56

God is commonly defined as an omniscient (infinite knowledge), omnipotent (unlimited power), omnipresent (present everywhere) entity.

Is there any logical inconsistency in this definition?

I have seen several paradoxes like below

Does God know what he's going to do tomorrow? If so, could he do something else?" If God knows what will happen, and does something else, he's not omniscient. If he knows and can't change it, he's not omnipotent.

"Can 'an omnipotent being' create a stone so heavy that it cannot lift it?"

Do they mean that the defintion of God ( as commonly held) is logically inconsistent?

  • 39
    Can God draw a circle that is square? Those aren't paradoxes of omnipotence, they're illogical statements. – Cody Gray Jun 11 '11 at 9:38
  • 8
    Interestingly enough, I think the concept of God you describe originated with Plato, and was only later used to describe the Abrahamic God. I don't know about in the Q'uran, but I'm pretty sure that neither the Christian nor Jewish holy texts refer to God as being omnipotent, for example. IIRC, the early Catholic Church adopted Plato's perspective sometime between the 2nd and 4th century. – Ben Hocking Jun 11 '11 at 11:45
  • 4
    The usual "triple omni" definition includes omnibenevolence (all good) rather than omnipresence. There is a rich literature in at least the Christian theological tradition on whether God is better conceived as eternal or atemporal and as present everywhere or outside of space entirely. I'd like to see that title changed to reflect the definition of God intended. Your question doesn't apply to the definition relevant to Anslem's Ontological Argument. – vanden Jun 11 '11 at 16:14
  • 4
    All of the so called '3 Os paradoxes' sound like Chuck Norris jokes to me. – Tom Boardman Jun 27 '11 at 12:17
  • 2
    Wikipedia has an article about the omnipotence paradox. Unsurprisingly, most of it is about the different possible definitions of "omnipotent". – Tgr Jul 24 '11 at 14:17

21 Answers 21

77

Your example can be more simply stated by not involving the future:

Can god create something that is so heavy that he can not move it?

The answer of course is "Yes". But then, you say, he would not be omnipotent as he can not move it. But that's wrong. He can. Because he is omnipotent. Hence:

An omnipotent being is able to move that which he is unable to move.

If you want to call this consistent or not is up to you. It is inconsistent as seen from a logical framework. But it is consistent with the standpoint that an omnipotent being by definition can do anything, including breaking the laws of logic.

God is generally claimed to have created everything, including logic, so he is not susceptible to them, or any form of reason. That also per definition makes God unknowable, unreachable and unscientific. He can not even be discussed in any form of meaningful way with human words, rendering your question and my answer equally meaningless.

  • 11
    This is a good answer; very similar to Descartes's reasoning that an omnipotent God can in fact render contradictions as true. I particularly like the argument made in the last paragraph. – Cody Gray Jun 11 '11 at 9:39
  • 5
    @M.Sameer: No, it is like saying that adding 5 to infinity yields infinity+5. You just aren't getting it. An omnipotent god can break the laws of logic. All your arguments are by definition invalid (and valid at the same time). Logic does not apply. – Lennart Regebro Jun 13 '11 at 22:11
  • 6
    @M.Sameer: Your excuses changes nothing. If God loved us, and he is all-powerful and all knowing, we, logically, would not suffer. Full stop. Yet we do. Hence, your definition of god is breaking the laws of logic. There is no escaping this. You can come with an infinite amount of excuses, but they will all be equally illogical. You can not make the Christian God logical, so you might as well stop trying. Most of Christianity has already realized this, and accepted that God is illogical and beyond human understanding (which of course atheists see like a cheap cop-out). – Lennart Regebro Jun 15 '11 at 12:18
  • 3
    @Jonathan: Yes it is a violation. It can not have a morally-sufficient explanation, as the god is all-powerful, and hence has absolutely no excuse for the suffering. Any reason can be solved, or he is not all-powerful. – Lennart Regebro Jun 17 '11 at 3:36
  • 9
    -1 There are some problems with this answer: The poster's opinion is not a majority view within theology, neither in history nor today. The poster nowhere acknowledges this fact and the massive upvote gives the impressione that it isn't just his private opinion or a minority opinion. I also agree with most comments by @G.Rodrigues and Tgr. – DBK Apr 7 '12 at 11:06
19

God is commonly defined as an omniscient (infinite knowledge), omnipotent (unlimited power), omnipresent (present everywhere) entity.

Besides the fact that I would already question the use of the word "commonly" in the above sentence the problem is that this is not a definition (neither is "infinite knowledege" the same as "all knowledge", BTW).

It is not very useful to talk about the consistency of the three properties if each is undefined.

  • 1
    can you explain further on the claim that: "infinite knowledege" is not the same as "all knowledge"? – johan.i.zahri Jun 12 '11 at 8:50
  • 8
    @johan.i.zahri, I can't speak for @thei, but I can think of two ways in which they might differ. (1) Theoretically, if the amount to know is finite (provably false), then "all knowledge" would be less than "infinite knowledge". (2) If the amount to know is infinite, then one can know an infinite amount and still not know everything. For example, I might "know" ever even integer (a set of infinite size) but still not "know" every integer. (A contrived example, but one I think demonstrates the point.) – Ben Hocking Jun 12 '11 at 12:02
  • I'd like to add that technically speaking we all have "infinite knowledge". Take any true statement A you know and add another with an "or" clause to it in the form of (A or B). This is a new sentence, with new conditions on its truth value but it's true because of the truth of A. You can thus create infinitely many sentences which are true and logically distinct from another from a single true statement in your knowledge, meaning once you know anything, you always technically have infinite knowledge in a certain sense (without knowing everything). – MM8 Jan 30 '17 at 23:26
13

One of the reasons often given for seeing God as outside of, rather than within, time is that it avoids at least some of these sorts of questions. If God is atemporal, the question "Does God know what He will do tomorrow?" cannot arise. If God is nowhen (or everywhen at once), then there is no tomorrow for Him and so no tomorrow's divine conduct for him to know.

That doesn't help with the questions like "Could God make 2+2 = 42.004?" or "Could God make a round square?" The other answer given takes the line that God created logic and mathematics, so He could do these things. I think the more common line is to say "What does it mean to be 'omnipotent'? Why, it means to be able to do anything which it is possible to do!" Thus, if God cannot create a round square, so be it; that isn't the kind of thing that it is possible to do, so an inability to do it constitutes no genuine limitation on God's powers.

If you think that God is constrained by logic, you would still need to make a choice between two alternatives:

  1. God can lift anything that could exist.

  2. God can create something unliftable.

(The "that could exist" clause in (1) is to block the response that says that God can indeed lift anything, but is also capable of creating something even He couldn't lift; He simply did not choose to exercise that power.) I am not aware of a satisfying basis for making the choice.

  • 1
    Very much agreed with your answer; the second paragraph is exactly the point I was trying to make in a comment to the question. The same concepts could apply in theoretical physics, absent any type of supernatural force, i.e., what happens when an immovable object confronts an unstoppable force? Beyond that, many religious people would argue that there is something that God cannot do: sin. The textbook answer is that God is not limited by our human conceptions and understandings of "logic". – Cody Gray Jun 12 '11 at 5:17
  • When the god mentioned in the Old Testament did deals with Satan in the Book of Job, is that sinning? The Old Testament god was great at sinning in my view. Also, when s/he's rabbiting on about "Do not have any other gods before me." is s/he implying there are other gods? I'm going to get some breakfast. – boehj Jun 15 '11 at 1:31
  • God could be self-constrained by logic without violating His omnipotence. So the answer is that God makes the choice between creating something that is unliftable or not. We don't have a basis for making the choice because we aren't given that power. – Jon Ericson Jun 21 '11 at 19:04
  • @boehj: You are asking two very interesting questions in the field of Biblical Hermeneutics. Space does not allow a full answer to either, but my understanding is that most scholars would answer "no" and "yes". – Jon Ericson Jun 21 '11 at 19:09
  • Could Shiva or Brahma or Buddha ( note Buddha did not want to be deified) or the Great Architect of the Masons e.t.c ; could any of these Beings create a boulder that was too heavy to lift?? – user128932 Aug 26 '14 at 5:15
10

Many of the paradoxes above arise from taking an idea out of context and trying to fit it into a belief system where it does not fit. Take for instance, omnipotence (often the source of these paradoxes). Here's what St. Paul said about Jesus' power:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -- Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Note that by using the word "form" (μορφη1 in the Greek) Paul is referencing Plato (or at least the ideas of Plato, which he'd been trained in). Jesus started with the "shape" or form of God, which meant that he was identical to God on a Platonic level. It isn't a perfect choice of words, as we shall see in a moment, but it speaks in terms his listeners would understand.

From there, Paul says Jesus took on a different form, that of a servant and a man.

The idea that anyone could take on a different form than their own is nonsensical within Platonic thought2. A god attempting to become a man is the equivalent of attempting to "draw a circle that is square" as Cody Gray suggests in the comments to the question. But Paul is trying to express an idea about God that is completely novel: a god that has power to change even his own form. Elsewhere, Paul admits this concept of God appears foolish.

The whole idea of a God becoming a man so that he can be executed, which will allow him to be exalted, is on the face absurd. If you want to dismiss the whole thing as nonsense, you may. In that case, it should be no surprise that there are dozens of paradoxes in addition to the first bit of nonsense. But you really can't expect those paradoxes to be convincing to those of us who have accepted the far more absurd idea that God would allow himself to be executed. And if the only people who are convinced they are a problem are the people who already reject the basic notion of Christianity, these paradoxes aren't very interesting arguments. They are a sort of straw man.

At least one solution to the various paradoxes is suggested in this passage: God may chose to be limited. Can God die? Yes, if He chooses. Can God change what He knows what will happen tomorrow? Yes, if He chooses. Can God create a stone He can not lift? Yes, if He chooses. Can He lift that stone? Yes, if He chooses.3

Does this mean He is nonsensical? Not obviously. He may, of course, choose to be sensible to humanity.


Here's a thought that occurred to me this morning: God's ability to create a stone that he cannot move is analogous to quantum superposition. Like Schrödinger's cat, which is both alive and dead, some theists believe that God is both able to create such a stone and also to move it. When we open the box, the superposition collapses and we see either a dead or a lucky cat. When God decides, he may either create such a stone or move it. (Personally, I think it unlikely God spends even as much time considering this choice as we have in this question. This stone seems to belong entirely to philosophers.) The superposition collapses if and when God actualizes such a stone. If so, God's definition is paradoxical, but so is the observed state of the universe.

Notice that in both cases, the superposition state collapses because of a choice: the observer decides to open the box and God decides to make something. In many ways, all of our choices collapse superpositions. Paradoxically, we really can't do all the things that we are able to do. I am able to write this paragraph and I am able to not write it, but I can't do both. As I see it, the question is really asking about a paradox of choice in general using, in typical philosophical fashion, the most extreme example: a being not bond by any external entity when it comes to making decisions.


Footnotes:

  1. ἰδέα would have been an even stronger callback to Plato, which may be why Paul didn't use it.

  2. God becoming man is equally nonsensical to Jewish thought, but for very different reasons.

  3. Vinko Vrsalovic suggested about this paragraph that it's the same or equivalent to "It is inconsistent as seen from a logical framework." to quote Lennart Regebro's answer. I disagree. Consider this example: I have the power to jump off a high building, cut my wrists and crash my car into a wall at 100 MPH. But I don't do these things because I chose not to. Or suppose I had the ability to tread water forever. That doesn't mean I must always demonstrate that power. Or to put things another way, God has the power to break the rules of logic, but for whatever reason doesn't. Whatever his purposes may be, they do not include the need to make a stone he cannot move.

  • 2
    No reason this should have received a downvote. I don't know what poor conduct you speak of before, but this is a solid and well-reasoned answer. Providing justifications from the New Testament doesn't seem in any way like a logical or category error to me. – Cody Gray Jul 1 '11 at 8:48
  • Excuse me, but how is your penultimate paragraph different from Lenaro's answer? As I understand it you are basically claiming that he is or not subject to logic according to his desires. That is, for all practical matters, not to be subject to logic because we cannot know his desires. – Vinko Vrsalovic Sep 16 '11 at 8:19
  • @Vinko: Does my footnote help? I didn't want to mess with the paragraphs and make your comment more difficult to understand. – Jon Ericson Oct 4 '11 at 22:11
  • @Jon: How can you tell he doesn't break the rules of logic? That looks arbitrary. He may make the world as we see it bound by the rules of logic, but that says nothing about what he actually does. – Vinko Vrsalovic Oct 5 '11 at 7:28
  • 1
    @Vinko: Hmm... It seems to me that you aren't so much demanding that God exist according to the rules of logic as to the rules of scientific inquiry as if God were simply another natural phenomenon. This answer assumes that God is subject (or rather subjects himself) to the rules of logic. Many theologians (following the writings of early Christianity such as the one I quoted above) believe that God has even bound himself by rules of behavior that we can understand. It may look arbitrary, but when you study what Christians claim he has done, there is an internal logic to his actions. – Jon Ericson Oct 5 '11 at 16:00
5

The whole point of these "omni" properties is that God is transcendent of the limitations we have in our physical existence, and even limitations of other spirits (beings outside of the physical realm).

Essentially, you cannot try to comprehend the "omni-ness" (to coin a word, sorta) of God with a finite mind (like ours), because quite simply our minds have limits, His does not.

To even speak of the logical/illogical status of God's power, wisdom and foreknowledge combined to me is beyond us as humans.

EDIT: For questions like, is God bound by time: It's the other way around. Time is bound by God. As God is infinite in every aspect of measurement, every measurement is subject to Him and His properties.

4

There is one more wrinkle to the definition of God that you left off:

God can neither deceive nor be deceived

From Dei Filius (Vatican I statement) and Catholic Catechism 156.

That God cannot be deceived is understood by His omnipotence, that He cannot deceive may require faith, but just because you left it out of your list of common attributes doesn't mean that it is not wholly consistent with the Nature of God.

Indeed, if you leave it out then, no maybe the definition of God is not consistent. In the universe where God can deceive people He is free to break His commandments and free to square circles, make rocks so big He can't lift them etc...

By extension, God cannot change His nature. Otherwise, He would be deceitful. God does know what He's going to do the next day and the next. He's going to do what He said He was going to do, if you find a god who doesn't do that, then he's not God.

  • 2
    I am curious how Catholics rationalize this belief with 2 Thessalonians 2:11, "And therefore God sends on them a power that deludes people so that they believe what is false", and other scriptural examples of God either deceiving or sanctioning deceit. Along these lines, you also see God described as disappointed or regretful that something occurred. It is hard to credit the notion that God is hopeful or optimistic if God's omniscience leaves him already aware of what will actually happen. – MetaEd Nov 22 '11 at 19:32
  • True, deception is in the Bible quite a bit, especially with Jeremiah, "You duped me oh Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped" but I've heard the word is closer to "Seduced". So sometime, it's the passive will of God allowing evil so greater good can come out of it, sometimes it's the active will of God working in mysterious ways. But it's never God changing His nature to fit the scenario. – Peter Turner Nov 22 '11 at 20:26
  • In the cases where God deceives people, they chose to be self deceived to begin with, and He grants their choice. – yters Oct 1 '14 at 23:19
2

The definition of God as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent is only self-contradictory for certain definitions of these words—definitions which are themselves useless because they cause the self-contradiction by their very definition.

Fot example, if you define miracle as "something that can't happen" then miracles cannot happen. But what kind of definition is that? It doesn't even have any intellectual depth to it whatsoever—there isn't a coherent, graspable postulate to consider.

Similarly, any definition of omnipotent is useless if it says: God is not omnipotent if any true sentence can be formed that starts with "God cannot". We can easily see that this "defines away" omnipotence as baldly as the miracles definition above: we can just say "God cannot stop being omnipotent", thus by that definition proving he is not omnipotent. It's absurdity.

A more productive set of definitions goes like this:

  • God has sufficient power to do anything that power is sufficient to do.

  • God has sufficient power to know anything that power is sufficient to know.

  • God has sufficient power to fully perceive and act at all locales simultaneously.

This does leave the questions as to what power is sufficient to do and to know, and what fully perceiving means. But these are not insurmountable questions. Obviously, our estimates as humans about what is possible is limited by our finite nature, but while our knowledge is incomplete we also know that we can know some things truly. We neither need to invoke mystery (our ignorance) nor God's incapacity (lacking omnipotence) to understand some of this topic. We can safely know that God being "unable to do certain things" is an expression of superiority and power, not lack of them. All actions and inactions can be cast as the negation of their opposite inactions and actions.

For example, the fastest race car in the world cannot lose a race. Do we say this car is inferior to all other cars because it cannot do something all of them can do—lose a race? No! Despite the negative framing, being unable to lose a race is a capacity—the ability to win every race.

God has so much ability and power that he is able to avoid all illogic! One can frame this as "being unable to be illogical" and gloat that we have a power he does not, but you'd sound about as ridiculous as a race car driver who has just lost the world championships taunting the winner "Ha ha, you can't even lose a race like I did! You suck!"

God knows what he will do in the future and this is no limitation. You can frame this negatively as "he can't change his mind" but you must remember that being able to change your mind is a product of being finite and having imperfect information, imperfect reasoning, or imperfect control. God doesn't ever need to change his mind because he never makes mistakes that would necessitate doing so.

2

As Aquinas noted, we don't know what we mean in asking incoherent questions nor what coherent answers would look like for them. So, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, omnibenevolence are all restricted to what is logically possible.

God can do and be whatever is logically possible to do or be.

God as omnipotent entails to being the most able to do whatever can be done.

God as omniscient entails to being able to know whatever can be known.

God as omnipresent entails to being everywhere it is possible to be (extended, all at once).

God as omnibenevolent entails treating creation with the greatest care possible.

Rocks created which are too heavy to lift is simply illogical nonsense. Knowing about events in the future is impossible given an indeterminate world. (Open Theism discusses this issue at length and that things like the future aren't logically possible to know.)

God, as a concept of a ground of being or an organizing principle of reality and so on, may not exist in a material sense but this problem of language leaves "being everywhere" an entirely coherent notion.

A caring God doesn't entail intervention or entanglement of any sort and, even with the problem of evil, we can make coherent cases for a caring God alongside its existence (see Thomas Jay Oord's "The Uncontrolling Love Of God", for example).

Most inconsistencies with any of these terms are the result of hidden assumptions folks may not have even realized they were making.

These terms do not contradict any possibility of such a God, however, "such a God" would have to then be defined in terms of the consequences of the implications of saying these are His attributes. For instance, if God cannot act against His nature and He is omnibenevolent, God cannot choose to do anything because He will always be benevolent. This entails 1) God cannot hate and is impassible to supposed personal offenses (and joys) we somehow cause Him, and most importantly, 2) God need not be thought of as a mind, since a God that cannot act outside of His nature, and if consistent, will always do the same things in the same circumstances; which is no different than a principle or law, like gravity, say.

  • 1
    Regarding your last point: This is effectively the Holy Will of Kant's Groundwork - a 'will' that hardly is a will at all, but is to be identified and in full consistency with the principle of morality. The 'idea' of goodness, if you like. – Philip Klöcking Aug 8 '18 at 9:37
1

As stated, this question is not precise enough to have an answer, because it isn't posed in a way that it is accessible to more than vague intuition regarding what "omniscience" and "omnipotence" mean. A satisfactory definition must include a way to determine what can be expected of an omnipotent and omnipresent entity, and a procedure to find observable consequences of such an entity. If this cannot be done, the logical positist would say the question is meaningless in the sense of Carnap, an abuse of language.

Still, one can attempt to produce a more precise version of these things. When one does something like this, the result is often a logical contradiction.

Here is an example of a logical argument against omniscience:

"God doesn't know this statement is true." where by "this statement" I mean the very same statement in quotes.

If God knows this statement is true, then it is false, and God does not know it, in which case it is true.

Does God know that statement is true? Is this statement true or false?

(this is a variation on the well-known philosopher's sentiment "Searle cannot consistently believe this statement". Variations on this are found in Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas, "On Self Referential Sentences")

You can rephrase this as the religious doctrine of Maimonism. This is the main article of Maimonism:

"There is an omniscient God, who knows the truth or falsity of all religious doctrines, and, unfortunately for Maimonism, this God does not agree with the main article."

You can agree with Maimonism if you want, but God can't have a consistent opinion about it. In the preceding sentence, I assumed that the reader isn't God.

You might think that "this statement" is cheating. But it is easy to avoid using this construction, by a well known trick from computer science:

Consider the named strings A="consider the named strings",B="; then God doesn't know the fact asserted by the straightforward English meaning of the sentences formed by the concatenation of string A, an 'A', an equal sign, a quote, string A, a quote, a comma, a 'B', an equal sign, a quote, string B, a quote, and string B"; then God doesn't know the fact asserted by the straightforward English meaning of the sentences formed by the concatenation of string A, an 'A', an equal sign, a quote, string A, a quote, a comma, a 'B', an equal sign, a quote, string B, a quote, and string B."

This is a self-reproducing sentence. If you follow the instructions, you reproduce the very-same sentence that is giving you the instructions, and then the sentence asserts that the constructed sentence (itself) is not known by God, and the paradox is as before.

But this is not really a meaningful paradox the way I see it, in light of logical positivism. In order to make this fully meaningful, one needs to assume God's knowledge is queriable, so that the sentence has a meaningful procedure to determine truth or falsehood. If God is queriable regarding the truth of all sentences, then God becomes an oracle, and the halting problem with a queriable oracle is just as unsolvable as the halting problem without, so there are questions which the God oracle cannot answer using the procedure, at least not in finite time.

These paradoxes are due to Godel and Turing, and they are made precise using computer programs and purported oracles regarding the behavior of these computer programs. Such oracles cannot be computer programs, and if these oracles are realized in the physical world, they cannot be queried in finite time without leading to contradiction.

But the contradiction evaporates if you imagine that the oracle only knows at infinite time. So this is only saying that we cannot know God's opinion at finite time. This is analogous to the Catholic doctrine of "gradual revelation", that God's will is revealed more perfectly through time, and through the action of the holy spirit. So theologians do not have to worry about such contradictions, unless they wish to give meaning to "God does not know this sentence".

My opinion is that it is best not to worry about these paradoxes, and instead give a meaningful logical postivist definition for God that allows God to be subject to rational investigation. If this cannot be done, then God is not a meaningful concept. If it can be done, than the methods which are suggested by the positive definition for querying God can be used to determine the answer to all questions regarding God.

1

Perhaps this just shows that an omnipotent being couldn't possibly exist?

For example, the Chinese used to have this idea of spears that can punch through all shields and shields that can withstand all spears. It's the basic of Yin Yang philosophy.

An omnipotent God can create those 2 things. Hence those 2 things exist in a set of "Can be created by God"

But those 2 things can't exist in the same set/realm because what would happen if you punch the super spear to the super shield?

It just then shows that there is no such thing as ultimate being.

1

Many of the attributes of God entail "infinity" in one form or another. Many of the notable logical and mathematical paradoxes, from Zeno on, arise from problems entailed by infinity, the inability to "de-fine" what is, by definition, not "finite."

Kant's discussion of the antinomies and the proofs of God are key texts in this respect. In crude summary, Kant might argue that a being of such "infinite" attributes in not so much "illogical" as simply beyond the proper remit of logic and reason. It simple cannot be rendered by our conceptual apparatus.

There is no problem, then, if one accepts that logic is bounded, that knowledge requires phenomenal confirmation, and yet that noumenal entities do exist beyond such conceptual grasp. It is thus perfectly "logical" that such a being would perplex and exceed the rules of logic.

Personally, I believe such "agnostic allowance" (not that Kant was agnostic) is a perfectly reasonable and almost unavoidable stance. Kant added that while we cannot "know" anything of such noumenal entities, it is still possible to "think" about them. As such, the position or function this illogical "God" holds in our thoughts can still have value, but leads nowhere as a subject of logical debate.

1

Generally speaking God's being all powerful has had the qualifier of being able to do everything that is logically possible. In a lot of ways incoherent statements like Can he make a stone so big that he cannot lift it? is like baby jabber. Noises that can be produced from your throat but which have no objective meaning to them.

Another view you could take is that, yes, he could do the logically incoherent. So, yes, he could make a stone so big that even he cannot lift it and then lift it. Logically incoherent I hear you say. Yes, he can do the logically incoherent.

Either way this should not call his power into question.

0

I see some simple practical impossibilities with those definitions:

  1. Omniscience It supposes that this entity (God) could 'store' an infinite quantity of information. The problem is, in order to do that, you must have at your disposal an infinite time, but God does that, instantaneously.

  2. Omnipresence This entity is able to apprehend the infinite Universe, in an instant. So it must be able to move from point A to point B at an infinite speed . And he can move from wherever it wants in the Universe at this speed, so it can move from infinite points A to infinite points B in an instant.

  3. Omnipotence It can do whatever it wants, wherever it wants. So there is not anymore only physical paradoxes as with Omniscience and Omnipresence, but it can also break any logical rules that all philosophers live for (as with your future paradox example).

And without logical rules, no reasoning exist anymore, everything is possible. Only a system following logical rules may be labelled as consistent or not consistent. Here the system does not follow any logic.

  • Why does God need infinite time to store infinite information? If he exists outside the universe (e.g. he perceives it in its entirety as a 4-dimensional object), that is not an issue. – Mechanical snail Aug 9 '11 at 20:14
  • Yes. Either it needs infinite time or infinite computational power. Anyway, how can anything could be outside the whole Universe? – Geoffroy CALA Aug 11 '11 at 11:42
  • 1
    Sorry. I meant the observed physical universe. I was referring to eternalism. – Mechanical snail Aug 13 '11 at 19:40
0

I offer the following premise for your consideration:

God = The Universe

Given this premise, that God and the universe are one, the traditional triad of omnis makes total logical sense:

If God = The Universe, then it follows that...

1) God is everywhere at once. 2) God is the sum of all power. 3) God is the sum of all knowledge.

It is like saying a person is everywhere within their own body at once, holds all power that their body possesses, and has all of the knowledge that is found within.

In other words, I'm saying that the universe is the Body of God. This simple premise actually proves that the omnis are logically correct.

0

The Question is:

God is commonly defined as an omniscient (infinite knowledge), omnipotent (unlimited power), omnipresent (present everywhere) entity.

Is there any logical inconsistency in this definition?


The basic answer depends on the definitions of the "omni" terms:
1. If the base omni terms themselves are logically inconsistent then the definition itself is not logical and cannot be evaluated logically
2. If the original terms are defined in a logically consistent way, then there is no logical inconsistency in the definition.

I believe #1 is self-evident and therefore the remainder of this answer comprises developing #2.


I'm not sure that the omni-everything being is really a "common definition" of God, but I will assent to it for my answer. I tweak the "omni" definitions as follows to make sure they are logically consistent, and add the term "omnibenevolent":

  1. Omnipotent - all-powerful - can do anything that can be done
  2. Omniscient - knows everything there is to know about the universe (all matter that exists, all states of that matter, the preceding at all points in time, etc.)
  3. Omnipresent - The most important aspect of this is that it entails time. God is present everywhere and at all times - simultaneously. This is similar to Omniscience in practice (perhaps the means of his omniscience). The reason for this is that we live in (at least) a 4 dimensional universe, not 3-D.
  4. Omnibenevolent - I don't like this term, because "all-good" is not quite correct. Better to say all his actions/desires are always good. Of course, this begs the question of what "good" means.

Why do I modify the "omni" terms? Because the terms themselves are often defined in an illogical manner. And when that is the case, of course any definition using them will be logically inconsistent as well. Let me explain with "omnipotent":

If you say that an omnipotent being can do "anything", then you are claiming that an omnipotent being can do both logical and illogical things. This definition of omnipotent exists both partly in and partly outside the realm of logic, and thus logic cannot only speak to part of it, and cannot even understand the rest of it, nor forward any arguments about that part. Logic itself only works within the framework of logical things.

One solution to this is to claim that, indeed, God can do both logical and illogical things - that he truly has all power. This is expounded on in the most popular answer here. However, in this case, we cannot say anything about the part of the definition of God which is outside of logic. Note that unlike what that answer said, this does not mean we cannot know anything about such a God - it only means we cannot know about the part of God which exists outside of logic. The part that operates within logic we can still know and understand.

However, if we define "omnipotent" as "all-powerful", in the sense that an omnipotent being has all power that can or does actually exist at his disposal - anything that can be done, he can do - then we remain within the realm of logic and we can apply logic to determine whether the definition is logically consistent.

I know I am belaboring this point, but it is the crux of the problem with the arguments that are raised against an "omni-x" being.


So, why does the above matter?

The vast majority of attacks against the "omni-everything" being takes the form of asking the being to do something that is logically impossible. In other words, the power to do it cannot exist, based on our understanding of how the universe operates. But why should an all-powerful being be asked to do something that cannot be done? Why should they be asked to create something that cannot be created? If an omnipotent being can do anything that actually can be done, and can create anything that it is possible for some force or being to create - if it can create anything that is comprehensible to us or can be real to us - that is enough!

Can God create a square-circle? Well, if a square-circle is an abstract concept which is illogical (another word for illogical is incomprehensible), then why should you ask him to create something which means nothing to you and has no connection to our universe or reality as we know it? It is a meaningless request!

Granted, it may be possible to create a square-circle, because our knowledge of the universe is limited. We experience it only in 4 dimensions. Various theories imply there may be as many as 10 or 11 dimensions, and if we find that to be true then once we understand what that means, then a square-circle might end up being a logical and possible construct. If so - then an omnipotent being is able to create a square-circle, but as long as a square-circle is a meaningless, incomprehensible construction, then an omnipotent being would not need to create one to have "all-power" that does exist.

The other way to look at omni-potent, is to understand that no other being exists which has a power which he does not, and no other being has a power which he cannot override. This is the same thing as stating an omnipotent being has "all-power which does exist", and is a logically consistent definition.

Once this core principle of making sure that the original definition is logical in the first place, is applied to all the "omni" terms, so that it is even possible to evaluate the resulting definition of an omni-everything being, then the majority of arguments against it simply dissolve away as not meeting the criteria of the definition. I will leave it at that with regard to the other "omni" terms, as I've already gone too long here.


Now, there are some arguments which still stand after we get the logically inconsistent ones out of the way. The main one is the "Problem of Evil/Suffering". The first major philosophical formulation of an answer to it can be found on the Alvin Plantinga Free Will Defense page on Wikipedia. The short answer to that one is that it is better to have a world with real love/relationships (which requires free will), then to have a world without suffering/evil. This, of course, is somewhat subjective and hangs on the definition of what "good" means, but it is a logically consistent solution to the problem, whether one agrees with the conclusion or not.

I give a more detailed answer to the Problem of Evil/Suffering here.

0

I think that the tenor of the answers here may be off. To say that God cannot be understood, or is in some way trans-logical, seems suspect.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that He cannot be consistently argued for if proof of Him entails His logical inconsistency. But if religious argument is a ladder, to be thrown away when we've understood some aspect of God, that he exists, then wouldn't argument have to be hermetically sealed, apodictic or originary?

Else we're left with faith, whether or not that is from the “needs of practical reason”.

Incidentally

There are at least two approaches to analyzing omnipotence that hold out some hope of success... they are in broad agreement on the leading idea that maximal power has logical and temporal limitiations

0

Can God create something He cannot move? Yes, Omnipotence allows for that. But this action requires God to give up Omnipotence (arguably a power an Omnipotent being should have access to). They are consistent until you break the laws of physics and create more from less, as the immovable mountain is.

0

Question: Is the definition consistent, if God is defined as: Omnipotent, Omnipresent, and Omniscient? Can 'an omnipotent being' create a stone so heavy that it cannot lift it?

This question is logically invalid because of its false presuppositions, creating a Strawman Fallacy - presenting a definition that isn't even held by theists, nor supported in classical or religious texts.


1. Quick Answer:

There is no valid definition of God as "omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent" - this is a false presupposition, and begging the question. This definition is not remotely Biblical - as these supposed "qualities" are ripped out of their contexts.

  1. "The Most High" cannot be omniscient - if he forgives.
  2. "The Most High" cannot be "Omnipotent" - if he is restrained by his own word.
  3. "The Most High" cannot be "Omnipresent" - if he declared that he would remove his presence from the wicked.

2. Even Classical Theism asserts a limitation to all-powerful gods - themselves:

Commonly, every definition of God, (the Greeks, Judaism, and Christianity), are all consistent with "Gods choosing to limit their own power".

This self-restraint is not a contradiction of "omnipotent power" - but rather affirms greater power to keep their word - despite any resistance:

Homer Hom. Il. 14.270, et al: [270] So spake she, and Sleep waxed glad, and made answer saying: “Come now, swear to me by the inviolable water of Styx, and with one hand lay thou hold of the bounteous earth, and with the other of the shimmering sea, that one and all they may be witnesses betwixt us twain, even the gods that are below with Cronos,

Eur. Hipp. 1296: Artemis: You have done dreadful deeds, but for all that it is still possible for you to win pardon for these things. Aphrodite willed that things should happen thus, sating her anger. Among the gods the custom is this: no god contrives to cross the will of another,

Plat. Rep. 2.381b: ...“But God, surely, and everything that belongs to God is in every way in the best possible state.” “Of course.” “From this point of view, then, it would be least of all likely that there would be many forms in God.” “Least indeed.” “But would he transform and alter himself?” “Obviously,” he said, “if he is altered.” “Then does he change himself for the better and to something fairer, or for the worse and to something uglier than himself?”


3. How Scripture Actually Defines "The Most High":

The pop-culture definition provided in the question is ripped out of context from Scripture as well as classical history. However, Scriptural theism requires that any definition of "The Most High" must be internally consistent - because, "God is True".

The Scriptural Definition requires absolute "Internal Consistency":

In Scripture, the attributes of God -- go MUCH further than claiming "internal consistency" -- these attributes are inter-dependent on each other -- none of which would be sufficient alone.

Not any particular order, cyclically inter-dependent -- inseparable.

3.1. God is True:

Psalm 33:4: For the word of the Lord is upright, And all His work is done in [trustworthiness].

Malachi 3:5, NASB: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts.

Titus 1:2, NASB: ... in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, ...

3.2. God is Just:

Psalms 82:1-4: God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. 2 How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? 3 Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. ...

Isaiah 61:8, NASB: For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering; And I will faithfully give them their recompense And make an everlasting covenant with them.

3.3. God is Love, through Mercy towards the merciful:
Note: As God loves mercy and the humbled, he must hate oppression and the oppressor.

Psalm 11:5, NASB: The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates.

Zechariah 8:17: Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the Lord.”

Psalm 146:8: The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises up those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the [just], (righteous);

This is the only possible internally consistent 3-dimensional definition of God. (Not that it is valid to define "The Most High" in just three dimensions).

  • 1
    I'm kind of lost as to how this is an answer to the question as asked, which is about the consistency of a definition of God as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Whether this matches up with God in Christianity is actually irrelevant to answering the question. Also, you seem confused about what fallacy means. A fallacy in philosophy is a type of improper argumentation. It's hard for questions to do that especially when what the question is asking is about the consistency of something rather than its fundamental truthfulness. – virmaior Nov 15 '15 at 6:21
  • 1
    @virmaior - Thanks for the comment: (A.) You are incorrect, Fallacies certainly extend to questions too--and much more significant. (B.) Please consider the references of Question Fallacies I provided. (C.) So, an Answer of the form: "The question cannot be answered -- it is Invalid" -- Is actually a valid answer. (D.) Example: If someone asked, "Hey everyone says that the Sky is Green -- is that consistent with Physics?" -- You would say, "What? -- that makes no sense, Who actually says that??" -- To ensure clarity, I detailed why the question is invalid. – elika kohen Nov 15 '15 at 6:35
  • @virmaior - I just updated the answer, and went ahead and removed the objection to the validity of the original questoin. I still maintain the correct way to respond to an invalid answer is to point out its invalidity ... but regardless, it was distracting here - and removed.. – elika kohen Aug 8 '17 at 22:55
0

Yes, it is inconsistent. It is easy enough to find plenty of counter-examples.

It matters that it is inconsistent because we use reason to judge truthfulness. Reason isn't limited to science. It is used in history or in art neither of which is scientific.

But we also use authority to judge truthfulness. For example, very few people are able to judge the correctness and truth of Fermat's Theorem for themselves. For those who are interested they accept the judgement of those best able to judge: Mathematicians trained in modern number theory.

Within Islam, it is the Prophet who is the authority. For Christianity, I assume that it is Jesus. They, according to tradition, have direct knowledge of Allah or God. Allah or God has 'spoken' to them. This, one might say, is a 'private' language. Private languages do not have the same form that public speech has among us. For this to be understood by the rest of us it has to be translated into public speech. It is in this translation that inconsistencies appear.

A separate argument is that Allah/God is not limited by logic. In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein points out:

3.031 It used to be said that God could create everything, except what was contrary to the laws of logic. The truth is, we could not say of an “unlogical” world how it would look.

In Ash'arite theology, and Aquinas made a similar argument, Allah/God is outside of both time and space. One might suppose also that he is outside of logic. I assume it is easier to imagine that Allah/God is outside of time and space than of logic. Wittgenstein certainly believed so:

3.0321 We could present spatially an atomic fact which contradicted the laws of physics, but not one which contradicted the laws of geometry.

One should interpret 'spatially' as the space of logical possibilities, and 'geometry' as logic. (One might note here that modern number theory and logic have a geometrical form.)

That is we can imagine it, but we certainly cannot 'present' it.

One might introduce here the ideas of intuitionistic logic where the law of the excluded middle is denied. Of course the meta-logic is still classical. So this still follows Wittgenstein's prescription. That is, we haven't presented a non-classical logic in the proper sense, but simply imagined one.

0

The omniscient-omnipotent-omnipresent definition is INCONSISTENT. Very simple: God knows the ONLY ONE future that will REALLY take place (it can be identified: it will be the ONLY ONE PAST after some time). God can't do ANY MISTAKE. When He knows that ONE future, that future will then become as FROZEN: nobody, not even God, can modify it anymore since no mistakes are allowable. This means that God IS NOT FREE to make ANY DECISIONS anymore. However, in that frozen future the "frozen God's actions" must be carried out. God of course has no interest at all to "personally" perform those frozen actions, it is expected that those God's actions will be thus automatically performed. The God's actions have been of course previously DECIDED by God. Since we saw above that WITH omniscience God cannot make any decision, this means that when He made those decisions He was NOT OMNISCIENT: future was unknown, depending on his decisions. In other words OMNISCIENCE and CAPABILITY OF DECIDING are mutuallly exclusive: there was a first phase when God was NOT omniscient and FREE to make decisions - to be implemented WITH OMNIPOTENCE - followed by a second one when He was omniscient but He could NOT decide anymore, i.e. He was NOT OMNIPOTENT anymore (if you cannot decide, change things, then you are NOT omnipotent).

  • 1
    If you have any references to others who take a similar view this would strengthen your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. – Frank Hubeny Jun 9 at 21:19
  • Unfortunately no references: those were only my point of view and my logic. – Claudio Zanella Jun 9 at 22:19
-1

Another possible critique aims at omniscient part of definition. Not really plausible in my opinion (and quite rarely mentioned), but here goes. It's based on Cantor's theorem, saying a powerset (set of all subsets) of a given set always has larger cardinality (you can't "map" the bigger onto smaller) than the original set.

Assume there is an infinite amount of facts (in Wittgenstein-style universe). Let's label the facts with natural numbers, so for example 1 might mean "Earth exists", 2 might mean "Sun is bigger than Earth" etc.

If God knows everything, he knows all these facts, so he knows infinite amount of things. Since God is God, knowing infinite amount of things doesn't seem to be a problem.

But if God knows "1" and "2", then he also knows "1 and 2"; that is, he also knows conjunctions of things he knows. Since God is so mighty, it seems plausible he knows not only finite conjunctions, but also infinite.

So God knows things like "7 and 59", "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and ...", "1 and 3 and 5 and 7 and 9 and ...", "1 and 2 and 3 and 5 and 8 and 13 and 21 and ..."

How many things does God know? He knows at least |N| amount of things (as many as natural numbers), but by Cantor's theorem and the above mentioned conjunction-generation then he also must know at least |P(N)| things, where P(x) denotes powerset of x.

But if God knows |P(n)| amount of things, he must also know |P(P(n))| things. And so on. This progression never stops, but it would have to stop somewhere if God's knowledge was a valid set.

What exactly does this argument show? It shows there is no set containing God's knowledge assuming God's knowledge is deductively closed (If X knows A, and X knows A -> B, then X knows B - this doesn't seem to be controversial principle if X is godlike). Some possible conclusions:

  • God's knowledge isn't a set. Possible interpretation: God's knowledge is so awesome we can't capture it by throwing it in a set.
  • God isn't omniscient; if we insist there must be a set of things X knows (which seems like a plausible thing to wish for), then God can't be omniscient, since we produced a paradox.
  • God's knowledge might not be (completely) deductively closed; perhaps he has a machine (which would, by the way, be required to do infinite tasks if we allow infinite conjunctions) that will check his countable knowledge of pure facts and then output whether a given statement is true or false, without requiring the statement itself to be inside God's knowledge.
  • This really is a serious paradox, but since God is all-powerful, it's not really a problem.

protected by Community Oct 9 '16 at 6:38

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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