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Through an omnipotent being, all things are possible. Can such beings exist? For example, can the Flying Spaghetti Monster be omnipotent?

Prior discussion:

  • This question is supposedly relevant, but is limited to discussion about Jehovah, and the accepted answer is a rhetorical excuse with no logical content.
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  • Isn't this equivalent to the old question whether God can do what is logically impossible? In any case, the answer to your question depends on whether God can change, or at least violate, the rules (laws) of logic. Given normal understanding of logic, the answer is clearly, No. But then, why would an omnipotent being want to do that?
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 13:58
  • @LudwigV: You may consider this question to be about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 14:06
  • Wouldn't an omnipotent Flying Spaghetti Monster be a divine Flying Spaghetti Monster? I'm assuming omnipotence includes the power to avoid death. It doesn't really matter. I suppose focusing on omnipotence alone excludes arguments based on the other attributes of the Christian God - or any other, come to that.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 17:26
  • I'm also wondering why you answered your own question at pretty much the same time as you asked it. Is it because what you actually wanted was some critical response to your argument? (No criticism, just curious.)
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 17:27
  • @LudwigV: It's not my argument; it is ancient, attributed to pre-Socratic philosophers.
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 15:18

5 Answers 5

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To make the question simpler, consider it in this way- is it possible for a being to have impossible attributes? By definition, clearly not, so an omnipotent being, in the sense in which you use the word omnipotent, cannot exist.

Of course, there are countless ways in which people can and do fudge the meaning of omnipotence, so the answer depends upon which interpretation of omnipotent you have in mind. If you restrict omnipotent to mean capable of doing anything that is logically possible, then omnipotent beings can, again by definition, exist.

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  • Just a quick sanity check: Aren't you and I capable of doing anything that is logically possible? Physical constraints are all encodable as logical descriptions.
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 17:07
  • I'm not sure what you mean by "encodable". But the point remains that "impossible" does not have (except perhaps in philosophy) a univocal use. Logiaclly, physically, legally, psychologically, possible/impossible have different meanings, depending on the context or language-game that is involved. (Other kinds of possibility/impossibilitiy are, of course, available).
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 17:31
  • @Corbin, yes you can do anything that is logically possible for you. You cannot do certain things that would be logically possible for Superman, say. Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 19:11
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    “If you restrict omnipotent to mean capable of doing anything that is logically possible, then omnipotent beings can, again by definition, exist.” “Can exist” does not mean “can be conceived of.” Saying that something can exist needs to be demonstrated just like fairies do. So I don’t think what you said there is correct.
    – user62907
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 23:32
  • @thinkingman your are absolutely right, I should have said that omnipotent beings would be logically possible. I will not change my answer, but leave it as an eternal monument to my sloppiness. Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 5:21
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If the concept of omnipotence is defined in such a way in that it leads to logical contradictions, then no, they cannot.

If it is not defined in such a way, then the notion of “can exist” makes no sense. It would be like asking if humans “can” exist. They either exist or they do not. And the only way to demonstrate that they do is by providing evidence. And as of now, there seems to be arguably none.

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  • The actuality of some X implying the possibility of that X is not very controversial, to my knowledge. Kant was rather skeptical of modal claims going beyond such an implication, no less. So it seems as if humans don't merely exist or fail to exist. Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 0:00
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    What would be the third option?
    – user62907
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 4:14
  • One option is that the concept of existence itself, by itself, makes no sense. Or then we might "paraphrase away" all existence-talk. Or perhaps there are multiple concepts behind words like "not," and there can be true contradictions "A and not-A" depending on which kind of "not" we are using. And so on and on. Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 4:57
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    That just gets to a deeper question of what “existence” actually means. But setting aside that, most of us have a similar conception of what that means. Something either exists in reality or it doesn’t. I am either 6 feet tall or not. I think you’re being overly pedantic here
    – user62907
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 4:59
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    There are 30-odd subsections in the SEP article on quantification, I don't remember how many subsections in the articles on existence, nonexistent objects, possible objects, possible worlds, impossible worlds, modal epistemology, etc. I'm not sure most people share too much of a single concept of existence. And as for a person's height, IDK, that seems questionable re: its objective stability, too. Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 5:11
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Here's my attempt at an answer:

Through an omnipotent being, all things are possible. Can such beings exist?

It seems as if what you are trying to ask is: "If something is omnipotent, then all things can possibly exist, is this possible"? This depends on whether contradictions can be referred to as "things", as some would argue that contradictions refer to "no-thing". A simple illustration of this would be the following:

If all things can possibly exist, all statements of the form "x can exist" are true, in which x is a thing.

  1. [A horse with wings] can exist
  2. [A square circle] can exist

In (1) the subject of the sentence is [a horse with wings], but what is that? In order for this sentence to have meaning, its subject must be referring to something, be it a concept, an actual physical object, or some other entity. In case (1), I am essentially saying that the concept of a horse with wings can be embodied in material reality, hence the concept of a horse being the referent in this situation.

Now, in the case of (2), the subject of this sentence cannot be said to be referring to anything. The term [A square circle] in the sentence cannot be referring to an actual physical object, as such an object does not actually exist (just like all contradictions), nor can it be referring to the concept of [A square circle] under the ordinary understanding of "concept", as a concept is something that is conceived or imagined within one's mind, yet [A square circle] cannot be imagined or conceived within one's mind (just like all contradictions).

Essentially, what I am pointing out is that contradictions are vacuous subjects (subjects with no referents), and vacuous subjects cannot be classified as "things", as only something with a referent can be classified as a "thing"; a thing is its referent.

Now, "contradiction" is synonymous with logical impossibility (or just impossibility, for the sake of brevity), meaning that if something is impossible, then it is ultimately contradictory and vice versa. So, assuming the traditional classification of impossibility, possibility, and necessity (which can be looked at as a sub-category of possibility), we can state that by removing logically impossible "things" from the scope of things, the term 'thing' would only be referring to possible things (recall that if a thing is necessary, then it is possible).

Therefore, if we are to look at your question a second time through this lens, we can rephrase your question as:

"Through an omnipotent being, all possibilities (or possible things) are possible. Can such beings exist?"

In which the answer to your question would be yes (assuming that that is the only thing precluding the possibility of an omnipotent being existing).

  • Let me know if you notice any glaring inaccuracies or mistakes, Thanks
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  • Thanks for contributing! I would recommend starting with a careful look at formal contradiction and then working your way up to incompleteness and undecideability; the linked textbook is quite good.
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 15:30
  • "[A square circle] cannot be imagined or conceived within one's mind" I've tried to understand the full implications of Einstein's general relativity. I don't get it — it doesn't really fit into my brain. This is famously common. Yet, I freely accept that someone smarter than me can conceive this within their mind. Therefore, I have to allow the possibility that someone can perfectly conceive of a square circle.
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 15:55
  • Or: I can understand the concept of a tesseract (the 4D analog of a cube). I can even understand the visualization of that theoretical object as it interacts with 3D space. However, I am unable to truly conceive of its entire 4-dimensional form, as I have no actual way to visualize anything beyond the 3 dimensions by which I understand existence. The entire concept of a 4th spatial dimension does not, as far as I can sense, have any real existence, but it's plausible that this is a limitation of my faculties. This could be true of square circles and other apparent contradictions as well.
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 16:01
  • @mattdm In the answer, it was not stated that I cannot imagine a square circle so therefore no one can, but rather that no one can imagine a square circle simpliciter. I would hold that someone smarter than me cannot conceive of a square circle, as this has nothing to do with the degree of intelligence possed by someone. Once the "circle" component of the "squared circle" is imagined, the imagined object can no longer be "squared" and vice versa.
    – Max Maxman
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 18:15
  • @mattdm As for the second comment, it seems that you have misunderstood my claim. I simply stated that contradictions have no referents, and for something to be a thing, it requires a referent. In anticipation of the most common objection (that the referent, in this case, is the concept of the square circle) I pointed out that it cannot be so, as a contradiction is inconceivable in the mind. The example you brought of the 4th dimension simply shows that something can be "inconceivable" in the mind and possible at the same time, but that is not the point of contention here.
    – Max Maxman
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 18:35
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No. Consider this high-level argument:

  1. Things are extensionally defined by their logical properties.
  2. Some things cannot co-exist; that is, there are logical descriptions of two objects such that the conjunction of the descriptions is a contradiction.
  3. Any omnipotent being would be able to create things which cannot co-exist.
  4. Therefore, such beings do not exist; that is, if they existed, then they would be able to instantiate logical contradictions.

This is sometimes known as the puff of logic. For concreteness, we shall adapt the paradox of the stone:

  1. Following Pratt 1999, consider a square grid. There are rows and columns. Each row and column intersect at a cell, and each cell holds a Boolean value.
  2. Note the following lemma from Pratt et al. If a row's cells all hold true, then no column's cells hold all false. Note also that this lemma has three siblings; we may switch "true" and "false," and also "row" and "column."
  3. Construct a stone-throwing tournament. The tournament will accept contestants and rocks. The judges will use a square grid to keep score. Each contestant will be allotted a column, and each rock will be allotted a row. The judge marks a cell true or false based on their opinion of whether that cell's contestant was able to throw that cell's rock.
  4. By (2), there is no contest which simultaneously registers a contestant who throws every entered rock, and also a rock which is not thrown by any contestant.
  5. Any omnipotent being would be able to register an unthrowable rock and a contestant who can throw any rock.
  6. Therefore, such beings do not exist.

Note that the tournaments in (3) are physically realizable, constructible, etc.

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  • 3
    It's a good try, but more would be need to be raised in support of Premise 3 of your abstract argument or Premise 5 of your more concrete one. The concept of "omnipotence" is inherently woolly, and much religious discourse hinges on creating that woollyness for the purposes of inhabiting the gaps between the strands.
    – Paul Ross
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 13:53
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    Premise 3 is obviously false. Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 13:54
  • @PaulRoss: (5) merely follows formally from "all things" in the question; when we formalize this, we universally quantify over all logical descriptions. Note that a description of a thing is not a proof that the thing exists!
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 14:10
  • @Corbin Which question has "all things" in it. Not your headline question, as I read it. Are you sure you can quantify over all descriptions in any category at the same time. The interpretation of that is not at all obvious to me.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 17:35
  • @LudwigV: "all things" is a direct quote from my question. It is a standard phrasing, as in the common blessing, "through the Flying Spaghetti Monster, all things are possible." This has been adapted; for example, "with God, all things are possible" is a common motto in the USA. Note that if this universal quantification isn't possible, then omnipotence is still disproven, just earlier and by a simpler contradiction. "All" must mean all.
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 15:28
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Through an omnipotent being, all things are possible.

First of all we need to know what is meant by "thing". If it refers to, let's say physical objects, then clearly yes. The being can change the laws of nature and create absolutely any thing.

If "thing" includes actions then we can examine whether an omnipotent being can prevent itself from being omnipotent. Clearly that is possible if we allow that omnipotence does not have to last for ever. The being could use its power to deprive itself of power and then remain powerless ever after.

Could an omnipotent being make itself never have existed? Here we have to consider what we mean by "never". We must also ask what time is. Could a being send itself back in time to before it came into existence and thus prevent itself from existing? The answer seems to be no, because in order to get back in time to before its existence, it would have to exist before that time. This contradicts our concept of never.

What if time has always existed. When did the being come into existence? Was it (1) always there or did it (2) appear at some point?

If the being has always existed, it would have to destroy time in order to destroy itself - is that possible? If the being popped into existence at some moment, could it immediately make itself powerless - maybe so, but for an instant it would have been all-powerful.

My answer is that we, as non-omniscient beings, can never develop enough understanding to decide the question. Only when and if we became omniscient ourselves could we resolve the matter.

Conclusion

The question is unanswerable by mere humans.

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  • Hi, check my answer for a refutation of your first paragraph. Thanks for contributing!
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 15:31
  • I think your scenario is unnecessarily complicated. Simply posit the simultaneous existence of a person who can throw any rock and of a rock that is unthrowable by any person. However this is mere linguistic sophistry. Firstly you must define "person" and then you must define "rock", finally define "throw". Then, once we agree on the meaning of "omnipotence" we can argue. Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 22:28
  • @chasley-supports-monica: Nah, the concrete argument is exactly as complicated as required. And it's not sophistry; just put a sufficiently-judgemental person in charge of the tournament, and they will have opinions about whether rocks were thrown. "Person" and "rock" are defined as anything which the organizer is willing to register in the grid; persons and rocks are identified with columns and rows.
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 23:05
  • If we can define them as anything we want, we can dispense with "person", "rock" and any other physical entity. Simply describe your paradox in terms of a logical table. I suspect that, at its root, it will turn out to contain a category error. Effectively all you are trying to do is get 'God' to judge whether the statement "This sentence is false" is true or false. Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 22:57
  • No, you're conflating the Liar's Paradox (Lawvere's fixed-point theorem) with Girard's Paradox.
    – Corbin
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 3:29

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