • I had a discussion about this with the philosophy teacher at my college a while back. He is a fervent Catholic and believes in Gods omnipotency without question. He told me that the current teaching on God is that he is Omnipotent (all powerful) Omniscient (all knowing) and Omnibenevolent (all loving, all good). He also said that for God to be truly omniscient he would know, not only everything that has happened anywhere at any time but also everything that is going to happen. in other words God can prognisticate and he can prognosticate perfectly. As I have already said my philosophy teacher is a fervent catholic and as such I take this position to be the one which the Catholic Church is currenlty advocating.

Now, we have all heard about the recent earthquake in India which happened just the other week. Fifteen thousand people have died as a consequence of this catastrophe and the death toll is still rising exponentially. My question is this. How can we support the position that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent in light of these kinds of tragedy?

The way I see it, if God knew that the earthquake was going to happen (as he would do if he were truly omniscient) and he didn’t stop it, this shows that he is not omnibenevolent. If he did know about it and did want to stop it but he couldn’t, then it shows that he is not omnipotent. And finally, if he just didn’t know about it at all he is not omniscient and if he is not omniscient it
shows that he cannot be truly omnipotent either.

So whichever way you look at it God is not truly all powerful as he cannot be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. The best he can hope for is to be omniscient and omnibenevolent.

Obviously this looks like quite a large flaw in theological teaching and one which, I’m sure, there is a logical explanation for. So my question is simple, what is it? How can the Catholic Church teach that God is Omnipotent etc… in light of catastrophes like the Indian earthquake?

Reminds me of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 – happened on November 1, when many Portuguese Catholics were at church, to a good Catholic city.

I’d be interested to hear the Christian view on this.

Believe it or not, you’re not the first person this question has occured to.

And I think it’s very charitable of you to assume when confronted with a gapeing theological flaw, that of course there is a simple logical explaination. Actually there are many. None of which will completly satifiy everyone.

I will leave the rest of them to the Catholics, me personally- I suspect “God” whoever that is, does not have the same conception of benevolence as we do. Why should he?

You’re assuming that the earthquake and the horrible deaths of thousands of people is a bad thing.

Of course, by human standards, it’s bad. When a human commits murder, we declare the act evil and want to hold the guy responsible. When a human creates carnage on a large scale (OK City bombing, for example) we see this as exponentially more evil.

God doesn’t have to follow our standards. He makes the rules, and he’s allowed to do whatever the hell he wants. Furthermore, we have no right to judge his actions. We can’t comprehend why he’d feel it’s a good idea to kill all those people (or maybe he just let the earthquake happen, but since he’s omnipotent it’s the same thing), but since he’s so much smarter than we are we should just assume that the earthquake was a good thing.

After all, god told us he’s good, so we can trust him. We should rejoice over the earthquake, because it’s another indicator of god’s will being done.

[/sarcasm off]

To me, the world looks and behaves remarkably like it would if god didn’t exist.

I’m not a Christian, but I can give you the standard Christian answer to any tragedy: “It was God’s will and He had a higher purpose for them all”. Usually, it’s “To teach the rest of us slobs a lesson”… In this case, not to live near a fault line, I imagine. To question the will of God of course, is to imply superiority over Him.

Just wondering though… If God is truly all powerful, can He create a rock big enough that He cannot lift?

Tequila has hit my concern quite squarely:

If God can do anything he wants, then can god gcreate for himself something impossible for him to do?

Is God, who has worked such great wonders (given that the bible is true) now intellectually bored? They say challenge stimulates the mind… is God completely unstimulated?

The bored and unstimulated child in stops usually tries to fnd a way to make his day more interesting. He bugs the kid sitting in front of him, he hides the teacher’s chalk, he goes outside, romps trough the woods and steps on a few anthills, just to watch the ants scurry around.

Maybe this is where natural disasters come from. God is toying with us for lack of intellectual stimulation.

If God was omniscient, he would never know what it was like to be ignorant. If God was all powerful, he wouldn’t need to rest, and he could easily refute himself by creating a task he couldn’t solve (making a rock he couldn’t lift), which begs the ultimate question of cloning himself, which would be unnecessary if he was omnipresent, but that would be also beg the question called the “identity of indiscernables” where god might appear at the same time in a million different places (are they the same or are they different gods, or does he have to stop time, which might stop god? Aspirin!). Then there’s the parts versus whole dilemma. If God is made of no parts, then he is either non-existent or indestructible, which are synonymous, too bad for God.

Well, omnibenevolence has me stumped. Where is this difficult? Loving everything all at once? Why not. Too easy. It implies that God has no enemies however, when I could count them myself, and it also violates the all-knowing part of his character, which must know what it is like to dislike. Is God therefore an obsessive type?

Excellent post, VoR, I love this stuff. Also, we should never forget the real intention of this dogma, which is to confuse. It’s worked for so long. The reasons wizards and priests always made a cozy life for themselves was that they had a few secrets they made available to the powers that be. Those secrets were simple: How to enslave people without chains? Answer: Bind them with knots of riddles, then rely on the power of office to enforce the answers. Create a demand, then supply the artificial need (monotheism). Religion (re-ligare; re-ligamented) comes from the Latin, “to bind again.”

Of course god can be all-powerful. And all-knowing and all-kind… if you’re going to suspend your disbelief, you might as well hang it from the highest tree.

I’ve always fancied God to have been omnipotent, but then to force himself to be limited.

In the case of the too-heavy rock: of course he can create it. then he can not lift it and isn’t all powerful? Of course not. then he just makes himself more powerful and lift the rock. Its a question of simultaneous, continuous all-powerfulness that gives contradictions. The funny thing is, by my conditions God can create a copy of himself then limit his own power and stop being god. Ouch!

But, talking about God being all powerful and all-knowing is sorta like trying to do math when we allow division by zero.

What about eternal, God also has to be eternal hasn’t He?

aynrandlover, to say that god put himself in a limited position is just another frasing for the “heavy rock” rock question,that as I understand asks wether there is a case in wich God puts Himself in a position wich he cannot, from that moment on change because of the nature of the said change ( or rock ) is to be heavier than God can ever lift or in other words limit Himself it doesn’t matter how strong He makes himself to be.
If He can than there is something He cannot do, and if He can’t than there is something He cannot do so He’s not omnipotent

Now this an interisting scenario I got from an old sci-fi short story:

A man dies and discovers himself in the presence of an entity that has all the atributes of a god other than omnibenevolence. This presence informs the man that his function like many others is from that moment to eternity was to think of something interesting. The man rebels and says he’d rather vanish into oblivion than to serve this entity for all eternity. The entity says that if he kills himself he’ll be rebuilt with his method of suicide cancelled. The man decides than to kill the entity who is then satisfied and leaves.

A creature that knows all and has always existed cannot be for it either has an origin and an end to be known so stopping to be eternal or has always existed and can’t know it’s own origins not being omniscient then.
Such an entity can want nothing but it’s own destruction.

A bit off the subject but I’ve always heard that the hindu have about 6 million gods, who the hell counted them?

You have not explained why you see it this way. If you posit that God exists, then you must (to be logically consistent) accept for the purposes of argument all that entails. Then, at least for the Christian God (and many others) you must accept the idea of an afterlife.

Once death is not the end of existence, death can no longer be considered the worst thing to happen to a person.
In the question of the “too-heavy rock”, people are able to prove nothing about God but rather about their own inability to formulate a logical sentence. They beg the question. The question posits an object which is a priori defined to be too heavy for God to lift. Hence they’ve already given the attributes of God in formulating a question about God’s attributes.


Sorry to get technical, but omnipotence violates the laws of physics AND logic. And, by the way, I or anyone else refuting omnipotence were not trying to prove anything about God, but to show the logical absurdity of such a conception. I and others feel it to be a dire human failing to insist on a divine master while wallowing in freedom. A divine hidden master is also a logical absurdity. If God is hidden, then we are free, by logic. As I’ve said before, it is probable that he either does not exist, or is testing to see if we fall for his cheap and convenient imitations (I won’t name names Emarkp). Under this “hidden” scenario, the point would then be for him to see what we do with our “a-theistic” freedom. Or do we just spend our time using logic to compare churches and cults?

The way I see it the fact that God, if he exists, didn’t stop the earthquake and thereby sentenced 15, 000 Indians to death for no other reason than living on a fault line doesn’t seem to be the kind of action an omnibenevolent being would take. Also if, as you imply, these people died so that they could go straight to the afterlife then why doesn’t God just kill all of us and get it over with?

It just saddens me to think that if I were an omnipotent being there would probably be far less sadness and suffering in the world.

Ouch, talk about tortured grammar (English very good I speak), I guess it’s my minds way of telling me to go to bed. G’night.

With regards to the “Heavy Rock” question, I’m not sure why Omnipotence would include the ability to perform tasks which are logically impossible. As I recall this was something stated by Rene Descartes, but not necessarily the accepted view among most theologians at the time(or currently).

Once you remove the ability to do logically impossible things from the conception of Omnipotence most of the problems therein disappear. Of course, we’re still left with the strong determinism implied by the existence of an omniscient being, and the various doubts raised by the presence of evil/suffering in a world created by an Omnibenevolent diety, but at least it solves a few problems.

Again, you’re assuming a priori that death is a bad thing.

I didn’t imply that the purpose of their death was to go to the afterlife, but rather stated the result was to go to the afterlife. I don’t know what the “purpose” was, or if there was any. Is there a purpose to your hand being burned when you touch a hot stove?

I doubt it. Why do you think this? Would you prevent all natural disasters? What about when one person does something terrible to another–would you prevent that too? How much free will would you allow us mere mortals?

Again, about the “heavy rock” question. There is no point in asking whether God can do illogical things. The point is that the question is malformed. It can have no meaning within our understanding. It’s like the old conversation:

Q: According to relativity, what would happen if you went faster than the speed of light?
A: I can’t answer, because relativity says you can’t accelerate to the speed of light.
Q: Okay, granted, but what would happen?
A: There is no framework in which I can answer that.
Q: Well, what do you think would happen…?

Same thing. The question is nonsensical. It gives no information about God.

I used to think that there was no point in asking God to do illogical things. Even though I’m a heathen athiest, I thought that everyone (believers or not) should realize that God could not go against logic.

Then I thought about the Holy Trinity. There are folks who believe that God is three things, and one thing at the same time. Not just as a figure of speech. Not just an analogy. They think it’s a mystery (i.e. a truth that cannot be understood) how you can have one God who is also three Gods at the same time.

Now, it’s only a baby step up from basic logic to notice that one and three are not the same. One apple is not three apples, one car is not three cars, one foot is not three feet. But one God, wait that’s the same as three!

This is not some “make a rock big enough God can’t lift it” teaser from the peanut row. It’s a dogma held by some (I know, not all) Christians.

I got my philosophy degree last year and in my third year one of my units was philosophy of religion. The first thing we studied was The Inconsistent Triad: three statements which asserted together generated an inconsistency:

1: God is omnipotent and omniscient
2: God is omnibenevolent
3: There is evil and suffering in the world

Some theologists have said that suffering reveals God and we can become closer to God through suffering, others (although admittedly in the past to a public less aware of the sufferings of entire populations in other less fortunate areas of the world) have claimed that evil did not exist. Sorry but both of those are bollocks if you ask me. Try telling the survivors of the Holocaust (I’ve often thought that Holocaust deniers maybe did not want to accept the implications it had regarding a Judo-Christian God) or an Indian earthqake surviver whose entire family had been killed that evil does not exist in the world. See what reaction you get.

Evil must exist as far as I’m concerned as the logical opposite of good - although this is a linguistic logic the defenition of God is defined through language and evil is implied strongly within religion. Many have divided evil into two types: natural and man-made evil. Man-made evil can be dismissed as being a result of free will, so the Hollocaust is not God’s fault. Fair enough. But on closer inspection this hardly satisfies. God remember is outside of time, so when he created man he knew everything man would do - he knew Hitler would murder millions of his ‘chosen’ people. He knew about Mao Tse Tung, he knew about Charles Manson and about every other nutcase who has raped, abused, murdered, and tortured other humans and animals on this earth. One philosopher has said that if a man raised a child knowing full well that the child would grow up to be a mass murderer, the man would be fully responsible for this. I don’t see any difference with God. The other evil is natural evil. Ask the Indian victims of the recent earthquake about this one. A three week old baby died was one of the victims. Had that baby achieved enough perfection in its short life to qualify itself for heaven?

Others have claimed that good can come out of suffering. Sorry, not good enough. It does not follow however that suffering is therefore good.

On a side point if God is omniscient, the need for partitionary prayer (praying for something) becomes pointless. Gos knows you are going to pray, has always known what you are going to ask and, because He is infinite, cannot be influenced IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER. Praying for your dying child should make not a jot of differece except to make you feel a bit better. Which pretty much sums up the whole package in my opinion.

On that last point, I meant to say petitionary prayer NOT partitionary prayer, I’m not even sure if this latter one means anything - but it was a spelling error. Sorry - it was 4am here in London so I hope I can be excused.

I didn’t really answer the question though, I really just addressed the point of evil. If God isn’t omnipotent, he cannot exist. It’s all or nothing I’m afraid, take that quality away from God and the whole basis of religion goes out the window, no argument. Obviously that doesn’t stop you from believing in non-omnipotent God, but that would have to be a totally different God within a totally or drastically altered religion. It basically comes down to omnipotence (in combination with the three other intrinsic qualities I referred to in my previous posting) versus the existence of evil and suffering. For me it’s either one or the other. No compromises available. Make your own minds up on that one…

Here’s a parable that might shed some light on the circumstance for those who want to listen. It’s a bit long, but is fast reading:

A city-dweller decides to take a trip to his cousin, who lives in the country. He gets off the train, his cousin picks him up from the station, and they drive to his house. After they talk for awhile, the city-dweller and his cousin walk around the cousin's grounds. The city-dweller points out a large, clean, smooth plot of dirt on his cousin's grounds, a way off from the house. The next day, when the two are walking again, the city-dweller sees some men driving oxen across the field, leaving the field a broken mess.
"Aren't you going to stop them?", inquires the city-dweller to his cousin. The cousin answers, "No, it's OK"
The next day, when walking again, they see men throwing small kernels into the ground. The city-dweller looks to his cousin curiously, but the cousin again reassures him.
The city-dweller's visit comes to an end, and he returns back home to the city. Months later, he decides to visit his cousin again. When he returns, he sees that the field that he had been so concerned about was now covered in beautiful white stalks. The city-dweller says to his cousin, "Ah, now I understand. It all makes sense now."
The city-dweller and his cousin walk around the grounds the next day, and to the city-dweller's chagrin, men are hacking down the stalks with sickles.
"Look at what they're doing now!"
"Relax, everything's under control."
As days pass, the city-dweller sees workers driving oxen attached to sledges over the harvested stalks, gathering the released kernels into a mill, and grinding them up into a fine white dust. Both times, the visitor protests about waste of something useful, but his cousin continues to remain ambiguous.
One day, the city-dweller ventures into his cousin's kitchen, and sees him pouring the fine white dust into a bowl. He stays to watch, and to his horror, his cousin pours water into the bowl, turning the fine powder into a goo.
"Are you mad?! You destroyed a beautiful field to create goo?"
The cousin then forms the goo into large clumps, and places them into the oven.
"Now I know that you've gone off the deep end. You're burning up that which you and your workers spent so much time on? I'm leaving!"
"Before you go," responds the cousin, "stop by here in about 30 minutes."
The visitor, intrigued, waits a half-hour, and returns. His cousin removes the baking pan from the oven, slices a piece from one of the clumps, and presents his guest with a slice of fresh-baked bread.

The city-dweller had no way to be able to relate to what his cousin was doing. To him, his cousin was engaging in continuous acts of destruction. However, to his cousin (and to any readers with a minimum of sense), he was planting wheat to bake bread with - an act which is really very good.
The world is filled with pain, poverty, suffering, and death. Belief in the idea that G-d is omnipotent implies that one *cannot* condemn a single action that He does - for if one is able to explain every single action of an omniscient Being, that would mean that he, too, is all-knowing, for he understands every point of logic used by

G-d in deciding what to do. Have you ever thought that an acquaintance was doing something wrong, to you or to others, only to find out later that you were the one who misunderstood his actions, and jumped to the wrong conclusion? If so, how do you trust your instincts when
relating to G-d?