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I am curious as to whether omnipotent ( as defined in the sense of "can do everything") is a self contradictory term. Consider this:

Can an Omnipotent Being create something so heavy that He can't lift it?

If He can, then there are things that are so heavy that He can't lift it.

If He can't, then there is a limitation to His creating power; there are things he can't create after all.

Either way, there are things He can't do, so He is not omnipotent at all.

Note that we are not talking about God or any religious deity. We are just talking about the definition of "Omnipotent".

marked as duplicate by iphigenie, virmaior, commando, Joseph Weissman Apr 29 '14 at 22:15

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    Omnipotent being would also be able to break the laws of logic, so your "contradiction" is nothing to him :) – user132181 Apr 29 '14 at 9:08
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    See "Omnipotence paradox". – user3164 Apr 29 '14 at 10:14
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    @user132181, the question you mention is not related to mine--- that question talks about whether God is omniscient (infinite knowledge), omnipotent (unlimited power), omnipresent (present everywhere) whereas my question concerns itself with whether omnipresent is an oxymoron term – Graviton Apr 29 '14 at 10:38
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    If you are talking about word definitions it may be better to take it to english.stackexchange.com. – GenericJam Apr 29 '14 at 12:31
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    See Kenneth Pearce and Alexander Pruss, Understanding omnipotence, Religious Studies (2012). – labreuer Apr 29 '14 at 15:57

10 Answers 10


Taking the question at face value:

Can an Omnipotent Being create something so heavy that He can't lift it?

Since said being is omnipotent, the phrase "something so heavy that He can't lift it" describes a logical impossibility. You probably think of the question as creating a kind of arm-wrestle between the being and Itself, but it doesn't. It creates a conflict between what the being can do (including but not limited to creating things and lifting things) and some words you have chosen to string together as if they describe a thing.

You might just as well ask (and this is a fair question) whether an omnipotent being can create a four-sided triangle. A four-sided triangle is another impossible object. To say that "a four-sided triangle" is impossible is to say that there cannot be a polygon with 3 vertices and 4 edges. To say that "something so heavy that He can't lift it" is impossible is to say that there cannot be an object He cannot lift.

Can an omnipotent being create logical contradictions? I don't believe that question is fully resolved across all people who have ever believed in a being they call omnipotent. Either way you have a somewhat-working meaning of the word "omnipotent", but a different meaning in each case. In one case you pretty much have to stop making logical deductions about omnipotent beings (see for example mysticism), in the other case you don't (see for example scholasticism). You can also consider whether you believe logical consistency is in some sense a "real" restriction on what can be, or just a human state of mind that restricts how we conceive of and describe things. The latter could be incorrect or of course could be influenced by an omnipotent being.

For obvious reasons, believers in omnipotent beings are pretty wary of acknowledging specific things that such a being can't do. Still, the "inability" to create logically impossible objects is not universally considered to imply "not omnipotent" by those who believe they can apply logic to the issue. If you feel that it does imply that, then you might need to go back and re-consider whether you're working from the same definition of "omnipotent" as others. If you allow that an omnipotent being can by definition create logical contradictions then for simple purposes it doesn't really matter whether or not omnipotence is self-contradictory. You've already asserted that's no obstacle. So if your question is intended argumentatively, then make sure you haven't created a straw-man by using a definition of "omnipotent" that is different from the definition relevant to whatever you're arguing about.


Omnipotent is meaningful in the same way as infinite is meaningful. It doesn't mean we fully understand it or understand the boundaries.

Think about the word 'universe'. At one stage we used universe to describe everything there is but since then, that became not big enough and we invented multiverse to describe (perhaps infinite) multiple universes. Omnipotent just means 'all powerful'. How far that goes isn't even totally defined. Does that extend to the multiverse or is it limited to the universe? It doesn't really matter, it just means 'all powerful'.

There are conflicts within infinite like is one infinity greater than another? Then what to call the greater infinity?

A word doesn't have to be conflict free to be meaningful. Also, just because something is difficult to grasp doesn't mean it contradicts itself. The question reminds me of a forced perspective illusion that once you see it from a different angle the illusion is gone. Unfortunately we are stuck in the forced perspective so you will just have to imagine that the other perspectives exist if you believe the term is valid.

  • Can you provide a reference on we don't fully understand infinity or its boundaries? Mathematically, I think it is a pretty understood. – Jorge Leitão Apr 29 '14 at 15:06
  • @J.C.Leitão: Without mass-energy there is no space, so infinity might very well be a meaningless concept in the sense of it not existing in our reality. – David Mulder Apr 29 '14 at 15:39
  • @J.C.Leitão I mean it is impossible to understand intuitively in the same way that anyone may understand a finite concept, because it has no bounds that is a place that our minds have difficulty following. By 'understand' I mean to know experientially not just in some academic way. – GenericJam Apr 29 '14 at 18:48

If one takes a deck of cards and sits down to play Klondike solitaire and reaches a situation where one wishes to move the Spade Three, but the Heart Four and Diamond Four have already been played to the foundation piles, can one place the Spade Three onto a Club Seven? Why or why not? Will the acetate material in the Club Seven electrostatically repel the Spade Three so it can't be placed on top? Would one have to fear the Solitaire Police who arrest and torture people who attempt such plays? Or would there be some other problem?

For a person playing Klondike Solitaire, putting the Spade Three on the Club Seven would impose no physical difficulty, but an insurmountable semantic one: someone who made such a play would no longer be playing Klondike Solitaire.

An omnipotent entity that sets rules for itself would be capable of, at any time, deciding that it no longer liked the rules and no longer wished to be bound by them. On the other hand, just as someone setting out to play Klondike Solitaire would do so because the move restrictions make the game much more interesting than if the rules allowed any card to be placed anywhere at any time, so too might an omnipotent entity decide that acting according to self-imposed rules was much more satisfying than acting upon arbitrary whim.

A person with a deck of cards can easily arrange the cards into any desired configuration. On the other hand, such a person may also shuffle the cards in such a way as to have no clue of their arrangement. Even though the cards are inanimate pieces of acetate, they would in some sense acquire a sort of "free will", independent of the person shuffling them. The fact that a player could at any time gather up throw all the cards and throw them out the window would not change the fact that as long as the player abides by the rules of the game, the flow of the game will be controlled in some measure by the cards, but if the player is not bound by the rules of the game, the flow will be controlled entirely by the player.

  • +1 "...someone who made such a play would no longer be playing Klondike Solitaire." That's an interesting way to put it. – GenericJam Apr 29 '14 at 18:52

A truly omnipotent being** may impose limitations upon themselves if they so choose - for a duration of their choosing.

So such a being could create an object as heavy to self as one wishes for as long as one wishes it to be so heavy that one may not lift it (think "Thor's Hammer").

** I am here presuming absolute omnipotence without limitations.

  • You are not answering my question. How an Omnipotent Being exercise his power is not really the point here. The point is that whether the term "Omnipotent" is meaningful – Graviton Apr 29 '14 at 9:42
  • Perhaps I was not clear - a being able to create an object too heavy to lift until its lifting is desired is indicative of a being to whose will reality bends - including the laws of logic. Would it be meaningful to hold omnipotence accountable to these laws? A transmutation of a being into a series of highly unlikely things (kind of like the "infinite improbability drive" in "the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") would defy logic also - but an omnipotent being would presumably be able to do so. The more limitations one applies to omnipotence the less meaning the word retains. – Avestron Apr 29 '14 at 10:21

What you all seem to forget is that "logic" and terms like "omnipotent" are invented by humans, who are limited and can't think in absolute terms, so can't define things in absolute terms. You are caught in some circular reasoning loop and the only escape seem to be to proclaim that the Omnipotent Being doesn't exist, because He can't fit in your logic and definitions.

Only an omniscient and omnipotent being can give an absolute definition of "omnipotent". We can only presume.


Forgive the use of general language, but I will try to articulate this as I have to others, at the cost of not being super precise. To me, the question is meaningless because there are contradictory premises.

In your question: "Can an Omnipotent Being create something so heavy that He can't lift it?" There is an assertion that an omnipotent being can do anything, but also that there is something an omnipotent being can't do. Then the resolution is that clearly the omnipotent being can't do everything.

I would argue that since your question contradicts itself, that the omnipotent being either can do anything or cannot - and therefore the question can't be answered, as posed.

It's like the question: "What happens when an unstoppable force meets and immovable object?" The question can't be answered because it contradicts itself. First it says that there exists a force that can't be stopped, and then it says there is something that can stop any force. The existence of one, implies that the other does not exist, therefore logically, neither can exist in the same universe so the question can't be answered.

Just like in your question, if an omnipotent being exists, it can't exist in the same universe as something "that an omnipotent being can't do." The existence of one, implies that the other does not exist, which means that neither can exist in the same universe. But you can't necessarily conclude whether being omnipotent is "consistent," based only on the information given.

My answer does not include the possibility that an omnipotent being can "bend the rules of logic" and then make it so that even though there is a contradiction, it will make it so that it isn't one; but that line of thought isn't as interesting to me as this one is.

  • "What happens when an unstoppable force meets and immovable object?" You might like this. – user3164 Apr 29 '14 at 20:21
  • That's great! Time to show my math/physics friends. – Marco Apr 29 '14 at 20:33

I feel that using contradictions and impossibilities can often be a bad way of forming arguments.

i.e. if he can do anything, can he make 1 = 2. the answer is no, that goes against the definition of numbers

a more related comparison is, if he can do anything can he not exist, well no because that makes no sense.

This question is essentially, 'can he do something he cannot do' which is a bad argument.

and a second point is that 'omnipotent' doesn't need to mean can do everything including impossible things. (i don't know how you would actually define it though)

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    Actually contradictions are very important in argumentation. They show you at least one of your premises is wrong. I take it that's the point of questioning the set of things that define God (I say this as someone who believes in God). – virmaior Apr 29 '14 at 11:54
  • @virmaior I know that contradictions are important in argument. That's why I said 'can often be' and not 'are always'. The thing is, a contradiction tells you that something is wrong, but it doesn't tell you what is wrong. In the example of 'can he do something he cannot do' the thing that is wrong is the question, as there is no answer to it. (I say this as an atheist, however I don't think that makes any difference to what I am saying) – puser Apr 29 '14 at 13:54
  • @virmaior see steve jessops answer – puser Apr 30 '14 at 11:07

Let us formulate our question slightly easier. For our sleeping minds.

Can a NON omnipotent being create a block that he can not lift and then lift it?

Surprising answer is YES.

I poor water in my bath and alas it is 120 liters - I can no lift it! Then i walk around in circles year or more discussing with myself how bad and humiliating it is to be a NON omnipotent being. Suddenly, one night i get a vision in a dream about Archimedes lever. I get out, construct a lever and LIFT my bath tube.

After this example we can ask ourselves - ARE WE omnipotent or NOT? The big discovery of reason is that WE can NOT tell if we ourselves are NON omnipotent.

Most important is that omnipotence with all its glory and countless pleasures asks US very important question - What IS Potence (power in Latin)? Which REAL absolute powers we have? They can be invisibly small but they have to be absolute.

PS: from my example it is clear that idea of time is important in reasoning about what can be done (NOW) and what not.


I think the Wikipedia article covers the arguments for this pretty well:

1) Since we are used to thinking about a material world, we can imagine a creature that builds things and lifts things. But, as Aquinas argued, God is not a creature but "being" itself, to think in terms of God's abilities as a creature doesn't make sense.

2) It also doesn't make sense to speak about something as omnipotent as something that is capable of creating logical contradictions.

3) As CS Lewis wrote, this idea is grammatical but non-sense.

As someone who does believe in an omnipotent being, this supposed-paradox comes across as argumentative. There are much better arguments against the existence of such a being.


One way of thinking of this is if you were a computer programmer and had created a 'world'

In this world you have created some basic physics, and have methods of lifting objects.

With enough time spent coding you can achieve anything and make any change you want - you are omnipotent.

Scenario 1 - your world has realistic physics and you need to exert effort into lifting things.

  1. You can create an object that you cannot lift.
  2. You then change the physics of the world to allow yourself to lift it.
  3. You can now lift this object that you created that you cannot lift.

Scenario 2 - You as the creator have chosen not to live by the physics of the world

  1. You create an object
  2. Because you don't live by the physics of the world, you can lift any object
  3. You cannot create an object so big you cannot lift it.

In scenario 1 you can have both, being able to create a heavy object you cannot lift AND being able to lift it.

In scenario 2 you cannot create an object so big you cannot lift it.

In both scenarios you exist, you are omnipotent and the contradiction is meaningless.

Edit: one counterargument to this is that you are not actually omnipotent. Though I'd say you are omnipotent in that universe, as you can do anything possible in that universe. And I think that is good enough, as a god only needs to be omnipotent in terms of things that can happen in our universe.

  • How do you like my answer? Beyond dealing with the particular paradox in the question, it resolves the more important apparent conflict between an omnipotent deity with human free will. – supercat Apr 29 '14 at 23:54
  • @supercat its an interesting answer. To compare it to mine, the universe created in mine is the world and in yours it is klondike solitare. the complete omnipotency being able to do anything allowed by the rules he's created (klondike solitare) and also being able to change the rules. so can he create an object too heavy to lift within the current rules, yes, but can also change the rules to then lift it. however the game/universe would be different. – puser Apr 30 '14 at 11:06
  • @supercat about free will, just because an entity can control everything, does not mean he must. other than that I don't quite get your analogy with free will, omnipotency and cards. – puser Apr 30 '14 at 11:09
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    If an omnipotent deity would be free to arbitrarily block any possible action by a free-will being, or do anything the free-will being fails to do, then the free-will being wouldn't have any meaningful influence on his world. The free-will being can only influence the world if the deity commits itself to accepting the outcome of the free-will being's actions without knowing what they will be. – supercat Apr 30 '14 at 16:03

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