Things God cannot do

** It depends on how you define ‘universe’. It’s entirely possible that God is responsible for the rest of the universe (in the same sort of sense that a sculptor is the creator of a sculpture) while being a part of the larger system.

Incorrect. You err is perceiving that there is a difference between the concepts.


Logically speaking, if God created the universe, then He’s not native to it; He’s outside it. If you posit a larger system (i.e. a multiverse) and you posit a Creator who only created this particular universe, then, again, you’re not dealing with God as He is traditionally defined.

Why is it an error to assume that the two are different? Logically speaking, an omnipotent entity can do whatever it wants to, including destroying itself. However, I can say, he won’t because Scripture says such-and-such.

Why is that incorrect?

Zev Steinhardt

This example fails because such a “sculpter” God would not have created the “larger system”.

To have God inside the Universe try this one.

God created the universe out of all of himself.

That results in a God within the Universe as well as the Universe being everything.

Cheers, Bippy, enjoying the discussion…

So then, Bippy, when the universe dies due to expansion and heat death, God checks out as well?

Jesus couldn’t bite his nails.

d & r

** There doesn’t even have to be a multiverse.

If ‘universe’ refers to a bunch of stuff instead of ‘eveything’, as it often does, then we can easily imagine an entity creating it.

If, however, ‘universe’ refers to the set of things that interact with us and each other, then anything that created the universe logically does not exist, according to the definition of existence.

First, you’re presuming that omnipotence is logically possible (which it isn’t). Secondly, you’re overlooking the question of whether what God wants is up to God (can God choose what he wants?). Thirdly, Scripture is binding on this supposedly omnipotent being?:dubious:


Provided the omnipotent being doesn’t do things that are logically impossible (four sided triangles) why is omnipotence logically impossible?


God can choose what He wants to do. There. Was that so difficult? :slight_smile:

Assuming He wrote/inspired/dictated it and means to live by it, yes. Just as your word would be binding on you, would it not?

Zev Steinhardt

*Originally posted by zev_steinhardt *
Provided the omnipotent being doesn’t do things that are logically impossible (four sided triangles) why is omnipotence logically impossible? Then logical possibility is more “powerful” than omnipotence.

Okay, so God can choose what He wants. How does he choose this? Can he choose how he chooses?

But my word isn’t truly binding. If I say I’ll do something, the laws of physics do not compell me to do that thing.


Why can’t He? How do you choose what you want?

True, it’s not physically binding. It’s self-binding. If you always kept your word, then, for all practical purposes, it is binding. I suppose you could say that if God chose to lie (again, outside the usual definition) then, yes, He could physically go back on His word. However, since He doesn’t, He is bound by His word, just as anyone else who keeps their word is.


We’re not arguing over whether omnipotence is more “powerful” than logic. We’re arguing over whether it is logical for any being to be omnipotent.

How about if we settle our debate by not including the ability to make four-sided triangles as part of omnipotence. If you’re going to include the logically impossible as part of omnipotence, then I’ll agree with you that such a concept is no longer logical; for then what’s to stop an omnipotent being from wanting to be two things that are mutually exclusive at the same time (omniscient and forgetful, for example)?

Zev Steinhardt

I don’t. The laws of physics (or their analogues) determine what I am. I’m bound by my own nature.

If God is also bound by His nature, then there’s a level of reality deeper and more “real” than God – in which case, we’re not talking about the classical God. If God isn’t bound by His nature, then the original problem rears its head again.

True, it’s not physically binding. It’s self-binding. If you always kept your word, then, for all practical purposes, it is binding. I suppose you could say that if God chose to lie (again, outside the usual definition) then, yes, He could physically go back on His word. However, since He doesn’t, He is bound by His word, just as anyone else who keeps their word is. But is God “forced” to keep His word, or does He choose to?

If “omnipotence” is constrained by logic, it’s not omnipotence.

But that’s at the heart of this debate… Simply not acknowledging it does nothing but sidestep the problem.

Dragline I was using Universe to mean all things, not the physics deffinition of Universe.
It was stated thats if god created all things therefore he is outside all things.
My way round this was if God created all things out of himself he could create all things and yet still be inside the set of all things.

This all things = Universe, could be just our Universe, all quantum possibility Universes, or any other set of things you imagine, with the only limit that the set containd our Universe, and that there are no things outside the set.


More precisely, you’re bound by your abilities. God can do things you cannot. Randy Johnson can do things you cannot (I am assuming you aren’t a major league baseball pitcher who can strike out 300 batters in a season). You can do things others cannot. God simply has more abilities than you.

Indeed, in Jewish tradition, it is taught that the way in which man is created in God’s image is in the matter of free will. Just as God has free will, so do we.


God is bound by His nature because He chooses to be. Just as I choose to honor a promise that I make. It doesn’t physically bind me, it simply binds me by choice.


I conceeded the point. See above. All terms (even “omni-” terms) have to have some limits.

For example, take a “perfect” person. Would you consider the person imperfect becuase they didn’t have wings and couldn’t fly? No, because that is not what one usually expects when one defines a perfect person. Likewise, when one mentioned omnipotence, I don’t think it logically must include the ability to do that which is logically and categorically impossible. No being can be omniscient and forgetful at the same time. No being can be all white and all black at the same time. The inability to be something that cannot be does not make the being who cannot do this non-omnipotent.

Zev Steinhardt

Thanks, everyone for the great insights.

I apopreciate Zev’s well reasoned words on these matters even tho I heartily disagree. How could God have free will? At that level - absolute perfection in every way - how could there be any choice in anything? There must only be one optimum way of doing things, especially if you have control over every electron in every atom. I think making choices and having preferences might be something else the Christian God can’t do.

If all of this is part of a supreme being’s wishes, he is one cruel SOB.

it is not at all clear that we have free will.

god’s freedom of will is supposed to come from his lack of being bound by anything, which is something i hardly expect to understand.

i agree with Dragline in that there is hardly a choice as to the best course of action, and to picture an omnipotent being with desires seems rather absurd, but we can easily define free will such that it can exist even if the outcome is determined.

but i think Vorlon does not mean his abilities at all. consider going into a situation where a decision is required (i can’t think of where else free will would matter). you have 3 options:

  1. you have free will, and you choose freely (what that means, i don’t know) whichever choice it is.
  2. you do not have free will, and your choice is caused.
  3. your choice is completely random.

if the first, where does this choice come from? it is not random, it is not caused by something external. what is it that is free and willing? the second seems to me the most plausible case, when considering how i make a decision. i choose what i consider best for me based on my beliefs, which are determined entirely by genetics and environmental influence. so my choice definitely seems determined. it is rule-based. and it is not my abilities that limit me, unless you mean that i lack the ability to choose something that i don’t choose (to break the rule).

Why must there be one optimum? There might, even with total control, be multiple “optimum” conditions, the choice of which might depend on the Supreme Being’s preference. Any given optimum is likely to have to be considered in a flow state, not a static state. Multiple interdependent consequences.

where exactly does a supreme being get its preferences?

It would seem that if the Supreme had a preference between multiple optimums, that preference would ipso facto be the one optimum.

Also, if one universe is good, to an unlimited being, obviously an infinite number would be better.  Now I''m thinking that the Christian God would have no choice but to instantly create the multiverse at the very instant of his first awareness.  

As to an earlier post where I wondered if God would expire along with the heat death of the visible universe, I was replying to the assumption that he was inside, indeed all of, this universe and not residing somewhere outside of it. The mulitiverse idea just gives the arguement another scope, but doesn’t change the logic.

My recollection of the essay is dim, but I think the argument equated truth and reality with God’s mind and word. What the Creator said became true and real, and thus could not be false.

(a lurker emerges)

On the idea of illogical things God can’t do, I used to be generally comfortable with zev’s explanations. But then, I thought about what Christains believe about the trinity. The idea that there’s one god, but there’s also three gods does not agree with the mathematical logic that there is one and only one god. (of course, I don’t expect zev to try to explain this one).

Now, many people say that the three-ness of god is some kind of metaphor, or just some way of describing god. But if you look into the theology, I think it’s much more than mere metaphor. There’s quite a bit of talk about the distinctness of the trinity, about being co-eternal and co-equal and uncreated and all.

It just seems like an illogical doctrine that Christians, at least, are willing to accept about god. If one god is the same as three, why not have four sided triangles?

Hey, so far as I know, Guccione and Bova stopped publishing Omni magazine and Atlanta tore its Omni down.

Which is to say, when we decide to do the “Can God do…” thing, it’s good for a bull session of brain-stretching around arcane logic, but not a constructive discussion about the world we know. “Would it be possible to have a world where hydrogen is a solid and iron a gas?” is a fun question to explore the bounds of physics and the causes for physical properties, but it hardly does anything for one’s knowledge of how the real world operates, except maybe in consequence of the expanded understanding of physical properties that comes out of the discussion. Doing a similar thing in theology is not a whole lot different.

For me, the best definition of God’s powers and abilities, and limitations, is that He is self-limiting. That is, there is no outside force constraining Him to be what He is and do what He does; He is the creator of all such forces, and they exist at His will.

Could God have made the world to be other than what it is? Absolutely – and then we’d have had a different bunch of agenda items: “The unicorns trampled the lotos plants again! God must be evil to permit such a thing to happen!”

Bottom line on what I’m saying is, regardless of what God can do, what we’re looking at is what He did do. Duns Scotus claimed that the Incarnation and Atonement was a part of God’s original plan for the universe, at least as it applies to humanity – the Fall being not the cause of it but merely the shaping of how it came to be the way it was.

Race, the Doctrine of the Trinity is probably the classic example of what happens when theory outruns data. What we have on hand is evidence that (1) there is one God; accept no substitutes before Him! :wink: (2) that God manifests Himself in three distinct Persons, viz. the Creator and Sustainer of All Things and Lawgiver, the Actuating Principle (“Word” in Philo and John’s jargon) of the previous – which became a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and the indwelling of God’s Spirit within each person’s spirit, and (3) each functions integrally with and yet separately from the others. So the gawdawful Nicene and Chalcedonian definitions and the Athanasian Creed get trotted out to try to explain this apparent paradox. (Pause to let Zev do a disclaimer here. :)) The doctrine is not illogical, any more than a three-sided pyramid (ignoring the base) is both a single object and possessed of three distinct faces. It merely challenges our human presumption that individuality and personhood are in 1:1 correspondence – each individual is a separate person and only one personhood to the individual.