Origin of God and Boulder Question.

I’ve so far heard this question in a couple of places. (No answer was ever given though.) And my question, I guess, is two-fold: where did the theological thought puzzle originate? Who first said it? And what, if indeed any, is the correct answer to the puzzle?

Thank you in advance to all who reply:)

Dunno when it was made, but the correct answer is “Your god doesn’t exist, nyah nyah!” It’s a logical disproof of the existence of omnipotent gods, and succinctly shows that as appealing as the idea of unlimited power might be, you run into Juggernaut/Blob problems as soon as you allow the god’s unlimited powers to influence each other’s results.

Well, for some value of “omnipotent/unlimited power”. I wouldn’t find it a particularly compelling demonstration of anything beyond what’s already demonstrated by “Could God make 2 + 2 = 5? Of course not!”. Though perhaps what’s already demonstrated by that is well-worth demonstrating.

Well, if you insist on framing the question within the context of theism, one answer is to suppose that the universe consisted of one huge solid boulder, constantly expandind and creating new boulder-space. Then there’d be no additional space to lift the boulder into . . . making the question irrational.

But of course begbert2’s answer is more accurate.

Right, but both “lifting a boulder” and “making a boulder too heavy to lift” are actions that one would specifically expect any diety worth their salt to be able to do. And taken separately, there is no problem with either ability. It’s only when you set them against one another that there’s a problem.

Perhaps we should not consider omnipotence as infinity, since by analogy with mathematics, multiplying both sides of the equation by infinity, or dividing zero by zero, is seldom useful. On the other hand, just as with the theory of limits, you can consider what happens as x -> inf or dy/dx -> 0/0, with no silly results; and similarly, potence doesn’t have to equal infinity for a deity worth his salt to create the universe ex nihilo or bring the dead back to life - it only has to attain an arbitrarily large value.

I prefer to think of “omnipotence” as “unlimited capacity for doing the very difficult”, not “the ability to do self-contradictory things”. God can’t (in this universe, at any rate) tell you the last digit of p - but He can quote it to more digits than any arbitrarily high number you require.

I don’t know who first asked the question, but the usual answer is something like Thomas Aquinas’s answer to a similar question. Aquinas said that God was omnipotent in that God could do everything that was possible to do. But, the idea of a unliftable thing that could be lifted, for instance, or the making a square circle, which I think was Aquinas’s example, is a logical impossibility. It’s inherently contradictory and a nonsensical term.

A square circle is impossible by definition, and a “boulder too heavy to lift” actually makes an assertion about the lifter, which I suppose is sort of cheating. But it’s not too hard to find other ways to turn God’s omnipotence on itself. Like:

Can god make an unbreakable rope? They’re a common concept in fiction…

Can god destroy himself?

Can god make it so that he never existed?

My standard reply is to ask another question:
Can God make a Babe so Hot He can’t pick her up?

…for which I am going express to Hell.

Sure. Everyone knows the ladies like the bad boys; the hot chicks all hang out with Satan. Which helps explain why God is all grumpy and goes around smiting things.

Where all the previously mentioned hot girls are; it’s win-win for you!

Well, again, Aquinas would say, “omnipotent” doesn’t mean “able to do impossible things”. If you agree with Aquinas that existence is a necessary property of God, then God can’t terminate his existence. The unbreakable rope is the same sort of thing as the unliftable boulder.

I think Hell’s got all the good bands, anyway.

But what if ‘the things it’s possible to do’ coincides with ‘the things physically possible’, i.e. if doing something that transgresses the laws of physics is self-contradictory? That wouldn’t be a very impressive god, since all of his actions could be replicated using some sufficiently advanced technology.

Seems to me that if you admit logical limitations to god’s power, you also must admit the possibility that he’s exactly as limited as we are (or perhaps, some alien race with hyperadvanced technology is) – but that doesn’t seem to be a god many people want to believe in.

I see no logical problems with the question.

God creates a universe with various laws applied to that universe. There is nothing particularly magical about the laws which govern the universe we live in. Scientists in fact are trying to decide why these laws and not some other laws as there is no particular reason other laws could not have been chosen.

So, God must abide by the laws of the universe he created when within that universe. So, no four-cornered circles for instance.

Now, can God make a rock so heavy that god cannot lift it? Sure. Why not? God merely makes a rock that is unmovable in this universe within the bounds of the laws that govern this universe. So, does this mean God is not omnipotent because God cannot move the rock? Nope. God can change the rules that govern our universe thus making the rock movable. Now it is a movable rock because the laws which made it unmovable no longer apply.

If he can change the rules of the game, is it then strictly speaking a boulder he cannot lift? If he can make it so that he can, doesn’t that mean that in toto, he can?

Well exactly…

We have to avoid a logical impossibility. A force that cannot be stopped meets an object that cannot be moved. I would say it is logically impossible.

So, God makes something that cannot be moved…even by god. As long as the laws of the universe remain in place God cannot move it because to make it unmovable God used the laws of that universe. But it is God right? How can that be? Well, God can move it if God changes the rules…which presumably God can do. So, God changes the parameters which govern the universe making an unmovable boulder and now it can be moved. It can’t in one, it can in the other. God can switch between the two but logically it is impossible to have both exist simultaneously in the same universe.

But that’s not the question, at least not as I see it – if god can change the laws of the universe, he is not fundamentally subject to them, right? So, that the boulder is not movable according to the laws of the universe (even by god) has no bearing on god’s actual capabilities, since he supersedes these laws. But then, there’s no meaning to saying that he can’t lift the boulder, since, by exercising one of his faculties – changing the laws of the universe – he can. Then, the boulder never was a boulder that can’t be lifted by god – it was merely a boulder that can’t be lifted by god without god changing the laws of the universe; i.e. his inability to lift the boulder is contingent on not using all of his powers.

Similarly, flexing my biceps is one of my faculties, and it might well be that I am unable to lift a boulder without exercising it; but that doesn’t mean that I can’t lift that boulder, since I might well be able to when I do flex my biceps.

Yes and no. God is subject to the laws as they exist at that moment. But God can change the laws. As long as the law says the boulder is not movable then God cannot move it. If God wants to move it God must change the law which presumably God can do.

Imagine you are the Emperor and it is illegal for you to kill someone. As long as the law is in place you are subject to it. But, being Emperor, you can change the law at a whim so you change it and now you can go kill someone without any recourse against you.

Not a great analogy I admit but hopefully you see what I am driving at.

God can make a boulder so heavy he can’t lift it…and then lift it.

So therefore, God is Chuck Norris.

I always heard it as ‘Could God make a microwave burrito so hot that even he couldn’t eat it?’

I’m not sure, to tell you the truth.