Possible Duplicate:
Is the definition of God consistent? (primary)
An immovable object and an irresistible force
God's paradoxes and their implications

To many, at first sight, this question may seem to strike as absurd. However, honestly after reflecting on this topic for such a long time, I was not able to reach a conclusion.

This question initially demands the assumption of an existing God. God is defined and universally recognized as having the following attributes/qualities:

Omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence, and eternal.

What is most significant and important in this example is the eternal quality of God.

Assuming a God does exist, would he be able to destroy himself? Or is this merely a flaw within human language(allowing a paradox to be formed)?

i.e. If god exists, then he must be eternal. If he is eternal then he cannot cease to exist. Yet, if he is omnipotent he is able to do anything including being able to destroy himself, then he is no longer eternal because he can be destroyed. This, therefore creates a paradox.

This paradox can also be compared to the following question:

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Isaac Asimov answered this question rather well. In one of his books, he stated:

A universe in which there exists such a thing as an irresistible force is, by definition, a universe which cannot also contain an immovable object. And a universe which contains an immovable object cannot, by definition, also contain an irresistible force. So the question is essentially meaningless: either the force is irresistible or the object is immovable, but not both.

Can such answer be related to my question in a similar manner or are these 2 irrelevant? Does this imply that in a world in which destruction exists an eternal God cannot?

Can this paradoxical question be used as an argument by many to prove the absence of God? Or Is this merely a childish loophole in logic/English and not worth investing time to answer?

marked as duplicate by stoicfury Mar 2 '12 at 3:10

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 2
    I hate to be the "evil question closer" but this has already been heavily covered. Not only is this a duplicate but it's not even answerable (as the other posts point out). – stoicfury Mar 2 '12 at 3:09
  • 1
    It's fine. I understand. I didn't know there was a duplicate. – Outlier Mar 2 '12 at 5:32

First, I think it's important to point out a flaw in one of your conclusions:

Yet, if he is able to destroy himself, then he is no longer omnipotent because he can be destroyed. This, therefore creates a paradox.

This is in fact (to my logic) not true. It is not a paradox for an all-powerful being to no longer be all-powerful by destroying himself; then, he would simply no longer exist, so it would not be a case of "an omnipotent God that is not omnipotent (which is a paradox)," but rather "an omnipotent God that no longer exists (not a paradox)."

Thus, something omnipotent (and only omnipotent as a premise) should be able to destroy itself, because it has the power to do so, and would not cause any logical paradoxes in doing so.

However, that is only if omnipotence is the sole premise. Conversely, you mentioned several premises to the definition of God, one of which seems particularly important. I think what renders the statement "God destroys himself" problematic is your following statement:

Eternal and necessary existence.

This is where your paradox comes in:

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

This now becomes:

Can a necessarily eternal God destroy himself?

This is the crucial statement that your question is asking (when reduced to the relevant premises).

As presented, the answer is intuitively no: God necessarily being eternal, he cannot cease to exist. However, this implies that he is not omnipotent, and so your question is a variation of:

The Omnipotence Paradox

The omnipotence paradox, in short, is this:

Can God create a stone that he cannot lift?

If the answer is "yes," then God will have created something out of his own power to control, therefore no longer being omnipotent. If the answer is "no," then God is simply not omnipotent to begin with.

The Wikipedia page on the Omnipotence Paradox explains this paradox and several approaches to it. It is apparent that the question itself is a matter of controversy. As far as I am aware, there is far from a universally accepted answer. However, I will present several responses in some detail:

Logical Fallacy:

Some believe that the question itself is logically flawed. Although "childish loophole" may not be the appropriate term, this is indeed an illogical product of the English language.

It's not that an eternal God cannot destroy himself and therefore is not omnipotent, but that the proposition itself is logically impossible. Because your definition of God is one that must be eternal, it is logically absurd to ask if this God could destroy himself. It is akin to asking what the radius of a square is, or to apply the quadratic formula to a cubic function (as far as my education goes these are logically flawed).

Absolute Omnipotence:

Others believe that an absolutely omnipotent God is higher than the rules of logic and that such paradoxes are irrelevant. It does not matter what does or does not make sense to us, because our language simply cannot represent the idea of omnipotence. Thus, regardless of our logic and intuition, God simply can do whatever he wants, no exceptions.

Impossibility of Premise:

An entirely opposing approach taken by many is the idea that the paradox itself is unresolvable. This group sees the paradox as significant evidence against the existence of an omnipotent God; since the concept of omnipotence raises many contradictory situations, it is simply the case that an omnipotent entity cannot exist. To assert that it can is to allow for Omnipotence Paradox, an absurdity.

These are the primary responses to your question, and it is important that you consider each against another in your further reflection. If I may add some subjectivity, I prefer the first response :)

Other References:

  • The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an extensive page on Omnipotence.
  • Excellent answer. Thanks for pointing out my flaw in the use of "omnipotence". I'll fix that up. – Outlier Mar 1 '12 at 23:59
  • However, can you please explain how this proposition is "logically impossible"? – Outlier Mar 2 '12 at 0:06
  • @Outlier I suppose that the jump from "a circle that is a square" to the subject of the question is a little big, especially semantically, so I will try to give a simple but much more relevant analogy. An equivalent statement would be "dividing a fundamental particle." The statement "an eternal God destroying himself" defies the logical definition of God as eternal, and splitting a fundamental particle defies the property that it cannot be destroyed. Both are logically flawed. – commando Mar 2 '12 at 0:16
  • The final explanation completely cleared everything up and perfectly answered my question. Those 3 possibilities are eerily similar to what I reflected to be the possibilities. But very well explained. Of course, I also do believe the first makes the most sense. Thanks dude. :D – Outlier Mar 2 '12 at 2:34
  • anything He creates must – by necessity – be under His power as well! Something that is impossible in meaning is simply not “creatable”, and is irrelevant to the Lord‟s omnipotence! An omnipotent creator, who can create anything, can also carry anything! And since there‟s no limit to His power, then this is a rational impossibility! – mohamez Jun 17 '15 at 0:58

The aim here is to find some sort of Diagonalisation procedure (the SEP article on Godel might be useful here) as applies to the domain of "powers"; we try to find some kind of power that can be defined in terms of the others but is somehow in contradiction with their universal closure. In this respect, your intention and technique in generating paradox is echoed in the paradoxicality of other notions such as naive versions of truth (the liar paradox), sets (Russell's Paradox) and computation (the Insolvability of the Halting Problem).

It's reasonable to suggest that "powers" might not be sufficiently broad a notion to allow for definitions that might generate the contradicting notion you need - this would be an analogue to Asimov's response. But the converse is also a possibility; naive notions of "ability" might well be such that one could specify an ability that precludes the possibility of having every ability.

At first, this seems likely. The ability to assemble a physical object that no-one could move and the ability to move any physical object seem like independently sensible notions, and we can easily show that I can't use both abilities simultaneously. Yet if our conception of what is possible is supposed to be predicatively restricted, you may find that these notions do not contradict one another. I can be able to move any currently or future existing object, and I can make an object that nobody is or will be able to move. I do not at any given time (or possible world) realize both of these potential properties at once, but that doesn't preclude me from either moving every rock that there is or will be, or building an unmovable artifice.

Our intuitive reading of the abilities seems more in line with a more Impredicative interpretation of ability. Is Impredicative Definition a legitimate idea? This is a controversial point, and one current to much discussion in Mathematical Logic on the limits of abstraction. Perhaps the only legitimate sense we can put on our definition of Omnipotence is strictly tied to the set of powers that can be compositionally analysed. This would be an inferential weakening of the claims made by many proponents of the existence of an Omnipotent subject, but it may be one that gets them out of a lot of the more immediately threatening forms of paradoxicality in their position.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.