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Is the definition of God consistent?

As many of you, I've come across a few paradoxes of all sorts, from logic to math, linguistics and so forth. Some of such involve God or, at least, what Western Philosophy attributes to it.

As an example, assume God is omnipotent, he can do everything he wants to. May he be able to destroy himself? If he is omnipotent he can. However, God cannot be eliminated by definition. Thus, there is a kind of (possibly linguistic?) contradiction.

Furthermore, will is God really capable of doing miracles? Well, suppose he can do things that violate the laws of Nature. I say I can always define a new law of Nature, which is the set of laws we know, plus the fact that God can, occasionally, violate those laws. This is a new law that even God won't escape.

So my question is simply this: are these just linguistic issues? If so, how can we even think of reasoning about such issues, if language itself lacks of such description capabilities?

marked as duplicate by Joseph Weissman, vanden, Lennart Regebro, DuckMaestro, Cody Gray Jun 14 '11 at 9:19

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.

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    If you assume there is a God who created the universe or is somehow beyond it, you implicitly assume that the laws of the universe not apply to him. Further, it's entirely possible that your conception of logic is not applicable in the domain of this God. "Can God heat a burrito so hot that he himself cannot eat it?" is more than just a linguistic construction; it simply does not apply beyond the frame of reference in which it was constructed (i.e., it does not apply to anything beyond the universe). [I would argue it's not a linguistic problem, since it can be expressed formally.] – Matthew Read Jun 13 '11 at 21:06
  • I never said I assume it does exist. My point is precisely what you said: if logic somehow does not apply to logic because of these paradoxes, then shall we even reason about it? – Bob Jun 13 '11 at 21:25
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    This question was difficult to answer because it has so many heads. In the end, I picked just one paradox and dealt with it while ignoring the others. I don't think broad questions like this will produce answers that are typical of the focused questions more commonly found here. – Jon Ericson Jun 13 '11 at 21:41
  • There is no paradoxes here, only misunderstanding. By example, God can't destroy himself, but this not negates his omnipotence, since omnipotence is an attribute operating only in the field of the possible. – Apocatastasis Jun 14 '11 at 0:47
  • Most definitely an exact duplicate, yes. See my answer there. Short version: If you are omnipotent you can break the laws of logic, and destroy yourself while not being destroyed. – Lennart Regebro Jun 14 '11 at 7:31
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As you hinted, many of the 'paradoxes' about the idea of God's being omnipotent and omniscient are really just the use of language to describe logical impossibilities. "Can God create a rock so heavy that he himself cannot lift it?" is a nonsensical proposition, like "Can God create dark brightness?" or "Can God kill the unkillable?" There is an answers to such questions - no. However, the 'no' is not a comment on said God's lack of omnipotence, but rather a statement that a logical impossibility is impossible.

It would indeed be the case that if a God could 'violate the laws of nature', the laws of nature should simply change to include the fact that they apply except when God violates them. That way, they can easily be defined and be consistent with God's intervention. In this way it is impossible to violate the laws of nature because they are simply a definition of how nature is, whether or not God is causing the behaviour.

So, the idea of God is not, I believe, logically impossible. It is certainly possible that a God could exist that is omnipotent and omniscient, and logically impossible statements don't change that. What can be said for sure, though. is that if such a God exists, it is an extremely nasty God (by human standards). It is a God that has the power to end suffering, yet does not. It is a God that has the power to give every human an equal opportunity to discover it, yet it does not; in fact, it gives some humans a one-way ticket to heaven (the ones born into a strong culture of indoctrination into belief in the God), and other humans a one-way ticket to hell (the ones born into a strong culture of indoctrination into beliefs in another God/Gods). Would one even wish to worship such a God even if one knew of its nature? That's for the reader to decide.

  • While the concept of God, incorporeal, lifting things may be absurd, the example Bob gives of God destroying himself is not. That's not a linguistic problem, nor is it logically impossible unless you make a number of assumptions. – Matthew Read Jun 13 '11 at 21:09
  • I don't think God destroying himself is a problem; the answer would be "yes, he can." Does omnipotence imply indestructibility? – Jez Jun 13 '11 at 21:12
  • I think you are attempting to say much more than the space an answer to this question allows. You've asserted a great deal about religious belief that simply is not part of the original question or commonly understood. Attempting to justify the statement, "It is a God that has the power to end suffering, yet does not," probably requires more groundwork than would be appropriate in an answer to a tangentially related question. – Jon Ericson Jun 13 '11 at 21:38
  • Erm, it really doesn't require that much moral groundwork. You only need to argue that such a God gives us free will. Meaning that he could intervene and end suffering, but he chooses not to because he gives us free will. Sure, it's a pretty dogmatic insistence upon a singular philosophical principle, but I suppose God is a Kantian. :-) – Cody Gray Jun 15 '11 at 10:30
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It's important to understand that many examples of paradox among the various attributes of God were originally formulated to gain understanding of the nature of God rather than to dispute His existence. These struggles were not of a linguistic nature, but as part of broader struggles over the nature of humanity, the existence of free will, the meaning of God's foreknowledge and so on. At times, the arguments took on life or death significance as proponents faced charges of heresy or sacrilegious practice.

A paradox such as "May [God] be able to destroy himself?" can often trivially be dismissed by quoting a passage near the place where the paradox was originally formulated. Divorced of context, these arguments may be fun to bat around, but are drained of significance precisely because there are answers that people no longer bother to read. In addition, many examples of theological paradox may be traced to the mathematical concept of infinity, which is anything but a linguistic issue as mathematics provides a notation with which to express these ideas.

I'll let Augustine have the final word:

But if we define necessity to be that according to which we say that it is necessary that anything be of such or such a nature, or be done in such and such a manner, I know not why we should have any dread of that necessity taking away the freedom of our will. For we do not put the life of God or the foreknowledge of God under necessity if we should say that it is necessary that God should live forever, and foreknow all things; as neither is His power diminished when we say that He cannot die or fall into error,—for this is in such a way impossible to Him, that if it were possible for Him, He would be of less power. But assuredly He is rightly called omnipotent, though He can neither die nor fall into error. For He is called omnipotent on account of His doing what He wills, not on account of His suffering what He wills not; for if that should befall Him, He would by no means be omnipotent. Wherefore, He cannot do some things for the very reason that He is omnipotent.

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